Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 02.14.2014
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How do media trade rumors get started? It seems like it’s generally just a bad game of telephone, i.e. one writer says something like “Carmelo Anthony could be a good fit on the Bulls” which 3 articles later ends up being “Bulls and Knicks in discussions about a Carmelo Anthony trade.” I just recently heard this one: Carmelo, Shumpert, and Felton for Boozer, Butler, Snell, Kirk, and a 1st round pick. Why would the Knicks do this? I love Butler and think Snell is a solid rookie, but Shumpert is a similar type of player and Boozer and Kirk will likely be off the Bulls after this season anyways. It just seems odd to me that all these rumors keep flying around that the Bulls are at the very least targeting Melo, although it appears that nothing of the sort is actually happening in the Bulls front office.
Sam: Winner, winner! You figured it out. That’s pretty much how it does happen in this era of really the poorest journalism in about 100 years. I don’t say that as a “the past is better” type as I generally don’t believe that. I’m glad we can get mail in less than a month. There were two eras of journalism basically worse than this. The first was after the Revolutionary War in the 1770’s when American journalism essentially began with the growth of newspapers and partisans literally bought their own newspapers behind the scenes, including presidents like Jefferson and Adams and Madison and had their editors trash the other party. The next worst was in the late 1890s with the Hearst yellow journalism era when stories were made up to sell newspapers as the blur between fiction and non-fiction became indistinguishable. Journalism was at its greatest immediately after that in the Teddy Roosevelt era and then into the 1960’s and 1970’s. But the combination of the internet that took its advertising and Wall Street money managers and rapacious real estate swindlers and con men destroyed the newspaper industry. Now you look on the internet and nobody can really tell the difference between the New York Times and the basement blogger guy. So something called Hoops Nation “reports” that far out Bulls/Knicks thing from their “sources” and it’s a story when it was merely someone’s imagination that took off on the internet. I understand the entertainment value in discussing trade possibilities, and the internet is great for that. But most “rumors” tend to be speculation and fantasy. Not that it didn’t exist to some extent 25 years ago. After all, people always have had, at least to be charitable, a playful streak. But now with everyone having direct access to the public through the internet, it’s hardly a surprise so much inaccurate information surfaces. You just have to be a much better and smarter reader than ever before.
A Yahoo contributor is reporting on a Boozer-to-Suns trade. Just curious, does your gardener have any trade rumors to report?
Sam: What complicates the situation is when “respectable” sites publish pretty much it seems without editing fan columns and stories and suggestions that can be easily confused with the reporting work of experienced journalists. Not that those veterans get it right all the time, but they generally have higher standards. I can understand a bit the notion of a Boozer for that Okafor expiring contract, to get something for nothing sort of thing. But everything I have heard about the Suns is they are not looking for any short term help but would do a deal—they save a lot of money on Okafor’s insurance and aren’t being quick to give that up—if they can land a player part of their long term future.
When the Deng trade happened, when a player goes to a new team and then plays his old team, does he spill the beans and tell his new team everything? Does he listen for play calls? Or do players just keep to themselves.
Sam: Of course they pass on information, though it obviously didn’t help the Cavs that night. There really are few secrets as far as game strategies and plays in the NBA. The NBA is about the better player making plays. Not about tricks. There are what they call advance scouts at every game representing the teams you will be playing in the week ahead. They are veteran NBA guys and they sit near the coach and write down everything he says and match that against what play is run. Then every team gets tape of every game played and can break that down to track the movements of every player with the play call. Opposing teams coming into every game know the name of every play a team will run and what the players will do on that play. Which is why so much of the game comes down to individual skills even in a team concept. So you say why can’t they stop everyone if they know what they’ll do? Some are better than others and teams work to create those situations when your player has an advantage on the other. It’s still a chess match, though you often know where they are going. It’s the combination of the counters and the talent that excel.
What’s happened with rookie Erik Murphy? Any chance he’ll see any playing time this season? Are the Bulls thinking about the D-League for him?
