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So, now, what was everyone so upset about? Heck, if the Bulls had Ben Wallace, imagine how good they could be. That's seven straight losing teams coming up starting with the 76ers Wednesday night. The Bulls could be 10 games over .500 by the end of December with this schedule. And this is with Wallace as just another piece. Now, the Bulls understand that and it looks like everyone else has gone back to work to make up for it. As long as Wallace just shows up and isn't a problem, the Bulls should be OK, at least in the East. And by their good fortune, it's where they play. Maybe Wallace can be the new Kyle Orton. Though being competitive in the East is not necessarily the reason to stand pat. The East is wide open this season, as everyone knows, so why not try to crush it by making the team better? It is easier, by the way, to deal when your team is playing better. And not wearing headbands.
Wow! Are these comments from Bulls fans or Chicken Little? The team needs time to fuse and grow. Even with Wallace, the starters average less than three years experience. And next year we get a gift from the Knicks by the name of Greg Oden. --M. Kegel, San Diego
Everyone knows the lottery is just that, so there's hardly any Oden guarantee. Plus the Knicks have played better. Also, remember when Boston dumped the season to get Tim Duncan, had the worst record and got No. 3 and Chauncey Billups? The Spurs got Duncan and three titles. It had more impact on the Celtics than the death of Len Bias. All these comments in past mailbags show the fun of being a fan, and I commend the passion. It shows people care, and, frankly, this team hasn't been easy to figure out. But you know it gets better as the season goes on. By the way, I did get one letter from C. Little and he said the sky was falling, but I checked and it was that inversion from the lake effect.
Just wondering after playing the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, why it's called a garden? And the same with the Celtics at the Garden. Why not at the park? --Ray Geiselman, Glasgow, Ky.
Glad to get off the topic a little bit. I'm not fully sure why, though arenas in the '20s when a lot of them were built were called gardens. I guess it sounded more classic since those old arenas, like the old movie theaters, were often great architectural pieces compared with the space ships that went up after the '60s. I happened to be talking with some of the Knicks guys about this last week. I'm a native New Yorker and know the original Garden was around 26th and Madison near Madison Square Park. It's moved several times before ending up where it is now. When I was a kid it was up on 8th Avenue near 48th St.. Now it's at Penn Station, at 33rd St. and 7th Ave. Who care? I know, but we old timers love to reminisce since I can't recall what I had for breakfast. The Boston Gahden, by the way, was modeled after the New York one so took on a similar name.
I don't understand guys like Mike Sweetney. He has potential to become an impact player. Why doesn't he take his career more seriously and get in better shape? Why don't his agent or his loved ones motivate him? Is it the bad eating habits or reluctance to work out intensely that's keeping him larger than ideal? Aren't there any authoritative figures in the Bulls organization who monitors his condition throughout the whole year? --Jay Choi, Glenview, Ill.
They have been playing Sweetney a little more of late. Look, he can score some in the post and they don't have anyone who does, so it seems like they're giving in and realizing no one else will and why not give him a chance? You can see they're throwing the ball into him more now. But the Bulls have never quite figured out Sweetney. He seems to care and is a very polite, decent man. It appears he has some sort of eating disorder. I know he often tries to lose weight and even when he wasn't playing early in the season, his shirt was soaked through before games from running. But he doesn't seem to lose weight. And the Bulls have leaned on him constantly. My guess, and it's not particularly educated one, is that he eventually gets some help to save his career because he does have enough skills to be a rotation player somewhere.
What other teams outlaw headbands in the NBA? If John Paxson was as brilliant as Joe Dumars, he would turn this into a promotional thing at the United Center and hand out headbands! Imagine all of the headbands in the stands, kind of like the 'fro in Detroit -- not that that was Joe Dumars doing, but banning headbands makes the Bulls organization look silly, not Wallace. --Christian Sage, Kalamazoo, Mich.
