Ask Sam Mailbag: 01.06.17

Sam Smith opens his mailbag to answer readers' questions

By Sam Smith

I wanted to get your take regarding this Rondo fiasco. I was never a fan of Rondo's, but thought he could help this season. Rondo, it would seem, was made specific promises that were not adhered to. Also, watching his successors toss up brick after brick with no real floor general skills is painful though I do see potential in MCW. Also, Doug looks real good as a 2-guard coming off the bench. All I get is national pundits who only bring up his past transgressions - particularly in Dallas. I don't see how he can get benched for his shooting when he never could shoot in the first place. The organization doesn't owe the public an explanation, but it seems Rondo himself is not sure why/how this is happening to him.

Tony Reed

Sam: America seems to love conspiracies they like to act on, like elections that are not fixed or voting irregularities that don’t exist. We often seem to prefer a dramatic, fictional movie world to reality. What I’ve discovered working years ago as an investigative reporter in Washington and long in sports is there basically are few or no conspiracies because basically no one is smart enough to pull it off or keep it quiet very long. There’s all sorts of mysteries surrounding Rondo being benched, but my opinion is I think it’s fairly simple: He didn’t fit, which wasn’t necessarily his fault, and he became the odd man out for simply basketball reasons with the team looking for some change and direction. Remember when everyone said it’s going to be tough with three guys who are ball oriented. Well, it was. What most seem to forget is Wade wasn’t in the plan. It was a process plan. Look, you get rid of Rose, Noah and Gasol within a few weeks after moving on from Hinrich and Deng you have admitted you are sort of starting again. By the Bulls not diving into last summer’s wacky free agent financial frenzy (Chandler Parsons, Bismack Biyombo, Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe, et al), they were signaling, “Not now, but these teams will run out of cap space and then we go into free agency.” There’s a great story about the expansion 1962 Mets, baseball’s losingest ever team. Manager Casey Stengel picked catcher Hobie Landrith, a third string catcher, with the first expansion pick. Why, Stengel was asked. Well, he explained, without a catcher the ball rolls to the backstop every time.

With Rose traded, Aaron Brooks released and Jerian Grant uncertain, the Bulls needed a point guard. Rondo on basically a one year deal seemed smart. Then Wade, whom no one believes is leaving Miami, says, “Hey, I really want to be in Chicago and I’ll take less than I’m offered in Denver.” Can’t say no with a chance to get a historic figure in a time of transition. Maybe makes free agency more welcoming. But now you have three ball centric not long distance shooting perimeter guys. The Bulls gave it a try and it looked good for awhile, but then it didn’t. Remember, they also had no idea they could get Michael Carter-Williams for Tony Snell. Carter-Williams comes back from injury and he’s maybe the future, so you have to see him, the team begins to nose dive some, so better take a look at Grant to see if he’s worth paying and keeping. You see now, Wade already is talking about being more of a facilitator. Three of those guys are too tough. Kudos to Hoiberg for making the move, which many coaches fear. Rondo has been a victim; not a cause. But that’s how it works when your team is in transition like this. I think Rondo can help playing with guys who don’t need the ball like McDermott and Mirotic. Wade has signaled he’s eying time off, perhaps fewer back to backs, so Rondo could fill that role well.

He’s struck me as a serious basketball student, watching film constantly, working out with lesser teammates, committed and caring about the game. I haven’t seen distraction—yes, he had a brief run in with an assistant coach, one which I felt he was perhaps made more an example of because they had to do it to someone—when others might have engaged in more problems with going from starting to DNP. It seems to me he’s handled everything well, remains well liked by teammates and I can see him getting back on the court in some role. The Bulls front office, to my knowledge, never orders the coach whom to play or not. They may not always be thrilled, and every gm talks with its coach about what each is thinking because that is what they do. But then the coach decides. I think Fred merely was doing his job and making what he felt was the best basketball decision for the team now and organization going forward, and Rondo with a short deal was the most expendable at this point. It’s a business, as the players always remind us.


Unless I'm mistaken, the losses we've had so far resulted in Jimmy playing 38-40mpg.

Kieron Smith

Sam: Of course, so have the wins. I’m often surprised why fans are so concerned about minutes played, often more than the teams. Don’t you want to see the best players playing? I think it’s become a bit in the NBA like baseball with starting pitchers; they’re no longer on four-man rotations and don’t finish games, so they don’t think they can. Same with NBA players; everyone tells them 40 minutes is bad, but why 40 and not 37? Jimmy has obviously become most valuable Bull. He’s moved up to sixth in the league in minutes, but still below 37 per game. Zach LaVine leads at 37.6. LeBron, who is older than Jimmy, averages more, but he takes games off. Jimmy hasn’t. Jimmy hasn’t played close to a full season the last three years. Were the injuries due to minutes played? No way anyone could say. Hoiberg appears to be using Butler well this season. Why plan for an injury that may not occur and one that cannot be proven based on playing time?


