Playoff fever is here! Happy to see my Bulls win. I've watched the game three times now I was so happy. But is this the last time I will see Nocioni with the Bulls? I have a feeling Deng and Gordon will be back. What's up with Noce? He doesn't strike me as a guy who'd want a bunch of money so with a hometown discount and being he's restricted, what are the chances he is back? --Danny Shoffman, Phoenix
Probably 50-50. It's not like the Bulls don't like him, and GM John Paxson showed in rejecting a trade for Pau Gasol in February that he's not going to get rid of his guys easily. Nocioni gives the Bulls that edge teams love to have, though as you might have seen in Game 2, he can drive the coach nuts. Skiles sat him quickly early in the fourth quarter when be botched a defensive rotation again. Noce has a lot of value around the NBA and will have more if the Bulls make a long playoff run. He is a restricted free agent, and the Bulls won't let another team come in and steal him. They'll match any offer. But he could be part of a sign and trade situation if they can come up with a post man who can score inside.
I'm 100 percent sure that something was wrong with the final game against New Jersey. Don't you think David Stern told the referees to "hold the Bulls on No. 5" for big STAR LeBron? --Jerzy Filipek, Bloomingdale, Ill.
This is little known, but sometimes Stern in on speaker phone to the referee locker room at halftime and actually tells them the score he wants depending on what he has in the over/under. I know David Stern has many faults, unlike the rest of us basketball purists, but he has a great regard for the sanctity of the game. I don't think people care that much about LeBron James and a rather dull Cavs team. The Bulls have all season had a tough matchup with the Nets because they have perimeter size which bothers the Bulls and Jason Kidd still goes nuts when he sees Scott Skiles. Though Skiles harbors no ill will from the time he coached Kidd in Phoenix, something still bothers Kidd to the point I've heard Nets officials say they want to play the Bulls because Kidd would not let the team lose against Skiles. No one is quite sure what Skiles did or why Kidd feels that way, but there is a chance they could meet again in the conference finals. I like the Bulls to get there and don't think much of the Cavs.
I think anyone could have predicted New Jersey was going to beat up the Bulls in the final game. Bottom line -- Jason Kidd has done everything he can to demolish the Bulls since Skiles took over. Granted, the match between them a few weeks back was a solid win for the Bulls, but before that they were always getting beat by Kidd and it always left the impression he was extra-motivated to beat his arch-nemesis, Skiles. That being the case, it presents a bigger-picture problem for the Bulls. Certain players are always going to be extremely motivated to beat them because their coach slighted them or their friends sometime in the past. You could probably do a great six-degrees-of-separation with that Phoenix team he coached and find that a significant percentage of the opposing players in the league have a reason to jump a little higher or focus a bit more on that important shot when playing against him. When does the coach become a detriment to the team by motivating the competition? Somehow I don't think Mike Brown runs into this problem quite as much. --Justin Bill, Glenview, Ill.
Yes, you've noticed. And I think you are right in that I've heard Cliff Robinson, also with the Nets and on that Suns team, have issues with Skiles. I think it's part of Skiles' makeup. I had some issues with him when he came to the Bulls and we didn't talk much the first season he was here. He's not exactly warm and cuddly. OK, he can be moody. Unlike the rest of us, of course. He can be an acquired taste. I had to laugh the way he yanked Nocioni in the fourth quarter of Game 2 against the Heat. Noce does make some stupid mistakes on defense. He usually tries to out-hustle them and make up for it. Most coaches would call that a wash. Scott doesn't. But John Paxson has given him the personalities who can take the demands. And, remember, it's not like Kidd has been an angel with coaches, having issues back through college and with the Nets and Byron Scott. I think Kidd is mellowing some as he ages, though not if you read the divorce papers.
Nevertheless, I sort of like the grudge he holds against Skiles because it is always something intriguing to watch for. I think if you give Skiles time he grows on you, as he has with me. Though they also say that about mold. He is one of the most confident (cocky, they called it when he played) people I've ever met, absolutely sure of who he is and what he's doing. Not everyone is comfortable with that, but in sports they pay for results and he provides them. Hey, it's not like a lot of his peers are that grounded.
Do you really believe half the things you wrote on the Duncan/Crawford issue? This referee had an agenda and tossed a player for laughing at him. A couple years ago, in a playoff game, he assessed a technical foul to anything that moved. And yet when David Stern cracks down on officiating crews bringing an agenda onto the court, it's somehow a sinister plot on the part of the NBA? Do you honestly believe that? Because, while Duncan is a whiner, at least he's not challenging officials to physical altercations, unlike Crawford on Sunday. Crawford cost the Spurs a chance at a No. 2 seed by ejecting their key player, but David Stern's the villain? Can you justify this by using fact? --Jack, Phoenix
What does fact have to do with opinion? Or as I recall the wonderful columnist Mike Royko telling me when I asked sheepishly about fairness in a column he wrote: "Getting the other side always screws up a good column." I think he was joking. The facts are how you want to see them in this case. Yes, Joey overreacts at times, and perhaps he did somewhat with Duncan. But Duncan clearly was trying to goad him into something by openly laughing from the bench, which often draws technical fouls with referees. Stern has made a point to the referees this season to not let the players show them up.
