Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 01.27.12
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I don’t understand the “controversy” over Scalabrine taking the key shot at the end of the Pacers game. Although I don’t see as many NBA games in person as I’d like to, and certainly not nearly as many as you do, when I do I try to watch warm-ups where I often see centers routinely hitting long, unguarded jump shots. I remember seeing Gheorge Muresan make 10-12 straight open 20-footers in warm-ups. For Rose to pass up a highly contested driving shot for a wide open (was anyone within 10 feet?) jump shot by an above-average-shooting power forward seems like a no-brainer to me. What’s with the “controversy?” It doesn’t seem to me to be along the lines of LeBron James becoming passive down the stretch – in great part because LeBron’s shots are quite often the “best” shots and, thus, should be taken.
Sam: It isn’t a big controversy, as the team is 16-4 and not exactly damaged with the loss. I’m going to remind Tom it’s a 66-game season, so you don’t have to win 60 games. I did think the Bulls “showed up” against the Pacers. They are not a team that doesn’t compete; they just got beat. Yes, Scalabrine can make that shot and there was no problem with him taking it. The minor issues were what he was doing in the game, given he rarely, if ever, is in a game at that time. He is a legitimate NBA player, but it’s something else to ask a player who doesn’t get that chance practically ever—and has made just seven shots all season—to take and make that shot. And then there’s Rose. As I noted, we’ve been harsh on LeBron for passing up those shots, so it has to be noted Derrick did. Unlike LeBron, he rarely, if ever, passes those up. So it’s more the aberration. I do think his toe injury had a lot to do with it given earlier in the game he didn’t finish on shots he previously would have dunked. And the Bulls were going away from him to Hamilton an awful lot in that game. Rose could have tried to finish and given who he is the notion is you make the play or make the officials make the call. He may not have gotten it that night as the officials were hanging onto their whistles. I don’t see it as a big deal, though more a function of Thibodeau trying to coach through offense/defense changes and getting caught with the guy—he’ll never admit—he didn’t want shooting. Obviously that’s the shot for Korver. But he wasn’t in because of the defensive issue and there weren’t enough timeouts left to make a substitution as you had to save one in a game that close. That sort of stuff never happens with the uber-prepared Thibodeau. So I thank Thibodeau and Rose and Scalabrine for giving us a great game, an edge-of-your-seat moment and something to talk about. As much as fans may like it, these 20-point wins over Charlotte, Cleveland and New Jersey aren’t much fun. That was a terrific, playoff-like game, and that’s the joy of the season.
I’m pretty happy Scalabrine missed that three against Indiana. Imagine if he would of made that shot and saved the day... There would be a bunch of strange petitions in circulation by Bulls fan lobbying for a Scalabrine statue outside the United Center right next to Jordan's.
Sam: It was, indeed, best for the fan base, as there also likely would have been demands that he start for Boozer. Or Noah.
Do you think the Bulls should shut Derrick Rose down so he can be completely healthy come playoffs? I mean, isn't the goal to beat Miami anyways? I can't see the Bulls doing that without him being 100% healthy. I'm looking at the standings right now and there are four teams (Boston, Milwaukee, New York, and Cleveland) with seven wins right now battling for the seventh and eighth seed and two team s at 6 - 13 (New Jersey and Toronto) on their heels. I have to imagine this Bulls team would at least make the playoffs without Derrick Rose for the rest of the season being at least a seventh seed, which would avoid Miami in the first round. If Derrick were to start resting today, he would be back with 15 games left, giving the Bulls a chance to gel again and climb the rankings before the playoffs begin.
Sam: Actually, I wrote about this several times, though more as a joke. Rose wants to play and says he can play. If your star says that, there’s not much else you can do, like with Kobe and the Lakers. The Bulls learned this lesson the hard way with Michael Jordan when he broke his foot in 1985. They wanted him to sit out the season because doctors said he could re-injure it and his career would be over. Jordan insisted on playing, accused the Bulls of trying to throw the season and thus began a feud with management that would last for years because of their reluctance to let him play when he wanted to even though he risked further injury. Perhaps Derrick could be fully healed. But the more time you take off, the longer it takes to get back and get your timing. Derrick will be playing as long as he says he can play. There is no debate anymore.
