So this is what you really want to ask Sam: Did it occur to you the season started a few weeks ago and camp about seven weeks ago, genius?
Well, I'm not sure you noticed, but when we took the motto "World's Greatest Newspaper" off the front page, we replaced it with "It's news when we say it is." Not actually, and I've got to be careful as I don't want to run down our value while we're on the market. In fact, if anyone's got about $10 billion, you can have this column and I'll also write advice to the lovelorn. My advice: Love this game. And don't look at me that way or I'll give you a technical foul.
Ah, but I digress. There's a simple explanation why we couldn't start answering your questions until almost Thanksgiving. I don't have this first hand, but I believe The Tribune was trying to get 1,000 stories in the paper by now comparing this Bears football team to the 1985 team and had gotten up to why this team's cooks were better before they lost. So then someone stood up and screamed, "The NBA season has begun! People have questions!" This kind of screaming still goes on in newsrooms, which is why the job is so much fun. But enough about me. What do you think about me answering some questions?
A tale of two Bens. One can take over offensively and one defensively. One is part of a young core that is going into its third year together while the other is a veteran adjusting to a new team. Both have started the year off with some inconsistency, are undersized for their position and are keys for the Bulls getting deep into the playoffs. Which one will be dispensable at the end of this year? I think I know. --Peter, San Francisco, Calif.
Me, me, call on me. I think I know as well. The Ben Gordon saga is going to play out all season. The majority of the emails I've gotten thus far are about Gordon. I'd say the most last season were about Gordon, as well. I've noticed they're leaning more now to wondering if he'll ever become a true star shooting guard. That is a tough job with the act you have to follow here. And I don't mean Jamal Crawford. Last season when I'd come up with trade scenarios regarding Gordon, the general consensus was, "Lay off!" Now it's more, "OK, what can we get?" It seems clear Gordon is best suited to be that energy sixth man, and I think he could be great in that role. But he seems to want to be a starter and even talked about being a starting point guard. I think with a chance to sign a new contract after the season, he'll want chances for minutes. Though at the same time, I believe he is a team player and wants the best for the team. That ambivalence will haunt him and the team all season. I don't see the Bulls doing anything, but if they don't make a big move in the playoffs, he figures to be gone.
I know it's a little early, but do you think John Paxson will sign Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni and Ben Gordon to long-term deals or maybe one player will not get extended? I know I'm looking ahead, but do you know any of the '07 free agents the Bulls might be interested in pursuing? --Aaron, Waipahu, Hawaii
That's the real issue and why there'll be trade talk around the Bulls all season. It's possible they could offer all three extensions, but I doubt it. It certainly will depend on the post season. If they get hot and make a run to the Finals, yes, they'd keep everyone and probably go into the luxury tax. Anything short of that, I'd say they don't resign all three. It's why I've talked about trades already. Well, that's one reason. You figure they'll let P.J. Brown and Michael Sweetney go after this season, but with Ben Wallace and Kirk Hinrich's extension, both starting high and going down in later years, they won't be a player in free agency after this season. They're looking for help from the chance to swap No. 1 picks with the Knicks and hopefully get a high enough pick for one of the young big guys.
Normally I like reading your articles but your , mocking a retirement is so unprofessional I do not even know where to begin. If I were Ben Wallace, I would boycott any future interactions with you because you have shown your complete lack of expertise or knowledge for the game of basketball. He has played in a handful of games and you are writing articles like this? You are a complete and utter joke to the journalistic profession and I cannot wait until you retire so your lack of knowledge can cease to cover my beloved Bulls. --John Doe, San Diego, Calif.
