Ask Sam Smith

SportsBasketballChicago BullsNBATyson ChandlerKirk HinrichDrew Gooden

Perhaps we should have thought about this sooner, but I'm going to be answering your questions about the Bulls and the NBA through the rest of the regular season and playoffs. And while we cannot get in every question, I will read them all. I've found many duplicate questions in the short time since we've started this; when I get those, I'll just pick one and answer that. I've been writing about the Bulls and the NBA for the Tribune for more than 20 years, so if there's anything you're wondering about, this is the place.

This week the most questions were about what the Bulls will do in the draft. I suspect that means many of you don't believe the Bulls will make the playoffs. That's hardly a given, though it is reasonable to assume they won't get far if they are a playoff team.

Who should we be watching in the NCAA tourney that could help the Bulls come draft time? --Brett Lankes, Chicago

Obviously, some of the top players because they have the Knicks' No. 1. I'm doing a first-round mock draft for the Sunday paper for those of you who remember newspapers. Texas' LaMarcus Aldridge and Gonzaga's Adam Morrison are regarded as the best along with Connecticut's Rudy Gay. The Bulls also have a big priority for a shooting guard or another guard or wing player to go with Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon, preferably someone who can defend, maybe Rodney Carney from Memphis or Ronnie Brewer from Arkansas. If Illinois gets to them, maybe Brandon Roy of Washington. You'll also want to look at power forwards like Duke's Josh McRoberts or LSU's Tyrus Thomas.

What free-agent big man should I go after this offseason? The obvious candidates are: Al Harrington, who is not all that big; Nene, who does not have a post game and has injury issues; Joe Pryzbilla, who is not all that skilled; and Drew Gooden, who may or may not be a weak defender? --"John Paxson", Chicago

I like this one since Jerry Krause never asked my advice. So even if this isn't that John Paxson, I'd say probably Harrington for his ability to score in the post and perhaps Cleveland's Drew Gooden, Kirk Hinrich's college teammate. Though it's not usual, if I couldn't get a big-time player from trade or free agency, I'd use the two draft picks and hold the money for a better free agent class in 2008.

Sam, was wondering what's your take on the Bulls' chances to make the playoffs, and if we don't make the playoffs, what changes do you think John Paxson can make to turn Chicago into a top 4 team in the East in the next 2-3 seasons? --Bryce T. Englin, Cairo, Egypt

Didn't think that was Internet café conversation in Cairo, which may put more pressure on the Bulls. I'm among the few who believe they have a reasonable chance to grab one of the last two spots because the Bucks looks fragile and the 76ers seem to remain dysfunctional. Even Paxson said after the Eddy Curry trade this would be a "step back" season and as hard as that is to digest for fans, he was right. This isn't the best season for free agents and draft picks. The good news is the top of the East is relatively weak and the Bulls have a chance to get back in the top four if they get a little lucky in the draft.

After reading your article on Tim Thomas I was left with one question: What do you think happened between the Bulls and Thomas? --Josh Hendon, Normal, Ill.

It became a cliché last season, but everyone should have listened more carefully. General manager John Paxson and coach Scott Skiles talked constantly about changing the culture of the team, which didn't mean going to more museums. It is a laudable goal. They will not tolerate sloth in any form. If you don't want to practice hard all the time and abide by their philosophy, the Bulls will show little patience. Thomas is known to be a casual player. The Bulls questioned him about it and when they didn't like his answer, they decided they didn't want him around. It actually is what the fans demand -- hard work, commitment, no one taking his paycheck for granted. Whether it can work in the long run in the star-oriented NBA is the challenge the Bulls face.

Sam, where would you guess the next Bulls All-Star is currently playing? In college, in Europe, in the NBA, or on the Bulls? --Dean Russ, Palatine, Ill.

I've been accused of bias on this one, but I truly believe it is Kirk Hinrich. He is as close to untouchable as anyone the Bulls have and several coaches around the NBA have asked me about whether the Bulls would trade him. I said no. There's by far the most interest in him among the Bulls players because a point guard is so valuable. After Dwyane Wade, Chauncey Billups, Gilbert Arenas and perhaps Vince Carter, Hinrich could grab an All-Star spot if the Bulls become a better team. Though I don't see a Bulls All-Star until at least 2008 since even if they get the overall No. 1 draft pick, I don't see anyone in this draft as an All-Star for several years.

