Ask Sam Mailbag: 10.21.16
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to talk the Snell-MCW deal, the veteran leadership of Wade and more
I think they should have let MCW wear #1. It's not retired or anything. It's not like we'll always remember Rose and how he led the Bulls to become... slightly above average.
Sam: Well, it was a very, very nice few years, conference finals, MVP, coach of the year, executive of the year, defensive player of the year, lots of stuff most franchises don’t get. And basically due to Rose. His play in that short span was as spectacular and thrilling as anything we’ve seen in the Bulls history. Which is saying something. But it was just a few years, didn’t meet the general level of ultimate team success or really even close and left us all with more sad memories of what might have been. Still, I agree Carter-Williams could have kept the No. 1. Though it does indicate the kind of person Michael Carter-Williams is in that he didn’t want things to be about him, nicely symbolic of his point guard position. Anyone who reads me regularly, or occasionally, knows I have been sympathetic and supportive of Derrick Rose. But, c’mon, Rose doesn’t even wear the number with the Knicks.
Though as a longtime Cartwright-o-phile, I am a bit peeved he took Bill’s New York number. Rose didn’t wear No. 1 in high school or chose it when he left the Bulls. No one died. It was just a number, and even if he someday were to have his number retired, which is highly unlikely given his team never advanced beyond one conference finals win, the Knicks, for example, gave away No. 15 of alltimer Dick McGuire, gave it to Earl Monroe and then retired both. I recall B.J. Armstrong wearing Bob Love’s No. 10 even after they retired it. When B.J. came back he wore a different number, though not triple digits like Celtics players wear now since they have retired most of their two-digit numbers. The Bulls don’t retire many numbers, and if they were to do so I’d guess players like Chet Walker and Horace Grant, the latter the third of the first three championships Big Three, would be ahead. Rodman? Nah.
I understand that fans can become attached to a player and wear his jersey number. I guess it does become costly when you have bought those No. 1 jerseys. But it’s the name, not the number. Sports constantly moves on. Rose did and took a different number. That could be a signal to future Bulls players to do what they want. You can’t imagine Rose caring in the least. Carter-Williams clearly was surprised by some fan reaction, another argument for the demise of Twitter. He’s worn No. 1 in the best times of his career, in college and his Rookie of the Year season. Numbers generally mean more to players for superstitious reasons. It made sense when the Bulls asked him what number he wanted, which does not involve management, he’d ask for No. 1. I hope Carter-Williams takes No. 1 next season. I’d guess given his team-first nature he probably won’t. Is one season a long enough mourning period for numbers? What stage of grief is that?
Apparently Carter-Williams has a team option for the 17/18 season which the Bulls must exercise or decline by 10-31 of this year. That gives the Bulls two full weeks to do an evaluation and decide if the option exercise makes sense. Perhaps it’s overly optimistic but at the age of 25, Carter-Williams might be an excellent long term addition to the team. The option exercise for 17/18 would also provide some protection given Rondo’s contract and perhaps creates some trade value. He is a great addition and it’s absolutely astounding he was available for Snell. Carter-Williams was refreshingly articulate in his initial media interviews and smartly sensitive to the #1/Rose uniform number. If he looks good these next two weeks, the Bulls should exercise the option rather than allow him to become a free agent at the end of this season. Your views?
Sam: The Bulls really don’t need to do anything as he can be a restricted free agent, which means the Bulls could match any offer. He’ll be coming off the bench, so it’s not like he’s going to be in position to be a 20-10-10 player. I believe, as I wrote earlier this week, it could turn out to be a great trade. Plus with Rondo essentially on a one-year deal, it’s vital to have a potential starter like Carter-Williams in reserve. So, yes, I understand the idea about locking him up. But it’s not time to do that with the ability to match. It’s a terrific opportunity to see how he fits in while the Bulls remain in a growth period with short term deals for their veterans and the young players closing in on potential extensions. It’s better to continue to judge how these players perform and maintain the flexibility going forward.
