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December 31, 1:00 PM ET
Chat with Ric Bucher

Ric Bucher
  (1:02 PM)

Happy New Year's Eve, everybody. Decent turnout and my guess is only about 40 percent of you are half in the bag already -- though I'm sure that could change by the end of our hour together. Just don't throw up on the chaise or in that potted palm -- I only rented them to upgrade the decor.Here we go...

Ric Bucher
  (1:03 PM)

In lieu of the Spurs' fantastic start, we'll go with some questions on them first...

Kelly (Pittsburgh)

Considering how the team is relying on him less and less yet is getting better and better, is there hope to believe that the post-Duncan era might not be quite as bleak for the Spurs as previously thought?

Ric Bucher
  (1:05 PM)

The problem is that the source of their current run is the rejuvenation of Manu Ginobili, and I don't know if you can count on that. The other fly in the ointment is that they're playing an up-tempo, three-point shooting style. It remains to be seen if that works in the postseason. I see SA and Miami in much the same light: teams that are going to rack up a ton of regular-season wins but with a style that doesn't guarantee the same level of postseason success.

Kelly (Pittsburgh)

How hilarious would it be if Pop is the only Spur involved in this year's All-Star game? You think he's annoyed by Craig Sager on the typical night, let see how he handles vapid questioning after being forced away from his vacation to coach a game he finds utterly pointless.

Ric Bucher
  (1:08 PM)

Pop isn't annoyed with the questions as much as the whole circus act, i.e., a coach having to answer questions in the midst of a game. To act in any way that he enjoys or is party to the routine would feel like a betrayal to him. He is more than accommodating in other settings. Though Pop hasn't told me, I would bet the way Sager dresses is part of Pop's annoyance. He is the ultimate behind-the-scenes, no-frills type guy and Sager is, well...let's just say he's not that.

kazo (montreal)

WHy everyone keeps saying they are still not sold on miami??? They've wone 15 out of 16 and most of them in a dominating fashion. I think they showed against the lakers that to overcome size they were exteremely active on defense getting steals and making it awfully tough to get the ball inside.!!

Ric Bucher
  (1:12 PM)

Can't speak for everyone, but the way the pendulum swings on teams at center stage is always amusing to me. The Heat weren't going to be as awful as people thought they were at the start and they're not a lock to be in the Finals because of their recent spurt. They're a very, very good team and their chemistry and defense is impressive. But there are elements that go into being a great playoff team and title contender that they simply don't have -- great post scoring and defense, collective experience under pressure, depth -- that leaves me skeptical, as of now, that they can get out of the East. But we shall see.

zhmort (San Jose)

Do the Suns just need time to complete their in-season training camp and build some chemistry, or has their window finally, truly closed?

Ric Bucher
  (1:15 PM)

The Suns overreacted to the departure of Amare by spending a lot of money on guys who can't do what he did. Their window closed with the Horry chuck and Nash nose gash. That was their time and opportunity. Time to start over.

Jordan (Slinger, WI)

Is Kobe Bryant really slowing down, in your opinion?

Ric Bucher
  (1:17 PM)

Without question. His technical skill allows him to continue to be an impact player, but he's utilizing guile and backing guys down more than ever. Next time you see him beat his guy as well as the second defender and finish at the rim, let me know. He used to do that routinely. Now he scores at the rim when the second defender is late rotating. Otherwise, he's looking to kick it out or lob it for one of their bigs at the rim.

Maxwell (Los Angeles)

Lakers: Over the hump, or just over?

Ric Bucher
  (1:19 PM)

I wouldn't make too much of the win over the Hornets. Or of the three losses. I said at the start of the year, they're in the mode Boston was last year: they know the level they have to play at to win a championship and their whole purpose is to get everybody to the finish line in one piece and relatively fit. Navel-gaze their regular-season production all you want, it's not the measure of who they are.

Ric Bucher
  (1:20 PM)

Let's go rapid-fire for the next 12 minutes. Two lines or less for each question...

