K.C. Johnson's Bulls mailbag

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I figure we should get to these before either I get snowed in trying to fly to Boston Friday, the Bulls lose by 40 in Beantown and my inbox gets flooded with vitriol again or the Bulls pull off a shocker against the Celtics and I faint and never answer another question.

I have read where you state that the typical NBA player's non-game work day is about 2-3 hours long. How is it possible that players like Noah or Thomas cannot find time to develop the ability to hit an open 12-15 foot jumper (i.e. shoot 1000 shots a day). Can they not find the time or is it something else? I know I'm an outsider but am I missing something? --Tony Alam, Falls Church, Va.

I don't remember writing or saying that. And, c'mon, most NBA players work at least 3 hours and 8 eight minutes.

Seriously, though, I doubt there is one NBA player who only works two or three hours a day. A typical off-day practice at the Berto Center begins at 11 a.m. Most players arrive one to two hours early to stretch, get taped, perhaps watch film or warm up with individual shooting. Some players arrive as early as 7 a.m. to get individual work in. A practice can run anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours. Then, if the Bulls aren't traveling, comes more film work, work with the strength coach, perhaps a massage. I'm not saying life in the NBA is as grueling as a factory shift, but most NBA players are pretty committed people. And the Bulls are a fairly hard-working bunch when it comes to individual work.

Did Vinny Del Negro call out Noah and Thomas for lack of commitment and focus? Yes. My understanding is Noah has improved and Thomas never had an issue with work, just focus in that he kept dribbling too much and the like when Del Negro asked him to stop.

It seems to me that the biggest problem with the Bulls is their really messed up salary structure. Their four biggest salary commitments are Deng, Hughes, Hinrich, and Noce -- three backups, not one player in the top three most productive in the team. This is a serious problem that makes me want to go on an anti-Pax rant, but then I ask: How much of the blame is truly Pax's? Periodically, I read statements to the effect that the guys that get signed (Deng, Hinrich) are the ones Reinsdorf likes (Gordon does not fall in this category). How much of a role does Reinsdorf play? And please be honest. Reinsdorf already barely talks to the Trib. --Alex, Boston

Show me an NBA team that doesn't have a messed up salary structure and I'll show you a small market team that isn't competing. Well, OK, there are a couple exceptions. But the Knicks are paying Stephon Marbury $21 million NOT TO PLAY.

Let's take the contracts you list one-by-one.

Deng is making $71 million over six years, although somewhere between $10-20 million of that is deferred. (I never found out a for sure amount on this.) I didn't hear many Bulls fans clamoring to let Deng walk for nothing.

Hughes has this season and next remaining on a five-year, $70 million deal he signed with Cleveland. Most fans wanted Ben Wallace gone at any cost, and the cost of trading away a bad contract in the NBA is acquiring another one. Hughes is playing well now and will become a valuable trading chip--or salary-cap relief--next season when his contract is expiring.

You could make the argument the Bulls are now overpaying for both Hinrich and Nocioni, although both still have trade value so their deals aren't that outrageous. Teams inquire about both players often. Hinrich's injury, of course, has hurt his trade value and on this roster, he suddenly has become a $10 million backup. The Bulls signed Nocioni, during a summer Memphis wooed him, the way they handle most of their negotiations--by making a strong proactive offer and hoping the player signs it.

As for your question, I've never once heard Reinsdorf say publicly or privately he doesn't like Ben Gordon. And the Bulls tried to re-sign him in consecutive summers by making, again, strong proactive offers. So I'm not sure your theory flies.

Like any owner, Reinsdorf gets involved in negotiations because he gives Paxson the budget with which to work. But Paxson makes the basketball decisions and then works in concert with Reinsdorf on the business of basketball decisions.

K.C., can we get some Ben Gordon love in here?! Despite his heroics he's always been completely underrated by fans. He's less appreciated than Hinrich and Deng, and rarely complimented by the media. Here's a crazy stat: Ben Gordon already has made more career three-pointers than Larry Bird. If he makes his usual 150 three's per season this year he'll be in the top hundred by the end of this year even though he's only in his fifth season. He's quite a bit younger than every player ahead of him in this stat. There's a very good chance that he's going to finish his career in the Top 5 ever in made threes. Please tell me that the organization has finally decided that they'd like to keep him over Hinrich. --Farhan, Rio Rancho, N.M.

You've got some Ben Gordon love here. And I wrote in Thursday's Tribune that Gordon hasn't ruled out re-signing with the Bulls.

Look, Ben drives everyone crazy with his decision-making and occasional defensive lapses. But name me another Bull not named Rose that has truly mastered one NBA skill. Gordon has in scoring. His 18-point first quarter last week in Memphis should remind all what he's capable of when hot. If I'm management, his ability to play with Rose should make re-signing him an offseason priority.

So bring on the Ben Gordon hate mail. And given that Gordon has to give his consent for any trade this season, Hinrich could be traded before him.

