Ask Sam Smith

With the Blazers getting the first pick, don't you think that just gives the Bulls a huge discount on Zach Randolph? Lets say Zach and Martell Webster for some contracts and our ninth pick, which could be Mike Conley. --Jonathan MC, Delano, Calif.

In the end, I'm guessing the Bulls stick with the pick, though they'll talk about deals. I don't see them taking a chance on Randolph. I'm sure Portland will deal him, perhaps to a desperate team that will take a chance, like Miami. They just don't have the stuff to give up for Zach's big salary.

Have you heard the rumor of Amare Stoudemire becoming a Bull? If so, what is your take on it if the rumor happens to be true? --Everitt O'Neal, Oak Park, Ill.

I'd doubt it. If the Suns had gotten that Atlanta pick at four, perhaps they'd be looking to swing a big deal. But it's hard to see how they can get value, and certainly not from the Bulls.

Too many people are saying trade the pick for a veteran, so we can "win right now." I disagree. The Bulls have a very good up-and-coming team right now that I believe will challenge for the NBA title for the next decade if they don't break it up. Have patience Pax! Look at the ages: Hinrich is 26, Gordon 25, Deng 23, Thomas 21, Thabo 23 and Noce 27. I feel they should draft a big man at No. 9 like Hawes. The Bulls have done a very good job at grooming young players. In three years either one of them should be ready to step in for Wallace. With Thomas at the 4 and Thabo replacing Gordon at the 2, I think they have something special! --Steve, Lake City, Colo.

In the end, I think they go that way with some tweaking because they probably can pick up a P.J. Brown-like big man with the salary exception. Though I can't see that from stopping me coming up with bigger deals for them. They did luck out in all the top players in the draft going to the Western Conference. The West is going to be amazing. So, yeah, there's less pressure on the Bulls.

Everyone right now is saying that Portland will draft Oden but I think that Durant would be a far better fit for their team. If Portland does draft Oden then what do you think about offering the ninth pick and Nocioni for Aldridge? --Jose, Chicago

Portland is going to be a hot team. Aldridge is really a power forward who can step outside and make a shot. Oden is the perfect defensive complement for him. The problem is the Bulls pick and Nocioni really doesn't get you that much.

I thought the Bulls were pleased Hinrich played for team USA last year. Now it seems they have put Hinrich in a tough spot. I don't see him not following through with the three-year commitment unless they cut him. --CKfromKC, Shawnee, Kan.

All the teams are getting nervous about their players playing because of the rash of injuries last season, which is one reason the Bulls might want to go for a point guard in the draft for protection. They have had few serious injuries the last two years. And with so many top players backing out, I don't see Hinrich being cut.

Do you think the Bulls should use that ninth pick to get a post player? I think they already have that. They have this kid that can posses a tenacious jump hook, power spin ala Amare & Howard with Tyrus. If they can get him to work with Deng this summer and hopefully Deng's dedication and hard work can rub up on him he can really be this post guy the Bulls need. They can then focus on using that pick and Gordon to get someone like Ray Allen that gives them that veteran go-to guy perimeter shooter. Kirk can then go back and spend less energy every night and guard smaller guys instead. --Ancel, California

Yeah, now we're getting into that trading spirit. I think you're projecting way too soon for Tyrus. I don't see an offensive game developing for a few more years as he still has little idea on how to play and where he fits in. He's still young. I don't see them getting Allen for that little and the salaries aren't close to matching. But keep trying. I promise to as well.

Do you consider yourself a celebrity? If not a celebrity do you get recognized a lot when you're out in the Chicago area or wherever you are? When you do get recognized by fans do you take a few minutes to talk to them? I'm not saying a 10-minute conversation, but just for a few minutes or do you do like most celebrities and blow the fans off? --Derek, San Antonio, Texas

I am not a celebrity. I know this because I've tried to sell my autograph on ebay with no luck. Just kidding. But I do answer just about every email I get, in part, because few of my colleagues do. I've found that newspapers can be the rudest businesses to deal with. Even when I call and don't identify myself, I'm treated badly. I cannot imagine what it's like for the general public. So it's my personal campaign. I'm always glad to talk to fans if they recognize me and want to talk. I've always hated that athletes and even big-time media people don't recognize their responsibility to the fans. It's such an honor and great fortune to be in a position where people care what you think and are interested in your views.