As you look around the league it is starting to feel like this season is going to down in infamy. By denying real training camps and season preparation the league-wide effects have been apparent. The notion that these guys were just going to walk off the street with two weeks of preparation and be ready to play one of the most grueling schedules in the history of the sport has been a failure to everyone (with the exception of the owners). The litany of injuries have left teams struggling through repeated back to back schedules putting too many miles on the guys who aren't injured. This leads to a diluted product on the floor, which frustrates fans. As good as teams are, or should be, there is no way any team can thrive to its potential under the circumstances set forth. Which leads me to my question. Do you believe there is a move to be made that can help shore us up for the year? I specifically have been following the OJ Mayo situation in Memphis. As the Grizz did not extend Mayo, which was inevitable, they are "allegedly" looking for a first round pick in exchange for the under achieving 2-guard. With Deng's status uncertain at best, do you think its a potentially smart move to put a package together for OJ (involving) the Charlotte pick and Korver?
Sam: As for the schedule, don’t blame just the league. The players basically had no objections since they wanted the paychecks they would have otherwise missed. As or Mayo, the Grizzlies are holding out for far more than that. It’s not expensive to hold onto him for them, and it would cost you a big, at least Gibson or Asik since that’s where Memphis is most weak. And the Bulls, especially the way they lost with that Indiana wakeup call, are in no position to have fewer big men.
Is there any truth to the rumors that Deng is going to play Sunday against the Heat. Is his injury something he can hurt worse or how are doctors looking at it?
Sam: I assume he will play. If he’s not having surgery, which I’d have no issue with him having, then I assume he’ll play because there would seem little point not to have surgery and not to play, though I assume there’s some swelling that could go down with a few days off. We’re told he cannot do further damage and it’s the sort of injury that if you skip surgery you may not need it in the long run, though it remains possible he won’t be able to play with it, or will get banged right away as teams will go after it. And then he likely would opt for surgery.
Do you think it’s worth for Luol Deng to get his surgery done now and come back in time for the start of the playoffs (or second round) fully healthy than to try to play on it and realize that he can’t in a few weeks and be out for the season?
Sam: The issue is if he does have surgery, it could be 12 to 14 weeks and then he might not be back for the playoffs. If you remember, when Noah came back last season after missing all that time, he had a lot of difficulty getting back into condition and getting his timing. It would be tough for Deng, who doesn’t have a classic athlete’s body and has had to work hard to get his body in the condition it’s been. It’s a risk to take that much time off and assume you can walk into intense, high level playoff play. It’s hard to see that he would be able to.
Do you think Deng's injury is somewhat a blessing in disguise that we now have to use and develop Butler more?
Sam: No. I’m fine with seeing more of Butler next season, though I suspect his debut in a tough game against the Pacers was more nerves than reality. The team is high on him, but there’s no rush. He hardly seems like a difference maker at this point.
Does anyone else find it ironic that Carlos Boozer is the only starter that hasn't been injured this season?
Sam: Me, me! That would be good use of the word. Booz the ironman. He’ll be mistaken for Cal Ripken any day now.
I was listening to 670 this morning and caught the end of Mark Schanowski's (of Comcast SportsNet) visit with the hosts. He mentioned that the cheering that Scalabrine gets just for getting off the bench is disrespectful to a guy who works hard despite not getting a lot of playing time. Does Scal see it this way too, as disrespectful? I was always under the impression that he appreciated all the positive reactions and support that the fans gave him, and I'm sure they are not doing it as disrespect to the White Mamba.
Sam: I agree with Mark. I think it is disrespectful because the fans, to me, are not treating Scal with respect. He’s a 10-year NBA veteran player. He’s not in the NBA because of Thibodeau. He was a high second round draft pick. These are not fluke things. He played in Europe during the lockout and did well. There are millions of guys around who played ball who are not as talented. But I see the Bulls fans treating Scalabrine as sort of a pet with the chanting his name in blowout situations. He has abetted it somewhat by going along with the white mamba thing, though that’s his nature. He’s a very friendly, encouraging, people person. He’s one of the brighter basketball people I know and it’s a treat to talk about the game with him. Because he is so open and fan friendly, I think he sometimes mistakes derision for affection. I know the fans like him. I just wish they’d respect his game more because he’s earned it. You don’t talk yourself into a 10-year NBA career.
