I was just wondering what you thought of David Halberstam? Did you ever work with him much, especially when he was writing 'Playing for Keeps'? I remember reading it -- the only Halberstam book I've ever read, unfortunately -- and thought it was just fantastic. For someone to have been able to write insightfully about topics as disparate as the Vietnam War and the Chicago Bulls, he must've been really something. I wonder if there are any particular memories you have of him? --Prashant Rao, London

I consider myself fortunate that I got to spend time with him when he was writing that book, sharing a few dinners and some plane rides. They were some of the best times I had working in journalism. It's a rare treat to have the kind of job I do. Though it becomes part of your life, you get to meet and know people most others consider special. I've played golf with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, went hiking with Phil Jackson and dined with Larry Bird. I worked in Washington, D.C. in politics in the 1970s and was in the Oval Office to interview Jimmy Carter and at a party at Ted Kennedy's house.

It was such a treat to get to know Halberstam because I've found there are very few people I considered truly smart and special. He was one. I read his books on government, the media and Vietnam, which inspired me in college and thought his basketball book "Breaks of the Game" about the 1978 Portland Trailblazers was the best sports book I ever read. I never thought much about writing books since I loved daily journalism so much, but when I started writing "The Jordan Rules" in 1991, I patterned it after "Breaks."

When I met Halberstam over dinner, I told him that. He asked if I had a copy. I still had my old, dog-eared paperback. (Back then I couldn't afford hard covers.) He said to send it to me and sent it back with an inscription about hoping someday I could write a book like that. It was really clever and thoughtful of him. He always had time for young journalists and though I hardly was young, I called him a few times in recent years and he always was eager to provide help and advice and would always ask me to look him up when I was in New York. I wish I had more chances. He was the best and the brightest.

How about New Jersey trading Richard Jefferson for Zach Randolph? The Nets need a low-post scorer to complement Nenad Krstic, while Portland deemed Randolph expendable with the play of LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers don't have a small forward worthy of playing time on the roster, because Martell Webster and Darius Miles have been busts, and Ime Udoka is a nice defensive piece, but should not be getting Bruce Bowen minutes. It seems like a good fit for both teams. --Andrew Janoff, Livingston, N.J.

A man--or youngster--after my own heart. With the Bulls doing so well, I haven't had to offer my potential help. Though there are 29 other teams in need. I think that's a great possibility and really makes sense because it serves the needs of both teams. It's easy to throw out names, but it seems clear the Nets want to cash in Jefferson for some inside strength. They were in serious talks with the Bulls for Luol Deng last summer. And the Trailblazers, no matter what they say publicly, would love to dump Randolph and get something useful. The risk to the Nets is Randolph runs with a tough crowd and being so close to New York could be a disaster. But I can see the teams talking about it.

This might seem like a silly idea, but do you think the Bulls might have tanked their last regular-season game against New Jersey to get Miami in Round 1? It seems that Paxson built the team to match up better against Miami and Detroit more than teams like Orlando and New Jersey, which could be why those teams give us more trouble. Plus playing the Heat provided a national TV audience for an under-appreciated Bulls team. Face it--if they were playing the Nets as the 2 seed they'd be banished to NBA-TV like the Cavs. And people wouldn't take the Bulls as seriously if they got to the Eastern Conference Finals by avoiding the Cavs and Heat (assuming the Pistons would have won that bracket). I think the Bulls got exactly what they wanted, and can avoid New Jersey until a possible matchup in the Eastern Conference finals, when the Bulls would again have home court. --Chris, Dubuque, Iowa

I can assure you there were no such thoughts, though I know based on your thinking you believe there was someone on the grassy knoll in Dallas and the government and mob were involved. Management and the staff were furious with the team after that loss since that bracket seemed almost a certain run to the conference finals. It's winning that matters, not how artfully it's done. In talking to people around the Bulls for the weeks before the playoffs, the one matchup they privately wanted to avoid was Miami. And though they don't believe in them and neither do I, if there were conspiracies, wouldn't it be to get Shaq and Wade in the conference finals instead of a team without an All Star? The Bulls felt they could play the Heat because of the way they played them last year and were on the brink of a 3-2 lead. They also thought Wade was playing possum the way he was dunking in the final game of the regular season. They felt he was due for a breakout against them. The players were devastated about that Nets loss at the next practice, but they are resilient and once they got into the series knew they were better.

I take issue with some of your comments regarding Tim Duncan. I thought Tim Duncan's job was to win basketball games, not entertain the media. But I guess, according to you, I was wrong. Did it ever occur to you that maybe the reason Duncan is so on guard with the press is that he is concerned that his words and his actions will be misrepresented by the media? Shocking as it might be, the media do that on occasion. How do you know Duncan isn't having any fun? Because he's not doing a dog and pony show for you after every game. You have nothing to base your assumptions on other than your dislike of this player. Nobody plays in the NBA for 10 years unless they like it. For a man who has succeeded at just about everything he's pursued, Duncan cannot win. If he doesn't get arrested or talk smack, then his style of play is boring; his personality is boring. Why don't the all the media just get a petition and order Duncan's retirement since he is such a plague on the league? By the way, I never want to hear Duncan's name mentioned when you in the media get on your self righteous high horse and claim that players would be better off going to college instead of moving straight into the NBA. Duncan stayed in college four years, graduated with honors and all it got him was a boring style of play, a boring personality and a litany of criticism from hacks like you. --Bonnie Foust, Boston

