Sam Smith's NBA mailbag
The Tribune's pro basketball reporter answers reader questions
That's the passion the Bulls need. I'm guessing you're short and fed up. I'm still for Gasol, though I hear the Grizzlies have talked with a number of teams. The hangup with the Bulls appears to be the Grizzlies' interest in Andres Nocioni. I'm not fully sure why, probably less for Nocioni's ability than for what he does for them. But with his base-year status, it may be too difficult to find the right pieces for a deal. I didn't want Randolph or Curry but believe the Bulls could use someone on the inside to at least change the pace of the jump-shooting game. Not to spend all game throwing it in and standing around, but for a change of pace in the game. When you were a kid, didn't they always pick the big guy first in the playground games? There's a reason.
Since Kobe loves Luol so much, how about Deng and Wallace for Bynum, Radmanovic and Kwame's expiring contract? Wouldn't that appease Kobe, make them instantly more playoff-ready and give the Bulls one hell of a young group of bigs to go with their collection of littles? Which side wouldn't do this? --Ashley, Chicago
Lakers, Lakers, Lakers. Kobe doesn't love Luol so much. He seemed to hate the Lakers more. Actually, he hated Bynum last spring and summer. But what's happened is the Lakers have become one of the great stories of the NBA this season. Their defense is much better, their bench is much deeper and they are big up front. And Kwame Brown got hurt, which was a huge break. They had to play Bynum, and he's showing he could be an elite center. Kobe isn't going anywhere and never was. He hates to admit it, but he's better off, and the talk is the Lakers are looking hard to move Kwame's expiring contract for another piece and make a serious championship run.
I'm not a Bulls fan, but I think you might remind your readers what a crap-shoot player evaluation can be. Even the best make mistakes. Jerry West traded Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell for Glen Rice, and Sam Perkins for Benoit Benjamin. Joe Dumars took Darko over Carmelo Anthony. It's not as easy as it appears in hindsight. Having said that, I never understood signing Ben Wallace to a long, expensive contract. He was a glorified role player? What was the thinking? --AJ, Providence
It's hard to find people identifying themselves as Bulls fans this season. I know John Paxson's dad has written me this same point. Just kidding, though he does write me on occasion, as he once played in the NBA. You are right. It is tough, and the best make huge mistakes. What they do is don't dwell on them, get rid of them and move forward.
My guess is the Bulls would like to do that with Wallace, though the thinking made sense at the time. As much as you'd like to have Tyson Chandler now, assuming you were a Bulls fan, he would have been even more of a quivering wreck under Skiles last season and probably would have had a nervous breakdown by now. They committed themselves to Skiles and his style, and Chandler couldn't cut it. They had cap money to spend for one summer. The alternatives were Joel Przybilla and Nazr Mohammed, as they were looking for size.
Here was the chance to take a starter from their biggest rival and add veteran, championship experience. It made a lot of sense, and even national observers called the Bulls the winners of that summer. Who knew Wallace had sent in his retirement papers?
If the best move for the Bulls was to acquire Pau Gasol, which price would the Grizzlies ask? If you were Memphis' GM, what would you ask for in return? --Nicolas, Switzerland
The assumption is the Bulls won't include Deng, whom they wouldn't put in a deal last year. Memphis probably wouldn't want Hinrich, because they have point guards. And they might not want Gordon, because he's up for a contract and they'd have to pay him. So I'd probably ask for some combination of Noah, whom they liked in the draft before taking Conley, Sefolosha, Duhon, Nocioni and a No. 1 pick, though I'm not sure it's doable. If I were Memphis, I'd probably want them to take a bad contract off my hands, which make it even harder to match salaries.
I like the way Aaron Gray gives the Bulls a new dimension on offense, but why is it that no one comments on how often he gets beat by his man back on defense? I have seen multiple plays this season where after taking a shot, he jogs back while his man sprints down, forcing a switch and an open shot for another player or a layup for his man. Isn't this the same type of thing the coaches complain publicly about with Tyrus Thomas? Why does Gray get off the hook for his defensive lapses and lack of conditioning? --Stephen Noh, Wilmette
Because he is sprinting. That's the problem with Gray. The fastest he runs, and he does really try, looks like everyone else's jog. He's in shape. Thomas could do it, but he just doesn't always choose to. That's what upsets coaches.
What happened to Ben Gordon's knack for hitting game-winning shots? It's what made him a (quasi) star his rookie year. It seems as a cerebral player he has lost his edge, even before his contract issues. --Dan Smilow, Tempe, Ariz.
The first time, you catch people by surprise. After that, unless they're stupid, they pay attention and adjust. Teams know it's more difficult for Ben when he has to put the ball on the floor or make a move. He's really better suited to play like Richard Hamilton coming off screens and rising quickly, though he's about 6 inches shorter. It was amazing he hit so many as a rookie. He shouldn't be judged against that. It's usually better to be good later than sooner. Ben is finding that out.
The Bulls need a big man (duh), but we are not going to get a Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan anytime soon. So instead of overpaying for a Pau Gasol, who has really never proven himself in the playoffs, why don't they go after a younger big man whose trade value is at its lowest point right now? Al Horford is still a rookie, but I really see him being a big-time talent. Couldn't a package of Tyrus Thomas and Ben Gordon be put together with a couple of minor pieces to grab him? --Drew Williams, Richton Park
Maybe Shelden Williams. I know it's hard to believe, but few teams are dedicated to improving the Bulls, as unfair as that seems. Horford is a power forward for the next decade for Atlanta. Plus they're not about to give up cheap players who are good. They'd be glad to deal Speedy Claxton. Young big guys or big guys of any kind are difficult to come by. Why you may be able to get someone like Gasol is for other than basketball issues, like the dire financial situation with Memphis. Or if you are just dumb like Minnesota and apparently owe something to your former team.
I was wondering if we gave up Kirk, Gordon and Tyrus for Gilbert Arenas. Arenas is a star, and I heard rumors he wants out. Arenas, Sefolosha and Deng. Then we can go for a big man in free agency next year. That is a pretty good core to build around. --David, Trevor, Wis.
Arenas is an interesting figure, if a bit goofy. OK, a lot goofy. He can opt out, but now with him saying he may not even play again this season, it would seem the Wizards have no alternative but to re-sign him, given his local popularity. Yes, he is a star, sort of, but he's certainly erratic, eccentric, an indifferent defender and a wild shooter. Otherwise, I love the guy. First-team all-interview, for sure. Look, guys like Jordan were great not only because they could score but defended, passed the ball, made plays. I don't see much of that from Gilbert, just enhancing his stats. Washington has played very well without Arenas, so it might be tempted to make a deal, no matter how unpopular locally and risky. But it would likely be for big guys and/or All-Stars, none of whom the Bulls have.
How about a deal for Al Harrington? He can score in the post, and Don Nelson isn't exactly enamored of big men. --Don Priola, Albuquerque