Sam Smith's NBA mailbag

So word on the street is Larry Brown wants back into coaching. Any chance of seeing Larry on the bench next year? --Jon Wormsley, Boulder, Colo.

Park bench? Larry is one of the best coaching minds in the history of the game, but I question whether he'll get another job now approaching 70. He's gone over a lot of bridges and burned them. He comes with a lot of baggage after being fired in Detroit and New York. Owners talk to other owners. He usually comes with a high price tag. I hope he coaches again. It won't be for the Bulls.

You say the Bulls would be foolish to enter luxury tax area, unless the player could put them over the top. How do you or anyone else know if a player could put the team over the top or not without taking a chance? Picking up Pau Gasol certainly would have been worth the risk. If the Bulls had resigned P.J. Brown I'm sure John Paxson could have found a way to make a deal with the Grizzlies if he had been persistent enough. Right now we've got a nothing team, going nowhere and a GM willing to let the status quo continue. These fans have been loyal to Jerry Reinsdorf and the Bulls for years, and this is the thanks we get? I say phooey on it all. --Rod G., Mascot, Tenn.

This is the point. Pau is a good player. I've lobbied for him for some time and was the first to say Memphis would trade him despite its denials. I always ask fans why they believe coaches or players or general managers more than me. If I lie once, I'm fired. There are no second chances in the newspaper business for that crime. If they lie, they justify it in numerous ways. Yes, they know more of what their team is doing, but they don't tell you. Anyway, Pau has proven he's not up to being the best player on your team, a leader or a go-to guy. If the Bulls went well into the luxury tax to get him, which they'd have to, that would be your team going forward built around him. I didn't think that was worth the investment.

Any news on the whereabouts of our old friend Michael Sweetney? He probably saw this nightmare season coming and ran (for a few seconds anyways). --Bob, Wilmette, Ill.

I'm looking. I contacted the players' association and they hadn't heard anything about him. It don't believe he's playing anywhere.

Would it be possible that fans could sue the Bulls players for non-performance of their contracts? --Jim Poulsen, Viera, Fla.

I'm not sure what loss you would be claiming. Cable TV and satellite costs? Though this is also why the NFL will remain king of sports. They don't have long-term guaranteed contracts. They are the fans' worst enemy, yet fans always support players getting them. David Stern's greatest mistake was in the last negotiations not shutting down the league to get the contracts down to three years. But the NHL was out and Stern didn't want to risk the bad publicity. As you can see with the Gasol deal, expiring contracts are valuable and without longterm commitments, teams would have flexibility and players would have to play for their contracts more often. I don't advocate one year deals like the NFL, but it seems three years in a league where the average salary is almost $5 million is fair.

With the Bulls being borderline unwatchable, I've seen a lot of Hornets' games and the unstoppable pick and rolls between Tyson Chandler and Chris Paul. Unstoppable. I know Tyson needed a change, but watching the simplicity and beauty of using Tyson this way makes you wonder if the problem with the Bulls was ever really Tyson's. --Lyn Fox, Santa Fe, N.M.

Not completely, as those things never are. But the Bulls still don't have the true point guard to put Tyson in that position. Chris Paul is playing like an MVP. I always believed Tyson would be a solid player and I always said I'd keep him of the two between he and Curry. But it was never going to happen under Skiles and the Bulls were at a point where with all the down years had to make a move in the standings when they did. It was short term, but no one thought it would be this short term.

Is there any other available retired big men would would want to coach besides Mike Brown? Why would Paxson bring in a guy that averaged only 5 points and had 4.4 rebounds in his career to coach? Who would want to listen to his advice when he couldn't even score? --Mi, Chicago

Give him a chance. The Bulls have pushed for this for some time, though Skiles was dead set against it. I'm a believer and Clifford Ray has been good and was never a big scorer. It's the right move and Brown has good coaching experience and I remember him as a good guy when he was here in the '80s.

