Answering your mailbag questions

Since winning seven games in a row, the Bulls no longer own the worst record in the league. The tank may be over. Or not. A lot remains unclear and questions of direction for the remainder of the season clearly exist. How that has affected fans is interesting. I wanted to gauge the pulse of the fan base to gather a sense how much has changed, if anything.

Answering your questions via a podcast was the original plan. Christmas holidays doesn’t stop basketball, but it did make it more difficult to find a time to record. Instead, I hope my answers provided in the form of a post suffice.

Should the Bulls trade RoLo? If so which team(s) makes the most sense as a partner? – Kevin Martin

I don’t think so. I could expand this, but Stephen Noh of The Athletic did a great job of capturing Lopez’s worth to a rebuilding team like Chicago.

A late first or an early second-round pick is the most likely attainable asset in a trade for Lopez. Is a future asset of this nature more valuable to a rebuild than an experienced, team-first big man who does so many little things that fast-track development of younger players?

That’s the question Bulls management need to ask themselves. I take Lopez in that scenario. His importance next to Lauri Markkanen shouldn’t be understated.

The premise for dealing Lopez is logical, though. Trading away veterans who won’t be part of the next great Bulls team makes sense, but there needs to be a balance. Player development is as important as future draft picks. We shouldn’t lose sight of this. If someone like Lopez can assist in Markkanen’s progression, keep him around and deal other players, most notably Nikola Mirotic.

What trade scenarios are realistic for Niko and Robin? Will GarPax effectively hedge for Bulls future success? – The Last Josh

As outlined above, I think it would be a mistake to deal Lopez. A 29-year-old lumbering center with $14.4 million owed next season isn’t likely to garner much trade interest either, so he carries more value to his incumbent team.

The move to make is dealing Nikola Mirotic, one which I support (even as a Mirotic homer). Strategically, it’s the right decision. Aside from Markkanen, he’s the best front court player on the roster and his skills are conducive to the modern NBA.

There should be a market for Mirotic. Several teams could use a power forward who can provide a flurry of buckets and competent positional defense. In return, Chicago would hope for a first-round pick in the upper half of the draft, but realistically speaking, it’s more probable they receive a late first-rounder and throw-in player.

A deal I conceptually enjoy is one centered around sending Mirotic to Utah for Jazz forward Derrick Favors and a future first-round pick.

Favors, 26, will be a free agent in 2018. It remains to be seen if the Jazz have any interest in paying Favors and continuing his pairing with center Rudy Gobert. Should they look to move on, Mirotic and his long-range shooting would offer the Jazz offense a new look, and a synergy with point guard Ricky Rubio already exists due to national team duties. Adding a 2018 first-round pick to the deal may be too steep given the Jazz currently sit outside the playoff race in the Western conference, but an exchange of other players or picks in the deal could make adding a 2018 pick more tolerable for Utah.

Another reason this deal could work: The Bulls and Jazz have made deals before. This is an important factor to consider — relationships are everything in the NBA.

A potential deal could also exist with Portland, who currently own the No. 18 pick in next June’s draft.

The Trailblazers have the sixth-highest payroll in the league despite only being one game above a .500. Center Josuf Nurkic will be a free agent, and adding additional salary may be problematic. Mirotic, who has a team-option on his deal next season, could provide necessary cap relief moving forward whilst also offering value to a playoff push this season. If the Bulls would agree to eating the remaining 2-years on either Evan Turner of Meyers Leonard’s contract, a deal for a future first-round pick may be possible.

Whether these deals are realistic or not is up for debate. It may be more likely that any deal for Mirotic involves a lowly young player and a second-round pick, but if he continues playing this well, the equation may change.

Assuming the Bulls want to sell high on Niko (they should, right?), what if he exercises his no-trade to stay in CHI? The rest of their trade-bait looks like it will get little in return. – Touchdown Mollusk

They definitely should sell high on Mirotic, but that will depend entirely on the available return on offer. Teams will know the Bulls’ position; they have to unload players like Mirotic if they want to resume the tank. How that impacts trade discussions is unknown, but I would expect rivals to come forward with low-ball offers.

Weak offers may stop the Bulls from trading Mirotic, but he can obviously block potential deals too. If he does — and he’s well within his rights to do so — it leaves the Bulls with few trade options outside of Robin Lopez and Bobby Portis, neither of which are likely to net anything of note.

Really, though, so long as communication channels remain open between Bulls management and Mirotic and his representatives, it shouldn’t be too hard to reach an agreement that removes any veto power. If the Bulls to agree to deal Mirotic to a team that can offer him a similar position in a rotation, in an NBA city he and his family would enjoy, a deal would still be possible.

What would be for you a sexy and appealing starting five for next year? Considering potential returns on trading Rolo, Niko et al, and a top 3 draft pick next summer? Gives us something to dream about. – David W. Desguez

All dreams of future Bulls lineups start with Luka Doncic slotting into small forward. That’s my ultimate scenario. If the Bulls can boast a starting lineup consisting of Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Markkanen and Doncic, only 12 months after trading star wing Jimmy Butler, that’s an enviable 4-man core moving forward.

The only hole to fill would be at center. Cristiano Felicio developing into a rim-running, defensive center was meant to be the plan. His untimely regression into a G-League player after signing a 4-year, $32-million deal is less than ideal, and will force the Bulls to scan the free agent center market.

New Orleans Pelicans big man DeMarcus Cousins will be the best center available. The Bulls will have the max dollars Cousins will be chasing, but if Jimmy Butler’s character was an issue for the locker room, it’s hard to see this management team being interested in Cousins. DeAndre Jordan and Brook Lopez are possibilities, but neither fit the timeline of a rebuilding team.

