Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 12.02.11
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So as I was saying on June 30…
We’re back, baby! Sorry, but I’m that excited.
OK, it’s 66 games and we’ll be examining all the favorables and negatives and who benefits and doesn’t from a shorter NBA season. But for those of you who have crowed about being happy with debating protecting the quarterback and the piousness of Tim Tebow for five days a week, and then the start of low level collegiate basketball in which perhaps one percent of the participants are good enough to live out their dreams of being pros, you can admit it: You missed the NBA. C’mon, they haven’t even opened training camp yet and several of the league’s top point guards may be up for auction, All-Stars are being seriously considered for release and J.R. Smith could be a political prisoner in China. And Kobe hasn’t even walked out on Mike Brown yet.
The best part for Bulls fans is the team is a legitimate contender for a championship, especially in a shortened season. There will be all sorts of theories about who might have the edge, but depth likely triumphs. And the Bulls are one of the league’s deepest. They return with virtually the same team that won 62 games with the MVP, and that’s before adding another player, which they should do. But who? We’ll hear all sorts of speculation these next few weeks. So I’m back with Ask Sam, where I will analyze the possibilities and answer all your questions. And, no, the Bulls can’t get Dwight Howard for Keith Bogans.
I read that the amnesty doesn't need to be used this year. Could there be a scenario where the Bulls use their full mid-level on Afflalo, knowing that they will use their amnesty on boozer after this year to avoid the luxury tax and get out from under boozer's contract as he inevitably breaks down.
Sam: Afflalo is a guy who would fit perfectly for the Bulls, a defender who can shoot and run some offense with Rose off the ball. But he’s a restricted free agent and there seems virtually no chance the Nuggets won’t match any offer given half their team is playing in China and Nene seems to want to be anywhere else. Though if he continues to spell his first name Arron, I may never get it right. But a guy like Afflalo is why you can’t pay too much attention to rumors of interest in some guy or another. I can’t see the Bulls doing something like this, but say you really want a guy like Afflalo. It’s not like the Nuggets are winning a championship. They like Noah from the Anthony talks last year. So say you offer Noah and something for Afflalo and Nene with a sign and trade. I wouldn’t, but I believe the Bulls are examining scenarios of this sort with other players that opens up the field to, as you can guess, some great Monday columns for me starting this Monday. I’m getting Krause to print me up some more of those Monday Morning General Manager cards he gave me years ago when we were working in tandem: Him talking to other GM’s and not to me.
Will Boozer be an amnesty case?
Sam: Boozer will not be, and he shouldn’t be. It makes no sense for the Bulls. I don’t expect many players to be in an amnesty situation, maybe three or four. The reason is that it makes no sense unless you are way over the cap, like Orlando with Arenas, and will save luxury tax penalties, or can get way under the cap to pursue a free agent. The Bulls are in neither position. Plus, remember, you still have to pay the player. And then you have to presumably replace him. So for a league which was saying it lost so much money, the team is likely putting itself in position where it cannot make a profit by paying a player not to play and then trying to add another player to replace him. After Rose’s extension goes into effect next season, the Bulls will eventually be going deeper into the luxury tax and then it would make sense to use amnesty and you have several years to do so. I expect most teams to wait. As for Boozer, after missing camp and an early season ankle sprain when he returned, the Bulls have to give him a hard look and ask a lot from him this season because he can be a major factor.
Look who’s in town. I saw this tweet (Thursday) night:
@reggiew55-just landed in Chicago, need to sleep
Sam: I haven’t heard anything about Reggie Williams specifically of late. But I know he’s a guy some of the Bulls’ management likes and has talked about in the past. Tough swingman who can shoot the ball. I think he’s restricted, though.
If Portland waives Brandon Roy via amnesty clause, can the Bulls get him for the veteran's minimum?
Sam: Although there’s sentimental regard for Roy in the Portland community and media, most executives around the NBA expect him to be one of the few players on amnesty this month. The Trail Blazers are into the luxury tax, so it makes sense to save them money. Plus, he’s no longer a starter there and didn’t take it very well last season. But the feeling is there are some teams that will take a flier for cheap, and the way the new amnesty is set up, there is a waiver process. That’s actually fairer, but it doesn’t help the Bulls. Actually, there are several elements of the new labor deal very Bulls unfriendly and overall it’s not a good agreement as far as the Bulls’ ability to be more flexible. Regarding the amnesty, teams under the cap can bid for a player and then pay that portion of the salary so players also can’t double dip so easily and a team saves something. Roy would probably, to his disappointment, get picked up somewhere he doesn’t care for, but he does make $15 million this season for his trouble. If no one bids, then he’ll go to free agency and be available anywhere for a minimum, though that isn’t expected.