The Portland Trailblazers have followed the Bulls plan of building with a core of young players with the exception being they've found their star player and leader. I think if Wallace and Griffin were gone you'd see Noah emerge as the leader and then we'd be back to the one issue that's plagued us the past four years, a go-to guy who can create on his own. Is there anyone on our team or in free agency that will fill this void? --Tim K., Mountain View, Calif.

Not really in free agency. The unrestricted guys are like Jamison, Ricky Davis, Sam Cassell, Gerald Green. I don't see the opt-out guys like Arenas and Elton Brand leaving. And the Bulls don't have the money to go that route. They could miss the playoffs and perhaps will get someone in the draft, which remains the best chance for now. Though I believe they will make the playoffs. They really are too good not to in the East, for whatever that's worth.

What are your thoughts on a Tyrus Thomas for Brandan Wright trade with Golden State? --Brian, Boulder, Colo.

I'd do it in a heartbeat. Is it done yet? I like Wright and think Nelson in his disdain for rookies hasn't given him a chance to help. I'd rather see him playing than Webber if I were them. I believe Warriors management has no intention of letting Wright go. I believe they know Nelson will be gone first and Nelson pushing for Webber suggests Nellie may be in it for just one more run. Warriors' management has become too solid to give up on Wright, whom some scouts are saying will be like Chris Bosh.

In Portugal runs the rumor that T-Mac is going to our Bulls. Is That True? --Rui Teodoro, Alpiarça, Portugal

I doubt it. Houston has played better of late and does need his scoring. But he is in and out and I believe they would like to trade him, but understand they might not be offered much given what teams are getting offered for even top players. The bigger issue is he has serious back problems that could end his career or severely debilitate him at any time. Coming out after high school, he's played some 25,000 minutes and isn't at the stage of his career to begin again with a young team. He remains a huge risk.

I know you have touted keeping Luol Deng in the past, but why not trade him? He appears to have the most value in the league and can provide a nice return at a spot where you have more of a need (legit big guard or inside big man who can score). The reason I think it'd be a good idea is Nocioni is arguably the best backup on the team and could be a solid NBA starter. Not to mention Noc is already signed to a reasonable contract. --Drew, Chicago

Like most, I thought Deng, whom I had suggested in trades before last season because of some of the things we see now (lack of athleticism, limited ceiling), was developing to the point he'd be an All Star. Perhaps he can be. I'd keep him, and I believe the Bulls will; though the way this season has gone you figure they will listen to any team that is interested. The problem now is teams will try to steal him, which is why I believe he stays with the Bulls. It's way too soon to give up on him.

It seems to me now that a trade before the draft is off the table, there are solutions or at the very least tools to ameliorate the Bulls' woes. A respected coach like Jeff Van Gundy. Jim Boylan is a fine assistant but his leadership style of let the patients run the asylum has done nothing but exacerbate the problem. A respected coach like Van Gundy would re-establish order and a plan for going forward. --Chris, Beverly Hills, Calif.

Ameliorate? I'm proud of my e-mailers. Again, too much in the Skiles mode? Jeff is a defensive coach, which the Bulls favor. But he'll come with a huge price, which I doubt the Bulls will pay because they'll still be paying off Skiles. And Jeff is a downer when he coaches. He's wonderful and funny on TV and in person. But when he coaches he's walking misery and often criticizes his team. The Bulls had issues with Skiles over that and I don't see them taking a risk on that again. Houston often told Jeff to tone down the negatives. Jeff is a very good coach, though his offensive style is walk-in-mud, which fans generally don't like if the team isn't winning. I'm not sure anyone would want to see the Bulls in a walk-it-up game. Plus, Jeff believes in a postup offense, and it's not like the Bulls have that talent. That all said, the Bulls remain an attractive job since most around the NBA believe they've underachieved and are not that far away from at least a limited turnaround.