Do you think Rose will be selected for the Olympic Team? Though I think he's by far the best point guard in the league, I wonder if they're looking for more traditional facilitators like Chris Paul and Deron Williams to feed the ball to scorers like Kobe, James, and Durant?
Sam: I assume Rose gets selected. I don’t see how you leave off the league MVP, plus one who has played for every USA team he could and was asked. I believe that commitment is going to trump everything, because they have enough to win with almost whomever they choose given the versatility of the players. Deron Williams, Rose and Chauncey Billups, if he is selected, can all play off the ball and shoot well enough to play shooting guard. I have the 10 definite selections as Anthony, Bosh, Bryant, Durant, Howard, James, Paul, Rose, Wade and Williams. They might feel they owe Billups, but his time likely has passed. They need some size, so I’d go probably with Love for his perimeter shooting. You could go with Iguodala for defense, though Bryant and James can be that player as well depending, of course, on Bryant’s health and whether he opts for off season surgery. I probably go for more size for my last pick between Griffin an Aldridge. I’d like to have another great perimeter guard threat, but they don’t really have one among the 20. I’d have gone with someone like Ray Allen for spot shooting, which will be missing on this team.
I was wondering if the Bulls organization makes requests as to how injured players dress? I noticed Luol, Taj, CJ, and Derrick are always keeping it classy with fitted suits and moderate bling.
Sam: I think the rule is just not to look like Noah. Actually, there is a league rule that you cannot sit on the bench inactive unless you are in a sport coat. I think Noah gave the commissioner his seersucker and bow tie outfit from draft night, which is believed to be the real reason negotiations dragged on so long during the lockout.
Will the bulls be interested in JR Smith in March when he is able to come back? They are still missing a big shot maker and can use him in the playoffs
Sam: No, but I think they might be interested in his sister, given they could have a physical playoff series coming up with the Pacers.
One good thing about that Nets game is that now we know how Derrick Rose is going to play like when he's 30. He played fine last night, but it looked like he had the high gear missing. He never seemed to go full speed. It was good to see that he can still be quite good just using his superior strength and body control, but with the turf toe a lingering issue, is last night the new normal?
Sam: I think we’ll see the “old Derrick” in bursts more now for awhile as he missed some easy ones against the Pacers because he didn’t want to dunk and seemed to be playing it careful until later when he went hard at the basket. I feel no one else’s pain, actually, not should I. But I guess it’s possible he eventually gets accustomed to the feeling and goes back to the way he was like he did after that terrible Dwight Howard takeout a few years ago which grounded him for a few weeks. Only the toe knows is the way it goes.
Last year I saw Kevin Durant do many interviews with a backpack on. Now I see Derrick Rose do that sometimes too. Are there anymore players doing that? Is there a specific reason or is it just a coincidence?
Sam: With Durant, I think it’s because he carries his coach in there. I’m not sure about Rose.
Was interested to read your comments on Eddy Curry. It has been a theory of mine since he flamed out with the Bulls that his heart condition, while not posing a fatal threat, maybe weighs him down a bit, makes him more prone to fatigue, having to work harder for the same results as others. Kind of like that Marine who died in the movie "A Few Good Men." Maybe it's not something that would affect you or I, but pro athletes have to work at a different level. And then he buys in to the criticism that his character is flawed, he's lazy, etc., compounding the problems. I'm not a physician it is just something I've wondered about.
Sam: It makes some sense, though perhaps it’s not coincidence that Eddy’s condition changed once Hostess declared bankruptcy.
What do you think it will take for Derrick to repeat as MVP? I don't know if the best record will do it because how well everyone else on the Bulls is playing this year.
Sam: It’s going to be especially difficult and unlikely now given his toe injury and presumed less production. But James and Durant are playing at extraordinarily high levels and it would be tough to not see them 1-2 in some order. And make Kobe if the Lakers were to have a better record, which seems unlikely. Bulls fans started an MVP chant the other night and couldn’t even get that much into it. They know.
So the heat are 7-1 w/out Wade. Looked terrible when lebron was out and wade was in. Lebron is playing like in his cleveland days and Bosh is averaging 27 ppg in those eight games. What are the chances they send wade packing if no ring is won this year? Do you think the Bulls will be players if wade is on the block after this season?
