What have you done with the real Sam Smith? The Sam Smith I know certainly didn't write suggesting the Bulls actually wait and not pull the trigger on a Kobe Bryant deal. The burner's hot. Kobe's in his prime NOW. The East is infinitely winnable NOW. Kobe's done his part -- he's lowered his trade value by speaking out against the Lakers and he has veto powers to put the brakes on any trade that would render the Bulls gutted in the process. The Lakers aren't going to keep an unhappy superstar and risk getting nothing in return when he hits free agency. They'll make one more token attempt to placate Kobe (Shawn Marion?) and if Kobe says 'too little, too late' the Bulls are the front runners and it's not even close when you look at the garbage the Knicks have to offer. And given we're bidding against ourselves, there's no reason to offer Gordon and Deng in a package. The time for Pax to act is now. Tweak the current team of over-achievers and you'll continually see a playoff team that can't win the big one. The Pistons championship teams excluded, you win with stars in this league. Let's strike while the coals are hot. Now - whoever you are - untie Sam Smith and let him work out the terms of the deal. Gordon, a sign and trade of either Noce or PJ Brown, the No. 9 pick and cap filler for Kobe and the Lakers' first-round pick is a good start. --Dan Marshe, Wheaton, Ill.


The thing I like to remember about the Celtics is that for a while, they had a backcourt of Bill Sharman, Bob Cousy, K.C. Jones and Sam Jones. I have seen many guard rotations since, but never one that came even close to that. --Richard Bentley, Tucson, Ariz.

It's why you can't compare eras. They'd be overwhelmed in this era. They were all midgets. I think Sam was the giant at about 6-2 or 6-3. Any of the backcourts with Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan would dominate them on paper because they'd have no one to guard the big guys. Could they play Frazier and Monroe? Isiah, Joe Dumars and Vinnie Johnson were small as well, but awfully good with two Hall of Famers. What about Jason Kidd and Vince Carter? Could those guys guard them. Kidd is bigger than them all. They were the elite rotation of their era, but it would be hard to match them much beyond.

What do you think about Bulls trading for Shareef Abdur-Rahim? I still think he is a good player who has some injuries but would help us with our biggest problem. What would it take for us to get him? --Larry, Ringwood, Ill.

I think the Bulls have moved on from there. He's had increasing knee issues, and while his contract isn't big and the Kings are in turmoil, I don't see him being able to play their active style defense or truly be their offensive option going on 31. But I really do like the guy and he's a classy person and if they could pick him up as a backup, I think it would be great.

Where would some of last year's top choices go in this year's draft, like Tyrus and Thabo? And who do you think has a chance to get the Maciej Lampe Award (or Brady Quinn Award) for dropping the farthest in draft position from the expectation of the mock-availlians? My guess (and I know it hurts) is someone like Noah. --Paul, Houston

I'd say Tyrus would go about four or five and Thabo about where he was in the teens. You are right about Lampe, though I had gotten word late and moved him down. It's interesting the way scouting sometimes works. A lot of NBA teams haven't been good on Europe, and were getting burned with the likes of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. So they started to overreact. ESPN did a smart thing and started sending a reporter on international trips. Apparently to justify the expense, he's file reports ravings about these big guys like Lampe and some big stiff Podkolzin, how they were going to revolutionize the game. Several GM's had seen film and talked to their scouts, but after being burned, they'd go running off to Europe and come back fuming. I remember talking to one of the GM's when he returned and all he would say was like that jeep driver in the original MASH: "God damn, ESPN, God damn ESPN." ESPN, I noticed has pretty much stopped such international reporting. I wonder also about Brandan Wright, who has rejected working out against other players. Sometimes agents force this, though real competitors won't allow it. Could you see Jordan or Magic refusing to play against someone? Also, he's young and inexperienced, so I can see him dropping some. I agree with Noah, who doesn't have long arms and can't shoot much. But the talent thins quite a bit by 10, so I couldn't see him falling much farther.