Brian De Jong
Sam: They probably would have sent him to the D-League by now if the roster wasn’t so short with injuries and subtle moves to try to remain under the luxury tax so the Deng move has more value. The Bulls will be required by league rule to get back to a 13-player roster shortly. But Rose has been on the roster and obviously cannot play. Murphy was a second round pick not expected to play much or at all this season. It wouldn’t even be right to put him in games now after having played so little this season with the team trying to remain competitive in the East and with so little margin for error. I believe they still have regard for him and would like to give him D-League playing time if the roster can become more settled.
Since drafting Derrick Rose he has obviously been my favorite player in the NBA, but the way Joakim has been playing of late he is quickly gaining momentum for that number one spot. Do you think Derrick Rose would be disappointed in finding out this news?
Sam: He asked me the other day whether Torey Phillips still was with him. I’m going to continue to tell him yes to keep his spirits up.
I do not actively want to do this trade, since I am too fond of the player we would give up, but is this the kind of thought the Bulls would have to have if they want to truly restructure the team. Taj Gibson for Kendrick Perkins This allows the Bulls to create a natural opening to entice Mirotic to come over and start at the 4, while giving them flexibility to keep the books cleaner for a Kevin Love-type of free agent in 2015. I assume we, as Bulls fans, overvalue our players, but I like to think Taj is good enough to also attract a pick, especially considering how low a Thunder 1st rounder would be. Thunder get a great Heat defender for the Finals. Bulls get a roster spot, cap relief in 2015, and maybe even a pick. Kendrick Perkins, though mostly useless, would be a good backup or an interesting asset as a reliable player on an expiring deal. The overarching thought behind the Bulls doing this is that Taj, whom we all love, is not good enough to be a fundamental piece of your salary cap. Derrick fits better with a stretch 4, and Gibson's defense is not much of a necessity when you have Jo locking down the post. You bring someone like Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge aboard.
Sam: I understand this fantasy basketball version of life these days of getting some “star” as I continue to curiously get many such suggestions. These things generally are fantasies. It’s a lot of the way people always want the next thing. This notion of Mirotic as a savior is very dangerous as by most accounts I don’t see him anywhere near the all-around player Gibson is at this point. And this thing about gaining flexibility for these dream candidates who basically never come remains the blind spot of fandom. Aldridge already has said he wants to resign in Portland. And those who know Love said he’ll go to Los Angeles or New York if he leaves Minnesota. So you get Eddie Robinson and Ron Mercer again. Taj is developing into a power forward you could search years to find. Though I suspect you must not like Forman and Paxson. Because once fans would see Perkins I assume they’d burn down their houses.
As the final standings start to take shape in the second half of the season, could you give us a refresher on the circumstances under which the Bulls get Charlotte's draft pick? How should Bulls fans want the Bobcats to fare this year, in terms of what will result in the best pick for Chicago, either now or in the future?
Sam: I’d say Go Bobcats and get it over with. It is looking of late with some impressive wins the Bobcats will either make the playoffs or be close, which would trigger the Bulls getting their pick. If Charlotte gets 11-30 this season the Bulls get it. Next season it would be 9-30 and then unprotected after that, though they could become a higher level playoff team by then the way they are going. I’d say the Bulls are best off getting it now as they could use it and thus get two No. 1 picks this season along with their own, which should be late teens. Plus, Michael’s got little kids to support again. We’d like his team to do a bit better.
With so many teams rumored to be tanking for high draft picks and trading veterans to "stockpile assets", I'm reminded of the situation the Bulls were left in after the championship years. They had three first round picks in the 2000 draft. Unfortunately, that draft turned out to be one of the worst ever. Did teams have a sense of how bad that draft was going to be during the '98-'99 season? I just looked it up and the Bulls apparently got 1st rounders in return for Kerr and Longley. By today's standards, those are very good returns for players of their caliber. I guess winning three straight titles inflates the value of everyone on the team. Or did teams know that 1st round picks in 2000 weren't going to be very helpful?