Don’t understand the Snell /Micheal Carter Williams trade from the Bulls standpoint. Great move for Snell. He should get more playing time with the Bucks. Bulls Have a Log-Jam of Guards who are not known for 3-Point shooting. I guess this move puts McBuckets rotating from the back-up 2 & 3 Spots (Same with Valentine).
Sam: No offense to Snell, and I did notice the Bucks said they’d start him, but if by Christmas he’s still starting I’ll be stunned. OK, maybe Thanksgiving. The hardnosed Jason Kidd is not that understanding. It’s not that Tony won’t try, but he’s not one to sustain his play through regular periods. He could remain in the NBA, but it seems more likely in a role off the bench. For the Bulls, I don’t know how it went but I’m guessing when Milwaukee said it would do the deal there was a lot of pinching of themselves going on. Not necessarily because Tony didn’t really have a role with this team, but the Bulls were quietly desperate to find a backup point guard. Dinwiddie, Grant and Canaan all have had good moments in preseason, but none really looks like a point guard. Valentine hasn’t played with his ankle sprain, but the Bulls want to use him backing up shooting guard. The biggest hole, at least in terms of position, was backup point guard. They’re not easy to find as the resigning of Aaron Brooks last season suggests. Then to have a former Rookie of the Year fall into your lap like that, well, Christmas in October.
I really like this trade! I was a big fan of Tony and wish him the best. In the right situation I think he is good enough to be that 3-and-D wing that teams want. Hopefully he impresses Kidd right away and earns quality minutes. But MCW, really!? He's a stud! I see him averaging over 20 mpg for us as the primary guard after Wade and Rondo. Who cares that he's not a tremendous shooter. The squad he will be tasked with leading is perfectly designed to be run by him.
MCW, Canaan, McD, Mirotic, Felicio 3 amazing shooters and a traditional big rebounding. New bench mob? I guess we should have trusted the process?
Sam: Yes, there are some intriguing possibilities with shooters surrounding Carter-Williams. I know some will say defenses drop off him because of his weak shooting. But he can get places on the floor. More so, his defense is vital with a group like that which doesn’t feature much defense. We’ve been thinking Gibson will start at power forward, which left open the question of a tall defensive player as a reserve with the likes of Mirotic and McDermott. It wouldn’t seem right, if perhaps schematically more appropriate, to have a theoretical stretch four shooter with the starters instead of Gibson, who has outplayed everyone in preseason. There was the view also the reserves needed Gibson’s switching presence. Now Carter-Williams at 6-6 and an excellent defender can fit with that group. I don’t think, as Hoiberg said, the rotations will be set permanently for awhile, but I agree Carter-Williams should find a prominent place.
Is this the first bull in history with a hyphenated last name?
Sam: Not sure if you count John Lucas-III and Norm Van-Lier. It could have been Shareef Abdul-Rahim, whom I was often writing in suggested trades. Khalid El-Amin, of course. Who can forget those special 936 minutes in 2000-01? Hyphenated names usually come from a child taking the names of both parents, though more so in the NBA with religion name changes, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and my old Brooklyn friend, Zaid Abdul-Aziz, formerly Don Smith, a tough forward who played at Iowa State. There are several hyphenated now like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf gets mentioned a lot lately as the NBA player who first protested the national anthem. As Chris Jackson at LSU he was one of the great shooters. I still most like to say Pops Mensah-Bonsu. Does Jo-Jo English count? Though I never was sure if it was Dragan Tarlac-Bargaric or Dalibor Bargaric-Tarlac.
Back in the early championship years, the Bulls always tried to set up Bill Cartwright for early baskets, often short baseline jumpers. I don't recall the Bulls trying to do that since. Is there any player on the Bulls current team that needs to get going early? I was happy to see Lopez rattle one in to start off the Bulls scoring (Monday). If he could just score 10-12 per night, it seems like it would be a boon for the offense. Do the Bulls need to open up the outside by establishing themselves inside or vice versa?
