Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 02.21.2014
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The Pacers just traded for Evan Turner. I imagine they think his scoring will help this season. I also wonder though if they signed him as insurance in case some other team lures Lance Stephenson away. Would the Bulls’ money be better spent chasing Stephenson or Mirotic? They won't have enough for Carmelo and I don't think he's leaving anyway.
Sam: Someone is going to pay Stephenson and maybe find out they have Eddie Robinson. The biggest mistake teams make is going for a guy having one good season in his contract year who’s had personal issues previously. Stephenson is a talent, but he’s likely going to price himself out of Indiana, where a high character team and nurturing management settled down a guy nobody in the NBA believed would be successful. He has talent and does a lot. But I’d stay away. Who knows how good Mirotic will be, and I see him off the bench for a few seasons. But he seems to have talent, character and is a hard worker. I’d take my chances with him. Plus given he’s a European prospect, his value isn’t that high for now among NBA teams until he plays in the NBA. So the Bulls are best off to ride it out and see if he is another Ginobili in being a surprise talent.
Why would anyone want Melo on the Bulls?? All he has done his whole career is not win.
Sam: He led an NCAA title team; was on two gold medal winning Olympic teams; made the playoffs every season, including their rookie seasons when LeBron’s team didn’t. He’s not a loser. He’s just not someone the Bulls will be able to acquire under any circumstances.
What is the disabled player exception? Why haven't the Bulls tried to use it last year or this year with D. Rose out?
Sam: The Bulls could have applied for it as it’s a partial contract for an injured player who will not return. But as it adds to your cap and it would put the Bulls back in the luxury tax, the whole point of trading Deng. Thus, it would mean the Bulls traded Deng for no reason and further inhibit the Bulls in trying to make future acquisitions. And if you look around, who exactly is available to be added for multiple millions of dollars who is worth it and not playing? That is why even teams that have the exception rarely use it. It would make no sense for the Bulls, which is why I assume they haven’t applied.
I know Jimmy Butler has been struggling a bit with his outside shot, and you've addressed this issue in interviews and on your podcast. However, it seems like Jimmy Butler misses more layups than any player in the league, and this has been happening consistently and all year. How do Butler and other Bulls players fare in this regard and do you see this as a differentiating factor the value of a given player?
Sam: Jimmy doesn’t miss the most, I’m sure. It is true not a lot of Bulls players finish strong. It’s more because they don't have many great athletes. Plus, they don't spread the court that well with limited long distance shooting. So the middle gets clogged a bit more. Come to think of it, it's probably surprising they score as much as they do.
This isn't a big thing, of course, but it always bothers me when sports writers refer to players as being "on the trading block," especially in the NBA when, more often than not, we are talking about African American players. For me, this term always conjures up the image of the slave markets where human beings were put on the "block" to be appraised and brought and sold as property. Certainly, today's athletes are not slaves - - at least, from an economic perspective - - but still the image that this terminology conveys offends me. I wonder if you've heard any concerns of that sort from the players?
Sam: I don’t use the phrase, but more because it is a thoughtless cliché, less about racial injustice and horrors than people not thinking about what they say. It’s all too common in American speech. Do people know why they are saying things like jump the gun, and apple of one’s eye, stamping ground or selling like hotcakes? That last one I hear all the time from people who never would eat a pancake. Such phrases come to have a common meaning that most understand and no longer has anything to do with their original meaning, as stamping ground was when male chickens or birds gathered and stamped their feet to draw mates. It became a stamped out area and people wondered why it was leveled as it was. It was a stamping ground. Similarly, no one connects an NBA trade with slavery rituals even though, yes, the term could better be avoided as no one is in a bondage situation. It’s a bit politically correct to make it an issue since we’d have to change most of our stupid sayings. I’ve never once seen one of those guys who says he’s taking his hat off to somebody ever wear a hat. And selling like hotcakes, by the way, was used last regularly on the prairies in the 1820’s when grilled cornmeal could be turned into this tasty delicacy that became popular and then was linked to merchandise because the newly discovered hotcakes were popular. Now as we have sushi and foie gras, who eats hotcakes?
I believe the Bulls should set a realistic goal in free agency and go after a guy like Kyle Lowry. I'm a huge Kyle Lowry fan. He's a fearless high motor guy who seems to do everything well both offensively and defensively. He is very underrated and rarely talked about but he's a big time player who's not afraid to take that last shot. DJ's done a fine job for us but he'll likely get a better deal from other teams where he can play a bigger role. Besides, Lowry is much better overall and I'm guessing Toronto isn't one of his desired destination for the long run. He would be that perfect student of Thibodeau and will drastically improve this team next year.