Sam: Picks weren’t as highly valued then, in part, for economic reasons as they are now with the ability to keep a player longer on a low contract. The fact is the draft always has been about getting lucky with a few high picks. All those low picks, like the Bulls got that season, were window dressing to pretend you were doing something. Stockpiling draft picks rarely produces great teams, and I think we already are seeing a rethinking of this draft that it’s not going to be as great as first advertised. And that’s because it’s so difficult to build your team with so many teenagers, which is what the league still is faced with given the awful one year and out rule. The Bulls fatal mistake that season was using all six picks, which proved a disaster. You need to use picks to turn them into veterans; not always veterans into picks. The Bulls didn’t do enough of that. There aren’t many great drafts beyond the top few picks. Sure, you can build a team if you are smart and lucky. Indiana has with picks no better than No. 10. But they added a lot of veterans. That draft was a warning about relying too much on young talent.
Luol Deng has showed in Cleveland that he is extremely average. Good in the right system with the right team but nowhere close to a difference maker anywhere. Evan Turner is a high volume low impact guy. Both will clearly be going for 8 figure annual salaries. The Bulls last offer to Deng was 8 figure and probably the only team in the NBA where he would earn that. Will either of them get those 8 figure deals this offseason? Yes there will be a number of teams with plenty of salary cap space to pay them, but they seem like the perfect candidates to get 5-7 million a year as good but not great players.
Sam: A lot of life is timing, opportunity and luck. It was bad luck for Deng to be traded to the Cavs. There’s some notion they’ll “overpay” him because they have to keep him to justify the deal. But it’s not a good situation for him as many said at the time of the trade because he does flourish with good coaching and an offensive system of play, which doesn’t exist with Mike Brown. Management has to value players and make a determination. I don’t think fans should do that and judge players failures if they don’t live up to a big contract. There’s an old saying in business you are worth what someone will pay you. Worth remains a relative concept. You are not worth more than the guy next to you if you do more work if he makes more. Because he had leverage to make a deal and did. Then you work and produce what you are capable of. That’s the way you should judge players. Yes, it can affect the team because if you pay one player a lot it obviously limits potentially acquiring other players. That financial judgment is management’s job. It seems personal and players get upset. Just as workers would. The Bulls weren’t down on Lu. It was just business, as the saying goes from the movies. They had to look forward with their payroll and situation. Workers set a value for themselves and then take the chance they will get paid that. Deng may not. It depends on who has money and wants to spend it. The Lakers are a possibility for Deng, though he may have to take fewer years. That’s a prospect facing a lot of free agents with bigger name players potentially available in the next few years. The contracts are heading down from the last labor deal and players and their agents haven’t grasped that yet. Similarly Turner. He’s sort of a tweener player and unlikely to be offered much more than an exception deal. Though given they can be $25 million it’s certainly enough to live on.
Suppose Riley was Bulls GM and PAX/GAR Miami, everything else remaining the same, where do you think LeBron and company would have taken their talent? What if Krause was Bulls GM?
Sam: Could he have brought the weather? The Bulls made what even LeBron’s people said was a great presentation in 2010, though unbeknownst to them they basically had no chance. Though the thing with Wade and Bosh seemed pretty set exclusive of Riley, it’s later become clear that LeBron didn’t want any part of the Jordan shadow—sure you won three, but Michael won six—and wanted to be where there was a clean slate as far as titles and legacy. Maybe now that’s he’s got two titles he’s not as worried about that. But he was then and Red Auerbach and Phil Jackson could not have gotten him to change his mind.
Free agent center Marcus Camby is progressing in his rehabilitation from foot surgery and expects to be fully healthy by February’s end to join an NBA team. I’m expecting him to be fully hurt by the second week of March.
Sam: Maybe he can make it to April. He’s one of the guys the Bulls looked hard at last year until he decided to return to Houston, where he lives in the offseason. I think the Bulls are looking toward the veterans like Camby for that 13th roster spot or players who may be bought out after the trade deadline who’ll come on a minimum deal and be ready to play rather than D-League guys. Though it could come to that. Camby could be in the mix. They have lots of tape.
