Ask Sam Smith

I was wondering if you could update the status of Bulls players from the Tim Floyd era? Elton Brand is with the Clippers and Ron Artest with the Kings, but I am interested in finding out where some of the players that assembled the worst Bulls teams of all time ended up. --Tony, Evanston

There are way too many to remember. With Floyd having success in the NCAA tournament, we were just talking around the Bulls of the big Elton Brand trade. Floyd was the one pushing it the hardest at the time, despite what he says now, though I doubt drafting two high schoolers was his idea of what they'd go for after trading Brand. He used to come up with more trades per week than Larry Brown, always trying to reshape the roster. The general feeling was Krause was up for the deal and jumped on it when Floyd heartily agreed, though someone was telling me after the draft Floyd was having second thoughts and wondered if Chandler would be the next Mikki Moore.

As we said every day he coached in the NBA, Tim is an excellent college coach. When you look at the players Tim had, you can see why he was a lousy pro coach. The teams shouldn't have been as bad. With Brand, Artest, Fred Hoiberg, Michael Ruffin and even Hersey Hawkins and B.J. Armstrong at the end, that was no 17-win team in 1999-2000 and with Brand and Artest in their second seasons in 2000-01 along with Jamal Crawford, Marcus Fizer, Hoiberg, Brad Miller and Jake Voskuhl, that might have been one of the worst coaching jobs ever for that team to win 15 games in a pretty weak East, in which Milwaukee led by Glenn Robinson was the second best team.

Chandler is with the Hornets, Curry and Crawford with the Knicks, Hoiberg retired with a heart problem and is a Timberwolves executive, Charles Oakley hangs around with Michael Jordan, Ron Artest, well, who knows from day to day, Ron Mercer, Corey Benjamin, A.J. Guyton, who knows. Fizer plays in Europe, so does Dalibor Bagaric and Dragan Tarlac, Miller is with Artest in Sacramento, Voskuhl is in Charlotte, Eddie Robinson is in the NBDL, Trenton Hassell is with the Timberwolves.

With the playoffs just around the corner, which teams do you think the Bulls best match up against? Who do we want to see most? --Michael Choi, Burke, Va.

This is going to change almost daily. I believe the best matchup is Washington because of their injuries and defense, which amazingly, continues to get worse. I know they beat the Bulls in the playoffs two seasons ago, but I think they've regressed and remain undisciplined with Gilbert Arenas. Probably next is Toronto given the lack of playoff experience, the Bulls success against them for years and now a succession of injuries and illness to their rookies. Actually, they probably become the best matchup with Jorge Garbajosa now gone with a broken leg. If Orlando could get to seven, you'd want to get to second since they are awful. I assume New Jersey makes the playoffs, but they could be tough with Kidd having a great season. Also, the Pacers seem about to give up for the season, but if they make the playoffs, you'd want them. Other than Orlando, there's probably no real easy matchup and while the Bulls will be favorites in the first round, the East is so open they could lose a first round matchup if their shots aren't falling.

After Wilt, where is Bill Walton in your ranking of all-time centers? --Florida Jim, Viera, Fla.

If not for the agony of the feet, as it were. I think hardly anyone knows Bill Walton's career anymore, though there's a terrific show on UCLA's dynasty on HBO that gives a glimpse. Walton was the Sandy Koufax of basketball. For six years, there probably wasn't a better pitcher in baseball history. And then he was gone. Walton absolutely dominated Kareem in big games. He's known now for his bold and often outrageous TV style, but had he stayed healthy--a ridiculous idea since he had more than 30 foot operations--he might have been the best player ever. He was the perfect center, rebounding high like Tim Duncan--Duncan looks like some AAU dropout on fundamentals compared with Walton--shooting, handling, outlet passing, seeing the court like a point guard with the dominance of a center. You had to see him in the '70s to know. When he made that miracle comeback with the Celtics for one season, he wasn't near the player he was. If you could make the perfect player, with enthusiasm, drive, heart, commitment, all the intangibles, and with size given it is a big man's game, it would be Walton.

Does John Paxson scout outside of the Final Four? With the exception of Thabo Sefolosha every one of his draft picks played in the previous year's Final Four. Up until last year, they played in the previous year's National Championship game. So for fun, of the players left in the Final Four, whom do you think would be the best fit for the Bulls? Roy Hibbert has nice size, but seems like a project offensively. --Louie Correa, Indianapolis

I think there's a reason for that, and it has worked out. Bulls players come in more ready than most and have been better citizens, comfortable with discipline and hard work after staying in tough, high-quality programs. It's too early to say. Tyler Hansbrough fits their hard working profile and there aren't exactly NBA-ready post players after the top pick in the draft. Jeff Green from Georgetown is intriguing. Tiago Splitter? I doubt it. Get back to me in June.

