Sam Smith's NBA mailbag

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I know NBA players are all rich and have their own posses and all, but can you tell me what Bulls players are particularly close friends? They work together on a daily basis so some of them must be friendlier than others. Are there any players who seem to noticeably dislike each other? --Cameron, Chicago

I don't get the sense there are enemies. But it's not a close team. It's not unusual in this era, but most players have not what you'd call posses in the Allen Iverson mode but friends whom they, in effect, hire to drive them around or do errands. The players make so much money it's nothing to have a guy around you pay $100,000 to keep your car running while you are at practice. You rarely see Bulls players out together on the road. Occasionally I've seen Hinrich and Duhon together and Deng and Nocioni are neighbors, but you don't hear of much socializing away from the arena. If I had to guess, I couldn't point to any two who appear to be close friends, though they all seem to get along reasonably well.

This year is incredibly frustrating, but what will be more disappointing is if we keep playing sub .500 ball while not developing young talent like Tyrus, Thabo, Gray and Noah, and missing an opportunity to get back into the lottery. A first-round stomping by the Celtics is not a better option than seeing if we have anything worthwhile in Thomas and taking a chance at getting a high draft pick like Derrick Rose. I believe fans will appreciate this realistic approach to the 2008 season much more than an unrealistic stumbling towards the last and final playoff spot. I know this frustrated season ticket holder surely would. --Smash, Chicago

I still find it difficult to wrap myself around still another draft. Yes, Rose looks like he'd be good to have and the power forward from Kansas State, Michael Beasley, seems like he could be a good one. But with young players and rookies, unless they are exceptional, and there are doubts about this class, you take a step back and have to get going again. You also have to get lucky in the lottery, which the Bulls haven't in the past, or pick the right draft class to be bad. Perhaps that's the only option for the Bulls now. Though I don't think you have to blow up the team. I still think there's a core of talent there.

Where would the Bulls be if Jay Williams never crashed his bike and if Elton Brand never got traded to Los Angeles Clippers? --Paul Finan, Hillsborough, N.J.

But they did and they were. There are too many what if's. I don't think Jay was ready for the NBA then and I think would eventually have been traded. Elton's been terrific, though with injuries and bad luck he hasn't advanced very far in the playoffs, either. Neither was really the huge star the Bulls-or any team-would most need.

I would like to know your thoughts on why the Bulls have not groomed Kirk Hinrich in to a true point guard role? I think the frequent moving around from the 1 to the 2 spot and the requirement for him to guard the other team's best player (regardless of size) has reduced his development. Start Sefolosha at the 2 and have him guard the likes of (Bryant, Pierce, Joe Johnson) --Mike S., St. Charles, Ill.

I believe that is one change you are starting to see. Some believe Kirk never can be a true point guard since he really wasn't one in college and doesn't have the ultimate point guard instincts. It's one of those positions you really do not teach. Don Nelson was the latest trying it with Monta Ellis and gave up. You either see the floor and the plays ahead of time or you don't. Kirk is more the old fashioned combo guard like a Danny Ainge and has shown of late that without having to defend those bigger players he can be more effective.

Why not Vince Carter? Sure he is not what he used to be, but neither is Hinrich. Carter has been great before and he could have quite a bit left in him. What are we gonna lose? --Josh, Knoxville, Tenn.

The Nets have been trying to trade Carter almost since they gave him an extension and now look like they'll have to deal Kidd and begin changing their team. You may have heard Magic Johnson on TNT last week saying Carter's knees are shot. Carter denied it, but doesn't jump like he did. I've never been a big fan because he's always preferred to avoid contact and stay on the perimeter. Now I think he has to. He's got three years after this at about $16 mil per. He's aging fast and breaking down. Other than that, hey let's deal.

How do you think Earl Boykins would fit with the Bulls? Yes, I know he is 5-5 but we are short already. He has a consistent shot and last year averaged around 14 ppg. I think he would be a good edition off the bench instead of Duhon. --Kevin K., Illinois

I might ignore him just because he was dumb enough to walk away from $3 million and can't find a team. He's not a point guard. He's a little guy who likes to shoot. The Bulls have that job filled.

Do you think there's any way the Bulls might be able to swipe Jose Calderon from the Raptors this summer? He's a free agent and they've already invested so much in T.J. Ford. --Adam, Berkeley, Calif.

No way. It would be quite the crowd. Calderon has quietly become a terrific point guard and even if T.J. Ford returns, I see Calderon getting the majority of the time. He's no secret anymore and could even get some coach support this week as an All-Star reserve.

