Before Tuesday's game against Sacramento, I asked Shelden Williams if he'd be willing to talk about wife Candace Parker and how their love story began. He refused, then the next day news broke that Parker is expecting a child in May. I'm sure there's no connection there, but it is an odd coincidence.
Anyway, plenty of good e-mails have been pouring in, so let's share them with everyone:
Sanjay suggests two possible ways the Bulls could take advantage of Toronto's apparent willingness to make a deal:
“(1) Larry Hughes and Andres Nocioni for Jermaine O'Neal.
Despite his age and injury history, O'Neal is a better low post player than Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas put together. When healthy (he is currently not), along with Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, the Bulls would be a respectable club in 2009, which could make them very attractive for potential free agents during the summer of 2010.
(2) Larry Hughes and Bulls' 1st round pick (unless it's top 3) in next year's draft for Andrea Bargnani, Anthony Parker, Kris Humphries and Toronto's 2nd round pick in the next 2 drafts.
Bargnani is not a low post scorer, which is the Bulls' biggest need, but his great ability to shoot outside would create a bunch of match-up problems for opposing teams when combined with Rose's quickness.”
MM: The second trade is risky, because the Bulls could easily end up with another top 10 draft pick next June. The first one is interesting and could make sense for Toronto. Nocioni would be a nice wing option for the Raptors and could probably average around 15 points.
The thing about O'Neal, though, is he's been injured so frequently over the past five years. The Bulls would most likely end up paying him $22 million to rehab next season. Also, even though O'Neal is a talented scorer, the Pacers always seemed to play better when he wasn't on the floor, because the ball doesn't move when he dominates the shots down low. Now Toronto isn't playing well with O'Neal on the roster.
I'd say the Bulls shouldn't risk making things better in Toronto. They want to be ready if Chris Bosh seeks a new home in 2010 or sooner.
Robert from San Diego asks, “I know that you probably can't be brutally honest because of your job, but do you really believe that Ben Gordon is playing good basketball, or is he just scoring well?” Robert goes on to mention that he's noticed a lack of effort from Gordon, such as not running back on defense after turnovers, along with the usual complaints about his ballhandling and defense.
MM: I have noticed the same thing about Gordon showing frustration on the court, although I saw it in Cleveland last week during a blowout loss. I don't think he tones down the effort in close games, at least I haven't seen it.
I've been trying to watch the Bulls defense closely and on a team with no good defenders, my observation is that Gordon does as good a job as any of them staying with his man. He's not a great defender, but I don't think he's as much of a liability as some people make him out to be.
In some ways, I can't blame Gordon for being annoyed at the Bulls. Not signing Gordon last summer while giving Luol Deng $71 million doesn't look like a great decision right now. And why don't the Bulls set more picks for Gordon?
Like I've said before, in this higher-scoring NBA world, guys who can produce 9 points in three trips down the floor are valuable and Gordon can do that. His primary role is to score and averaging 21 points on .450 shooting isn't bad at all.
K. Wills from Austin writes, “While I appreciate your desire to make the Bulls a better team, making a trade for Brad Miller that includes Joakim Noah is a mistake. Miller is a 32 year old band-aid that has a similar contract to Larry Hughes. You don't give up young talent/prospects to turn Hughes into a center that won't be useful two years from now at age 34. If it was (Clippers center Chris) Kaman, I'd consider it, but no way is that an option with Miller.”
MM: When I wrote about Miller in last week's column, I didn't advocate packaging Noah with Hughes. Just pointed out that the Kings would want something more to take Hughes off the Bulls' hands. Maybe the two teams would consider Hughes and either Drew Gooden or Andres Nocioni for Miller and Kenny Thomas, whose deal also expires in 2010.
Justin writes, “I'm just wondering why Michael Ruffin doesn't play. It almost seems like we're just doing him a favor by giving him a contract. Couldn't we use his interior defense? I mean, if VDN is willing to play Lindsey Hunter to spell the young guards, I'd imagine that Ruffin should see court time.”
MM: I agree that Ruffin could be helping the Bulls. The problem is he injured his ankle on the second day of training camp, then developed Achilles tendon issues. He tried to practice about three weeks ago, then backed off. I'm sure he's hoping to be ready to play, but no one knows when that will be.
Andrew writes, “What is the full story on the locker room food and fines? The original story had 3 players, Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah, Larry Hughes being fined. Hoopsworld had a follow up story saying that 5 players in total, an additional one being Ben Gordon. Was it 3 or 5? Were Ben Gordon and the other player just not dragged through the mud in the original story in the Tribune because they didn't mouth off to Vinny? And if it was 5, who was the fifth player?”
MM: I have to admit, this eating in the locker room incident apparently happened before the game in New Jersey on Dec. 29 and I didn't make that trip, so I had to catch up on this one.
I don't know if it was three or five players and don't think it really matters. In some ways, this is minor team business that is barely newsworthy, but there does seem to be some similarities to the Ben Wallace headband battle of 2006.
To recap, Vinny Del Negro added a team rule this season about not eating in the locker room pregame. He's trying to preach accountability and professionalism, and that rule is probably meant to emphasize that players should be getting ready for the game when they're at the arena and eat dinner before getting on the bus.
The players I talked to seemed annoyed by the rule and getting fined. Players eating in the locker room before games is a very common sight in the NBA; including the visitors locker room at the United Center. Ninety percent of the time, it's chicken tenders, by the way.
Maybe more players were eating in New Jersey because the quality of hotels available in East Rutherford aren't quite what they're used to in other cities. So while Vinny sees this rule one way, the players wonder why they're not being treated like adults. I'm sure everyone will get over it. I've heard Del Negro tries to go out of his way to communicate with the players and not hold any grudges.
Of course, a sidebar to this story is that this stuff is usually kept private, but someone chose to leak the news. I would imagine the Bulls have a suspect in mind and have already been trying to trade him.