Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 01.31.2014
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What's your opinion on the latest Carmelo "prefers Bulls" rumor? It sounds a lot like another superstar trying to create leverage with his real preferred destination a la Kobe 2007/LeBron Summer 2010.
Sam: I don’t think Carmelo needs any more leverage than he has, though a report of someone in Anthony’s camp — I actually think it was his 13-year-old camp counselor who taught him to make lanyards — that Anthony might prefer Chicago is quite the stretch. This has been my topic of the week as in “We need Melo! We need a star!” As well as, “He’s a loser! Forget him!” This also would be a repeat from when he was being traded from Denver and also had no interest in being in Chicago and I answered the question for weeks. I happen to believe he will resign with the Knicks. And I haven’t even read LaLa’s book yet. I hope I spelled her name correctly. The Knicks, as much a mess they are with an inordinate amount of attention for a mostly irrelevant team, aren’t in bad shape. After next season, they’ll only have J.R. Smith and Ray Felton on the payroll. Even with the Anthony extension, they’ll have room to pursue a big time free agent, perhaps someone like Kevin Love or even Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook in coming seasons. Anthony makes $30 million more resigning with the Knicks. And it’s not like anywhere he goes is an instant contender. So he waits out a season in the weak East when they still can make the playoffs. And then they can go all in and he’s just 31 with Miami presumably broken up by then and no great alternative in sight. I assume that’s an easy sell for Anthony rather than giving up $30 million to be guaranteed what?
If the Bulls wanted to sign Carmelo in the offseason as a free agent, they'd have to (A) amnesty Boozer (B) trade Taj, while not taking back any contracts, AND (C) resign themselves to the fact that they wouldn't be able to bring Mirotic over. So, really the best way to get Carmelo would be to trade for him now if you were confident he would resign. This begs the question, what would it take? Obviously, you'd have to get the Knicks to take Boozer's deal as salary balance to start things out. So what assets would you include? There's Butler, Dunleavy, the rights to Mirotic, the Charlotte pick, the potential Kings pick down the road, our own draft picks. Would you empty the cannon?
Sam: Here’s the Bulls risk of that portion of it: With no one but the Bulls able to use amnesty on Boozer he’s basically not a trade possibility with a contract of more than $16 million next season. I’ve gone into this before. But to get Anthony in free agency the Bulls would have to amnesty Boozer, give Taj Gibson away for nothing and likely their No. 1 pick as well, as they did with Hinrich, to get someone to take the long term salary. Then you have no money not only for Mirotic but other reserves beyond minimum contracts. You have no big man other than Noah. And now you have to hope Anthony follows through on his word, which he cannot give or be held to, that he’d sign with you. I seem to recall a similar promise from Tracy McGrady in 2000 until he decided he’d rather be elsewhere. So a trade? With a strong case to be made for keeping Anthony, how ridiculous would it be for the Knicks’ owner who demanded everything be given up to get Anthony to trade him in now for spare parts. Given the package they had to give for Anthony you’d assume they’d want back two or three starters and No. 1 draft picks. Plus, Anthony also knows he basically pushed the Knicks to make a bad deal to get him. Now he’s going to walk away on them after they couldn’t do much with him? He’d be cursed in the public for years. I hope we now are done with this other than I do hope to get some lanyard instruction from Anthony’s camp. I never could make those things.
Is that FA money I hear leaking out of Luol’s pocket? Cleveland is not an ideal situation, but it is becoming painfully clear that $10M year is very rich for Deng.
Sam: I wonder if he’s calling Ben Gordon. But, look, Lu didn’t ask to leave and there really were no full scale negotiations. Yes, the Bulls made a late offer. But given the circumstances you can understand him hesitating on short notice. Cleveland probably will have to trump any offer for him given not only the trade but how they continue to collapse with an apparent division internally. I felt this would be a bad team basketball-wise for Deng because Mike Brown is such a poor offensive coach and would not know how to get the best from Deng, a system player. Deng must be figuring that out by now with the Cavs seemingly in total collapse. I don’t think he’s all about the last dollar. But I guess we’ll find out this summer depending on where he signs. He’s a tough player to pay an extraordinary amount to because he needs a system to work. But he is a valuable teammate and player who can help you succeed.
I was wondering what your thoughts were about starting Taj Gibson in place of Carlos Boozer at this stage of the season. I know that Thibs doesn't like to change his lineups, but Taj is clearly the future of the power forward position for our franchise, and Gibson plays noticeably better as a starter. Boozer is definitely an above average starting 4, but why not start your best player at that position? I guess another issue is whether Boozer can play effectively off the bench.