So there is a John Doe. I know where your library card is. So, c'mon, how do you really feel? I was having some fun with Ben and it was clear I was joking. Yes, there is some truth in all jokes. Well, maybe not the ones about peanut butter. But the point is these are big fellas. When you take the big money and want the starring role in sports, there are responsibilities to perform. When you don't, and it would be hard to say Wallace was doing much more than coasting through the first five games, it's appropriate that it be pointed out. I felt I was the man for the job. There's a line I draw in journalism. Personal is out of bounds. You don't take cheap shots about family or physical characteristics, but anything on the court is not out of bounds. This hustle guy wasn't making much of a difference in games. Perhaps it was like the old sledge hammer to kill an ant, but it seemed to get his attention, though he vehemently denied it after conveniently having his best game of the season. Ben always has been best playing with a chip on his shoulder. So maybe I helped a little in putting it back, but he's a prideful guy and I don't expect he'll need anyone's help much.
I know you have gone through countless trade scenarios before involving Corey Maggette and everyone one of them sounds like the Bulls are getting the short end of the deal with your proposal of sending one of our starters, Deng, and the first round draft pick from NY (which could be the No. 1 pick) to the L.A. Clippers. I know that cap space is also a reason why you came up with this trade, but, seriously, do you think that a player who doesn't even start on the Clippers is worth that much? If I were Elgin Baylor, I would take that in a heartbeat? --Ryan, Des Plaines, Ill.
I probably wouldn't do Deng, and I never suggested trading the pick without some protection if Greg Oden or Joakim Noah are available. But the Bulls need reliable scoring and Corey can score. And no matter what he says, I don't see him satisfied in a reserve role there. Yes, he takes some wild shots and plays a bit head down at times. I think Skiles could help with that. The larger issue is it's becoming clear that Wallace is going to be declining in the coming seasons. If the Bulls want to get the most from him and make a run, they'll need another scorer. Oddly, to me anyway, the Clippers seem intent on keeping Maggette.
I am furious. "There's a lot of hype the guys have to deal with.." - are you kidding me? That's what we get from a coach kissing up to his underachievers? Pass me a hanky and give Chicago fans directions to the Bulls pity party. I admit, I never was and never will be a Skiles fan. His results, or, rather lack of, speak for themselves. Aren't we dealing here with a total lack of concept of what this team should be about? At the moment I'll spare Pax; I think he put an interesting team together, but isn't it time for him to turn up heat on the coaching staff? --Robert, Chicago
Wow, people are angry at everyone already. Actually, you don't hear Skiles covering for guys much. And I know he doesn't at all behind closed doors. There aren't many coaches as willing to speak openly about their players' flaws. Phil Jackson, certainly, and Jeff Van Gundy, of course, who's been told this season by management to ease off. I am a bit surprised Skiles has so often offered up the excuse of eight new players. But I believe he truly likes the team and for the first time, with Curry and Chandler gone, feels a part of picking the roster. He didn't like them, as we know. So I think he wants to give them a chance and is struggling himself with playing a deep roster, which is untraditional in the NBA. But he isn't the kind to be patient too long, as we see already with lineup changes and heat on the rookies. I think he's done well with this team thus far and I think his style of play is among the best in the league. But, like them, he'll begin to be judged more closely in the playoffs.
It has been hard not to notice the scoring numbers/energy that J.R. Smith has been putting up/demonstrating -- he made a steal and went the length of the court for a power dunk in a TNT game last week -- in early games for the Nuggets. Is that the same J.R. Smith that the Bulls picked up and promptly traded away? Given the difficulty the Bulls have in scoring, did they give up too soon on Mr. Smith? --Terry Tyrpin, Schaumburg, Ill.
This is the other question I'm getting a lot. The Bulls needed a big, athletic two guard, and got one and, boom, he was gone. This is one issue the Bulls will be held up to scrutiny on. Thus far they've been right in most cases. Remember, no one gets them all right. But they go for work ethic and chemistry over talent. They'll take talent, too, but it's not the top of the list. Perhaps it never gets you to the title, but you usually have to be lucky with a star for that. They want guys who want to play basketball, and I agree with that. You want motivated players since you'll be paying them at some point. They concentrate on players who would play if you didn't pay them. Not every one of their players is like that, but they have a lot. Smith was known for a lack of commitment to the game, and they just didn't want to take a chance. Plus, it's not like he was going to play ahead of Gordon, anyway. Would he have sat and worked and earned his spot if Ben faded, as he has early? They didn't think so and I don't disagree. He is an appealing talent, but I also don't see the defensive commitment.
