Ask Sam Smith

Playoffs? Yes, playoffs! From the tenor of the questions I've gotten the last month, most of you doubted it was likely and remain more concerned with what the Bulls can do to become better. But one thing this playoff run showed was they need a lot less work than division rivals Indiana and Milwaukee and with the right moves could make a run at Cleveland. Detroit's still out of reach for a few years, but this really could be the start of something. Heck, I'm almost ready to break into show tunes.

Hey, Sam, Tyson Chandler confronted a Hawks player after another Hawks player committed a flagrant foul on Andres Nocioni. Skiles said "That's a dumb play right there, we get a flagrant foul called for us. That's where we walk away." Do you agree? Isn't this the intensity and team concept that the Bulls need? Isn't this toughness something the Bulls need to add? --Mike, Springfield, Ill.

There's a difference between toughness and stupidity, especially fake toughness. No one is allowed to fight in the NBA. Sports confrontations are the actions of punks. It's Kenyon Martin-itis. Telling a guy how tough you are after a hard foul isn't the toughness you want. And then getting called for a technical foul and giving up a point for no reason is a mistake. Skiles understands this. Skiles knows toughness and how to get back at players. A well-timed elbow away from the ball when the referees aren't looking is toughness and a message. Not acting tough for the TV cameras. It's like the guy yelling, "Hold me back, hold me back" in a potential confrontation and then when someone lets him go he says, "I said hold me back."

Possible off-season trade, a good ol' fashioned one-for-one: Carlos Boozer for Ben Gordon. Gives the Bulls a big man to sit next to Tyson, and lets the Bulls go for the best player available with the Knicks pick, rather than going into the draft thinking, "BIG MAN, BIG MAN!!!!!!!" Boozer's had some injuries, but he seems like a hard worker, and would seemingly come into camp in the best shape of his life. We'd get the low-post scorer we need, and the Jazz could pencil in Ben and Deron in the lineup for the next 12 years. --Chris, Forest Park, Ill.

Well, I'm not so sure the Jazz would see it that way. Williams then would have to do the Kirk Hinrich thing and defend the two guards, and from what I've seen of Deron Williams, he's no Kirk Hinrich. Look, we all love the great moments Ben provides, but he's a specialty player and won't draw a lot in a deal yet, which is why in the end I expect he'll remain with the Bulls. Boozer is an interesting guy. He's got this big contract and has been a target of the Jazz' erratic owner, Larry Miller. They might want to get out from under the liability, though I hear they'd only trade him to the East. He's not that big, really maybe 6-7 or 6-8 and not a leaper. But he can shoot and run the floor. I think the Bulls will inquire, but I hear the Jazz are telling teams now they don't intend to deal him.

Sam, in reference to the opening paragraph of your last Q&A ... So, you're saying the Bulls are the Cream of the Crap? Sorry, couldn't resist. --Carl Baumeister, Salt Lake City

Wish I'd thought of that one.

What's stopping Luol Deng from playing the two guard. He seems to move well and has some length that would give his defensive assignment trouble. With Deng and Hinrich starting, Gordon and Duhon off the bench, that seems to be a pretty good rotation. With Noce at small forward and Chandler at back up center we would only need two players. --Steven Sivak, Kenosha, Wis.

Scott Skiles. Actually, you can't blame him. That would be asking a lot of Deng, who's just 21 and fitting well as a small forward. I believe the Bulls will look at that possibility more next season, though I doubt it will stop them from trying to get a big guard. If they cannot in the draft or trade, I think they'll play Deng there more next season. Right now, justifiably, they feel it would be unfair and too big a burden on Deng, who struggled some early in the season and now seems to feel comfortable at small forward.

Hey, Sam, I've been a big fan for a while. I'm currently watching the Cavs-Pistons right now and the Bulls-Atlanta game. In the halftime report on ESPN, Greg Anthony called Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon one of the best backcourts right now. He said that they're going to be great in the future. What do you think about that? Do you think that Ben and Kirk could become a great backcourt like Greg Anthony says? Thanks. --Colin Hogan, Buffalo Grove, Ill.

