Ask Sam Smith

As for Pau Gasol, forget it. I remember during his draft year reading his mom is a doctor and doesn't want him playing too hard so he can become one after the NBA. Hence one reason he is weak. I say run out the course with the current team and if you are close to getting Kevin Durant in the draft, package Deng and fill it with a real post playing SF. Tyrus Thomas will breakout next year. --David, Chicago

There has been that mama's boy thing hanging over Gasol, though I can't say I recall that story. My guess is with what he makes in his NBA career, medical school won't be an option. The problem is there just aren't many of these guys available and when one does come up, it's hard to pass by. Perhaps they do wait it out and do something in the summer when more teams are in play in deals.

Is there a possibility that a third team could be involved in a Gasol trade? What are the options or aren't there any? --Kristo, Estonia

Actually, with Andres Nocioni out injured and uncertainty about how that might affect a deal, it's likely the teams will go searching for third parties looking to get involved, perhaps like Portland with Zach Randolph and Jamaal Magloire, the Nets with Vince Carter, the Cavs with Larry Hughes and Anderson Varajeo and the Magic with Grant Hill's expiring contract.

Which All Star gives you more chances of being a contender?? I have seen a lot of trades but few really work out. What I mean is what kind of players should we receive in order to let players like Deng or Gordon go away? I think only KG or Paul Pierce can be a good option, never Gasol. What has he accomplished in Memphis? --Alejandro Gorry, Argentina

I still remain a believer in Gasol because he can score in the low post and has the size to support Ben Wallace, which is the gaping hole in the Bulls roster. Eventually, they'll need that kind of player. Boston continues to consider Pierce as untouchable as does Minnesota with Garnett, though the way the teams are going you wonder why.

Your suggestion that the Warriors offer Jason Richardson, Mickael Pietrus, Monta Ellis and rookie Patrick O'Bryant for Jason Kidd ... how do you see this helping the Warriors? Kidd is past his prime. The Warriors are going to give up on a 20-year-old-player, Ellis, who shows potential? They are going to give up Jason Richardson who is at least better than the majority of the two guards in the league. They are going to throw in the towel on Pietrus? Ellis and Biedrins are a good young core that you can build around. Mullin would be better served going after a big like Gasol. --D, San Francisco

The Warriors are a team that interests me because they, like the Bulls, have lots of assets and considerable duplication. I'd say go with Gasol as well, but when you commit to Don Nelson you have to play his way. He likes small guards, wing players in mismatches and outscoring you. They have some size in Biedrins, Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson. But you need a star. Kidd is one and I believe has a few good years left. Leading the league with the most consecutive years missing the playoffs, I don't understand given the trade for veterans they made not trying to upgrade from that. Baron Davis always struck me more the scoring guard like Iverson, who was best playing off the ball with a real point guard who could defend. They got to the Finals that way. Of course, perhaps they're satisfied with a chance to be the eighth seed.

I think it was a great shame that Luol Deng and/or Ben Gordon did not make the All Star team. The Bulls are in position to have the best record in the East and they are not getting any recognition for it. Gordon has been a great professional throughout the year, coming off the bench when he should be a starter, and not complaining at all. He has stepped up during crunch time and has succeeded. Deng has been so consistent (look at his FG%) all year and he got snubbed too. How does Vince Carter end up being an All Star representing a losing team? Do coaches look at who will draw the best TV rating when making their selections? How does a coach evaluate and assess? -- Argie Grigorakos, Toronto

Sometimes coaches do look at such factors. Carter was third in the fan voting, so someone wanted to see him play. Every season there are deserving guys left off and I felt Gordon was deserving. There are just too many teams now. The answer, which should seem obvious to everyone, is to go to a 15-player team. No one has to play 25 minutes in an All Star game. It's more for the event and your next contract negotiation, anyway, which may be why they haven't expanded. Hey, I'm an All Star! It is an entertainment event, Carter is popular, he is the high scorer on his team and the Nets were about a .500 team at the time of the voting. His selection is not ridiculous. Joe Johnson was deserving and was left off, though his team was bad. Likely Ben was close, but he is considered a one dimensional player and Deng is just starting to break through. They'll get there.

