Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 02.17.12
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Derrick Rose could be on the way to losing his starting All-Star spot, and I'm not talking about his injury. Jeremy Lin is playing like an All-Star. If he keeps making a name for himself, even with some less production, the player of Chinese descent could easily find himself as the starting PG on the East for years to come. We saw year after year how this ridiculous fan voting, coupled with China's enormous population, influenced the selection of Yao Ming. Several times he didn't even deserve to make the team let alone start. I know I might be getting ahead of myself as Lin has made 6 career starts, but the guy looks like the real deal. Do you see this happening?
Sam: I will say about all this Jeremy Lin stuff the great positive is that ESPN has stopped showing every belch LeBron James has. Yes, it is possible that Lin’s popularity, if he becomes a true starting point guard and the Knicks continue to do well, can lead to that. Though with the voting this season, that would mean Dwyane Wade would be a reserve. But you may be right about the China connection. A few years ago, I was on the committee to select the All-Star ballot. It had to list 12 centers, and it became embarrassing as we got to debating guys like Francisco Elson on the ballot because we had to pick 12 centers. So I suggested we list some power forwards who were playing center in reality then, like Tim Duncan and Amar’e Stoudemire, at center. The league now allows coaches to do that on their reserve voting. The league then went along, and I was shocked that the Spurs, of all teams, objected. They are a great organization, in part, because they are not involved with chasing individual honors. But they contacted the league and requested Duncan be listed as a forward. The reason was they felt Duncan never could make starter as a center with Yao on the ballot because of Asian fan voting. Duncan was put back at forward. The irony, of course, was with Yao having to retire the West centers have been questionable and Duncan might even have made it this year. But, yes, Lin’s presence could push someone out of the starting lineup.
Do you see the Bulls getting another big name player anytime soon then. Because I don't think will get Howard.
Sam: I doubt a big name, though I think what’s it’s seemed like of late even as the Bulls mostly have won is Miami is going to be very difficult to beat even with Rose and Hamilton back. Yes, the Bulls can, but I think a lot of weaknesses have been on display lately of players who are more one dimensional, either good offensively or defensively, and how good a job Thibodeau has done keeping that from being exposed. But that sort of thing hurts you in the playoffs in a long series, and I don’t see the Bulls as currently comprised having quite enough if Miami continues to play the way it has. I think they are better, and all the other things that have developed this season, like the recent Lin stuff, has taken more attention off them and they aren’t getting caught up in all the side stuff, which I think eventually wore them out this season. They are the only team thus far that looks like a championship team to me. Certainly, that could change, but they are the best for now.
Do you think the Bulls made a mistake for Hamilton? I honestly like him regardless of the injury. He hasn't played many games but when he does you simply can't beat us, well at least it's really hard.
Sam: I still think it was a very good move and will be one for the playoffs. Probably some among the Bulls are upset he has been out so much, and though I don’t know this, I’m guessing he is self-medicating. I suspect he’s taking his time this season, knowing he’s a veteran and what’s important, and that Thibodeau isn’t exactly as experienced in these things, as he is as he has a title and six straight conference finals appearances. I know there’s much debate about playing time with Thibodeau, but some guys, like Deng, thrive on that. Hamilton may not. He’s had groin injuries before, so there’s something to it. And the Bulls are not pushing him. But when he’s played he’s shown himself, in my view, to be one of the team’s better defenders and passer, already. Plus, he really bothers Wade, who doesn’t like playing against him. I think he’s a terrific pickup and gives the Bulls a chance to beat Miami, though it doesn’t seem so now with Hamilton having rarely played.
What a joke the Slam Dunk contest has been turned into with top athletes not even trying to win it. Blake Griffin ought to do it. If Derrick Rose wasn't injured, maybe he could do it one year. And only fans are voting now. One of my favorite parts was seeing who the panel of judges would be. I want Dr. J., Nique, Michael, Dee Brown, Spud Webb, etc to be invited back.