Vance (Dallas)

The Mavs have gotten some publicity lately as a potential title contender. Is there any reason for me to think that this version of the Mavs is anything but same song different verse?

Ric Bucher
  (1:21 PM)

I'm with you. The defense has improved with Tyson Chandler, but the same weaknesses that were exploited in last year's playoffs remain to be exploited again.

John C (SF)

Where is Dirk on your MVP list? The Mavs' struggles without him seem to really solidify his case, no?

Ric Bucher
  (1:22 PM)

They played the Spurs pretty well for not having a guy as central to their offense as Dirk is. I have more respect for his game than ever and he's certainly an MVP candidate, but the Mavs' success has more to do with their depth and versatility than Dirk's domination.

Drake (Florida)

Is Dwight thought of as a bad guy by people in the league?

Ric Bucher
  (1:23 PM)

I assume you're asking because of all his Ts. Answer: not at all; he's viewed as still somewhat immature, which can earn a lot of Ts, too.

Ric Bucher
  (1:23 PM)

See how I semi-coloned to stay with my rule?

Norm (Atlanta, GA)

What do you think of the Bucks' chances of making the playoffs? Of doing some damage if they get in?

Ric Bucher
  (1:25 PM)

I like their chance if Bogut's health continues to improve. Don't see them doing any damage - they added a few pieces in the offseason that, I believe, disrupted their chemistry.

Vignesh Sapthagiri Krishnaswamy (NY)

Prediction: How many rings will Kobe retire with?

Ric Bucher
  (1:26 PM)

I'm going to answer this, Vignesh, because I like the question, not because you sent it 40 times. Answer: 6.

Sean (Albany NY)

What teams would be interested in trading for Hamilton, Prince, or any other Pistons? Maybe Tashaun and Ben Gordon to the Bucks for Michael Redd and Larry Sanders. Maybe Rip and Prince to Utah for Kirelinko, Miles, and Fesenko?

Ric Bucher
  (1:27 PM)

The Pistons' problem is that they're in the process of being sold, which means they can't take on any money. They could move Prince easily, but it would have to be for another expiring contract and I don't see another one out there that belongs to a player more useful to Detroit than Prince.

Rich (New Jersey)

The Knicks are 18-14, the 6th best record in the Eastern Conference. Do you think they'll be closer to 42 or 50 wins by seasons end?

Ric Bucher
  (1:28 PM)

Closer to 42. They've had the easiest schedule in the conference so far.

Mike (Cleveland)

Hi Ric, Cleveland sends Varejao to OKC for Harden, Aldrich, and a first rounder. Who says no?

Ric Bucher
  (1:28 PM)

The Cavs. They love Varejao and that package does nothing for them.

JC (Los Angeles)

Happy New Year Buch - It get's old watching PHX pretend like they are still trying to contend while milking the last of Nash's star power to sell some tix. Time to rebuild. What do you think about Nash and Hill to Dallas for Beaubois, Butler, and Ajinca? A hall of fame point guard rotation for Dallas and an excellent young guard to build with for PHX.

Ric Bucher
  (1:30 PM)

I think that would give the Mavs a great 35-and-over 3 v 3 team. Beyond that, it might allow Chandler to set the record for blocked shots because he would get endless opportunities.

Alex (Houston)

Keep hearing the Rockets are VERY active on the trade front and they need a big man desperatly. Who does the grapevine say they are targeting at this point?

Ric Bucher
  (1:31 PM)

The Rockets are always very active. They're looking for a new young superstar around which to build.

Keyon (Houma, LA)

Why do NBA reporters and analysts insist on having an "MVP so far" this early in the season? Can't you guys wait until at least the All-Star break?

Ric Bucher
  (1:38 PM)

Why does that scare you? It's basically a discussion about which player is playing the best and doing the most to help his team win 1/3 into the season. Don't take it as this-is-the-guy-who-is-going-to-win, because it isn't. I'm always amused by anyone who says, "The media shouldn't already be talking about X or Y or Z. Just let it happen and then talk about it." We talk and write about it because fans do -- and if you weren't interested, you wouldn't know we were talking/writing about it. It's your choice to ignore us, always, if the topic is not to your liking/interest.