What is the Bulls fascination with Luol Deng? He can't dribble. He can't shoot threes. He isn't overly athletic. He isn't a great rebounder. He is very overrated. All he can do is shoot mid range jumpers. We should have traded him while his stock was highest. The Bulls haven't had a star in so long it seems they have lost their memory on what a star player looks like. -- Syed Iftikhar, San Diego

I wasn't hearing this last season. In fact, fans were routinely telling me they'd give up their Bulls tickets if they traded Deng. Perhaps he has been the most surprising one of all. He seemed like he "got it." He seemed given his tough background and obvious intelligence and work ethic that no matter what happened, at least he'd play harder to show everyone. I believe he was devastated and confused by that contract refusal and was the victim of bad advice. I think he rebounds well when he gets paid next summer.

Can't the Bulls this summer acquire Dwyane Wade from the Miami Heat with a trade? I don't think he has too many reasons to remain in Miami with Shaq gone, and the poor team they are right now. --Dario, Italy

We doubt Pat Riley is as dumb as the Grizzlies. This is how luck works, as we've talked about before. The Bulls were so certain they had Wade in 2004 they didn't even consider an alternative. How much better would they have been? Riley had little interest and had to be persuaded by staff to even begin to look at Wade. He finally agreed and surprised everyone with the pick. The Bulls had No. 7, and got Kirk Hinrich, which was good considering right after him came T.J. Ford, whom teams were warned about his health problems, Sweetney, Jarvis Hayes and Mickeal Pietrus. The following year the Bulls got Deng for a future pick in the 20s. They were making good picks even though they weren't falling into a star. The Heat will rebuild, but around Wade now that Shaq is gone. With three years left on his contract, he is not about to try to force his way out and risk all his endorsement money. And by that time, I'm confident Riley will have a very competitive team. He just has to make sure he doesn't break Wade down by then. But the Bulls had their luck. Perhaps they're still paying. They never should have had Michael Jordan. He should have been winning titles for Nike in Portland. Letting him fall to the Bulls at No. 3 after Sam Bowie was the biggest good fortune any franchise ever had. Jordan should never have been a Bull, and then what would the '90s have looked like?

What if the Bulls take Lamar Odom and Chris Mihm for Luol Deng or Andres Nocioni? Lamar is no longer needed in LA, and the Lakers would now prefer a shooter to complement the post play with Kobe, Pau and Bynum. Lamar would be better in chicago because there is no strong personality, offensive player like Kobe to whom he will defer. -- Cholo Claravall, Philippines

Perhaps, though I don't see how Odom makes you particularly better if you give up the same scoring for a player who duplicates the position. And while Odom does handle the ball better, he's not a pure point guard, which is a big Bulls need, and not a great offensive option down low given his passive nature. I do like him, but not for Deng. Nocioni perhaps, though base year makes that impossible this season. Plus, why wouldn't the Lakers want another 6-10 guy at small forward?

Am I the only Bulls fan that still believes in Pax? When I read these "big men that got away" lines about how we missed out on KG and Pau, it makes me livid. I'm not paying $25 million for an oft-injured high-post, defense-deficient big man or trading half my roster so I have Chris Duhon feeding KG for contested 20 footers because we have nobody left. Do people really think he would have extended with a depleted Bulls team? Pax dug us out of Krause's mess, brought us progress in every year, and is only on the books for two more years with Wallace. Let's give him a chance to see what he can do after one surprising down year. --Matthew Cooper, Buffalo Grove, Ill.

I'm mostly getting these from Pax's family lately. I never believed Chicago sports fans and perspective could be used in the same sentence. Yes, it's been a disappointing season, but anyone-even Krause and he got it--deserves a chance to dig out after just one poor season.

Shaq to the Suns for Marion? I thought owner Robert Sarver's big thing was cutting payroll? I thought this team ran up and down the court? I thought this trade didn't make any sense. But is it possible that this is really a move at Lebron? In two years, the Suns are hoping that Nash and Amare are still effective. Shaq's $20 million will come off the books and Lebron will be a free agent. The Suns would be the only team that could offer a ton of cash and the chance to play for a championship (with an admittedly small window given Nash's age). Is that the idea? --Brad, Northbrook, Ill.