Sam: The stars stopped doing this some time ago. It’s an old story. We don’t have stars in the game anymore with the competitiveness of the stars of the past. Michael wasn’t afraid to be embarrassed. Bird was in the three point. That was great stuff in the 80’s. Plus, the players felt an obligation to the betterment of the NBA. Lots of angry labor negotiations have changed that, and the money has gotten so large and the voices in the players’ ears so many that they are told not to risk losing in a contest. Guys like Jordan and Bird just didn’t believe they would lose. There aren’t many guys around like that anymore. And even fans have lost perspective. Half of my mail these days is to even keep Rose out of games. So forget the All-Star game. Though I basically blame Twitter and Facebook as I trace those innovations as the end of civilized society as we knew it.
Tell me why the Bulls aren't aggressively trying to acquire JR Smith?
Sam: Because they are a responsible organization? I get a dozen emails a week asking about J.R. Smith and it looks like he’s signing with the Knicks. I never heard the Bulls having any interest. Smith actually was a Bull briefly in the Tyson Chandler trade. He basically was thrown off the Hornets after numerous disputes with Byron Scott. He was suspended in the playoffs by coach George Karl for refusing to run team plays. He was cited with a felony in a fatal car accident. He was suspended by the league for 10 games in a brawl with the Knicks. The NBA suspended him another time in a nightclub brawl. In China, he feuded with team officials and his sister got into a brawl with fans in the stands. With a Bulls team built on chemistry and teamwork I also find it hard to believe the Bulls wouldn’t bring in such a solid citizen and team player.
Quick comment on Linsanity. I think its pretty incredible what he's doing, he's obviously so much better than anyone realized. But let's be realistic for a second. 6 more TO last night against a Kings team who plays no defense and was on the 2nd night of a back to back (Knicks were too I realize). And he only played about 25 minutes. Don’t you think with someone like Derrick backed by the Bulls' team defensive shell he is going to turn it over non-stop?
Sam: I actually think he is a lot like Steve Nash, who was a fourth string guard pretty much dismissed early on in Phoenix. But Nash was able to labor in obscurity for a long time until he became good in Dallas. Lin’s building up has been so ridiculous, it may hurt him as he tires (his legs were fresher coming in now) and plays at a more normal level. They’ll probably blame it on Anthony the way they are putting so much pressure on in New York for him to succeed. It may make for even more New York dysfunction, which can only be good for the rest of the country.
I hope that the Bulls sign Mike James for the rest of the season, he is a great leader and solid veteran, who knows how to contribute. He has shown his worth time and again already and is great assurance when D-Rose can't play for whatever reason and C.J. isn't having a good game. You think they'll keep him?
Sam: He’s done well and it would be nice for him and the team if they could as he’s a veteran and tough and not afraid of the moment. The issue is more financial as keeping him could limit their ability to have the most money available to sign a higher level veteran who gets bought out next month. That has been happening a lot in recent years — already you hear Miami making noise about Chris Kaman, though I can’t see the league doing that and then seeing him go to a stacked Miami team — and you want to be in position to add someone like that if you can.
Given the recent success of using Deng as a kind of point-forward, similar to the way Miami (and Cleveland before them) uses LeBron, do you think Thibs will consider using Deng more to get Rose playing off the ball, rather than CJ? Seems to me it could work some (though maybe not against Miami).
Sam: I think Thibodeau is flexible and willing to be innovative, though the interesting thing is coming into this season he saw Deng with more spot usage as a backup power forward and then a shooting guard if the Bulls added, instead of Hamilton, a small forward like Caron Butler or Tayshaun Prince, two of the targets from the lockout era. It would be tempting, yes, to say given Deng’s versatility that he could be used that way. Though it seemed to me just a few weeks ago everyone was writing me (well, some fans) saying Deng was playing too much and had to be rested. And then he hurt his left wrist and there was questions of whether he even could play. And then there was 44 and a half minutes Thursday. I’m not sure this is the best overall path.
