Ask Sam Smith: Reader Q&A

Of all the trades you've proposed for the Bulls -- say, in the post-Jordan era -- which one would you really have liked to see happen? What do you think was the worst proposal you offered? Sounds like this could be a whole column revisiting your best/worst trade proposals. --Adam Kress, Tempe, Ariz.

How about a contest? The Tribune is getting into this personality journalism thing lately on the Internet so we can compete with all those guys sitting in the basement in their underwear stealing our advertisers. So how about my best and worst? I really wish I could remember, though they all seemed good to me at the time. Like the time, I think it was Sam Cassell, shooting 0-for-13 and saying they all felt good leaving his hand. Someone wrote me recently taunting me about a Brian Grant-Eddy Curry proposal. I cannot recall it, though I'm not saying I might have suggested it, but with other pieces involved. I get a lot of kidding about my trades. But, like me, this is a multi-layered thing.

I know most people in America do not like to think, but then what about sports-page readers? They do, though, keep it a secret so all our self-righteous editors can keep thinking they are doing important work on the news pages. The idea is to think about what if, to discuss other teams and their needs and situations. The deal must make sense for both teams. At least to me they do as I always figure in finances, which most fans don't. As much as fans might demand it, teams don't like losing money and will avoid it if they can. Like Memphis now declining to go after Allen Iverson. I'm much remembered for lobbying for Jalen Rose, and still don't regret that as I knew the Bulls wouldn't keep Ron Artest and they couldn't afford Brad Miller while sitting Curry and Tyson Chandler. And they still need a 20-point-per-game guy, and Jalen was that. Just not the right one. The theory made sense. I remember lobbying Jerry Krause hard for Jermaine O'Neal, who was very available in 1999, but Krause was saving money for that fateful free-agent summer of 2000. If you can think of any, send them in and I'll run the best and worst. And it will all be about my favorite topic: Me. But I've talked about myself enough, so now it's your turn.

Am I the only Bulls fan who gets upset when hearing management hint they may not keep all the key players in order to avoid the luxury tax? For numerous years (post-Jordan) me and many other Bulls fans supported cheap, losing teams waiting for the Bulls to gather talent. My suggestion to the Bulls is that they owe their fans by using the financial surplus from those bad years to reward those fans by spending in the coming years. Anything else will be a slap in the face for those of us who watched Khalid el-Amin and Paul Shirley.--Matt Risley, Arlington, Va.

No one has the responsibility to lose money to provide people better entertainment. The movie industry doesn't do it. Not even the school system. No one had to go to Bulls games then. This is a longtime pet peeve of mine: the notion that sports teams are civic properties existing to make fans feel warm and happy, and enable them to run amok in the streets when they win. So buy this player and that player. Do everything, in other words, but what we would do in our lives.

Who, exactly, runs their life as a civic enterprise? Sure, there are charitable people, but few who are homeless. It's great Bill Gates and Warren Buffett give away as much money as they do. But it's not like they're traveling coach to get there. Sure, municipalities build stadiums, but with the plan to support local business and provide the amenities of a city with their budget. I wish our country wasn't in such a big deficit, but that's another issue and I believe a huge mistake.

The luxury tax is exceptionally penal in the NBA and would cost a franchise millions. I have no doubt if the Bulls were on the verge of a championship, they would spend into the luxury tax. But you don't do it on speculation. If you spent money to watch Tim Floyd-coached teams and were disappointed, you made the mistake and it's one you should remember. Send that message to the team next time: Don't go! Any business only owes you a good product. If they cannot provide that, you should choose another. OK, now who's next! Step up, punks! Anyone seen Carmelo Anthony? I'm ready to throw down.

Compare and contrast Phil Jackson verus Scott Skiles. What do you like about them as coaches? What are their similarities? What are their differences, above, and beyond the obvious? --Joseph A., Oak Park, Ill.