Sam: Here’s another guy having a career season in a contract year. Watch out. He’s always been known as a tough guy and I know the Bulls always have liked him and even had him on their radar in his draft. I think he’s overcome some of his issues with teams where he’s been known with the strong personality you see on the court to have it everywhere and be pretty disruptive. You always have to be careful when a free agent changes like that. But he’s had a terrific season and I doubt he’d settle for the few millions of dollars the Bulls would have to offer or for a backup role behind Derrick Rose, whom the Bulls have returning to be at least a 30-minute per game player.
Why is it college seniors always fall deep in the rookie draft? I think it is much safer to draft seniors rather than freshman. Seniors are well coached, physically and mentally ready. Look at Taj and Carlos when they came they were ready to contribute. Then look at Tyrus Thomas and Marquis Teague, very raw and should've stayed in school for more seasoning.
Sam: Talent, the chance to find a star. It’s the ultimate question which is constantly debated right here. Where’s our second star! Look at the top players in the NBA. How many came out as college seniors? Tim Duncan, OK. But how about the current top 10 scorers in the NBA: Durant, Anthony, James, Love, Curry, Griffin, Aldridge, Harden, Cousins and DeRozan. All but Curry were two years or fewer and most none or one year. Top talent generally comes right to the NBA, which is why so many in the NBA don’t want to be making these decisions and thus force kids to remain out of the NBA longer after high school. It’s not good for the teams because most aren’t ready and then you spend a few years teaching them and not getting as much. I always say the longer you stay in college the better it is for you as a person and you’ll be a better player in the long run, as Curry has become learning to handle the ball staying a third year. You do get players more ready for the NBA, more fundamentally sound who were in college longer. But the stars generally don’t stay long, and you need a star to be a contender. Many GMs have lost their jobs taking chances on the young talent. But when you hit, like with Durant, you are safe for years no matter what pretty much else you do. The Bulls have done well with seniors, like Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler. The Rockets have Chandler Parsons. They are great team players. But still complementary. You have to be lucky to land a star, and rarely do they hang around college for four years.
Any idea why the Bulls passed on Tim Hardaway Jr. to take Tony Snell? They both are pretty much the exact same player but Hardaway is more athletic.
Sam: It’s one of those draft decisions. I’d heard it was close and could have gone either way. But you have to make a choice. Hardaway is getting much more opportunity, though Snell is athletic. Plus, Snell’s playing for a much better team. The draft is all about what the player is in three or four years; not three or four months. It will be clear eventually whether it was the correct choice. Snell certainly seems like he can be a productive player. That’s all you hope for with a pick outside the lottery.
What are your thoughts on the bulls trading their (possible two) draft picks for an earlier pick?
Sam: It’s a wonderful and impossible notion. You see from the trading deadline deals no one was giving up first round picks, even at the bottom of the first round. This draft has been so hyped at the top that it’s highly unlikely anyone would trade down, which rarely happens anyway, as you could end up looking very, very bad. The Bulls if they get the Charlotte pick, which seems more and more likely with a nice draft day trade they made, likely will have two picks in the teens. That’s not huge value. It’s possible they combine that with a player in a deal, but my strong belief is they end up using both picks as lower paid first round draft picks are vital in the harsher economics of the new labor deal.
I have a few questions. Is the tax line set for the 2014/2015 season set yet? If the Bulls amnesty Boozer next season does that mean they get his 16 mil subtracted from the cap figure? If so 16 million seems like a lot to work with, it’s not enough for a max contract but it seems like you could get Mirotic (8 mil), rookies from the draft(around 3 mil depending on how many 1st rounder’s the Bulls get) and still have money to play with. Am I missing something?
Sam: It doesn’t work that way. It once did as there were salary “slots.” That was long ago eliminated. If the Bulls were to use amnesty for Boozer—hardly a given—they’d have to add up all their salary commitments for next season which include draft picks and now is about $49 million. The cap is currently $58 million, but as it’s based on league revenue teams expect it could go up for next season, maybe to $62 million. If it did go to that amount, the Bulls could have if they let not only Boozer go but Hinrich and Augustin maybe $13 million. That would be reduced by the draft pick salaries. Then they’d look to make a deal with Mirotic. They’d also need a point guard to back up Derrick Rose, so that would take some money. As you can see, there’s not a lot left because with just Rose, Noah and Gibson alone, the Bulls have $40 million on the payroll. This is not going to be any big free agent summer for the Bulls. And Boozer is a very productive player. If the Bulls use amnesty, they’d still have to pay him his almost $17 million. And then he could end up getting a minimum salary playing for Miami while the Bulls are paying him. So if there’s not a big free agency they may be better off keeping Boozer. Then they’d have the mid-level exception, which you don’t have when you are under the cap, and maybe sign Mirotic with that and have both. There are so many different possibilities, including what will occur with the draft picks, that it is premature to even speculate.
