Ask Sam Mailbag: 01.20.17
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to answer reader's questions
Kudos to the fans, coaches and you media folks for voting Jimmy as an all-star starter.
Sam: Jimmy was well deserving. If the All-Star game should represent the players having the best first half, then Jimmy was one. Of course, it doesn’t technically as Russell Westbrook was left out of the starters. I’ve always said I’m fine with the fan vote, which would have had Wade over Jimmy to start, though with Jimmy on the team as a reserve, surely. Because it’s an exhibition game for the fans to watch their favorite players. If you want a strict best, deserving game then you have the media make the selections, which the media did for the starters before 1975. What this new formula of fans 50 percent, players 25 percent and media 25 percent showed, it’s that if you want a vote of the truly most deserving and among the people paying the most attention to the game and with the most integrity, you go with media. Sorry, national polls. This long debate about having the players vote because they know the game best proved a joke.
A quarter of the players didn’t even bother to vote and there were dozens of joke votes for Khris Middleton, who hasn’t played this season, Michael Beasley, Jeremi and Jerian Grant, Tony Snell, Joakim Noah, Quincy Acy, Nick Young. Tony Allen voted for only teammates. More than 120 players didn’t vote for LeBron James, 154 didn’t vote for Kevin Durant. So enough with that complaint from the players on the post season voting. If they voted, Otto Porter might be league MVP. And if you want fans voting, let them see who they want. Of course, DeMar DeRozan had a better first half than Wade, but half the people either have never seen him or heard of him. They want to see the great Wade, so let them. If the NBA wants their exhibition game to be for the people who want to watch, let them pick who they want to watch. The truth is the way the game is played these days with all the dunking and lack of competition, few media or players care to or do watch. Unless they have to be there. If the NBA wants a midseason feature of the best of its game that season, let the people who watch for a living decide. The players are in the NBA because of what they do, not how they think or what they see. Just let them play.
I know you have repetitively written about the rebuild conundrum. Your angst against the Philadelphia rebuild process seems to be proven wrong with their latest success. Watching the Bulls be mediocre with Wade and Rondo is not my idea of entertainment. I am a let's take a shot with the ping pong balls guy. Yes it is painful to lose but at least knowing we are trying for young talent provides hope. I believe fans are more resilient than the media or NBA management give them credit. Yes the Philadelphia rebuild took longer than they hoped but it clearly is working and they are developing into a young exciting team with of the their best hopes, Simmons out with an injury. Watching a try for .500 is not my entertainment option. Do you have second thoughts about the Philadelphia rebuild?
Sam: I don’t have any second thoughts about the great “Process.” As I always wrote, it was the way they did it, trying to lose again and again and making a mockery of the game. Is stealing $1 million and not getting caught worth it because you are then well off? Maybe, so perhaps examine yourself. Let’s look at it this way: If they weren’t dumping games so long maybe they’d now have a core to place with Embiid, who we knew was their prize if he ever got healthy. That he did is perhaps a miracle. Look, if Derrick Rose didn’t get injured you’d never be asking this. If Embiid didn’t come back from two years out with injuries many said he never could recover from you also wouldn’t be asking this. Rebuilding in a similar manner is nothing new. The Bulls did it in 1999, remember? Got a lottery pick, lost games, cashed in their best players for more lottery picks. Remember that one? I wasn’t opposed in the sense I agreed you couldn’t—as much as he was one of my favorite NBA people ever—be a top level and perennial contending team for a title with Elton Brand as your best player.
I’ve always said there was nothing wrong with Krause’s plan; it was the execution, as we say. You know, “Coach, how do you feel about the execution of your team?” Coach: “I’m for it.” There’s a lot of luck involved in these things, so it’s disingenuous to check to see which one worked and then say you were for that one. We all hope Embiid remains healthy as he also seems like a fun and entertaining guy, good for basketball. But his history--and, remember, he still plays part time to save him—makes it a concern. Minnesota did this for a decade and just now has that core because they previously drew bad lottery luck despite year after year the worst record or close. You miss the point. It’s not about Wade and Rondo; it’s about Butler.