Jimmy can be the point guard; 8 assists no turnovers against Cavs. So much for not being able to pass when he runs the offense...

Jake Henry

Sam: Fred was asked that before the Cavs game and said with Jimmy’s defensive and scoring responsibilities it doesn’t make much sense. Sure, he can have offense run through him as Wade does often when he’s out there. Jordan could get triple doubles when he wanted to, but if you made him point guard most everything stopped around him and there was a lot of walking the ball up to save energy. Jimmy does quite enough already for the Bulls; they need a guard to push the ball and get guys running with him. Rondo did that the first month, but when other guys stopped running as the games and minutes piled up, Rondo’s place became less valuable. I think Fred understands Jimmy is too valuable to wear out making him the playmaker as well.


Watching Bulls/Cavs and first, I love Hubie Brown. Don't know how well you know him, but having him as a commentator is amazing! He has a great TV voice plus he has so much basketball knowledge that you learn a lot about the game just listening to him. Second, I may be in the minority but I love watching this Bulls team. Other fans act like we were meant to play for the championship, but the truth is we are exactly where we should be. I love that MCW is starting for Rondo and commend Hoiberg for making that tough decision. We are still figuring things out and are in the midst of a possibly playing in the Playoffs, what more do you want after missing the playoffs last year and all the uncertainty coming into the year? Butler is playing out of his mind and I give Wade a lot of credit for that. Look forward to seeing how the season plays out!

Adam Garcia

Sam: That’s the spirit. I think that’s realistic as a fan, but that’s an oxymoron with sports. This is an intriguing season in the sense of the experiment and which way it’s going to go, a lot of which depends on how guys play and produce. So there’s some intriguing mystery; who exactly picked the Bulls to compete for a title? Last season was the end of Rose, Noah, Gasol, Hinrich, Deng, four going in one season. You don’t go from there, especially losing two without getting anything for them, right into contention. That’s why that report a few weeks back of Hoiberg’s job being in jeopardy was laughable. Oddsmakers had the Bulls at 37 or 38 wins. I felt they were better than that, but a lot depending on Wade, too. And we’ve seen knee problems arise. They were playing then slightly above .500. Based on that, Fred should have been up for an extension, instead. Also remember that the Bulls before signing Wade were so far below the salary limit that they were close to having to simply donate to the players association to make up the spending deficit under the cap. They decided to look toward future free agencies and go short with Rondo and Wade. So it was set up as a season to examine and make judgments based on what occurred. That process continues, and it seems worth watching for how it may end. Though it is supposed to be just the beginning.


I'm interested to hear your thoughts on Jerry Krause not being in the Hall of Fame.

I've read enough to understand he had some strained relationships; however his basketball resume is outstanding as far as constructing such a dominant team through smart trades and draft picks.

Mike Burling

Sam: Perhaps the most amazing part of this budding Jerry Krause Hall of Fame debate has been how popular Krause suddenly has become with the national media. About whom Krause used to say some very awful things. It’s become popular for some national media members to take up Krause’s Hall of Fame case. It also gives them a chance to bash Phil Jackson and the Hall of Fame, two popular targets; but it’s a reasonable case for Krause. I don’t believe Krause has been egregiously overlooked because there are others I can make greater cases for. But no question Krause is Hall of Fame deserving and I believe with the recent sentiment it will expedite his entrance. Though Krause for years had antagonistic relations with media and other voters, who are coaches and other Hall of Famers, I don’t believe that’s why he hasn’t gotten in yet. He’s spent perhaps half his sports career in baseball. In fact, he was White Sox scout—partly responsible for the acquisition of Ozzie Guillen—when he was hired to be general manager of the Bulls. Krause is deserving as gm of the six-title Bulls. No, he had nothing to do with the acquisition of Michael Jordan, which was another of his critics’ points, and he was strongly opposed to some of the team’s major moves, like the Rodman trade. But I’m with Harry Truman there. The buck stops here; if you are in charge you get the credit or blame for the result because you did have the final say, and he did. Jerry Reinsdorf made a supportive speech for Krause’s inclusion at his induction last year. Krause’s entry is inevitable and justified.