If the Bulls draft Texas' LaMarcus Aldridge and sign Nazr Mohammed, could they trade some combination of Chris Duhon, Sweetney, Harrington, Pargo and their second first-round draft pick for a good, tall guard who could play both the 1 or 2 guard with Hinrich and Gordon? Which guard is available and which would you choose? With the three new players how much better could the Bulls be in 2006/07 in terms of wins? --Ron Artz, Waynesboro, Va.

Someone after my Monday GM job? That's not a bad plan, though I doubt if that bunch of role players would get you much in the line of a front-line big guard. You are right that the Bulls want a big defensive guard, though I think they'll end up pursuing him, as well, through the draft. Free agent Bonzi Wells fits the profile but isn't their kind of guy. Perhaps Peja Stojakovic, and there's even been some speculation about whether Luol Deng could swing to play some shooting guard. More likely is using their own draft pick for someone like Arkansas' Ronnie Brewer or Washington's Brandon Roy.

How do you think Paxson reacts to your columns? When making your trade suggestions, what type of background research do you undertake? How do Bulls players responded to your suggestions and criticisms? --Monsoor Khadir, Ames, Iowa

Not always well, as he's never been in position to be offered suggestions on his job in public before and no one really likes that. But that's sports. He's taken it better of late and the fact we've known each other for 20 years and he knows so many of my mistakes makes him feel better. Although many doubt it, I never try to come up with a trade suggestion that won't benefit both teams, makes sense to both and works according to the salary cap. Anyone can say, "Give us LeBron for Pargo and Nocioni." They've got to make sense for both sides, in personnel or economics, before I'll offer it.

As for the players, they understand better than the public and I've never had one get upset with me. They seem to enjoy the possibilities and fantasy aspect of it. Team executives and coaches generally get more upset since they feel it distracts the players. But the players understand better that it's all part of the job description. And more of my suggestions than you might think have even come from players wondering if they might go somewhere else.

What would the Bulls have to give up if they want to acquire Kevin Garnett? --Scott Subach, Elmwood Park, Ill.

The Bulls, and about 27 other teams, will try to get Garnett this summer. I'd say the Bulls' offer would have to include probably the best of the Bulls' two first-round picks and Tyson Chandler or Luol Deng. The bigger issue would be Garnett's preference. If he does ask out, he will probably work out an agreement with the Timberwolves to trade him, like the Lakers did with Shaq. Garnett will want to go somewhere he'll have a chance to win immediately. If the Bulls could make that deal, it's uncertain if they would have enough left to entice Garnett to come. The rumor mill has a pairing with Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson on the Lakers.

This is sort of an obscure question, but I cannot recall seeing Tyson Chandler dunk a basketball with one hand in any game. Can he dunk with one hand? If so, why doesn't he ever do it in a game? --Brad Ruey, Chicago

I love obscure. I've long wondered how the Bulls could have missed this scouting Chandler. His hands are small. Jerry Krause always raved about how he saw Scottie Pippen's long arms, and he was right on the effect. But small hands are a disaster for a player, another of the problems Kwame Brown has and even Patrick Ewing had, which is why they had to dunk with two hands so often. It's the main reason Chandler mishandles so many balls. But I think in time he can develop a reasonable shot from 15 feet.

What's your gut feeling about J.J. Redick? I think the Bulls should leap at the opportunity to draft another undersized guard and sport a lineup with Hinrich at power forward, Duhon at the three, Gordon and Redick simultaneously playing the point, and Jason Williams completing his amazing recovery to play center. --Sean Vogt, Monrovia, Calif.

Now that's funny. You sure you're not from New York, wise guy? But that best sums up the Redick question for the Bulls. He's another small guard and not all that athletic. The pros are not that high on him as a result, though as it gets closer to the draft I believe he'll move into the top seven or eight. The Bulls need tall players in their new theory that being closer to the basket makes it easier to score -- unless you're Tyson Chandler.

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