Sam: That last point is valid and I think weighs on Thibodeau. I cannot see any circumstance other than numerous injuries like with Richard Hamilton in which Thibodeau would change the starting lineup. I think he underestimates Boozer some as I don’t think Boozer would cause problems. But, frankly, I think Boozer should be starting. Look, he’s only playing 25 to 30 minutes. If you don’t start him and don’t let him close, which he doesn’t, when’s he going to play? Plus, he is valuable. I thought his scoring and rebounding against the Spurs Wednesday was crucial. And until Gibson got going offensively to start the fourth, I thought Thibodeau left Boozer out too long. Boozer remains a good rebounder and a threat to score. He never complains and always is supportive of his teammates and team. He was known as an indifferent defender when the Bulls signed him. So he’s done everything asked of him and has been the most reliable player on the team in terms of health. He’s done his part. A benching would be viewed as a demotion. Thibodeau never would do that to a proud veteran like Boozer. And Boozer wouldn’t deserve it. Plus, I think it would make the team worse. Other than those points, we’ll see if Thibs might consider it.
Congrats to Joakim Noah for his All-Star selection – very deserving and gives faith that the coaches have some idea who should be playing. But Joe Johnson? This selection is the complete opposite of Joakim’s selection and beggars belief. If they had to pick another backcourt player, surely Lance Stephenson must consider himself snubbed. On all accounts, Stephenson is more deserving than Johnson.
Sam: I was surprised by the Johnson selection, though it was hardly out of bounds as all the TNT commentators had him on their ballots. Of course, they also mostly didn’t have Noah. The East, as we have much lamented, isn’t all that great. Which suggests few stars. Plus, it was difficult to find enough winning teams to fake putting on players. That stuff about players from winning teams can be a bit fraudulent because it doesn’t mean they are stars. I would have gone with Al Jefferson, who is putting up some amazing numbers and has Charlotte playing competitively with what has to be the worst starting lineup in the league. He’s done much more than Johnson. Though Stephenson has done well, I feel David West is much more valuable and important on that team. Two Pacers playing that brutal slowdown game of theirs is enough for the All-Star team. Though it was interesting once Luol Deng went to Cleveland there wasn’t a word about him or a single mention on the TNT program announcing the vote that he was left out. John Wall and DeMar DeRozan were mostly added as their teams have done well (for the East). I thought Johnson was the only questionable choice on both sides. Though I like adding legends and probably would have gone for Tim Duncan. But Tony Parker was deserving. There was sentiment for Goran Dragic and Zach Randolph, but Chris Paul, though hurt, played enough to be considered. I hope the commissioner adds Anthony Davis if Kobe drops put for injury.
When I watch Kevin Durant play against LeBron I can see him giving him problems. If they met in the playoffs if Durant gets hot and starts hitting 3 pointers I think it could lead LeBron into an attempt to keep up with him instead of playing to his strengths. Think people should be expecting a lot of out Durant now? He was barely a kid in those finals, he is a couple years older now and it takes 6-8 years typically to become established. I am not a huge LeBron fan due to some of the knuckle head stuff he did years ago, but I think the league is in a good place looking to the future with the talent.
Sam: First, I don’t get any of the disdain toward James. He’s really been one of the best combinations of people and player these days. I tweak him at times for fun about the lack of fouls. And when he came into the league he was a bit full of himself and did some things you’d rather not see an 18-year-old with millions of dollars and millions of fans do. Though they do. But he’s shown how committed to the game he is by how much his game has improved. The Cleveland TV show and Miami rally were kids’ stuff things that should have been forgotten or overlooked in this “Hey look at me” social media era. He was a kid doing kid stuff without the benefit of ever having been a kid. He’s a real credit to the NBA. As for Durant, this is a big time for him. With the win in Miami Wednesday, they established themselves as favorites with Russell Westbrook still out. Durant talked openly last playoffs about being tired of being No. 2 in everything. He’s declared this is his time and he’ll be measured now against that. Magic and Bird won when they were kids. He’s overdue. It would be a terrific Finals with those two, though Miami doesn’t much look like a team anymore to be there. James does. But most everyone else does not with Wade’s knee problems, the aging of their shooters and the mediocrity of the rest of the roster other than Bosh. It’s their last dance.
Say the Bulls end up with 3 draft picks in this year's draft. You think Minnesota would take them & Boozer (will be an expiring contract) or a combination of picks and Taj and Mirotic for Kevin Love? Maybe the Wolves can get something for Love rather than see him walk away for nothing.
