So this is what you really want to ask Sam: Did it occur to you the season started a few weeks ago and camp about seven weeks ago, genius?
Well, I'm not sure you noticed, but when we took the motto "World's Greatest Newspaper" off the front page, we replaced it with "It's news when we say it is." Not actually, and I've got to be careful as I don't want to run down our value while we're on the market. In fact, if anyone's got about $10 billion, you can have this column and I'll also write advice to the lovelorn. My advice: Love this game. And don't look at me that way or I'll give you a technical foul.
NBA season has begun! People have questions!" This kind of screaming still goes on in newsrooms, which is why the job is so much fun. But enough about me. What do you think about me answering some questions?
A tale of two Bens. One can take over offensively and one defensively. One is part of a young core that is going into its third year together while the other is a veteran adjusting to a new team. Both have started the year off with some inconsistency, are undersized for their position and are keys for the Bulls getting deep into the playoffs. Which one will be dispensable at the end of this year? I think I know. --Peter, San Francisco, Calif.
Me, me, call on me. I think I know as well. The Ben Gordon saga is going to play out all season. The majority of the emails I've gotten thus far are about Gordon. I'd say the most last season were about Gordon, as well. I've noticed they're leaning more now to wondering if he'll ever become a true star shooting guard. That is a tough job with the act you have to follow here. And I don't mean Jamal Crawford. Last season when I'd come up with trade scenarios regarding Gordon, the general consensus was, "Lay off!" Now it's more, "OK, what can we get?" It seems clear Gordon is best suited to be that energy sixth man, and I think he could be great in that role. But he seems to want to be a starter and even talked about being a starting point guard. I think with a chance to sign a new contract after the season, he'll want chances for minutes. Though at the same time, I believe he is a team player and wants the best for the team. That ambivalence will haunt him and the team all season. I don't see the Bulls doing anything, but if they don't make a big move in the playoffs, he figures to be gone.
I know it's a little early, but do you think John Paxson will sign Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni and Ben Gordon to long-term deals or maybe one player will not get extended? I know I'm looking ahead, but do you know any of the '07 free agents the Bulls might be interested in pursuing? --Aaron, Waipahu, Hawaii
That's the real issue and why there'll be trade talk around the Bulls all season. It's possible they could offer all three extensions, but I doubt it. It certainly will depend on the post season. If they get hot and make a run to the Finals, yes, they'd keep everyone and probably go into the luxury tax. Anything short of that, I'd say they don't resign all three. It's why I've talked about trades already. Well, that's one reason. You figure they'll let P.J. Brown and Michael Sweetney go after this season, but with Ben Wallace and Kirk Hinrich's extension, both starting high and going down in later years, they won't be a player in free agency after this season. They're looking for help from the chance to swap No. 1 picks with the Knicks and hopefully get a high enough pick for one of the young big guys.
Normally I like reading your articles but your , mocking a retirement is so unprofessional I do not even know where to begin. If I were Ben Wallace, I would boycott any future interactions with you because you have shown your complete lack of expertise or knowledge for the game of basketball. He has played in a handful of games and you are writing articles like this? You are a complete and utter joke to the journalistic profession and I cannot wait until you retire so your lack of knowledge can cease to cover my beloved Bulls. --John Doe, San Diego, Calif.
So there is a John Doe. I know where your library card is. So, c'mon, how do you really feel? I was having some fun with Ben and it was clear I was joking. Yes, there is some truth in all jokes. Well, maybe not the ones about peanut butter. But the point is these are big fellas. When you take the big money and want the starring role in sports, there are responsibilities to perform. When you don't, and it would be hard to say Wallace was doing much more than coasting through the first five games, it's appropriate that it be pointed out. I felt I was the man for the job. There's a line I draw in journalism. Personal is out of bounds. You don't take cheap shots about family or physical characteristics, but anything on the court is not out of bounds. This hustle guy wasn't making much of a difference in games. Perhaps it was like the old sledge hammer to kill an ant, but it seemed to get his attention, though he vehemently denied it after conveniently having his best game of the season. Ben always has been best playing with a chip on his shoulder. So maybe I helped a little in putting it back, but he's a prideful guy and I don't expect he'll need anyone's help much.
I know you have gone through countless trade scenarios before involving Corey Maggette and everyone one of them sounds like the Bulls are getting the short end of the deal with your proposal of sending one of our starters, Deng, and the first round draft pick from NY (which could be the No. 1 pick) to the L.A. Clippers. I know that cap space is also a reason why you came up with this trade, but, seriously, do you think that a player who doesn't even start on the Clippers is worth that much? If I were Elgin Baylor, I would take that in a heartbeat? --Ryan, Des Plaines, Ill.