Sam: Wade for Howard? It was LeBron for Howard a few weeks back. Tough crowd.
Who would be your second All-Star off the Bulls if Deng injury causes him to miss it?
Sam: If Deng’s game falls off, I don’t expect the Bulls to land a second All Star because Noah hasn’t been consistent. If the East coaches go for a second center, I suspect it would be Hibbert. If Deng falls off in production or his minutes fall, he could be passed by Josh Smith as well as he’s having a much better season. Danny Granger is coming on and so is Paul Pierce and this could be his last chance for a bid and he could get one of those lifetime achievement things. It’s not looking great for Deng at this point.
Lemme start by saying that I'm a big fan of Luol, but have you ever noticed how he'll take out his mouthpiece during stoppages in play then later use that same hand to high-five his teammates? Yecch.
Sam: So that’s why he always wants to shake my hand lately. I’m calling us spit brothers.
With all the injuries are the bulls targeting some FA out there for some insurance policy guy? What about Nocioni? He is in limbo at Philly, he is a combo forward and he can play tough d-fense especially on Wade.
Sam: You may be thinking of the Noce that was, not the Noce that is. If he were that guy he’d be playing for the 76ers. Plus he makes more than $6 million, which would cost you a top reserve like Watson or Korver or Brewer, all of whom are more effective. There has been talk about exceeding the luxury tax if there is a difference maker. If the Bulls add another player, it’s a luxury tax hit, and I never understood that they’d do this for a 12th man to win maybe two more regular season games. I don’t think that’s what they mean by difference maker. Plus, you see an awful lot of teams not extending their guys while the Bulls did. Economics are changing in the NBA as they have in the U.S.
Erwin Mueller and Don Kojis references! Nothing for Terry Dischinger the old Zephyr? Terry would look good on the wing, right about now.
Sam: Yes, I remember Terry, who used to come back on weekends to play as back in that era guys were getting drafted and playing on their days off. Now I do feel much older. And I don’t even think the Ritz and Four Seasons had been invented yet. I’m sure today’s players cannot believe that, either.
I've read a fair amount over the last year about concerns that the Bulls have sub-par training and medical staff. That Bulls players aren't getting the quality training that would give them the best chance of staying healthy, nor are they getting the medical care that would return them to health as quickly as possible. Being a fan of how Reinsdorf does business, I hope this is not true.
Sam: I don't know what you are referring to. Bulls players are treated by world renowned surgeons whom players all over the NBA come to have do their surgeries. I see team doctor Brian Cole regularly going into visiting locker rooms to check on players who’ve come to him for surgeries. Trainer Fred Tedeschi previously worked in the NFL. The Bulls seem to spare no expense on this, and over the years, the Bulls have consistently been one of the healthiest teams in the league. Injuries often are a fluke and no matter the level of care they can happen. But over time does anyone recall the sorts of rash of injuries and breakdowns you tend to see around the NBA happening in Chicago? Remember when Eddy Curry developed his heart issue? The Bulls offered to pay him $20 million just to have tests so they’d be sure. But he declined.
Why not bring the MVP off the bench? Six man of the yr award? The way the Bulls have been playing in his absence it's reminded me of the Pistons/Celtics great defensive teams. No true all-stars, but excellent pieces, strong at all positions, deep bench, playing together as a unit, the Bulls have never looked so cohesive. It would be entertaining to have Rose come in as a sub and go against the opposing teams' second unit, ala Ronnie Brewer's "energy" off the bench mold. He would destroy whatever scrubs went in. With the starting unit building the lead, the second unit would double it. Rose is the ultimate, perhaps most selfless, consumate team player surrounded with like individuals.
Sam: I will pass this on to Thibs and assume he will act on it expeditiously.
I heard a rumor that the Bulls might make a move for Paul Pierce. Is there any chance of that? I assume it'd be for Deng and a pick/cap relief?
Sam: Where do people hear these rumors? Of course, it’s ridiculous, one reason being Deng is better, certainly for the long run, than Pierce, who rises to occasions occasionally these days. But he is on the steep downhill and even his GM has talked about trading him so as not to be left with ancient players. And now someone says the Bulls are interested. Does that make sense? My guess is the Celtics keep him, anyway, for old time sake and let go Allen and Garnett after this season. When the Celts didn’t break up their team in the early 90’s and declined it was also the loss of Reggie Lewis and Len Bias. And not letting Bird go, which would be disrespectful. They needed to trade McHale, just as they should move Ray Allen now because he should be able to bring something and they’re not about to bring him back.