So LeBron says he belong in the "Mt Rushmore" of basketball greats. First of all, are we on some kind of yearly schedule for this type of question? I swear this was talked about not that long ago. While I agree that when it’s all said and done LeBron will be a top 5 player of all time I don't think he is there yet. If he retired today I don't think you would say he is the best ever. It’s still a silly question though and it seems like it gets asked in the middle of the season yearly when everyone is suffering fatigue. I will say this though, LeBron will get some help from being very little footage of Oscar, Wilt, West etc. It’s a shame that the film is not there. The NBA is not like baseball where the stats used to be everything. That is how Ruth is still so famous. When I was a kid everyone who watched baseball knew who held all the important records even if they played 70 years before you were alive.
Sam: It also shows that LeBron as well as he knows the game doesn’t know it that well. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson top three? They’d call him nuts. But that’s also the product of having 24-hour sports on TV and radio and needing some debate. It really is a good and fun topic for debate and LeBron got a lot of people talking, which always is good for the game. Everyone always loves to consider the best ever, though not every day in every game like it seems these days. I’m actually glad LeBron weighed in like he did rather than just saying how great everyone is and having no favorites. Of course, it’s subjective, so there are no right answers. Michael Jordan is best except to those who say he isn’t. I know Hall of Famers who say Oscar Robertson was better. And no one denies the dominance of Wilt Chamberlain. Or ever will win like Bill Russell. Or put up the numbers of Kareem. Greatest generally is determined by longevity, production and success in looking back. These questions never were asked of Wilt or Russell. Or basically even Magic or Bird. A top 50 would be difficult now as you’d probably need to take 10 out of the 1997 list. LeBron’s a great talent and will be considered an all timer in NBA history. It’s tough to put anyone yet ahead of Wilt, Russell, Jordan, Bird, Magic and Oscar. But you would have to consider putting LeBron in a top 10 and he’s maybe halfway through his career. He truly is an amazing player, someone we’ve really never seen with his size and speed and talent. Though when they’re done will he be considered better than Durant? My picks? I’d say no one should argue with Jordan, Russell as the greatest winner and Wilt as the most dominant and greatest force ever given his statistical records which never have been close to being matched. After those three, you can have a debate. It’s tough to say how those three cannot lead the list.
How big of an impact do you think Brad Miller had on Noah's passing abilities and attitude? Also what does Noah always smell from the trainer before games and why?
Sam: Jo talks about Brad often, though not all that much about Miller’s hunting. Miller was one of the best passing centers and the last center until Noah to lead his team in assists at the All-Star break. Noah always had a sense for passing the ball, but he’s always said watching Miller and working with him helped teach him the angles. Some of the players take smelling salts before the game I think more out of ritual and habit and a team bonding thing than actually needing to be awakened. They do an interesting warmup dance and exercise session before even coming onto the floor, so they seem ready. But whatever they think works, I guess.
The Bulls and a few like San Antonio and Oklahoma seem to have success in the draft beyond their pick position. Others like Charlotte, Cleveland and Milwaukee seem to be the exact opposite. It seems well beyond just luck. Is it the difference in the scouting, evaluation and development process?
Sam: There’s always some luck involved as everyone—and I mean everyone—has blown a few drafts. But basketball is like life this way. Not everyone is Steve Jobs. Whenever people are involved, there’s a sliding scale. But let’s also remember it was pure luck the Bulls got Jordan and Rose, the Spurs got Robinson and Duncan and the Thunder for Durant. Being lucky goes a lot farther than being smarter. It’s why no one points to the other guy. Because they all—or most—truly understand their luck generally transcends their knowledge. Though Red Auerbach was pretty darned good.
Looking at how hard working and disciplined Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki are, I can't help but wonder - had Shaquille O'Neal embraced Michael Jordan's / Kobe Bryant's work ethic and discipline, do you think he could have been in the top 5, if not the best player ever?
Sam: He could have been and should have been something to see. Even given how much he accomplished. But similarly like with LeBron, there never was a player his size with his light step. His casual approach to the game was the genesis of his feud with Kobe. Kobe was Jordan like serious. Shaq was Dwight Howard-esque in it for the fun. Not as bad as Howard, but Shaq generally spent the regular season working himself into shape. And then he’d average about 40 and 20 in the Finals. I suppose that’s the most important time, but you’d like a player who was more committed to be great. Perhaps Shaq was more well-adjusted than all the others as basketball wasn’t all that important to him. No one was going to be Wilt and get 50 per game. But he would have been something to see.
