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Dream Team was good, but best ever?

Contrary to popular belief, Bulls.com’s Sam Smith says the 1992 Dream Team that easily won the gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona 20 years ago is not the best team ever.
Michael Jordan was in his prime, fresh off the Bulls' second championship run when he joined Larry Bird and Magic Johnson on the Dream Team. But Bird was at the end of his career and struggling with a bad back, while Magic had been away from the game of basketball for a year after announcing he had the HIV virus.
(Neil Leifer/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

One of the nice NBA features last week was the NBA TV documentary on the 1992 Dream Team. Given it was 20 years ago, it was a good viewing for a lot of fans who didn’t see much of that team. But I also need to straighten something out. It is my role as a dinosaur who actually worked for a real newspaper at one time: It wasn’t the greatest team ever assembled. It was a very good team, sure. But it was more like one of those traveling shows of ancient artifacts from Egypt. They are amazing to see after having heard so much about pharaohs and treasures. That’s what the NBA was to Europe two decades ago, legendary treasures.

The U.S. produced that with Michael Jordan, who hardly was ancient. But there was Larry Bird, who had retired and was playing only for the tournament with his bad back, and Magic Johnson, who had left the NBA with the HIV virus. Johnson hadn’t played for a year. He eventually would return, but would never be close to the same player. John Stockton was hurt and didn’t play much and Isiah Thomas was left out. So the team basically had no point guard. Chris Mullin was their only true perimeter shooter as guards Jordan and Clyde Drexler shot below 30 percent on threes in the tournament even with the shorter line. Patrick Ewing and David Robinson were good, but most wouldn’t have them on the list of the 10 best centers ever. The league’s best center, Hakeem Olajuwon, was ineligible at the time as he was not yet a U.S. citizen. So you had high level forward rotation with Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen.

It was a terrific team. But, no, without perimeter shooting, true point guard play and without a truly transcendent center, it’s difficult to see how it could have been the best team ever assembled.

Might Bulls trade into the lottery?

-- Though I’ve come up with some scenarios that could lead to a trade of Luol Deng, there remains the question of his torn wrist ligaments and whether he could even pass a trade physical. I mentioned a few weeks back a potential with the Kings, who seem like the only lottery team that could afford to wait in their long pursuit of a small forward. What seemed to be reasonable for both teams was the Bulls getting the No. 5 pick and then saving money so they could sign a guard. Afterward, some suggested the Bulls should trade Joakim Noah to the Kings, though there’s no way the Kings are giving up the pick and Tyreke Evans. And they don’t even need a center. But one team that does and has been desperately seeking one is the Rockets. The talk is they’ll make another run at Pau Gasol and maybe even get into the Dwight Howard sweepstakes whether Howard will resign with them or not. After all, maybe they figure after one season in Houston he’ll see the mosquitoes are only the size of rats compared with the size of eagles in Orlando. The Howard saga has been quiet with the Finals. But next week it figures to blow wide open again. The Rockets, meanwhile, have eyed restricted free agent Omer Asik at times. And while I’ve generally maintained keeping the bigs is a Bulls’ edge, perhaps they should look at a move with the Rockets. Though maybe the guy should be Noah. The Bulls can match offers on Asik, who basically is not worth the money the few minutes he plays as a fourth big behind Noah, Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer. Is that a luxury the Bulls can afford with Derrick Rose out? Maybe it is. There’s talk of the Bulls trading into the lottery, though that seems unlikely with so many top small forwards said to be available, like Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala and Danny Granger. Maybe the place to aim is the Rockets with picks Nos. 14 and 16 and word they have no intention of using both. You get a shot at a good young big at one of the picks and then maybe you land with sign and trade possibilities Kyle Lowry or Goran Dragic and Courtney Lee, the latter a longtime Bulls favorite in trade rumors. Richard Hamilton could be in the deal, which also saves some money and maybe you can land a veteran big like Marcus Camby or Sam Dalembert for a year. If the Rockets can’t get Howard or Gasol, Noah would look pretty good to them. Though you’d hate to lose his energy and what he brings. I haven’t heard any word the Bulls have interest in trading Noah. But Houston may be the place to look if they want to deal and move up in the draft.

Thoughts on the NBA Finals

-- Though Kendrick Perkins had excellent numbers with 10 points and 12 rebounds in the Thunder’s Game 3 loss Sunday, I thought it was a big surprise he finished the game instead of Serge Ibaka. Miami seemed to me to take advantage of Perkins’ slow movement in the pick and roll to get open lanes. Perkins’ lack of jumping ability also results in an inability to finish on offense and enables Miami to attack the basket with shot blocker Ibaka out. I’d rather even see Nick Collison as he seems to fit better against the Heat matchups. I will say coach Scott Brooks disagreed with me vehemently. And he does know his team better. Meanwhile, those also were two brutal fouls on three point shooters when the Thunder got that 10-point third quarter lead. Though the big missing person has been James Harden, who isn’t particularly a good defender. He’s not out there for that, though they certainly could have let that last foul go as it seemed LeBron James pushed off as much. Attention conspiracy buffs! Harden, meanwhile, is averaging just 11.7 in the Finals, about five points below his season average. Of course, 15 of 24 free throw shooting for the league’s best free throw shooting team doesn’t hurt. Looks like they watched too many Bulls playoff games. In Game 2, the Thunder was 19 of 26 from the line and lost by four. While LeBron James already has attempted more free throws than in last season’s six Finals games. James is driving and posting more, but Dallas also played more zone and kept the Heat on the outside more. If I were the Thunder I’d also rather see Thabo Sefolosha out there instead of Derek Fisher. Yes, Fisher makes a shot on occasion, but Sefolosha’s defense on Dwyane Wade and LeBron James is much more vital. Yes, James and Wade were good (Hello! Stay down on that shot fake!). But they sure get a lot of continuation calls. Of course, everyone in the league said that about Michael Jordan in the 90’s.