I like the conspiracy angle, though I have found out that people who run NBA teams are not that smart. Not dumb, but they rarely plan way ahead because the daily pressure is too much. You see Minnesota and Memphis getting too little for Garnett and Gasol because they waited a year too long. The same with Jersey and Kidd. The Nets are supposed to be cutting payroll for a run at LeBron to go to the New York area. These things don't usually happen. I just think the owner became enamored of the chance to say he got Shaq and Kerr never has been sold on the Suns having championship material as he's been on title teams and they looked nothing like the Suns.

Do you think the Bulls will or should have any interest in acquiring the Washington Wizards' point guard Gilbert Arenas? I think that he would be an upgrade at that position over Kirk Hinrich. He's a little taller and will give you more scoring from the starting backcourt. --Steven Lenard, Matteson, Ill.

Doubt it. He's not really a point guard, either, which is the Bulls main concern with Hinrich. Gilbert shoots way too much and doesn't involve his teammates enough. And you know the Bulls would hate his blogging. Though he'd be fun to have around. He strikes me as one of those so-called star players just good enough to lose with.

Why won't the Bulls start Aaron Gray so that they have post presence and try to find a backup post player? --Ben Hirwa, Mount Prospect, Ill.

He's too slow. Lots of big men go outside now and he's not quick enough to follow and then retreat without getting into foul trouble. He's a nice second-round pickup and should be around the NBA a long time for spot duty.

Ben Gordon is the MVP of this team, but he hasn't been given the starting role he wants, and he's already turned down one offer by the bulls. What are the chances they don't reach a contract agreement this summer? --Charlie, Chicago

I don't have a good answer for that one. I don't see Ben getting a major offer anywhere, or anywhere close to what he turned down with the Bulls. Teams are spending less. Few used their full exceptions last summer. The teams with cap room basically are bottom feeders and unlikely to spend big money on a player used as a sixth man. But Ben is valuable and an asset. The thinking is he doesn't sign, plays it out as an unrestricted free agent after next season and leaves. I think given the way this season has gone they end up moving him this summer if they can find some sort of reasonable package.

I got one! Bulls get Drew Gooden from Cleveland. Cleveland gets Mike Miller from Memphis. Memphis gets Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khyapa from the Bulls and either Devon or Shannon Brown from the Cavs. --Matt A., San Carlos, Calif.

Well, forget Khryapa. The Bulls always have had a modicum of interest in Gooden, but with Thomas so young and I think eventually best at power forward, I'd probably keep him for now and see if there is more development.

Have you noticed that there has been a significant improvement with Kirk Hinrich's play since Thabo Sefolosha has been his running mate. He has been shooting at a 46% clip, averaging 19.6 points while still averaging a very respectable 5.8 assists per game. Do you think this is in direct correlation with Thabo starting next to him and guarding the bigger guards and being able to conserve more energy or has it been the fact that Ben and Deng have been out with injuries? --James Strons, Naperville, Ill.

Thabo has been showing he can play and before Hinrich was hurt, moving off covering the big guards, which we've long discussed, has had to help. Is Thabo good enough to be their shooting guard is the question. Defensively he is, but he needs to score a bit more and increase his shooting range. But he is starting to show the promise most had hoped for him.

Next time you see John Paxson, please tell him we are not attached to these guys. He can make a trade and it won't hurt our feelings. Really. It's not like these guys are the '95-'96 Bulls. Remind him that none of them has made the All-Star team. --John, Montana

I believe he has figured that out. It is interesting because last season when I suggested trades fans were generally furious and didn't want anything changed. They generally liked the core and wanted it to stay together. I don't get many of those emails anymore.

