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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 11.21.2014
Sam Smith of Bulls.com opens his Ask Sam mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers
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Trade Jimmy Butler now when his value is high? Kidding. But really, you never know with Bulls fans. Hindsight is 20/20, but looking back at the 2011 draft. Where does Jimmy Butler go, now? Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson & Nikola Vucevic are all players. But Jimmy (not Jimmer) is right there.
Sam: Looking back at drafts is always a fun second guess and why it’s much more difficult to be a GM than a fan or media member. Teams always are condemned for the “wrong” pick even as these same media people and fans basically in their mock drafts on draft day had the same picks. Everyone really had Kevin Durant first now. But it also doesn’t mean they were smarter when someone gets a break in the draft, like Nowitzki and Pierce going back to back at Nos. 9 and 10 in 1998. You get lucky and the unfair blame team execs get for missing they also get too much credit for falling into a hall of famer at No. 9. It’s difficult projecting young talent, and more so now with less time in college. As for Jimmy’s draft in 2011, it turns out to have been a pretty good one with Isaiah Thomas last at No. 60 and Chandler Parsons 38th. Jimmy’s made a big jump, though it’s still a relatively small sample from this season. Probably Kyrie Irving still goes first and you’d put Jimmy somewhere after Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard and Nikola Vucevic and in with a group that includes Kenneth Faried, Reggie Jackson, Parsons, maybe a Morris and Kemba Walker. And there are others starting to break though from that group, like Tobias Harris, Enes Kanter and Nikola Mirotic. Plus, there are some solid big men like Jonas Valanciunas and Tristan Thompson. Derrick Williams was No. 2 in that draft without a huge amount of criticism at the time and Jan Vesely No. 6. Jimmy probably would get a shot at the top 10 given needs, which usually are for big men in the draft.
Jimmy’s improvement is remarkable, the Bulls need to pony up at the All-Star break if he keeps playing like this, not sure negotiations will go well between the league and the owners with the next agreement, but this kid is young enough and dedicated enough for them to get a deal done.
Sam: There’s suddenly a lot of concern about signing Jimmy and confusion. There cannot be any negotiations again until after the season when Butler becomes a restricted free agent. This isn’t an Asik situation where someone can come in with a back loaded deal because Jimmy is on a regular rookie contract and Asik’s was a short deal for a second round pick. I have no doubt they’ll make a deal, though Jimmy could go the restricted route first. It’s OK to have your market value set. Teams match all the time. The Suns went months with Eric Bledsoe and eventually made a long term deal. Jimmy has said he prefers to stay and the Bulls have said they prefer to keep him. And unlike with Asik, the Bulls aren’t paying another shooting guard eight figures. They actually have no other. Jimmy looks to have made a wise decision the way he has improved and presumably would be in for a bigger contract. I still would not have done what he did even if he makes more money by not having signed. I always believe, especially with an eight-figure deal, you take the first contract as soon as you can because the risk is too great if something happens. It’s different if you already recieved a big deal. Then you can take a chance. As the No. 30 pick, Butler is paid about $2 million. Not bad even after taxes. But it doesn’t assure you for life. I’m not a gambler and am a conservative investor. I never truly understand chasing the last dollar and we’ve often seen it play out against what seem your best interests, like with Ben Gordon or Luol Deng. Though what stands out most is Jay Williams. Stuff happens. Jimmy bet on himself and good for him; he’ll probably make a few million dollars more as a result. I can’t see the Bulls not paying it nor Jimmy going elsewhere as he so much enjoys Chicago. Though I’d have preferred the money committed, which is probably also a big reason he’s getting it and I’m just writing about him getting it.
What's with all the delayed whistles in the NBA this year? You see it in pretty much every game. It doesn't seem to favor one team over another. More like, the ref is willing to let the player shoot free throws if the shot doesn't go, but the contact wasn't worth a three-point play. Is this a new league policy? Is it making the game better by reducing time stoppages, or worse by making the officiating seem more situational?
