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How true were the rumors that the Bulls almost traded the No. 7 pick and Donyell Marshall for the No. 3 pick in the 2003 draft to get Dwyane Wade? And was the deal breaker the Bulls' reluctance to give up Marshall? I don't think many thought Wade would be this good, but I really hoped he would slip to seventh spot that year.--Paul, Schaumburg, Ill.

The Bulls were sure of it, so sure that the Hinrich pick, which was a good one, came with about 10 minutes of discussion after the Heat took Wade. That's one of those Bulls urban legends we'll never know for sure. I do know this: For months before the draft, Paxson was set on Wade, far more than anyone in the NBA and certainly the Heat. Given Wade's size and playing for a smaller school, he wasn't that highly regarded until his play in the tournament. And even then the belief was he'd be there at 7.

That was the LeBron James draft and when the Pistons indicated early they'd go for Darko, Denver was on Carmelo. That left Toronto uncertain at No. 4 and trying to improve quickly. Chris Bosh was a freshman and there were questions about toughness. There was some talk about the Bulls moving up to assure they could get Wade, but the Bulls insist Toronto never made an offer. Plus, the general feeling was Wade would be available at No. 7 because Alonzo Mourning had developed his kidney problems and the Heat was supposed to take Chris Kamen, a center. The Clippers at No. 6 had no interest in Wade. Toronto won't say now they were willing to take Marshall and 7 for 4, which would have meant losing Bosh, their best player and All Star. Could the Bulls have made a deal? Probably not, and these things take on plenty of revisionist history. Like the preliminary talks last spring regarding Richard Jefferson for Luol Deng. The Bulls say the Nets wanted the No. 2 pick as well. The Nets say the Bulls were offering the No. 2 pick, which they never did.

Paxson gets too much credit, granted Hinrich, Gordon, Duhon and Deng were great moves, but here are a list of failures:Eddy Curry -- He would have been the missing piece for this team, a inside presence.Tyson Chandler -- Better, younger, longer and taller than Ben Wallace.Tyrus Thomas -- Brandon Roy could have made it possible to trade Gordon for Gasol.JR Smith -- Waive him, why???Ben Wallace -- In two seasons he will be killing us contact-wise, while Chandler will be going for his second DPY!Tim Thomas -- This was a Skiles combo mistake. He could have really help in the playoffs last season. --Machine, Chicago

Hey, no one is perfect. On the whole, Paxson has done a very good job. There is no perfect GM. Jerry West is often regarded as the best, but he's made some miserable moves. Of all you mention, I probably would have gone for Roy, but they do have too many guards now and play too many and needed a big guy. Tyrus Thomas could prove to be very good. Often players do better in another environment, and I believe that's the case for Curry and Chandler. As for Tim Thomas, I wonder what the Clippers are thinking about their $24 million investment now. I try to judge an overall work, and the Bulls' has been among the best thus far. I checked and I may even have made some mistakes, as incredible as that seems.

I know he did a great job getting the Bulls from laughing stock to respectability, but John Paxson has turned the Bulls into Jerry Krause's worst nightmare: mediocre. I have to fault him for creating a very frustratingly inconsistent little-engine-that-could team made up of hard-working but undersized overachievers. --Dan Brecher, Scarsdale, N.Y.

That is why this next summer or season or two will be vital for the Bulls' development. Paxson has done an excellent job of putting the Bulls in position in the East, and I believe they still can get to the conference finals or Finals given all the injuries in the East around them. Of course, they could also lose in the first round with a bad matchup and without home-court advantage. They are nowhere near a contender with the Western teams, so they are not near championship level on talent. They still need that one big piece, which is why I pushed for Gasol. But Garnett could be in play, though I doubt it. Maybe Gasol again. Maybe they luck out in the draft. There's still time as this team really has been only making its move for two years.