Thinking ahead to the draft. What do you think of Marcus Smart? He's a great talent who has had some emotional incidents lately. His reactions might allow him to slide down to the Bulls. On the surface it's exactly the type of player who the Bulls would run away from... but my sense is that this is a hard-working, very competitive player who is having a bad year, maybe regrets his decision to stay another year, and is reacting immaturely (sort of like a young Noah). If he slides to the Bulls, I think he'd be perfect.
Sam: Sure he would. Though he’ll be long gone before the Bulls pick, likely a top seven pick. I don’t believe staying in school hurt his position the least. None of the pros care really that much about that incident with the fan other than no one should be letting that fanatic in their arena. Really, what kind of low level lunatic sits courtside at a college game and screams vituperation at a teenaged athlete? It hardly matters what the guy said other than it was clear he was screaming something at a college kid for no apparent reason. I’m sorry the kid was suspended. They should have barred the idiot from the arena for life.
What do you think about the Bulls acquiring Gordon Hayward? I think he and Rose would make such an impressive backcourt duo as he can pass, dribble, shoot and make plays for himself.
Sam: I think he’s about to become one of what many may consider one of the most overpaid players. Good for him. He’s got leverage with the Jazz and likely suitors with his college coach in Boston with cap money and the Suns with interest with cap room as well. He’ll be well beyond what the Bulls have to spend. He’s a nice all-around player who can do a lot of things, but nothing all that great and should be your third best player on a really good team. He’ll make way too much to be third, so it’s going to be questionable how much of a team you’ll be able to build with him.
So now with Jerry Reinsdorf and management talking up Mirotic as a big part of our future, and an ESPN "draft expert" saying he'd have him picked 5-8 in this year's vaunted draft, what are the scouting reports on him? I know he can shoot 3s, but does he have anything else to his game? In other words, can he post up and rebound like Nowitzki or is he more of a face-up shooter like Bargnani who can't rebound? What about defense? Can he play the 3 as you labeled Taj as "the power forward of the future, obviously" despite all the Mirotic talk from management?
Sam: The Bulls haven’t said much about Mirotic and with good reason. He’s not a savior, and to depict him that way would be a disservice to him. I see him for the next few years as a sixth man type player, a stretch four player who can shoot well but will be a poor defender for a while and who’ll be pushed around in the NBA for a few years. Remember when Dirk came even his coach, Don Nelson, called him Irk, for no D. Not that all international players are that way. Ginobili always was a tough guy to deal with. And how about Nocioni. But it will be a big adjustment for Mirotic when he does come and, remember, he just turned 23 this week. There seems little chance he can be anything but a power forward in the NBA. The issue for now is finances as he has a huge buyout in Spain. If he waits another year there is none. The Bulls could probably offer a huge contract this summer to persuade him to pay the buyout. But that may not be great for the team’s future to overpay now for Mirotic when perhaps you won’t have to spend as much in another year. It’s why this summer remains filled with mysteries and decisions and it’s going to be fun to be a spectator. Unless you are making the decisions. They aren’t going to be easy ones.
How about asking D. Rose to take a pay cut. This could help the team move forward and be able to by a free agent or two.
Sam: NBA labor rules do not allow a player to take a salary cut on his contract.
Do any Bulls players work out with "specialists" in the off season? - like you hear of Dwight Howard or other big men working out with Hakeem Olajawon. For example, can Jimmy Butler be sent to a shot specialist? Jimmy has good form and excellent elevation on the "jump" part of his jump shot. But his shot is remarkably flat with almost no arc. It seems like minor adjustments could help Butler be more of a threat to stretch the floor next season.
Sam: Like you wrote, Dwight Howard spent time with Hakeem. Which I assume has ruined Hakeem’s reputation as a big man coach to teach low post moves. That sort of thing is way overrated as Howard’s “development” suggests.
I would like to see Thibs in the Snickers commercial.... Maybe Pee Wee Herman on the sidelines running up and down and then giving him a Snickers.
Sam: The confusing part is I believe Thibs eats Snickers candies all game. So the Thibs you see courtside apparently is the calm Thibs.