There still is plenty of headband angst and it's amazed me how this became a national debate on dress codes. As I've said, Ben was just angry, embarrassed and hurt and acting out to show up Scott Skiles. Anyway, we're probably done with that. The interesting thing is this is not unique. Jerry Sloan, regarded as one of the league's best coaches, doesn't allow headbands and now has players association president Derek Fisher on the team and Fisher used to wear a headband. No more. Seattle disallows them, so does San Antonio and, of course, Pat Riley and the Heat and the Magic. Doesn't seem to be hurting Dwight Howard. So how come Scott Skiles is a dictator and some of these other coaches, most, other than Bob Hill, regarded as the elite in coaching, never get mentioned and continue to be regarded as players' coaches?
I've never seen so much made of a headband since Richard Simmons was doing his dance videos. Jiminy Christmas! First off, a rule is a rule. You break it, you pay for it. Wallace broke the rule and paid by sitting each time he broke it. If Skiles didn't sit Wallace those few minutes then it is the beginning of the end for his Bulls coaching career. You can't let any player run the show and the young guys would have taken notice. I'm in Indy and saw it happen with the Pacers. Stephen Jackson came in with Ron Artest and ruined Jermaine O'Neal. Now look at that franchise, they're worse than the Jailblazers. The box score says "shots per game" and you don't know if its with a basketball or a 9mm. Instead of all the "trade Ben" questions, why not trade for a Jack Haley? Is there a veteran out there that Ben respects that will be what Cris Carter was to Randy Moss, a mentor and friend who keeps him in line? --Gimy, Indianapolis
The Bulls players hated that Jack was there for Rodman like that. They did like that he was a sucker at cards and rich (not from basketball) and lost fortunes to them. Then they didn't vote him any playoff share, which Bulls management quietly gave him on their own. Maybe Ben's brother, who was banned from Pistons games after participating in the big fight with your Pacers. I feel badly the way you guys feel about the Pacers. They have long been one of the most fan, media and player friendly organizations in basketball. Artest did make a mess of it all and I figure he will in Sacramento as well. You can see the Pacers don't know who they are or what they want to be. They've done well by building on the fly before, but look like they'll have to break it down and I figure Jermaine O'Neal will be the big piece a lot of teams soon will be chasing.
What's your deal, being all pessimistic about Big Ben, saying that acquiring him was a mistake and that he's being childish with the headband issue? Sure the guy's getting $16 million a year, but give him a break. He's had to adjust to a new city and team for the first time in what, seven years? Let's face it, the Bulls aren't the same as the Pistons, and Ben has had to adjust to playing with a less experienced team in an environment of plays that run contrary to how he has played for his career. Theoretically, if you gather your information about the NBA from interviews, and were told to change, that you aren't allowed to interview anyone but must get your info from the internet in a restricted time frame each day, you would experience a drop in writing ability and information in your articles while maybe losing some readers to another writer. Have some faith in Big Ben. --Tim Pirera, Melbourne, Australia
Some say we do get all our information from the internet, though they get it all from us. This is the fact of life in pro sports. You get paid well for production. If you don't produce, you get criticized. I know it doesn't seem fair, but it's part of the entertainment business. Few get judged daily like athletes and entertainers. I've often joked how hard it would be to work if 20,000 people were behind me yelling, "verb! verb! verb, you idiot!" It doesn't work that way for us, fortunately. You get the big bucks and the big buildup, you have to perform. When Ben does, he'll get the credit.
I'm loving that Ben Wallace is trashing the Bulls. I read somewhere that he's is the only player to ruin three franchises, the Bulls, Pistons and Pacers, though the Pistons are better. When is the Ben Wallace experiment over? I've seen enough. They played with more heart and passion without him. --Jimmy Orr, Las Vegas
Funny. It's not over yet and you can still make a case for the Bulls being in the Finals. Shaq's talking about being out until the All Star break. If Wade sprains an ankle, they might not win 25 games. Who are you putting in the Finals from the East? The Bulls don't look like a Finals team, but no one else does, either. I'm looking forward to the games with the Pistons, the first one Jan. 6.
