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Are you going to go my way?

Many of the NBA's stars have transcendent talent, but they lack the will and desire to stand up for anything but their own comfort. You wish somewhere along the way someone was able to coach and teach them, but they probably never had the desire or inclination.
Reigning NBA MVP Derrick Rose is a competitor. He never wants someone special. He didn’t go chasing after LeBron. Same with Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City. They’re good, and like the good kid at the playground, just give him four guys and he’ll figure it out. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

You ask around the NBA the old question about which player you’d pick if you were starting a team and the general answer is LeBron James or Dwight Howard. I’d pick Derrick Rose, and I’ll explain later why that is not just personal bias.

The irony, of course, is if James and Howard were to start a team they’d look for someone else, which basically LeBron did in joining Dwyane Wade in Miami and that Howard is attempting now in demanding to be traded where there is an All-Star.

This is generally accepted practice in the NBA now, but it really is a symbol of the basketball world creating a society of non-competitors.

Oh sure, they are talented, perhaps more so than any athletes in history. But the basketball system is now producing, though not in all cases, a generation of players who don’t know how to compete and generally don’t want to because they never had to.

Consider how you get to the NBA: You go to open enrollment high school so that if you don’t like it or the coach you transfer. Tyson Chandler attended five high schools. LeBron played at the lowest level high school league in Ohio so his buddies could be on the team. Then you play AAU ball in which you join with your buddies or switch teams on a whim if there are too many demands or you can make more elsewhere. Then it’s college for one year in which the coach can barely say a word to you on the hope you might stay a second season.

So then you go to the NBA and things don’t work out for you and you demand to leave your team and join your friends elsewhere, or find a team with better players to play there. I’ve heard this question run by Bird and Magic and Jordan and Russell and they all don’t quite understand why you don’t just say that you’re the best so you’ll win anywhere.

Yes, Kobe ranted about leaving, but more as a reaction against management. He ran Shaq out. He always knew he could win. He’s a competitor. Rose is too. He never wants someone special. He didn’t go chasing after LeBron. Same with Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City. They’re good, and like the good kid at the playground, just give him four guys and he’ll figure it out.

But it’s not often that way anymore as Chris Paul is the latest helping turn the NBA into the AAU. It’s not completely their fault, but he’s another who doesn’t know how to compete, whose sense of entitlement transcends the ability to compete. He needs the easy way out because that’s always the way it’s been and it worked out fine. That’s the real problem the NBA faces. Many of its stars have transcendent talent, but they lack the will and desire to stand up for anything but their own comfort. You wish somewhere along the way someone was able to coach and teach them, but they probably never had the desire or inclination. And so they keep searching for the easy way.

Little reason for Orlando to trade Howard in short-term

-- Several NBA executives and insiders are scratching their heads about what the Magic is up to with Dwight Howard. Actually, the feeling of some is what the Lakers did with Kobe Bryant a few years back when there were daily rumors about trading Kobe to the Bulls. While the Lakers made some inquiries, they mostly left it up to Kobe’s agent to fish around and try to put together deals. In fact, they had no intention of trading Kobe and were mostly trying to humor him and then come back and say, in fairness, they tried but there was nothing. And, then, wha-la, they come up with Pau Gasol and Kobe says, “Leave? Me?”

Not that the Magic is expecting that with Howard, but as one insider said, “You have to rush to trade for Brook Lopez? You can do that any time you want. And they’ll drive him there.”

The belief of several executives is the Magic intend to keep Howard, at least for now, and why wouldn’t they? First of all, they have a pretty good team. They can start Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick in the backcourt with resigned Jason Richardson at small forward, rugged Baby Davis at power forward with Howard. That’s a 50-win type team in a regular 82-game season. And say Dwyane Wade gets hurt. That team isn’t better than Miami? That’s a pair of shooters around Howard with some athleticism and toughness and shooter Ryan Anderson off the bench. Plus, a very good coach.

