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Kellams, now the paper’s associate managing editor for sports, has a different recollection of events and says he was never under the impression that Smith felt forced out. In any event, Smith moved to Phoenix, where he did some freelance work. As months passed without a job offer, he reached out first to an NBA team he will not name, and then to the Bulls, asking if he could be of service. Columbia Journalism Review
Back in Chicago, Steve Schanwald, the Bulls’ executive vice president of business operations, was confronting the shrinkage of the Chicago sports-journalism scene. “When the Tribune started to cut back, as when all sports sections were cutting back, we felt it was leaving a void for us to effectively market our product as we had in the past,” says Schanwald. After receiving Smith’s e-mail, Schanwald immediately invited him to Chicago. Smith was hired on a two-year deal as an independent contractor, and was told to carry on just as he had done before. According to his contract, there would be no constraints or interference from Bulls brass; his work would appear on the Bulls website and Smith would get the final say on everything he wrote. Columbia Journalism Review
The only thing the team insisted on was that a disclaimer appear on each of his pieces, spelling out his editorial independence and lack of special access. “I just think it is important for anybody who reads what he writes to know that Sam is not a mouthpiece,” says Schanwald. “I think it is important for other colleagues in the NBA, when he writes about other players or rumors, to know they aren’t coming from the Bulls organization.” While Smith refused to discuss the details, within his first month on the job the disclaimer was moved from the bottom to the top of the page after another NBA team raised an issue about something he had written. Columbia Journalism Review
However it has come to be, Smith feels he’s never been freer. When Bulls executive John Paxson and former coach Vinny Del Negro got into an embarrassing scuffle last April, Smith deconstructed the entire affair on his blog. The same incident snagged the Tribune’s Bulls beat writer, K. C. Johnson, who was criticized after it was revealed that he knew about the fight weeks before it became public, but opted to sit on it. Columbia Journalism Review
Smith's thoughts on the upcoming season for the Thunder: "The most pressing issue with them would be overconfidence, in the sense that it's tough to make that next step from 50 (wins last season). It's really hard to do. When the Bulls hit 50 (in 1987-88), the next year they went back to 47. Then Jordan bailed them out in the playoffs with that shot and they fired (coach) Doug Collins. When expectations go up... sometimes guys start thinking it's not that hard. Are they tough enough players, and is he (Brooks) a tough enough coach to push them? "I'm not saying they can't (improve over last year). I'm just saying that would be the ultimate question because the team has good pieces, has talent and has been built well. It seems like they know what they're doing. It's just whether they get too filled up about how good they are." Oklahoman
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