Ask Sam Smith

Start the draft debate. Actually, next week for us since my deadline for this Q&A is Wednesday. So all the emails I've answered this week came before the Bulls got the No. 2 pick in the draft lottery. I answered in the start of what I believe will occur. But I also think the Bulls are open to almost anything and will be involved in numerous trade discussions. Yes, it is my fantasy. My trade talks just are more public. Is this a great time of year, or what?

Hey, Sam, if the Bulls stay conservative this summer in the free-agent market, do they have a legit shot to make a run at Lebron James in 2008. Seeing as MJ is his idol. --Terry Cvengros, Zion, Ill.

I've been assuming all along LeBron would re-up in Cleveland as it seems the owner has done everything but rename his kids LeBron. When people sneeze there now, staff are required to say, "LeBron, bless you."

But after spending some time with the Cavs in the conference semifinals last week, I'm wondering. It's not a very good team they've put together around him and they're pretty much locked in with long deals for Larry Hughes, Eric Snow, Donyell Marshall and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Those are not players who will get better and didn't help James much in the playoffs. The trend these days has been for the kids all to re-up early to get the big guaranteed money before an injury. But LeBron has banked so much already he may be immune to that.

The worry in Cleveland is the Nets. They're moving to Brooklyn in 2009 or 2010 and James is said to be close with one of their owners, rapper Jay-Z, I think. I know there's a rapper as a minority owner and I know he's friends with James, but I'm still trying to find the location of the next Lesley Gore concert. Also, James is close with this group of friends around him and they supposedly yearn for the big city. LeBron in New York City would be monstrous and might wipe out the Jordan legacy. You don't do that in Cleveland. Sorry, but I don't see him doing that for the Bulls, though I think James underestimates Jerry Reinsdorf's ability to skew younger.

What were the true dynamics of the relationship between MJ and Pip on and off the court? --John Young, Mesa, Ariz.

It was love-hate. It was never close, but also never bad. Pippen yearned to have everything Jordan did (like, who didn't?), but also didn't like the fealty Jordan demanded from those around him. Scottie tends to be a quieter, more remote type though he enjoyed the social scene and benefits of his celebrity as much as Michael. The irony is while Scottie liked the support role on the court, he detested it off the court. They are not close these days, though a mutual disdain for Jerry Krause probably still links them despite Krause really doing more than they'd like to admit for both their careers.

What's it like doing all the traveling to follow the Bulls? I assume you're riding commercial? Flying commercial can be a pain in the butt especially with the back-to-back games. Do you ever ride the team plane? --Scott Gorham, Golden, Colo.

I'm not the fulltime beat writer anymore who covers all the games, though I do about a dozen to help out to add to my primary responsibility covering other NBA games. I know I hate hearing all those "good 'ol days" reminisces from people, but I was lucky because when I did travel with the Bulls fulltime it was the good 'ol days. We all traveled together on commercial flights.

I doubt a player today would even know how to make a reservation. I have to smile listening to players today whine about back-to-backs and being tired. It's a joke. They have chartered aircraft everywhere.

And this wasn't long ago and with Michael Jordan. NBA rules then required you take the first flight out on back-to-backs to make it to the second city. Today teams can leave after the games on flights with captains' chairs and even beds to spread out. The league also required you be at the airport one hour before the flight. That was pre security when you could stroll in 15 minutes before. So there was the whole team sitting at the gate for an hour. The players did get first class, at least the 12 active, but the coaches sat in coach (no pun), and they were mostly former players. Imagine Phil Jackson squeezing into a middle seat. Back then we were all friends. I rode on the team bus and at the team hotel, sometimes a Holiday Inn or airport Sheraton, the team staff would include our luggage with the team's.

Now NBA teams won't even let media see the team plane. No one gets to ride it, or the bus. Back then they'd include us at the team hotel and get us a rate. Now they sometimes won't tell you where the team is staying. So today's travel can be a grind trying to catch up with a team that left the night before. But it's a terrific job. You're not part of the team, but you become part of the extended family. The guys are way, way better than the public believes and if you ever get a chance to spend a season covering the NBA, you'll never forget the experience.

Sam, you must be getting tired of fixing the Bulls. What would you do as GM of the Wizards? What's your judgment on the changes last summer--losing Larry Hughes, trading Kwame Brown for Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins and then releasing Atkins; signing Antonio Daniels? --Mike Crosswell, Arlington, Va.

Thanks, as I do really consider myself the league's GM. I thought the Wizards did well in the summer as Hughes wasn't worth that much money given his health history, and he was out again this season. I like Eddie Jordan, but that team needs a kick in the butt. They don't just go under screens, they take detours around highway cones. Your leaders have to set the defensive model, which is their problem.

If Gilbert Arenas wants to be a true star, he has to work at the defense end. He doesn't and it infects the team. I'd get rid of Brendan Haywood first given his indifferent attitude. The Bulls showed you can defend with smaller players. It takes effort. They have enough talent. Is it the coach's job to push them? Or do they have to make up their minds to be more than mediocre? Thus far the Wizards have shown only they're happy with individual stats and general community acceptance. It starts with Arenas, not Jordan. In Caron Butler and Antonio Daniels, they have some players who'll work hard, but your leader cannot be your weak spot on defense.