Is Zach Randolph still on the trading block? I know he is a troublemaker, but could he play for a tough, fellow MSU alum like coach Skiles? Perhaps PJ Brown's contract plus Deng or Nocioni and a protected pick would do it. The Bulls would have a low-post threat to complement the perimeter players while Thomas develops. --Tom S., Miami Beach
I wince hearing about this one, but it's been pointed out by several people. Randolph is a heck of a post-up scorer. He started the season well and has been scoring big. Though they talk about him in Portland, I can't believe they wouldn't move his big contract in a heartbeat. By the way, it averages about $14.6 million for the next five years. I don't believe the Bulls would take that on. And I wouldn't want him. He's a classic case of going for talent over character, which the Bulls haven't done. If they do, you'll know they've become desperate. Guys like him who have had so many incidents are too dangerous to take a chance on. I've always felt I'd rather lose than have players like that around.
You've said in the past that you think Ben Gordon would fit nicely in Phoenix alongside Steve Nash on the fast break. Could the Bulls trade Gordon for Raja Bell? The former might fit better in the Suns offense and the latter could start at the two for the Bulls. In fact, the Bulls, with Bell and Hinrich, would probably have the best defensive back court in the league. --Ryan Gustafson, Chicago
Good one. I wish I'd thought of that. I'm burning a good column here, but I could see both sides interested in that one. Bell's big and a good defender and with the Suns, why bother if hardly anyone else is going to play defense? He can also make a three. He's not great putting the ball on the floor, but neither was Reggie Miller. I do think Ben would blossom in that system because they get a lot of shots up and Steve Nash draws defenders, leaving plenty of open shots. I can see Ben getting 25 a game there. And the emphasis is hardly on defense. Bell fits the Bulls drive-and-kick style reasonably well and could defend the two's. I've heard he's not all that thrilled these days. If I'm the Bulls, I'm going for that one. If they pull it off, I say we get co-GM's of the year. Me for not stealing your idea.
I read the fine . He's clearly something special, a joy to watch and will play more and more. What does that mean for the mix of minutes for Gordon, Hinrich and even Duhon? --Lyn Fox, Santa Fe, N.M.
Yes, my colleague K.C. wrote a nice background piece on Thabo. It appears he'll develop a little more quickly than Tyrus Thomas, but NBA coaches are a little harder on rookies when they make mistakes. Skiles will have less patience with him, but as you see he's shown some nice all-around skills and will work in. I think it eventually has more impact on Gordon's future with the team.
I love the way Skiles' team plays with energy, but in the end, won't it wear them out? Will this deep bench remedy that to an extent? What is the range of time it could or should take the Bulls to develop the necessary chemistry to survive and thrive in the NBA? Ten more games, 25? A season and then wait till next year when they'll really get it together? --Pete Middleton, Highlands Ranch, Colo.
That's the big question. I, too, like the style of play, the movement, constant picks back and forth, everyone moving and the subtleties of the angles to open up shots. It's one of the best systems to watch in the game, I believe. NBA players are great athletes, so I don't think it should wear them out and the Bulls have always gotten better as the season wore on and as other teams got tired. I believe the bigger problem is finding a solid rotation and being able to stick with it with so many players wanting and capable of playing. I believe they can get it together this season with the East particularly weak at the top. I have yet to see a team I can say will be in the Finals.
Do you think Bulls should trade Ben Gordon for a not as talented but consistent scorer? I don't know, but I think it would be more valuable for the Bulls to have a 15-18 ppg. scorer than shoot-the-lights-and-disappear Gordon. He's as streaky as Jamal Crawford was, and the only difference between those two players is that Gordon is not so lazy, and at least tries to be a presence on defense. --Dorian, Tychy, Poland
Yes, he's no Crawford. They are both quite likeable people, actually, and Ben is better fundamentally. It's really unfortunate Ben started out so inconsistently since he really does work hard and is a confident player. And didn't grow enough. I don't think he's pouting or down on himself, just that he sometimes floats in games at times and seems to be consciously thinking about getting to the basket rather than playing his natural game, which is to get it up there quickly. It's not easy to get those kinds of scorers, but if Ben continues to be up and down you can be sure the Bulls will look.
