K.C. Johnson on the Bulls
The Tribune's Bulls writer answers readers' questions every week throughout the NBA season.
What likely will happen if Pip decides that this is his last season is that he and John Paxson will sit down and discuss a buyout. This will open a roster spot and also take some money off the Bulls' payroll. Given Pip's respect for Pax -- a huge reason why Pip decided to sign with the Bulls -- it's likely they can work something out. If Pip doesn't agree to this process, though, his entire contract will count against next year's cap because his contract is guaranteed.
Hey K.C., I just read that the Bulls came to terms with Jay Williams. What does this mean? Is he still the Bulls property or is he eligible for free agency? -- Alan Santos, Skokie, Ill.
This means he no longer is the Bulls' property, although one of the quieter aspects of the buyout negotiations is that if Williams somehow beats these injuries, he will give the Bulls first crack at re-signing him. I don't see either scenario coming to fruition, though.
How much money do the Bulls have to spend this off-season? It seems to me that they have more than the mid-level exception since the contracts of Jamal Crawford and Marcus Fizer expire. Couldn't they make a run at Quentin Richardson or Manu Ginobli? Why can't the Bulls have as high a payroll as the Dallas Mavericks? -- Jim Fleming, Crown Point, Ind.
You have more questions than the Bulls have money. Assuming the roster stands as is until after the trade deadline and assuming that the Bulls let Fizer and Crawford walk for nothing this summer, their payroll for next season would be close to $40 million. The salary cap is projected to be around $45 million. Thus, staying "capped out" is almost preferrable because it gives the Bulls the mid-level salary-cap exception, which is typically around $4.5 million. That $40 million also doesn't take into account a rookie contract from the 2004 NBA Draft, which, at this point, will be a high one. As for having a higher payroll, Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf will gladly pay the luxury tax -- if the team is winning. They're not even close, so the payroll will stay out of luxury tax land for now.
Who do you think the Bulls will protect for the expansion draft next season? We know Hinrich for sure. Do the Bulls need to protect seven more? I'm thinking they will not protect Fizer or Robinson or even Antonio Davis. -- David Rogers, Hinsdale Ill.
Again, we have to assume we are talking about the roster as it stands right now. The Bulls, like all teams, are allowed to protect eight players. Barring any trades, I see those eight as being Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, Jamal Crawford, Kirk Hinrich, Jerome Williams, Marcus Fizer, Scottie Pippen (if only so they would be able to buy him out later) and Corie Blount. Fizer and Crawford are restricted free agents and if a team doesn't protect that type of player, they automatically become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and are forbidden from signing with their former team. If they protect Fizer and Crawford, it allows the team to keep them for trade possibilities, etc. They likely would leave Antonio Davis unprotected in the educated guess that Charlotte wouldn't swallow his contract. But this is all very speculative since the Bulls' roster will very likely look different by the time of the expansion draft.
With all the fans and media pounding the young kids (i.e. Curry, Kwame Brown, Chandler, Darko Milicic), I would hope the league recognizes that this is not good for the league or the kids (pretending to be men). If a kid goes to college, he doesn't get as lambasted as the high school stars do. Most kids don't have a clue what will happen if they fail. Unfortunately, most parents see a pot of gold and don't care enough to wait for their child to grow into a man (mentally). Why won't the league do something about this? -- Austin Brownlee, Flower Mound, Texas
If Commissioner David Stern, not to mention Bulls GM John Paxson, had his druthers, they would. But the players' association likely won't allow any age limit.
KC, when talking about Curry's struggles, everyone points to Jermaine O'Neal, who didn't have much success until his (gulp) 5th season. It's hard to tell as a fan if Eddy has the right work ethic. As more of an insider, do you think he has the desire and drive to succeed that O'Neal had? If not, do you think it's already time to make a move before his "potential" fades and other teams notice his lack of work habits? -- Travis, Burlington, Vt.
That's a very good question given that the Bulls have a perfect example of the dynamic that you're talking about in Marcus Fizer. I'm not saying Fizer is as valuable as Curry. But the point is this: A year ago, before Fizer tore up his knee, he could've maybe drawn some trade interest. Now the Bulls are having trouble practically giving him away. On trades, you have to strike when a player has his highest value. And one more inconsistent season and Curry may have little trade value. That said, I don't see how you give up on this kid. Yes, he is indifferent at times. Yes, he is clueless at times on defense and rebounding. And, no, he doesn't have the work ethic or the drive of O'Neal, in my opinion. But he's also 21, with a load of offensive talent, and you've already come this far with him. The only way I would trade Curry is if the Bulls strike it rich in the draft lottery and then you can package him with the high pick for an established star. This summer will be telling.
Since the Bulls appear so bad, why not use a run-and-gun type offense? Heck, even if they score 120 points a game and give up 130, they would be more exciting and could build their confidence on offense. You can always work on defense. --Phil Poe, Leaf River, Ill.
You have to rebound the ball to run-and-gun. And it's tough to rebound when you're taking the ball out of the net after opponents' scores.
I'm not trying to make an excuse for Eddy Curry, but I think a major factor in his development is the on-again, off-again contribution of Tyson Chandler. If this other 7-footer were on the court, teams would have a more difficult time using double teams on Curry and our offense would generally be much more productive. Tyson's high-energy game is an enormous part of the Bulls performance on both sides of ball. Your opinion? -- Eric, Chicago
My opinion is that this is Eric from Chicago disguised as Jerry Krause. Your logic is exactly what the Bulls' former GM believes. I agree to some extent. Curry definitely draws energy from Chandler. But Curry has to develop this mindset on his own.
Hi K.C., I just read your article on coach Skiles participating in practice. How about our GM Paxson -- has he ever taken part in a Bulls practice since he took control? How do you think would he fare against Skiles in a 1-on-1? -- Vladimir Todorov, Bulgaria
We asked Pax about this on the day that Skiles played. He laughed. In other words, don't expect to see it happening soon. And even Pax conceded that Skiles would win. Youth, after all, has its advantages.
Hey, KC, are you looking forward to that Brooklyn road trip? Great place to take a second honeymoon! Cheers! -- Dave McDonald, Madison, Wis.
If not there, we can always go to Beloit, Wis., and take a dip in the Holiday Inn pool for a romantic getaway. But, hey, Brooklyn can't be worse than the swamps of Jersey if the deal goes through.
Thanks for all your questions. Talk to you next week, K.C.