Ask Sam Smith

SportsFootballBasketballChicago BullsNBAColleges and UniversitiesNew York Knicks

Is a college player forced to declare himself eligible for the draft in order to make the NBA? In other words, could Oden or Durant end their college years, then become free agents and sign for big money and for a title contender? And if they can't, how can that happen in the Land of Freedom? --Jon Puy, Spain

They could play in Spain if they'd like. When the founders of our country decided to create the world's first great democracy and defeat the occupiers of Great Britian, they elected to leave out the constitutional right to play in the NBA. I'm told it was that crabby John Adams again. Businesses are permitted to collectively bargain rules with their employees, which the NBA did with the draft. No player has to play in the NBA. But if he wants to, he has to adhere to its rules. A team holds the rights to a player when he is drafted and if he doesn't sign after a year, he goes back in the draft. Just to make sure what you suggest doesn't happen. If you want to be in the NBA, you go into the draft. Players overseas can become free agents after going through a draft and not being selected or when they turn 22 and aren't drafted.

Is David Stern ever going to get the playoff seeding system right? This will be the second time in three years the Bulls will have finished with the third best record in the East and the second time they haven't gotten the third seed. Will Stern wise up and just give the division winners auto bids, if you will, and just seed them according to their record, even if Toronto is giving the Atlantic some respectability? --Mark, Berlin, Vt.

The problem has been much discussed--and criticized-- by me since its inception because of the expansion to three divisions in each conference. The NBA setup is by conference and most newspapers now run the standings that way so people will understand. Stern is known to be awfully stubborn and hates the idea that we all are right and he is wrong. Though in the end, you have to win and win on the road to be a champion. At least the team with the better record gets home court in every matchup, so no one should really have an excuse.

With the season almost over what do you think about the Bulls two big moves in the off-season -- trading Chandler to bring in Wallace and Curry for Thomas? I don't mind the Curry for Thomas trade, he looks like he might be a good player. The Chandler trade, though, come on? They basically gave a young player away to sign Wallace who really has not done much this season. Chandler will be in this league for another 10 years. How many does Big Ben have left? --Dougie, Scotland

I actually approve as even though Chandler will have a longer career than Wallace and be more effective in the coming seasons, I didn't see it happening with the Bulls given his nature and the demands of coach Scott Skiles. Though I have been no big fan of Wallace's, he seems to be exhibiting more effort of late and it was time for the Bulls to make a move in the playoffs. I think they have a better chance these next two seasons with Wallace.

When Skiles is going to figure out that next to Wallace, Ben G is the last person you want dribbling the ball for any period of time? He's better off just getting the ball and shooting/driving immediately. --Rex, Las Vegas

Well, I don't think they want anyone dribbling for that long. Sometimes Ben does get carried away looking for his shot. He's really not a classic catch-and-shoot guy, but he can make that strong dribble and step into his shot as well as anyone. It really is remarkable the number of 30-point games he can have at his size and without drawing that many fouls and getting to the line. Perhaps he's not the greatest with the ball at times, but he does need a few dribbles to get into his rhythm.

It was very tough to see the Bulls lose to the Cavs. What I don't understand is why Skiles continues to set up a play for the last shot of the game that gives Ben Gordon the ball right away and requires him to create something off the dribble. BG's strength is his shooting, NOT his dribbling. Does Skiles not know this by now? Even when BG does beat his man off the dribble, the defense collapses on him knowing full well that he is not going to pass the ball to his four other teammates, who by the way just happen to be wide open. BG has now missed I think 7 of 8 last-second shots this season. Let Hinrich have the ball for the last shot. He is a much better dribbler and passer off the dribble. For all the excessive turnovers that BG continues to make and his lack of defense, I feel he is hurting this team more than he is helping it. Considering he probably won't accept a sixth man position, I would not mind at all to see him traded after the season. --Steve Anderson, Lake City, Colo.

The measure of a great players isn't always making the shot but taking the shot. There are an awful lot of big name players who don't want that responsibility and then have to explain the miss. Despite the revisionist history that Jordan never missed a last shot, he missed plenty. I remember a few classic free throws in Game 4 against the Cavs in '89 before he hit the winner in Game 5. That's the point. You don't shy away. I like that Ben keeps going after it. Sometimes it shows up his flaws, like when the Cavs jumped him, or when a bigger defender gets on him, like the Nets' Jason Kidd. But he's willing to take the shot and answer for the consequences. Not every team even has a player who will do that.