I assume the obvious -- meaning championships and the Zen prayer carpet Phil uses. Both are really good coaches, though Phil is clearly in the elite because of his ability to work better with players. Jackson is underrated as a strategist and screamer. He does scream way more than it looks and teaches the game as good as any. Skiles is one of the best I've ever seen at coming up with unusual angles of attack in a game. He is blunt and demanding, which is hardly unusual as a coach, but gets in trouble with players sometimes because he is so smart and hones in on players' biggest weaknesses and worst sensitivities and notes them. Phil does, as well, but has a gentler way of putting it. Skiles' test is to endure with a good team, but he's still a young coach and figures to be around the NBA a long time. Phil is the first coach I'd hire if I had a team.

If the Bulls can't pull off a trade for Kevin Garnett by February, any chance they still try to trade the expiring contracts of P.J. Brown and Michael Sweetney for a younger big man who has fallen out of favor, like Nene or Zach Randolph? -Anuj, Peoria, Ill.

I doubt they'd go for the high maintenance Randolph or that Denver would give up Nene with Marcus Camby always getting hurt. I know there's been much talk about dealing Brown, but he still could be a valuable player in a halfcourt playoff game and I don't see him being a distraction despite his stupid comments about wanting to be traded. All it really showed was that if you play against guys like Artest or Anthony or Fortson, stuff can rub off on you.

Who do you think Wallace will guard when they play the Pistons this year, Sheed or Nazr? --Chuck Armstrong, Harbor Springs, Mich.

I've noticed Rasheed playing more center these days with the Pistons playing smaller, which doesn't hurt much with few real centers or big guys in the East. I'd like to see Ben play Rasheed because he's more a threat, but Rasheed likes to drift out to the perimeter. Rasheed embarrassed Nocioni last season, so I'm guessing P.J. Brown, assuming he's still around, gets time on Rasheed and Ben on Mohammed when he's in the game to keep Ben near the basket. I'm looking forward to that first game here Jan. 6 and believe that's the conference finals we'll be seeing in May.

Looking backwards, do you think Tyrus Thomas was the wisest pick for the Bulls in the draft? I mean LaMarcus Aldridge is having better numbers (far from shinning, but better than TT) and he seems to have a promising future. --Martin, Argentina

I think what's becoming clear is it's a better pick than we thought. Maybe. By that I mean, there probably isn't a player in the 2006 draft who'd be in the top five in 2007. It wasn't a great draft and no one is really having much impact. I think the Bulls figured that out and decided Thomas might become a terrific player, but no one they saw would be because players like Morrison were close to their ceiling already. Aldridge looks OK, but I think you'd rather have four centers from this draft ahead of him.

We've now watched Ben Gordon for the last few years. He clearly does better off the bench versus starting. Does anyone have a good theory why? Does Ben admit this as well? Do you think he would be happy with this role his entire career? --Junior Mariano, Seattle

I don't see him being happy, but he is getting minutes and leading the team in scoring. I think if he got paid on the level of a starter he'd be OK. He seems to want to be a starting point guard and when he does start, he appears hesitant to shoot and moves the ball. It doesn't always get back to him. When he comes off the bench, the team looks for him more and he's quicker too shoot. He's a great asset to have with a good team, but a luxury of sorts for a team that doesn't have every starting position set.

This is the first year watching Ben Wallace on a nightly basis and I can't figure him out. Despite the free-throw shooting, and poor shooting in general, he seems genuinely agile and skilled, with good passing and ballhandling skills, and occasional deft moves to the hoop. He's far more skilled than Tyson Chandler. What gives? Is he late to basketball and never learned to shoot? --Mark Bires, Oak Park, Ill.

Darned if anyone can figure that out. There's really no excuse for someone whose job is basketball and practices it every day to shoot like that. My guess is he is so unskilled and generally uncoordinated, that we should be applauding him for even standing up.

Do you think not having Johnny Bach on the Bulls staff has something to do with the defensive struggles? --Darnell, Chicago

Yes. Actually no, but I'm glad you mention John. I talked to him the other day and he seems to be doing well. He watches the games, but isn't the kind of know-it-all who thinks he has all the answers. He's becoming an accomplished painter and is one of the most remarkable men I've encountered in the NBA. He's doing some TV for Comcast and getting lots of overdue awards around the country from the military and basketball. Despite the things Ben Wallace brings, the Bulls are much smaller, especially with P.J. Brown not playing much, and don't seem to get teams changing as many shots as they used to. But their defense tends to improve as the season progresses and I believe they'll be better.

