Ask Sam Mailbag: 05.12.17
SAM SMITH OPENS HIS MAILBAG TO ANSWER READERS' QUESTIONS
I personally would like to see Rondo, Butler, Zipser, Portis and Lopez as the starting 5 with Wade running the bench unit. The summer will be interesting and it's all about who's committed to put the work in. Butler worked his tail off to get where he is. If Portis, Zipser, and Valentine are willing to put in the work, I think they will really help the Bulls next season. Do you see Valentine as more of a PG or SG?
Sam: Valentine’s issue is whether he has the athletic ability to defend well enough; it sunk McDermott, but you don’t need five great athletes. I didn’t much care for all the switching the Bulls did, though it does, in a sense, protect or hide the less athletic guys, and the Bulls did have enough of them. And virtually every team continues to switch like that. It’s a good system to help defeat the pick and roll when you have three or four really good athlete/defenders. It’s early to project any of this with the lottery next week, and then I’m sure the Bulls will get calls about Butler. At 42-40 and 41-41 they’ll have to listen, but I really don’t see any top three or four picks traded because as it gets closer to the draft teams not only fall in love with college prospects, but their fans do and it becomes more difficult to make a deal.
You say Jimmy is an All-Star and probably all-NBA. True. The draft, especially this one with the point guards, gets oversold as teams begin to believe you may be giving up the next LeBron. Teams never want to take that risk even though it’s not true. But maybe the next Westbrook or Harden. So I do see a similar Bulls roster next season, but thinned out and more efficient. I see Valentine more in a shooting guard role given his ability to handle the ball and run offense, at least in theory since we never saw that this season. Understandably, he really never got a chance. But he also never really tried. He’ll have to also be more aggressive. He played too passively, accepting the shooting role rather than trying to show he could make plays. Zipser did that better with less expected. I see Wade actually being comfortable in any role the team asks as it could be his final NBA season. Though I could see a Kobe farewell season in Miami. Unless they pull off a free agency miracle, Miami still is going to need to sell tickets in arguably the toughest place to in the NBA. After all, who really wants to be inside in the winter there?
I've been told I am loyal and would like good things to happen to our former guys. I don't see this happening, but could a move to the Spurs be a good one for Rose? If he were to take a contract that is lighter now that they need a point guard and he wants to win could it be done? I know they want Mills with the injury issues so eventually, they will have lots of players if all healthy. I just think if a healthy backcourt and Rose buys into that system they could be a huge winner and he would see success as part of the team's success.
As for Taj Gibson, I wonder if he could bring a good veteran defensive presence to the Timberwolves? Thibs wants this type of play and the talent was there but seems to lack in the effort last season. Yes, they're years away from a championship, but he could bring a veteran mentorship that could help mold them in ways aiding the growth of the Thib's team aiding their chances of breaking into a playoff team.
Sam: Gibson has been a natural fit for Thibodeau, who likely wants and needs to make a move next season with all that young talent. Though Gibson kept the door open for Oklahoma City, they have big men and need shooting. You could see Gibson as the veteran stability and defense for a Thibodeau team that wasn’t good defensively this season and was worst in the league panicking down the stretch. Minnesota’s point guard situation will be more interesting with Rubio having his best season and Dunn waiting there anxiously. I even liked Tyus Jones as a prospect. They’ll be a team to watch this summer. Rose’s contract situation will be good spectator sport. It probably will have to be short term given the injuries. The Spurs don’t seem right given their reliance on a point guard distributor concept and Rose’s defensive weaknesses. Though I think Popovich could get Rose to concentrate more defensively. The speculation has Chris Paul going there, which I highly doubt and see Paul staying with the Clippers. Maybe Toronto short term if they let go Lowry, which seems likely. The Lakers if they lose that top three pick and have to make a show in free agency. If one team jumps to the top three, the Lakers would lose their picks for this year and 2019. Some Nets level deals there, though I think the late owner Jerry Buss pushed for them at the time. The Pelicans to combine with Davis and Cousins? Brooklyn? They’ll have money and need players.
I have a hunch Wade is leaving, perhaps to return to Miami. That, combined with the terms of the new CBA, would give the Bulls plenty of cap space. What would you think of going after Gordon Hayward? He is a Midwestern guy and fits the profile of “younger and more athletic” that Hoiberg says he wants. Would his game be compatible with Butler’s? Wouldn’t he and Rondo together be a good combo?
Sam: Gordon Hayward may be the jewel of the free agent market this summer; not quite Kevin Durant, but the kind of guy everyone would love to have with his shooting and ball handling, sneaky athletic and much stronger. His game is compatible with everyone’s. I don’t see the Bulls with much of any cap room because I expect Wade to return.
I think it'll be one-sided with the Warriors sliding by the Spurs. I doubt this will become a 7-game series, and I doubt Spurs will be in the finals versus the Cavs. I'm that sick of the Warriors because Durant is there now and shouldn't be... Houston would've beaten the Spurs if he signed with them.