But given it’s the contributor category, it seems to me Johnny “Red” Kerr’s enshrinement is more overdue. His basketball resume is amazing for its exclusion. Remember, this is the Basketball Hall of Fame, not the NBA Hall of Fame. Johnny led his team to a city title, his college to its first Final Four, his first pro team as a rookie, Syracuse (later the 76ers), to its first NBA title. He was the NBA’s original iron man with 844 straight games. The streak stopped because in his final season his coach felt it was a distraction and benched him a game, the opposite of guys like A.C. Green playing a minute to keep their streak going. That means John never would have missed a game in his entire career. And he was a star, three times an NBA All-Star center despite playing in the same conference with Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, meaning a third of his games every season were against the two best centers in NBA history. He became one of the best passing big men in NBA history. He remains the only coach—of the expansion Bulls—to take an expansion team to the playoffs and was voted coach of the year over the coach who led the 76ers to end the Celtics dynasty and win 68 games.

Then he went to the ABA as a general manager and was influential in bringing two unknowns to pro ball, Julius Erving and George Gervin; he came back to the Bulls as business manager and then a longtime broadcaster and league ambassador, one of the league’s most popular storytellers on the lecture circuit for years. Few ever have contributed more or been more involved with basketball for a lifetime. John died Feb. 26, 2009, the same day as Norm Van Lier. The contributor category for the Hall of Fame ought to be the Johnny “Red” Kerr category. It’s no shame for Jerry Krause to be behind in that line.


Is Jimmy's step-back jump shot the real deal? He does need a go-to move. He's already our best player. If he starts making it consistently, he will be even harder to guard. He's already hard to keep out of the paint with his strength. It's amazing how strong he is and how easily he muscles through contact.

Ateeq Ahmed

Sam: Sure seems like it; give him credit. He really didn’t have any shot to go to before this season and wasn’t sure whether he would. Butler is amazing and a favorite for me the way he can score 40 and now 50 points without shooting threes. I have no issue with guys doing so, which is the way the game is going. But there’s never just one way to get there. I love that Jimmy can without playing pinball, though I did love pinball as a kid. I recall when they started with video games like Pong and still don’t get the attraction. Of course, I read on paper and still think a stream has water. What was I saying?


There are stories about the Bulls trading for Brandon Knight. Things going on?

Ryan Carpel

Sam: I don’t believe so. Knight’s name has been mentioned a lot lately, with a lot of the Atlanta players. Of course, the Atlanta players were mentioned last trading deadline and nothing happened until summer. GMs keep saying there will be a lot happening at this trading deadline, though you never quite know the motivations. Can you make a deal that gets you past the Warriors or Cavs to the Finals? It doesn’t seem likely. Some teams will start unloading contracts if players indicate they may not sign or if the team has financial issues, which seems to be the situation in Atlanta. Gordon Hayward gets mentioned a lot also for those reasons, that what if he leaves, that you have to get something. I don’t subscribe to that. Rarely, if ever, what you get, be it a low draft pick or marginal player, makes much difference. I’d prefer playing it out. Maybe you do something and the player wants to stay. Or let him go and then use the cap room for a free agent. Better than taking on a big contract of a player rejected by his team. If the Thunder did that with James Harden, they probably would have won one title. And then you feel better breaking it up.

Knight is averaging about $14 million a year through 2019-20 and can’t break into the starting lineup of one of the worst teams in the league. If that’s your answer, it sounds desperate. What the Bulls must avoid is being seduced by getting a few wins better and falling into some big contract for this short term. It’s much more valuable for now to have that maneuverability. The last thing you want to do is take on someone’s long contracts for a slightly better player. Boston is going to be the intriguing partner given they have that Nets’ No. 1 draft pick this June and there are said to be a half dozen potential stars in this draft. A few years away, sure, but something to start with. I kind of get the feeling Boston wants to take a shot at someone like Hayward (he played for Brad Stevens in college) in free agency and then parlay that Nets pick into a veteran after the season, cede the Cavs one more run, and then with Al Horford and what they add make their move.


Fans should not vote for All-Star. All star games ended for me in 98. Sonce than its been a buddy buddy game.