I think it's clear that Ben Gordon does not want to play with Kirk Hinrich or for the Bulls. Do you think that the Bulls should trade Ben Gordon and who could they get for him? --Bill O'Neil, Mesa, Ariz.
This is a version of a popular question. Either it's Gordon's discomfort with Hinrich and that he should play with Sefolosha or his discomfort with Skiles and they should get him the heck out of here. I don't think either relationship is that bad, but this is not a close team. It's not quite the old Red Sox of 25 guys and 25 cabs (now it's Hummer limos), but the players don't hang around together much and Skiles isn't a touchy-feely coach. I actually think the professional relationships they have are good and always thought this notion of a team dining together, or in the case of some Indiana Pacers, having shootouts together, is somewhat overrated. Ben has been good with Kirk and Skiles keeps playing him, which suggests he's not down on him. Yes, we hear rumors all the time of Ben's unease with Skiles, though I think that's more agent and posse stuff. Ben just needs some shots to go down. When he hit those winners in the Garden, Skiles was hugging him and I know Bill Belichick would never do that.
What's wrong with Ben Gordon? His shooting is terrible in all but the one game. I know it is early, but do you think he is a little over-hyped or is it just a slow start? --Steven Schnakenberg, Waymart, Penn.
I think it's more slow start, and more hope that Ben becomes a big scoring star than reality. At his size and without great penetrating ability, it's difficult to be a 20-plus scorer, especially in the Bulls' defense-oriented system. And he's never been a good starter in his brief career.
Ben Gordon has had an up-and-down season so far. But how far is that? They've played six games! Give the kid a chance. Despite the erratic scoring, he's actually looked pretty good out there to me. A lot of those misses are good shots that will start to fall soon. --Brad, Chicago
As Ben goes so go the Bulls? This figures to be perhaps the main topic of debate this season, Good Ben and Bad Ben. Should make for interesting theater.
Just because I'm from Switzerland doesn't mean that I'll ask you about Thabo! Is it too soon to say that Tyson Chandler will have a nice season? --Mat, Switzerland
I know you guys are proud of him as I've been getting lots of mail from Switzerland. I'm just so pleased to hear from other people who can't go outside for six months like us. I think Chandler will have a terrific season. Which is not to say the Bulls made a mistake. His time was up here. It never would have worked and his relationship with Skiles was worse than any of us really knew. Plus, they couldn't have gotten Ben Wallace if they kept Chandler and Chandler's big contract. His being relatively unproductive was causing all the young players to ask for bigger contracts. At least Ben Wallace is a four-time Defensive Player of the Year and when you get those kinds of awards you can be paid like that.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 10 points and 8 rebounds in his debut for Portland. Given the Bulls lack of size, in hindsight would it have been better to stick with Aldridge for the second pick? Do you still think in the long run that Tyrus Thomas will be a better player? Right now, Thomas cant stay on the court due to fouls but that is typical of young big men. Can he be special at the four spot eventually? --Louis, Sydney, Australia
I'm often surprised how many questions I get from Australia. Is this Luc Longley again? It's always a question and a second guess when you pass on someone in the draft. I know the Bulls liked Aldridge, but believe Thomas will be better. That's why they get those big bucks. I have seen some impressive flashes and think he could be good. So far Thomas has been moody and short, almost to the point of being nasty to reporters, and other times expansive. I do wonder about that sometimes. It's not a very good way to start out, especially for a kid who doesn't seem to know very much. Perhaps it's a bit of that Ben Wallace chip-on-his-shoulder thing, but Ben had better reason the way he was ignored. I believe Thomas is worth the pick though, as I said back then, I'd probably have gone for Brandon Roy. But getting Thomas and Viktor Khryapa looks pretty good and I won't second guess that. Portland is a bad team and rookies often look better in places like that with more opportunity. Thomas is on a good team and will have to earn his time.
