K.C. Johnson's Bulls mailbag
The return of the backpack and regular season edition
Back by popular demand, Chicago Tribune Bulls beat reporter K.C. Johnson's backpack. Wallpaper version found here.
My wife prepares to become a basketball widow. My kids prepare to call me "Who?" And, yet, still I answer your questions. It's a fine line between dedication and insanity.
"What I do know, unequivocally, is that if the Bulls have a worse record than the Memphis Grizzlies I will shave my head and put a new picture above Ask K.C." Can the backpack make a comeback for this picture? Are you still going to honor the bet if Rose is injured for the season or severely limited? How much of a wasted season would this be for the Bulls if this was the case with Rose? Have a terrific season, consider this your pre-game posterior pat for luck. --Cleetus, Cedar Falls, Iowa
How about our boy Cleetus checking in strong for his first entry of the 2009-10 season? The first quote, for those not enlightened, refers to an answer I gave last week where I vowed to shave my head if the Bulls have a worse record than the Grizzlies. The second line, echoed by many this week, is the disappointment that the picture accompanying this feature no longer shows me wearing a very retro backpack, making me look even sillier than I already do. (Ed. note: Backpack wallpaper)As for the serious part of Cleetus' question, losing Rose obviously would lower expectations greatly. But here's a weird thing about this team: They have plenty of depth, size and confidence. Don't read my answer as me saying they'd be fine without Rose because I think that costs them 5-8 victories. But the point is: This team is deeper than previous Bulls teams.
Safely assuming the Bulls get their size back and healthy in Sasquatch Gray and Jerome James and then boast the deepest and most talented frontcourt in all of basketball with Noah, Miller, TyThom, and Taj Mahal (to go along with Gray and James)...once we cake walk through the east in the playoffs, I'm wondering how we match up with the Lakers in the Finals. As I see it, we'll play close to the minimum amount of games in the playoffs against the likes of Boston, Cleveland and Orlando, while the Lakers will be in physical wars against the Trail Blazers, Spurs, etc. and struggle to simply make it to us, let alone beat us. Hope Grant Park isn't busy come late June for Papa smells a Ring Rally! Danka Shane
I'll repeat: It's a fine line between dedication and insanity.
Hey K.C., anyone with a little basketball knowledge can see that Deng did best in Skiles' structured system. He does need an offense that helps get him his shots and there is nothing wrong with that. If Del Negro does not recognize that and work to fit him in then he is not doing his job as a coach. He does not have the credibility yet to feel everyone must adopt to him. Unless he adjusts his coaching and play-calling to the capabilities of his players then this could be an underachieving season. I say it's on Vinny! Greg
I appeared on DePaul's student radio station yesterday--only the best for me--and talked about how this is probably a shared situation. Deng needs to be more aggressive and Del Negro needs to utilize Deng's strengths more. I think getting Rose back will help Deng, who still can be adept at running the floor and hitting a midrange jumper. But, yes, it's clear Deng struggles to beat defenders off the dribble. It'd be nice to see some actions where he's slashing through the lane and getting baskets off ball movement. The Bulls primarily have become a screen-and-roll team to utilize Rose's skills.
II'm not applying this to you, but it amazes me how in print and on shows like " Chicago Tribune Live" Deng is referred to as a young developing player. He's a six-year veteran. What we've seen for five years is what we'll see for another five -- "slashing", soft, weak defense, black-hole player. I said it then, and I'll say it again: The Bulls should have drafted Andre Iguodala. Unfortunately, Pax was into winning programs and players with character, something Deng hasn't exhibited. Jeff Hartnett, St. Louis
You can rip on Deng for a lot of stuff, but being a black-hole player and not exhibiting character can't be two of them from my seat. Define character. Deng does more charity work than most NBA players and also won the Joe Dumars award for sportsmanship one season. I don't see Deng forcing shots. If anything, I see him disappearing for stretches if he's not getting enough touches.
You have said you don't think offense will be a problem, but I don't see how. The Bulls may continue a respectable per-game scoring average but you only have to look to Phoenix and Golden State to know that per-game scoring really is more about how much time you choose to spend at the defensive end. The key is scoring in crunch time when the defense stiffens. Derrick has great potential for this, though he will have to finish around the rim and find teammates at crunch time better than last year. Salmons is the next best option but he seems to defer too often. There is really no one else. Deng may average 15 per game but won't create anything for himself. Everyone keeps saying he needs Rose to come back but remember last season all the discussion was about how Deng couldn't figure out how to play with Rose. I see the Bulls losing a lot of games in the fourth quarter. Rob, Oak Park
I think the discussion was more about how Del Negro couldn't figure out how best to utilize Rose and Deng together. There's no doubt the Bulls will miss Ben Gordon's scoring ability in the fourth quarter of close games. But the Bulls are counting on Rose to grow in this area. And trust me on this one: Salmons won't defer as much this season. I'm focused on the defensive end, not the offensive end.
First-time writer here. Are they not direct enough with Tyrus? I played high school ball (mostly bench) and when coach says go underneath and get rebounds or you sit here next to me it worked. Can't they show him the shot chart? When he takes outside shots and doesn't go inside he has a lower shooting percentage, scores and rebounds less and probably logs fewer minutes because of it. When he drives to the basket with the ball, makes good cuts for the passes, hangs out around the basket his shooting percentage is much higher, he scores and rebounds more and will likely play more minutes because of it. You don't have to make a good score on the SAT to realize what you're good at. Dave Gilchrist, Marion, Ill.
Welcome to the conversation. Del Negro actually emphasizes that he encourages Thomas to take proper outside shots within the context of the offense. And there will be times this season that Thomas is playing the small forward, so expect those shots. It's a fine line, though, and I agree that Thomas is at his best near the rim. Thomas is a skilled player who gets in trouble when he falls into the trap of thinking he can create all the time. Sure, he can dribble through his legs and hit a jumper one time down the floor. But the next, he can kick it away. The coaching staff is direct with Thomas, but, like I said, maybe he hears mixed signals because Del Negro doesn't want to take away all his skill and aggressiveness. Ultimately, it falls on the player to figure it out.
You talked about Taj Gibson a couple of times in your Oct. 21 Q&A, and he was apparently designated as the temporary starter until TT got fully fit. Why all the attention to Gibson? To me, James Johnson looks like the most exciting young big man to wear a Bulls uniform in many years. The show he put on against Utah in London brought me out of my chair more than once, and his speed, ballhandling and quickness to the basket are remarkable in a kid that big. I think JJ could be something special. What am I missing -- that Vinny and you are seeing -- that apparently has kept Johnson below Gibson in the pecking order? Mike Gaynes, Moss Beach, Calif.
I don't think it's even close that Gibson is more the NBA-ready player. Watch Gibson on three straight possessions. If he's out of position at all, I bet it would only be once. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He rotates defensively well, talks on defense, boxes out. He's a coach's dream when it comes to fundamentals. There's no doubt Johnson has way more upside. I think the Bulls drafted two players who can contribute for a long time.
Antonio Davis was a great leader. Any chance the Bulls can talk to his wife, Kendra, regarding a leadership position? Lonely in San Diego
This would qualify as this week's question of brilliance that needs no response.
Is Omer Asik the new world hide-and-seek champion? How come he didn't come to camp this year? Is he playing somewhere and might we expect him by next season? ARIS, Indianapolis