There is talk weekly about how bad it was to give up Tyson Chandler. How would you compare Noah's game to Chandler currently? Do you think Noah has a higher ceiling? --K.C., Dallas

I like Noah, even if it's not mutual. He's told friends he needs to stay away from the media and seems to be blaming media members for some of his team issues of late. But he's been a spoiled kid in some respects and is growing up fast. He had no idea what the NBA was about. He thought it was just a richer version of college. He knows better now. He's different than Chandler in that he probably will never be quite the rebounder, but he can be a better defender. Like Chandler, he'll need time to put on weight and gain strength, but he'll get there. He has what the Bulls have missed with Thomas and Wallace: Size.

Did you get a chance to hear Jim Boylan's post-game interview regarding Noah's emergence and Wallace's bench sitting? He said it was because of game dynamics and Ben was still playing great, noting his five boards for the game. FIVE BOARDS!?!? I mean c'mon. We all know Boylan is trying to remain on Ben's good side, but don't just read off a stat sheet (which he was doing) to read insignificant numbers and claim the guy is playing "terrific." I would rather have listened to Dana Jacobson "roasting." --Jorge, Tinley Park, Ill.

Boylan has committed to this and he has to ride it out. It's sad when you bring in a guy and pay him $60 million (when his own team wouldn't pay him nearly as much) and you have to cater to him like that just to get him to play. Boylan apparently witnessed first hand how Wallace undermined Skiles and figured his only chance was to as you say remain on his good side. So he's thrown in with Wallace, but it's not getting him anywhere. It's probably time he sat down Wallace, though that may be coming out of necessity if the team doesn't make a big turnaround on the upcoming Western Conference road trip.

What is with the obsession with Pau Gasol? OK, he's a big who can score. However, he's definitely not a superstar, and he's not tough. The last time the Bulls traded for a mid-level superstar who fit those qualifications (Jalen Rose), it cost them Ron Artest, Brad Miller, and other parts of the core, and the team still floundered. I'd almost rather see the Bulls pick up someone like Jason Kidd, who at least is willing to drive to the basket once in a while and make his teammates better, even though he isn't a big. Am I nuts for thinking that taking the best player off a team with a worse record than the Bulls isn't the answer? --Chris Feldman, Dubuque, Iowa

Not completely. I don't believe there's an obsession since they haven't gotten him. He's a nice piece, but it tells you something when the Bulls won't give up one of their starters. They know Gasol's flaws. Everyone does. After all, it's not easy to be 0-12 in playoff games in your career. That's why no team can give up much for him. He's injury prone and not a big rebounder. Defense isn't a priority. He's hardly well regarded in Memphis. I believe they end up keeping him because they don't get a big offer and maybe do something with him around draft time. As for losing Artest and Miller, it hardly made a difference and perhaps saved plenty of embarrassment. Jalen just didn't care to defend. He was hardly a big problem.

With it looking more and more clear that Boylan isn't really doing that much to warrant keeping the head coaching job next season, a few of us were floating around some possible names for coaching candidates. One name that came up was Stacey King. He did a more than efficient job while in the CBA and during telecasts, his analysis of the team/game is usually on point and correct. He is pretty precise and knowledgeable of the Bulls as a team and organization. The sentiment has been that the Bulls need a fresh person with fresh ideas. Any chance John Paxson talks to Stacey about the head coaching job? Any chance that King would actually WANT it? --Anthony, South Bend, Ind.

It is an intriguing name and I believe it will come up if Boylan is not retained. I'm sure Stacey would love a shot. This Bulls team will be way better next season. It has to be. It's why Larry Brown and Rick Carlisle had people calling the Bulls the day Skiles was fired. You could look like a genius fast here. I know Stacey is well liked by management, though I wonder about how Paxson would feel about entrusting him with the team. Stacey was hardly the hard worker when he was a player and mostly a cutup. I'm sure he's grown since then. Back when I traveled with the Bulls, the media was on the team bus and we traveled commercial aircraft. Stacey was always bragging about something and one day was telling B.J. Armstrong he was a better three-point shooter, that he held some Oklahoma records, that he'd made dozens in a row. B.J. was dubious, but you never know. So he asked if I could check. It turned out Stacey had attempted two threes in four years at Oklahoma and missed them both. The other players rode him for days afterward, though Stacey always took it pretty well. I'd doubt he'd be a serious candidate, but I wouldn't be surprised if he got some consideration.

Are there any names being thrown around for the Bulls' head coaching position next year? Is it possible my man B.J. Armstrong could get a shot? What about Paxson coming down from the luxury box? --Jon Wormsley, Boulder, Colo.

