Ask Sam Mailbag: 10.7.2016
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to answer reader questions and take a look at the Bulls and the league after week one of preseason
Wow Bulls lost (two). I thought they'd play harder than that. I think they need more spark.
Sam: There’s not much to say yet since so much is already determined with Rondo, Wade, Butler and Lopez as starters. There’s a long way to go as we like to say, or perhaps not with exhibitions and practices for three more weeks. But the way things have gone the first two preseason games, it’s tough to see Gibson not being that fifth starter. Of course, things change, and there are the defensive components also. That second unit without Gibson doesn’t look very good defensively. Hey, everyone needs Taj! Bulls MVP? But you don’t have to remove them all from the lineup at once, and Hoiberg doesn’t, anyway.
You can stagger rotations and it will help to have Denzel Valentine back after his sprained ankle heals. Even though he is a rookie, he seems to have good defensive instincts. But if Gibson were to start at power forward, would that make Portis backup center? Felicio? I think ideally the staff was hoping Mirotic would be ready to break out as a forward shooter, and he still could. Though he’s had a tough two of 14 start, he did play all summer for Spain and it could be catching up to him with also a tough training camp with lots of sessions and no days off yet.
Spencer Dinwiddie has been effective in both games as the team still seeks a backup point guard, though Dinwiddie is more a scoring point guard. Valentine will be back for the regular season opener and will get time handling the offense as well as Butler and Wade, the latter who will be in the middle of pick and roll offense. Wade and Rondo seem like they could be the best combination of distributing guards the Bulls have had in years. The wins and losses don’t much matter now as much as the individual progress. And for now, Wade and Butler haven’t played much. Just warming up. The engine doesn’t need that spark plug to ignite quite yet.
That was a fun game last night to watch, wasn't it? Good or bad, these Bulls could at least present a very entertaining team to watch.
Sam: It probably helped that the Pacers do look like they can average 110 per game; though maybe not the 115 Paul George predicted. I like that fast shooting game, or at least fast shooting with a good shot. But it does skew the Bulls defensive statistics as they had trouble getting back and in position. As Hoiberg noted afterward it’s not a good excuse when you also don’t have many offensive rebounds. I thought it was impressive the Bulls stayed with them despite Butler basically resting and Wade playing in segments. Rondo was excellent and McDermott showed he’s ready if the Bulls can just get him more shots. He actually got one three on nice ball movement across court from Portis. And a handoff from Portis on another. It’s just testing the water now to see if it’s boiling. We really won’t know much until perhaps a month into those real games as they have to adjust to one another, which seems easier said than done.
Can the Bulls afford to keep Lopez/Gibson together? As defensive as those two are, the Bulls would be dumb to separate them (after all, you can't expect miracle blocks from Doug McDermott this season if he plays power).
Sam: I wrote some about that this week as I’d probably prefer that pair to start. If I were Gibson, I wouldn’t get his hopes up based on my view, though as we always hear, it’s about who finishes. Hoiberg has made it pretty clear this training camp that, yes, there will be a competition especially at power forward, but that rotations and lineups throughout are not set and can and will change depending on production. I think it’s pretty clear Rondo, Wade and Butler have their positions locked down, though there is more room at shooting guard/small forward with Wade, especially early, not playing huge minutes. Jimmy can swing over to shooting guard and McDermott or Snell to small forward. The opportunity is there for Snell if he can finally produce. But I also think it’s too much pressure to place on shooters like McDermott and Mirotic to expect them to be consistently productive as shooters given both have basically had one full NBA season each. That’s why I’d rather see Gibson start with Lopez. I know it doesn’t give the Bulls that “floor spacing” thing everyone talks about. But I see that more fad and fashion without Klay Thompson and Curry. Put your five best on the floor, and now Gibson is one of those five. Plus, his rebounding is important with Lopez not a historically big rebounder like his brother.
Plus, I like the look of a defensive team to start games and provide some early stability. Winning that first quarter, as Doug Collins always notes on TV, is worth more in the long run than you think. And like the saying goes, five guys can play defense. Also, with a new team it’s easier to develop defensive coordination than offensive coordination. That’s why you see the USA Olympic teams more defensive oriented. It takes too long to put in an offense with new players, and the Bulls have eight. Those championship Bulls of the 1990s will tell you they most often worked on offense. Offense is where things slip first for teams. The offensive coordination is much more difficult to develop. It’s not just about shots made or missed. Plus, after so many years of sacrificing for players like Boozer or Pau, Taj in his contract year deserves the chance to start. I hope he gets it.
I know the Bulls won't, but if for some reason Noel became available for the right price, would the Bulls pursue? In a perfect world, we could let go of Mirotic/Pick for Noel.