Really, only two names excite me: Clint Capela and Nerlens Noel. The former has had injury and character issues plague his career to date, but his skills would be perfect next to Markkanen. As would Capela, who is posting career highs in points, rebounds and blocks. Should the Houston Rockets heavily pursue LeBron James, someone will need to make way. Sweeping in and stealing Capela from the Rockets with a big offer would fill a significant need, but it would also act as revenge for Houston doing something similar with former Bulls center Omer Asik in 2012.

Add Capela to Dunn, LaVine, Doncic and Markkanen, and you’ve got one of the best and youngest starting units in the league.

Thoughts on a Markkanen, Mirotic, Portis, Dunn & Nwaba line up? Limited front court D but plenty of scoring? – SpookLongley

I’m not a fan of jumbo lineups that force big men down a position to small forward.  For that reason, I really like four of the five components that make up this unit, but one of the bigs have to go.

I would remove Portis and add in a dynamic scorer who’s capable of shooting the three well and having an efficient, all-round offensive game. Someone like, say, Zach LaVine? That’s a nice lineup, one that’s (hopefully) only a few weeks away.

How does your draft board look at this moment? – Felipe Carvalhaes

My draft board hasn’t changed much at all. Luka Doncic is still my guy at the top, with DeAndre Ayton a close second. I’m not overly excited about Marvin Bagley or Michael Porter Jr., but both are terrific athletes who would fill a need for Chicago. That’s my top-4.

Will the the Bulls will have the opportunity to claim any of them come the draft next June?

I haven’t completely given up on my dream of Luka Doncic wearing a Bulls jersey next season, but hope is fading. Fast. Yes,  the Bulls still are one of the worst four teams in the league at present. And who knows, perhaps a few lottery balls bounce the right way and the Bulls move up in the draft?

Reality suggests, though, that this team has turned a corner. We’re no longer watching the worst team in the league, as we did during the first 23 games of the season. They’re better now, and will improve once LaVine returns. I don’t want to visualise a scenario where the Bulls don’t own a top-5 pick, but it’s becoming more apparent.

A few more wins and it may be time to start familiarising ourselves with Trae Young, Collin Sexton and Jaren Jackson, several players who likely will be available with a pick in the No. 5-8 range.

What criteria/stats does Dunn have to meet for you to consider him a legitimate starting PG on the Bulls going forward. – Lasse Larsen

Dunn’s recent turnaround from one of the worst rookies last season to a capable role player has been so notable that I’m almost ready to pencil him in as the team’s starter at point guard moving forward.

To be fully convinced, though, I want see a greater diversification to his offensive game and more efficient performances. He can’t have 1-for-12 shooting performances like he did against the Celtics, missing makable shots at the rim and from midrange.

It will also be important to see how Dunn performs in a lower usage role. As LaVine returns and begins to use more possessions, it will come at someone’s expense. That may be Dunn. How effective he can be with less possessions to produce volume numbers, working off ball and in catch-and-shoot scenarios, will be critical.

If Dunn can increase his scoring efficiency to league-average whilst improving in the ways he can create shots, I’ll fully commit to the sophomore guard for the long haul.

Who on this Bulls team do you think will be around when their a legitimate contender again. – Rony Beauge

The only player I have complete confidence in at this moment is Lauri Markkanen. At age 20, he’s already shown he can score in crucial moments and is a better defender than most expected. I want to say Dunn, too, and with time, he may also join Markkanen in this fictitious scenario. As outlined above, though, I want to see more.

Career altering injuries to Bulls guards won’t allow me to commit to LaVine just yet. That’s not to say LaVine can’t return to the player he once was, I just need to see it. His contract situation is also a factor here, too. Should another team choose to chase LaVine in free agency and offer an exorbitant amount that exceeds the Bulls’ budget, would they match? They probably would, but it’s far from a done deal.

So, at present, I say one player will be definitely be on next great Bulls team, with potential for that to be all three players acquired in Jimmy Butler trade. No other current player on the roster possesses enough potential to categorically suggest they will be a Bull at the turn of the decade.

Hypothetically, how long of a win streak would it take to convince you to “go for it” this season? – A Guy Named Brandon

I’ll define “go for it” as sneaking into the playoffs. For argument’s sake, let’s say the Bulls need to reach a .500 record in order to make the postseason. That means posting a 31-19 record here on out. It seems unlikely that happens, but I also would’ve said there’s no chance this team could win seven in a row.

Even then, does sliding into the playoffs as an eighth seed make sense for long-term aspirations? Probably not. At least not for me, as a tank proponent.

I will say this, though. If the team is playing so well that they’re no longer going to be at the bottom of the standing to acquire a top pick in the draft — and no significant roster moves are made — I would prefer the Bulls to own the No. 15 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft and make the postseason as an exciting eighth seed than winning too many games to fall outside of the top-10, but too little to make the playoffs.

33 wins and pick No. 11 may be the worst possible worse scenario.

How would you grade Fred thus far? And do you believe he’ll still be here when the team transitions out of rebuilding? – Jef

Like his younger players, Fred Hoiberg has improved and deserves recognition. If I had to assign a grade to his performance this season, a B seems fair.

I still have questions about his long-term fit. The after timeout plays need serious work. Is he locker room presence, and can he command respect from star players? Hoiberg will need to emphatically answer these concerns to justify his place as coach long-term. I don’t think it’s likely Hoiberg morphs into one of the better young coaches in the league, so I remain unconvinced he’s the right man for the job after his contract expires.

And on that positive note, that does it for this edition of the mailbag.

Thank you for submitting a question.

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