Sterling (Barrie, ON)

When you say the Heat have no collective experience under pressure, who exactly are you referring to? James and Wade have both been to the finals, Olympics for the Big 3, Arroyo has endless international experience in big pressure games, Chalmers hit one of the biggest shots of the last decade in college ball...

Ric Bucher
  (1:41 PM)

Key word is collective. James, Wade and Bosh couldn't win gold when they were playing together and didn't have Kobe and Kidd to set the tone and organize the team. Even when they were effective, it was because they weren't on the floor at the same time. Some of that is happening now. Teams understand collectively how to operate in big moments. Each guy has to know what he's supposed to do with a game on the line and that generally is only learned by doing it together. They've never had to do that under playoff pressure,especially as much pressure as there is on them now.

John (San Antonio)

Can the Spurs REALLY beat the Lakers in a 7 game series? At some point Kobe would have to stop chucking and realize that Pau is being guarded by a guy who is 6-5 in Blair, right?

Ric Bucher
  (1:43 PM)

The Triangle is an equal-opportunity offense. The most aggressive player(s) get the most shots. It's up to Pau to exploit Blair. He should exploit plenty of matchups and doesn't. That's not on Kobe.



Ric Bucher
  (1:44 PM)

Not at all. JaVale McGee is a nice building block as well.

jj (hayward)

Thoughts on Keith Smart's inconsistent rotations? What is Udoh's ceiling?

Ric Bucher
  (1:46 PM)

They've had injuries galore and they're a mixed bag, still, when it comes to talent. I don't fault Smart for continually searching for combinations that will work. Udoh has had some impressive flashes and I know Warriors' fans think he should play more. What they don't see is when he gets tired and makes all sorts of subtle or not so subtle mistakes. They see the dunk, the blocked shot and other highlights and wonder what's wrong. But after five minutes, he makes more mistakes than highlight plays, which is why he has a short leash.

nick (ny)

If you r the nets do u even do the melo deal with all they r asking for?

Ric Bucher
  (1:48 PM)

It's a fair question. I don't give them five draft picks, but if I can get a superstar -- and for all of Melo's warts, he is still that -- without hocking the franchise's future, I have to do it. Favors, Troy Murphy and a pick or two is not too much.

Jude (Cleveland)

So there is a zero possibility that Carmelo Anthony will stay in Denver in the long-term?

Ric Bucher
  (1:48 PM)


Theodore (Chicago)

I feel Orlando has improved their team with the recent trade, but now have a more traditional lineup. Does that now make them a better matchup for the Bulls?

Ric Bucher
  (1:50 PM)

They already were a tough matchup for the Bulls. I'd say it makes them a tougher matchup for Boston and Miami. I wouldn't call the Hedo/DHoward pick-and-roll traditional, though.

Reggie (ATL)

Should the Hawks look at going after Chris Kaman? We need a Center

Ric Bucher
  (1:51 PM)

Hawks are in an interesting place. I expect them to stand pretty pat with their current team and see if it can take the next step, which, at minimum, is be a threat to go to the conference finals. If that doesn't happen, you'll see some major changes over the summer.

Lior ((Tzafririm Israel))

Wade avg a better defensive stats then LeBron, however ESPN put James 4th in the DPOY ranking instead of Wade (whice is also a mach better on ball defender then James)..why is that?

Ric Bucher
  (1:58 PM)

the most important defensive stats aren't available to the public and as far as I can tell, ESPN doesn't have them, either. Those are deflections and shots challenged/altered. Teams track them but keep all that to themselves. Steals and blocked shots aren't necessarily the measure of good defense -- sometimes they're the exact opposite -- but they're treated as such. Wade and LeBron both still gamble far too much for my tastes to think of them as great defenders. Great defense isn't full of highlights, just hurried or rushed or off-balance shots or the 24-second clock buzzing.