If you want to be a rebuild, lottery team then you have to not have Butler because he is too good to ever have you be that bad. The 76ers dumped all their Butlers. You probably don’t recall they had many useable players who went on to help other teams, like Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Lou Williams, Jrue Holiday, Michael Carter-Williams and just before that Andre Iguodala. They decided to go for it and cashed in for Andrew Bynum. They tried their run and it didn’t work, so that eventually leads to some sort of crossroads and change. The Bulls did that as well, and last year and the future basically started by unloading Rose, Noah and Gasol to join Deng and Hinrich. Wade and Rondo were pauses along the way, hardly the building plan. But you don’t do it all in one summer. It’s a process, for everyone, even if not capitalized. The new labor deal soon going into effect complicated all that by making it difficult to attract a top free agent because he’d have to sign with your team for perhaps $40 million to $60 million less. I’m not sure any team looks that appealing. Every team has to choose a path at some point, and so will the Bulls.
We've all laughed at Philly and rightly so however Embid has changed their make up and Simmons will return after the All Star break. They could make some noise in the coming seasons with a couple of smart free agent signings.
Sam: And they have a bold guy in there now as GM in Bryan Colangelo. One interesting element in the 76ers’ path has been the ultimate success of the Cubs. Most teams cannot afford to go through that because it only works occasionally and then your fans are gone. The Cubs could do three years of dumping games because their fan base never leaves because of it being the largest outdoor tavern aspect of the stadium. But that it worked for the Cubs will give more teams the impetus to try it. They’ll buy some time pointing back and saying, “Look, you criticized them.” It’s also why you never operate based on media criticism. I noticed all the columnists and talk show hosts here who blasted the Cubs for two or three years just said, “Ooops, guess they were right,” and then jumped in front of the parade. Teams have to live with their opinions. Critics can dismiss it in one sentence or a minute on the air. And then move onto the next outrage they define. But right now this is all about Embiid because with Okafor, Noel, Saric and all the other picks they’d still be straining for 10 wins.
Embiid is huge; he’s coordinated, he’s adept and talented. And smart. I’d take him in a second, for instance, over, say, DeMarcus Cousins for Embiid’s far better knowledge and understanding of a team and how to be an unselfish team player. But that’s also the point. You can get a major talent like Cousins and still look like you won’t win 40 games for the next five years. All this rebuilding sounds wonderful if you know who will be great. OK, we knew with LeBron. Not very many others. But if you don’t take a chance, where does that get you? Yes, it’s much easier to comment on it than actually have to do it and answer for the results. But, yes, for now you have to like a lot of things about the 76ers. The Timberwolves and Bucks, too, though for now still are not serious playoff or contending teams. And it has been almost five years for the 76ers.
I remember you saying that by year 3 you know what you got when it comes to the younger players and conveniently they sign 4-year contracts. You know by the time they are up for extensions how much to spend on them. Do you still think that with the younger players coming into the league after being one and done? Do you see them maybe adding another year to rookie contracts to compensate for this change? Or will teams stop giving extensions so casually? A guys like Mudiay and DeAngelo Russel come to mind. I think you'll need yr 4 and maybe 5 to figure it out and those guys will look for the max contract.
Sam: That’s why the NBA wanted at least two years in college (or elsewhere) because the old saw about they are who they are in three years no longer qualifies because they come to you so young, especially with big men, who take much longer. A great example is Tyson Chandler, who grew into an All-Star, Olympian and one of the league’s better leaders. But the Bulls didn’t have time to wait for the 18-year-old. No teams do. The problem is the players’ union keeps representing I’m not sure whom in this and insisting on the one year (or less) entrée. It seems to me it just hurts their current membership by introducing more kids untrained in the game with guaranteed contracts to take the place of their members. But since the leadership was Chris Paul and LeBron James and they had no such concerns, I guess they didn’t care, and the league wasn’t about to give up some financial bargaining point to get that. So it stays.
Yes, I hear the great constitutional argument of a person should be able to apply their talents if they can, and sure some 18 year olds can. That misses the point. The point is any industry has the right to protect itself to produce a better product. It’s why lawyers and accountants need to pass a test to get in. Even if you know it all by 18. No one can say having more 18 and 19 year olds in the NBA is good for the NBA. Or the sport. It’s bad not only for their lack of experience and maturity, but they haven’t developed the collegiate following that can transfer to the NBA. And pretty soon we’ll be seeing them skip the NCAA tournament like the football players did to avoid injury. Ben Simmons was smart by not playing well enough to get his team in. I’d say in three years you should have an idea, but the Bulls are a good example. How much playing time can these kids get when you also are trying to compete unless they are the top five prodigies? And still not that much. The new labor agreement just was signed, so we’ll see what happens in the next decade when it comes up again.