Wow, you are angry. Still upset the Celtics dumped a season in 1997 and couldn't get him. This pertains to a response to an email last week. Frankly, my dear, none of us truly give a damn if Tim Duncan talks to anyone. Here's what I wrote about Duncan, which I hardly saw an as attack: "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." Not a bad guy, as I wrote. I was making my point about Duncan going the extra yard to help cause someone lose his job by misinterpreting (from everything I've been able to find out about the exchange) Joey Crawford talking about fighting. Duncan had one ejection in his career before that. It hardly seems he's been targeted by Crawford. But I've dealt with that already. I try to give fans insights here that they can't get elsewhere and mostly don't get in the newspaper because of the declining space and limits on what I can do. No one doesn't admire Duncan as a player and good citizen. He is patently unfriendly and unhelpful with media and it's hard to understand why. Brent Barry engages constantly and have you ever seen him misquoted or hurt by what he said? The media tries to be fair and ask perhaps 10 minutes of Duncan after games and practices. It hardly seems like too much. But if he doesn't care to do that, no one condemns him for it. I feel sad for him that he can't seem to enjoy talking about the game and his game. Watch the media interviews. It's not like the questions are difficult or personal. "So, Tim, how did it feel?" I've never known anyone in the media to call Duncan a hack. Though if you are talking with my golf game, I have no quarrel as truth is the ultimate defense.

I know this topic has been beaten to death, but if the Bulls lose in the second round to Detroit, do you think Paxson will be content and make no changes in the off-season? I'm a huge fan of Pau Gasol, but if that trade were to materialize, who would you deal to get him? Every article I've read points to the fact that Gasol would be everything the Bulls need plus would be the perfect complement to Ben Wallace. So, if you were Paxson, would you make a trade this summer for Gasol (assuming the Bulls lose in the second round)? If yes, then who would be part of the package (including any of our draft picks)? --Mayur Thaker, Chicago

Very few teams see ahead very well when they are successful and the pressure is to come back with what you have. It hurt Miami. If the Bulls were to lose to Detroit, they would have made a big step and be on the verge the way Miami and Detroit appear to be aging. I think the way things are going the Bulls will want to stand pat with much of their core, perhaps other than Nocioni. It's also key where the draft pick from the Knicks is. If it's Top 3, it changes everything because they'll have something of great appeal and could revisit Gasol. I don't think they want to continue bringing rookies in given how close they appear to be. Even if the pick goes to the bottom of the Top 10, I think they'll still be active in trade talks, though not with Gordon, Hinrich or Deng.

Sam, I know its tough to get on Scott Skiles. However, I still feel that Larry Brown can be the type of "closer" that the Bulls need to get to the next level. I know he had 23 wins with the Knicks--but really with Marbury, Francis, Rose, overweight Curry, Crawford, etc. He was blessed to get 23 wins. So, Brown to Chicago, how about it? --JYD, Jersey City, N.J.

Yikes! That's one thing I know for sure will never, ever happen. There's no reason to get on Skiles, especially the way he came out of the Miami series with Pat Riley trying and failing to counter everything the Bulls did. I still believe Brown can be a credible coach somewhere, but he is hell on young players, of which the Bulls have many, and had big time problems with Ben Wallace, who helped lead the internal rebellion that got Brown his buyout in Detroit after he went looking for a job in midseason. He would be the last guy the Bulls would ever consider if they lose Skiles.

You receive quite a few e-mails bashing Hinrich. Do these people watch basketball? Is he not flashy enough? If the Bulls didn't have him to do the bulk of the ball handling they would be not nearly as good. When Gordon is tasked with handling the rock bad things tend to happen: dribble into someone's chest, mysteriously fall down or throw a pass that would get him the hook in an AAU game. Gordon is a special player but if one player has symbolized the Bulls turn around over the last few years it has to be Hinrich. --Russell Hammer, La Crosse, Wis.

I'm not sure he's the one player. It's more an ensemble: Deng's work to improve, Gordon's willingness to take big shots and Hinrich's relentless play. What bothers some people and the Bulls at well at times is Hinrich isn't the classic point guard decision maker. But I think he makes up with it with relentless play on defense and a willingless to step up and be an offensive threat. I don't see anyone asked to work as hard as he is and I consider him an invaluable player.

If the Bulls were to get the fifth or sixth pick in the draft, what do you think about drafting Brandan Wright from North Carolina? I think he, Tyrus Thomas and Luol Deng would form a very formidable front court (freakishly athletic albeit a bit small) for years to come. The Bulls would not have a traditional center, but the way the game is evolving, I believe that this proposed front court would wreck havoc on the rest of the NBA. --Dave, Chicago

It is interesting to consider the possibilities of the evolution of the game we see with the Bulls and Golden State Warriors in the playoffs. It is actually the Atlanta Hawks model and while no one wants to model themselves after them, the idea isn't bad: to get a team filled with long, 6-8 athletes to play every position. It was somewhat in vogue when Penny Hardaway came along to play point guard for Orlando before his knee problems and, of course, Magic Johnson. Like the Bulls with Chandler and Curry, the theory was good, it was the application. Atlanta just has the wrong guys. But it's an interesting and, I think, good concept, especially on defense since you can switch every pick and roll and make it tough for the NBA's basic play. Though the way the lottery works, either the Bulls get one of the top three picks or move down to the 9-10 area. The word is Wright goes in the Top five after Oden and Durant. But Paxson still is old school and I think believes in having the post big man.

With P.J.'s pending departure, the Bulls will need a big guy to play with Ben Wallace next season. What are your thoughts on the Bulls signing a big guy like Darko Milicic? --Derik Deliar, Miami, Fla.