Who is the better ball handler at this point of their career, Luol Deng or Ben Gordon? I know, it's kind of like the New Hampshire beauty contest. Gordon certainly looks sloppy at times handling the ball, but he does a better job of breaking down his defender off the dribble and getting to the line. Luol often looks stiff and awkward when he tries dribble penetration, but is great within the structure of the offense. Can you be a go-to guy when you can't create your own shot? So when it comes to ball handling, who's your tallest midget? I would still trade Luol in the off-season for a post player like KG or JO. I think Paxson should sell high on Luol, before his deficiencies are exposed. --Bob, Chicago

Are you sure you're not a New Englander? Yes, sigh, Ben, though I don't think you'd want him running your team. They criticize Kirk Hinrich for his decision making, and he isn't the best when the game is slower. But Ben does a lot of dribbling between his legs while standing still, which I hate. He can find a guy coming off a screen, but you can see him trying to think. Actually, he still makes the better play for himself off the dribble, and handles well enough to do that. And does it impressively well. The off-season is going to depend on the playoffs. Out in one and everyone is available. Make it to the conference finals and there'll just be some tweaking and more patience while waiting for Shaq and the Pistons to age.

Do you think Luol Deng can be an All Star next season? What do you think he can and must improve? --Simone, Milan, Italy

Deng is opening some eyes around the NBA, but not until he has a good playoff run. So it's almost there. He'll work on his shooting range and post-ups, but has a solid game inside 20 feet now, which is rare for someone that young.

The Bulls need depth on the front line. Did they try to get Randolph Morris? Why would he go to the Knicks over the Bulls? --Alan Rubenstein, Glenview, Ill.

Everyone in New York never understands why anyone goes anywhere but New York. As a native, keep the secret. Let them keep thinking it is the place to be while everyone in the U.S. but New Yorkers enjoys a quality of life. How about this one: The Bulls, with almost a third of the payroll of the Knicks, didn't have the salary space. The NBA has a soft cap, which means there are exceptions. One is the biannual. Because the Bulls were under the cap last summer, they had no exceptions. The Knicks had their biannual and were able to use part on Morris to pay him more than the Bulls could have. They did look into it, but were essentially outbid and there was nothing they could do.

With all the talk of the Bulls getting that low-post presence they need this off-season no one mentions Rashard Lewis, who had said he is going to opt out of his contract. I think he would be a perfect fit for the Bulls if they could pull a sign and trade for Noce and next year's No. 1. --Ryan, Evergreen Park, Ill.

For one thing, Lewis is more a perimeter player who sits on the three-point line and is among the leaders in three-point attempts. Also, the Bulls will not be under the cap after signing Ben Wallace last summer. He, essentially, was their final big free agent signing. Now, it's trades and players who might sign for the salary cap exception, and you can still get a good one there by going out five years.

LI don't want to sound like as if I don't like Tyrus Thomas. I actually think he'll be a good replacement for Ben Wallace, as Big Ben is on the downside of his career. (Ty needs to gain weight though.) But in a fantasy world if Chris Bosh and Shawn Marion were available, the Bulls would take Bosh because he fits the requirement that the Bulls need the most. LaMarcus Aldridge was mostly being compared to Bosh so therefore I thought they should've kept him. --Jesse Miller, Washington, D.C.

The Portland game here this week would back your point. I won't say the Bulls missed on this one, other than in character as Aldridge seem the much better person, because Thomas could be a good player and the eventual replacement for Wallace. It's clear now when the Bulls drafted that was part of their thinking, unbeknownst to the rest of us. But Aldridge looked awfully good, had a high skill level with a good shot and some post-up moves. He is thin, but is said to be a great worker. It's clear also his development will mean they'll trade Zach Randolph, even if he weren't hitting the strip bars during his so-called bereavement leave. His girlfriend's cousin. Did you ever even know you girlfriend's cousin? But Aldridge had that off-season shoulder surgery and were he with a playoff ready team like the Bulls, it is questionable how much time he would have gotten. This is still one that needs to play out for a few seasons. But Aldridge is going to be very good. This isn't Chris Mihm, with whom Texas centers generally are compared.