The Bulls should hold out for Garnett. He is exactly what we need and Minnesota can't think they are going to go further than the first round if they get in the playoffs at all with that team. --Jason Vasquez, Bronx, N.Y.

I think it's clear there'll be no trading-deadline deal of Garnett. But if they miss the playoffs, as they seem headed, that will be the talk of the summer.

I'm amazed some trade ideas that go around: Hinrich and Noce for Gasol in order to keep Gordon? OK, the guy can shoot but what else does he give you? Are Chicago fans done with this overachieving, gutsy, no-frills team which Skiles has formed and whose standard bearers are Noce and Kirk? -- Fernando Santillan, Buenos Aires, Argentina

I don't know about standard bearers. I don't think the fans are done with it, just growing impatient for more success. The feeling is they've had their growth period, they got Ben Wallace, it's time to show something. I can see major changes after the season if they don't.

The Bulls really are lacking an inside presence, and all this talk about Pau Gasol is not worth giving up Captian Kirk, or our best scorer, Ben G, or Long arm Deng. I think I have the answer for the Bulls. Marcus Fizer! He is an inside offensive threat, lacking in rebounding but we have Big Ben for that and I think he has changed his ways after being MVP in the D-league. Most importantly he is looking for a J O B, meaning that we can get him really cheap and not have to give up any of our core players. --IK, Morton Grove, Ill.

You are joking, right?

Andres Nocioni is an RFA this summer. How likely is it that he will be re-signed and what will he cost? If he demands too much is it possible he will be moved in a sign-and-trade? What would the Bulls get in return? --Mr. Bean, Algona, Iowa

It seems he's out of the Gasol talks for now. The Bulls can match any offer, and my guess is they offer a reasonable deal, maybe averaging $7 to $8 million. It's doubtful teams with cap space would invest most, as you'd have to do, in a role player like Nocioni. He seems to me not driven by money and I'd expect him to accept a fair offer. Though he clearly senses with all the trade talk and duplication at his position with Deng he is vulnerable and could be dealt.

Watching the Clipper game, it struck me how little players seem to care about what's going on on the court. It's happened time and time again this season, and more than just one player. Ben Wallace looks like he couldn't care less watching, Viktor Khryapa's struggling to stay awake, PJ Brown seems to be trying to force himself to be positive, etc. Every now and then the rookies and Adrian Griffin have energy, but that's it. Has their enthusiasm for the game been sucked dry? --John, Chicago

No, this is not Kansas. University of. I believe the players do care and, frankly, they cheer more for what happens than I do at my job. Great verb! Yes, high five! But it's a long game and a long season and there's no way you can maintain a collegiate level of enthusiasm for seven to eight months with 90 games not counting playoffs to maybe 25 or 30 in college with a third of them imported tackling dummies.

I think the Bulls should try to make little deals first, such as maybe Nazr Mohammad. I mean the Pistons just got Chris Webber and they have a ton of big bodies. Here's the scenario: P.J Brown, Andre Barret, Viktor Khyapa and a second-round pick. --Jai, Aurora, Ill.

Mohammed is an interesting case, though there's a chance the Pistons can keep him since Webber is just on a rest-of-the-season deal and always has knee problems. Plus, it may not benefit them to trade him to the East. I believe he was the Bulls free-agent choice after Wallace, so I think they like him some. But even with just a relatively reasonable exception contract of about $30 million, I think they want to be careful on spending with so many players coming up for extensions this summer.

With all this trade talk about the Bulls and Pau Gasol I am sitting back thinking that the Bulls were better off with Tyson Chandler. Sure we have Ben Wallace, but I think that the Bulls would be much more formidable on defense with both of them down there. Ben is a good passer and so is Chandler when he can actually hold onto the ball. What do you think the possibilities of the Bulls if the would have kept Chandler to play along with Wallace? --Andre, Korea

Yes, passing is easier when you actually have the ball. It's easy to second guess, but few last summer suggested the Bulls would be better off with Chandler. I'm glad to see him doing well with the Hornets, but he still can't shoot free throws and wasn't fitting. He didn't want to play for the Bulls as much as they had soured on him. I don't believe he would have done as well with the Bulls and probably would have asked to be traded at some point. So even with Wallace's disappointing play, I'd say the Bulls are better off. At least for now.