What's your take on the Knicks so far this season? Will they end up in the lottery so we can get another great pick from them? --KT, Madison, Wis.
They're better than they were and, for now, anyway, are trying. But Stephon Marbury remains a basket case with the community basically turning on him. Though their record isn't good, they've been in all their games and should get better when the schedule turns unless they give up. The bigger problem, as we've seen, is too many players who do the same thing and want to hang onto the ball and shoot. It's almost a my-turn-your-turn thing, and those teams have problems. I think it's going to be difficult for them to make the playoffs and the Bulls should be able to swap with them and get a lottery pick.
Are the Bulls waiting for a team with a star to break down (Celts, Wolves, Griz)? Or are they happy to stay the course? --Ian, Chicago
I think everyone is eyeing those teams, which all look to be heading nowhere. I don't see anyone on the Grizzlies worth pursuing but Pau Gasol, who is hurt. They're also for sale and probably can't do anything until that is settled in a few months. But you can be sure teams will be asking about Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. It seems now that both will remain with their teams, but things change when teams become desperate and these two teams may be with both coaches likely in trouble. The Bulls probably will stand pat--"stay the course" is out, by the way--but they don't believe they are a complete team.
What are viable options for the Bulls to obtain a low-post presence/scorer? Do we have to actually wait until next year? How about PJ Brown and Deng for Jermaine O'Neal? --Kenton Powell, Wisconsin
Jermaine O'Neal remains an interesting name, and I believe, despite the Pacers' contentions he'll stay, that they'd like to make a deal. As we saw against the Bulls last week, he prefers to shoot face-up jumpers these days and is no longer the MVP candidate of a few years ago. I believe the Pacers would like to remake their team and to get O'Neal, I think you'd have to take either Stephen Jackson or Jamaal Tinsley. There's no way the Bulls take on those contracts.
It seems to me Michael Sweetney could fill a very valuable role in spot duty as an inside scoring option. Will he ever get into the rotation this year? --Phil Connors, Punxsutawney, Penn.
I say we see Mike, oh, say, maybe by Groundhog Day. Bet you're tired of that one. The Bulls seem to have had it with his weight problem, though I feel badly for Sweetney since I think he does try. But he seems to have an issue. He's a very quiet, mild-mannered, nice young man. He probably needs to get away and get some weight clinic treatment because he has good skills and I believe can be a good NBA player. It doesn't look like it will happen here.
Last season I sent an e-mail commenting that Ben Gordon had the potential to be a star once he developed a "drive-first" mentality and attack the basket. I thought he was capable to do both. On the contrary, you were not as optimistic as I, doubting whether or not he had the lift or ability to finish. Watching the preseason, I thought Ben had proved you wrong by watching him attack on a consistent/effective basis. Five games into the season, he has not been as aggressive, especially against Cleveland. What type of game do you envision Ben having this season? Are we going to see a difference to Ben's game this year? That is to say, Skiles actually will have him on the court long enough. --Jorge, Tinley Park, Ill.
This pretty much sums up the debate on Ben. There are so many fans who like him and want him to do well, but the inconsistency is so frustrating. Skiles has talked so much about young players and inconsistency and, I thought, made a good point about Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups taking time to develop. Of course, then I asked if that meant Ben needed to be traded. But Hamilton was averaging 20 in his third season in Washington before being traded. But they have size. Being about 6-1 or 6-2 hurts Ben the most and while he is a truly uncanny shooter, teams are able to take advantage of his weaknesses.
Ben's not answering my MySpace questions. I didn't know who else to turn to. Any word on BG7's energy tea drink, BG7? I need something to elevate my game while I'm working! --Dustin, Chicago
A lack of distribution on his drink and when he is on the court, eh? Though I wonder if that stands for Ben's Gone7. Despite my occasional trade suggestions, I do think Ben could be a terrific player and wouldn't mind a bit if he stays. If everyone can agree on that sixth man role I think Ben can be a great asset. I'd say forget the drink and get more sleep.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times