Sam: I have gotten a bunch of Boozer trade scenarios again and I had declared a moratorium on those. Only the Bulls could use amnesty for him. No one else. And there’s no guarantee they will with a weak free agent class and Mirotic still uncertain about coming this summer. I’ve gotten a few of these “let’s get Love again” as well after the Wolves were in Chicago Monday and the Timberwolves could again miss the playoffs. And he really could leave after next season, and Minnesota could opt to get something given it’s not like they’re winning titles with him. It’s one thing to use New York to keep a guy. It’s another to use Minneapolis. Of course, for a West Coast kid who went to UCLA who spent five winters in Minnesota moving to Chicago may not be his ideal, especially when the Lakers seem very interested. Again, given the magnitude of the risk after you’d basically give up half your team, I don’t see any way you could take the chance assuming the Timberwolves wanted to cash in. Which by all accounts they do not for now.
What do you think of the idea of moving Rose to shooting guard in order to improve the Bulls and prolong his career? Can he guard 2's?
Sam: This is another of the regular suggestions I’ve been getting in the “We better not lose Hall of Famer D.J. Augustin.” D.J.’s done great and as Thibs said both helped one another. But he’s a free agent who can decide what he wants just as Marco Belinelli could and the Bulls couldn’t take the chance of being left empty handed. Thibs has shown he’ll play two point guards together and was doing that with Rose and Hinrich before Rose was hurt. I understand, though I’m disappointed, why so many want to dismiss Rose because of whatever, the disappointment he’s not playing, too much talk radio vitriol. He’s had a less serious injury. He should be back at full strength. He’s a league MVP. He’s the point guard. Plus, Thibs isn’t about to play on any regular basis two point guards without one high level defender like Hinrich.
If the Rockets were to do it again in the 1984 NBA draft, who would they pick? Had they picked MJ then Portland would surely pick Hakeem which means Chicago would've been stuck with Sam Bowie. Wow, what a scary thought!
Sam: It’s one of the great “what if” questions. The Bulls were going to pick Sam Perkins if Olajuwon and Jordan were gone. Though it may have meant the same amount of titles as with Bowie. The question often raised is what if they knew. Then they’d have traded Ralph Sampson to Portland for the pick, which Portland was dying to do. Then they’d have had Olajuwon and Jordan. I’ve talked to both managements and coaches over the years and the Rockets believed the twin centers would work. It was working and was becoming the fad of the league. The Rockets made the Finals in Olajwuon’s second season and looked ready for a long run before Sampson got hurt and they had drug issues with players. That was another team that could have been. The Bulls with Rose’s injuries are just another in a long list.
Without the surprise play of replacement point guards Augustin and Robinson how much worse would these last two seasons have been to watch?
Sam: To say nothing of John Lucas and C.J. Watson.
If the coach doesn't want to play Murphy and Shengelia, that's his right. Why doesn't Chicago send them to the D-League? They did that with Teague? It seems that you can easily recall a D-League player. That would give both Murphy and Shengelia some game experience?
Sam: Well, they can’t send both because they only have 13 and then you couldn’t start a game. Murphy would be possible, but with so many day to day guys with injuries like Hinrich and Noah the latest they haven’t been able to. They can’t add right now because of cap issues. But they’d rather be in position to nab a better player when teams release guys after the trade deadline if someone good pops up then rather than add someone now so Murphy could go to the D-League. They’re doing it the right way.
Will Jimmy Butler make the all-defensive team? Do you think he should?
Sam: He won’t. But he should be in the discussion and will in future seasons. That’s a coaches’ vote and frankly a very bad one as they tend to go with the most hyped players. So you need to start getting attention first from the media, like Tony Allen did and he’s just OK. Jimmy’s very good, but there’s too much politics in that vote.
The way the "next man up" and "we have got enough" theory is working for the Bulls, and the fact that it is a banged up Eastern Conference team, I assume a 4th seed or maximum 5th spot by the end of the season. What do you think about that?
Sam: I’ll admit I’m surprised. I don’t doubt these players or Thibs, though I just thought with losing your top two scorers on a team that is offensively challenged already that the Bulls would fall back. I thought Cleveland would come up, but Mike Brown must have made it a bigger mess than we even imagined. I thought the Pistons might as they have a lot of talent — certainly more than the Bulls — but too many erratic thinkers in Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. The Bulls aren’t in the playoffs yet and they’ve been beaten pretty regularly by Washington and Toronto. But Gibson and Noah are having their best seasons and Augustin has been a pickup of the year. Even as they are, I think the Bulls playing as they have been could make it a heck of a series with the Pacers or Heat.