Straightforward question: Why can't Scott Skiles coach star players? --J.D., Jersey City, N.J.

Straightforward answer: He doesn't have any.

It appears the price for Gasol is a little too hefty at this point. What are your thoughts on Zach Randolph? Would Noc, PJ & the Pick work? He's the inside presence we really need, and I doubt we would have to give up as much to get him. I know the initial reaction is that a guy like that would not co-exist with Skiles. But Rasheed Wallace seemed to do well when he was moved to Detroit. You really don't hear much negative about him these days. Unfortunately, Pax is probably too conservative and wants to continue building a team of decent nice guys. --Joe O., Chicago

Well, he does have Tyrus Thomas. Actually, I think Randolph would have a chance with Skiles because of the Michigan State connection and I've heard Skiles and other Michigan Staters have tried to contact Randolph over the years to try to advise him. Yes, he can score inside and his name often comes up among fans. Despite what the 'Blazers say, I believe they'd like to get out from under his big contract and behavior problems. He is a player who slows the game, dribbling the ball in position for shots. I've long argued against him and wouldn't do it. But maybe it's me who's more conservative than Paxson.

Is John Paxson part psychic? He doesn't resign Songalia, and he's been out most of the season. Ditto with Piatkowski. And now Othella Harrington will be out 3-6 weeks. Maybe he should win Executive of the Year for who he DIDN'T sign! As it is, how well would the Bulls need to do to earn Paxson the honor this year? --Chris Feldman, Dubuque, Iowa

Make the Gasol trade and go to the Finals. But it has been amazing how many players they let go who have become unproductive. Though some still say Eddy Curry and his low-post game is missing piece. Again, like with Tyson, too much happened for it to have worked here. You should try to be intellectually honest and if you didn't want Curry or Chandler then, don't say you would now when they have done better. Of course, intellectual and honest rarely go together in the sports media.

I've heard all these big names thrown about in trade rumors (mostly thanks to you), and Boston seems interested in everyone. IF KG and Gasol cant be had, what do you think about taking advantage of Ainge's need to make a move? Something like Gordon for Al Jefferson and Delonte West? --Jim, La Grange, Ill.

From what I've heard, they're interested in everyone but Bulls players. I don't know what they're up to or what they're doing, but I do know they have enough miniguards for an under six foot league.

Unless the Grizzlies get an irresistible offer, trading Gasol this season makes little sense. Going into next year, the Grizzlies will have a lot of cap room and a very high draft pick. It's possible, if not likely, that the Grizzlies will get more offers for Gasol in summer. Plus, with the prospect of drafting Oden, it's possible that Gasol may change his mind about wanting to be traded. Either way, the Grizzlies will be in a better position to weigh their options on Gasol after finding out their draft order in the 2007 lottery and their options on the free agency market. --Chris Wienke, Memphis, Tenn.

That actually makes sense. Though you may be making the mistake of applying logic to NBA transactions. Some of the issues are how much money the franchise is losing and how much indifference the city has for Gasol and vice versa. But, yes, it would seem that the Grizzlies have no reason to hurry and take a look at the lottery before making a major deal. Of course, that would cut my mailbag by about three quarters and leave me spending all my time dreaming up Kevin Garnett deals. And even I occasionally get tired of that.

All this talk of trades, in particular for Pau Gasol, is really starting to get on my nerves. I think a lot of the Bulls fans are still greedy for success from the '90s, and they have forgotten that it takes TIME to grow a champion. We have undoubtedly the best young nucleus in the entire league. And so many people are actually considering breaking it up??! For what, maybe one shot at a title? If this team is given time to grow, mature, and develop together they will have four or five shots at a title. Trades can bring you one championship, but dynasties must be grown from the bottom up. --Dave Somek, Melbourne, Australia

I'm not sure I see the dynasty thing since the Bulls still are missing the best player. Last time they had him first. It makes a big difference. But people in Chicago do talk differently about the Bulls, I think, because of the amazing success of the '90s. That kind of thing is really unheard of anymore with free agency and expansion. Yet, people seem to hold the Bulls to a standard of a dynasty. I believe you go for the one you can win, or maybe build for a year, but there are too many variables with injuries to count on success in five years. I agree stability is important, and the Bulls understand that and I don't see them stripping down their team for any one player. But you can't keep losing early in the playoffs and not develop that attitude.