Sam: I’m proud of the patience fans are showing for not wanting to trade after the first preseason game. But now, two games, well that’s different. Mirotic remains firmly in the Bulls plans. Despite the bitter disappointment one might feel three weeks before the season starts, it’s pretty nice to have a young player—remember, not even one full NBA season yet given appendix surgery last season—about 6-10 with that shooting range. Nerlens Noel is going to be mentioned in 20 team trade scenarios coming up because he already been pouting and I saw in Philadelphia media they already were commenting on his body language. He’s an intriguing talent, but flawed with almost no offensive game. But as a top lottery pick with the team going nowhere, new GM Bryan Colangelo is known as a GM who asks for a lot, lot. And doesn’t have to be desperate to make a move with the only expectations to beat 10 wins. I don’t see him asking for less than Jimmy Butler and maybe offering to throw in something. Obviously, the Bulls would have no interest. Plus, the 76ers can’t be in too much of a hurry as they have no idea if Joel Embiid can hold up after so many foot issues and surgeries. I suspect we’ll see plenty of rumors and suggestions, but I don’t see them making a move for awhile.
If Bosh manages to get an "all clear" medically, what are the chances of the Bulls landing him? We wouldn't have to pay much because he would sort of lose that leverage. He already is paid out from Miami contract, so money seemingly wouldn't be an issue. He wants to play again, but likely not for a non contender. I can only see him playing with James or Wade. What do you think is in his future?
Sam: I believe his NBA career is over. I don’t know the full motivations of the Heat or what went on. It’s obvious with Miami letting go of Dwyane Wade, they’re looking for another super Riley rebuild and getting Bosh off the salary cap (which would be this February if he doesn’t play) puts them in better position. But I also doubt Miami forced him out against doctor’s recommendations. It’s obvious he has a serious medical issue and it would be inconceivable to me for any team to take a chance on him no matter what doctor he may find to clear him.
Look, he still was a terrific player. Miami likely won’t do better than him in any free agent market. They’re, to me, hardly pushing him away. But this is literally life and death. I recall Reggie Lewis finding a doctor to say he could play, and later he collapsed on the court and died. I don’t see how any team can take than chance when Bosh has gone through two years of this with Miami. It seems likely Bosh can live a normal and productive life and has had an exceptional NBA career with multiple titles. He wants to play and I fully understand, and surely a team would get an All-Star caliber player (maybe after basically missing two years) cheaply. But how could you run a team wondering every time he fell if it was for good, and how could you allow yourself to put him in that position? Magic Johnson had to retire after a similar 13 years, though he returned briefly. It’s unfortunate for Bosh since he still can be a productive player, but I don’t see any team willing to take the risk for him and the team.
I was just blown away by Derrick Rose saying he was more excited this season in New York then he has been for years! What the ****! After all the money and fame Chicago gave him, and it being his hometown, how could he not of been more excited than to serve his own! I have never been a fan of New York and I am glad that he's there now! Don't wish him any bad but can't wish him any good either.
Sam: I don’t plan to answer more Rose emails, so I thought I’d try to deal with it in the preseason, which is for experiments and trying things that never will work. I’ve mentioned many times I’m embarrassed by the frequent vitriol toward Rose. I know he’s now the latest definition of a polarizing athlete. Why really makes little sense, but our system hardly requires logic and fairness when anger and emotion can substitute. As for that particular comment, it was basically a tweet (I know, the main source of news for those under 30) out of context in which he basically said Chicago tired of him (probably true) and he understood, but was glad to be embraced with a passionate fan base in New York.
And, by the way, what player—or employee—have you ever heard going to a new team or job and saying how much better the last one was and how much better you were treated there. Even when Rose tries to make a politically correct statement, he’s condemned. Can’t win, and all that. The fact is Rose served Chicago well and better than most. His play gave the team its most hope for ultimate success since the Jordan years and he holds the record for the largest charity donation from a Chicago athlete ever. He was injured, yes repeatedly, while playing for the team and never blamed anyone even when he suffered a career changing arc playing in the 40th minute of a game after he’d been out with various lower body injuries for most of the last month. It often came down to people not liking something he said. OK, he wasn’t the most articulate, but since when does a lack of ideal expression deserve such condemnation?
