Sam Smith's NBA mailbag

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What's a better route for the current Bulls: Trying to make the playoffs or let the rookies and younger players get more playing time and hopefully stay near the bottom record-wise to possibly land Michael Beasley in the draft? --James Schone, Northbrook, Ill.

It's always appealing to fans when they have given up, as most have here, to look for prizes in the bottom of the Crackerjack box, which aren't very good, if you've looked lately. It's rare you jump up from where the Bulls will be to get a top three pick. Plus, the Bulls are hardly out of it in the East. Hey, Miami may not be, either. As disappointing as this Bulls season has been, they still have the stuff to pull it together and make some sort of a decent run, including in the playoffs. Yes, really. Really.

Have you realized the Bulls have become what Krause feared the most? The previously bad Boston Celtics!. The Bulls are a mediocre team with talent just good enough to squeak into the playoffs, get an useless draft pick and get bounced off in the first round. But never win it all. --Gabe Martin, Darien, Ill.

They weren't good enough to win it all coming into the season. Who picked them to win the NBA title? Answer: No one. Who picked them to come out of the East? Answer? Not me. But I did believe they would be at least Eastern contenders in the top four with what they have. Ooops. As I've written before, I don't think they are that far away from that middle ground in the East, but you can see they knew they were not championship contenders in getting involved with the Kobe Bryant thing. Boston got its star. The Bulls haven't figured out a way to get one. It still may take awhile, but they have some good pieces having I believe just bad years.

Why isn't Paul Silas' name mentioned as a possibility to coach the Bulls? --Jamice Bassett, Bellwood, Ill.

Paul's a good guy and a tough guy and an interesting name. But it seems like he's fallen into that category of "had his chance." In his jobs he was regarded somewhat like Dave Cowens, who it also seems has had his chance. They were more the old-school tough guys who were somewhat intractable without a more current vision for the game. It seems to be held against them. It would help some of these guys if someone like P.J. Carlesimo, who is getting a second chance, was doing better.

If Kobe Bryant opted for finger surgery today, the Lakers' chances of making the post-season would be small. But, in your opinion, is Bryant acting in the franchise's best interest by foregoing surgery and risking re-aggravation of his pinkie finger? --Ryne Nelson, Los Angeles

As you can see from the post All Star play, not likely. That's one of the great reasons why Bryant is the league's best today. He does want to win and does care and will play though injury and sacrifice in the best traditions of the game. With the West so bunched, Bryant also understands if he missed six weeks, the Lakers with Bynum still out probably would miss the playoffs.

I keep hearing how good Aaron Gray is, but the main thing keeping him back is his lack of speed. Can't the Bulls send him to one of those speed training schools used by professional athletes? Maybe they could find him an extra step or two. -- Vonschlick, Huntsville, Ala.

I don't think it works that way unless you are Marion Jones. You can somewhat improve speed and reaction time, but they rarely turn plowhorses into thoroughbreds. Aaron's still a terrific second-round pick who'll stay in the league. What's wrong with that? He's a positive in a negative season.

Since Coach Boylan has this new system in place where if you miss a game, you have to work your way back into the starting lineup does that mean I finally will get my wish and Ben Wallace will be coming off the bench after the All-Star break? I really don't see him out-playing Tyrus or Noah to get back into the starting line-up so maybe he'll come off the bench for the rest of the season. --Bill, San Antonio

I'm writing this before Wednesday's game in New Jersey, though I doubt Boylan sticks with that. He seemed to be just trying to make a point and, for now at least, the Bulls have to try to persuade other teams Wallace might be useful enough to trade for. It remains a delicate issue with them. Ben fits better with a winning team playing off the ball with a bigger center. He does not get to do either with the Bulls, so he looks worse. I'm guessing they ride out this investment and see if there's anything they can do in the summer. I believe the Bulls would be mistaken to make a deal for the sake of dealing as they'll be in much better position this summer with the base year limitations on Nocioni and Hinrich coming off to make some bigger changes.

Do you know who I can contact about having the McDonald's Big-Mac promotion (scoring 100 and winning) either eliminated or changed? I think it is terrible. It is so disheartening when I hear the crowds boo the players when they come up short of 100. Why do people even focus on it instead of the game? Thabo got booed for missing a free throw and then holding on to the ball at the end and not shooting it with a few seconds left. I think that is horrendous and ugly behavior! Since there is no way to change people's behavior, couldn't the organization either just get rid of the promotion or change the details? --Matt Tomasek, Chicago

To quote one of my favorite lines from "Seinfeld," "People, they're the worst." It's on my business card. OK, not yet. Those people sitting down there doing that are paying more than $100 per ticket. They probably couldn't tell you where the McDonalds is. What they are doing is betting hundreds or thousands on the outcome. I've seen huge amounts of money change hands in the dot races. And that's with the players. Kidding. Definitely, some arena and team staff. If the NCAA tournament had no betting pools, no one would watch. What would the NFL be without betting. Right, WWF. The game is too difficult to bet, so people find other ways. I'll explain it to Thabo.

With Kelvin Sampson's potential firing coming at Indiana, do you think Scott Skiles would consider taking the job? -- Rod, Chicago

I'd doubt it. Scott is an NBA guy. I can't see him marching into some pimply faced kid's kitchen and telling his mom how great the kids looks and what a nice dress she has on. Scott is too honest for that. He does fit the college game in the sense that he's probably best with players for a three or four-year run, but the college game is so corrupt and hypocritical and it would drive him nuts. And he'd say so. I have no doubt he'd have huge success, but he's also too smart to involve himself in that swamp of deceit, corruption and phoniness.