Recently I heard a broadcaster talking about the MVP that Derrick Rose won, saying that he might have gotten lucky being in a year where there was some backlash against LeBron, insinuating that it was probably a little easier. Since you're a lot closer to the league than a fan I was just wondering if that sentiment is common around the league or if it was probably a broadcaster just forgetting what Rose was really like, given that he's been out for so long?
Sam: Short memory. The Bulls had the league’s best record and as I recall LeBron that season even agreed it was an appropriate vote. Similarly with Jordan, everyone says looking back he should have won it every year. But as I’ve written before, MVP is not best talent but most valuable to your team. That season Rose was that guy. LeBron was playing with a Hall of Fame level Wade and Bosh, who likely will also be in the Hall of Fame. Similarly in 1992-93 when the Knicks had a better record than the Bulls and Barkley transformed the Suns, Barkley was an easy and correct choice. Rose was the obvious choice that season when the Bulls also won every regular season game with Miami. Rose’s team better; Rose’s team wins every regular season game; Rose has a less talented cast. How could LeBron even have been in the conversation?
Please explain to us one more time why the Bulls could not build a better team in 1998 when the dynasty ended, going from the best to worst team in the league. I'm sure there was someone within the organization who knew what's coming and could've prevented this disaster, giving away talents like Pippen for almost nothing in return and filling up the roster with no name players and CBA players. Why couldn't they have sign better free agents and make worthy trades?
Sam: This is one of the great urban legends of years of championships left on the table. Certainly, the rebuilding could have been better and smarter. But the free agents backed out, namely McGrady, whom the Bulls believed they had for sure like if someone close to Carmelo promised he’d come this summer. The Bulls thought they had all sorts of unofficial certainty. But until someone is signed he isn’t and the Bulls got no one. It also was the time of high school guys, who were hard to judge and took longer to mature, especially big guys. So the Bulls just couldn’t wait on Tyson Chandler, who became an All-Star. They went about it as most do now, accumulating draft picks to make a trade or use them. It doesn’t always work. Actually, it mostly doesn’t. But there were huge issues with the players. Pippen was in near revolt and refusing to ever play for the Bulls again. After a year in Houston they couldn’t wait to get rid of him as he’d lost most of his amazing skills after 1997 surgery. Pippen was refusing to help the Bulls in any sign and trade. Rodman was done and basically went to Dallas and cost them a chance to make the playoffs, which Mark Cuban subsequently admitted. Without those three guys including Jordan who wouldn’t hear of playing again at that time and seriously injured his hand during the lockout, there wasn't much value and none of the players who left ever became regulars anywhere else. The Bulls had so much success then no one really wanted to follow Jordan as Eddie Jones even reneged on an agreement. Even by 2010, LeBron still was talking about not wanting to face the Jordan legacy. Grant Hill would later admit it as well as he chose Orlando along with McGrady. They ran out the string and got as much as they could thanks to Jordan. But teams that paid big money to Luc Longley and Jud Buechler as free agents had regrets and Steve Kerr became a specialist who had some playoff success but rarely played in the regular season with the Spurs and averaged about 10 minutes per game when he did. Plus, Kerr went on to have the worst shooting season of his career, 39 percent overall and 31 percent on threes, the year he left Jordan. The Bulls had to get lucky in the draft and they didn’t. After all, Boston had a 20-year drought after the Bird/McHale/Parish group broke up. It happens. The Lakers could be in for a long decline to come.
After viewing the scouting tape on Mirotic on You Tube, I think he’ll be our small forward, giving us the outside game we lack. As far as a stretch four, that takes him out of position to rebound, which he may not do all that well as he is not strong in the post. As a stretch four, we then need a stud small forward to rebound as Noah can’t do it all by himself, and playing Mirotic at the four keeps Taj’s minutes down. I’d love to see the Bulls with Noah, Taj, Butler, and Rose around Mirotic. With his outside game, Mirotic does not clog the lane inhibiting Rose. Now when Rose drives the lane, he’ll have a legit three point shooter to kick it out to, and they’ll have enough offense to allow Jimmy to play lock down defense. I see Mirotic as a Kukoc kind of player. If he is the sixth man as you stated, then who are your starting five?
