Ask Sam Mailbag: 06.16.17
SAM SMITH OPENS HIS MAILBAG TO ANSWER READERS' QUESTIONS
In regards to the Warriors and keeping that team together for the long term, how long do you think they can keep the core (Curry, Durant, Thompson, and Green) together and who do you think is the first to go? Steph Curry has said he would like to play for the Hornets - would the Warriors ever consider letting him go for cap reasons and would he ever leave to fulfill that childhood dream?
Sam: No one leaves an atmosphere like that. Not that many people are like David West, who gave up that $10 million to try the Spurs last year and this time the Warriors. Professional satisfaction can transcend monetary reward at times. We’ve always wondered why enough isn’t enough, that if you are making $5 million or $10 million isn’t that enough? Now sports has certainly made inflation and a short career irrelevant. The Warriors’ atmosphere with the unselfish play that is enjoyable to play that way and with such wonderful humanity on the coaching staff and in management is too good to walk away from. You can see the people they have there in Curry, Durant and Thompson and how money and personal fame is not the driving force. You never can tell with Draymond Green, but he’s more replaceable in that system.
It’s too much fun to play the way the Warriors play and too shortsighted to leave. Sure, if someone offers you $50 million less, which also would be a signal they don’t want you. Plus, the Warriors have a new building in San Francisco ready to open in the next few years and with that technology market and the popularity of the team in a new building, you probably can pretty much charge anything. It’s likely the players and management will find an easy happy meeting point. Perhaps each takes a few million dollars less. Maybe they won’t have to. With some rookie you never heard of playing major minutes in the clinching game, it’s apparent the Warriors can fit in spare parts as long as they have their main four guys.
It should be no problem paying all four long term and then piecing it around. Who wouldn’t want to play with them there? And with the NBA minimum now around $1 million, it’s not exactly a major sacrifice. Look, stuff happens in sports, as the Bulls well know with Derrick Rose. They were projected in 2012 to have a five-year championship run with a mix of veterans and great young talent like Rose and Noah and wonderful supporting actors like Deng. And then poof. No one wishes such misfortune on anyone; it happens. But the Warriors appear well set for a Bulls/Celtics/Lakers-like championship run well into the 2020s. It’s OK; it’s always fun to have a giant to try to overcome. It’s one of the seven basic plots of sports.
Do you believe that there's any chance that Dwyane Wade doesn't opt-in for the upcoming year?
This NBA season should be remembered for the best team in the league having to bring in the leagues best scorer to beat Lebron James.
Sam: I wouldn’t go quite that far, though it would have been a heck of a seven-game series with Harrison Barnes there instead of Durant. But let’s also remember the Warriors were up 3-1 last year over the Cavs when Green got suspended and came back tentative so he wouldn’t be suspended again, and Irving had to make a big three down the stretch in Game 7. That being a team that won 73 games. What the addition of Durant meant was the Cavs were not competitive any longer and had to play their best game in three years to win one game. Which does sound pretty dominant.
I understand dancing with who you came with; in other words, playing the way you got there, which for the Cavs was fast, shooting a lot of threes and not much caring to defend. Perhaps they couldn’t play any other way. But you can’t beat the best at their game. The Warriors strength is those shooters and you cannot outshoot them. Like teams that used to try to find the next Michael or Magic or Bird. There aren’t any others. You have to play slowly against the Warriors, be physical, walk it up, hold some, which Cleveland did a better job of last year; rebound and rebound again, multiple possessions. Trap them up court. Yes, hard to do, but you can play them. I would like to have seen more of the Spurs with Kawhi Leonard. At least make them sweat a bit before the Finals. Sure, you need a few All-Stars. A San Francisco newspaper asked a bunch of us older media types to rate the Warriors all time. The final tally was third best team ever. I didn’t have them in my top five, though they’ll be there the way they are going. They are a great team, but still premature. Here’s the answers I gave the Bay Area News Group:
1. 1995-96 Bulls. Perhaps unfair since I spent more time with them. Fourth title in run, dominance with all time victory margin, probably greatest player ever not exactly in his prime but most dominating personality on court likely ever. Defensive excellence with probably best ever perimeter defender and best non-center rebounder.
2. 1962-63 Celtics. In the middle of the greatest ever dynasty with the most Hall of Famers, the greatest individual winner, best coach and general manager and taking out elite competition in Hall of Fame filled teams in each round.
3. 1985-86 Celtics. Dominance and intimidation of opponent large factors in my greatest debate. A combination of 70s Knicks teamwork with transcendent star in Bird and well into almost a decade long run.
