K.C. Johnson on the Bulls

Chicago BullsBasketballSportsCompensation and BenefitsNBAJerome WilliamsTyson Chandler

It seems that the Bulls are going to have some serious payroll concerns toaddress in the near future. Are the Bulls going to match an offer for JamalCrawford? With the aging role player Antonio Davis making $12 million andEddie Robinson and Jerome Williams making around $6 million each, won't theBulls be approaching the luxury tax? And are Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandlerworth maximum contracts? I think that Paxson should try to dump as muchsalary as possible and try to be a player in free agency. -- Scott, HoffmanEstates, Ill.

Paxson has some difficult decisions to make. It's almost certain that he'll wait until the following summer to deal with the contracts of Curry and Chandler, taking a similar philosophy to the one he used with Crawford last summer. He wants players to earn their salaries. What they do with Crawford will be determined with how he performs over the remainder of the season. It's clear that Hinrich will be around for awhile, and he's on his rookie contract for three more seasons. Jerome Williams and ERob appear to be almost untradeable because of their contracts, but there might be interest in Davis as his contract comes closer to completion. I don't see the Bulls doing a total salary purge in an attempt to get way under the cap. But Pax will do everything he can to avoid the luxury tax.

How serious is Tyson Chandler's back injury? They say he will be back atthe end of December, but will he really? Is it something that can betreated or is it going to be a chronic problem? -- Roy Haglund, Redlands,Calif.

Any back injury that keeps a 21-year-old out for a month is serious. Simple as that. It looks like he will be back sometime in January, at this point. Management is extremely concerned about Chandler's long-term durability and wants him to work on his strength and conditioning both during the season and over the summer. Melissa Isaacson, who used to cover the Bulls during their first three-peat, had an , focusing on Chandler. Check it out.

Crawford is playing "crawful." He forces shots and can't play defense. Ithink he is a mediocre player who has a big ego. The Bulls season is over.They might as well throw in the towel and look forward to next year. By thetime Chandler and Curry are back, it will be too late. Any big free agentscoming out at season's end? -- Carlo, Chicago

This guy named Kobe will be available. But with your pessimism, you probably think he stinks, too. Just kidding. There will be some decent free agents, but nothing that will knock your socks off. The Bulls will probably be over the cap anyway and only be able to use their exceptions. I'd like to see the Bulls take a run at Brent Barry. They need a good transition player who can shoot from the perimeter.

Great column. It's probably been answered before, but does Marcus Fizeractually have an answer for his question mark tattoo? Should we just referto him as the Riddler? -- Tim Gaber, Willowbrook, Ill.

I had this question 20 times last season and we finally answered it in the final installment of this feature last season. Regular readers will remember there was a big buildup to the answer. Of course, that was a lot of losses ago, so no chance I remember what it was. And, no, he doesn't have an answer for it.

K.C., I keep hearing that management is going to try and pull another tradebefore the deadline. Any truth to that? -- David Castillo, Monterey, Calif.

Aren't there nicer things to do in Monterey than worry about Bulls trades? There is nothing imminent for the Bulls, but talk will heat up as they move closer to the Feb. 19 trade deadline. Paxson has made plenty of changes already to the roster, and there isn't a ton of interest in who is left. Jamal Crawford can be had for the right price.

Is it me or is it just a coincidence that the Bulls are winning and playingbetter with Curry injured? I know the competition hasn't been the highest,save for Indiana, but maybe he needs to sit more. -- Jeff Hartnett, St. Louis

Tell that to Skiles when Curry comes back from his injury. Some players may play harder and rebound more aggressively than Curry. But the Bulls miss having another legitimate scoring option in the lineup and will have one once Curry returns.

Why are so many Bulls fans being so impatient with Curry and Chandler? Whatwere people saying about Jermaine O'Neal his first couple years in Portland?A bust, right? Wrong. Let's be positive. Both of these guys have shown alot of talent. -- Matt Quinn, Evergreen, Colo.

People are being impatient because they have seen them play well when the games don't mean much. And they want to see them play well when the games matter. Even Curry and Chandler were aware of this dynamic before this season, poking fun at how they can't afford another slow start. Unfortunately for the Bulls, they're having another one.

I attended the Orlando game, and I noticed that Scottie Pippen was notthere. Given that he was signed under the presumption that he would provideneeded leadership, why isn't he required to attend games when he does notplay? He should be fined for every game he doesn't attend. -- Felicia, OakBrook, Ill.

John Paxson flat-out said that the rules would be different for Pip than for other players this season. And this game came four days after he underwent knee surgery, although he could've been there. It's a fine line. On the one hand, I agree that Pip has earned the right to have special privileges, just because of what he has accomplished. On the other, I understand your point, that it's tough to instill leadership when you're not around. That said, Pip is one of the biggest teachers at practices and shootarounds. He's the least of the Bulls' problems.

Chris Jeffries has played about eight minutes all year. Is he really thatbad? Is Linton Johnson that much better than he? Also, what about RogerMason Jr.? I really like the way Brunson has been playing, but Mason wasonce considered first-round talent. Was he just a bust? --Scott Cockerham,Tucson, Ariz.

Wow. That's a lot of questions for one paragraph. Chris Jefferies is a former first-round pick who has an odd-looking jumper, but it goes in. He's fairly athletic and can run the floor well, but there's a good chance he won't be in the league when his original rookie deal expires. As for Mason, he's one of those classic players who never quite has found a position in the NBA. Is he a point? A shooting guard? He can defend and is an above-average shooter. But his lack of size hurts him. Brunson is what he is, a decent veteran who can give you 10-12 minutes a game.

I enjoyed watching Kendall Gill hit shot after shot against Orlando whileleading the Bulls to a victory. I was very surprised to read the next daythat Kendall was unhappy coming off the bench. I think Kendall was much moreeffective in the 3rd quarter because he had more energy by not playing muchin the 1st half. Do you think Kendall and Scott Skiles will realize thisand maybe plan for it? Everyone knows the first half has barely any outcomeon the game, unless they shoot 23 percent and score only 25 points. Luckilythey were playing the Pistons, who only average 35 points per half. -- JBDow, Palatine, Ill.

Skiles said the next day that he doesn't really care what players prefer, that he will play players when he thinks they're most effective. Chalk Gill's performance against Orlando up to a very hot night.

Talk to you next week.

K.C.

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