Before I was doing this I would have loved to talk to someone I read or saw on TV. I've always thought the coolest thing about being a celebrity would be to go to a hospital or school and sign autographs for kids because of how much it means to them. You hear stories to this day of adults talking about a chance meeting with an athlete or celebrity and the impact it has for years. The only basketball player I know who does this all the time is Reggie Miller, who when he was with the Pacers stopped unannounced at schools and hospitals to talk to the kids. There are times when people recognize me and want to talk and it's flattering. I'm honored to do it and believe if you work in any public position you have a responsibility to represent your organization and yourself. When I was a kid it was a dream to meet athletes (I met some growing up in Brooklyn with the Dodgers there) and newspaper writers. I always loved newspapers and thought of the writers as celebrities. I judge people (and myself) on how they treat the people they don't have to treat well. There are more athletes than you think that are that way. Barry Bonds is the exception. But I still wish there were more.

If you take away Tim Duncan, are the Spurs the Chicago Bulls? And if so, how close are the Bulls to finding that missing piece? --Clark Hoover, Los Angeles

Which is a little like saying the Bulls are one player short--Michael Jordan. Duncan doesn't get the big hype, but every season I name him MVP in my preseason picks. Then he either gets hurt and his minutes go down or backs off for a time while someone else gets the publicity and he has a quiet month or two. But over the last decade, you'd have to say if you were starting an NBA team you'd take him first because Shaquille O'Neal doesn't play all the time and Duncan gives a great effort and is there, if not talking about it much. If the Bulls had Duncan, they'd be NBA champs. But you might say that about a half dozen or more other teams.

My wife is dying to know about Kirk Hinrich's wedding in July. Who's the lucky girl? How did they meet? etc. --Walbur Salcedo, The Woodlands, Texas

This isn't exactly in my wheelhouse, though I did suggest to Kirk a deal involving his fiancée and Kevin Garnett. Kidding, kidding. I don't ask the players much about their private lives. It's why I feel comfortable being critical when I am. I don't involve their families and talk about basketball, all of which to me is fair game. I seem to recall it's his girlfriend from college he's been going with for some time. I'm guessing the paparazzi are busier with Tony Parker's nuptials than Kirk's.

Is a player like Li (not sure his last name) from China a totally crazy idea for the Bulls pick? I keep hearing we need players who can score and isn't that something he should be able to do? Even though his post game probably isn't too good yet, but he's a 7 footer so is there any hope for him to land here? --Gerard, Tinley Park, Ill.

I wouldn't discount him, though it's not a classic Paxson move. I'm told he is a great shooter and highly skilled, though usually in the end the Bulls go with more polished prospects. He's more an outside threat and the Bulls have that.

I don't think you give the Cavs credit where it's due. You're right they have had the easiest path of the four remaining playoff teams. However, they took care of business at the end of the regular season and in the playoffs where other teams (Chicago, Dallas) didn't. Your article almost makes it sound like they don't deserve to be in the East Finals. -- Prakash Selvaraj, Burr Ridge, Ill.

They don't, but someone had to get there in that bracket. Beating two .500 teams in the playoffs isn't exactly taking care of business. I do give the Cavs a hard time, less for the comparisons to Jordan and the old Bulls than to my disappointment the way they under-utilize James. I am first a basketball fan and hate to see that defensive, slowdown game they play with maybe the game's best open court player. It's an insult to the basketball senses and until they stop muddying the game, I'll remain a critic. They have some very good offensive players and the coach keeps berating them about playing defense. They don't do that so well, so they just play slow. I heard even Jeff Van Gundy was insulted.

What's the real number (open salary monies) that the Bulls have available for signing free agents and their draft pick(s)? With PJ Brown gone (assumed), there's $8 million, right? --Rob Valentine, Huntley, Ill.

Wrong. It doesn't work that way anymore. There used to be slots and you could replace a player with someone earning the same. Now, there's a cap total and the Bulls are over it, though under the luxury tax. That means they can only get a free agent in a sign-and-trade deal if the free agent effectively agrees. With the Nocioni free agency and extension possibilities for Gordon and Deng, the Bulls can use their salary cap exception with a starting salary of about $5 million, the draft and trades.