Sam: I don’t see any change; the officials in the NBA really are very good. It’s, like the NFL, virtually impossible to get it accurate given they are sports in which contact is allowed. But not too much, right? So you have to develop a feel for what affects the flow of the game and not get too involved or it’s a six-hour game. What NBA officials often do is let contact pass if it’s not major and looks like the ball is going in. If the ball misses, they’ll awake that late whistle to make it fair. They do want it to be fair and have the players decide. I know the argument that a foul is a foul, which is ridiculous as you can find a foul every second somewhere on the court if you looked. The NBA officials for the most part do an amazing job of helping retain the flow of the game and not take away from the players. Their percentages, for the most part, are better than the players’ shooting percentages, at least. And Kobe’s, of course.
I don't really understand the whole minutes thing lately. What's the difference between playing 40 min or 35? Was it the same 20 yrs ago? I find that most of the people who bring this up are analysts that have never played a second of pro ball. I was surprised to see Lebron say that his minutes should be reduced and also earlier in the year say he wouldn't mind playing less games. When MJ was asked the same question in typical MJ fashion he replied that it never crossed his mind because he loved playing ball too much. Are players going soft?
Sam: Yes, but so are fans and media. There’s never been any science to this playing time debate, so you go by empirical evidence. No comparing anyone to Jordan for There is No Next (book plug: Order on Amazon). Players always have taken rest times during seasons, grabbing a game or two here or there with fatigue. It didn’t start with Gregg Popovich, though the Spurs’ success has legitimized the practice. LeBron’s OK with such comments as he’s always played and is an excellent competitor. I’d be a little more concerned if I were his coach hearing these suggestions in the media. Mike Brown might tell him what that kind of stuff means. What’s confused me most is why fans have become so aggressive in demanding players not play and not play as much. For every injury and guy who has broken down you find players like Kobe or Durant who play more and excel the longer they play. Injuries will happen to everyone and happen anytime as Durant got hurt for the first time even after he decided to rest by skipping the summer with USA Basketball. Most of the guys who played in the summer have profited from the extra playing time. Paul George got hurt before the first game. I’m a believer in letting them play and play as many minutes as they can handle. It was different decades ago with low pay and short rosters and needing to continue playing to support yourself. One contract now sets you up for life. I see it, unfortunately, like with pitchers in baseball. If you train someone to pitch six innings, that’s what they’ll pitch. When you asked them to pitch eight or nine they did. Same in basketball; if they hear they shouldn’t be playing 40 minutes, they won’t want to be.
LeBron cut his weight down, complained about 82 games being too many and said he needs to cut his minutes from his standard 39 a game. Certainly none of this happened in the past. He will be 30 next month and has logged a lot of regular season and post season games since 18. Do you think he is more worried about his future health or is he actually in pain now?
Sam: We all do make the same mistake because they make it look so easy and effortless. But these players experience a substantial amount of pain and discomfort, and basketball is a very physical game. It’s not legalized crime, like football, but it’s demanding and debilitating and I have no doubt even given his amazing size and structure, James feels the effects of the game. Everyone is concerned about the future, and anyone who tells you differently isn’t being honest. Many describe it in different ways. Though I think what some of that is about in Cleveland is James testing his new management in a way he couldn’t do in Miami with Pat Riley.
Marc Gasol or Joakim Noah? Who do you think majority of NBA GMs would take?
Sam: I’d say Noah not only given his first team all-NBA status last season but the commitment and hustle and leadership, the so called intangibles that knit a team. But Gasol will be perhaps the most in demand free agent this summer, which makes his play one of the more remarkable stories in the NBA. He was a throw-in from the deal of his brother to the Lakers that branded the Grizzlies the 76ers of their era. He was an overweight, indifferent kid who wasn’t even a high school team prospect when he joined his brother in Memphis. His improvement and development has been one of the great stories in the league and he’s soon to be very, very wealthy as a result.
Do you see Laimbeer getting a chance ever as a head coach in the league? How did his two years with Minnesota go as an assistant? Seems like he'd be a pretty good coach.