What's wrong with Luol Deng? He's paid as a Top 10 small forward, but he is not playing like one. There does not seem to be any leadership or toughness about him either. He reminds me of Orlando Woolridge -- a lot of hype, not as much substance. What do you think -- is he as good right now as he'll ever be? --Richard, Stone Mountain, Ga.

Luol has prompted plenty of head scratching this season, from fans to reporters to Bulls management. It's clear he has struggled to find his role in a Rose-led offense. When Luol is at his best, he's active defensively, moving well without the ball, running the court, virtually automatic on his midrange shots. When he's not, as has often been the case this season, he's standing still, guarding more athletic players from his typically upright defensive position, etc.

One problem I've noticed is the Bulls are trying to keep the middle open for Rose and that has taken away Deng's desire to occasionally post up and also his slashes to the basket. I thought Deng finally resembled the player of old in Charlotte. He shot 7-for-8, moved well without the ball and cut to the basket with aggression. But then he got sidelined with a cramp and was all but forgotten about, not playing down the stretch of regulation or at the start of overtime.

He and the Bulls need to figure this out quickly because they don't go very far if he doesn't become an integral part of the team moving forward with Rose.

When the Bulls traded for Drew Gooden, I was elated. I couldn't figure out why Cleveland let us steal him away and for The Hair none the less. Keep in mind, outside of Bulls' games I don't watch a lot of NBA. Important because the Bulls' haven't had any semi-capable scoring post player since Gooden came into the league. After watching Gooden for almost a year now, here's my question:Which of the following players wouldn't be able to take Gooden off the dribble? (I'll need you to justify your answer, if possible)1. Gheorghe Muresan in his prime.2. Mark Eaton today3. "The Whopper" Billy Paultz4. The really fat guy at the YMCA wearing the Shawn Respert two sizes too small Bucks' jersey, who subs himself out after a trip up and down the court (aka me). --Cleetus, Cedar Falls, Iowa

In keeping with my tradition of including one question that needs no response, Cleetus rules again.

I thought there was a rule implemented in the NBA where a player could be fined for flopping. Would D.J. Augustin's flop against the Bulls, which definitely changed the outcome of the game, be fine-worthy? If not, what would it take for the league to actually fine someone? --Joe, Baton Rouge, La.

Here's what NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson told superb ESPN writer Marc Stein last May when the flopping policy was announced: "What was clearly expressed to the (rules) committee is that we would begin imposing fines next season for the most egregious type of flops. When players are taking a dive, for lack of a better term."

Unless I've missed it--which is entirely possible given that I have two kids under 3, sleep 4-5 hours a night and locked my keys in the car with it running last week--I haven't heard of any fines yet this season. For which Andres Nocioni says, "Gracias."

We've seen some big trades go down already and there are some rumored trades I'm hearing, like Eddy Curry to the Bobcats. Why am I not hearing any trades involving the Bulls? I think it's obvious we need to make one. Do you know of any Bulls trade rumors circulating? Is it possible for the Bulls to trade for Boozer? --Danny, Kildeer, Ill.

General manager John Paxson confirmed the obvious Wednesday night, saying he's working hard trying to finalize a trade. As stated in this feature many times, one problem is the relative lack of value of the current roster. That said, I'm hearing Joakim Noah and Andres Nocioni have drawn minor interest around the league and that Drew Gooden is a very possible target to be traded. Don't forget Gooden, beyond being a serviceable if unspectacular starting power forward, has an expiring deal of $7.1 million this season. Package him with, say, forgotten man Thabo Sefolosha and perhaps you can get something.

Brad Miller is available. Chris Kaman, reportedly, isn't yet. Would you take a shot at either of those guys? I would, and that's as close as I'll get to playing Sam Smith for a day.

Not so much as a question but a compliment to Rose, especially watching LeBron talking and taunting benches and Garnett get on all 4's, I'm grateful we have Rose who is a superstar in the making but doesn't have to taunt or demoralize his opposition with childish acts. He lets his game speak for itself, something some of these other hotheads need to do. When I read articles about Rose needing to be more like them, I cringe. Do we really need that kind of behavior? Tell Rose he is fine the way he is, but he could score more if he wanted to change anything. --Shawn, Glendale, Ariz.

I tell my wife I'm thankful for Rose once a week. She always asks, "Who?" And then thinks I'm getting her roses.

You say the Bulls have been given a gift with winning the draft lottery and Rose. Now it's up to them not to waste it. I don't think anyone would disagree. But how would you develop this team and who do you think the Bulls should go for? The good news is despite all you say about Paxson, he has a A LOT of assets. He let Duhon go for nothing and Gordon will probably go for nothing. But that's the NBA now. Would you go big? Would you go athletic and long like Thabo and Thomas? How would you suggest Paxson not waste it? --David, Fontana, Calif.