Why the constant assertion by you the that the Celtics need a point guard? Rajon Rondo is going to be a fantastic point. He is fast, great on defense, and will continue to develop his shot. Shouldn't the Celtics concentrate on finding a reliable No. 2 scorer and some size? --Geoff, New York

C'mon, you're from New York. Aren't you supposed to be even a little skeptical? A naïve New Yorker--we love that. The guy never has been able to shoot and you can't play that position if you can't shoot, perhaps unless you're Jason Kidd. Don't quite see that. Plus, Rondo's a smurf. And he's no Iverson. The Celtics just need a point guard, shooting guard and center. Brandon Roy would have helped. Ooops. They got Sebastian Telfair for him.

Looking at the '07 free agent list -- what do you think of somehow "breaking up" our guards and sign Mike Bibby? We'd have a true point guard with the ability to penetrate for the first time in a long time. --Joe, Highland Park, Ill.

How'd that old '80 ('90s?) saying go, Gag me with a spoon? I like Bibby except for his inability to play defense, be a leader or a truly great scorer and that he's small. Other than that he's the perfect point guard. Oh yeah, he averages $14 million a year for the next two years, will be 30 next season and has missed the playoffs in half his NBA seasons. Plus, he's so confident of his free-agent prospects he's not taking his opt out and staying with a bad Kings team. Sounds like a winner.

What do you think about the suspensions in Game 4 of the great series between the Suns and the Spurs? I understand the rule, but I feel the Spurs benefited greatly in Game 5 even though Robert Horry was the instigator in this whole mess. Without common sense used in handing out punishment for this rule what's to prevent a future opponent from sending a scrub in a game to start a fight with the other team's star player. I know Horry's a fine 37-year-old role player but a 22-year-old All Star center not playing for the Suns in a pivotal Game 5 at home seems wrong, especially when this player was not even in the incident. As an NBA fan, I feel it is unfortunate that a rule helped swing the series in the favor of one great team over another instead of on the court. --John, Detroit

My feelings exactly, though there's been considerable debate on both sides. I have written about my belief the NBA erred badly and I still have a sick feeling over what happened and even now am having a hard time watching the playoffs knowing the way the series was effectively settled in a law office and by a goon. If the NBA can begin to turn me off, I can imagine how many fans feel. And then for the commissioner to fall back on whether the owners want to change the rule and how these rules are inviolate. This is the man who changed the ball they play with and didn't tell anyone and only changed back (again without asking the owners) when the players threatened to sue him. I get angry just thinking about how unfair and inequitable this was. If the Suns lose on the court, fine. But don't decide these things on technicalities, as if players can't wait to run on the court and fight. That's nonsense and the league's paranoid overreaction to Auburn Hills. In fact, the NBA does a disservice to its players by suggesting they'd be some band of wild animals if the league didn't enforce the rules. It's nonsense and insulting. The players are much better than the NBA gives them credit for.

Will you help teams other than the Bulls make trades? How about a Warriors-Utah swap of Jason Richardson for Andrei Kirilenko? Kirilenko has been awful all season, and in the playoffs against Houston and in Game 1 against San Antonio. But he was fabulous playing against Nellie-ball in the second round. His abilities would be well-suited for a Warrior team that needs length and rebounding, but from someone who can run the floor. Utah, by contrast, needs a perimeter scorer and shooter to pair with Deron Williams. Richardson plays with heart and would seem a good fit for the Sloan system. The salaries more or less match up. --Jeff, Oakland

I do consider myself working for all 30 teams, though somewhat more diligently for the Bulls, if with about the same success. I think you may have something there. The Jazz really need a big scoring guard and I still believe they'd like to deal Richardson. Kirilenko would be interesting with Nellie's matchups, assuming Nellie hangs in another year or two and I also believe the Jazz have moved past the effectiveness of Kirilenko. I'm assuming my inspiring speculative deals helped you come up with this one.

All I read about is the Bulls need for inside scoring, which I agree with. But isn't that why they took Thomas? Why do we never hear his name as the answer to their need? Is it that they don't think he'll turn into a good enough player, or is it that it will just take too long for him to develop? I hear about him as a Wallace replacement, but he's not at the type of player Wallace is. What do you think are their plans for Thomas? --Stuart Gilbert, Scottsdale, Ariz.

I don't think that's why they took him. I think they took him because they believed he's eventually be the best big player from the draft, if not a classic inside scorer. He can score and shoot better than Wallace and is bigger. I think they also felt he could be a perimeter player on defense at times switching pick and rolls and doing the things today's game demands. I expect him to average 25 minutes next season and continue to give me dirty looks.