Why hasn't Stern and the rest of the league focused more on getting the NBDL into shape, rather than try to promote the game to the world? Didn't he already admit an NBA Europe may not be possible? We already have the Chinese market with Yao Ming. We have Germany with Dirk. We have Argentina and most of South America with Nocioni, Ginobili, Oberto, and Hermann. France with Parker and Diaw. Spain with Gasol, Garbajosa, Calderon. We need 30 D-league teams so we can avoid another Darko Milicic incident. Plus what good does it do to have players waste away with inconsistent minutes like Tyrus Thomas, Thabo Sefolosha, Shannon Brown, Daniel Gibson? --Mark, Berlin, Vt.

The issue is money. Teams generally don't want to spend the money for a farm system, which is one of baseball's biggest expenses. Especially when they need so few players and most come ready. The truth teams don't like to admit because Stern will yell at them is they don't like the D-league. They prefer their players with them and this latest incident with Martynas Andriuskevicius getting a skull fracture in a fight only suggests the Bulls won't send their players to the D-league again. Teams want their players working with its coach and players and now there are all sorts of oddballs in the NBDL, like former Bull Eddie Robinson. Plus, coaches there want to win to get a job in the NBA. It's a pretty bad system thus far and I don't hear much enthusiasm for expanding it.

Everybody is saying that the Western Conference is far better than the East and has been for years. So do you have an idea why the Western teams always seems better than the Eastern ones? It should have some reasons, no? --Nicolas, Fribourg, Switzerland

This is one of these things we insist are cyclical. Though these cycles can take awhile. I've heard some talk that the West style of play helps produce better players -- certainly better statistics -- by going wide open and running. Though the history of the NBA pretty much through Jordan Retirement II has been Eastern Conference dominance with the Celtics, Wilt, Oscar, Bird, Isiah and Jordan all leading their teams to championships with only the Lakers holding them off. There's no question, despite two titles in the last three years, the West has been dominant since 1998 and still is. Though it still has a lot of catching up to do.

Do you think Grant Hill will make the Hall of Fame? Even with all his injuries, he has still averaged 20 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists per game for his career. Do they sometimes make an exception for great players who had their greatness cut short by injury? Plus, he is a great ambassador to the game and personifies everything the NBA would like its players to be. --Sean Vogt, Monrovia, Calif.

It's an interesting question because he always has been one of the few guys who, as people like to say, "gets it." The parallel might be Chris Mullin, whom the Warriors are pushing for Hall of Fame consideration. They both had great five- to six-year runs before breaking down. Both were two of the best people to deal with in the game and on winning Olympic teams. Mullin was a five-time All Star and Hill seven. And they had terrific college careers. But neither has been on an NBA championship team or teams that went very far in the playoffs, until Mullin was a role player in Indiana. I think it would be a great statement for both to get in as they are Hall of Fame people and great players in their eras who served their country for basketball. I think Hill has the better chance because of his two NCAA titles since the Hall of Fame is not just for NBA achievements. Eventually, I see both getting in.

Why do football teams traditionally wear dark uniforms at home while baseball and basketball squads traditionally dress in "home whites"? --TM Ryan, Evanston, Ill.

I'm not completely sure. NFL teams wear colors at home, which usually are dark. I tend to go with the idea that good guys wear white and bad guys wear black. If we have to talk arrest rates, no one beats the NFL, except perhaps for soccer fans.