Sam: I thought it was interesting to hear Wade say he has difficulty getting going that first time out and is better his second run when he’s had time to analyze the defense and play. I’m not suggesting Wade doesn’t start, which Hoiberg thought I was when I mentioned it after that game when Hoiberg lamented regular slow starts in the preseason. I think a lot has to do with not only not playing regular rotations until this week, but Jimmy, Rondo and Wade trying to adjust to one another. That takes time. It’s much easier in fantasy leagues, on paper and in analytic analysis, which takes out human element. It takes time for players to adjust to each other; statistics aren’t produced in a vacuum. They are dependent on circumstances. Jimmy never has played with a point guard like this. Wade neither. No one has played with one of the best at his position in league history. He hasn’t played at home in a different arena ever. I liked what Wade said. He is such a smart player you can see him like a computer analyzing the game as it goes on, but no team can afford to regularly get behind early. The statistics show if you do you generally have a losing record. Hoiberg obviously was attuned as he opened the game calling the first play for Wade. Wade had four points, an assist, rebound and steal in the first four minutes, a positive sign going into the season to deal with the slow starts in preseason. Phil Jackson started games that way with Cartwright and Luc Longley not only to space the floor by trying to turn the defense inside early, but also to get the triangle offense running with cuts off the big man in the post. These Bulls don’t play that way. Lopez is an opportunity scorer. He’ll score more off the movement of defense away from him, not toward him. The issue for the Bulls to start may be how much Wade and Rondo, known to push the ball but also gamble on defense for steals, can play enough standard defense early to allow the offense to get going.
It's great to have a veteran like Dwade on team. Professional, savy, and from a winning culture. His ability to speak to the media is especially refreshing with his insight on the big three in Miami. Is this veteran leadership from Dwade is something that was missing last year? He is clearly not afraid to speak his mind. How do you think he will tolerate the losing at this point in his career?
Sam: I do believe amidst all the silly talk about my team, who leads, it’s organic. You know it when you see it, and it’s been pretty obvious the way players say Hoiberg has allowed Wade to stop practice and instruct that Wade’s experience, professionalism and talent will tell this team’s fate. He may not be the best player all the time, but I agree that his determination will tell a lot about how good this Bulls team can be. How much is he capable and up to it late in an amazing career? We will see. I don’t see any issue with Butler because the way I’ve seen it Butler basically idolizes Wade and Wade is in the position of his career where he wants and encourages others to excel. He can no longer reach the individual heights he once did and doesn’t try to. He’s in a gentle career decline, but a long way from gliding to a landing. His voice will be the dominant one for the team and his makeup remains their best chance to enjoy success. Others will produce more at times; no one will be more important overall.
What’s this nonsense about Spurs and Pop not being high on LA anymore? I doubt it.
Sam: Well, yes and no. Many of us wondered how this could possibly work with Gasol going to the Spurs. It’s one thing with Duncan, but Gasol and Aldridge play similarly. Both would rather take jump shots to score; neither wants to chase stretch fours or defend the middle. They’re similar players in many ways, and neither much defensively, a Spurs tradition. The Spurs and Aldridge have done plenty of denying, and I doubt there’s so called shopping going on. There rarely is early except in cases like with Carter-Williams, and say Rudy Gay, where teams have been trying to trade players for awhile. The Spurs are a smart organization and I wouldn’t be surprised if they realize, especially with the Warriors roster, that their championship window has closed for now with Duncan gone and Tony Parker in decline. The Spurs aren’t one to ride it out as the Kawhi Leonard deal suggested.
I suspect in looking forward they figure the only player they have with league wide value is Aldridge given they are not trading Leonard. I don’t believe they are unhappy with Aldridge. Just that they’re going to need to reshape their roster to remain highly competitive and Aldridge is the only player who potentially can bring them a bounty. But Aldridge is more a final piece. He’s 31 and going into his second NBA decade. You are not building with or around him. The problem is it’s doubtful any of the current contenders to Golden State and Cleveland see him as a guy who can elevate them that far. And since the disastrous Brooklyn trade for older Celtics parts, teams are much more leery of trading their draft picks and young players for a quick headline. That basically only occurs in New York. So I suspect the Spurs will ride it out with Aldridge this season, probably fall back some and then have to begin making some hard decisions. I believe the Spurs still like Aldridge, but he’s really not their future.