Why wasn't Isiah Thomas included on the Dream Team? He clearly was one of the best players of his time. Was it because Jordan getting back for the '85 All-Star snub? Were there any ultimatums from Jordan put to keep Thomas off the team? --Alex, Chicago

Another of the great untold legends of the NBA. It's probably the pettiest thing Jordan ever did. People have heard this different ways, but back then in the NBA players took competition more seriously and didn't pray together after games and hug one another. The Bulls-Pistons battles were some of the bitterest ever, and Jordan did remember that alleged freezeout in the '85 All Star game supposedly led by Thomas and Magic Johnson, though Johnson and Jordan had worked it out. Plus, they didn't compete in the playoffs every year. Jordan was holding out in '92 and saying he wouldn't play, and there wasn't about to be a Dream Team without him. Plus, Jordan's agent David Falk and Thomas were at odds over distribution of money for the salary cap when Thomas the players' association president. Thomas actually was the Democrat, trying to enlarge the pot for lesser players against the efforts of Falk, who was trying to steer more money to his high-level players. Word supposedly was sent back to the Olympic committee that Jordan might not play if Thomas were on the team. Jordan supposedly never made it a condition, but apparently to insure they wouldn't offend Jordan, Thomas wasn't given an invite. Shame.

Could you give an analysis of the two rookies, Tyrus and Thabo? --Brad Bowling, Albuquerque, N.M.

I'd put them in a package if I could get someone like Garnett, but I doubt there's any chance of that anymore, so I'd keep them. I think they will both be very good players. Thomas is more raw, an exceptional athlete who has the potential to be like a Shawn Kemp, though he has to become tougher because he likes to fall down a lot and seem to feign injury. But he does compete hard when he seems to feel OK. Thabo is more mature and developing some shooting range. I see elements of a Scottie Pippen in him the way he runs a team, though not on defense. I believe they will become part of the team's eventual core.

Are the Deng/Pippen comparisons even worth the talk? --Andrew, Toronto

Scottie was a point guard who grew, which is why he was such a good ball handler with a feel for the game. Deng is long like Pippen, but a far better shooter. Not as good a defender and not as explosive and probably more a four now than a two. I think with Deng's length and ability to develop a post game he'll play more inside.

If this years Bulls team played a game against the '98 Bulls, whom I feel were the most vulnerable of the six title teams, how would they fare? Given this year's team keeps close with the better teams in the league and sometimes comes out victorious, is it reasonable to say that it would be a close game or even a possible upset? Also, who would "guard" MJ? How much does MJ score? Who wins the Rodman vs. Wallace battle down low? --Tom Goodman, Roselle, Ill.

The difference, really, would be in intelligence. That team was aging and going downhill, but could control the game and tempo and make you play to them. The weakness of this Bulls team is probably bad decisions, rushed plays, missed open players. That team would grind this team into a slow game. Their size would bother Gordon and Rodman would neutralize Wallace. Bulls '98 in four.

Unfortunately for Bulls fans the Knicks haven't played as bad as we had hoped and it looks like they will finish somewhere around late lottery. If the Bulls decide to keep the Knicks' pick would they consider taking a big man such as Washington's Spencer Hawes, Stanford's Brook Lopez, or maybe even China's Yi Jianlian? --Matt Staley, McHenry, Ill.

I'm not sure what they would do yet and am sure they have no idea. They are still hoping the Knicks miss the playoffs and they get a shot at a top-three pick. If not, a trade of the pick is a definite possibility, though they did have a love affair with Joakim Noah last season and he is dropping and could be available late lottery.

What is new about the new playoff system, like if we take the teams right now what teams are going to qualify and what teams are going to face each other? Which team will the Bulls are going to face if the playoff's begin today? --Mohamed, Beirut, Lebanon

This changes almost daily and probably will for the rest of the season. But as of March 7, it was by seeding: Detroit, Cleveland, Washington, Toronto, Chicago, Miami, Indiana, Orlando with the Bulls opening in Toronto. The three division winners each get a top-four seed plus the team with the next best record and then the top four are seeded by record.

Tyson Chandler crumbled in Chicago and is thriving with NOK. Is Scott Skiles the reason we don't have this young, improving and intimidating post player? Oh, I forgot, we've got the always energetic and aggressive Ben Wallace! Maybe he'll show up in the playoffs. --Curt, Momence, Ill.

Yes, as Chandler said, he had some issues with Skiles. But that also is Chandler's problem. Skiles doesn't change. He's tough and direct and fans here liked it after years of misdirection. The players have responded and the Bulls are regarded widely as a tough team to play because of the way they compete. Clearly, that has a lot to do with the kind of players the Bulls have sought out. But when teams respond to a coach, he has to be doing something right. Tyson requires a little more gentle care and Skiles doesn't always do that well. But you can't always as it shows weakness to the other players. Skiles was Tyson's third coach here and he was getting tired of that as well. It was time for him to move on.