4. 1984-85 Lakers. Also in the midst of a long title run with Hall of Famers all over the starting lineup and bench and dominating teams in the playoffs who dominated other teams on all the greatest lists.
5. 1966-67 76ers. Wilt at his absolute best and no one ever was better than Wilt at his best as a team guy with individual dominance. Didn’t have the long run because of the Celtics and Russell, but peaked as high as anyone for one shining season.
It’s too soon for the Warriors in the top five with just a second title, though their season long dominance gets them in the discussion unlike many recent champions. Their post season path has been unusually easy because of the way the star talents have combined in this era on just a few teams, limiting Golden State’s test against history. It’s not their fault, but they’ll need a longer run to overcome the weaker playoff opponents in a league watered down from expansion and so many young, fundamentally unsound players in starting lineups. The Warriors, savvy, intelligent and expertly directed, exploited that masterfully. The Warriors really cannot be compared on the floor to teams of previous generations because they are so different because of the rules changes that eliminate perimeter contact and eased up on palming and carrying the ball. They succeed with skinny, less physical players who are more athletic and skilled, making it difficult to match them against history until the last 10 years.
The 95-96 Bulls vs this year's Warriors matchup and thought of you right away--specifically, the point you make about how different the officiating was then vs now, with all the hand checking and the sometimes brutal play in the paint. I've never seen a team that shot as well as the Warriors, though maybe the Suns teams in the 90s were close. So I think if the game was played by current officiating standards, the Warriors would have a good chance. If we used 95-96 officiating standards, I'd favor the Bulls. But it would be fun to watch, either way, especially Rodman and Johnson.
Sam: That vastly different rules package does make it difficult to compare the Warriors team vs historic teams. But what you have to do and what I generally do is consider the team against its era for dominance, intimidation (there was no one like those ’96 Bulls, though the Warriors are getting close) and historic talent. The Warriors are a bit short of Hall of Fame talents, though Thompson perhaps eventually will be included. Sorry Draymond. Which speaks more to the limitations of this era and the Warriors getting that softer path, at least to the Finals this year with all the injuries in the early rounds. It’s difficult to consider a team one of the greatest without historic tests. Which should at least give some hope to the East. The Cavs looked much more eminently beatable. Sure, LeBron averaged that triple double, but he pretty much gave up on defense, and he was the best defender they had. Shumpert may be OK, but you can’t play him for his zero offense; similarly with Thompson.
I can’t believe there’s no statistic for this, but I know I’ve never seen a Finals game—and I did cover, I think, 23 straight at one point—that had so many dunks and layups, and especially a closeout game with as many dunks and layups. But you can’t bench 10 guys, I guess. Someone, anyone ever going to step in front? Plus, the Cavs with Kyrie while LeBron was in Miami were a 32-win team and when LeBron’s off the floor rate that way again. It’s an intriguing situation in the East about breaking up teams. Not that LeBron is done (not close), but the Cavs with mostly a team of one dimensional players around LeBron are much more beatable than the Warriors. It’s sort of like the dilemma the White Sox have had; add a piece here and there and it’s not like anyone is so dominant in your league. It didn’t work enough times that they finally took a different road. But teams like the Raptors, Wizards, certainly Celtics, Bucks, and even the Bulls can look at the Cavs now and say a tweak here and there, a bit more current style play and you can get them. Though let’s see what they do this summer.
No one believes after yet another poor Finals that Kevin Love will be back. Most of the speculation has been about Paul George for one year; though I’m not sure why the Pacers would want a breaking down, no defense Love. Yes, I understand George could walk out in a year and they get nothing. But I’m not taking some $70 million on Love with a lot of mileage and a not so great body. The Pacers move, to me, is some Lakers package and George can begin Magic’s building plan. Can you get No. 2 if you throw in Myles Turner? Nah, the Lakers likely will keep the pick. The only place I see for Love with all that money is the Knicks for Carmelo. Would he drop his no trade to be in Cleveland? After all, it’s not like his defense is worse than Love’s. And Carmelo will score in big games. Plus, he’s really physical and you have to guard him. You assume Phil Jackson would jump at Love, at least for his outlet passing, to get rid of Carmelo.
Still, with LeBron 33 early next season and more than 50,000 minutes played with playoffs he’s not going to defend and extend himself like he has. Sure, there’s never been anyone like him physically, so the minutes will be extended for him. But it also was Irving’s first basically healthy season in his career and a bunch of untradeable contracts like that of Thompson, Smith, Shumpert and poor defenders. LeBron’s opt out isn’t until after next season. I think he stays, but many don’t, and so is there a great need in the East to rebuild now with so much uncertainty possible in Cleveland just a season away? OK, you can’t beat Golden State. But reaching the Finals is pretty good. And you do get locker room commemorative hats. Hey, Durant has had numerous surgeries already. Never assume something is because it is now.