Sam: Except to the people who have to be around him. The NBA is a league, despite the jokes we’ll make about them from time to time, of very good people. Those who’ve dealt with Laimbeer would offer him as an exception. I get it that he delighted in the villain role, which some guys do. But his always went farther. He tried to hurt you and end your career. That’s why the reaction toward him from relatively mild mannered players like Robert Parish was so much more severe than against others. So you say that’s a good quality as a coach? Perhaps, and Laimbeer has had some success in the WNBA. But he hasn’t changed his attitude much and the season is much more than just the games. You would not want to spend that much time around Bill Laimbeer. Rasheed Wallace could be difficult to deal with, though teammates embraced him. I’ve never found much affection toward Laimbeer. Imagine traveling with someone like that virtually every day for six or seven months?
Do we still have the Kings' pick from Deng trade? If so, if around the trade deadline they're in the 8th / 9th spot in the West, that would mean they'd be picking anywhere in the 14 - 17 range. Should we pair it with our pick (and a player or two for salary purposes) and trade for another veteran, since we have a narrow window and Thibs already have a couple rookies to integrate into the rotation?
Sam: It will be close if the Bulls get the Kings pick from the Deng deal as the Kings have to get 11-30 in the 2015 draft. Because that will not be known until after the season, you can only trade the rights to the pick, which can become a second rounder and thus holds little value until you actually get it. Because of its uncertainty, the Bulls likely would not deal their No. 1 pick. The Bulls team you have seen thus far, I fully expect, is the Bulls team you will see the entire season with no major changes. If the team does not achieve what it hopes, then there will be changes. I don’t expect any before that.
It seems Chris Paul gets a free pass into 'elite' player status, and maybe the analytics agree. Yet, I've always felt he gets killed on defense and just isn't the player that James, Durant, Paul George (when healthy), Derrick Rose, or even Tony Parker is. With the impressive talent that is around Chris Paul with the Clippers this year (especially with Blake Griffen's emergence) if they don't at least make the finals this year, aren't the excuses for his lack of playoff success running out? It seems to me it's time to recognize that Tony Parker has done substantially more with comparable surrounding talent. After all, Parker was the 'best player' on a championship team last year.
Sam: Tony is often ranked more highly, though he isn’t asked to do quite as much. There are a lot of critics regarding Paul because his teams have not advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs. You get labeled, a loser, a choker, as unfair as it was for David Robinson before teaming with Tim Duncan. There have been many great players who have not been on title teams, and I don’t think the Clippers are close to one. Griffin is good, but still labors to find an actual game as this season he’s taken a lot of jump shots. It’s a credit to him for having improved a skill in which he was poor. But he still holds the ball and doesn’t operate with the team that much. The issue I have is less with Paul than celebrating guys within an era. I hear comparisons of Paul to Isiah Thomas, which I mentioned during the Clippers’ game Monday. It’s not that Isiah’s teams won two titles, but he was a vastly superior player to Paul in every regard. Yet you hear comparisons of Paul in Isiah’s class. Paul is an excellent guard, but not skilled enough from Isiah’s position to be the dominant player on a winning team. Cousy needed Russell. Oscar needed Kareem. West needed Wilt. Paul needs someone better than Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
It is me or does McDermott and Snell looked like they have regressed since the start of the season? I have been pleasantly surprised by Mirotic's adjustment to the NBA so far.
Sam: I don’t see how anyone can make a judgment on any of the three at this point given the small amount of time they play and the irregularity of their appearances, Snell particularly as he’s mostly out of the rotation. McDermott hasn’t made his shots, but he hasn’t had many chances. I think he’s done well manufacturing shots when he doesn’t get any. One issue is he’s played primarily with Brooks and Gibson, who don’t move the ball as much as the starters. So he hasn’t had as many chances. Mirotic has shown abilities to put the ball on the floor, rebound, though again in limited time. With Pau out he’s played more and moved ahead of the others. All three look like they should be good NBA players.
Jimmy can shoot. Did you give him my advice about keeping that left elbow down?
Sam: I only advise him on hair style and cowboy boots.