Maybe B.J. works for Stacey with Jeff Sanders as the free throw shooting coach. Another Stacey story. Jeff was the classic quiet, small town kid, shy and overwhelmed with the city when the three were drafted together. Stacey was Eddie Haskell. He'd have Jeff order stuff from these expensive catalogues so he could try out everything without buying it first. Jeff was always accommodating, just trying to be one of the guys. B.J. has a great gig working with Arn Tellem's firm and the NBA and recently did some clinics in Israel and had a great experience. Paxson isn't about to coach. Coaches get fired. General managers do the firing. Coaches make more money, but Paxson is smart enough to know coaching isn't good for your health or longevity. Plus, I think he can put this back together more quickly than it appears. And doing both jobs never works. Pat Riley the general manager would love to fire Pat Riley the coach, who wonders why he can't get a better general manager.

With rumors of a Nocioni, Sefolosha swap for second tier Nets players, why don't the Bulls seriously consider approaching the Nets about Richard Jefferson? We could send Thomas, Duhon, Gordon, Griffin and Khryapa to the Nets in exchange for Jefferson, Marcus Williams, and Bostjan Nachbar. --Jeremy, Aurora, Ill.

Because the first part isn't true that anyone was considering such a deal. Why not also throw in the rights to Michael Sweetney, P.J. Brown, McCoy McLemore and Shaler Halimon? Though I'd say Erwin Mueller is untouchable.

How would you feel about sending Deng, Tyrus, Joe Smith and Duhon to Utah for Paul Millsap and Andre Kirlinko? It works out financially. --Andrew K., Los Angeles

Kirilenko is the intriguing name. He's sort of an overlap with the Jazz, who aren't doing as well as they'd expected. I think they'd like to dump his huge contract and he did ask to be traded. I think the Jazz would jump at that package, but I don't see giving up a high quality starter. I'd try to work out something with Ben Wallace and maybe a young player and some money thrown in since they've talked about rebounding help. I'd watch Utah and Kirilenko coming up to the trade deadline.

I know it's a conspiracy theory. But there's no better explanation for why the exact same team was so good last year and so bad this year. I'm starting to believe that Gordon and Deng decided to sabotage the team once they didn't get their contracts. --Chris, Los Angeles

Did they also sabotage the Bears and White Sox? Sometimes these things happen in sports, especially when you don't have a great leader or talent to hold it together. The Super Bowl Bears missed the playoffs. A Sox team with similar parts almost finished last. The Bulls have long talked about the lack of leadership and that Skiles was effectively serving that role. When he couldn't, it began to fall apart. Perhaps Deng and Gordon drifted a bit in their focus with the ancillary issues, but both are pros and I believe they've been trying, if not effectively or quite knowing how to fix things.

Your answer to one of the questions about Bradley's Patrick O'Bryant intrigued me. I have often thought there are a number of talented guys rotting on NBA benches, not the aforementioned O'Bryant, but just in general. A few examples that come to mind are John Salmons and Francisco Garcia in Sacramento. Now that Bibby, Artest and Martin are back, guys like that get lost in the shuffle. I know they want to move Bibby, but how willing are GMs in moving young guys that may just need a new environment? --Joe Spencer, Grand Junction, Colo.

They're not quite rotting, but you have a point. I can't believe what appears to be going on with the Kings. They're on the brink of developing a nice young core, but seem to be seduced by the return of Bibby and Artest and may have some belief they are a playoff team, something of a con to perhaps keep the crowds up. They need to dump both Artest and Bibby and I believe they'll come to their senses. In any case, they should come up as one of the principal potential trading partners next month. When it's over, I expect players like Salmons and Garcia to have bigger roles.

Do you think Gasol is coming to Chicago in 2008? --Heber, Madrid, Spain

Perhaps in June or July, not February.

I grew up in Chicago so I am a lifelong Bulls fan but I live in Minnesota now. While this season is tough to watch, we need to be thanking God we are not Timberwolves fans. I have a season ticket package with a few buddies (they were basically giving them away), so I have been to quite a few games. Talk about a team with absolutely no clue, no heart, and no desire to win or even get better (with the exception of Al Jefferson). Skiles would be perfect for this team by the way. I think Paxson has done a fantastic job of building a team and bringing the franchise back to respectability. He has made mistakes, yes, but overall the organization is headed in the right direction. So at least we aren't cheering for the T'Wolves. --Mike, Minneapolis

Yes, you always feel a little better seeing someone else's misery. It's an American tradition. I think it's going to be a long, painful way back for the Timberwolves, something akin to the Bulls under Tim Floyd with experimentation and disappointment. But they appear to have a stud in Jefferson, and that makes a big difference. Of course, the Bulls appeared to have one in Elton Brand.

Other than Detroit, the Bulls don't seem to play with the same intensity night in and night out like the last two years. I saw the game against the Grizzles and couldn't believe it was the same team that beat the Pistons two days before. Did all the trade rumors really affect the play of some of the Bulls players or is it just a convenient excuse? It isn't like these guys are strangers playing with each other? But as a Piston fan I hope the Bulls don't steal the seventh seed? --John, Detroit, Mich.