During a finals game, LeBron threw a dunk to himself off the backboard, a dunk known in streetball as "dinner's served". I wanted to know how dinner's served would be counted in the stat sheet? Is throwing it off the backboard considered a missed shot attempt and a rebound? There's no question about the dunk, but I was wondering about the first part.
Sam: So that’s how he averaged the triple double. You can’t get as assist to yourself, which probably would be traveling. So that’s what LeBron was complaining about. I guess they could have given him a shot and rebound, but they just scored it as a dunk with no other stat. Sort of a lost or loose ball caught in the air and finished.
If you're going to be a 6 ft 8 wing without much post-up game, you better be a clutch shooter. Lebron doesn't give you enough compared to Larry Bird, Jordan... perhaps Oscar Robertson. We also saw Lebron's defense be underwhelming - and perhaps even a detriment to his team. Did you notice around Game 1 of these 2017 Finals when Durant was in the middle on a fast break... Lebron jumped out to the 3 point line (thus, highlighting the flaw in many of today's media/fans thinking: The philosophy that 3 pointers are so key to winning NBA Games).
The game hasn't changed THAT much from 20 to 40 years ago: You still need to protect the rim. Lebron leaves the lane wide open because of his defensive decision, and Durant goes straight to the cup for a dunk. Great defensive players at least should contest the shot, take some wind out of the ball handler and force him to hit 2 free throws. Just terrible D from the player some think is the best in the NBA and one of the 3 greatest NBA players ever? Lebron is not the best player ever, let alone best forward. Larry Bird would have contested the shot much better.
Sam: Yes, I won’t be getting the LeBron/Jordan stuff for awhile, which also defines the short memory of sports these days and the backward analysis that everyone who doesn’t win is a loser. The Warriors had a far superior team. No one gave the Cavs much of a chance, and they lost. Not that he was by himself—and sometimes he falls into the not my fault thing like after Game 5 when LeBron said at least HE gave everything he could—but the Cavs all season and throughout the playoffs were minus whenever James was off the floor. Sorry, Durant, Kyrie is no Iverson, though I did understand the comparison because neither passed to anyone.
LeBron just began to make some choices, and this most amazing of physical figures ever with his longevity and planning on a lot more isn’t going to commit himself to defense much any more. The rest of us knew it watching him the last few years with the Cavs, though that gets obscured in the highlight/Twitter world that records just a chase down block over 48 minutes as the mark of defense. LeBron rarely plays much defense anymore, and it’s OK given how much else he does. The Cavs long have rested him on defense against the poorest offensive players, sending him out occasionally late against a quick guard. But even he cannot manage that much anymore and is pacing himself.
It’s OK; you cannot be perfect every day. Bird never was much of a defender and especially his last few seasons with his back issues. Same with Jordan, who also made a few nice chase downs with the Wizards, but mostly pointed at others, like LeBron does. “Hey, didn’t you have that guy?” The truth is there are few, if any, great defensive players in the NBA in this era because the rules don’t allow you to defend nearly as much. LeBron does his part. He’s a great one. There’s no debate with that.
Lakers looking to rid themselves of 2nd overall pick, not interested in selecting Ball. True?
Sam: There’s been a lot of noise around about them passing on Ball. Often these things at draft time are smoke screen miss directions, but there’s no reason for that as everyone knows Boston is taking Fultz. And everyone has believed Magic wouldn’t pass a pass first point guard. I really believe teams are starting to fear the dad and how twice a week he’ll say something everyone will be answering to, i.e., the coach should have done that, the forward should have done this. Plus, Ball’s not exactly a LeBron type player of the era. I suspect the Lakers are testing how much value they can get for No. 2.
Sure, they could get Paul George, but with Indiana in a limited bargaining position you wouldn’t think they’d have to give up the pick. Figure the Pacers would take a pair of their young guys the Lakers aren’t high on, like Russell and a bad contract. Would the Lakers want Jimmy Butler? Sign and trade for Paul Millsap? Carmelo? Bledsoe? Everyone on Orlando? A way to unload some of those big contracts for Deng and Mozgov by offering the No. 2 pick? Possible. It’s all part of the predraft banter. The six potential deals you hear about represent about one tenth of one percent of the offers going around. But in the end I still believe Ball goes to the Lakers. If anyone can handle the dad’s outrages, it certainly would be Magic.