In the last 16 years (I have followed the NBA only since the great Luc Longley joined the league) 15 championships have been won by teams containing one or more great players (my definition of great player is NBA's top 50 or a modern equivalent). The Pistons are the only team that broke that mold. Of those 15 championships, the Bulls won six with Jordan (who they drafted) and Pippen (draft day trade); two were won by the Rockets, both with Olajuwon (drafted) and one with Drexler (acquired); three by the Lakers with Kobe (drafted) and Shaq (acquired); and four by the Spurs, all with Duncan (drafted) and two with Robinson (drafted). I don't know too much of the years BL (before Luc) but I do know that the Lakers won a few with Magic (drafted) and Kareem (acquired) and the Celtics won a few with Bird (drafted). Doesn't history show that to win a championship almost always requires at least one great player drafted by the franchise? If that's the case, shouldn't the Bulls be resting all those poor banged up players, playing the kids and trading for draft picks and not players? --Peter Johnson, Perth, Australia

I have to admit you have a keen insight as we generally view all that's happened in the NBA as AL and PL, meaning before Luc and after Luc. It's an interesting premise, but perhaps you missed that the Bulls have been doing almost nothing but drafting in the lottery for the last decade. Most of those players you mention were No. 1 overall picks, of which the Bulls had one, Elton Brand. The Bulls have made some good picks and some poor ones. It depends more on luck and having a high pick in the right year. This doesn't yet look like that kind of draft. How many more decades can a team spend in the lottery? Though I admire your patience. As Luc used to say, mate, "Heck with practice, let's hit the surf."

Do you think by resting BG, Kirk, and Luol with injuries, the Bulls are a.) getting their young guys meaningful minutes and b.) quietly resting their starters for a second half push for the playoffs since they are in a tie with NJ for the last playoff spot? --Carey, New York

I believe the Bulls would like all three to be playing. As Scott Skiles used to say, this Bulls team didn't do anything to the point it should take another team for granted. Playing their best players didn't exactly put them in position for the playoffs. This team hardly can afford to give anyone a handicap.

I'm a little confused about the timing of the Viktor Khryapa buy out. I understand that he was barely used and didn't want to be here anymore, but doesn't the timing of this seem a little odd? With the Bulls having as many injuries as they have right now, why wouldn't they wait to buy him out when more of the players are healthy? --Brian Brewster, Springfield, Ill.

I suppose, but Viktor had pretty much checked out. He was begging to be released. Look, here was a guy who'd rather be in a gulag than playing for the Bulls. OK, not quite that, but he preferred Russia to Chicago. The Bulls coaches treated this guy badly for almost two years. I'm glad management went along. He hardly would have made much difference and wasn't going to be with the team next season. What was the point? Leave Thomas out there, or Noah.

I believe the Bulls need a good PG and the Raptors need a solid SF. Would a Ford for Nocioni or Deng deal make sense to you? --Stan Grossman, Toronto, Canada

No. The Bulls passed on Ford once when they took Hinrich. They were privately concerned then about his health and hardly would take such a chance now. Unfortunately for the Raptors, Ford has almost no value now as teams fear he could be seriously injured on their watch.

Shouldn't the Bulls go after Jermaine O'Neal as their primary target? He would be a good low-post scoring threat and we wouldn't have to give up any major pieces. Maybe Tyrus Thomas and Ben Gordon. --Paul, Scottsdale, Ariz.

He's certainly available, so why hasn't he been traded? Well, he's one of the five highest paid players in the NBA and is almost constantly out with knees so troublesome he hasn't been able to practice regularly for years. Not exactly the way to build your franchise.

Would the Bulls do with Ben Wallace what Phoenix did with Kurt Thomas: give away draft picks to get rid of his contract? I'd rather see Noah and Gray. --Brian, Bolingbrook, Ill.