I do applaud the NBA and its players who take a proactive stance in their societal roles. I do believe the NBA tries to give back to society. However, social responsibility means eliminating corrupt, irresponsible, or unethical behavior that might bring harm to the community. After reading your article, I am still of the opinion that NBA employs too many thuggish and socially irresponsible players who continue to undermine whatever good works carried out by the NBA and its social responsible players. I kept thinking of Greg "Cadillac" Anderson, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd, Dennis Rodman, Sly Williams, Charles Smith, Jerry Stackhouse, Darrell Armstrong, Jayson Williams, and many more. --Gil, Chicago

Though you are much safer in an NBA locker room because of the people you are around than on many college campuses and high school classrooms these days. To single out NBA players as problems in our society suggests a disturbing lack of awareness of the world around you and I suspect a strong bias of some sort on your part. I was proud of the way the NBA players and league handled themselves in New Orleans this past weekend, which is what you refer to. I've never seen anything of the sort involving players in any other sport and you will never see players in the numbers of the NBA giving as much money and time in charitable ways as you will with NBA players. Most of your baseball heros spend time in Congress lying or to grand juries, your Olympians are going to prison and your jails are filled with NFL guys. The way sports is today, NBA players are practically role models for the rest of American sports.

After watching the Hornets and Bulls play the other night I am more convinced then ever that Pax made the right choice in dumping Tyson Chandler. Yes he had 16 rebounds but he still doesn't rotate to the ball on defense and he is soft inside. He let Nocioni dunk on him and then on another play fouled him and allowed him to score. Also I think this season will turn out to be the best thing to happen to the Bulls. They can now sign Deng and Gordon with out breaking the bank because their value has gone down. Plus they may be able to trade Wallace and get out of his contract. --J.P, Los Angeles

So there you are, the optimist. I like Tyson and told him he'd do well elsewhere before he was traded. But even today I talked to an NBA GM who said you couldn't find a GM then who didn't think Chandler's contract was a big mistake. He has become better than anticipated and fits well with the Hornets. Good for him as he is a good kid. But he was suffering badly here and never would have become the player he has if he stayed. People would be screaming for his departure. Sometimes you do what seems right and it doesn't work. It happens not only in sports. But I don't think this so called core gets another chance to return. I see big post season changes.

I thought that the Mavericks really needed a consistent low-post threat more than they needed an upgrade at point guard. I don't think the Kidd trade addresses their most glaring need. --Leonard Bogat, Dallas

I agree. They were said to be looking mostly for big guys and now it seems they are even smaller without Diop. They'll have to quicken the pace even more. Some teams are saying the Mavs are more like the Suns now, or at least how the Suns were pre-Shaq. The Mavs, like the Suns, saw what they had wasn't enough and are trying to address that the star way. I give them credit for that, though I still don't have them in the West top four.

Making a deal this year for the Bulls is like the Woody Allen joke: "Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, 'Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.' The other one says, 'Yeah, I know; and such small portions.'" So, given that the Bulls seem in no position to trade for a big-time star and slogging through the rest of the season hoping for a lottery pick is not appealing, how about working to trade for some hidden/lesser-known gems that seem ready to take one of those magical leaps? John Salmons (Sac), Ronnie Brewer ( Utah) and Linas Kleiza (Den) are good examples of players that would fill a need and who produce when they play. --Bruce Ellman, Chicago

You know Woody would say he doesn't mind dying, it's just he doesn't want to be there when it happens. I'd never miss the chance to have a Woody Allen joke in anything I write. As he might say, he's my favorite filmmaker after Moses. You are correct in that the Bulls won't do anything major. The problem with your suggestion is the Bulls' stock has bottomed out. From what I hear they are getting laughably low offers for their top players, the notion being teams think they are desperate to deal and panicking. You never deal from that weakness and the teams you mention consider those players hardly little known but solid contributors and starters and will ask for starters in return, like Deng and Hinrich, which leaves you about where you were. As Woody once said, if only God would give him a sign, like a big deposit in a Swiss bank account.

If Paxson knew last in January 2007 what he knows now in February 2008, what changes to the team do you think he would have made prior to going into this current season? For example, would he have signed contracts with Deng and Gordon? Would he have traded Wallace at a higher value? Would he have pushed harder to get Kobe by offering what the Lakers wanted? --Jeff, Arlington Heights

Certainly hypothetical. First, if he had broken this up last year and the Bulls didn't win a championship, he'd have been skewered because the community loved the team and the way it played and the consensus around the NBA was it was the prototype team to be admired. But if he had one of those time machines, I'd say he'd have tried to trade Gordon, which might have made it easier to sign Deng. You might still not have been able to deal Wallace with his contract, and the Lakers were never, ever, ever, ever going to trade Kobe. Got that!

What do you expect will happen with Ben Gordon and the Bulls? --Jayme, San Jose, Calif.

I'd guess sign and trade in the summer. Ben has value and you cannot give up on him. And he does average 20 points and is their best pressure performer. But he's made it awfully clear finances will be an issue and it's probably best the two sides agree to disagree.

With Atlanta adding Mike Bibby, wouldn't it make sense for Pax to look into a deal for Acie Law? He would fill the role of a true point guard, which they currently lack. --Joe, Oak Park, Ill.

So why would Atlanta deal a cheap rookie who can be a backup for a veteran player and comes cheap? I wouldn't. It's difficult to deal with Atlanta under their current ownership issues, but I do believe come summer the Bulls will seriously reexamine their point guard situation.

Is this the most active trading season ever? And was there any team more in need of a trade than the Bulls? --Staszak, Tinley Park, Ill.

Yes. Never have we seen so many future Hall of Famers and All Stars traded midseason. And it seems to me teams like the Cavs, Nuggets and Warriors with more serious playoff aspirations than the Bulls this season have been more in need of a trade going into Thursday.

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