I'm confused about the home court rule for the playoffs. I know whoever has the best record has home court in the first round, regardless of their seed. But what about in subsequent rounds? Say, for instance, the No. 5 seed played the 3 seed in the conference finals. Would the 5 seed have home court if that team had a better regular season record than the 3 seed? --Tracey, Los Angeles

After the first round, when the division winners are assured of a top-four seed, the home court goes according to record and there is no seeding for winning a division.

How in the world did Gilbert Arenas fall to the 31st pick in the 2001 draft? He was picked after the great Trenton Hassell. He easily is a top five player in the NBA, and for sure the most clutch. Sorry, Kobe. How is it possible that so many experts (I'll exclude you since you don't watch much college basketball) failed to see this guys' talent? --Sam Shulman, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Good, blame it on the NBA guys. There were reasons, and guys do slip to the second round, Mark Price, Carlos Boozer, Dennis Rodman. Gilbert, as we can clearly see, is a bit erratic. Did I say a bit? Big time goofy. But nice goofy, as it turns out. He had a few meltdowns when he first was in Golden State and it wasn't like everyone was after him. Also, he was viewed as a shooting guard and is about 6-2. The pros often make this mistake, looking at a player's size and matching him with an NBA position. It's how some small "big" forwards like Boozer, and this season Paul Millsap, slip through. Look, it's not easy and getting harder because the players don't stay in college very long and the quality of play in college is what community college was in the '80s. But they usually get it right. Try doing the draft yourself sometime and then check it three years later. Karl Malone was picked 13th, Stockton 16th and we all know Michael Jordan wasn't even second, Larry Bird not in the top five.

Say Jay Williams never wanted to ride a motorcycle and he's still with the Bulls. now a veteran. How would he fit in with the current cast as you might project his "unbroken" development in the NBA? --Wayne, M., Madison, Wis.

Tough one because they wouldn't have drafted Hinrich. As I recall that draft, Cartwright was pushing for Jarvis Hayes and B.J. Armstrong for Mickael Pietrus. Michael Sweetney was right in there. I doubt they'd have gone for T.J. Ford. It probably would have been Hayes, Pietrus or Nick Collison. Since Paxson basically off-loaded everyone Krause brought in, I assume Jay would have been part of that. Had he not been hurt, he had a chance to be a little bit of Ford with the speed and Baron Davis with the scoring mentality. I doubt he would have worked under Paxson.

Why is that certain guys always are able to draw fouls seemingly every time they go to the basket? Magette, Arenas, Wade, Iverson, Kobe, LeBron, Carmelo, to name a few. And Jordan was a master. Guys like Hinrich, Deng, Gordon, Nash, Terry, Tinsley, Grant Hill, Josh Smith, Baron Davis and many others never get those calls. Assuming that the refs see and call the same thing each time, is there a technique that the guys who get those calls use? Can it be learned? Or is it simply a question of size. --Miker Lerner, Biloxi, Miss.

I do think it is more learned. I remember Jordan teaching this to Pippen, though not always with great results. I remember sitting with them in the locker room one night before a game in Cleveland and Pippen is complaining about the same thing -- Jordan getting all the calls and he gets none, and Jordan is saying how you have to jump into the guy and cause the contact and hang there. That hang part was the toughest. Anyway, he then gets up and stands Pippen up and now Jordan is dribbling the ball and bouncing into Pippen and then going into a shooting motion. He did it four or five times and then had Pippen try, each time having to say, "No, no, no." Finally, Pippen got it a little. That, by the way, is no longer how NBA locker rooms are. There were no back room trainers' areas like now and places for players to hang out. Everyone sat in the locker room and dressed there. And worked on and discussed the game. I rarely hear much of that anymore. Gordon has become better this season at taking the blow and not collapsing, but it is something you learn with practice.

If the NFL can find good or even great players through several rounds of a draft that draws almost exclusively from athletes in the U.S., why can't the NBA produce at least a really solid first round when it can call on players from around the world? --Joseph, Flynn, Springfield, Ill.

Because the NBA is a way tougher game. Have you ever seen an NBA player 100 pounds over his healthy weight? Maybe 200? Why do you think they stop the game after every play? Even the so-called skilled players run 100 yards and can barely stand. There likely isn't a single NFL player who could even get though an NBA practice. Yes, I know, Michael Sweetney isn't exactly the poster child, but you haven't seen him playing much. The NFL finds good or great NFL players, not necessarily good or great athletes or talent.

Some people seem to think that in a few years, Lebron will want to go to a bigger market team. And perhaps, in a few years, Dwayne Wade will be tired of carrying the aging Heat. What are the chances that one of those guys would want to sign with Chicago (a young, energetic, well-coached team) in a few years? --Hawk Gates, Grand Rapids, Mich.