I was extremely happy to hear Luol Deng selected as an All-Star, to share the spotlight with Rose. With Hamilton and Boozer, the Bulls (preferred) starting lineup now comprises 4 current, or past All-Stars. My question to you is, has there ever been any team’s starting five with 5 past/present All-Stars? I distantly recall Payton and the Mailman uniting with the Lakers to chase a ring, but can’t recall who else was in the lineup.
Sam: Payton was pretty much done by then and not an All-Star. Although they weren’t all game starters, the Pistons got four starters on the All-Star team in 2006, all but Tayshaun Prince. The Lakers had four in 1998. It’s happened six times, though there used to be a limit of three All-Stars from one team years ago.
Just wondering with all the connections you have and word you hear, do you know how the situation with Przybilla is coming along? Last we heard he was deciding between the Bulls and Heat, but then the heat resigned gladness and word was that Przybilla was not going to be heading to Miami after all.
Sam: I’m not sure anyone knows. The Bulls have worked him basically since the lockout ended and I’ve heard they continue to talk to him. It seems more now a question of whether he wants to play, which he is not sure about. He has moved back to Wisconsin and is a family guy and one of those rare players who apparently can live without the game. He knows the Bulls want him. I think so do the Bucks, where he could be the starting center with Bogut out. I suspect that’s become a consideration as its sounded to me he would like to be closer to home than Miami. Have to respect that.
Jumping on the Linsanity bandwagon here. Is there any possibility that he can be picked as a replacement for the upcoming All-Star game especially with Rose dealing with the injuries? I know he's only really played 6 games thus far but is averaging 27pts and 8.5 assists which are pretty good numbers.
Sam: Of course, that’s ludicrous, though I think you can get him an early Hall of Fame entry because he’s done that in New York. The league has capitulated and put him in the rookie/sophomore (rising sort of stars), which as I’ve seen that game before may set back his career. It’s been a fun story and great for the NBA, but with Stoudemire and Anthony coming back his numbers are going to go down and it will be interesting to see what he’s judged on. Yes, if the Knicks continue to win the story will go on. But what happens if they stay as a .500 team and his numbers because of who he’s playing with, as it should be with point guards, go down to maybe 10 points and 6 assists? Is he then Jeff Teague? Which isn’t bad, but the league is holding off its All-Star invitation for Teague for now.
These days I keep forgetting Rip Hamilton is still on the roster and a part of this Bulls team. Do have any sense of what the Bulls level of concern is about Hamilton? Are they just being cautious with him or is there a real concern he might never be able to stay healthy?
Sam: I don’t get the sense there is any major concern. He’s had groin issues since coming into the NBA and generally misses 10 to 15 games a season if you check his record. But he plays in the playoffs and historically has been a much better playoff player than regular season player. He’s the kind of veteran who, shall we say, knows how to pace himself. I think he’ll be fine.
I started the season as one of the few fans defending Boozer to everyone I could after the turbulent season he had in '10-'11 (the broken hand, the turf toe — the guy seemed to be snakebitten). Through all that he still averaged close 18/9 per game. But after watching that game in Boston on Sunday and seeing #5 let back to back big men get transition alley-ops I cannot take anymore. I know he gives you some much needed offense, but his basketball I.Q. is just too much to ignore (i.e. missing C.J. on a fastbreak and calling a T.O.,etc). At what point do we look to Derrick to take him aside and tell him it's unacceptable. Also what rumblings have you heard about Boozer's lack of defensive effort from other vets in the locker room?