Sam: Though the way things are going, Gordon Hayward probably will sign with the Warriors. I thought Houston would win the series; but, of course, I also thought they’d have James Harden for the last two games. Harden’s close with his no show as well at the end of Game 5—maybe we’ll hear he was hurt or tired from the short rotation as D’Antoni basically went with seven players—was stunning. If you heard going into the series that Kawhi Leonard wouldn’t play most of games five and six with the series tied, would you have the Spurs? So you never dismiss that team, and there is only one coach in the NBA today who truly makes a great difference, and that’s Popovich. Look at the way the Rockets gave up, D’Antoni actually benching Harden in the first quarter for Sam Dekker when Harden declined to shoot in a closeout game. They’re fine coaches, but look how the Raptors collapsed, the Wizards the last few games, the Clippers, the Jazz. The playoffs—heck, all games—are about not only the strategy and adjustments, but more so your players competing at a relentlessly intense level. And not being afraid to bench everyone from Tim Duncan when need be (the end of a key Finals game, which didn’t work out) to Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge these days. No team’s players perform with as much commitment as the Spurs. That’s certainly great coaching as well as putting them in position to perform. There’s just such a big gap between No. 1 and the next 29.
I can see ATL offering Dwight everywhere this draft. And are the Raptors going to completely blow it up or just let Kyle and Ibaka walk and try and build around DD?
Sam: More offseason fun. Speaking of another blow-it-up contestant. They’ve got some decisions to make, and I guess not so much from coach Mike Budenholzer. He took over in an emergency after the Danny Ferry imbroglio. But coaching and running things usually has bad results. So what to do? Can they keep Paul Millsap, a potential big free agent, though a little aged? It hasn’t worked with Howard, who seems to have clashed with Budenholzer and their style of play. They seemed to be going young dropping Korver and Horford, but then get Howard. So who knows. The blow-it-up brigade has hit Toronto next, but, really, again they make you play 82 games. Fifty eight losses is painful. The GM talked about a culture/style change after the sweep against the Cavs, which doesn’t sound good for the coach.
They say they want to keep Lowry, but he’s been hurt just about every playoffs and is looking for huge money at 31. I expect he moves on. I can see them keeping Ibaka after giving up a lot for him at trade deadline, though he’s remained enamored with being a jump shooter. We all thought they made nice moves at the trade deadline with P.J. Tucker as well, but now have a load of free agents wanting to be paid and facing being well into the luxury tax where they could be paying $3 for every $1 over. The Canadian dollar is not that strong. They’ve been a 50-plus win team. Sure, they can’t beat the Cavs. But no one looks like they can in the East. I’m for continuing to take a shot until you cannot.
Free agents don’t much yearn for Canada, though more and more Americans have been talking about moving there these last several months. And you better be horrible and extremely lucky to get in the draft. That’s long odds. I’d guess they try to keep Ibaka, move on from Lowry, play more with their big man, Valunciunas, and hope LeBron decides to close his career in L.A. for his love of Magic. Though there’s always an exception because even with that fix can you see them seriously competing with the Cavs? Can you get Canadian Andrew Wiggins from the Timberwolves? Would Minnesota take DeRozan? That would be the kind of rebuild you could see local fans going for, and that would give Minnesota a skilled veteran scorer to make a move for the playoffs next season.
Is that John Lucas II on the Houston Rockets' staff? I must say he still looks the same. Then again, he looked old even in his playing days. What's his story? He wasn't the most talented PG but once played like he was. Substance abuse, going from coaching a great SA team to a terrible PHI team, playing tennis, life coaching, etc. etc...
Sam: Lot of etc. in that life. Lucas actually was a great point guard, the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft in 1976, a top collegiate guard when players stayed four years. I lived in Washington, D.C. then and used to see him at the U. of Maryland and he was a sort of Chris Paul of that era. An amazing athlete who also was a tennis pro after being the No. 1 tennis and basketball player in college. His story would make a great documentary with his publicized drug problems, which blew up with the Rockets team in the mid-1980s when half the team went into drug rehab. It was a tough era in the NBA with similar problems on the Bulls, though some Houston players were kicked out of the league. Lucas survived going into drug rehab and did one of the great turnarounds of his life and career in not only becoming a coach, but becoming a mentor to so many troubled players with his drug facility in Houston. I didn’t even know he’d joined the Rockets in player development until I saw him when the Rockets were in Chicago this winter. Tom Thibodeau and Ron Adams both worked for him when he was a head coach with the Spurs and Lucas went on to quite a few teams. His son John III played with the Bulls among other teams. Lucas II’s story is inspirational and he’s done great work with so many players behind the scenes, a man who is a credit to the game.
The Clippers are supposedly out to get Carmelo Anthony for a package around Austin Rivers, J.J. Redick, and Wesley Johnson. I get what the Clippers are trying to do by surrounding Paul with another superstar in his 30's also on the downfall. It's a final opportunity for Paul to make something happen in LAC. I think you'll see Paul pick up his option as will Griffin. A lineup of Jordan-Griffin-Anthony-shooting guard-Paul is not bad at all.