Not to be indelicate, but the patriarch of the ownership family, Rich DeVos, is 85 and has had serious health issues. Do you think he wants to start rebuilding now? And with a new arena. Also, you can always do a sign-and-trade with Howard after the season. He’s not likely to walk away on you leaving you nothing because the teams he wants to go to may not have cap room and he’d have to lose some $25 million. So you can get Brook Lopez if you have to then. The point is there is zero reason to trade Howard now. If you’re Orlando, you’ll be awful. You’ve got the All-Star game coming this season, who’s coming to watch Lopez grab his three rebounds, and it’s not too late to be good and perhaps have someone fall into your lap to improve the team. Just like the 2007 Lakers. Like Kobe, Howard can kick and scream, but where’s he going to play? I think he’d still like that prorated $18 million he’s being paid this season to make half his free throws.

It’s about Billups now

-- And now Chauncey Billups has gone nuts. That was a remarkable interview over the weekend with Yahoo Sports in which Billups, given amnesty by the Knicks so they could sign Tyson Chandler, was quoted as saying “A leader can be as disruptive as productive. It’s about me now. People take my kindness and professionalism for weakness. They think I’ll be OK with this. I won’t be OK with this. I’m tired of being the glue guy.” Among other things. Wow!

Billups probably was caught at the wrong time and was overly emotional, but he basically suggested he might throw games or who knows what if he doesn’t get his way. Nice message to the young players of the league from a veteran and Finals MVP who, by the way, had his career saved from the scrap heap by the Pistons after being traded three times in his first four season. And who by the way had his $14.2 million option for this season picked up as a good will gesture by the Knicks. By any account, they should have given him the $4 million buyout. So they gave him $10 million — say it slowly, Ten Million Dollars — for nothing and he’s enraged. He says he’ll retire. Sure, and give up almost $10 million. Yeah, right. It’s an honor to play professional basketball. Anywhere. So Billups doesn’t want to submit to the waiver process so he can join the Miami Heat. He’ll play. Some team ought to pick him up. It would be an embarrassment not to. So you want people to come to games and support your league and you act like that, threatening to destroy a team because all you are getting is $14 million to play for an NBA team you don’t care to play for? Again, these guys are doing more damage to the NBA than any labor situation ever could. Shame on you, Chauncey. I do remember when you were a classy guy. But the memory is getting fuzzy.

NBA news and notes

-- It sounds like that alleged multi-team deal to get Jamal Crawford to the Knicks was just someone’s imagination and when the music stops Jamal could be the one without a seat. If the Grizzlies go ahead and trade O.J. Mayo to the Pacers, Crawford, seeking substantially more than the mid level exception, could be left without a team with cap room or sign and trade possibilities. ... Kurt Thomas must be awfully brave to take on the Portland big man curse. Really, I don’t believe in this stuff. But forget Bill Walton and Sam Bowie. Greg Oden likely is out for the season again. LaMarcus Aldridge is out for a few weeks — hopefully just that — with the recurrence of a heart condition. Joel Przybilla went out last season and they brought in Jeff Pendergraph and he suffered a season ending knee injury in camp. Really, this can’t be a coincidence any more. Portland had hoped to bring back Przybilla, but going with Thomas suggests Przybilla is standing by his desire to stay in the Midwest and has said he wants to play for the Bucks if he continues to play. But if the Bucks don’t bite the Bulls could make a pitch as GM Gar Forman said Sunday with the loss of Thomas the Bulls are back on the market for a backup big man. Others available include Francisco Elson, Alexis Ajinca, Malik Allen, Erick Dampier, Theo Ratliff, Etan Thomas and Solomon Jones. Brian Scalabrine should also be on the roster. ... I haven’t heard any talk of offers for free agent Kris Humphries, who had a terrific season for the Nets. You wonder if teams are scared off after that awful marriage scam he fell for and has been late night TV joke fodder. If so, he should sue that crazy Kardashian family for fraud and loss of earnings.