Sam: I was at the game so I didn’t hear the TV broadcast, but I heard Van Gundy, who has been harshly critical of the Bulls over the years, I think, because of all the taunting he got from Phil Jackson, gave it to Boozer pretty good. Not that much of it wasn’t justified. So I’ve gotten a number of similar emails. But Boozer isn’t the problem in the sense of as I wrote a few weeks back, this is who he’s always been. You bought Boozer for his offense not his defense, and if you thought otherwise it’s your fault, not his. It’s like when an organization overpays a player and then wants him to play to that pay level. Boozer is averaging 15.6 and 8.3 in 30 minutes per game this season, about on par with his career averages. He’ll make a first attempt on defense, but doesn’t always make those multiple efforts Thibodeau talks about. But he does contribute. He scores, with at least 22 points in three of the last six games, averaging 19.8 in that span with Rose mostly out or ineffective. So he’s contributing. There are many ways to contribute, so he contributes offensively, which is the Bulls Achilles heel with Hamilton and Rose out. There are probably other places on the team where they could use more of a talking to. As for the players, I continue to hear positive comments regarding Boozer, so I don’t see any major locker room issue.
Just read your blurb regarding Rose's back spasms and in it, you mentioned how Rondo torched Watson this past Sunday. While watching the game, I noticed that Watson played Rondo like Rose usually does. They back up about five feet to encourage Rondo to shoot and to discourage his penetration. Is this something the coaching staff tells them to do or something the Bulls' guards come up with on their own? Rondo's awful shooting should be a disadvantage, but instead it seems to opens up his game because guards ease the defensive pressure. With Watson playing five feet back, Rondo can make any pass he wants. And when they run the pick and roll, they run it from 17-19 feet away instead of by the three point line. I know that Rondo did a lot of his damage in transition, but put some pressure on that guy when he's in a half court set.
Sam: That’s a good point in that you have to play him tougher, as Mike James was able to and actually Rose does as well. Watson isn’t as quick a defender, and yes, the coach did tell him to play off. That is the classic strategy against Rondo, not only because he is not a good shooter, but it upsets the team when he shoots too much and there ends up being a lot of bickering. I think that’s why you always hear Rondo trade rumors and why I think you’ll see the Celtics eventually trade him when they look to break it up and retool.
I'm concerned about Rose, hoping that he and the Bulls management will not allow him to accept surgery to correct his back. The reason why I'm writing is not to give my expert opinion but to suggest treatment from a chiropractor that helped me through the years when I played handball and tennis when my back got out of line.
Sam: I’m hearing Rose is doing much better, as Thibodeau has been saying, and he did see a chiropractor among his treatments. It’s helped and he should be playing soon. No one is contemplating any surgery. I have received a number of home remedies, by the way, and my chicken soup — American version of mulligatawny — has been rejected by the staff.
My suggestion is bikram yoga, a 90 minute class in a room heated to 105 degrees. The heat promotes increased flexibility and the class is designed to increase blood flow to all parts of the low back, spine, and legs. I have never had a back problem, but I have been taking the class for 10 years. It struck me as odd that Derrick said he has always been inflexible. I assume world class athletes are that way because of their amazing bodies. Feel free to pass this along to the training staff.
Sam: I did and I think they signed up because I hear a lot of chanting coming from the trainers’ room these days, or perhaps that’s grunting. Yes, Derrick did mention something about being relatively inflexible, which I heard is true and one reason why he has that amazing jumping power. I can’t explain as I’ve got to run because I see steam escaping from the trainers’ room.
Please say Rose isn't going to play in the stupid All-Star game! We want a championship, not him goofballing on the court with Howard, James and co.
Sam: Rose will start and I assume play quite a bit. He wants to play, I’m sure, he should play and it’s not actually a choice. Unless you are seriously injured and out, the NBA doesn’t allow players who are selected to miss the All-Star game. If you do, you’ll probably be suspended five games without pay after the All-Star game. Charles Barkley once threatened to and the league was ready with the suspension. Barkley changed his mind. Every great player has a responsibility to the league, the fans and the game to participate, and Derrick would be the last one not to endorse that. The game means so much more than any individual team’s success.