Greg Anthony is about 5-10, so he thinks Kirk and Ben are a big backcourt. You want to compete against the best, and how do they ever against, say, Billups and Hamilton at 6-3 and 6-6. Cleveland's got Larry Hughes and even LeBron in the backcourt often. Jason Kidd and Vince Carter. You've got to have the size to match these teams. Sometimes you can get away with it as the Bulls have done, but over the course of the season it makes you a .500 team. I think Kirk and Ben could be part of a good three-guard rotation, but you need someone else at least 6-5 or 6-6 to deal with some of the bigger guards. True, the Bulls rebound well and defend well, but it stretches the team being so small in the backcourt and doesn't lead to playoff success.

Sam, I believe a good basketball team is created primarily with the cohesion and continuity gained by building around a solid core and avoiding major upheavals. The Bulls young core of Deng, Nocioni, Hinrich and Chandler is solid and will improve. Duhon and Gordon are good role players, but not untouchable in the right scenario. If Paxson opts not to extend Hinrich in a year, perhaps the Bulls could try to go after hometown hero Dwyane Wade in a sign-and-trade or an outright offer. I know conventional wisdom suggests that Wade will re-sign with Miami considering his success there and the lack of Floridian income tax, plus Miami's ability to offer an additional year. But I think that in another year Shaq will be even less effective (he missed an average of 15 games a year the last five seasons, due to his behemoth frame and the punishment he takes), and Alonzo Mourning's aging will leave Miami in decline. Could you envision a way to get Wade or Chris Bosh for that matter? Lebron James is an Ohio kid, but would he consider the Second City market, if his shoe company throws down some incentive? --Henry Wimmer, San Fancisco

Can you also send a copy of your e-mail to Wade and tell him how bad he's about to have it. Send it to his South Beach modeling site. Guys don't seem to want to leave Miami. Tim Hardaway went and never left and continues to ask for tryouts with the Heat. The Heat knows its future is with Dwyane, and Shaq will struggle along for three or four more years with that $20 million a year hanging out there. The problem the Bulls face, and it may not be that big in the long run, is it's almost impossible to get a "star" player from another team. There are so few true ones in the NBA that teams don't give them up. And the kids like LeBron, Bosh and Wade worry more now about security and a long-term deal and no one plays out contracts anymore other than older veterans, like Sam Cassell or Al Harrington. I agree the Cs, continuity and cohesion, are important and believe the Bulls will tinker some with their core, but not make major changes while adding a few pieces, like the draft picks and a free agent like Harrington or Nazr Mohammed on the notion that whomever they add will help the depth of the team.

Hey, Sam, you know I'm one of your biggest fans, but you haven't been giving Gordon much love lately. He's got a great attitude, work ethic, and never really complains. Don't you think we should keep a guy with character like that? I know he makes silly mistakes sometimes, and needs to work on his handles and turnover problems, but he sure can light it up. He's only in his second year and I know that he'll be working harder than any Bull over the summer. What do you think? --James Kwak, Lake Barrington, Ill.

I do like Ben. He's always cooperative and when he lets you in a little is a funny guy. And as we've seen lately, he does light it up at times. Like Skiles says, he's a unique player because we rarely see guys who can come in, seem oblivious to the pressure and situation and hit big shots. There are fewer of those guys in the NBA than you think. Right, so why am I always trying to trade him? You would hate to lose a guy like that. But as Skiles also likes to note, the Bulls have been a last-place team most of the season. They have several major needs, like a starting center, shooting guard and power forward, and you need to begin filling those positions. If they can without dealing Ben, I'm all for that. But he can be a luxury for a team with so many needs.