If the Lakers start slow and Kobe doesn't get along with Mike Brown and wants out: Dwight Howard to L.A., Gasol, Deng and Asik to Orlando, Kobe to the Bulls.
Sam: I’m so happy to be back as I even missed the goofy suggestions.
How bout Joe Johnson? Any way he becomes available. Would they rather have Crawford cheaper.
Sam: I am quite sure the Hawks, especially with their new ownership deal failing, would love to be done with that Johnson contract. Who’s idea was that? I think they all thought they’d be gone, so they’d stick the contract on the next guy, sort of like the Cubs’ Soriano deal. As many of you may recall, Johnson was my free agent choice for last summer, and I still think that would have been the way to go. The problem was he never gave the Bulls a chance. I’m not down on Boozer as much as many. But I felt you fill the need and Taj could be adequate at four. Anyway, the Hawks kept Johnson and paid him more than LeBron, Bosh, everyone. Which is the problem. I hear he can be had, but he’s making $18 million this year, would make more than Rose every year of Johnson’s contract and make $25 million in 2015-16 when he is about 35. He’ll eventually be an amnesty guy, but not yet. He got that extra year the Bulls wouldn’t have had to pay him as a free agent, and with him guarding Wade and Deng on LeBron, I’m sure the Bulls would beat Miami. But, no, I cannot see the Bulls pursuing Johnson and I agree now. So, Joe, you got your money. Enjoy NASCAR and playing before 6,000 people who thought there was a NASCAR race there. The Hawks had signed Jamal as security in case Joe left as a free agent. The Bulls will look at free agent Jamal, but he, too, wants more than that $5 million after making $10 million last season.
What are your thoughts on or the likelihood the Bulls could land Tayshaun Prince, Jason Richardson, or if the Pistons' use their amnesty option on either of them - Rip Hamilton or, wouldn't this be a story, Ben Gordon?
Sam: The Pistons, it keeps getting reported, aren’t using their amnesty, and I believe them. They could get well under the cap if they do, but who exactly in this free agent class—Nene?, Tyson Chandler? David West?—is going to elevate them to serious contending. I think they’ll wait another year. The Bulls would love to have Prince or Richardson, Prince more as a versatile player who you can run offense through or Richardson, an athlete who can make threes. If you are not going to do a lot better than Keith Bogans, you keep Bogans given the way he fits. They are both way better, but they likely could get more money elsewhere. If they really, really want to take a shot at winning they’ll take an offer from the Bulls. These are the kinds of guys the Bulls really want. They are looking at many others because, as Jagger once told me, “You can’t always get what you want.”
I'm looking forward to your column about what 2-guard options the Bulls can reasonably go after....
I've heard the name Richard Hamilton - though you've denounced that as a terrible acquisition for Chicago.
Sam: We’ve got weeks for that and I intend to take advantage. As for Hamilton, I basically said to avoid him at that price, which was $12.5 million. He still has a year and I think about $9 million a second year. If the Pistons were to release him and you could get him for minimum or that neighborhood, sure, I’d take a shot. He’s not perfect, though no one likely will be for what the Bulls can get. Hamilton doesn’t shoot the three well and is a bit of a hothead who tends to lose control in tough situations. But there’s no way he slips through on amnesty and he’s made it clear he won’t take a buyout.
How much was Derrick really hampered by his injuries in the playoffs (specifically against Miami)? I know he stated he was fine but I just don't see how he could have been, for lack of a better description, "shut down" as he was, unless he was hurting. How about Boozer? Was he also just as hampered by his injuries?
Sam: Well, Derrick was MVP and did average almost 24 against the Heat. No, he didn’t have enough help, which is what happens the deeper you get in the playoffs. You need more higher level players. Still, the Bulls had the ball and a chance to win Game 4 on the road with a last shot and were up a dozen when Miami luckily stole Game 5. So it was close and in eight games the teams played, just about all came down to a few shots at the end. Derrick, of course, accepted all sorts of blame, but if there was one flaw it was that he probably wasn’t in as good a shape as he needed to be for stamina and he has acknowledged that as he said coming in Thursday he worked this summer on more stamina. That’s another of the great things about him. You tell him. He doesn’t get defensive. He does it. He’ll be better. He’s the only guy not to worry about. Boozer will be crucial. He’s been quoted saying he’s in great shape, but no one knows as I heard plenty of that before guys came in after the 1998-99 lockout and many guys were brutally out of shape. Boozer had a turf toe injury in the playoffs, but particularly against Miami played better on the road. Why? Booed at home? Some around the Bulls feel his divorce and being away from his kids hit him hard last season and when he was with his kids in Miami he was more centered. I don’t know about his personal life, and that’s just one theory. But it had to be a tough year moving and being separated and injured immediately. The Bulls expect much more from Boozer this season.