Joey had no grudge against Duncan. Duncan's had some of his greatest games with Crawford refereeing. I did look that up, including championship games.
Stern was upset because of the dollar. One of his biggest weaknesses is his devotion to the TV money. ABC was steaming that day with a bad Bulls-Wizards matchup in the intro game and then Duncan being ejected, so they ran it over and over to embarrass the NBA, though my TV friends tell me the network roots against the Spurs because they routinely produce low ratings with their vanilla approach and personalities.
Duncan is a player referees this season were privately told to watch because he never stops. And this I do know: Duncan set up Crawford by saying Crawford wanted to fight. Joey said those words but in the context of Duncan not stopping and Joey asking plaintively if he wanted to fight. Ever say to your wife if she wanted a fight? Did you mean fists? I've heard from friends of Joey he regrets what he did and would like to return and you can only hope Stern has the compassion to match his stubbornness.
I think you're wrong about Crawford. Stern had a talk with him, and other officials, over the All-Star break about how they wanted to be more consistent in the application of the decorum T's (per an article on the NBA Web site). I think he is one of the best, but c'mon, did you see it? It was a joke and a travesty. He was mad and called consecutive calls against the Spurs after Duncan was off the court, then ejected Duncan who never left his seat. It is unfortunate that it happened to him, but not totally unwarranted. Now, maybe if they can start T'ing up the guys who argue every call and really try to show up the refs it won't happen again. Eric Snow intentionally fouled Deng on a breakaway, then ran towards the official yelling and he didn't get T'd. --Glen Buckner, Naples, Fla.
That's the point. I know the NBA or pro sports isn't like any other job, but who among us can go to work and everything they disagreed with something make a show of it and show up their supervisors? It's became an embarrassment and Stern said last spring in the playoffs he was going to stop it. I remember him telling me with some emphasis he's never in 30 years seen a call overturned because someone argued. The referees are getting worn out by all this moaning and complaining.
I actually admire Shaq for this. While he does complain after games, he rarely if ever does during games on fouls and no one in the game is fouled more often. Just watch only him in a game and see what happens. The guy can't turn around without being banged constantly.
What also is little known in the public is the hugely explosive temper Stern has and the temper tantrums he's had in the office or on the phone with TV executives he thought were trying to embarrass the league. No, he doesn't do it in public, but sometimes you boil over with people crabbing at you all the time. Joey has some anger management issues and has admitted them. It seems he's done far less than say, Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson, who went into the stands in Auburn Hills to beat up fans. They were admitted back to the NBA. Why not Crawford?
Do you remember Chauncey Billups' first few seasons in the league? Especially after watching Gordon in Game 1 (11 assists) are there any thoughts that Gordon could become a better version of Billups? What would Hinrich's trade value be if, big if, Gordon continues to get several assists, Sefolosha continues to improve, and Duhon sticks around, is there as strong a need for Hinrich? One playoff game doesn't decide a career, but Hinrich isn't the best decision maker, tends to over-dribble, and doesn't shoot a high percentage. --Jon McNeal, Chicago
Yes, the Kirk bashers come out every poor game. No, the guy isn't the perfect point guard, though there are few. But he plays his butt off, especially on defense in taking the toughest perimeter guy every time. Ben Gordon is a wonderful scorer and shooter, but do you really want him making your decisions? It would be a half dozen turnovers every game. And while there appears to be this move to have Sefolosha inducted in the Hall of Fame before the customary five years, I've yet to see him really run the offense or make the decisions under any sort of pressure. I've long tinkered around with trade ideas, you may have noticed. That was when the Bulls couldn't win a playoff series. Now that it appears they will and maybe make a good run, I'd keep the main three together for as long as I could. Take a look at Billups and Hamilton after their first few seasons in the league. They don't compare with Hinrich, Gordon and Deng. The Bulls aren't perfect and still need some size and a replacement for P.J. Brown, but I'd deal others first.
I saw Duncan smirking of the bench and I thought what a jerk. Like you said, he is always complaining. Duncan used to be a likeable guy. I don't have feelings one way or the other for Crawford, who did over react but I'm glad he did. My impulse was to slap Duncan but as a ref, he is paid to control that urge. We can't always act on our thoughts and feelings with out consequence unless we are President of the US. Sorry I said that. I hope there is no consequence. --John Wessel, Grayslake, Ill.