Will the Bulls seriously look to make a trade this year? Word is part of the reason why they acquired P.J. Brown was simply to package him and his contract into a trade for a player like Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce or Jermaine O Neal. --Chris Herbst, Chicago
I believe they will try, which doesn't mean they will. But the P.J. piece is valuable as well as Sweetney for expiring contracts worth more than $11 million. You throw Chris Duhon in there and that's a lot of money to temp teams having financial issues, like Memphis, Golden State and Seattle. I think February may be the most interesting month of the season.
You recently wrote something to effect of "who would have guessed Orlando would be doing so well?" But, I seem to remember that after they finally got rid of Steve Francis last year and inserted Jameer Nelson into the starting point slot, they went on a tear, winning something like 18 of their final 22 games. So, I, for one, was looking for a possible breakout season for them. Dwight Howard is the big story there, and rightfully so, but it seems to me that Nelson has quietly become one of the league's better emerging quarterbacks. Didn't see many preseason picking them in Top 4 in weak East. In fact, none. But that's why we come back every season, to find out how wrong we were. --Kevin Moriarty, Glen Ellyn, Ill.
I'm with you there. Like we say in the newspaper business, we publish every day so we can correct the mistakes we made the day before. I missed it, if they hang in there. We always hedge on the Magic because of Grant Hill, who has played well. Howard is going to be fabulous, as he has shown, but I'm still not sold on Nelson and Arroyo does play a lot for him. But they have depth and a big-time center and Nelson is a tough little guy who doesn't seem to know he's not supposed to be very good, which in the East should go farther than I thought. So I missed one. Ok, two, OK...
The Bulls spent a lot of money on Ben Wallace and in the beginning I applauded the signing however, does it make sense to sign a player for $15 million per that can't hit a layup. I mean for what Ben does on the boards and defensively I understand but everyone sees that on offense the Bulls are always playing four on five. In the NBA playoffs when the defense amps up you have to have a low-post threat--someone who can get you an easy bucket when things get tough. The Bulls aren't even close to having someone like that. Is it time to admit that we overpaid and pray that we get a shot at Greg Oden? I'm praying for some early snow for you guys. --Dante Brown, Houston
Is this Dante from the inferno? Yes, we got that snow and if you think you know hell ... Though I've been tough on Ben and disappointed as well, he's not a lost cause and can help. Perhaps it's awakened the other players, who realize now they have to play harder to make up for Ben. As I've said, I believe the Bulls will be looking to deal, so may come up with another scorer. The Heat got to the Finals without a low-post scorer as Shaq wasn't carrying anyone and the Pistons did OK with Ben there, even though he's not quite that Wallace anymore. Plus, they still could have a shot at Oden and that would extend Ben's career in Chicago.
Now that Pau Gasol was declared by Grizzlies as untradable who do you think Chicago should look to trade for? I think we are still an inside guy short to make a run at the championship now. Do you think we could get Vince Carter now? --Rheneir Mora, Cebu City, Philippines
No, the Nets aren't about to trade Carter, though he can opt out. There's been talk he'd go to Orlando, where he is from, or nearby. I doubt that and Vince isn't the defensive or hard working player the Bulls would hire. Of more interest to me is why you'd believe Grizzlies owner Mike Heisley. Nothing personal, but for one thing he is trying to sell the team to guys who want to cut payroll. Believe me, Pau will remain in play. And, by the way, how many playoff games have they won with him? Yes, zero. Bigger is why people believe owners, coaches, general managers, players. How many times have you heard a GM say there's nothing going on and make a trade the next day? I understand they don't want their players to know they might be trying to get rid of them and often deals get killed if they get out. One of the famous ones was the Pippen for Shawn Kemp in 1994 when the Supersonics backed out after a public firestorm because the fans didn't want Pippen, who had just walked out of a playoff game the season before. It worked out for the Bulls, anyway. If I lie, I'm fired. No second chance. If my credibility is questioned, I cannot continue to write. Why believe anything I write if you know I've lied about something? Teams have to do it to protect their investment. Of course, that brings up the question of why we quote them. But that's another issue.