I saw the recent announcement by the NBA that Houston was awarded the 2013 All-Star Game. As a season ticket holder, this got me thinking about when we might see another All-Star Game in Chicago. The Bulls have not hosted the ASG since 1988 and it is frustrating to see other cities get multiple All-Star Games before the Bulls get another chance to host. How do teams bid on hosting the NBA All-Star Game? Have the Bulls attempted to get the All-Star Game? What do you think is the likelihood of us season ticket holders seeing an ASG in Chicago in the near future.
Sam: Not likely to happen. The Bulls have been sensitive to this since that 1988 game because when you get an All-Star game, the NBA takes it over as basically their trade show for sponsors that even season ticket holders don’t get to buy tickets, for the most part. I don’t think that went over too well even back then. They tell you to buy tickets to the fan jam, or whatever they call it. More recently, the league has decided only to go to warm weather destinations for the February game after some tough situations in cold weather cities. I know Boston has applied several times and been pretty much ignored as a result. And as someone who goes to the All-Star games, I’ve had enough of Minnesota and Cleveland in February. I suggest buying a jersey and watching golf.
Which teams are currently in position (regarding the salary cap) without making a major trade to sign Dwight Howard to a maximum contract next season? I keep reading that Dallas would be looking to sign him, but even with Terry & Kidd's contracts expiring, would they be able to give him a max deal? Would any of the teams on his wish list be able to sign him to a max deal without trading away big salaries for almost nothing?
Sam: That’s the big bluff. If Howard walks away, the maximum he can sign for is four years and about $30 million less than the five years with bigger money if he stays or is traded. So would he do that? The Lakers don’t have the room, but the Mavs and Nets will. Like Jerry West said a few weeks ago, he’d love to see some team call the bluff of one of these free agents. It never happens, but Orlando is being put in an awkward position in that the teams Howard seems to want to play for have little if anything worth accepting in trade.
The conversation this past week after Michael Jordan's comments regarding Kobe was interesting. I believe you can absolutely compare them on an equal basis at this point in terms of competitive drive and offensive capabilities. The thing that still separates Jordan in my mind, though, is his one-on-one defense. Kobe has been a very solid defender throughout his career but I am not sure you would call him a lock-down guard on the other end of the court. Some of my best memories of Jordan are actually of when a guy would be going off, he would switch to them, and they virtually disappeared from the stat sheet for a quarter or so. Having watched Kobe for 10+ years pretty closely, I'm not sure I remember a game where this was the case. Romanticized view of MJ or not giving Kobe enough credit?
Sam: You don’t give Kobe enough credit. He can do that, and has. He was the defensive stopper for the Olympic team in 2008 and he shut down several guys impressively. We all tend to romanticize Jordan more as if he never missed a shot. I once had a nice lunch with Kobe — he’s very funny and good company — and asked about the comparisons with Jordan. Kobe laughed and said Jordan was becoming an urban legend, like spontaneous combustion. It was if he never missed a shot or an assignment and no one ever scored on him. Kobe didn’t say it with rancor. He said please don’t compare him because there wasn’t another Jordan. But he did want to get the six titles, anyway.
So Kevin Love (I know he isn't your favorite, but he would be an excellent compliment to Rose) signed for 3 years. Isn't that about when Boozer's contract is up? Your thoughts on how fun it would be to have Love and Rose on the same team for headline writers and how they would play together. Any chance he's on the Bulls long term radar already?
Sam: Boozer’s contract does end after the 2014-15 season when Love has an opt out. I do think the Bulls will have Mirotic by that time, who looks like he’d play somewhat like Love. Also, I doubt the Bulls until then keep their payroll low enough to get that far under the cap. Because if they do they are likely not to be competitive, and there’s no way they are wasting Rose’s best years that way. Perhaps Miami will win some titles, but Dwyane Wade worked awfully hard and basically wasted two years so Miami could get LeBron. I’m convinced it takes years off his career. I don’t see the Bulls doing that with Rose.
