Sam Smith's NBA mailbag
I know NBA players are all rich and have their own posses and all, but can you tell me what Bulls players are particularly close friends? They work together on a daily basis so some of them must be friendlier than others. Are there any players who seem to noticeably dislike each other? --Cameron, Chicago

I don't get the sense there are enemies. But it's not a close team. It's not unusual in this era, but most players have not what you'd call posses in the Allen Iverson mode but friends whom they, in effect, hire to drive them around or do errands. The players make so much money it's nothing to have a guy around you pay $100,000 to keep your car running while you are at practice. You rarely see Bulls players out together on the road. Occasionally I've seen Hinrich and Duhon together and Deng and Nocioni are neighbors, but you don't hear of much socializing away from the arena. If I had to guess, I couldn't point to any two who appear to be close friends, though they all seem to get along reasonably well.

This year is incredibly frustrating, but what will be more disappointing is if we keep playing sub .500 ball while not developing young talent like Tyrus, Thabo, Gray and Noah, and missing an opportunity to get back into the lottery. A first-round stomping by the Celtics is not a better option than seeing if we have anything worthwhile in Thomas and taking a chance at getting a high draft pick like Derrick Rose. I believe fans will appreciate this realistic approach to the 2008 season much more than an unrealistic stumbling towards the last and final playoff spot. I know this frustrated season ticket holder surely would. --Smash, Chicago

I still find it difficult to wrap myself around still another draft. Yes, Rose looks like he'd be good to have and the power forward from Kansas State, Michael Beasley, seems like he could be a good one. But with young players and rookies, unless they are exceptional, and there are doubts about this class, you take a step back and have to get going again. You also have to get lucky in the lottery, which the Bulls haven't in the past, or pick the right draft class to be bad. Perhaps that's the only option for the Bulls now. Though I don't think you have to blow up the team. I still think there's a core of talent there.

Where would the Bulls be if Jay Williams never crashed his bike and if Elton Brand never got traded to Los Angeles Clippers? --Paul Finan, Hillsborough, N.J.

But they did and they were. There are too many what if's. I don't think Jay was ready for the NBA then and I think would eventually have been traded. Elton's been terrific, though with injuries and bad luck he hasn't advanced very far in the playoffs, either. Neither was really the huge star the Bulls-or any team-would most need.

I would like to know your thoughts on why the Bulls have not groomed Kirk Hinrich in to a true point guard role? I think the frequent moving around from the 1 to the 2 spot and the requirement for him to guard the other team's best player (regardless of size) has reduced his development. Start Sefolosha at the 2 and have him guard the likes of (Bryant, Pierce, Joe Johnson) --Mike S., St. Charles, Ill.

I believe that is one change you are starting to see. Some believe Kirk never can be a true point guard since he really wasn't one in college and doesn't have the ultimate point guard instincts. It's one of those positions you really do not teach. Don Nelson was the latest trying it with Monta Ellis and gave up. You either see the floor and the plays ahead of time or you don't. Kirk is more the old fashioned combo guard like a Danny Ainge and has shown of late that without having to defend those bigger players he can be more effective.

Why not Vince Carter? Sure he is not what he used to be, but neither is Hinrich. Carter has been great before and he could have quite a bit left in him. What are we gonna lose? --Josh, Knoxville, Tenn.

The Nets have been trying to trade Carter almost since they gave him an extension and now look like they'll have to deal Kidd and begin changing their team. You may have heard Magic Johnson on TNT last week saying Carter's knees are shot. Carter denied it, but doesn't jump like he did. I've never been a big fan because he's always preferred to avoid contact and stay on the perimeter. Now I think he has to. He's got three years after this at about $16 mil per. He's aging fast and breaking down. Other than that, hey let's deal.

How do you think Earl Boykins would fit with the Bulls? Yes, I know he is 5-5 but we are short already. He has a consistent shot and last year averaged around 14 ppg. I think he would be a good edition off the bench instead of Duhon. --Kevin K., Illinois

I might ignore him just because he was dumb enough to walk away from $3 million and can't find a team. He's not a point guard. He's a little guy who likes to shoot. The Bulls have that job filled.

Do you think there's any way the Bulls might be able to swipe Jose Calderon from the Raptors this summer? He's a free agent and they've already invested so much in T.J. Ford. --Adam, Berkeley, Calif.

No way. It would be quite the crowd. Calderon has quietly become a terrific point guard and even if T.J. Ford returns, I see Calderon getting the majority of the time. He's no secret anymore and could even get some coach support this week as an All-Star reserve.

There is talk weekly about how bad it was to give up Tyson Chandler. How would you compare Noah's game to Chandler currently? Do you think Noah has a higher ceiling? --K.C., Dallas

I like Noah, even if it's not mutual. He's told friends he needs to stay away from the media and seems to be blaming media members for some of his team issues of late. But he's been a spoiled kid in some respects and is growing up fast. He had no idea what the NBA was about. He thought it was just a richer version of college. He knows better now. He's different than Chandler in that he probably will never be quite the rebounder, but he can be a better defender. Like Chandler, he'll need time to put on weight and gain strength, but he'll get there. He has what the Bulls have missed with Thomas and Wallace: Size.

Did you get a chance to hear Jim Boylan's post-game interview regarding Noah's emergence and Wallace's bench sitting? He said it was because of game dynamics and Ben was still playing great, noting his five boards for the game. FIVE BOARDS!?!? I mean c'mon. We all know Boylan is trying to remain on Ben's good side, but don't just read off a stat sheet (which he was doing) to read insignificant numbers and claim the guy is playing "terrific." I would rather have listened to Dana Jacobson "roasting." --Jorge, Tinley Park, Ill.

Boylan has committed to this and he has to ride it out. It's sad when you bring in a guy and pay him $60 million (when his own team wouldn't pay him nearly as much) and you have to cater to him like that just to get him to play. Boylan apparently witnessed first hand how Wallace undermined Skiles and figured his only chance was to as you say remain on his good side. So he's thrown in with Wallace, but it's not getting him anywhere. It's probably time he sat down Wallace, though that may be coming out of necessity if the team doesn't make a big turnaround on the upcoming Western Conference road trip.

What is with the obsession with Pau Gasol? OK, he's a big who can score. However, he's definitely not a superstar, and he's not tough. The last time the Bulls traded for a mid-level superstar who fit those qualifications (Jalen Rose), it cost them Ron Artest, Brad Miller, and other parts of the core, and the team still floundered. I'd almost rather see the Bulls pick up someone like Jason Kidd, who at least is willing to drive to the basket once in a while and make his teammates better, even though he isn't a big. Am I nuts for thinking that taking the best player off a team with a worse record than the Bulls isn't the answer? --Chris Feldman, Dubuque, Iowa