Enjoyed the season watching a great organization (top to bottom) have so much success! They proved it’s ‘Better Together’.
Sam: Fred Hoiberg is right. The transition of the NBA is almost complete the way the Finals went. Unless you begin to play that way you may be doomed. Can you find a great center? Karl-Anthony Towns? If DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t so erratic. Maybe with Anthony Davis. If the Pelicans can’t, well, who can? Teams that are going to pound the ball with individual star play probably have little chance to do anything anymore. It’s not only appealing and successful the way the Warriors play—yes, you better also have guys who are really, really good shooters who handle and pass well; hey, fundamentals!—but it’s the style of play that will do the most to attract talent.
You can pull that star/buddy thing all you want, but players are going to want to be in those sort of systems where everyone has a part, the ball and players move easily and regularly. Credit a lot to Steve Kerr for insisting a 50-win Warriors team could be much better and more fun. Standing around watching Kyrie Irving or Russell Westbrook dribble and drive may be successful at times, but who wants to be part of that? And where’s it taking you? Sure, they’ll win individual awards and make a lot of money. No one’s pounding the ball into the middle anymore, and as much as I grew up on that game—more watching post play than being involved—the evolution is almost complete. Push, drive, pass, pass, drive, weak side screen, pass, pass. You have guys with the last three MVPs and they’re constantly looking up, looking ahead, throwing ahead, cutting and screening for teammates. If you cannot play like that you may be doomed to mediocrity.
What are your thoughts on LeBron saying post game he has never been a part of a superteam? I mean, if he hasn't, who them? To paraphrase himself, he has been a part of not 1, not 2, not 3... ok maybe only 2, but you get the point!
Also, can we finally end the forced debate he's on the same level as Michael? I don't care how many all stars he has faced, the man barely escaped being swept for a 2nd time in the Finals. Regardless of the competition, I really don't Michael letting that happen (maybe it's a delusional inner fan in me, or maybe it's true, but there's no more qualified person to comment on that than you).
Sam: Good one. LeBron gets parsed and examined an awful lot, but that is the role you take as self anointed king. It happened with Michael and, of course, all presidents. The LeBron is better crew did get quiet, though it remains an impossible debate. It’s getting a little tiresome because the implication also becomes if you are picking one you are condemning the other. Now you hear LeBron guys demeaning Michael! He lost his first three playoff series! Heresay, of course. Given I wrote my book, “There is No Next”Bron’s A three years ago, we know where I stand. Lechilles in relation to Michael always has been that hesitancy to take that last shot, and again in Game 3 it became the turning point with Korver and Irving failing to hold the Cavs lead while LeBron worked on his triple double. Less the losing five of eight Finals, his backers had to back off again. Look, he’s great and will be long remembered. He’s been a thrill to watch in this series as he realized after Game 1 he better start scoring because his team was woefully short. But we here only like to celebrate the success. If last year was his last Finals win, does he fall out of the top 10? Hey, Jerry West was in the Finals nine times.
Have 3s ruined the game?
Sam: When you think about it, it’s a perversion of the game to award an extra point for something only some guys do well. Why not an extra point for dunking? Obviously, this has been much debated from the decreased reliance on big men to mathematical discovery that three is more than two. Four points for half court? Famously Paul Pierce said Antoine Walker shot so many threes because there were no fours. The shot does further open the court and enable the guys who most look like the rest of us, Stephen Curry and Steve Nash, to have larger roles in the game. Which we should welcome. Though it’s as much scheme and mindset since the last team that had as much success playing the way the Warriors did played more than 50 years ago.
I share the idea that in the draft you have to select the best available play with the pick 16 but with the number 38 pick I would like the Bulls to take an international player that many know little of their skills, but with a good exploration We could find the next Jokic. There are three players that have caught my attention that at some point they will be in the NBA are: Verners Kohs, Kostja Mushidi and Arnoldas kulboka. With the pleasing results with the selection of Paul Zipser the previous season you think that the Bulls look for some player from abroad in this draft.
Sam: I’ll take your word for it for now since I’m still trying to figure out 16. But with that pick early in the second round they still should be able to get a reasonable backup point guard—I believe they still have high hopes for Cameron Payne—or a shot at a wing athlete.