Through the years we've seen players come and go, but I've been intrigued on several occasions about 3 young big men players in the last 10 years, one of those players I thought had no heart, he had court presence for 5 years but something was missing from the very start of his career. Unlike Manute Bol this guy looked like a basketball player, but there was no life in him. As a former high school principal I've noticed many athletes stumble in the maturation process, many of them have never quite matured. Today I read an article about a muscular guy named Hasheem Thabeet, working under no nonsense strength trainer Frank Matrisciano and Milt Newton former NBA player, general manager, who played with Danny Manning. They believe that he has what it takes and they are betting their reputations that he has heart and what it takes to successfully resume his career. I think this young man is finally NBA ready and the Chicago Bulls need to consider him. They have 15 signed players but not a center like this man.
Sam: Yes, I saw the story on the Basketball Insiders web site. I think a lot of teams will be interested because, as they say, you can’t teach 7-3. And with a reach to touch the rim without jumping. Thabeet has been generally considered one of the great (only thing great so far) draft busts, a No. 2 overall pick. I never dealt with him, and everyone sounds good in October, and especially everyone trying to come back at 29. There obviously have been issues to remain out this long. Can 30 teams all be wrong? As the story noted with Whiteside they were. The story pointed out several teams have had workouts with him already, and my guess is he’ll try to go where he has a good chance of working in relatively quickly and getting more playing time, which usually means a non playoff team. Worth a risk for the Bulls, though Lopez will have much of the center time? Could be. Two years out is a long time when you are going on 30. Even at his best he couldn’t score as a pro, but you’d figure just standing there he can block shots. Does that make a player, especially when he doesn’t move all that great. Someone will take a look at him. Maybe the Bulls if he wants to be in a developmental situation again this season, though it doesn’t sound like it.
With Elton Brand announcing his retirement, are there any stories or memories you want to share from his early days with the Bulls?
Sam: There’s few whom I would rather write about. It’s not so much stories with Elton than the package. He was an excellent player, 20 and 10 with the worst Bulls teams in history. What transcended that was a special concern about the welfare of others. Not to say pro athletes are indifferent, but they are young and have so much money suddenly and so many people pulling at them it’s difficult to exhibit the kind of humanity one might with years of maturity. Elton did that at 21. He understood reporters’ jobs like few I ever can recall, going back into the locker room on his own when reporters were late arriving, asking if everyone had what they needed. Stopping at every hotel line (people line up behind barriers at team hotels on the road to wait for autographs and only a few sign, understandably, as many turn around to sell the autographs right away) to sign, especially for kids, acknowledging fans with more than a wave but starting a conversation, asking what they do and how they are.
I guess my best personal story was I was in L.A. to do a few stories and one was having lunch with him for an interview. I never do this, but as I recall Phil Jackson changed times on me and said the only time he had was when I was supposed to meet Elton. I hated to do it, but I called Elton and explained, that I had to get Phil when I could as he was, you know, all the rings (I hated the implicit he’s more important than you) and the zenmaster. Sure, sure, Elton said. So then I finish with Phil and I call to ask if I can get a few questions with Elton on the phone. Let’s go have the lunch, he says. It’s now about 3 p.m. He says stay where you are and I’ll come over there. Trust me, this doesn’t happen in celebrity interviews. And we are not that close. I even was positive about the trade to the Clippers, obviously in retrospect a huge mistake. I didn’t see that Bulls group with Elton, Jamal Crawford, Ron Artest, Brad Miller and Ron Mercer (Ok, Fred Hoiberg, too) able to contend for much seriously. So I bought the dual dynamos, twin seven footers, Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside, to eventually dominate with the East having basically no big men. It was, after all, the Bulls trying something bold, which was rare. I’m a take a chance person. Right plan; wrong guys. So Elton shows up for “lunch” and I order. He says he’s eaten already and is glad to just sit there and have a drink (non alcohol). He knows I wanted the interview. He says he remembers I was for the trade. He laughs a lot. Likes the gentle needle. He was like that with everyone. I wasn’t special to him; Elton is special to people. If you get to know people like that once in your life consider yourself fortunate.
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