Bob Ding

Sam: Yes, the first fan returns came out and there was Dwyane Wade a starter along with, uuugh, Zaza Pachulia, a West forward starter. So the immediate outrage of fans being out of touch. Actually, I like the fans voting and don’t like that the league gave media and players 25 percent each this time. Maybe because it didn’t include me, but that’s another issue. Fan vote is just 50 percent now, which doesn’t bode well for Wade. Media and players will judge more by play and stats and maybe see that Wade isn’t that caliber anymore. But that’s not understanding the All-Star game. It’s an exhibition for the fans who deserve to see their favorite players. The league wants people to watch and care. DeMar DeRozan is having a wonderful season, but, who really wants to watch that? Dwyane Wade is an icon, one of the league’s greatest winners and talents ever. He’s not what he was, but I’d rather tell someone if I went to the game that I saw Dwyane Wade play rather than Andre Drummond. The coaches pick the seven reserves. If somehow the fans have put someone in who is considered underserving, if the coaches have seven picks and you don’t make it, sorry, you are not a no lock All-Star. As for the Pachulia votes, there always are early anomalies like that and are taken care of before the final voting. And by the fans. The fans generally get it right because they want to see the best and most famous players, and that’s who should be All-Stars.


I must have been dreaming last night that it was the middle of the season in the NBA. Has anyone ever heard of a flu shot? They're free with most insurance programs. NBA players do have health insurance, don't they?

William Kochneff

Sam: I’ve wondered about that one before, also, but as my mother warned, I don’t think they are wearing their hats enough. Kyrie was injured and Love supposedly had food poisoning, and having eaten in Cleveland I understand. LeBron didn’t look so sick in 37 minutes with 21 shots. But it really is a lifestyle that lends itself to illness. They’re leaving nights after games, arriving late and then to those stupid shootarounds; geez, what an idiotic idea. Waking up to take some shots, half listen through some coaching lecture and go get a nap. Plus those trips are Minnesota to Miami to Philadelphia to Atlanta and there’s no way to pack for that, so you bring a jacket, take a shower after the game (hey, did you dry your hair? Or scalp?) and then are outside and it’s four degrees and 77 when you land and the coach says be on the bus at 9:15 to take free throws. C’mon, are you nuts! It’s one of my theories why guys broke down less years ago and didn’t have to monitor minutes like they were in labor. They used to sleep to noon, have a nice relaxing lunch, get to the arenas and actually shoot on the same baskets they’d be shooting at that night instead of some college gym. Progress isn’t always improvement.


Clearly we struggle when our original starting lineup was out there. Substituting MCW for Rondo has helped, but we still have problems scoring until either McD or Mirotic come in. Is it time to think about substituting McD for Wade, or Mirotic for Taj. I hate not having Taj out there to start because he seems to score and gives us some defense so what about starting McD for Wade. I recognize that it is sacrilege to not start a future Hall of Famer who you're paying $24 million, but with the current starting lineup, slow starts and playing from behind seem unavoidable. Wade would still get his 28 minutes, but in a different part of the game. I wait for you to tell me why this is the most stupid idea that you have had in this week's mailbag.

Michael Mezey

Sam: I get plenty of stupider ones; no problem. Actually I get this one occasionally, and I fall on form on this one. The Bulls have had their share of big leads to start and losing (Minnesota) and slow starts and wins, like Cleveland Wednesday. I really don’t think starting means that much given you can substitute a few minutes in and no one notices. But everyone does—the media, especially—when you do that to start games, and you bring unnecessary distraction. It’s why I probably wouldn’t have benched Rondo, but I think Hoiberg proved right to do so. You just don’t do that with Dwyane Wade. You don’t send your message around the NBA that a player of the quality of Wade comes to your program and you are going to demean him like that. May as well forget free agency forever. There is a way to treat people, especially people of accomplishment. I know, few organizations really do that, and most of us in the media business found that out. Of course, so did most everyone working in manufacturing, banking and housing. But you don’t have to be that sort of business, one without a conscience that only cares about your next dollar.

I’m not saying sacrifice wins. If Wade thought he couldn’t produce, he’s so professional he’d let you know before you did. He’s still one of the five best players on the team, which means he deserves to and should start. I also get this Mirotic spacing/shooting suggestion for Gibson, though not two weeks ago when the bulk of my mail suggested Mirotic should be traded for Tony Snell’s toilet leavings. A word about Gibson. The ultimate pro. OK, three words. I’m so impressed every day the way he bonds and supports teammates, relates with media and public and has developed such a reliable mid range jump shot and fights every play harder than anyone on the team. Or course, you could make him a reserve and he’d support you, but no one has sacrificed more with benchings and then done more to help the team. It would be an insult of catastrophic proportions to do anything to publicly demean Gibson. The way Hoiberg handled it against Cleveland was right. If Mirotic and/or McDermott are making shots, leave them in. But also remember, the other team immediately puts a target on their backs, which often are turned away from the ball on defense, unfortunately. So yes, you are closing in on a "stupid" idea.


My resolution is to bug you with more stupid questions.Can we trade Rondo to get Snell back?

Matthew Mikulice

Sam: Winner!

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