I was looking into what the Bulls could do this summer and what about this? Sign Nazr Mohammed, draft Brandon Roy with your pick from N.Y., do a sign-and-trade with the Hawks for Al Harrington for Ben Gordon, and draft another big man with the other pick like Hilton Armstrong. Your starting five Mohammed, Harrington, Deng, Roy, Hinrich. Off the bench, Chandler, Duhon, Songalia, Armstrong, Allen, Nocioni. What do you think? --Blesson, DeKalb, Ill.

You raise an interesting point and something I've always wondered about in the draft. I remember a general manager once telling me he liked Tim Hardaway but had too high a pick to take him. So he took a big guy who never did much. Teams get too caught up in going big and taking the guys who everyone thinks are the best. I say if you find a player you like and who can fill a position for you and be a good player for years, take him. Scouts say Roy could be a terrific big guard. At No. 1? Or a raw LaMarcus Aldridge, though will he be an NBA center? It's something the Bulls could do if they did like Roy as most teams do. And then go into free agency to get a big man like Mohammed or Joel Przybilla. It would be controversial and no one has ever done it. But it could be one of the possibilities the Bulls consider.

A parameter that I would like to see as a measure of defensive ability is blocks-to-fouls ratio. Andrei Kirilenko would be the best defensive player in that light, not Ron Artest or Bruce Bowen. On a night he blocked eight shots, he had no fouls. What do you think of that? -- Arnold Singer, Carlsbad, Calif.

What's that old quote about lies, damn lies and statistics? I think it was Mae West who said it. Anyway, that's the problem with applying stats too much to basketball. You can do it with baseball in which everyone stops and watches one guy do something. It's not that way in basketball because of so many moving parts whose efforts matter. It's why these guys who write these studies based on stats are so far off base. Or out of bounds for basketball. Kirilenko does some nice things on defense, but usually blocking balls from behind after he let his man get by. His defense is spotty and to consider him a great defender based on his statistics does a disservice to the effort of players like Artest and Bowen. You have to watch the games to understand the NBA and not add up the numbers.

Who's the top free agent you think the Bulls should go after this off-season, and, who's the one free agent you think they have the best shot at landing? Thanks. --Adam K., Tempe, Ariz.

It's hard to say now because it depends on the draft picks and whether they make any trades, but I would say the most likely would be Nazr Mohammed or Nene.

This is probably a dumb question, but can Paxson draft Oden a year early, like Auerbach did with Bird? --Alex, Wilmette, Ill.

There are no dumb questions, other than when reporters ask, "How does it feel?" Can you believe some of those questions you hear reporters ask? The NBA changed the rules last summer so that high school kids will have to wait until they are one year out of high school to be eligible for the NBA draft. I believe it should have been three years as I think the influx of so many uncoached, immature kids has been the NBA's biggest problem. Back then, Larry Bird was eligible for the draft after four years in college, but went a fifth year because he started at Indiana and transferred to Indiana State.

Sam, why isn't Sheldon Williams more highly regarded as a big man? A hard-working, quick leaping shot-blocker from a successful program who can score around the basket I'd expect to be coveted. Sure, a jump shot would be nice, as would some extra height, but Wes Unseld was no giant either. What's the knock on Williams? --Glen Hanus, Monument, Colo.

His skills are questioned. NBA scouts wonder about his agility and feel he didn't grow much as a player. The sense is he merely overpowered players in college, but won't be able to do that in the pros. But at the Bulls second first-round pick he could be a realistic possibility.

The Bulls have come a long way since their glory days, but I'm worried that the organization's patience is about up. Our core is still one of the youngest in the NBA, and I feel like we really only need a few more pieces. One of which is a big scorer who can get to the free-throw line. Is Peja a legitimate option for us? He has a huge fan base in Chicago and is familiar with Darius Songaila. I feel if healthy, he could do a lot for our team. --Larry Kaganovsky, Ingleside, Ill.

I think they like Peja and will take a run at him. But after the trade of Ron Artest, I don't see how the Pacers can let him go and I expect they'll outbid everyone else. In the end, they all want to see the money.