Celtics could pursue Bulls’ Asik

-- The Celtics are one the teams said to be considering a strong offer to Bulls center Asik. The thinking is it might help them retain Kevin Garnett, who though playing very well at center the second half of the season doesn’t want to return as a center. ... There was much debate about that non-call on LeBron James against Kevin Durant in the last shot of the Miami Game 2 win. Durant and the Thunder didn’t complain much, but these things are pretty routine to let go at the end of games. Ask the Hornets, who saw Michael Jordan pin Hersey Hawkins’ arms to prevent a final shot that would have evened the 1995 first round playoff series. Hawkins’ layup came up short and the Bulls won Game 4 85-84 to end the series. As Jordan then said there was no call so it wasn’t a foul. And it wasn’t why the Hornets lost the game or series. Same with the Thunder in Game 2.

NBA news and notes

-- So maybe Noah wasn’t quite a game time decision after that Game 3 sprained ankle in the first round playoff series. Noah told renowned French journalist for Lequipe Liliane Trevisan he has yet to be able to play any basketball and his ankle still bothers him. “He told me he couldn't even run normally,” Trevisan wrote by email. She said Noah still is seeing foot specialists. It remains possible Noah will not be able to play for France. It’s troubling times for the French team as Tony Parker suffered an eye injury in a bar melee (he said he can play). The Mavs also are trying to get Rodrigue Beaubois not to play for France after he was seriously injured in international play two years ago. Luol Deng is sitting out some pre-Olympic games as a precaution with his bad wrist. ... It’s not the usual formula for success, but the Heat has used seven different starting lineups in the playoffs and five different starting centers in the playoffs. So much for having that set rotation. Miami seems set now up 2-1 on the Thunder with Chris Bosh at center (sort of) and LeBron James at power/small forward. It’s a unique lineup, but it is the Heat’s best, especially with someone finally making open shots, it surprisingly being Shane Battier. Battier is an amazing 11 of 15 on threes and averaging almost 15 points, about triple what he’d been averaging in the playoffs. This was the Heat’s plan in signing first Mike Miller and then Battier to big contracts. It made sense to have shooters off James and Dwyane Wade. It hasn’t worked for two years until now as neither could make shots. Battier’s play appears an exception as he made Rick St. Jean’s rogues gallery of the players in the league who failed to shoot 40 percent on field goals or threes this season. They are led by Battier and include Daniel Gibson, Jason Kidd, Josh Howard, Lamar Odom, Kemba Walker, Micheal Pietrus, Jamal Crawford, Quentin Richardson, Andray Blatche, Tyrus Thomas, Andres Nocioni, Steve Blake, J.J. Berea, Ron Artest, Iman Shumpert, Eric Bledsoe, Rashard Lewis, Travis Outlaw, Jimmer Fredette, C.J. Miles, D.J. Augustin, Stephen Jackson, Wesley Johnson, J.R. Smith, Coreg Maggette, Will Bynum, Shawne Williams, Ricky Rubio and Derek Fisher.

-- There’s been much fashion discussion in these NBA Finals with Russell Westbrook’s shirts to what Dwyane Wade called the “nerd” glasses he and others have worn that don’t have lenses. Those of us who wear glasses to see have had difficulty seeing the fashion statement in it, though trends generally escape the elderly. The Wall Street Journal in what generally passes for investigative reporting in this era reported the trend was started by Japanese teenage girls a few years back. Not that it needs to be on his Hall of Fame plaque, but I recall Scottie Pippen wearing them in the 90’s, and yes, he looked as stupid as Wade, James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook do now.

-- California former billionaire Robert Pera, who has an agreement to purchase the Grizzlies, recently had the value of stock in his company drop two thirds. If he does complete the deal, you have to think he’d want to stay out of the luxury tax and would be more likely to make Rudy Gay available to a team with cap room and he No. 2 pick like the Bobcats. With the losses, though, he is said to still be worth $980 million. ... The Thunder was much criticized after Game 3 for just 11 assists with the complaint of too much one on one play and jump shooting by Durant and Westbrook. The Thunder had 14 in the Game 2 loss. But Miami has had 13 each in the Games 2 and 3 wins. ... With Durant in foul trouble the last two games, it seems likely the Thunder will take him off LeBron James, which is too bad as you like to see the two best going at one another. It should be reason enough to end this six foul elimination rule. Award free throws and let the best players play.

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