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. Joakim Noah is healthy and playing better than ever. Is it time to trade him?
Nick Friedell: Not unless the Bulls are getting a superstar scorer in return. Noah is the heart and soul of this team and one of the main reasons they have turned their season around. He is by no means untradeable, but he shouldn't be moved unless the player coming back can score 25-30 a game next to Derrick Rose.
Doug Padilla: Absolutely not. While Noah could bring both salary relief and solid talent in a potential deal, this guy is the main part of the team’s core moving forward. His style, while unorthodox compared to other All-Star-caliber talent, perfectly fits the style of coach Tom Thibodeau. It only makes sense to build around Noah, not to mention Rose and even Jimmy Butler, instead of moving him in the hopes of acquiring another core-type player.
Scoop Jackson: Never. At some point, even in the face of deconstruction of the team, a core has to remain. Noah is part of that core. He, Rose and Thibs should be the foundation on which the organization builds on and moves forward with. I will say this: If the Bulls trade Noah, they will lose Thibs. We may not know it, but he’ll check out and then make it official the day his contract is up. And I won’t be mad at him at all.
2. Tom Thibodeau said Luol Deng was the glue of the Bulls. Are we finding out that it's really Noah?
Friedell: We're finding out that it's really Thibodeau. Noah has elevated his game and is playing the best basketball of his career. He's also become an even better leader without Deng and Rose around. But Thibodeau is the man who continues to press all the right buttons and devise the right schemes around the players that he does have.
Padilla: Not necessarily. While it is obvious that the Bulls have still been able to win since trading Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Deng was a big part of building the right attitude in the Bulls locker room. The Duke product was the example current Bulls players have been able to follow from Rose to Noah to Butler and Taj Gibson. Deng showed how to do things right from work ethic to game preparation to preparing yourself physically for the demands of the NBA.
Jackson: I think Thibs was speaking from a coach’s personal standpoint, not just what we see on the court. I think Thibs, in making and standing by that comment, was really speaking to the job and responsibility Luol had in holding the team down during the times Rose went down. Not saying that Noah didn’t do his thing, but a different set of responsibilities fell on Deng than on Noah without Rose. Especially offensively. The offense ran through Deng, and that’s not who he is as a player, but he did take that responsibility while at the same time still defending most other teams’ best players -- the LeBrons, KDs, Melos, Kobes, etc. -- every night. Plus, Thibs and Deng had/have a relationship that is a little different than Thibs and Noah. That also is something we must factor in.
3. On his fourth NBA team, why is D.J. Augustin thriving with the Bulls?
Friedell: He believes in his game again. He is having fun on the floor and he trusts that Thibodeau will put him in the right situations to succeed. The players respect the fact that Augustin has worked to get to where he is and have accepted him into the team's fabric quickly. Gar Forman and John Paxson deserve credit for picking him up, but even they didn't think he would be this good this quickly.
Padilla: Consistent playing time is probably one of the bigger reasons. The ninth overall selection in the 2008 draft has always had the talent, but after the 2010-11 season at Charlotte when he started every game, it seems obvious that inconsistent play cost him court time. Moving to Indiana then Toronto didn’t help as he apparently struggled to find a system that fit. Maybe it is as simple as Augustin realizing that he was running out of chances, but being trusted to run the pick and roll while being allowed to let his speed work to his advantage has done him wonders.
Jackson: Because of the season he had last year with the Pacers and what he went through. Last season, Augustin had the worst season of his life -- not just NBA career, his life. I went to at least 10 Pacers games last season and people were questioning why he was even in the League. I heard people say better things about Marquis Teague here than what Augustin heard last season in Indy. Augustin knows he’s a much better player than what he showed last season. So when the opportunity came from the Bulls, he did what any prideful ball player would do: showed and proved. All he’s doing is making sure he never experiences again what he went through last year. It’s really just that simple.