Sam: It’s a bit soon to consider as it remains 50/50 whether Mirotic even comes this summer given the buyout situation. None of us has seen him on any regular basis and he’s never really played against true NBA competition. So all that is speculation. I see him as a stretch four as it seems unlikely he can guard small forwards. The way the team looks now with Butler perhaps going to small forward and Dunleavy back to the bench the team needs a shooting guard. But, again, there are scenarios too numerous to really map out any sort of starting five. I’d say it’s Noah and Rose for sure with the rest pretty much uncertain.
Craig Sager’s report that Carlos Boozer will not be traded and may not be amnestied is a big disappointment. Supposedly, Boozer will not be amnestied unless the Bulls can acquire a “superstar.” Do you think Bulls management considers Mirotic a superstar for this purpose?
Sam: I was at the game, so I didn’t hear what Craig said. The report was Boozer said he was told he would not face amnesty unless the Bulls could get a superstar. I don’t know what the team may have told him, but I’d be surprised if any team told that to a player. Why eliminate your options without knowing what the possibilities can be? As I’ve written many times, there’s likely no decision made on Boozer. But I’d find it very hard to believe any team would make such a blind assurance to any player not named LeBron or Durant. How exactly would that help the team?
I just read in an article on ESPN that the Bobcats had two first round picks to dangle as trade bait to acquire a solid piece to push for the playoffs, theirs and Detroit’s. I was wondering what happens if they trade their own pick (which is the one the Bulls have with top ten protection) and then end up with a draft position outside of top ten? It would seem to me they would be in a position where they traded that pick twice. Would the Bulls be screwed?
Sam: You probably misread it. The Bobcats do potentially have two picks, protected picks from Portland, which they should get, and Detroit, which is close. Their pick owed to the Bulls cannot be included in any deal until it is delivered, which could be this season.
I was talking to a friend the other day, and we were both wondering the same thing. Is there anything, rules-wise, stopping a star player from taking a minimum-salary to play on a winning team. Let's say, for example, that LeBron and Melo both opt out this season, and that they both want to team up and win a championship. Could they both sign with a team for veteran's minimums so that the team can still sign other guys? Obviously this would be counter-intuitive in terms of earning money and common sense, but is it theoretically possible? Or would the league be able to do something?
Sam: It’s certainly possible, but as likely as you and your friend being willing to work for the minimum wage so your company can make more money and perhaps become a famous Fortune 500 company.
Was reading some stuff about the new addition of the Bulls roster, basically to complete the 13 minimum. The guy was 3 times Defensive Player of the Year in college. And have basically all records in block shots available in college. He broke several Shaq records and is one of two guys who have a career 1000/1000/500 in pts/reb/blk in college. What happened? His team didn’t win nothing? Bad college? The guy was the 41st pick in the second round. Personal issues? No position in NBA? Or blocking shots was not a big deal for the NBA? We had Thabeet in 2nd overall. How come this guy got so bad rank in the Draft?
Sam: I don’t know that he’ll play, but I’d like to see him get a chance. Some guys are good enough but don’t get a chance because of where they were picked in the draft or roster issues. He’s never been a problem guy. He’s sort of a tweener player, a bit undersized with limited offense. He’s played overseas and seems to have improved his offense some, a bit like Malcolm Thomas, a summer league fan favorite. He’s a bit thinner, but I can’t imagine Larry Sanders is that much better.
Do media members complain more about pregame dinner buffets or arenas that make them sit in the upper deck?
Sam: You know your media. The dinner buffet complaint remains a classic, like about the idiot editors who don’t understand their particular genius. It’s increased some in recent years as about half the teams now charge between $5 and $8 for a meal that would probably cost you $20 at Taco Bell. Though seating complaints have mostly drowned them out now. It’s tough as many of us found out at our various journalism jobs that we are no longer so important. Sports leagues once needed the media as a form of free advertising for their product. Now with the social media and internet revolution and decline in the media business more media outlets need the teams than teams need the media outlet. I give the NBA and the teams credit as most have tried to retain reasonably close seating. After all, you can get $1,500 for those seats next to the coach who generally blocks your view all game. But then you get to hear actual American profanity. And as reporters, we feel we have a right to hear that same profanity up close like we once did. It’s so sad.