I've been reading your column since June and it always seems to revolve around K.G. Are the fans in Chicago, you included, so sure that K.G. wants to be traded? Especially to Chicago! I think you and your fans need to move onto someone else on the trade rumors. How about we trade you Hassell, Hudson, Jaric for Gordon? --Aaron, Maple Grove, Minn.
Ouch. It's not that everyone is sure Garnett will be traded. If the Timberwolves were a playoff team, nobody would ever raise the issue. But if they miss the playoffs for a third straight season, doesn't it seem reasonable they may try to do something major? And no team has more assets than the Bulls with its depth and the ability to exchange draft picks with the Knicks. Why wouldn't a team that can't make the playoffs try to put together something for the future? And the Bulls are Garnett's kind of team. They need a power forward, are defensive oriented and on the brink. They'd be the favorites to get to the NBA Finals with Garnett and Minnesota could get some nice pieces to begin to put together a team to make a run in a year or two. After all, it's clear they're going nowhere. It seems to me that kind of deal helps both teams. Can't say as much for your suggestion.
I resent some of your comments about Wallace and the headband rule. Skiles, contrary to what you seem to think, is not Ben's father or teacher. He's not here to educate him. Wallace is a grown man, he's 32 years old, and he's certainly not stupid. The only stupid thing here is the rule, and to equate it to having a deadline or shooting free throws from five feet, well, that's what's stupid. Telling grown men not to wear headbands is like telling you not to wear a belt to work. The grown man that you are, you will resent that and maybe you'll break that rule and hope no one notices. I also don't really understand why no one is asking why this specific rule even exists in the first place? Actually, I do understand. Headbands scream hip-hop and streetball, and people think it necessarily means selfish play and showmanship. But Wallace won four Defensive Player of Year awards with the headband (and music in the locker room that's also hip-hop, BTW), and also a championship ring. It seems to me that the headband works well for him. Skiles should be the bigger man and change the rule. --Gil Kidron, Tel Aviv, Israel
And now it becomes an international incident. As I've said, I'm amazed by the passion for this thing. The rule was put in place for previous Bulls players and I'm sure if the Bulls had the chance to relax it before the season had Wallace said something they would have. But you can't just cave in when you are challenged. If the players did, there would be no team. Though I do notice now Ben is suggesting he did it on purpose to motivate the team. See, we all missed the real story.
Do you think Eddy Curry is starting to turn his career around in New York? It's hard not to root for the guy; he has gone through so much. --Charlie Armstrong, Kalamazoo, Mich.
I agree. Eddy is one of the nicer guys who have come through here. He does have real offensive talent, if not always the desire, so he was never going to work here. Though he almost was here. The Bulls were committed to giving him, albeit reluctantly, a big extension in the 2004-05 season before his heart episode. Skiles had lobbied strongly against it and that had a lot to do with his upset about signing a contract extension. He felt if he helped improve Curry's play, which he did, then he would be more marketable and the team could trade him. When the Bulls didn't, it created hard feelings between the coaching staff and management that eventually were settled when Skiles re-signed. Though I was a longtime advocate of a deal because I believed he'd never fit in the new regime, I root for him personally and he's been very impressive the last two weeks and could come back to haunt the Bulls if he keeps it up and the Knicks have a good season.