Who do you think is a better fit for the Bulls, this year and long term, Caron Butler or Nick Young? My take, their size and statistics are very similar and both create off the dribble. Butler seems to play more in control. Young appears out of control at times in highlight videos, but he only turned the ball over 1.4 times per game while averaging 31 mins last season. Butler's knee injury and age, 31, concerns me.
Sam: Those are two more of the many shooting guard names, which include some of the same from last season like Courtney Lee, O.J. Majo, Marcus Thornton and Vince Carter, the latter who’ll be bought out for $4 million and become an unrestricted free agent. Again, we’re in the area of flaws. Butler is a high level player, but now going on 32 with several major knee surgeries, traded three times and a small forward. I know the Bulls have talked internally about Luol Deng as a shooting guard as he did guard about everyone last season. But he had such a good season you’d hate to move him around. Still, if it were between the two, I’d go Butler, though, again, I think he’ll be looking for more than the $5 million mid level which is the most the Bulls can offer. Young is restricted, but moreso a potential disaster. He’s a blockhead, a defensive sieve and a likely chemistry disruption. Washington is supposed to bring him back, anyway. So there’s another team not making the playoffs.
A friend of mine sent a clip from a Chicago sports radio show. They were interviewing Stephen A. Smith, mostly about the lockout. But Smith also predicted that the Bulls will sign Tracey McGrady as soon as free-agency opens. He sounded extremely confident of that; said you “can take it to the bank. ”SAS has sometimes good info. My guess is that he got this stuff from McGrady himself, and it’s more “wishful thinking” than anything else. Maybe Gar told him, “We’ll see how things go in Detroit and take another look.” What do you think?
Sam: Well, I have heard he’s on the list, but I believe so far down that it’s even lower than his playoff success rate. My understanding is the Bulls have had—as they should and just about every team has had as well—discussions about more than four dozen players. Gar Forman is an especially prepared GM. He's never one to have to answer to his bosses, "How come we didn't know about that guy?" Because of all the uncertainty, you never know who will become available. And one great advantage the Bulls perhaps never have had is Derrick Rose, a star who you can win with and who’ll willingly give up the ball. Players want to play with Derrick, though losing 20 percent of their salary this season I personally don’t expect many to take less money despite what they say. So you figure guys like Jason Richardson will be out of reach because someone will pay them much more. Perhaps you can get a guy like that on a one year deal as there are a load of teams coming up with cap room for the summer of 2012, and with so few real stars in the league if you hang around that summer you have a good chance of being way overpaid. So even dream scenarios may be possible. If it were me, I’d stay far, far away from McGrady. And not only because he helped lead a mutiny on the Pistons coach last season. It’s dangerous to bring in former stars who no longer are and ask them to play support roles. They really cannot ever forget being a star and generally are a distraction. See: Allen Iverson. The Bulls had great chemistry last season, one of their major strengths, a classic greater than the sum of the parts thing. McGrady would be ideal if you want to wreck that. I’d assume the Bulls do nothing rather than take on a headache like McGrady. What, Larry Hughes isn’t available?
What do you think the Bulls need to do if in fact Chris Paul gets his wish and goes to the Knicks and the Lakers do get Dwight Howard? I don’t know even with Jason Richardson, Jamal Crawford, Monta Ellis or Aaron Affalo would be able to take out these stacked teams. Bulls would be better, but how much better?
Seems like the CBA did not solve this problem. I think the owners should have pushed the franchise tag deal like the NFL. Or increased to cap and made it a hard cap with a minimum/required spending so teams can’t be really below the cap. Lakers don’t care about the cap because they have a new TV deal that will pay them $150 million. In the end it seems like the small market teams will never compete if all the top players go to the big market teams.
Sam: I was surprised to hear so many commentators say the NBA destroyed the players in the deal. I don’t see it that way. I’m not sure why the majority of the players agreed to so many provisions that just help a few high salaried players. But the system that was tentatively agreed upon seems almost the same as the one the league has been playing under and good to the players. Why the players had to lose two months over this basically seems to me a show of macho over reason. The deal can be reopened by either party in six years, and I’d predict it would be the owners as I’m with you. I don’t see this agreement providing much of the parity the league has long talked about. But, then again, if the league had gone for that I do think we’d have lost the season and my family felt I’d been home long enough.