Where on earth was Korver against Indiana? He played hardly any minutes at all and I can't quite figure out why. We can generally count on him to score and get us up to a lead. I don't think he would have been the panacea, but keeping him in 10 more minutes to get a couple 3s would have helped.
Sam: Korver’s in a little shooting slump lately, though the Bulls have been running his plays lately more for Hamilton, who has been playing a lot of minutes. Against the Pacers, Thibodeau gave some of Korver’s time to rookie Jimmy Butler, who had a brutal six minute stretch. I get loads of mail from fans screaming for Butler, the latest version of the backup quarterback, everyone’s favorite whom they’ve never seen. Thibodeau’s point in this has been if he plays Butler, who showed he isn’t quite ready for a game of that intensity (he should play against Washington), then one of his rotation guys loses time. And maybe Korver doesn’t get a chance to get his rhythm because Butler played and Kyle had less than 10 minutes as a result. With Deng out you’d say there’s room for Butler, but Deng isn’t expected to be out long.
Do you know why Korver has a reputation as a bad defender? He never gives up and tries to stay with his man even when his man gets past him. Once most defenders get past they give up but Korver follows or tries to stay with him so he occasionally gets posterized or looks bad in highlights. Most players are ducking out of the poster.
Sam: He is better than the reputation. But that’s defense in the NBA. There aren’t many good defenders. The all-defensive teams voted by coaches usually are the worst lists. They pick stars whom the TV highlights show when they make a defensive play. Like Kukoc. He was no worse than half his teammates, but everyone nodded how bad he was. Though there is a bit of white bias in that: They’re slow, so they must be poor defenders. Though I loved when Don Nelson called Nowitzki, Irk when he came. You know, no D.
Shaq or Howard based on skills? I say Howard. Shaq all he did was use his body and back you down. Howard has more finesse moves. Ocassional jumper. And a rebound machine.
Sam: As tough as it is with Shaq’s jealous fit of pique over Howard stealing his nickname, there is little comparison on impact. It was Shaq easily. If Shaq cared about basketball and being in shape and liked the game instead of what the game enabled him to do we’d be talking about comparing him with Jordan. As it was, he’s probably fifth or sixth alltime at his position behind Wilt, Russell, Kareem, perhaps Hakeem, maybe Moses if you liked him and by domination maybe Mikan for his era. If Shaq had cared he’d be in a class with Wilt.
Is it about time that we give CJ his due for being one of the best 6th men in the league? He reminds me a bit of Bobby Jackson back in his days with the Kings. Should he be in the running for 6th man of the year?
Sam: What about Taj Gibson? Or John Lucas. It would be tough to match them against the likes of James Harden or Lou Williams, who come off the bench often with 20 points plus games. CJ’s done better, but still averages under 10 points and shoots below 40 percent.
We heard a lot in the offseason about Rose and a new post up game. If there's any PG to post, it's 150 lb Darren Collison, yet we didn't see it. Does Thibs not like that type of offense?
Sam: I guess not as you are right, we heard about it but haven’t seen it. I don’t know if the reason is there isn’t a real ballhandling guard to make a play unless Rose plays with Watson, which he doesn’t do often. I know the team has postup play options, but just hasn’t used it yet. Perhaps like in football, they’re saving some stuff for the bigger games or playoffs. Maybe we see it against Miami Sunday, though against Jennings Friday should work.
Do you think or know if any of the Bulls players actually read your articles/mailbags? Comment to you on anything you wrote? Hold grudges or say things to you if you write about them, question their skill, etc.?