I probably wouldn't do Deng, and I never suggested trading the pick without some protection if Greg Oden or Joakim Noah are available. But the Bulls need reliable scoring and Corey can score. And no matter what he says, I don't see him satisfied in a reserve role there. Yes, he takes some wild shots and plays a bit head down at times. I think Skiles could help with that. The larger issue is it's becoming clear that Wallace is going to be declining in the coming seasons. If the Bulls want to get the most from him and make a run, they'll need another scorer. Oddly, to me anyway, the Clippers seem intent on keeping Maggette.
I am furious. "There's a lot of hype the guys have to deal with.." - are you kidding me? That's what we get from a coach kissing up to his underachievers? Pass me a hanky and give Chicago fans directions to the Bulls pity party. I admit, I never was and never will be a Skiles fan. His results, or, rather lack of, speak for themselves. Aren't we dealing here with a total lack of concept of what this team should be about? At the moment I'll spare Pax; I think he put an interesting team together, but isn't it time for him to turn up heat on the coaching staff? --Robert, Chicago
Wow, people are angry at everyone already. Actually, you don't hear Skiles covering for guys much. And I know he doesn't at all behind closed doors. There aren't many coaches as willing to speak openly about their players' flaws. Phil Jackson, certainly, and Jeff Van Gundy, of course, who's been told this season by management to ease off. I am a bit surprised Skiles has so often offered up the excuse of eight new players. But I believe he truly likes the team and for the first time, with Curry and Chandler gone, feels a part of picking the roster. He didn't like them, as we know. So I think he wants to give them a chance and is struggling himself with playing a deep roster, which is untraditional in the NBA. But he isn't the kind to be patient too long, as we see already with lineup changes and heat on the rookies. I think he's done well with this team thus far and I think his style of play is among the best in the league. But, like them, he'll begin to be judged more closely in the playoffs.
It has been hard not to notice the scoring numbers/energy that J.R. Smith has been putting up/demonstrating -- he made a steal and went the length of the court for a power dunk in a TNT game last week -- in early games for the Nuggets. Is that the same J.R. Smith that the Bulls picked up and promptly traded away? Given the difficulty the Bulls have in scoring, did they give up too soon on Mr. Smith? --Terry Tyrpin, Schaumburg, Ill.
This is the other question I'm getting a lot. The Bulls needed a big, athletic two guard, and got one and, boom, he was gone. This is one issue the Bulls will be held up to scrutiny on. Thus far they've been right in most cases. Remember, no one gets them all right. But they go for work ethic and chemistry over talent. They'll take talent, too, but it's not the top of the list. Perhaps it never gets you to the title, but you usually have to be lucky with a star for that. They want guys who want to play basketball, and I agree with that. You want motivated players since you'll be paying them at some point. They concentrate on players who would play if you didn't pay them. Not every one of their players is like that, but they have a lot. Smith was known for a lack of commitment to the game, and they just didn't want to take a chance. Plus, it's not like he was going to play ahead of Gordon, anyway. Would he have sat and worked and earned his spot if Ben faded, as he has early? They didn't think so and I don't disagree. He is an appealing talent, but I also don't see the defensive commitment.
Is Zach Randolph still on the trading block? I know he is a troublemaker, but could he play for a tough, fellow MSU alum like coach Skiles? Perhaps PJ Brown's contract plus Deng or Nocioni and a protected pick would do it. The Bulls would have a low-post threat to complement the perimeter players while Thomas develops. --Tom S., Miami Beach
I wince hearing about this one, but it's been pointed out by several people. Randolph is a heck of a post-up scorer. He started the season well and has been scoring big. Though they talk about him in Portland, I can't believe they wouldn't move his big contract in a heartbeat. By the way, it averages about $14.6 million for the next five years. I don't believe the Bulls would take that on. And I wouldn't want him. He's a classic case of going for talent over character, which the Bulls haven't done. If they do, you'll know they've become desperate. Guys like him who have had so many incidents are too dangerous to take a chance on. I've always felt I'd rather lose than have players like that around.
You've said in the past that you think Ben Gordon would fit nicely in Phoenix alongside Steve Nash on the fast break. Could the Bulls trade Gordon for Raja Bell? The former might fit better in the Suns offense and the latter could start at the two for the Bulls. In fact, the Bulls, with Bell and Hinrich, would probably have the best defensive back court in the league. --Ryan Gustafson, Chicago
Good one. I wish I'd thought of that. I'm burning a good column here, but I could see both sides interested in that one. Bell's big and a good defender and with the Suns, why bother if hardly anyone else is going to play defense? He can also make a three. He's not great putting the ball on the floor, but neither was Reggie Miller. I do think Ben would blossom in that system because they get a lot of shots up and Steve Nash draws defenders, leaving plenty of open shots. I can see Ben getting 25 a game there. And the emphasis is hardly on defense. Bell fits the Bulls drive-and-kick style reasonably well and could defend the two's. I've heard he's not all that thrilled these days. If I'm the Bulls, I'm going for that one. If they pull it off, I say we get co-GM's of the year. Me for not stealing your idea.