I'll give Bill O'Reilly equal time next week. It is interesting with Duncan because he has long been a miserable character with the media. He's not a bad guy and everyone gives him a pass because he is such a great player. He's just a guy you don't talk to much because you can tell when you go over to him he's angry you did. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was like that and it's hurt him. It's been sad to watch such a great figure in the history of the game have to virtually beg to get back. Sure, they all have plenty of money now, but there's a long life to live--if you're lucky--after basketball. Kareem finally realized that, he's alienated so many people they made it hard for him. Same with Rick Barry, who is smart and has been dying for a coaching job. But he was so nasty for so long people have held it against him.
I speak occasionally at the NBA rookie orientation, though the media session is last and the players are usually sleeping by then. But I always tell them they have the greatest jobs in the history of the world and this will be the best times of their lives and it never will be better, so to enjoy it. But so many can't seem to and they pay for years. I feel that will be the same with Tim and it's too bad. Have fun with it while you're there because it doesn't last long. Tim is something of a sacred cow in the NBA and protected because they like his image. Coaches around the league cringe at how much complaining he's able to get away with that their players cannot. Even the Spurs coaches have asked him to tone it down. But he has a temper and a sense of entitlement that extends with his refusal to deal with the reporters in a friendly manner. No one criticizes him for it because it's his prerogative and there's always someone who will talk. Bruce Bowen, Robert Horry, Brent Barry and Manu Ginobili are some of the best interviews and people in the NBA in that locker room. You can believe there were plenty of NBA coaches cheering Joey on that one.
Considering Andrei Kirilenko has looked like a shell of his former self playing out of position at the 3, when he's really a 4, shouldn't the Bulls have inquired about a Kirilenko for Andres Nocioni and P.J. Brown deal before deadline? Seems to me Nocioni would be a much better fit than Kirilenko for the Jazz at the 3 with his long range shooting among other things and that Kirilenko could have made us favorites in the East. -- Graham Austin, United Kingdom
He's an interesting name whom I brought up during the season. The issue would be money. He makes way more than Nocioni, or what Nocioni would be re-signed for, and the Bulls lost the chance to use Brown's expiring contract when they didn't trade him by the deadline. He could be in a sign and trade, though it seems unlikely someone would want to pay him that much. The Bulls need is interior scoring and that's not Kirilenko's game. His decline has been shocking because it seemed with the Jazz' offensive players he'd be a natural fit, but he seems to resent his defensive role. And given the circumstances with Viktor Khryapa, it hasn't worked out with Russian players. Skiles could be a latent cold warrior who hasn't forgotten.
Looking at these draft prospects, I think the Bulls are in a bad situation this year. They should have a great pick in the lottery, but with no one worth taking. Besides Oden, how many of these guys are legitimate low-post scorers? That is our only need right now, and I don't think we can successfully find someone to fit that role. Noah is probably the most offensively challenged big man in the draft; why he is projected top five boggles my mind. Many people like Hibbert because of his size but he is way too slow to fit in with our fast defensive system. The other options are Hawes from Washington and Jianlian from China. Maybe they can be works in progress but I don't think anyone is sold on them. The most logical idea to me is to package the pick somewhere. The best move would be finding a way to get Jermaine O'Neal for a reasonable price. A 7 footer who can score everywhere and is a great defender; what's not to like? --Vick, South Orange, N.J.
I think O'Neal is unrealistic given the proximity of the teams and that the Pacers would have to get a lot for O'Neal after letting Al Harrington go. There'll be plenty of guys on the market, you figure. Zach Randolph, and who knows if Garnett will finally demand a trade? Pau Gasol again? I agree you don't get a post scorer for a team that wants to contend in this draft, as good as it is. I think the Bulls will go big if they can, assuming they don't get one or two. I wouldn't pass on a player no matter the position and figure you can make a deal at some point. After all, Gasol came available when no one expected it.
OK, here's my perfect scenario for the Bulls' off-season: Jerry West leaves, the Bulls send Gordon, Sefolosha, cap fodder and future No. 1 to Memphis for Gasol. The Bulls draft Corey Brewer and re-sign Nocioni on the cheap; he and Thomas supply bench energy, scoring, along with Brewer initially. Then give the team to Hinrich. Let Duhon start until Brewer emerges as a Pippen-type disrupter/team player. That's a nice team. --Rich, Roselle, Ill.
Other than Memphis likely wanting more than that and the Bulls not especially high on Brewer, it's a good plan. I assume Memphis is waiting to see if they get Oden. If they do, I think they would be hard pressed to deal Gasol given they could move right back into contention. They have a small guard already in Lowry and never were high on Gordon. Though if the Bulls make a run to, say, the conference finals, I think they'll be reluctant to make a major move unless it's with the upcoming draft pick.