No, we don't fully comprehend what's occurred to the same team that won 49 games and didn't change except for adding a better scorer in Joe Smith. It's hard to believe guys we saw like Gordon taking last shots or Deng doing all those tough inside cuts are so mentally weak to be affected by contract talk and trade rumors. And how does everyone just start missing shots? But there is that delightful possibility out there. Of course, the Pistons are a better team, but they always look ripe for an upset against the Bulls. What if they can get to seven and get under Rasheed Wallace's skin, as they seem to have done this season. Rasheed is always a play or two from a meltdown. And the international guys like Noah, Sefolosha and Nocioni with their hands-on play seem to bother him. And I still see Flip Saunders' offense as predictable; they simply run to each matchup where they think they have an edge, force shots too often and rarely get easy points. I think they're still vulnerable to a team that pressures them. So it's too soon for the Bulls to pack it in. Just having that first-round matchup might be worth the season and a good place to start over.

Are you one of the three dozen miserable people at The Tribune you mentioned? Who would you trade for yourself? -- Eric Macatangay, Merced, Calif.

I assume there's way more than that. Clearly, if the deal can be made it would have to be for Borat. I actually have no idea how many people are miserable at The Tribune, but if it's just three dozen it's way down from the way it used to be. I have to admit I have the best job there. Not the best paying, but I don't work out of the office. My office is the NBA, my colleagues the media, coaches, staff and players at the games. Having been around as long as any media members in the NBA now, and probably the longest consecutively because I haven't missed a Finals game in the last 20 years, I know most of the coaches and general managers well and the old players. It's tougher for me to know as many young players in this era since I don't travel with the team as I once did, and when I did we all traveled together. Plus, there's that age difference. John Paxson was almost a contemporary when I covered him and traveled with the team. Now, I could be Tyrus Thomas' grandfather. Maybe that's why he looks at me that way. Perhaps my biggest problem is I don't get to work enough. With the shrinking size of the newspapers, there's so much less asked of me than before. I know workers are not supposed to complain about that, but it does get frustrating. But I'm hardly alone. I know this long to be a big complaint of my colleagues, so I can imagine now with still another reduction in size of the newspaper with the latest redesign of the Tribune. But I'll talk to Phil Jackson or Mike D'Antoni more than I will my own superiors. I look at the Sun Times and feel worse for them given how small they've become. I love tabloid newspapers and newspapers in general, and I'm sad to see how they're disappearing. I feel fortunate to have worked in the last great era of the printed word on paper. I weep for the future of the business.

What is the consensus feel among media and league officials about the KG trade? Most fantasy leagues would throw out the two owners that tried to pull off this trade. None of the video games would allow this lopsided trade either. --Al, Chicago

To paraphrase the old baseball line, it never would have happened if David Stern were alive today. Let's say Kevin McHale is not a favorite of Eastern Conference general managers. Or West for that matter. Phil Jackson said McHale should be executive of the year for rebuilding the Celtics.

The Heat has almost $20 million in expiring contracts and what looks like a top 10 (maybe top 3) pick coming in the draft. With Wade in his prime, I think it makes sense to go after someone to pair with Wade instead of a potential top pick next year. How about Ricky Davis, Jason Williams, Daequan Cook and their 2008 pick unprotected for Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, and Brian Cardinal? Memphis gets major cap room plus Cook and a top pick to pair with their own top pick in the 2008 draft. Miami gets Gasol and Navarro to play with Wade. Miami won't be under the cap by much after their players' contracts expire because of Wade, Shaq, Haslem, and Blount taking up almost $50 million in cap space next year so they should use their expiring contracts now why they still have value. --Rod, Chicago

Not bad. I tend to agree. I think with the clock ticking on Wade's free agency and health, they have to return to competitiveness quickly. You're not doing that with rookies. I'm not sure what the Heat will do, but I expect that lottery pick, even if it's No. 1, to be in play, which is rare. But it may be the right move for them now. Especially if Riley wants to continue coaching. He's not doing it with rookies from a class that's not shaping up as the greatest with the best players again very young.

Do you think the Bulls should pull a Celtics from last year and "rest" their guys like Deng and Gordon and anybody else that may be injured so they can get a top 5-10 pick? Then they could trade either Deng or Gordon or both and get a decent big man that can score in the block. Easier said then done but I think it's there only way out of this mediocrity. Is there really any incentive not to tank the season? Don't tell me about karma either because the Celtics did just fine for themselves with their strategy last year. --Todd, Chicago

I'd say yes if Kevin Garnett were available. You don't do it for Pau Gasol, Baron Davis, Allen Iverson, Shawn Marion, Andrei Kirilenko or Jermaine O'Neal, the "stars" who could opt out or be available. Elton Brand? Nah, the Clippers insist they are done with the lottery, except of course for their lottery pick this June.

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