I don't see that occurring. The Bulls certainly are not giving away picks to entice someone to take him on. The Suns did that to stay under the luxury tax ceiling and save millions. You suggest it for basketball reasons. I do believe Ben would have some value with a better team playing more off the ball. But his value is down so much now because of the poor season he's almost impossible to move. The best chance is if the Bulls make the playoffs and he has a decent series.

Why are you criticizing the Shaq deal that little ol' you proposed at the end of last season? This is a fantastic deal for the Phoenix Suns and is the worst news for the other Western Conference contenders. Shaq has typically been reluctant to assert himself in meaningless games throughout his career. I don't think this year with Miami indicates where Shaq is really at in terms of what he is capable of with another championship possibility on the line. Shaq will open up the Suns perimeter players, give Amare Stoudemire an opportunity to play more unrestricted, and provide the toughness that the Suns are said to lack. They will be an unstoppable machine. --Jeff, Arlington Heights, Ill.

Thanks for remembering. I did suggest it last May, though to the Mavs, who despite Mark Cuban's lying about it apparently were also trying to do the deal. As I've thought about it more, I believe it deserves a chance and am eager to see it. Having watched Shaq this season, I mostly thought no one would take his deal and they'd eventually have to buy him out. But I also believe Shaq will try harder in this situation. And as I watched the Suns this season and began to hear more and more about internal discontent, I began to believe they'd have a hard time getting to the Finals. Without Kurt Thomas they were too small and relied too much on Stoudemire to rebound, which he isn't always interested in. I still have my doubts, but can see why they would do it and can understand. I do think it makes the West more interesting as well as the Suns for now. I was tweaking, by the way, not criticizing.

After the acquisition of Pau Gasol, I'm still not convinced that the Lakers are a championship caliber team, despite what many experts have said recently. Lamar Odom isn't playing anywhere near his potential, Gasol himself has never been a winner in Memphis and Andrew Bynum is still unproven, even though he was having a great season until his injury. Therefore, I believe the Lakers should try and make a run for Jason Kidd again. He would bring the Lakers the much needed experience to make a deep run in the playoffs. I wouldn't include Bynum in any deal, as the Lakers wouldn't pull the trigger awhile back and is starting to develop into a wonderful player. So how would a deal that included Lamar Odom, Chris Mihm, and Jordan Farmar sound? --Long Tu, Chicago

It's an interesting thought, though I have heard the Lakers aren't particularly enamored of Kidd and believe he's slowing down and not worth the huge extension he reportedly is demanding if he is traded.

How is Elton Brand's recovery is coming along and what would it take to get him for the Bulls if at all possible. Assuming he is healthy, his low post scoring ability is probably enough to get the Bulls back to a winning record. --Karl Roderich, London, England

A. I'm told Elton is coming along well and talk to him on occasion. He remains one of my favorite people ever in sports and one of the best people in the NBA. I believe he stays with the Clippers one more season and doesn't opt out because of the severity of the injury and then becomes a sign and trade possibility in 2009 if he decides not to resign with the Clippers, who want him back. I'm saying he tries to go to Miami and Miami lets Shawn Marion go, though Pat Riley says they intend to keep Marion for the long haul. Of course, he also said that about Shaq a few weeks ago.

Enjoyed the that followed the Warriors game. Seemed like a bit of an apology of sorts. Do you feel like you perhaps judged the young fella a bit too quickly? I do. --Travis Smith, Burlington, Vt.

I grew up in New York listening to Howard Cosell's radio show "Speaking of Sports." He did a five-minute show on local radio and I was transfixed by his bombast and pomposity. His phrase even then was Telling it Like it Is. I never had strong feelings one way or another on Tyrus. When he acted badly, I wrote about it; when he didn't, I wrote about it. I'm often amused by fans who take any "negative" story as a personal attack. Fans scream for inside stuff and what really goes on and what the players are like and then get mad when you tell them. I judged Tyrus as he was then and judge him as he is now. Then I go home and stick pins in my Jerry Krause doll.

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