Johnny: What are your feeling about Derrick Rose's comments about taking games off so that he isn't sore? Did they irk you or were you understanding?
Matt: I think myself and most Bulls fans are on board with Rose not forcing himself into games where he's injured, even slightly, as a way to reduce risk of a major injury. It's a long season, and these games now simply don't matter as much as they do later. His actual comments ('meetings and graduations') were irredeemably dumb, but he does that sometimes. The team seems to know his true commitment to the team, and that matters more than what we think.
Johnny: Speaking of Rose, given all that he has gone through, do you still view him as a viable cornerstone of the franchise?
Matt: At this point it's more that he needs to be the cornerstone, whether it plays out that way or not. He makes 1/3rd of the Bulls cap for the next 3 seasons, so you just have to hope for the best. This latest return has not gone well considering how often he's had minor injuries crop up during this season. There's still time, but ultimately we do need to see a large stretch of continuous healthy games to feel good about our chances in the playoffs.
Johnny: Over the off-season, the Bulls and the Lakers basically traded power forwards. What do you think about Pau Gasol as a replacement for Carlos Boozer?
Matt: So far it's been pretty fantastic. Boozer had (especially in the season prior) become such a deliberate, plodding player that Gasol's ability to simply react to defenses with fluidity and skill is a welcome upgrade. As his legitimate 7-foot frame. Gasol is no longer at his peak but he's still tall enough to convert easy looks and do some rim protection, whereas Boozer was always undersized and his diminished athleticism only made him more vulnerable on both ends.
Johnny: The offseason also saw you draft Doug McDermott, from what you have seen, do you think he will develop into a valuable contributor on this squad anytime soon?
Matt: I haven't seen much to like from McDermott. It's obviously still early and Thibodeau does need to 'give' (as opposed to making him earn) some minutes to try and build him up during the season, but right now the evidence is that he's not ready yet. I think he's shown skill that would suggest he would be putting up decent numbers on a bad team, but on this squad he's expected to be a second/third option and hold his own defensively, which has been a struggle. Players do seem to improve over the course of a season under Thibs, so it'd also not be surprising if he's starting ahead of Mike Dunleavy before the playoffs begin.
Johnny: The Bulls were one of the betting favorites to win championship this year, just behind the Cavs and Spurs. Though it is still early in the season, do you think this is a realistic expectation based on the level of play so far? What kind of season are you expecting from the Bulls?
The good news is that the Bulls have a nice record and some really impressive stretches of play with a lot of things going against them so far. Both Rose and Noah haven't made it back to 100%, and the rookies (the aforementioned McDermott as well as Nikola Mirotic) have yet to consistently contribute. They've also had a fairly easy schedule, but did look really good in a win over Toronto last week, one of the teams they need to separate themselves from in the East. The conference is so weak the Bulls would have to look really poor to be worried yet, and so far they've looked pretty good in spite of some issues.
I'd like to take the time to thank Matt for giving such great answers to my questions. Check out more of his thoughts over at BlogaBull.