Well, they won't be young anymore. But the Bulls aren't the only ones. What you're seeing now is a lot of teams structuring their salary cap to have room after the 2009-10 season in case one or both decide to become free agents. Though no one truly knows for sure, the general feeling is James is almost certain to move on given the older team the Cavs have put together and limited likelihood they'll go anywhere in the playoffs. Wade tends to be more loyal and you never can underestimate the powers of Pat Riley. But Wade will make a business decision as well and he's gotten a taste already of winning and likes it.

With the draft coming up and the T-Wolves quite possibly missing the playoffs yet again would they make a trade with the Suns for Shawn Marion, Leandro Barbosa and the Hawks' pick? I shutter to think what a team of Nash, Amare and KG could do. --Bill, Skokie, Ill.

I think the Suns are an interesting possibility. I believe Garnett will push them this summer to get him out, but won't go public knowing he can walk on his own after next season. The Suns have played in fits and starts the last month and not very well since the win in Dallas. The rematch is this Sunday and should tell a lot. They could get the Nuggets in the first round, who could pull an upset with their speed and size. If the Suns go out early, they'll make major changes, or try. That's an intriguing proposition and I think it would be good for the 'wolves with a lottery pick and Barbosa, who is coming on strong and could team with Randy Foye. Way to go!

My family and I were at the Bulls-Nuggets game on March 22 when the Special Olympian fell and had a seizure. My son is still concerned about the man. Could you tell me what happened to him and if he is OK? --Tin Godar, St. Louis

He was taken to the hospital, but the Bulls report he is OK. They don't know what triggered the seizure, but say he is back to his regular routine.

What notable players have not yet played in a playoff game? I know Eddy Curry didn't play when Chicago made the playoffs in the '04-05 season. --Jerry Cantrell, Hoffman Estates, Ill.

Everyone who's been with the Warriors, who haven't been to the playoffs since 1994.

Do you think Jon Scheyer, formerly of Glenbrook North and now playing for Duke, has a shot at the NBA? If so, when would he mostly likely enter the draft -- after his senior year? --Edward Nunez, Lisle, Ill.

I asked a scout recently and he thought he'd have a shot since he has a shot. But he's expected to stay the full four years, which is why Duke should get a lot better. There are also no tears at Duke, from what pros hear, of seeing Josh McRoberts go.

Why is everybody going on and on about how the Bulls need a low-post scorer to compete? Last time I checked, so does almost every other team in the NBA. Only six of the top 20 scorers in the NBA are power forwards or centers. Why isn't anybody pointing to the fact that the Bulls are missing a true 2 guard who can guard the other 14 top scorers in the league effectively? -- Curtis Marquardt, Chicago

There's that, too. Yes, a low-post offensive presence is a wish list for most teams. That's why you want it, because others don't have it. And, yes, the Bulls probably would prefer Gordon to be a sixth man, though Ben isn't exactly on board with that. I think that does remain a big issue that never gets discussed. They don't want Hinrich continually guarding the other team's best guard and don't trust Ben there. Yet, their defense still ranks extremely high. The issue for now is whether the Bulls can raise their game in the playoffs, like most teams do, or whether there isn't another gear there because they play so hard all season, more so than most teams.

With 10 games left in the season and still no return of Andres Nocioni, how do you see the Bulls performing with him if he comes back or without him? --Ken Franks, Carbondale, Ill.

The truth is he's nice to have around and helpful, but is a reserve. The Bulls have been by far one of the league's healthiest teams. If they lost Gordon, Deng or Hinrich, I think that would be a problem. It's one reason why the Bulls should--and might be able to--get something done this season. Because they've been lucky on injuries. Look at Toronto now, Washington most of the season, Cleveland with Hughes always out, the Nets, Bucks, Knicks, who all would have been playoff teams. Nocioni is nice to have and helps, plays well in big games, bothers teams, but he is not one of the essential Bulls.

I've been to 11 games this season. The Trailblazers game was the second time that the Bulls started the game at the east end of the court. All the rest were at the west end. I get used to one system here and they change it. Who or what determines at which basket the Bulls begin the game shooting. --S. Passman, Deerfield, Ill.

The visiting team gets its choice of baskets to defend. Teams usually want to play defense in front of their own bench in the second half so the coach can yell at them more. But it is not universal. Perhaps Nate McMillan realized with Zach Randolph back, there was no point in yelling about defense as Zach wasn't about to play any.

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