Considering the change in the hand check rule since Michael Jordan was in his prime, do you feel Michael would put up the same type of numbers that Kobe has for the last two years? Or would his scoring numbers be even greater? Who in your opinion would win the scoring title between them two if they were both in their primes with the current rule? --Dan Paxson, Park Ridge, Ill.
I often hear that Michael would average 50 without the hand check, and it's nonsense. I think it might be more difficult for Jordan to score in this era because of the zone rules. Jordan was a brilliant attacker of the basket, much better than Bryant. Bryant is a much better shooter. This era requires more perimeter shooting because defenses can zone the player with the ball. You couldn't do that in Jordan's era. He had quickness and had to gain strength because you could direct a player with your hand. But there were illegal defense rules for anything resembling a zone. I think Michael would win the scoring title in his era because Kobe didn't attack and beat his man like Jordan. I think Kobe would win in this era because Jordan never developed the three-point shot. Though knowing him he would have if he really needed it.
Why do the Bulls always wear white shoes in the regular season, but black shoes in the playoffs? --Danny, Valaraiso, Ind.
A chance to mention one of my favorite Bulls, Brad Sellers. He was much maligned because he was another of the Jerry Krause favorites Jordan abused to get back at Krause. Not that he would have been an All Star. But he was a wonderful man and was a useful player at times. He held the ball and made the key pass for Jordan to hit that first great game-winner against the Cavs in 1989. Jordan initially couldn't get clear on the play, and if you watch you see Sellers hesitate and not panic. Clearly coach Doug Collins chose Sellers for the inbounds knowing he was a good passer, could see the floor and wouldn't panic. It was before that playoffs started the Bulls were breaking apart. They'd lost all six games to Cleveland that season and with the playoff matchup looming and without home court, they played Cleveland the last game of the regular season. The Cavs didn't play starters and won easily against the Bulls starters. Sellers suggested the team wear the black sneakers to bond. It's been a tradition since.
I recently noticed a story in the Trib stating that P.J. Brown was considering retirement after this season. I think he has been very valuable to the Bulls this year as a player and mentor to Tyrus Thomas. What are the chances that management will keep him around another season or two as either a player or an assistant coach to help bring Thomas along further? --Adam S., Sarasota, Fla.
I doubt it. P.J. never has been quite comfortable with this coaching staff, and while he has handled himself professionally, as everyone knew he would, and has worked hard in games, I think he'll hook on with a Western contender for next season, maybe someone like Dallas or San Antonio. He's still got some useful life as a player and is widely admired around the NBA. As for Thomas, he has become a fan favorite with his highlight play, which has been rare in Chicago the last decade. But he remains difficult to deal with. I wonder sometimes why some of my colleagues even bother to interview him. He clearly doesn't like it and has yet to say anything more revealing than the classic sports cliché scene on the bus in "Bull Durham." I think he remains an angry young man for some reason and probably could use some mentoring to get him to enjoy more this great time of life.
Do you think every GM in the lottery is secretly hoping for the No. 2 pick in this year's draft? Oden and Durant are each projected to be top talents, but if the guy who goes second ends up being better, the GM with the first pick will look bad, even though no one could have known at the time. By picking second, you get a great player for your team, and none of the responsibility for choosing wrong if the other guy ends up better. --Bradley, Chicago
No, everyone will take that risk. Oden is as sure a thing as you can get these days. Maybe he never becomes a great scorer like Abdul-Jabbar or even Shaq or Hakeem, but he'll be a presence for the next decade and you can build a team around him. It's rare when you can do that. Durant may well look better and score more and the game is moving more to the perimeter, but you rarely have a chance at a big center. No one condemns the Rockets for taking Hakeem over Jordan even if Jordan turned out better. They won some championships and got to the Finals and were a contender for a decade thanks to him.
I want to know your feelings on the draft process for the NBA. It seems that it has only increased the amount of teams "tanking" the season to get a better draft pick. --Jeff, St. Charles, Ill.
The commissioner should take care of this. There is no perfect system if people are dishonest. Not that teams like the Timberwolves are cheaters (though they were with the Joe Smith signing), but if you don't respect the game and play every game to win you cheat not only the league but yourself. Of course, fans always talk about blowing games. But you have to get in the habit of competing. When it appears obvious a team isn't, the commissioner should step in. He did when the Lakers under Pat Riley took their guys out for a late game one season. And that involved the playoffs. I think the system is reasonable because there is no guarantee you get No. 1 if you purposely lose and it is only in the rare years a team wants to lose for a draft pick. Who was dumping to get Andrea Bargnani or Andrew Bogut?
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