What is wrong with the Bulls fans? Are they serious that D-Rose should not try out for the U.S. Team if he is healthy and ready to go? In a survey by the Chicago Tribune about whether D-Rose should try out, the vast majority said no! What might their rationale be? Shouldn't this be a matter of simple common sense?
1. If he tries out and remains healthy, whether or not he makes the team, he will be much better off when the regular season starts.
2. If he gets injured, so be it, that may be an indication that he would have gotten injured early on in the season anyway.
3. He is a professional athlete, and this is his career. Does a politician quit running for office just because he/she lost one or two elections? Does a soldier quit serving because he/she got injured in battle?
Sam: Does a bear... no, that’s another thing. If he is healthy I see no reason why he shouldn’t be able to try out for the team and hopefully make it and play. Rose didn’t play last season because he never got healthy enough. That’s it, despite all the theories. The disappointing part is the way so many have turned on Rose for being hurt, as if that were his plan. How devastating is it for a kid devoted to playing who has to exercise for two years? There’s a mean streak in a lot of sports observers, though certainly not all or even most. The disappointing part is the way Rose embraced what no other star ever has wanted a part of: The Jordan shadow. I have heard many times from many close to LeBron he never wanted to come to Chicago because if he got two or three rings it always would be Mike got six. Whether it would have happened, who knows. But he believed that. Kobe, yes, I believe he would have dealt with that and embraced it. But most don’t want any part of that. So here comes Rose who doesn’t give it a thought and embraces the legacy and many in the community want something else. The problem is there are few like Rose who truly want to be playing in the shadow of Michael Jordan. It’s too bad he’s not appreciated more for wanting to do these things like playing for an Olympic gold medal. Yes, I know the he should play for the Bulls as they pay him argument. Sure, it has merit. Like Thibodeau said the other night, if everyone were told they’d be guaranteed no injuries if players played 30 minutes, then everyone would do it. Rose had played far less and was hardly making a cut when he was hurt again. Stuff happens. You don’t live your life like that. If he can play he should.
With D Rose having been out for 2 seasons and Luol leaving, Jo Noah is clearly the team leader. You could make the argument that he was been the leader even before Rose went out. How do you think the two will co-exist when Derrick comes back. Will he be willing to take a step back and live with Joakim as the face of the franchise and alpha dog in the locker room?
Sam: It’s difficult for me to imagine after seeing these two the past five years that question even could come up. First of all, this leader stuff is more fan myth than reality. Guys are not running around giving pep talks or having full body cramps like Ray Lewis. Especially on this Bulls team. The guys like one another and encourage one another all the time. There’s no Michael with all the yelling and demands. Plus, anyone could see how devastated Noah was for Rose and how much you don’t see behind the scenes he worries about and encourages Rose and how Rose is just relaxed and comfortable around everyone and never is going to be that get in your face I’m the leader guy. This Bulls team operates better than most because they don’t have someone doing that. Thibs handles the yelling. The players calm him down.
What do you make of Jerry Reinsdorf calling the team "mediocre"? How will that affect players who seem to go out every night and play their hearts out for his franchise? As a fan, it doesn't sit well with me.
Sam: Apparently not at all as they played great after that in San Antonio. You refer to that interview Jerry Reinsdorf did with WGN. I thought it was the only thing to say. After all, the team was under .500 at the time and he talked about being in the playoffs. It seems to me a few weeks ago all the mail I got was the team should give up and lose all its games for draft picks. The players didn’t seem affected by that, either. I actually thought it was respectful of the fans. If he said they were a great team that could win the title what sort of credibility would that be. It suggested to me the team is going to be honest with and respect its fans, that it realizes it’s not as good as it needs to be and is aware it needs to get better. I assume that’s what a fan would want to hear.
For the same reason Carmelo Anthony got an MVP vote last year do you think there is the slightest of chances we could see Noah snatch just one MVP vote this year? If anyone has been the most valuable player to any team so far this season it'd have to be Noah.
Sam: He could get a fifth place vote if the Bulls end up a top four or five team. No, he’s not getting any first place votes nor should he other than from a baseball writer trying to get a column or TV appearance out of it. He’s having a terrific season and is very valuable to his team. So, yes, in the award with the lack of definition you can make that case of where would they be without him. But MVP also encompasses the best player in the league part. Top 12 in the Eastern Conference is pretty darned good for a guy who we first though would only get top 12 curious hair styles.