He didn’t always play as hard as some would like his last few years with the Bulls? Perhaps, but this also was someone facing the end of his playing career with three knee operations. He wasn’t the kind to say much, but I suspect he was scared to death. Money doesn’t buy happiness, as the expression goes, and it doesn’t replace what not only you were born to do but the only thing you basically did. It just seemed to me he was trying to get healthy enough to guarantee some sort of career and sports life. Hey, but he didn’t dive for that loose ball in Detroit! Remember, this was the guy who in trying to carry a previously non playoff team was doing things few players would attempt. He took severe falls trying to dunk over Dwight Howard. He took basketball risks that made teammates flinch for his future. He could not anymore after three operations as he came to realize better safe than sorry he doesn’t have a career. All athletes—and workers—find little sympathy or interest from anyone once they’re gone. His plan wasn’t the formula for enough success for the Bulls, so they traded him. No problem there. The team has to pursue its best interests. Rose won’t play in Chicago again and given his inclinations over the years likely won’t be in Chicago much anymore. He’s moved on, like many before him, from Michael Jordan going to Washington to Charles Barkley to several cities to Kareem, Wilt, Oscar and many others. Kevin Durant, to name one lately.
When Rose was in Chicago, it seemed to me he gave everything he had for as long as he could. I hope he does well and I hope he and Joakim Noah are welcomed back next month like the community icons they were for so long. Not everyone can hold the trophy. And then everyone can move forward, hopefully without much indignation or resentment. For what Rose and Noah gave Chicago for almost a decade, they deserve to be praised and appreciated.
Speaking of Rondo… He’ll be quite a change from Derrick Rose. Rose has talent, but he’s never had the point-guard skills or court-sense I associate with the great ones. Rondo is nowhere near the athlete that Rose is, but he sees the court and finds the open man and is usually the smartest player on the floor. That’s what a point-guard should be. I also think I understand Rondo’s reputation. It’s not authority that he can’t deal with, it’s authoritarians. I think he’ll do whatever you want, as long as you can make him see it’s a smart move. I’m a lot like that, and some folks find me ‘difficult’ too.
Overall, I’m excited that we’re starting something new. I miss Noah already, but I have to admit I’m relieved to be rid of Rose’s baggage. No ill feelings toward Derrick, but I’m happier to have the guy who led the league in assists.
Sam: OK, one more. I can accept the Rose fatigue. And probably Noah as well to some extent as he’s again out with an injury and missed their opening preseason game. I will admit despite my fondness for both, it sure is a lot easier not to have to consider the Rose civil suit no matter the outcome and can Jo hold up? Though it has made it a bit of a mundane preseason otherwise. Taj or Niko? That’s the controversy? This Rondo thing, meanwhile, is like the Rodman factor. And then went pretty well. It probably puts the best emphasis on the famous Seinfeld line about really just rooting for laundry. Who among Bulls fans was craving Rondo two years ago? The guy who took out Brad Miller in that 2009 playoff series who was booed more than any other Celtic playing in Chicago? And then had a fight with Kirk Hinrich? Now can’t do without him? Well, it’s actually true now as he seems headed for a terrific season and once you get to know people they are never quite what you thought. Good or bad. Though, it is in some sense the religious beauty of sport. We can rightly forgive.
Though I do agree with the assessment of Rondo. He probably, overall, has been the team’s best player the first two preseason games even with a high turnover count. As Butler and Wade indicated, you have to be alert all the time with Rondo passing the ball. And good for him starting to get back his reputation, even if he’s not going to be much fun to talk to as he mostly prefers the Belichick short answer method in interviews. Like with Belichick, there’s much more there if he lets you in. But they don’t have much time or patience with the current media form. I’ve always seen Rondo as a bit resentful of authority. That’s not an unusual trait. I believe I’ve had my moments as well. “What do you mean your changing that lead!” As I’ve written, I think he works well with Hoiberg because Fred is confident and unlike many NBA coaches, not insecure about who he is. Too many NBA coaches—and people running many businesses—resent that you may know more than they do. And someone will find out.
Fred welcomes your confidence because he is about the team, and Rondo should be a good fit. But I wouldn’t compare him with Rose as much as in Bulls history Guy Rodgers and Norm Van Lier. The Bulls really haven’t had many real point guards since then. They won six titles without any. Rondo could become the first Bull to win a league assist title (Norm led the league with the Royals). But Rondo may need to score more with this Bulls team lacking the sort of big time scorers he played with in Sacramento (Cousins) and Boston (three). That he can do so without an outside shot only has made him a more unique talent. He looks fully recovered from both his knee surgery and Dallas. He may be the most versatile player on the team, and the Bulls may need him to be. There’s still some defensive deficiencies as he tends to watch a bit too much on those switches. And it doesn’t look quite yet that everyone else is up to running with him, which also was an issue the Bulls had with Rose. Maybe Rose didn’t look to pass as much—neither does Russell Westbrook and he’s pretty good to have—but Rose could push the ball and often didn’t have much company on the wings. And he was the league Most Valuable Player. Let’s not forget there was only one other player in franchise history so designated by the NBA. And the Bulls did get to the conference finals then. It was time for everyone to move on. Let’s do Nov. 4 in the United Center and then enough.
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