We love the Bulls and your articles in Switzerland, too! Everybody's speaking about LaMarcus Aldridge and Tyrus Thomas, but I think Andrea Bargnani would be a better pick for Chicago? Can I have your opinion about that? --Mat, Switzerland

I don't think so. The talk is Bargnani has a wink deal to go to Toronto and teams fear he could stay in Europe if he is a lottery pick, which would produce a bigger contract overseas. The Bulls cannot afford their first pick not to come to the NBA, like Orlando last season. But now with Toronto getting No. 1, he should be there, and, again, I doubt the Bulls will be interested.

I live in Austin and have watched LaMarcus Aldridge play. I think he is soft and cuddly, a la Brad Sellers. Do you really think he is worth a No. 1 pick? Surely Brad Sellers is available for less money. --Sean, Austin, Texas

Ouch! That will scare the heck out of Bulls fans as Brad was a Big 10 rebounding leader. Michael Jordan didn't care for Brad and Brad would have been better had Michael not beaten him down so badly. But no one wants to get a look at the next Brad. NBA types are higher on Aldridge than you are, but there is that reputation.

Hey Sam, is there any chance the Bulls can acquire Antoine Walker from the Miami Heat? Would our second first-round pick be enough to satisfy the Heat? It would be great to see this guy finish his career in his hometown and we also need him so badly in the post. He also can shoot three pretty well and the most important fact is he's a veteran and a former All-Star. He would help us a lot with our young team. --Victor J. Rodriquez, Chicago

It probably would satisfy Miami fans, who consider boating and booing Walker recreation these days. They've taken a big risk on Walker as the key to reshaping their team and the test comes in the next two weeks against the Pistons. He's not a Bulls kind of player given he doesn't defend well, isn't a classic perimeter shooter and trash talks a lot. Plus, doing what you suggest would exhaust much of the Bulls salary cap room, and they think they can do much better. We'll see.

Why don't we trade Ben Gordon for a couple of second round picks? This guy doesn't play defense and he's too short and maybe a couple of young and athletic players would help the Bulls succeed. Remember, defense wins championships! --Kevin Rodriguez, Aurora, Ill.

I love the Ben debate which ranges from "I'll never see a Bulls game again if they trade him" to your email. Chicagoans, really like people in many cities, tend to fall in love with certain players. Ben is one of those guys for many people because of his fabulous shooting displays. They do need to make some sort of decision on him, though. Is he a sixth man or is he going to start with Kirk Hinrich? Should they trade him or make him an untouchable part of their future?

I've long believed Ben is best as a sixth man for the Bulls and don't believe he sees himself in that role. It's too soon to say, but one great place for Ben would be Phoenix with their open, three-point shooting style. I'm not sure he fits with Steve Nash, either, but the style of play could overcome that. There have been rumors the Suns would give up Shawn Marion, and if the Bulls like him enough, I wouldn't be surprised if the Suns would go for Ben and the Bulls' top pick. But is that too much to give up? Hey, I'm supposed to provide the answers, but that's an intriguing question.

Sam, everyone is looking to either deal the two No. 1's this year for a player or use them. What about trading one (or both) for a pick (or two) in next year's draft. Do you think a stockpile of picks next year would be valuable and help enable a move up for Greg Oden, assuming the Knicks don't deliver us No. 1 next year? --Rob, Boulder, Colo.

You and two dozen other GM's. This isn't a very good draft, but next year's could be an all-timer with Oden expected and another big kid, Hawes from Washington, also a possibility pros are drooling over. No one's about to give up a chance at one of those kids and be one of those teams who had a shot at Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, as teams did, but lost out because they had traded their draft picks.

Do you think that there are any possibilities of Ben Wallace leaving Detroit if the Pistons fall apart and lose the series to the Cavs? The Bulls seem to be following the Pistons "team" build and are a much younger team. Also, they fit his hard working defensive mentality and I think Ben (Wallace) would fit in good with the Bulls. --Joe, Staten Island, N.Y.

I didn't think much of it until going into the series with the Cavs. Ben's Defensive Player of the Year award was a retirement gift from media not watching carefully. He's not that kind of player anymore and really defends in spurts. He's said to be looking for a big, long-term deal and I wouldn't be surprised knowing his pride level for him to get insulted and look to leave. I also wouldn't be surprised the way this postseason is going to see the Pistons make some major changes. That said, I'd only take a shot at Ben if it were a short term, two or three-year deal given his age and offensive deficiencies. I think the Bulls have some better options.

Is John Paxson interested in Adam Morrison? He could play shooting guard and come off the bench. --Chuck, Kalamazoo, Mich.