I have a question about professional basketball players' diets. I often read articles on players eating at burger places or other fast food restaurants, or Pooh beeing so crazy about skittles and sweets in general. That sounds a bit odd to me as I always thought those athletes have to keep a strict diet in order to stay fit. (It's NBA FIT week isn't it?) I also was suprised to read that Wade just "discovered" salads and healthy food; for a guy with about 3% body fat. I thought that was everthing he was eating for the past twenty years. Do you know how the Bulls' players handle that? Do they have a cook that travels with them on road games? Or does Rose have a Skittles machine installed in the airplane everytime they take off? Do they drink alcohol during the season?
Sam: They are young people and have their share of food young people eat. And some of us old people as well. No, the Skittles thing was just a gimmick for Rose. The team supplies meals on the road with salads and chicken and fish, but I notice you wrote from Germany and the tradition here is hamburgers. It’s OK as they get plenty of exercise. Drinking alcohol is not illegal, but players do not do that when they are traveling with the team or at arenas, unlike in previous eras.
Is Chris Paul to the Clippers what Jason Kidd was to the Nets? I feel a similar turnaround taking place. I'm not saying he'll take them to the Finals immediately, but do you think he is having a similar affect on the team or is it a Clippers team where the pieces are just starting to fall into place?
Sam: That comparison is being made, though it’s a bit over the top as I’ve heard some talk Paul should be MVP. Paul is terrific, though it’s been years since a team he’s played for has beaten a team with Rose. The Clippers are going to take a hit now with Chauncey Billups out for the season, so we’ll see how that works. I’m no fan of Kenyon Martin and think in the long run he’ll be more problem than help. So we’ll see where the Clippers end up. But I do like their chances, still, given the West is fairly wide open. I think they have some good things going for them.
I've been thinking about point guards lately, and I would love to hear your thoughts on point guards as well. It seems that there are a ton of very good PG's in the league these days. Rose, Nash, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Rondo, Tony Parker, Jason Kidd, Rubio, Irving, perhaps we'll include Wall, and some up-and-comers in Kyle Lowry, Raymond Felton, and Ty Lawson. I'm not sure if we include Steph Curry or not. Anyway, I'm sure you can think of at least a couple seasons past that had really good point guard groups in the league. How does this year's group stack up, historically?
Sam: And you didn’t even mention the legendary Jeremy Lin. Which could hurt the case for this group if a guy from nowhere (Harvard) can become a point guard star, what the heck is going on. Yes, the rules have changed a lot to give point guards more freedom than ever, so it’s not surprising the numbers are better. Plus, the game has gone much more to the perimeter from historically being an inside/outside game with the three point shot now. But the best era could have been the early 60’s with Oscar Robertson, my personal pick for best point guard ever, Hall of Famers like Bob Cousy, Jerry West, Lenny Wilkens, Hal Greer and high level players like Guy Rodgers, Richie Guerin and Larry Costello. And that’s when there were just nine teams. Or how about the early 80’s with Hall of Famers like Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Tiny Archibald along with Norm Nixon, Ricky Green and Micheal Ray Richardson. And then later in the 80’s with Magic, John Stockton, Cheeks, Nixon, Doc Rivers, Dennis Johnson, Derek Harper, John Lucas, Mark Price, Kevin Johnson and Mark Jackson?
Why does Boozer always have to handle/hold the ball before and between every free throw? He is like the only player that I see do this as he will just ask for it from the refs before they give it to the shooter.
Sam: Guys won’t pass him the ball because he’ll shoot the fadeaway too much and he likes touches whenever he can get them. Nah, just kidding. I asked him once and it seemed like he wasn’t even sure he was doing it. He said it’s just a habit he got into, and I do know players tend to be very superstitious. I also think I heard him once begging the ball to go in when Omer shoots.