Another proposed trade for you. Do you think Thibodeau’s desire to get some veterans who understand his principles would induce him to take on Gibson and Rondo—two players he knows very well—in exchange for Ricky Rubio and Zach Lavine (and maybe Jordan Hill or Adreian Payne as a throw in)? Thibs gets some vets with a few years left in them to mentor his young players, in particular a tough and versatile front-line defender in Gibson, who would instantly start next to Karl-Anthony Towns; he gets to unload Rubio to make room for Kris Dunn; and in doing so he gains some roster flexibility with shorter contracts. The key to the deal for Bulls is Lavine.
Sam: There will—and has been—plenty of speculated and suggested deals coming in the next month. It will be a wild All-Star weekend and with all the rumors, I know Jimmy will just hate it as he’ll be asked by the world media for an hour straight. Unfair, I know. Anyway, no such chance on this one and nothing to do with Thibodeau and the Bulls. I don’t print many of the trade proposals because there are so many, but I wanted to discuss the Timberwolves. I don’t think they do anything because I don’t think they want to make the playoffs. Not that they are giving up like the 76ers, or that Thibodeau would ever allow that. But he’s in the first year of a five-year deal and you want to show the most progress late. Because Gibson and Rondo are basically rentals as potential free agents, basically only a team that sees one as the final piece to a title or going far in the playoffs would make sense. Better for Minnesota to stay toward the bottom, get another high pick and then use those combined assets to nab a high level, veteran player with a long contract so you have him for awhile. It makes little sense for them to do anything for short term help.
Let the trade rumors begin!! I've read online "ideas" of Bulls sending Butler for Melo. That doesn't make any sense. The Bulls wouldn't do that. Would they? I get the feeling Wade will ask the Bulls to look into it but not for Butler.
Sam: OK, one more to get to this Anthony stuff that has the New York media atwitter. Yes, it’s another word. He’s not leaving! Anthony made that as clear as it can be a few years ago when he rejected the Bulls. That was his best chance to be in a strong challenging position and he would have been with LeBron moving back to the Midwest. He made it clear he’s never, ever, never dropping his no trade, his desire to leave New York or willingness to join another team as the second or third guy. Sure, the Knicks probably would love to move on, I assume. Look, Phil Jackson had no choice when he signed on. I remember Phil being quoted saying in the Bulls’ Anthony recruitment the Knicks will be a good team no matter what Anthony does. No, perhaps Carmelo doesn’t get the love and devotion from Phil, but he has it from the owner, which is all that matters and clear that he never is going to accept a trade until his no trade is expired and then won’t be worth anything in trade. So, no, I guess there is no Butler/ Melo deal, as little as that would make sense to the point it’s amazing someone would even spread it. And knowing Anthony has only passed the ball four times this decade, I doubt Wade is much interested, either. And one more by the way, I don’t see him as an All-Star reserve with the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Kevin Love, Kyle Lowry, Kemba Walker, John Wall, Embiid, Paul George and perhaps Jabari Parker. Which one would you rather have Anthony over? And Paul Millsap, Hassan Whiteside and Andre Drummond.
I'm wondering why Mirotic shoots so many threes. He had a good shooting year last year but this year and his rookie year he's been worse than Antoine Walker. I know that Bulls need three point shooting but Mirotic seems to be wearing the wrong hat. He appears to be at his best in transition and finishing with crafty layups around the rim. He has a decent midrange game as well. Or is it Mirotic's responsibility to look for more opportunities inside the three point line? Lastly, I love seeing Doug get the ball in the post. I think that he's just as good as Jimmy down there. Too bad he's mostly relegated to the corner and we only see it on occasion.
Sam: There is something to that as with Mirotic’s size and that he does have an ability to put the ball on the floor, as we’ve seen, that he can do other things. It looked like he was in previous years, but I think with the need for three-point shooting given it wasn’t a specialty of any of the Alphas, I suspect he felt obligated to be in that role to help the team. Similarly with McDermott, though as we’ve seen he has gotten some chances with matchups. It comes down a lot to pace and movement, and there often just isn’t enough.
