Every week, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.
1. Would Phil Jackson taking over the Knicks help or hurt the Bulls' chances of landing Carmelo Anthony?
Nick Friedell: It isn't going to help the Bulls, that's for sure. I've always believed Anthony was going to stay in New York and take the extra money, but it can't hurt to have Jackson in the fold with his championship pedigree. How well he will do as an executive is to be determined, but he has the rings to back up any point he wants to make to Anthony and his teammates.
Jon Greeberg: It should definitely hurt. While "Big Chief Triangle" (Jeff Van Gundy's nickname for Jackson when JVG was the Knicks' coach) has been critical of Anthony from afar, his arrival should help assuage Anthony's fears that he's going to finish the prime of his career playing for a three-ringed circus. Or at least, it'll give Anthony false hope that Jackson will help lead this mess to a title. Don't think like a fan. You know Anthony would love to stay in New York, because he'll get paid like a superstar in the center of the modern world. While I'm sure Chicago intrigues him and the chance to play in Miami would excite him, I'd bet a New York bialy he wants things to work out in Manhattan.
Scoop Jackson: My initial answer is hurt, but it really all depends on the position Phil takes once there, what his intentions are -- if any -- as far as coaching and whether he has any interest in keeping Melo there. That's the great and potential unknown. If/when Phil takes over and wants Melo to re-sign, what is he going to tell him that is going to make him stay? Is he going to promise him a new coach? Is he going to promise him that if that new coach doesn't work out after one year, he'll come down from his front office and do a Pat Riley and coach the team himself? Is he going to promise to get rid of J.R. Smith and get him a better point guard? It's really too soon to answer that question.
2. Can the Bulls beat the Pacers in the playoffs?
Friedell: Yes. I don't believe they will right now, but I believe they can. The reason being that they aren't scared of Indiana. The Pacers have gotten better over the past couple of seasons and almost knocked off the Heat in last year's playoffs, but the Bulls have always viewed them as a "little brother." They respect the Pacers, but they still think they can beat them in a seven-game series.
Greenberg: Yes. I don't think it would happen this season, but the Bulls can do it. The Bulls would need some good fortune and near-perfect defense, but it's possible. The obstacle to beating the Miami Heat in the playoffs is, of course, LeBron James. Paul George isn't LeBron. Indiana doesn't have that one guy, but it is a very balanced, defensively regimented championship contender. Still, the Bulls won't get mentally or physically bullied by their conference foe. While the Bulls' defense can corral Indiana, the big problem would be scoring against the only defense stingier than their own. While the Bulls' woebegone offense has picked up in the past couple of months, they have failed to score more than 80 points in three of their past four losses, and the outlier was against San Antonio, where they scored just 33 points in the first half. I'm excited to see these teams face off March 21 for the first time since Derrick Rose was injured. That will tell me a little more about the Bulls' chances.
Jackson: No. Not this year. Barring any significant injury to any main/core player on the Pacers' roster, that's asking too much of the Bulls to carry out that task over seven games without having HCA (home-court advantage). Two things would have to happen over the span of two weeks: The Bulls would have to play seven games at the same intensity and efficiency level they did against the Heat last week, and the Pacers over those same seven games would have to play like they recently did during the four games in a row they just lost. That's real talk. And if anyone honestly thinks both of those things are going to happen simultaneously ...
3. Is Jimmy Butler a top-five defender like Tom Thibodeau believes?
Friedell: Yes. Butler has taken over for Luol Deng on the defensive end without a hitch. He guards the opponent's best perimeter player each night and enjoys the challenge of trying to stop him. There aren't many guys in the league who have had success guarding Kobe Bryant, Anthony and LeBron James over the years, and Butler has slowed each one of them down at times. To take the next step in his progression, he must start shooting the ball better, but his defense is great.
Greenberg: Sure, he's probably in the neighborhood of that arbitrary number -- how many swingmen are known for their defense nowadays? -- but what's important is that Butler believes he's the best wing defender in the game. Shutting down LeBron at home -- James shot just 2-for-11 against Butler in the Bulls' win -- will do more for Butler's confidence than looking at his Synergy Sports numbers. Thibodeau trusts Butler to guard the best offensive wings, and his teammates back him up in the Bulls' all-for-one, one-for-all defense. Butler, like the rest of the Bulls, has to approach each game like it's Game 7 to keep winning at their current pace. He's an interesting player to study because he's only had one pro coach, and that's Thibs. He's been learning the same system since leaving Marquette, and all credit goes to Butler for thriving in it.
Jackson: Over the course of the season, I'd have to say no. But right now, without question, he is. Jimmy is playing defense at a level now that is as good as anyone in the league guarding from the 2, 3 and 4 positions. He's in a defensive zone right now that is equal to a great shooter saying, "The rim looks like an ocean." Offensive players have been at his mercy over the last month, not the other way around. The only problem is that he hasn't been consistently this dominant all season long. He'll make the All-Defensive Second Team this year and Joakim Noah will get the Defensive Player of the Year. But next year, Jimmy will not only be respected as one of the top-five defensive players in the league, he'll be rewarded by making All-Defensive First Team (with Noah).