Since the Bulls can't use the current expiring contracts of Allen, Brown or Sweetney, what will it take to pry Gasol from Memphis? Will it take at least one core player? If so which core player would that be? Also if Garnett does opt out of his contract after next season do you think the Bulls will make a run at him? Well, he'll be 33 by the '08-09 season and he somehow goes to the Bulls do you think he can be a dominant, low-post presence at that age? --Aaron, Waipahu, Hawaii

I think the window for both has closed. I believe the expiring contracts were vital in a Gasol deal and now they'd want more than Deng, so that won't happen. And If Garnett walks away, I believe it is to L.A. He's not a classic low-post presence, anyway, but fits the Bulls' aggressive, defensive style. I don't see him choosing Chicago, but you never know with him as little he's done so far makes that much sense.

Why do you think Bulls fans have such a low NBA IQ compared to East coast fans? --Michael Freeman, Chicago

I may have wondered that during the Jordan years when there was so much gushing. But I have been very impressed about the e-mails I receive. I was reluctant to do this mailbag thing at first because I thought I'd be getting all those goofy trade proposals (Mine are not!) like Griffin for LeBron, and our team right or wrong stuff. But the e-mails have been thoughtful and knowledgeable and what I do find is the fans here have a better technical sense of the game, in part because we talk about it, than in the East, where everything revolves around chaos and controversy and the substance of the game is too often ignored. After all, they still think in New York they have the pieces in place for a title with Curry and Crawford. No offense to two good guys, but, really.

In reading your column, someone came up with a nickname for Thabo. How about this one: Whenever he clangs a shot off the back iron, we can call him, "Swiss Miss." --Tuan D., Moline, Ill.

See how smart our readers are?

I read somewhere that Donald Sterling isn't happy having spent so much money on an underachieving team. If they miss the playoffs, do you see any way he decides to trade Brand? And if so, who would fit the Bulls better, both in terms of style and contract, Brand or Garnett? --Chris Feldman, Dubuque, Iowa

Repeat after me: I will not talk about Elton Brand anymore. That ship not only left, the harbor closed. He's not going anywhere. Garnett would be better, but as I've said, I don't see him coming to the Bulls, either. They'll have to think smaller.

Hey Sam, I was shocked when I saw the following, so I thought I would share. Kirk Hinrich's numbers per game vs. Chauncey Billups. I thought Hinrich was too good to trade in most scenarios, but this surprised even me. Points: Hinrich - 15.8 Billups - 17.9 Three-pointers: Hinrich (H) - 1.7 Billups (B)- 1.6 Free Throw %: H- 82.0 B- 89.3 FG%: H- 44.5 B- 43.7 Assists (the biggest difference): H- 6.2 B- 7.5 Steals: H- 1.3 B- 1.3 Blocks :) : H-0.3 B-0.3 Turnovers: H- 2.3 B- 2.2 --Dan Davis, Chicago

You know the old saying, "Lies, damned lies and statistics." That's why those stat geeks in basketball get it wrong so much. And in business, too. Did you see that amazing Forbes ranking showing Kevin McHale the best GM in sports? It's clear they have no idea of the NBA. It took Billups six teams to become a point guard. The position is the most difficult in the game. Kirk gets criticism for decision making, but people are too anxious. It often takes time to make a great point guard, as it did for Billups. He is better than Hinrich now despite what the stats may say. It's making the right pass, move, play. Hinrich is getting there, but is no Billups yet. But in his fourth season, Billups was no Hinrich.

I enjoy your Q&A columns. They display your witty sense of humor, something that had been lacking in your columns. Anyway, one thing that you are good at is comparing/projecting players to those from the past. (A good one was Tyson Chandler vs. Marcus Camby.) I think that you may have done this before, but who do you think the young Bulls players--Deng, Gordon, Hinrich, Tyrus Thomas--play like? I'm usually pretty good at that too but I'm having trouble with this group (other than Gordon/Vinnie Johnson and maybe Thomas/Kenyon Martin. --Zorba, Lake Zurich, Ill.

