What's it going to take for the bulls to start finishing games? I'm noticing a trend here -- the Bulls start strong, leading most of the way, and come the fourth quarter it all falls apart and leads to another loss. I saw this against Philly, against New Orleans, and now against the Spurs. In your opinion, what needs to happen to reverse this trend? Thanks. -- Dave Harriff, Evanston, Ill.

I don't think it's so much what the Bulls can do. I think the trend represents more what the opponent is doing---not taking the Bulls seriously enough until crunch time and then turning on the jets. The Bulls don't have the experience, either offensively or defensively, to make the necessary plays down the stretch. Throw in new players and a new system and that exacerbates the situation.

Hi, KC, is it my imagination, or is Kirk Hinrich already a better point guard, both on offense, defense and in attitude than Jay Williams was anytime last season? And if this is so, then why did Chicago sports writers treat the drafting of Jay with wild applause, and the drafting of Kirk with token polite applause? -- Pete Gannaway, York, Pa. It's too early and too speculative to say who is or could be better between the two, but I was on record in one of these sessions over the summer as saying that I thought Hinrich would eventually be as good or better than Jay. I based this mostly on Hinrich's size advantage and his defensive ability. As for the reactions, the buzz around Williams was justified. He was the reigning NCAA Player of the Year and had a personality that seemed to be of the can't-miss variety. Unfortunately, he did miss---and the Bulls found a solid replacement.

K.C., I'm pleased with the signing of Skiles and the trade of Rose. I'm probably most pleased with the demise of the triangle offense. It was obviously great with Michael and Scottie, but not with the subsequent teams. My question is why did it take so long to abandon it? Was this Paxson's decision? Do you feel it was a point of discussion in the interview process with Skiles? If so, how do you think that scenario went? Thanks for any insight into this. Semper Fi. --Jack Drummond, West Richland, Wash.

Let's clear up one misconception first: While Cartwright did stress and embrace and hold on to the triangle, it's not like the Bulls ran it that much. Did its presence and its need to be practiced take away from accomplishing other things? Maybe so. But the Bulls were running this offense approximately 10-15 percent of the time, which is why I think Skiles' decision to scrap it is getting way too much publicity. Paxson had asked Cartwright last summer if he wanted to continue running the triangle, and Bill said he wanted to keep it in some form. I'm guessing---and I don't know for sure----that the subject came up in Paxson's interview of Skiles, but it's clear from Skiles' previous coaching stop that he stresses a motion offense with more traditional NBA sets.

K.C., I know you've gotten a lot of questions on the recent trade, but I have to ask about your thoughts on the Bulls giving up Lonny Baxter instead of Marcus Fizer. I think Baxter showed more on the court in his short time here than Marcus has. --JD, St. Louis, Mo.

So did Toronto, which is why the Raptors insisted that Baxter be part of the trade. The Bulls didn't want to part with Lonny, but they feel OK with young players at that position because they still own the rights to last year's second-round pick, Mario Austin.

K.C., does anyone else see how devastating a move trading Crawford would have been now after the fact? The guy can not only flat out score and take his man off the dribble, but has great court vision. He just needs the experience to work within the flow of the game and the will to play some defense. He seems happy with Skiles and the new offense. Do you think he will be happy staying with the Bulls now going forward? -- JJ, New York

Jamal is taking over 20 shots per game since Skiles took over. Wouldn't you be happy?

K.C., I was just wondering about the status of Scottie Pippen? I am aware that he got injured before the season began. When will he return to the lineup? Since I am serving in the desert, getting news about Chicago isn't that easy. I am a big Scottie Pippen fan and when I do re-deploy and go home to Vernon Hills, I would love to see Pippen play with the Bulls one more time. Thanks. -- PFC, Phillip Sherman, LSA Anaconda (Ballad), Iraq

You're not missing much. Pippen's knee continues to be a problem. He has had fluid drained from the knee three times already this season and now there is talk that, like Tyson Chandler, the Bulls will keep Pippen out of the lineup through the rest of December. Paxson knew he was taking a risk by signing Pippen, but management has to be disappointed that Pippen's knee problems have surfaced this early.

The Bulls first game under Scott Skiles was a revelation. I saw more properly performed screen roles (the screener rolling the correct way off of the screen) in that game then I have in the last five years of Bulls games. How is this possible? --Arthur Bass, Phoenix, Ariz.

Maybe the Bulls finally started listening. Cartwright certainly knew how to set a screen. He was famous for doing so. And he taught them as well.

Hey, K.C., what does Scott Skiles see in Linton Johnson that I'm missing? Johnson is a disaster on offense and his defense, from what I can see, is average. Is Skiles going to have the same blind spot for Johnson's weaknesses that Bill Cartwright had for Trenton Hassell's? -- Jeff Reece, Jacksonville, Fla.

The main thing Skiles sees in Johnson is a healthy body. Pippen is hurt. Eddie Robinson was sick. ERob will be back in the starting lineup before long, although Johnson brings the type of intangibles that Skiles desires. He makes hustle plays and is a solid rebounder for his size. That said, I agree with you. He doesn't deserve to be starting in the NBA---and won't soon.

Do you think the Bulls made a good choice when they picked Kirk Hinrich over T.J. Ford? Personally, I think the Bulls would have been more beneficial if they choose T.J. Ford. --Dion, Chicago

I disagree completely, although Ford is a solid rookie as well. Give me size and defensive ability from a point guard any day. The Bulls don't need a lot of scoring from their point guard. Hinrich is an above average passer and a far above average defender already.

How long has Benny the Bull been the mascot for the Bulls and has it always been the same person as Benny the Bull? --The Materer family, Arlington Heights, Ill.

Benny the Bull debuted in 1969. While other people occasionally have made other appearances in the costume, the man most recently behind the mask has been and always will be Dan LeMonnier.

Thanks for your questions. Talk to you next week, K.C.