Bulls general manager John Paxson had a nice long chat on WMVP's Lunch with a Legend series with Tom Waddle and Marc Silverman. Before we get into some excerpts, there are a couple of scoreboard issues worth noting.
--Charlotte and Milwaukee both lost again Wednesday night, so the Bulls' lead over the Bobcats for eighth place is 2 ½ games. I'd say if the Bulls win their next two home games, against Miami and Indiana, then can get one on the road against either Toronto or Indiana, a playoff spot is pretty much certain. The only question to follow would be if its the No. 7 or 8 seed. Detroit hosts the Lakers on Thursday, then has a bunch of road games to follow.
--Miami lost at Indiana on Wednesday. Not long ago, there appeared to be a chance the Heat could catch Atlanta for the No. 4 seed. Now Miami has just a half-game lead on Philadelphia for fifth. That's an important race, since right now No. 5 would play the Hawks and No. 6 would get Boston in the first round. The Bulls would probably have to win out to have any chance at moving higher than seventh.
The Sixers have been playing well. They beat the Lakers and Portland while going 3-2 on a Western road trip, then came home and beat Minnesota on Wednesday.
Here's a rundown of some relevant topics addressed by Paxson on Wednesday afternoon. First, he talked about Luol Deng's decision to get an outside opinion on his leg injury:
“We don't have any problem with that. I would have liked to have Lu come to us and say, 'Here's who I want to call first.' But we all got on the same page quickly. Our doctor talked to that guy right off the bat and everything was fine.
“Players have every right to find the answers. Our diagnosis was the right one from the beginning, anyway, so I'm not worried about that stuff. We want Lu to get better. That's the goal.”
Asked about the wisdom of giving Deng a six-year, $71-million contract last year, Paxson decided that quality small forwards are difficult to find in the NBA:
“We kind of looked at is as, 'In paying Lu, we think he has value now and will have value down the road.' Sometimes that's how you have to look at it. You've got to say to yourself, 'If we pay this guy, there may come a time down the road....' We don't have any intention of moving Luol Deng, but that's how you look at it.
“One of Lu's great strengths is his ability to move without the ball. I still think he will become a very, very good player.”
On whether he sees newcomer John Salmons at shooting guard eventually:
“We'd like to see that. We made that deal because we think John can play a couple different positions. Lu can play the three or four, so it does give us some options. We've always battled with a small backcourt, which we've played for a number of years. We think John Salmons give us the opportunity to play with a bigger backcourt.
“I think right now the most disappointing thing is we haven't had Luol, so we haven't been able to see... we feel we've got some real scorers on this team now with Salmons and Ben Gordon and Derrick Rose. Lu can score the ball and some of our bigs are starting to contribute. That's the exciting part about it, but we haven't been able to see it yet.”
On whether Salmons' arrival means the Bulls won't re-sign Gordon this summer:
“Some of this will be financial, that's the nature of the business right now. We'd love to keep Ben Gordon. We tried the last two years and we made offers that were substantial. But for whatever reason, it didn't work out and I don't assign blame to anybody. I still think we'll have a chance in the off-season to look at the big picture and try to get him back.”
On the performance of first-time coach Vinny Del Negro:
“The thing that you have to allow when you hire someone who has not had any head coaching experience is they're going to do some learning on the job. That's just the reality of it. We didn't dismiss that at all when we went through the process of hiring him.
“I can't sit there and attack him, I'm not going to. My goal, and it always has been since the minute we hired him, is to help him become the best head coach he can be. I think in a lot of ways, he's begun to grow into that role. I think our team, the coach has to get guys playing a certain way. The fact that we've played better lately is a combination of a lot of things. ... We've got a great opportunity to make the playoffs and I think that's terrific.”
On whether Del Negro will be back next year:
“He's under contract for the next couple years. You don't just give a guy a contract and let him go. That's just not the way we operate.”
On the Bulls' chances of making the playoffs:
“I would like to see us make the playoffs for a lot of reasons, maybe the biggest reason is to get Derrick some playoff experience. I've heard comments that if the Bulls get in, they're just going to get swept. I think that's a very narrow view. To make the playoffs would be a great thing for us, given how we kind of stumbled midway through and now are getting our game together again.”