I know there is a star treatment in the NBA when it come to the calls refs make, but weren't they supposed to crack down on getting shown up? I've seen Lebron wave off the refs countless times after he has been called for a foul and not get a technical. Meanwhile, Hinrich does much less and gets T'd up. What's the deal? --John, Iowa City, Iowa

Actually, the refs have been told to back off, and for good reason. People are paying too much for players to be getting thrown out for being mimes. The league wanted to make it a point of emphasis to cut it out and was more penal early in the season. They do that with various rules, like hand checking, and then back off as the season goes on. As for Kirk, occasionally he also offers a verbal commentary. Though what strikes me most was the gap between college and pro officiating watching the NCAA tournament. For all those people complaining about NBA refereeing, just watch one college game. It was embarrassing the way they took Oden and Hibbert out of that semifinal game. It's the equivalent of sandlot ball to the major leagues. The college officiating appears to take no notice of interfering with the game, which the NBA officials are very aware of. They do try to stay out of the way. In college, it looks like they want to be the game.

If Nocioni isn't able to make a return for the playoffs (or even if he does, but at a severely limited capacity), how much does that help the Bulls re-sign him and/or get him at a discount? --Jake Berlin, Chicago

I don't think any of that affects the post-season unless his injury is more severe than we have been told. If the Bulls get to the Finals, you figure everyone is signed and brought back. But size still seems to be the main issue and it's doubtful the Bulls bring back P.J. Brown. Tyrus Thomas is coming along, but also is about 6-8. If the Bulls go out in the first or second round of the playoffs, you figure they'll use Nocioni and perhaps the rights to the Knicks' draft pick to get a big man unless that pick can get them someone like Joakim Noah.

Nocioni is much admired around the NBA for his aggressiveness and with the development of Deng and Thomas, it seems unlikely he could start for the Bulls. As a result with the extensions coming up for Deng and Gordon, the Bulls aren't likely to want to bring Nocioni back at a high salary and he seems to expect to move on.

I'm a huge Suns fan. I love how the NBA has pushed the pedal to the metal. But I'd like to see it go even faster. What do you think of making a new rule that would allow for more fastbreaks? Here's the scenario. A 3-on-2 fastbreak is in progress and the defending team, having realized this fouls the ballhandler before the fastbreak can go any further. I'm suggesting that the NBA implement a sort of "clear path fastbreak foul." So if one were to commit a foul when an obvious fastbreak (with numbers) were in progress, the fastbreaking team would receive a free throw whilst maintaining possession of the ball. --Marlon Umali, Glendale Heights, Ill.

I like the idea and the old English use of whilst. I have been lobbying for some years for something to speed play as well. To me the most out-of-date NBA rule is the 24-second clock. It came in for the 1954-55 season by Danny Biasone of the Syracuse team. He came up with it by dividing the then number of possessions. In this era with bigger and faster players, they don't need 24 seconds to swing the ball around, set up and be over coached. I'd like to see a wider and longer court with the increased size and reach of players, but that never will happen because it would take away expensive courtside seats. I'd go for an 18- or 20-second clock which would help take out the over controlling coaches signaling plays to the point guard all the time and get teams thinking of scoring rather than slowing the game.

I guess you have a lot of respect for David Stern, but let's go back 22 years. If you had undeniable proof that he bent the card that sent Patrick Ewing to the Knicks how would you feel about our good commissioner? --Tracy Campbell, Chicago

We've all had fun at the league's expense on this one, but it's not like the Knicks had many championships to celebrate with Ewing. The urban legend was that one card was frozen so Stern would feel the cold one. But even though Stern is a lawyer, I believe he never would do such a thing. He truly is socially conscious, supporting the WNBA despite it costing the league a fortune.

The NBA has been in the forefront of leagues in community work and social causes. Stern believes in this stuff and the few times I've had sessions in his office, they more often became debates on government policy and social issues. At one time he considered running for the U.S. Senate from New York, and if he could have put up with the media prying into his life and questioning him, he might even have tried. He's not great with criticism, not that many of us are. I actually trust him, but keep it between us.

It seems to me that the future of this team takes a decidedly different turn if Luol Deng can turn into a star. Suddenly a group of "pretty good players, but not championship material" becomes a star, an offensive specialist, the crafty floor general and talent on the front line. Much more the foundation of a championship, n'est pas? Also suggests that getting a big man through the upcoming draft might be just fine. With that in mind, how many spots can the Bulls move up by trading Nocioni, Duhon and the Knicks' pick? --Scott Pollak, Alamo, Calif.

Geez, I don't have a French-English dictionary. Or was that Hebrew? I'm not sure how we define star, but this Bulls core really is looking like the real thing. Despite my many trade suggestions over the years, the trio probably is worth keeping together despite their various limitations: Hinrich's decision making in the half court, Gordon's size and Deng's limited range and postup ability. Thomas is going to be a key if he keeps developing like he has the last few games. That energy and explosiveness is something none of the three really have and fits with their style of play. I don't think you move up in this draft, and the Bulls history never has been to give up a player just for spots in the draft. I think you still look at Garnett, Gasol, etc and you never know when a team gets desperate. You never would have figured the 76ers would take that little for Allen Iverson.