From what I hear, ratings for these Finals are up. I don't really get it. It's hard for me to get excited about a 73-win team that added a top-3 player. Watching them is about as exciting as watching the USA Olympic team romp through the Olympics (maybe that's exciting for some people). They even improved their winning percentage without KD during the regular season! So what are your thoughts on how to take this Warriors team that might be doing this for another 2-5 years? I get the "wanting to see stars" thing... but the difference between the Warriors and the rest of the league seems huge. If LeBron joined the Warriors in a year, would people like that? I'm not arguing; I just don't get stacking talent to the point where you don't have a non-competitive league. Oh well; I guess there's Summer League Championships to be won.
Sam: Bulls, yes, can go back to back in July. Another all-summer league for Denzel Valentine? Yes, I hear the funereal refrain about it being hopeless to compete against Golden State; why watch the inevitable? But greatness always has been good for attendance and ratings. The Bulls weren’t losing in the 90s, and then when the playing field evened enough that the 76ers, Nets, Kings, Pacers and, horrors, almost Milwaukee got into the Finals, the NBA changed the rules so that never happens again. Fans want to see the best and history, either made or denied. I think the NBA is in for a great run.
Looking back on the NBA (Finals), how come Harden, Westbrook, and Durant did not stay together? They had their own super-team right in OKC?
Sam: That does look like the all-time oops. Some say Harden was destined to leave because he wanted his own team, and Durant obviously had enough of watching Westbrook’s chicken without a head act on offense. Plus, you don’t see much fun around Westbrook too often. More tension. So maybe they never had a chance and to paraphrase the old World War I ditty, once they’ve seen Paree (or one ethnic restaurant and a theater not in a multiplex) how are you going to keep ’em down in Oklahoma City? At the least, they should have taken one run at it that season when they traded Harden early after going to one Finals. Nothing might have changed, but no one ever got better losing a superstar. And they had three. Ranks with the late 90s Magic for the greatest dynasties that never were.
Transition offense is where GSW shines. The key isn't the shooting, though that's impressive and they bring it off the bench too. The key is how fast they advance the ball and the way they find the best shot. I can't think of too many teams that come down the floor like they do, though Showtime Lakers and mid-80's Celtics, come to mind and also those Steve Nash/Stoudemire Suns teams really attacked great. Both Lakers and Celtics each had a couple of notable rebounders, and that's what's missing from current GSW team. I give 'em credit, they rebound from everywhere on the floor to make up for it. I can imagine if they play a team that boxes out consistently, things change. So, nice team. Big on intangibles, too, though I do wonder about an important one: resilience. We just have never seen them in a deep hole so we can't see how they go about working out of one. All time great team? Couple of things wrong with saying that now.
For starters, they've been together for a couple of years. Give or take, Celtics were great for almost 16 years. Showtime Lakers had three #1 overall draft picks and each of 'em played like it. Jordan Bulls teams showed that resilience, trying and trying and finally getting over the top. That's the sign of greatness, that irrepressibility. What did GSW do when they lost? Went out and got an MVP? That's honestly a little disappointing. They were a team that had CLE 3-1 and just screwed it up. Does the GM not trust the team he put together? One sorta wonders about what sort of message it sends. I guess lots of teams would have gladly taken Durant, so on that basis it's hard to fault them, but does a great team need to sign someone to get over the top? Does signing this top player make them great? I'd say no. I give Kerr props for mixing them.
Does this make them as impressive as the '77 Sixers (or in a somewhat different dimension, the '82 Sixers)? Are they really a remix of the '88 Suns that didn't have the Lakers to deal with or the '88 Cavs with a different set of rules and no Jordan? Is Curry better than Mark Price or is it that there's no hand checking any more? I like Daugherty's game more than Durant's, but maybe that's just me even as I acknowledge Durant's superior productivity. How much of that is the system Durant's played in? Green has a super game, but he's not nearly as athletic or as scary as Nance was on that team. And GSW team has no one on their second unit like Hot Rod.
If you found yourself nodding thoughtfully once or twice there, how can GSW be "all time great" and there be any discussion at all like the last paragraph? That '88 Cavs team didn't make it out of the first round. These things tend to be subjective and that's the fun of them. But, it's only fun if it's legitimately arguable. And if one can arguably compare a team that got bum rushed to this GSW bunch, sorta makes you question "all time great" huh? Can we say they were both fine teams and leave it there?
On my end, talks about super teams begin with the '70-'72 Knicks only
because the 60's Celtics were a little before my time. That team impressed
the crap out of you in all three phases, plus they had a pretty
eye-popping roster, were led by a great coach, played at an extremely
high level against Hall of Fame players. Of course, I'm
personally partial to the '71-'75 Bulls, but that's fan's privilege.
Sam: It looks like we’re about to have that debate for a few more years.
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