Isn't it likely that Andres Nocioni's plantar fascitis will greatly decrease his trade value? I recall that Toni Kucoc was plagued by this injury for a number of seasons. --Lyn Fox, Santa Fe, N.M.

I think Toni had more back problems, but I think he was breaking down when he was four. It is an interesting thought because he wasn't close to the same player since midseason and I believe teams will be somewhat wary. Though everyone says those injuries improve with rest. I do recall Larry Bird having similar issues at an older age, and they worsened. It wasn't great timing for Noce.

I write from a Swiss Army Camp! As you maybe know (ask Thabo!), each Swiss citizen has to go three weeks per year in the Army. What is the typical day during the summer for a Tribune reporter? Will you go to the summer leagues or draft training camps? Can we say you work 200% from November to May and 50% from June to October? --Mat, somewhere in Switzerland

I really didn't know that, and without insulting anyone, really didn't know you had an army given you don't take sides, though I like your knives. I'm going to keep this between us, so don't tell anyone. I don't do anything. We get four weeks of vacation and with all the playoffs and regular season and working on holidays on the basketball beat we take off unless a big story breaks, like a signing. We might go a few days to a summer camp, though mostly if it's in a city we like, and I'll do some USA Basketball stuff. Unless it's in Detroit. I'm going with 1,000 percent (knowing players enables me to go above 100) in the season and 1 percent in the summer. But no one knows but you and me. So quiet! This is need to know classified only.

Do you think Chris Mihm is a player the Bulls might be interested in signing, or trading for in a sign and trade for Nocioni? --Jesse, Chicago

Seems like he's hurt an awful lot and defense never has been his vocation. I'd doubt it.

Assuming the Bulls were to fill their need for an inside presence without using the $5.5 million exception, what are your thoughts on the signing Grant Hill at that price? Or how about Mo Pete? --Alex Bartkus, Coconut Creek, Fla.

Not sure how they'd do that other than in a major trade. I don't see Hill choosing the Bulls. I think he'll go with someone closer to the Finals, or at least how he sees it based on this season. Mo Pete is intriguing, though plays more three than the defensive two they need.

What would you think about sending Kirk, Viktor Khryapa, and Nocioni to Utah for Deron Williams and Okur? --Jeremy Gonzalez, San Antonio

I'm all for it. Or how about for Duncan, Ginobili and Parker?

Ron Artest? If he can stay out of trouble, he could add an enormous upside to the Bulls. --Tim K., San Francisco

If he could, he'd still be in Indiana. When I hear talk like this these days it's usually because someone has been hit upside the head.

What are the odds of the Bulls going after Rashard Lewis this off-season? If Paxson wants to keep his core together without any trades, wouldn't Lewis be the next best thing at 6'10'' averaging 22 ppg, and only 28 years old? He's close to being in his prime, at the peak of his career. --Bryant, Chicago

They don't have the cap space. The talk is he's headed to Orlando, which will have the space if they renounce Darko.

What are the odds that MJ deals a guy like Emeka Okafor in the off-season? It may be wishful thinking, but they are deep up front and have another high pick in a draft stocked with bigs. Plus, I seem to recall MJ liking Gordon when he first arrived in Chicago. So what chance do you give it? 1%? 5%? --Kyle, Brookfield, Ill.

He does like Gordon. I think because it rhymes with Jordan. But with half their big guys ineffective or hurt, Okafor is one of their few keepers. I guess unless Jordan can reacquire Kwame Brown.

I read that Mickael Pietrus is going to be a free agent this summer. Do you think the Bulls have what it takes to get him? I don't think he will cost a lot and has a great upside and can slide into that two guard spot. --AJ, Chicago

He's been an intriguing guy for sometime and the Bulls even talked about taking him in the Hinrich draft. But I hear the Warriors will match and then want something significant, which isn't worth it.

Can everyone stop thinking Garnett is the great savior. I am tired of looking at the proposals that have Minnesota getting half our roster of high quality players for one who has never really proven anything. I am getting visions of Herschel Walker in basketball shorts. --Tod Abraham, Harlingen, Texas

I think giving up key parts is past, which is why dealing for him probably is as well. The Timberwolves say they won't deal him, though there have been rumblings of late of some sort of package with the Suns. No, that's not going away, which is good for my sake.

If the bulls were to pull some sort of deal where they send their first-round pick plus Duhon or Noce for an interior scorer, when would this likely happen? Would it be tonight or in the next couple of days...or would it be later in June sometime. --Nathan E., Ames, Iowa

I know, I know, I can't wait, either. But you can't trade until the Finals is over.