What do you think of Wade resting all these games? Seems that whenever we get a win that it then turns into a double header which then has Wade sitting. How can we ever get momentum this way?
Sam: He’s no MJ? Though I tend to be among those who don’t understand the huge concern among some media and fans to rest players and cut their minutes, I do more so for Wade. I frankly thought he was basically done two years ago. It was amazing to me the season he pulled out last year after looking basically broken down the season before. The Bulls are saying for now he’ll play Saturday, but if he doesn’t I’m OK with it. He’s missed five games in half the season and coming in we felt if he played the same 74 he played with Miami last year—which was the most he’d played in five years—the Bulls would have done well. Him, too. He’s on that pace, and I think the rest games have worked well for him. As for LeBron having rested one fewer game than Wade with basically no injuries in his career compared to Wade with multiple knee surgeries, well that’s pretty weak.
It’s time that the fans give a round of applause to Taj. He earned a starting spot in training camp, stopped that silly up/down attempt at a fake near the rim and added a solid 12 foot jumper. He continues to play excellent defense and the evolution at his age is remarkable. It’s his contract year and hopefully the Bulls can resign him for two more years.
Sam: Taj’s situation may be the most intriguing given his age (he was a 24-year-old rookie), but I’ve noticed him shooting threes basically every game the last week, one or two. Three years ago, he couldn’t make a 10 footer, and you are right, basically wasn’t guarded and wouldn’t shoot. Now, he doesn’t hesitate and has one of the most reliable mid range shots in the league. He’s a model franchise player, devoted to his teammates, loyal to every coach and management, close to the rookies, available to the media, upbeat basically every day. You wish there were more people like him around you every day. But as we hear, it’s a business. You could do much worse than make him part of any future, but it is time for him to get the best deal he can.
I had no idea there were still trade rumors about Butler. He’s our best player, and is apparently still improving. He’s also one of the dozen or so best players in the NBA. Re Rajon Rondo: Glad he’s back in the rotation, and I think working with the 2nd unit is perfect for him… and for them.
Sam: Well, who else might teams want? It’s what happens when you are hovering around .500. So far this season, I’ve seen rumors regarding Goran Dragic, Paul George, John Wall, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver (oh right, gone), everyone on Orlando, C.J. McCollum, Blake Griffin, DeMarcus Cousins (of course) and lots of Phoenix guards. The better the 76ers do, the better that is going to look to teams, or, at least, those who analyze and suggest what might occur. So it’s going to be a wild All-Star weekend, and that has little to do with it also being Mardi Gras.
Hawks shopping Dwight to Pelicans. Ouch. Dwight's a pain, but thats just cold by Atlanta to do that to him.
Sam: Yes, those Hawks again. We heard last trading deadline Al Horford and Jeff Teague and wondered, and they eventually were gone. Now we hear mostly Millsap, but Korver is gone, and they still play well. The guy is a good coach; you have to give them that. But they have a new ownership group, a city that rates basketball after car crashing and no great star. So who knows what they are up to. But you do get the sense they don’t want to lose Millsap for nothing like they did Horford. I can see something with Toronto, which has been much rumored. But because this has to be the Raptors last shot at Cleveland. Kyle Lowry is up for one of those billion dollar deals and after paying DeRozan, it’s tough to see them doing so with a 5-11, 31-year-old guard. Just my guess. So maybe they take one more big shot at the Cavs, who do seem vulnerable, or at least more beatable than the Warriors. The Raptors lost in the conference finals once; so take the shot. If you can’t do it, they retool with DeRozan. But if they don’t take a shot now and continue to settle for just being second, it could lead to going the other direction.
ESPN says the Bulls & Bosh
Sam: I always thought that meant Lots of Luck, which it did in my era. Since they fired Fred a month ago, why not? I know, you never say never in the NBA, so you never fully dismiss anything, but if there is a wackiest one of the week, that has to be it. A 33-year-old guy who hasn’t played in two years with a serious, life threatening medical condition. Yeah, where can we get him? Better hurry before the other teams beat us to him! Now, I watch ESPN and I like it, but this is the sort of fake news that makes the NBA want to give the players and fans the All-Star vote. I’m told Facebook and Google are checking to see if it’s a Russian fake news hack, though. Actually, the real story is the Bulls are checking with Bill Walton's doctors to find out how that 34th surgery went.
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