Sam: That’s a form of one rumor I can believe. The Knicks clearly want to move Anthony, and now that he reportedly is getting divorced, it would seem to open the way to change coasts. I do see both Paul and Griffin returning because as much as everyone screams break it up whenever you lose, that’s a long way back. If you can win 50 games, it means you are a very good team and have a chance. It doesn’t look much these days like anyone does the way the Cavs and Warriors are set up. But no one could beat the Bulls in the 90s, the Lakers in the West in the 80s. Falling back to 25 wins with a team filled with potentially decent players isn’t much fun.
Griffin with his injuries isn’t quite the player he was; Anthony would provide the extra offense they need as they tend to bog down into scoring droughts too often. And perhaps it would get Paul to stop dribbling around so much. Maybe the Knicks take that, but I can see them maybe holding out for DeAndre Jordan. After all, what does he really add to the Clippers in the West? The Rockets got rid of Dwight Howard and got better; the Jazz was best in the playoffs with Gobert off the floor. A big man better score frequently in the West, and Jordan isn’t that kind of guy or worth $20 million plus to sit the end of games because he can’t make a free throw. I’d get a utility big man if I were the Clippers. After all, the Warriors don’t even have one and then give it a shot with Anthony’s scoring. He still can do that, and playing with Paul he’d finally defer like he hasn’t since playing with Chauncey Billups. After all, this is a Clippers team that hasn’t been past the second round the way they are. Could it get worse?
Some writers have mocked Justin Patton to the Bulls already. After what happened with the Bears and many fans disappointed in the Trubisky pick, I don't even want to think what the Bulls might do. I think you could do worse than Patton. A center whose athletic and can shoot was one of the missing pieces for the team in the Boston series when Lopez needed a break. Also if the Bulls analyze their season well in full, they should notice that they were vulnerable all season to athletic or good centers (Nokic in Denver, Giannis, Aldridge, Brook Lopez etc.). So, they need to build for the future at that spot. Finding a free agent wing or guard usually is easier to find on the market than a great center. Patton may turn out special.
Sam: I admit I am not up on the draft yet and just starting to look at guys with the draft camp this week in Chicago. I’m just starting to look at the draft sites, which this week among a few had Ivan Rabb, Jarrett Allen, Zach Collins and Patton for the Bulls. These are all just guesses, of course, especially since the Bulls with, as even they noted their small staff, tend to keep business internally for a long time. Plus, other than the top four of five guys who are considered the top tier—Fultz, Jackson, Ball, Fox and perhaps Tatum or Markkanen—I doubt the Bulls have a strong idea yet whom they would like if they remain No. 16. Because who knows who gets there and players can opt out of the draft still in the next week. And remember last June the Bulls made one of the major trades of the draft season.
It’s interesting that all these mock drafts pretty much have the Bulls taking a big man. I think that’s because they begin to fall. Most young big men are projects, and that’s usually not a Bulls priority, especially with big men taking longer to develop. It seems to me the Bulls most need shooting, athleticism and playmaking, though perhaps there aren’t enough players of that talent there. I actually like what the Bears did. Assuming, of course, they are right. Teams too often get caught up in taking the guy slotted by talent. If you like a guy 16 and everyone has him 26 or 36, who cares. Let the TV guys yell about how it was a bad pick. Usually they’re on TV because they could not do the job. Find a guy you like who fits with you team and stand by him.
Enjoying the playoffs? Hah. I have only been watching the Wizards/Celtics series.
Sam: No one’s running those must-see commercials. The ratings have been OK, though probably more because the cable news is so depressing and upsetting. It hasn’t been a very compelling playoffs due to the domination of the Warriors and Cavs, which should at least make it an anticipated Finals. Though there have been some good games; not necessarily great series. After all, it’s still not the 2000s with Spurs/Nets or the Rockets and Knicks in the mid-90s. We’ve seen domination like this before. I remember the ’85 conference finals when coach Doug Moe with a good Denver team that had Alex English, Fat Lever, Calvin Natt and Dan Issel said he didn’t think they could win a game in the conference finals against the Lakers. They did get one. The Spurs and Rockets was worth a watch, too. Until Thursday. It’s been sort of like an NCAA tournament with no big upsets. Be patient; there’s a really good one to come.
A few words here about that Spurs/Rockets Game 5. We saw all the stuff fans complained about with the Bulls. It goes on all the time with many teams. James Harden was walking the ball up court constantly, basically refusing to push the ball, walking into the same high screen. The Spurs, even without Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, simply were the aggressors. They played harder despite having way less talent on the floor. The Rockets ran basically the same play every time and the Spurs with guys you thought were in the league—or in the case of Ginobili, long retired—just tried harder. So Harden threw the ball all over the place after wasting 10 seconds strolling into the front court. You could hear Rondo screaming, “Run.” Yes, even in the semifinals in a crucial game with an MVP contender and the likely coach of the year. You can lead them to water. But they have to decide whether they want to drink or not. As for Game 6, maybe he began dating a member of the Kardashian family again. Too bad to close that way after such a great season and finishing second in the MVP voting.
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