With Phoenix staring at serious luxury tax problems next season do you think MJ should be calling D'Antoni right now and offering his pick for Boris Diaw and Marcus Banks (obviously ask for Marion or Stoudamire first but I don't think the pick will get them either player). He should ask for only Diaw but if Phoenix says no he should offer to take Banks as well to get Diaw. Diaw would look good as an undersized 4 next to Okafor at the 5. Phoenix gets $13 million in luxury tax relief and maybe Joakim Noah. --Rod, Chicago

Makes some sense. You are right that the Suns will look top lower payroll and make some changes. Charlotte can be a big player in facilitating deals and being involved, but the talk has been the owner doesn't want to spend. If they stay on the sidelines again, I can see Jordan walking away. I know he doesn't work at it as hard as he could, but he's not going to be embarrassed again. I can see Phoenix being interested, especially if they'll take Banks. Phoenix probably would need to throw back a lower pick.

I love Gordon's scoring abilities and knack for hitting crazy looking shots as much as the next guy, but I think that his turnovers, over-dribbling, and defensive liabilities make him the only dispensable core member. What do you think about signing a big guard to the mid-level exception like Jerry Stackhouse, Mo-Pete or Mickael Pietrus (imagine if Kirk actually got to guard someone comparable in size). Then package Gordon (sign and trade if necessary), Krhyapa, and their draft pick for a post player? --Jim, La Grange, Ill.

Ben is the most interesting one because, yes, he does have weaknesses, but also is easily their best scorer. I think Paxson has made it clear he wants more size and seems to suggest he sees Gordon as a sixth man. Gordon doesn't see it that way and with talk of changing agents to David Falk, you can bet Falk won't see it that way either as he tries to get back into the business by running up a contract for Gordon to recruit new clients. I think Gordon again will be in play this summer, though no sure thing he'll be dealt.

Is there hope within the organization that Tyrus Thomas can one day be that low-post scoring presence or is he projected out as more of a defensive and rebounding specialist, a la the great Mikki Moore? --Phil Connors, Punxsutawney, Penn.

Probably somewhere between Mikki and Kareem. Yes, it feels like Groundhog Day to say that again. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

The enormous contributions this year of Viktor Khryapa aside, do the Bulls regret passing up LaMarcus Aldridge for TT? --Squash, Mwanza, Tanzania

I don't believe so. They liked Thomas better and got a player. Skiles apparently didn't agree. It happens. They took a chance and it didn't cost them anything because I believe they would have taken Thomas at No. 2. They believe he'll be better in the long run, so we'll see. He already has more playoff experience.

Do you really think that Greg Oden will be so great? Oden has all the physical tools to be a dominant big man; however his game is still incredibly raw. His offensive skills are limited, and he has a tendency to travel, whether it is called or not. At the high school and college level he could get away with sheer athletic dominance, but at the pro level against players of similar size and strength, it is possible he will struggle. On the defensive end, he is a strong presence, but it will be difficult for him to have as large an impact in the NBA considering the defensive 3 in the key rule and the ability of players to avoid shot blocks. He may turn out to be as great as some or tabbing him to be, but it is unrealistic to expect him to turn around a team right away. I mean even he talks about how bad he was a few years ago. I think it is far more likely that he is the next Samuel Dalembert than the next David Robinson. --Steve Wolf, Chicago

Ouch, though I don't disagree that much. I think because so few big men come along that everyone is getting excited and projecting way too optimistically. This is not Bill Walton. The true great players averaged big numbers wherever they were. Oden did not at Ohio State. I think his look belies his immaturity as an individual. He doesn't appear to be a leader or particularly aggressive, but I think it will help to be with fellow young players in Roy and Aldridge. I still don't see Portland as a playoff team in the West for a year or two. So, no, this isn't Kareem or Wilt. It's an instant society where we want the next best thing right away, and he's it. But, geez, Samuel Dalembert? Robinson would have been one of the defensive greats ever if he didn't have to score. Oden won't really, and I'm going for closer to Robinson.

I think the Bulls need a center, a true point guard, and a true 6-6 scorer who scores inside and out. But even more than that, I they need a next-level coach, who can manage players and attract the kind of talent we need. --Keith, Chicago

What, no new general manager, marketing director and parking lot attendant, too?