I imagine teams carry insurance to cover player salaries in case of injury. If so, how do NBA rates compare with baseball and football? --Roy, Meridian, Idaho

I assume the rates are similar as the NBA's policy is league wide. The NBA has a universal policy and each team is required to insure its top five players, usually by salary, though the league insurer. Teams can add insurance for other players. There is a 41-game deductible and then teams are paid 80 percent of the salary after that if a player is disabled.

With the odd seeding, the Bulls probably are going to end up the second or fifth seed. Assuming they get past the first round, do you think they would have a better chance as the No. 2 seed with a potential home court matchup against the Heat (assuming Wade is playing), or as the 5 seed playing on the road against Detroit? --Nikhil Bhatia, Frankfort, Ill.

This is impossible to figure now and changes almost daily. The most dangerous situation for the Bulls is if the Heat win the division and win fewer games than Toronto and then get four and the Bulls five with Detroit the second rounde. If you get two you avoid that, and the Bulls still have the edge with the tiebreakers over Cleveland. But two likely gets seven, which should be the Nets, who have given the Bulls trouble, especially the way Jason Kidd can play Ben Gordon late in games. If Miami gets four, you avoid that. But if Miami gets three or six, then they're the potential second round opponent and perhaps tougher by then as Dwayne Wade might have more time to recover. Obviously, the best scenario is to get two and Miami gets four and Detroit one. So that's what you can now root for.

After reading your latest mailbag, which has another question regarding Elton Brand, it got me thinking what was wrong with keeping Brand and drafting Eddy Curry? You had a 20-10 guy and a potential All-Star at center, having Brand around may have bought out the best in Curry. --Angelo Papanikolas, Melbourne, Australia

The theory then was both were post players and couldn't coexist. Though as we know, there were a lot of mistakes made back then, that being just one of them. If Bill Cartwright were the coach then instead of Tim Floyd, I think both big guys would have bonded with him and it might have worked. It's another reason of all the mistakes, the hiring of Floyd was probably the biggest as he lobbied for Brand to be dealt and Krause was still in like with him then and eager to please his pet coach.

John Paxson might want to give Jerry Krause a call before he makes another decision about acquiring and then trading low post talents like Aldridge, Curry and Chandler. This is further evidence that the Bulls staff may not be able to relate to big men. You look at their roster and none of them look like they will be top players in the league any time soon. Paxson should demand Skiles hire a quality low post teaching assistant because whenever a big goes to another team they some how become more productive. --Nabee, Bellwood, Ill.

I have been an advocate of a big man added to the staff, less for the teaching because the Bulls coaches are very good, but for the company. Big men tend to like to be around big men and need that support. With so many assistants now, it would seem you could add one, even only for home games like Phil Jackson does with Craig Hodges and Tex Winter. Actually, Skiles really liked Aldridge and I believe he probably was pushing for him in the draft. I can't say the same of his feeling for Curry and Chandler, though Tyson is hardly the low post talent. In the end, I don't think Curry would have fit in the Bulls fast and defensive style. I think they're better off the way they've gone.

From a stat standpoint, it appears Tyrus Thomas is evolving into the player the Bulls were hoping for. Is it real? Based on recent performances, does he look like a better prospect than LaMarcus Aldridge? --Steve P., Denver

Different. Aldridge is going to be good, though he keeps getting hurt, which could be a concern with his slight build. He looks like a legitimate post threat, which Thomas is now. But Thomas is showing what Paxson saw, a player who can change games and give the Bulls what they don't have in intimidation. His attitude will help him as a player because he is not intimidated and he is fast becoming a fan favorite in Chicago since it's been almost a decade since anyone on the team could dunk. There's probably always going to be a disconnect with the media as he routinely puts people off with indifference and a condescending nature. But no one really cares if you perform, and if he continues to do so like he has in the last few games down the stretch--yes, it looks real--the talk is the new owner of the Tribune might even hire him as Ceo where he can really get his media revenge.

How come Red Kerr isn't in the Hall of Fame? He had the NBA Iron Man streak until A.C. Green pulled some shenanigans to pass him on the consecutive games played list. --Jeff Dickerson, Evanston, Ill.

Because life and Hall of Fames aren't always fair, as Ron Santo knows. Red Kerr is deserving on several levels, from player to contributor to the game. He was a winner at all levels and the basketball Hall is supposed to be for all levels, not just the NBA. He was in the Final Four at Illinois and when he went to the NBA his team immediately won a title. He was a successful first year Bulls coach, a broadcaster, ambassador to the game for 50 years. He is one of the few alltime with 10,000 points and rebounds not in the Hall, to say nothing of the real iron man streak. He was an All Star three times playing almost a third of his games against Russell and Wilt. Not only is he one of the most deserving players not in, he's more deserving than half the guys who are in. And he's a Hall of Fame person. It would be nice, but Red doesn't need anyone's plaque for those around the NBA to know he's a Hall of Famer.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Comments
Loading