I think Morrison is the most interesting figure in this draft. Some executives love him and see Larry Bird-esque charisma and stardom. Others see more Tom Gulgiotta white hype. Though Gugliotta was very good until his knee injuries. He looks like an NBA small forward, though not a defender or rebounder as yet. That's the Bulls' best position with Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni. Deng could be impressive trade bait if they were to take Morrison. Morrison sure looks like a fan favorite and would be something to see in the NBA with what I hear is very often mean-spirited trash talking. But the Bulls will most likely go for the best big man at No. 2.

Hey, Sam, I always find your trade proposals very entertaining and creative. Ok that's enough kissing up. Why don't we hear Rudy Gay's name being mentioned as a potential Bull? He has all the tools to be a superstar sort of like a McGrady when he wants to play "D." Wouldn't Skiles get more out of him than any other coach? He can create for himself and play "D". What do you think? Bigger ceiling than Roy? --Alex, Pennsauken, N.J.

See, kissing up gets you in print. Or whatever this is called in cyberspace. Gay could be really terrific and the surprise star of this draft. The truth often in drafts is the best players don't come from the top one or two picks unless it's someone like LeBron or Duncan and everyone knows going in. Executives tell me Gay has the most talent, but they all wonder about his work ethic and interest in the game. My guess is someone gets a good pick with him between Nos. 5 and 10.

Hey, Sam, I remember reading last year that Brazilian Tiago Splitter was supposed to be one of the top big man prospects coming into this year's draft. It seems like he has fallen down the board a bit. Do you think Splitter will be a good player in the league and do you think he will be on the board by the time of the Bulls' second first-round pick? --DCHAV, Chicago

He's is supposed to have a big buyout in his contract and may not be available to the NBA next season even though he could be drafted. He might be an interesting risk for the Bulls at No. 16 since they can get some big men in free agency and then bring him over next year and have another big man coming on the team.

Am I crazy for obsessing over Troy Murphy as a great fit for the Bulls? It sounds like the Warriors like Diogu more and would like to get rid of Murphy's contract. He is one of the few guys in the league to average a double-double and his shooting touch would seem to be a perfect fit for the Bulls' motion and pick-and roll-sets. Also, what about Maggette? I assume that he wouldn't be a Skiles/Paxson type of guy, but he has great size and can really fill it. --Jay Iaquinta, Oklahoma, Okla.

A. I think Murphy is a real possibility as you know those Notre Dame guys remain loyal to one another and the Warriors are supposed to be looking to dump salary. As for Maggette, the talk continues to be he'll be made available even though the Clippers deny it. My guess is there's an internal debate going on and eventually he'll be traded, but not for a draft pick.

The Bulls want/need an athletic, defensive minded big guard. Why not take Temple's Mardy Collins with their other first-rounder? He's a leader on the floor and a ball hawk. That would even allow Hinrich to move to SG if necessary. But he could defend the Lebrons and Kobes and give Hinrich a break every now and again. Justin, Philadelphia

That's the idea, but someone who can do those things should be gone by the 16th pick and if he isn't, my guess is he can't.

It looks like the future path to the championship will run through Cleveland if LeBron stays there. Do the Bulls have anybody that can match up with him? If not, and assuming such a person exists, shouldn't they seek him out? --Thomas, Anchorage, Alaska

No, you just get one of those. But I'm not high on their roster as they don't have many players who will improve, so where exactly are they going? At least for now. But, yes, having James makes many things possible.

Could you please explain why LaMarcus Aldridge keeps being mentioned as a prospect. Is it due to his skill level or the adjustment from college to the NBA? From what I hear he is polished on the offensive end, can back down or face his opponent and on defense is a good shot-blocker. He seems a better option then any free agent mentioned. --Angelo Papanikolas, Melbourne, Australia

I believe it's just because of strength and he isn't strong at his base, so in the NBA you can get moved around and off the block. But I think your analysis is good and I know the Bulls like him. They're looking at free agents to perhaps complement their top draft pick.

Sam, enjoyed your trade options, as always. I'm asking this question before the lottery, which might change my own opinion, but here goes: What do you think about the Bulls putting a deal together for Carlos Boozer? The two biggest knocks against him are his contract (not THAT bad) and injury history. I think the injury is something that he's overcome. He's a hard-working, tough inside presence that rebounds at both ends and can score occasionally inside. Price tag and risk too big? --Eric A., Elizabethtown, Ky.

Despite what they say, I do believe the Jazz want him out at some point and he wants to get out. The contract is big, four years and more than $11 million per year, which probably takes the Bulls out of it. If they want core players, I don't think there's any way. But if they just want to dump salary and might take a pick and a lesser player, I think the Bulls might take a look.

Why is Paxson interested in Tyrus Thomas at all? He has no offensive skills other than dunking. While Skiles has proven that he's not afraid to play 6-9 players at center--don't get me started on that--the Bulls need someone with a polished post game and Al Harrington, whom I really like, will be less inclined to come to the Bulls if they draft a power forward. Unless Paxson thinks Aldridge can play center with 15 pounds of muscle I pray he trades the pick. Get this to the Bulls front office ASAP. --Lou, La Grange, Ill.

And so much for the excitement of the draft. Can't you at least let us enjoy the next month?

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