First about Eddy Curry. He's starting to look like he might be a bonafide All-Star center. What would the Bulls need to get with their (switch of picks) from the Knicks next summer to justify the trade, evaluating the situation outside of the medical circumstances. Also, who would you compare him to historically? I was thinking that he reminded me of the center the Cavs used to have during the Jordan era, I think his name was Hot Rod Williams. --Paul Downie, Miami

He's no Hot Rod, who ran the court more and was a face-up player. We used to jokingly compare Eddy here to another Chicagoan, Kevin Duckworth, an overweight player who actually had a pretty good run with good Portland teams in the late 1980s. Eddy's a unique talent who was supposed to be like Shaquille O'Neal, though not quite with the attitude and power. I thought once maybe like Elmore Smith of the old Buffalo Braves. I felt Eddy could average 20 this season if the Knicks played faster and played Eddy on the move rather than letting him post and make a move. It never was going to work with the Bulls, the style they play and their demands. They feared Eddy would relax too much if they paid him, and once a team starts thinking like that it is never going to work. Even if the Bulls don't get one of the top two or three picks with the right to swap picks with the Knicks, they'll get a good player and it's a terrific chip if they still want to make a major deal. That's what I'd do because I think you go for it now with Ben Wallace playing at a higher level and don't keep adding kids.

With Allen Iverson going for Miller, Smith and two No. 1 draft choices and with Iverson's history of disruptions -- "practice, we're talking about practice" -- what would Kevin Garnett bring if he were traded by the deadline? Garnett plays (and practices) and is an asset as a player and a teammate. Please send a copy of your answer to Kevin McHale so that he has some true insights. McFail needs all the help he can get. It's tough to do all the work you need to do as a GM when you're pretty much working part time. --Dave, Minneapolis

Is this a fan letter I need to forward to McHale? I know McHale gets the frustration of the community and hasn't exactly made a lot of great moves since drafting Garnett. That was a great move because teams then feared going for a high schooler and it was considered a huge risk. I still believe McHale packs it in after this season because this can't be an easy environment for him and his family. You answered it yourself. If Iverson gets that, Garnett is way more highly valued and should bring three major pieces. He won't for long, which is the question the Timberwolves have to keep asking themselves, especially now that it seems they have almost no chance to win their division with Iverson in Denver and Utah playing well.

Now that Luol Deng is a borderline All-Star, I think it's time that we all figure out how to pronounce his name correctly. According to ESPN, it's Lu-owl. I've also heard it pronounced Lu-All (Tom Dore), Lu-Oll (Stacey King), and Lu-L. So which one is correct? --JT, Chicago

The NBA has a pronunciation guide for media, which, as you know, only some use. It is "Lu-owl Dang," according to the NBA.

It seems to me that the Bulls continue to gain leverage in various trade scenarios, particularly using P.J. Brown as a centerpiece. New Jersey's Nenad Krstic just went down. Yao Ming just suffered an injury and I'm sure there are other teams that could benefit from the services of a 6-11, established veteran who can give you 10 and 10. I'd love to hear your thoughts/fantasies on the possibilities--not including your much documented fantasy of KG!! --Dr. J.L. Weems, South Holland, Ill.

I have been getting more letters from psychiatrists about my trade proposals. At least people say I should get my head examined. I know I've said P.J. could be on the outs after his trade talk. I think some of it stemmed from his frustration in playing poorly, or lower than his standards, and even good veterans have a hard time sometimes accepting their play. P.J. could be valuable to the Bulls because they don't let that many losing teams into the playoffs and the Bulls will have to play more halfcourt games and provide help for Ben Wallace, who likes to roam for loose balls and steals and gets out of position for rebounding at times. But as we saw with the Iverson talk, the expiring contract has value and it should become clearer over the next month if teams like Memphis, Golden State, Portland (Randolph) and, yes, Minnesota, lose and look to save some money.

Hey Sam, if somehow the Bulls got the first pick in the 2007 draft, whom will they choose, Greg Oden or Kevin Durant? If they drafted Oden where will they put him? They have Ben Wallace at center. I think Kevin Durant is a good pick because, say, Nocioni leaves for free agency, then we could just stick Durant at SF or PF. --Shawn Phillips, Des Plaines, Ill.

Everyone assumes the first pick goes for Oden if he comes out, and it probably will. But I've already heard some team executives say they'd take Durant. In the end, I think everyone will fear passing Oden. Wallace would be fine at power forward playing off the weak side and would fit with Oden. The Bulls can match on Nocioni and will unless he's part of a big trade package. Though whomever gets No. 2 in this draft likely will be just as happy as the winner.