Now here's a speculative Sam Smith-type question I'll answer. I say go athletic and long. Look, I know Thomas and Noah have been inconsistent. But I liked how the Bulls were thinking trying to use unconventional big men to pair with Rose. I'd trade Noah and stick with Thomas. I know he's getting up there in years, but the Bulls have had interest in Marcus Camby in the past and he's the type of long, athletic big man that I think would work with Rose. Particularly with the way the game is played now, with so much emphasis on the perimeter and rules limiting hand-checking, I like the idea of pairing athletic big men with Rose. Amare Stoudemire would be a dream. So would Chris Bosh.

When Tyrus has his motor running like he did against the Nets isn't it safe to say he's our third most valuable player behind Rose and Gordon? Also is Tyrus' ability to explode off the ground very quickly a skill Noah and Gooden lack? --Charles Armstrong, Harbor Springs, Mich.

I'd go with fourth behind Deng who, as previously mentioned, they need to get going. As for your second question, absolutely yes. That ability of Thomas' is one many people in the league lack.

If Paxson had to redo a signing or a draft pick, what would he redo? --Eric, Chicago

I've never asked him this directly, but wouldn't it have to be Thomas instead of Aldridge or Roy?

Hello, KC. I remember from 2003-2006 the Bulls were No. 1 or 2 in the league in holding their opponents to the lowest field-goal percentage, which I think was the main reason they made the playoffs three years in a row. Then all of a sudden they can't play a lick of defense, and teams are scoring 100 points against them with ease. Without a huge difference in personnel, is it that guys like Antonio Davis and PJ Brown made this big difference, or is it coaching? Or what? --Bob, Orchard Park, N.Y.

It's a combination of both of those factors along with, to a lesser extent, players like Deng and Gordon buying in more at that end earlier in their careers. Plus, I think Hinrich played a step faster defensively back then. Skiles long has been known as a good defensive coach and even has the woeful Bucks better in that department. I'll give Del Negro credit for this: He talked a lot about playing great defense early in camp and then started focusing more on the Bulls' strengths, which is offense. That's good adapting in my book. That's not to say he's totally neglecting the defensive end because he's not, just playing to his team's strength.

Hi, K.C., here is a trade proposal where the Bulls get both Wade and Bosh. Just kidding. Was just wondering what your thoughts on Paul Millsap are and could he be what the Bulls need in the post? With Boozer out, he has been quite impressive; however, I can't see how the Jazz can keep him next year if they plan to re-sign Boozer given their current payroll. A deal like Thomas, Simmons and a first-round draft pick for Millsap and Harpring would save the Jazz $3-4 million next year. --Angelo, Melbourne, Australia

The Bulls liked Harpring one summer but he gets hurt all the time. That said, Utah does have some decisions to make moving forward and if Millsap is available, I'd take a shot at him.

Any word on why the Bulls broke their long-standing tradition of wearing black shoes only for playoff games? --Ryan, Chicago

I actually did a note on this the night they wore their black shoes in Memphis, but space being tight these days in newspapers, it got trimmed. Longtime equipment manager John Ligmanowski said he planned to pair black shoes anytime he decides the Bulls wear their black uniforms. The NBA mandates teams wear a third, alternate jersey a certain number of times each season and Ligmanowski said he and the players just liked the look.

I know Thomas, Noah and Sefolosha haven't exactly done anything to earn much playing time, but isn't it time we just let them loose and see what happens? I think we need to find out what they can do this season so that moving forward, the team can plan appropriately. --J. Shah, Cape Canaveral, Fla.

This, right here, narrows the Bulls' issue to its essence. What is this season about? Is it about limping into the playoffs and getting beat in the first round? Is it about building around Rose and seeing who fits with him? Because right now you don't know if Thabo fits with him because Hughes is taking his minutes. Noah and Thomas are playing more of late but weren't for awhile while Gooden and Gray took all the minutes. It appeared management was almost straddling both worlds, trying to make the playoffs while also building around Rose. But with recent rumblings that the Bulls are quite active in trade talks, I think the strategy is moving toward the future. It's why I wouldn't be surprised if Drew Gooden is dealt, parlaying an expiring deal for a valuable piece that fits with Rose. Moving Gooden also would open up more minutes for Noah and Thomas. As for the Hughes/Sefolosha debate, Hughes is playing well so perhaps you're getting good minutes out of him while also showcasing him. But I'd like to see Thabo get a chance. I'm sure glad I'm not coaching this team. Too many playing time headaches!

What is the deal on Thabo right now? I thought Vinny likes the defensive part of Thabo's game. As Thabo gets some good playing time he will be productive, like last season in February. Why is he not even getting one minute at the moment? --Matt, Switzerland

I touched on this a little bit in the above answer but had to have the home country represented. If the Bulls make a move, I wouldn't be surprised to see Thabo in it either. For whatever reason, his opportunity here seems to have passed.

I didn't answer as many questions this week but promise to make up for it next week when, as an added bonus, I do so after consuming large quantities of egg nog. Talk to you then. K.C.

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