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Q&A with Matt from Blog-a-Bull

chi.gif Matt from Blog-a-Bull and I exchanged a few questions in advance of the first Celtics/Bulls matchup of the season later tonight. 

My questions to Matt:

1. Finish this sentence.  "Someone stole Kirk Hinrich and replaced him with  _______ ..."

His alter-ego, as coined by Kelly Dwyer: "The Mopey Iowan." The guy who fouls on defense, shorts his jump shots, is afraid to finish at the rim, makes bad decisions with the ball, and exhibits it all with a sunken face and slumped shoulders.

Nearly every Bull has been worse this season, but after a career-best '06-'07, Kirk Hinrich has been bad enough as to not even belong in the league. He's never been a big playmaker, but what put him amongst the  top-10 PGs in the league was his low turnovers and solid defense. So when those facets leave along with a complete abandonment of his jump shot, it's been a complete disaster.

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2. Is there any salvaging the Scott Skiles era in Chicago?  What's up with him and Tyrus?

Amongst all the young talent that the Bulls possess, it's easy to overlook that Skiles is also a relatively young coach. And he's proven to be an above-average one. So like his team, I was hoping Skiles would get better this season.

But he hasn't changed, and is relying on the same trick: get players to play harder by yanking their minutes around if they don't. And that has worked enough to make his team's defenses always good (even this season: 5th overall), but it also means that more talented players get 'taught lessons' while lesser players that show more effort (or simply
make fewer mistakes) get the burn.

This season his panic rotation moves are even more bizarre than usual. 12th man Adrian Griffin started two games, Joe Smith went from a DNP one day to starting the next, and the supposed 'performance-based' minutes policy rarely seems to extend to Ben Wallace, who mind-bogglingly played the entire 48 minutes against Dallas on Monday.

Skiles should know that the only way this team moves forward is if their young players (Thomas, Sefolosha, Noah) become contributors for the playoffs, which isn't as conflicting as it sounds since in most cases they're also better right now than their older counterparts. What we'll likely see instead is Tyrus to continue to languish on the bench, at least one game where 40 minutes each for Wallace and Smith doom them, an early playoff exit, and at that point, a coaching change. I'm ok with avoiding that scenario and making the change now.

3. Any chance the Bulls might get back into bidding for Kobe or another star (especially around the deadline)?  Does the slow start put that to rest or turn up the heat?

The problem with making a major deal now is that this isn't just a slow start, or the same old Bulls: It's a complete disaster. Not that they won't eventually get out of it, but in the meantime it makes evaluation for the long-term extremely difficult.

Did this team have problems going into the season? Sure. But it's one thing to give them a shot to develop internally and then say "well, they definitely need post scoring and/or a go-to offensive player to get to the next level". But the team can't even address those problems until Hinrich, Gordon, and Deng simply get back to their norms. (their  norms! They're in their early 20s and should be better each year. Have I mentioned this season is a disaster?)

So in the short-term I think the heat's off, not only because their best chips are at a low trade value, but even getting Kobe wouldn't help them if everyone else still stinks. But it's a tough spot: do the Bulls deal some of their young talent now without knowing if this is just a fluke start for them? What about those who haven't even been given the chance to develop?

Big-picture, they're still in good standing (Wallace is their only big-money aging player), so no matter their awful record there isn't a true need to rush things into a risky win-now splash. December 15th is the magic date when Nocioni and Joe Smith (two of the guys actually performing) are eligible to be dealt, and I could definitely see a
mid-level deal made to try and save the season. And if there's a good deal to be made for a high-caliber player (Gordon+Deng for Gasol isn't one) I think that's always a possibility. But until the Bulls best players get back into gear, it's really just at wait and see (and cry) mode.


Here are Matt's questions to me: 

1. The Celtics are  #1 in defensive efficiency this season. Is Kevin Garnett that much of a difference on that end, and who else deserves credit for this facet of the new Celtics?

Yes, Kevin makes that big of a difference.  He's the anchor in the middle that also has enough quickness to keep up with the non-traditional bigs.  So he gets the majority of the credit.  Next in line is new assistant coach and defensive guru Tom Thibodeau.  After that, you just have to chalk it up to more veterans (including James Posey) and a real commitment to defense (it doesn't hurt when KG is giving teammates the crazy eyes and barking at them all game - he's kinda nuts like that, in a good way).

There's also the motivation factor.  Pierce is a much better defender this year because he's got more to play for and he has less to do on offense.  Same for Ray Allen.  So yeah, it is a lot of things, but mostly you can point to KG.


2. What non-Garnett/Allen offseason acquisition has been the best performer so far?

It is a tossup right now between Posey and Eddie House.  House brings instant offense off the bench and Posey is a veteran leader who has really surprised me (and apparently Doc too) with how much he brings to the table.  Not only does he play defense, but he hits dagger three pointers in the fourth quarter.  And lately he's even been able to get to the rim more often as well.


3. Right now everything's going fantastic. But as the season goes on, what specific areas you be looking for as potential red-flags before entering the playoffs?

Well, everyone is watching the minutes the big three are playing with a stopwatch and a growing ulcer.  The minutes are not out of control yet, but even Doc is starting to admit that he needs to steal some rest of those guys from time to time.  It is the old push and pull that ever coach of a veteran team must deal with.  How do you ignore the good of the individual game in order to preserve the long term benefits of more rest? 


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