-- Lots of wondering how exactly that will work in Boston as coach Doc Rivers told media: “Kevin’s (Garnett) going to play 5 (center) this year anyway at times. I wouldn’t be shocked if half his minutes are at that position. I’m not worried about that. I think that at this point in his career it’s not a bad spot for him.” It’s interesting because Garnett is known to not exactly revel in contact, which is how he developed that fallaway jumper. .... Nice thinking by Jeff Green, who rejected an almost $50 million deal from the Thunder last season, which got him traded to Boston and to be a reserve and now on a one-year $9 million deal. It’s the McLean Stevenson (he left MASH after one season) career school of negotiating. He’s joining a group of players now counting on getting lucky in the 2012 free agent class. ... With taking on Lamar Odom, who has a year left and a partial guarantee for next season and not paying Tyson Chandler or Caron Butler, it appears the Mavs are pretty much just trying to get by this season and then go big for a star in 2012. If they can move either Shawn Marion or Brendan Haywood they’ll be well under the cap with perhaps a shot at Dallas native Deron Williams and maybe even Howard as well. Actually, it’s a smart plan. You have your ring, it’s a short season, tickets are sold already, so look for 2012-13 to do something and forget this season. Someone will say it needs an asterisk, anyway. ... With David West and Tyler Hansbrough at power forward, Danny Granger at small forward and adding George Hill in the backcourt from San Antonio, the Pacers seem in line to make the big jump in the East this season. ... My early vote is for Eddy Curry for Most Improved. Maybe just wishing. He’s had a tough enough go so far.

-- They’re not exactly happy stories. Perhaps bizarre may be better, but there was Charlie Bell, since on amnesty, allegedly showing up for a drunk driving court appearance apparently drunk. Geez. And there was Magic CEO Bob Vander Weide resigning and it turned out he had a few drinks after midnight and dialed Dwight Howard to, well, chat. Eeek. Vander Wiede denied he was drunk, though I’d have said it was the Orlando TV reporter at the next day press conference who grilled Vander Wiede by demanding: "Do you recall saying 'Me and Otis and Stan we don't want you to go anywhere. We suck without you. Everyone knows. We've got nothing else. Orlando is a terrible place, and we've got the Amway thing, but who the (crap) cares?' Do you recall saying any of that?" It turns out the reporter was questioning what she read was Vander Wiede’s conversation with Howard. Actually, it was what the website Deadspin imagined in a parody what the conversation might have been like. Really, that you can’t make up.

-- After having the Bulls pay them last year to take Kirk Hinrich to get further under the cap, the Wizards got paid from the Knicks and given Ronny Turiaf so they could get under the cap to sign Tyson Chandler. Same old story, Washington taking all the money, eh? ... Some interesting rules changes with the tenths on the shot clocks starting at five seconds now, more ejection flagrant twos when a player is hit while in the air and no automatic fouls on that “rip through” move in which a player gets free throws or throwing his hand up with the ball through a defenders arms. Dwyane Wade’s average should drop at least four points. ... Mike Brown sizing up his small forward on the opening of camp: “Metta is a little overweight.” I always had trouble calling Lloyd, World B. as well. Mr. World Peace seems the early favorite for the “Shawn Kemp I didn’t think there’d be a season” overeating award. Not that the former Ron isn’t serious or involved in the Middle East process, but he told L.A. media he may have different personalities now: "I don't know yet. If I could write a book and make some money, I'll say they're different people." ... Having money to spend and desire, the big loser so far seems to be Golden State, where no one seems to want their money. You figure Monta Ellis is still available as often as his name has come up. ... Some little known facts about Ricky Rubio thanks to Minneapolis media: He marveled at how large bags of chips are in the United States, and admitted he was so impressed by the elaborate costumes of a few trick-or-treaters in Hollywood that he wanted to get his picture taken with them. Rubio also passed on the indoor skyway system which connects all the downtown buildings to walk to practice at the Target Center. But he couldn’t get in because no one ever goes outside on Minneapolis and no one was there to open the outside door.

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