I know you love to act like the G.M. but if you really were Pax, wouldn't you think it would be better off waiting until the 2007 draft to get your inside scorer? I mean the Knicks are hovering in the 5-7 range in terms of bottom of the league so inside guys like Spencer Hawes and Al Horford would be available, not to mention if we get lucky it could turn into Greg Oden or Noah. Why give up young talent for something you may be better off waiting a bit longer for? --Jason, Lewes, Del.

Even though this wasn't a great draft, you can see it's especially difficult for big men to have an impact right away in the NBA. I see Oden as primarily a defensive force in the NBA and Horford probably is a top-five pick. They like Noah, but he's not a scorer, either. Unless the Knicks collapse or the Bulls get lucky with the pick exchange in the lottery, that kind of player won't be available. You can be sure if they deal the pick, they'll protect it top three or top five.

Do you think that Tyrus Thomas will ever average 15 or more points per game in the NBA? If not, then why did we draft him? Essentially, he's just a younger version of Ben Wallace, even down to the pitiful free throw shooting. Since neither is a real scoring threat, they can never be on the floor together. And Ben is on the books for three more years after this one. Considering that, I don't think that Tyrus or John Paxson would be happy that the former fourth pick in the draft is still coming off the bench in his fourth year. Although I love Pax and think he's one of the best GMs in the league, I don't believe he was thinking at his best when he signed Ben and drafted Tyrus. The way I see it, one of them has to go in the next year or two, preferably for a big man who can score, which would be the last piece of our championship puzzle. -- Cassiano Silva, Garland, Texas

Though Thomas' mouth was bigger than his stats in his dumb remarks regarding the dunk contest, I think he can average in double figures. Also, he's so young that he's a good replacement for Wallace, whom the Bulls really were counting on for two or three seasons. The Bulls took a shot on Thomas for his potential, which we hate to hear after the Curry/Chandler stuff, but with the team they have I believe it was worth the chance.

Why do the Bulls have such a hard time on the road? Their road record is worse than the Celtics and 76ers. Any explanation? --Mike VerWay, Inver Grove Heights, Minn.

They are not as good as they'd hoped. There are a lot of reasons why winning on the road is more difficult in the NBA. I hate excuses like these, but the travel is tougher. Baseball teams stay in one place three or four days; NBA teams always are on the move. Football teams travel once a week. It's more emotional and energy game, which can be affected by noise. Baseball and football are mostly outside. Basketball is inside in smaller places where it is louder and can push a team though tired spots. Though referees try to be fair, those things can affect them as well. Teams also get more chance to practice at home and learn shooting angles, the floor and baskets better. It breeds confidence, which is vital in sports. And on the road, it helps to have a star who gets the respect of the referees who also can get to the basket and draw fouls. The Bulls pull up for mostly perimeter shots, which come and go. The road is one major measure of a team and it suggests the Bulls are further away than they'd like to be for now.

Trading any of the Bulls core players makes no sense unless the team is improved in several ways. The Bulls need a shooting guard who can defend and a power forward who can post up. Why not go after Zach Randolph and Brandon Roy? Roy is going to be a force for years to come--a solid player at both ends. We could afford to give up Noce, Khyrapa, the expiring contracts and, yes, Ben Gordon. Roy may never score like Gordon, but he is already a more complete player. --Chris Sundstrom, Vancouver, Wash.

Lots of teams, including the Grizzlies with Gasol, are said to have made inquires about Roy. Portland, with good reason, has said no to everyone. By the way, they had Khryapa and gave him to the Bulls for about nothing. If they did that deal, this time it would be management going to jail.

I hear all the time from people, including reading it in your column, that the Bulls should wait till the summer to try to acquire Gasol or Garnett. But how would they do that without P.J. Brown's huge, expiring contract? Other than Wallace, the Bulls don't have the big salary necessary to match up with the likes of Pau or K.G. Second, if the Grizzles would accept him in a trade for Gasol, why should the Nocioni injury hurt the Bulls' chances of completing a trade? It's not like the Grizzles need Nocioni to play now; they're hoping to tank and get Oden. Also, Nocioni's injury is minor and only temporary, not a career issue. If anything, it could help the Grizzles because they would lose more with Andres sidelined. --Dan Brecher, Scarsdale, N.Y.