How come George Karl can take J.R. Smith and make him effective even if his defense sucks? Last season the Suns took in Tim Thomas and he played great for them, killing the Lakers in the playoffs. Regardless of the facts that the Suns don't play defense, don't have a set offense outside of pick and rolls and Steve Nash, Tim Thomas doesn't practice or play, but he is still effective on the Suns and this season the Clippers. Hard work and hustle can only get you so far. It seems like the Bulls won't even give talent a chance if 110 percent hustle is packaged within. You can't get both in the NBA--it's one or the other. Skiles and Paxson need to put aside their egos and get players that can play, and forget about working their brains off. The fact that at 3-9, Wallace was benched for wearing a headband shows where their priorities lie, they could have just fined him or talked to him about it after the game. --Usman, Skokie, Ill.
Second guessing is the price of expectations. Though I don't disagree with what they did. Perhaps they could have held onto Smith longer to try to get more, but he wasn't going to play here with Hinrich and Gordon and Sefolosha coming in. He played in Denver because they had no one else and were looking. It happens and they may have lucked out. But the Bulls were deep without Smith and I doubt he'd ever have gotten a chance to play and make mistakes like he's done in Denver. I don't think the Bulls are afraid of talent. They're just having trouble getting the veteran kind. They have enough kids. And while Tim is OK, would he play ahead of Deng and Nocioni? He had a great playoff run in Phoenix, but had he been with the Bulls you'd be going nuts over some of the shots he takes.
The Bulls have been a high turnover team for several years, and their guards are no longer rookies. Could their system be contributing to the turnover problem? --Bob, Norfolk, Va.
I believe it does, but that's OK. Magic Johnson made plenty of turnovers. Systems of play that require considerable ball movement and passing produce turnovers. But they also produce opportunity and good entertainment for the fans. I'll live with the turnovers, though Skiles seems to have a bigger problem with them than I do. Magic led the league in turnovers one year the Lakers went to the Finals. No one saw it as a big problem.
I'm happy with Luol Deng's breakout season so far. I saw this coming before the season started, and I think he has the potential to be a star. I think the next development on offense should be a post-up game. With his size and length, he could be unstoppable if he worked on it. Do you know if he is working on this, and why he hasn't worked on it in the past? --Dave Thomas, Gurnee, Ill.
Well, he did average over 14 last season, so he was coming. He's been hurt in previous summers and I don't think has had as much opportunity to develop. But he's just 21, so give him time. Though the team has complained about his defense this season, I still wonder if he can ever play some shooting guard and give them a big lineup across the board.
If you're going trade members of the core of these young Bulls, I think you've got to leave Luol Deng off the trading block. Deng is the most underrated player in the team. If Skiles designed more plays for him, the guy will prove to be a reliable go to guy. He's efficient and effective. His biggest flaw is that he is not being more assertive. Stop trying to trade him! --Jeffrey, Singapore
The only time I talk about Deng in trade is for the likes of Kevin Garnett. Perhaps it's short-term thinking, but I've believed with one major deal the Bulls could make a serious run this season and change the balance of power in the NBA. I'm a go-for-it guy when you have a chance, though personally I drive the speed limit. I explained to Luol that I only mention him in trades because he's good and teams like him. That's no insult, and I'm still waiting for my first call from John Paxson actually asking me what he should do.
With regards to commissioner Stern, I support him on the technical foul calls issue the players union is crying about. It was getting sickening watching these million-dollar crybabies whine every time there was a call against them. It's about time something was done. And I think the officiating has been better this year partly as a result or this. --Norm, Newport, Maine
As much as Stern tries to end the disconnect between fans and his players, it only gets worse. Though this is the only e-mail on this issue I received. I think fans are so accustomed to the players whining about something, they almost tune it out. I know it hurts overall perceptions, but I really do think people still do love the game and put up with some whining as part of the deal.
Solution on the headband rule. Black shoes aren't allowed during the regular season, only playoffs, so they should do this with headbands. Headbands and black shoes for the playoffs? What do you think? --Chad, Pana, Ill.
You've got it! That would be perfect for the playoffs, sort of the new beginning, no one loses face and Ben can pretend they gave him his strength back. There really is no reason to do it before then, but we'll keep it between us until then and then surprise them.