Ouch. I blame it on the editors. I keep telling them I'm funny and they keep cutting out my jokes. It is one interesting thing about writing for the internet and I'm not sure why: They don't seem to take it as seriously as the newspaper. I am much more heavily edited in the newspaper. In the newspaper, the editors seem to fear reprisals if there is something different or daring in a story or column, so they often just take it out. You know: Better to be safe and the readers will never know. I've noticed on the internet it's more of an anything goes world. I like that and am now trying for a role in "Rush Hour 4" based on half my wit. See, I'd never get that in the paper and at least you and I think it's funny. Oh yeah, the question. I've mentioned Thomas as Kemp above and Gordon as Vinnie or Ricky Pierce. Hinrich has some Stockton in him, though Stockton had three years as a backup to learn. Kirk's a better athlete, but doesn't think pass as well yet. Maybe there's some Danny Ainge in Kirk as he's more a combo guard, and, yes, we have to compare white guys with white guys and black guys with black guys, though I'm not sure why. I think Deng has some Love and Walker in him because he's clever inside and has a nice short-range shot, which I think will expand. Maybe some Jamaal Wilkes.

Why is all the national media knocking the Bulls for not trading for Pau Gasol? We all know that it would have taken at least Luol Deng and PJ Brown, but what would have happened if a trade like that did go down? Nocioni is probably gone for a while, and PJ wouldn't be there. So essentially we would be playing with Victor Kyhrapa as our starting SF with who as his backup? And who would back up Gasol, who has a history of major injuries? I don't see the Bulls getting by with Sweetney and Tyrus as the backups. I would much rather not win this season and get Garnett for Gordon, Tyrus, Duhon and a first-round pick. --John, Chicago

Yes, we want action! Many felt when a big man comes on the market, which is rare, you take a shot. It could have been problematic for awhile, but Pau is good and I think Skiles would have toughened him up. Plus, he seemed motivated for change and we've seen what that has done for Chandler. But I hear as many here saying not to give up Deng, so I don't see the Bulls under that much pressure.

I'm glad that Deng and Gordon weren't traded because I believe they are the core of the franchise. But I've seen Ben Gordon miss at least three shots at the buzzer to either win or tie the game this season. My questions are at what point will Skiles start drawing up those plays for Deng? --Trey Augustine, Los Banos, Calif.

Not after the Milwaukee game.

Do you think that NBA refs do a good job? They make an awful lot of bad calls overall, both for and against the Bulls. I would assume that they are supposed to be the best in the world, but when I watch, I cringe at how many bad or missed calls they make. --Drew, Chicago

There are some wild things that happen, like the end of that Washington-Golden State game last week and Hinrich getting called for a foul 75 feet from the basket on Arenas earlier this season. But overall I think they do a great job. You should try to watch a game sometime with the sound off and make calls: It's almost impossible. I believe for the most part the refs do a terrific job of not interfering with play, and I've seen them after games in debates about every call. They write detailed reports on every game and are scrutinized for what they do much more than the players. I think they are the best officials in sport for what they are asked to do.

Do you think the Bulls have a chance at bringing back Ron Artest? It fills their need of a big guard and low-post scorer. He can also guard any scorer like Lebron. --Stephan, Winnetka, Ill.

And people think some teams see hope where there is none. Artest's career could be over, though we always think someone will take a chance. But you'd have to be desperate now with another major incident with his arrest for domestic violence. Three teams have done all they could for him and they've had to let him go. Three strikes and he is out?

I know how much you love Deng, but I'm surprised that most other people feel the same by giving him MVB honors. Would you anoint Deng most valuable Bull? It's great to be an all-around guy, but there's nothing more valuable than fourth quarter scoring. --Joe, Chicago

He's been terrific and though I mention him in trades at times, it's because he is so good and might bring an All Star big man. You'd still have to say Gordon for his uncanny scoring ability.

What do you think the Bulls will do in the summer? Will they be active on the transfer market, will they go after some big names like Garnett or Gasol or will they just give Deng, Gordon and Nocioni their extensions and stay put and hope Big Ben won't get any worse and Tyrus Thomas will blossom next season? --Gudjon, Iceland

I think the big names will be off the board and you could look at some of the names that came up at the trading deadline, like Drew Gooden, Nazr Mohammed and Darko Milicic.

Adrian Griffin thinks Ben Gordon, at times, can score "lights-out" like Jordan did in his prime. Any possibility the Bulls can give Ben Gordon some type of human growth hormone, maybe grow him to 6-6? --Tony Marro, Vista, Calif.

I will check with Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds. Does it work that way?

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