Sam, I am a big Bulls fan and want them to be a contending team next year rather than go through another season like this year. So I believe the Bulls should do two things this off-season. First, they should do a deal sending Ben Gordon, Othella Harrington and a draft pick for Jason Richardson. Second, they should deal Chandler, Duhon and their other draft pick for Jermaine O'Neal. With these deals we are looking at a starting lineup of Hinrich PG, Richardson SG, Deng SF, O'Neal PF and Przybilla C. What do you think? --Juan Rojas, Bedford Park, Ill.

The rest of the NBA isn't quite yet a feeder system for the Bulls like the old Kansas City Athletics were for the Yankees in baseball. You're probably too young to remember that. White Sox fans hated that. I believe Richardson ends up staying in Golden State and while I think O'Neal will be traded, I think they'll want an All-Star or someone close in return.

What do think about Al Harrington? I heard that he's interested in signing with the Bulls this summer. Is he the type of player/big man the Bulls are looking for? Or is he more of a small forward? Looking at his rebounding numbers, it does not seem like he's a low-post threat. What are your thoughts? Thanks. --Eric, Chicago

I'm not a big fan. In the end, I think he's really a true sixth man and would be a very good one. He's more power forward than small forward, but not a great rebounder. He'd help the Bulls some, but at what price. I wouldn't spend too much of my salary cap room on him.

Would you suggest trading the draft picks or a pick and a player for Elton Brand? He is younger than Garnett and instantly addresses a hole on the Bulls. There is no better player to work with Skiles and Johnny Pax than this All-Star --Krishna, Kansas City, Mo.

I go to sleep every night repeating, "Elton Brand is a Clipper, Elton Brand is a Clipper." That train has left the station. Teams make mistakes all the time and the Bulls did with Brand, but they are in good position now to build a solid team for the future without Brand, whom the Clippers will never deal.

How come the Bulls have never brought in a special assistant coach specifically to work with their young big men, like Orlando did during Dwight Howard's rookie year and the Lakers currently do for Andrew Bynum? Circumstances are slightly different now that Eddy Curry is no longer the Bulls' big project, but wouldn't it still be worth it to give Tyson Chandler and whatever young big man they pick up in the draft some extra attention? --Gene Kelly, Brooklyn, N.Y.

It's something I've wondered about and have always thought big men are different and need a little extra care. I asked Bill Walton about this since he was, in my eyes, the perfect big man the way he played the game, and he's done some tutoring. He told me he doesn't care for the idea and believes the game should be the same for everyone and everyone should think all the positions and not separate yourself. If it's good enough for Bill, it's good enough for me and the Bulls.

Am I crazy for thinking the Bulls would benefit immensely by picking up a space-eating, role-playing center, like in the old days (see Luc Longley)? Why doesn't Pax make a move? Steven Hunter was available cheap! And by the way, Victor from Aurora is smoking crack if he thinks Krause was a good GM. Don't just look at W-L record. The whole picture says the guy did a bad job over many, many years. --Patrick, New York

I checked with Victor and he said he was free-basing. No, just joking. Krause will always have his detractors, but he did some good things and the team won six championships when he was general manager. Maybe not because of him, but maybe he didn't get in the way. As for Hunter, he'd be a space-eater only on a nok hockey court. He's too skinny and usually unaggressive. I think the Bulls will find someone to fill that kind of role to combine with Tyson Chandler. They'll be much bigger on the front line next season.

How about LaMarcus Aldrige and Ronnie Brewer in the draft, then Al Harrington in free agency? I think that the quick fix trades for a veteran will not work. I think we have no choice but to take our lumps and wait for the young kids to develop. Maybe we get a top lottery pick from NY next year. As a Bulls fan I hope Isiah Thomas keeps his job for many years to come. --Bob, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Glad to see someone in New York enjoying the mess, though I haven't given up on Larry Brown's ability to get the team better. Aldridge is a possibility, though Brewer may not be their kind of guy as he doesn't shoot well. They'll take fewer and fewer lumps and probably go similar to the way you suggest.