Sam: I doubt the players read much of anything written about them, though if there’s something really bad someone will usually show it to them. Deng used to joke with me about who I was trading him to next, but I’ve found more in the NBA than any sport—and I’ve at times written about all the major ones—NBA players are the most sophisticated about the media, it’s role and what is written or said. They may not articulate it well all the time—though if you want to hear mumbling check out a baseball locker room some time—but they have grown up with so much media from high school and college and AAU that it’s usually no big deal. In almost 40 years of doing this, I’ve rarely if ever had a player react badly to anything I’ve written, and I have been involved in some controversial issues. Many years ago I was an investigative reporter and city government and political writer, and the worst reporters are treated is when it involves local issues in small communities. The bigger the stage and the bigger the market people understand better, or tend to dismiss it more. NBA players generally are the best at putting it into perspective.
Please don't tell me the Bulls are considering trading Mirotic, especially for a mediocre improvement of a scoring option. The guy has star potential and while it's certainly no guarantee, it is an exciting thought of pairing him with Rose in a few years.
Sam: They are not and no one ever said they were. But with his buyout situation, he’s likely in Europe two more years after this season.
What’s with the lack of 7 footers? Am I misperceiving something or is this the dark-age of true centers?
Sam: There are plenty of big men around. It’s just half of them are guards now, like 6-10 Kevin Durant and 6-10 Paul George. When I played basketball—no, they had hollowed out the bottom of the peach basket by then—if you were tall, you were told by the coach to stand next to the basket or you didn’t play. These days, if you are tall the coach stands next to the basket and counts out hundreds for you and promises you an honorary degree at some point.
Since Eric Gordon turned down an extension from the New Orleans Hornets, any chance the Bulls can swing a sign and trade next offseason?
Sam: I received a number of e-mails about Gordon. So let it be said readers don’t want to waste their time with role players. So the league took all this heat for rejecting that trade to make another with Gordon as the center piece and they’re not going to match an offer. Or maybe they’ll figure if you can get Lucas, Scalabrine, Watson and Brewer that’s four-for-one. No, as I’ve mentioned many times, the Bulls are basically out of free agency for the next several years. Though I know some teams are inquiring about Rose.
Should the Bulls press some of their injured players (especially Rose) to make a statement against the Heat? Or is this just another game?
Sam: The statement is it’s a game, but should be a good one. Remember, last season Bulls were 3-0 over Miami in the regular season. But they were entertaining, which is what the game truly us about.
I give a lot of credit to the Pacers, they are a tough physical team. They will be a load to handle in the playoffs for sure. Having said that, Bulls just couldn’t make shots last night. Everything looks a lot worse when routine shots just wont fall like last night. I really liked reading that the bulls locker room was like a funeral. This team is used to winning and they obviously are not going to be happy when they lose. Dwight Howard would probably be putting on a dance routine in the locker room after the game.
Sam: It’s nice to be serious, but you do have to pace yourself some. That, at times, is where you can use a bit of Howard. Yes, he takes it a bit far at times, but it’s also not all that healthy to take every loss less than halfway through the season with such intensity of feeling. I do like the Bulls the way they are rather than Howard’s Magic and their locker room follies. But you need a balance, and that said I’d still like to have Howard and see if I could maybe get him a sad book to read at times. Or force him to watch It’s A Wonderful Life daily.
Maybe it's just the Bulls fan in me, but it seems like the refs always play a big part in each of the Bulls losses. They were just awful last night against the Pacers. I never understand how they are allowed to get away with it.
Sam: Don’t let officiating ruin any sport for you. Everyone complains and only sees the calls that go against their team.
I agree that expectations of Boozer may be too high and that he fits in well with our team but i've noticed with the return of Drose that he may be underutilized by our MVP. While D-Rose was out with his sprained toe injury Boozer proved he could still play at an all star level and was on fire, but now in the last couple of games his game seems to be back to what it has always been here in Chicago. With D-Rose in the game again, there are so many times that I see Boozer come with a pick and pop with the chance to hit those 15 footers he's been so good at but doesnt get the ball most times he's open. Could he be that all star we all want him to be if he was utilized more?
Sam: I’d forget the star you want him to be part. Yes, I think he does tend to get ignored at times as Thibodeau likes to have Noah in the pick and roll more with Rose, though Boozer is a good passer. Boozer often draws a weak defender, so I’d like to see that guy put in the pick and roll. Plus now the Bulls are looking for Hamilton more. Boozer plays a bit different role with the Bulls, and what you’ve seen is about what you’ll be getting.
How often do you get to speak with Thibs and how much influence do you have on him and his decisions?
Sam: Often and none.