I don't understand this talk about getting rid of the conferences. The reason explicated is that the West is better than the East so the finals aren't as competitive as they could be. But there is nothing inherently "flawed" about dividing a league into two conferences: baseball, football, and hockey do it and no one is proposing to eliminate the AL and NL. Just because the West is better right now we should radically change the playoff format? It does not strike me as obvious that there is anything fundamentally different about the game of basketball that renders a two-conference system unworkable. --Alex Hartzler, Evanston, Ill.

Explicated? You sure you're reading the Tribune? Most of our editors are stuck on two syllables. I've been like you in the past (minus the big words), figuring there was no big deal and it would be cyclical. But what's so important about east and west? Why not north and south or shaved and bald? Explicated and elucidated? The finals have been a poor ending for the NBA season for most of the last decade and don't show much promise of changing in the next decade. Why not make it better? Who is going to complain and who is going to be hurt, other than the teams that want to get to the finals without playing the best teams? That's not the American way.

Do you think Minnesota would become a trade partner in a three-way Kobe deal? Minnesota is listening to offers for Garnett. So you could then send Gordon, Noce, PJ Brown, and the No. 9 to Minnesota. Kobe would come to Chicago, and then Garnett goes to LA. LA gets another superstar to fill the seats while getting rid of an unhappy Bryant, Minnesota gets younger talented players, and Chicago gets a superstar. I'm no basketball expert, so my logic could be flawed. --Eric B., Rockford, Ill.

If you were an expert, we'd be sure your logic would be flawed. Let's see if I get this straight: You give up Kobe for Garnett, who never has done anything, won anything, and seems quite content missing the playoffs every year. And after holding out all these years with Garnett you end up with Gordon and Nocioni? Other than that...

We've talked for years about Kevin Garnett being traded to the Bulls. Would he come here voluntarily? I mean, if he opts out of his contract next summer and is a free agent, is Chicago someplace he'd really want to play if it's his choice? --Chris Feldman, Dubuque, Iowa.

I actually doubt it. I still think he'd like to end up in L.A., where he lives. I'm guessing he's had enough of winters and great lakes. But you begin to wonder about the guy. I know Kobe's actions have been embarrassing, but at least he wants to play in the playoffs and compete. You get the sense Garnett is happy to end his season in April and have a long off-season.

We in Portland are tired of all your discussion of Randolph. There is no truth to your stories and quite frankly, Shaq was right, you have no credibility. The truth is that the Bulls need an inside scorer. Unfortunately, Randolph has not as yet been offered to the Bulls. End of story. --Rob KaSavage, Portland, Ore.

I love all these emails about sending Randolph to the Bulls from Portland people. Must be some star. Though next time I'm at a strip club on the way to a funeral while taking a leave from my team, I'll have Zach call you.

If you were Atlanta, would you trade the No. 3 and 11 picks for Pau Gasol? Billy Knight was the one who drafted Pau and I'm almost sure he'd do it in a heartbeat. Memphis could draft Horford third and Conley fourth, and possibly Noah 11th or another scorer. Would you do it if you were the Grizzlies/Atlanta? -- Demetrius Mitchell, Memphis, Tenn.

Actually, I have heard this, though with everything going on now, it could have been from a guy with a phone camera standing next to Kobe on a deli line as an old man was returning soup. I would do it if I were Memphis and put an exciting bunch of young talent in the floor. If you could pry away Lowery from Memphis in the deal to play point, I like the deal, though I'm not sure how Pau is that much happier with the Hawks.

What if Bryant pushes the Lakers management for a trade that would send him to the Bulls? What would Paxson's reaction be knowing Bryant wanted to be on the Bulls more than any other team? Would he really pull the trigger on such a trade? I can't help but think that Paxson has something up his sleeve this draft or off-season. Working out Mike Conley at 6-1 ... c'mon man!! That's just a Jerry West move waiting to happen. --Ray, The Hague, Netherlands