Josh (Knoxville, TN)

Buch, I'm with you on the over-reliance on 3's, but the Spurs are now 8th in defensive efficiency, .8 pts behind Dallas, whom everyone says are playing really good defense. And the Spurs have lost just 2 games this month despite Ginobili's scoring avg dropping by 6 and a half points from November and his shooting percentage dropping from 49% to 40%. The balance actually seems to be increasing for San Antonio.

Ric Bucher
  (2:00 PM)

they are in the middle of the pack with defensive FG percentage. That's really low for a Spurs' team and I can't remember a team that played for a title in recent memory that wasn't in the top 8 in that category.

chris (miami)

you keep saying that miami's dynamic hasn't worked in the postseason- but isn't this team eerily similar to the first 3 peat bulls team? 2 dynamic wings, a very good midrange shooting 4, point gaurds that are only asked to make open jumpers, and revolving, not overly skilled centers.

Ric Bucher
  (2:02 PM)

Not similar because their offense doesn't operate the same way. And don't ever compare LeBron and Wade to Pippen and Jordan, defensively. They're not close.

Dan (Philadelphia)

Why wouldn't the Sixers trade Iggy now? His value is the highest it is gonna get with the team winning and they are fooling themselves if they think they can go somewhere in the playoffs.

Ric Bucher
  (2:04 PM)

I'm with you. For whatever reason, a lot of teams -- Philly, Phoenix, to name two -- are looking to make the playoffs even if a quick exit is likely than starting to rebuild now. My sense is owners are counting on the labor pact to level the playing field somehow, so they figure "let's go get a little piece of the playoff pie now and worry about what state that leaves us in" later.

Gazelle (Toronto)

I know Presti is incredibly conservative with his roster, but do you think there's any chance the Thunder make a move this year, or did they signify that they don't foresee making any substantial acquisitions by giving Collison the deal they did?

Ric Bucher
  (2:07 PM)

It's not just Presti's nature. He's in a small market and can't afford any mistakes. He has a young team and his contract and cap space is set up to be in great shape no matter what happens with the CBA. No reason to mess that up now. The Lakers, Spurs and Mavs are all on a downward tick. OKC is on the rise. Both the Thunder and Bulls would be foolish to do something shortsighted now.

Harvard (Chicago)

What's wrong with Derrick Rose's field goal% decline? It was about 48% earlier in the year and now its at 45%.

Ric Bucher
  (2:11 PM)

I haven't watched that aspect specifically, but one possibility is that they're playing slower with Boozer. That means defenses are better set to stop Rose. Noah was great running the floor and they had to quick-hit more because he doesn't really have a post game. I'd also venture to guess that opponents realize, A) Rose has a jumper and are guarding him closer and B), the Bulls don't have anybody else who can consistently knock down a shot.

Big E (Houston, TX)

Don't discount steals. Steals take possessions away from the opposing teams.

Ric Bucher
  (2:13 PM)

They also lead to layups. And fouls. And free throws. And ticked-off teammates who are left exposed by Mr. I'm-going-to-make-a-big-play-whoops.

Dan (Chicago)

Long term, what is the best course of action for the bulls to solve the 2 guard problem? Hope to get lucky with a late round draft pick (or the charlotte pick if they don't deal it), make a trade, or go to free agency again?

Ric Bucher
  (2:18 PM)

If they can deal for a defensive-minded three-point shooter -- Arron Afflalo makes more sense to me than JR Smith but I don't even know if he's available -- and it doesn't cost them more than Ronnie Brewer, I would do it. But the lockout/new labor pact is going to result in a load of talented players available a year from now that they could sign without giving anything up. Imagine, say, they added Jason Richardson for nothing. Or Rip Hamilton is on the market through another amnesty clause and they just have to pay him the minimum. Those are the opportunities that will exist then that don't exist now and the Bulls have time on their side, unlike a lot of their competition.

Ric Bucher
  (2:20 PM)

And with that, I'm out. Thanks for taking part of this holiday to spend it with me. Hope I made it worth your while. Will see you here again on the first Friday of 2011. Hoist one tonight for me, if you will.