Those are actually good points. I think the notion is the Grizzlies need to come away with something that looks good now (they're not going to win much no matter what) or else lose even more credibility with their community. Also, Jerry West's ego is at play and friends around the league say with what has gone on in Memphis--he hasn't actually distinguished himself as he didn't get Gasol, their best player--he is desperate to come out of this with a good deal. So he's going to be difficult to try to win this one. The Bulls still would be in position to make a deal with contract extensions and other contracts that probably could be combined. Plus, they'd have the draft pick rather than the limitation with protection, which could prevent the Grizzlies from getting the pick. And, yes, Garnett could be there as well, and there's some Bulls feeling that perhaps they shouldn't use up their assets if they still have a shot at Garnett. At Gasol's age and scoring ability, you might be better off with him.

I'd like to hear your comments on the possibility that the Grizzlies will push for the Bulls to trade Hinrich so that they can entice either Gordon or Deng (or both) away from the Bulls in free agency with the $11 million in cap space that the Bulls would provide in any trade to the Grizz for Pau Gasol. --Daniel, Lake Forest, Ill.

That's crafty. The word is they want Deng or Hinrich, though I'm not sure the Bulls will give up either, which is why this doesn't seem to be getting anywhere. Gordon and Deng would have to play two more seasons with the Bulls without long term contracts to become unrestricted free agents and leave. No one does that these days with injury chances. They'll sign or the Bulls will trade someone to open up money to sign the rest.

Why Gasol, whose large salary would stifle future gains via the draft, free agency or trades? Too much risk there for a defensive liability, no matter how many points he scores. He changes the character of team away from defense. Why not Melvin Ely? He's about the same height and weight, much lower salary, unwanted by Bobcats, stupidly drafted by Clippers who had Brand and Wilcox. He shot 56 percent in college and 46 percent in pros in limited use. Get him for a benchsitter or second-round pick, as the Bobcats will try to get something for him because he will not be back next season. Then try him out for half a season and see if he prospers offensively and defensively here, as Wilcox is doing elsewhere. Then see what summer brings. --Jim, Oxford, Md.

That could well be the big deal of the trading deadline. There'll be dozens of rumors and breathless reports of deals near. But there aren't usually many major trading-deadline deals because so many teams are out of it by then they usually prefer to wait until summer to see if they can get a better deal with more teams involved. With Michael Jordan in Charlotte and having a god relationship with Paxson, I can see that happening.

I've noticed in many past columns that you believe the Bulls need a star to win. While I acknowledge that having a star would be great, I also see that many times having a star doesn't equate to winning. A few examples are Ray Allen in Seattle, Paul Pierce in Boston, Kevin Garnett in Minnesota, and probably the best example, Jefferson, Carter and Kidd in Jersey. The Nets have three great players in many respects, but I don't consider them a great team. Do you think it'd be better to have five solid, above-average players (like I think the Bulls have), or a team with a star but not much talent surrounding him? I know I'd take the talented depth to the star. The impetus to this question is that I do not want to see the Bulls trade too much talent for a star, i.e. Gasol. --Drew, Chicago

It's a good, debatable point, and, really only the Pistons of 2004 haven't won without a so-called star, though Rasheed Wallace has been an All Star for several years and was a high level, if disruptive, talent when they got him and they became a contender. You need guys around the stars, as even Jordan had to have with the Bulls. Allen, Pierce and Garnett don't have that now. Garnett got close with some good pieces in Cassell and Sprewell, Pierce did with Walker when he played at a higher level and Allen with Robinson. The Nets went to the Finals twice with Kidd, but Carter has proven to be more flash than substance. It's possible one of these Bulls players could develop into a higher-level star. But most are small for their position and you also need size. They should be good for awhile as they are, but I'm not sure about great.

I Am turning my attention to the Bulls to help make me make it through the brutal Hawaii winter. Without landing a proven scorer in a major trade, I'm afraid the Bulls will experience the same playoff fate as this years Bears or worse -- as last year's Bears or last years Bulls. --Erik Gardner, Kaneohe, Hawaii

You'll never understand our pain.

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