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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 03.01.2013

Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of emails from his readers
Sam Smith Mailbag

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

So do you think the second round of the playoffs is good estimate of the earliest Derrick Rose can return?

Stanley Ross

Sam: That would be a bad estimate. I’ve seen everything but Vegas over/under odds on this. The actual facts, which are difficult to come by in following the media, are no one has made a decision yet. But you have to assume if he’s not playing sometime in March he’s not going to play because it would seem shortsighted to allow him to play going into the playoffs when everyone has had a full season of contact and he’s just trying to feel his way back. Though that didn’t hurt Jordan coming back with 15 games left in the regular season. But when he scored 63 against the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs with no minutes restrictions, obviously, several Celtics players said it was because he had fresh legs and they didn’t after a long regular season. So for many that’s the Bulls’ secret weapon, eh?

What's wrong with the Bulls offense? What do you attribute the recent Bulls struggles on offense towards? Injuries or simply a lack of proper execution and consistency or something else? I feel like the team whole shares a majority of the burden and the blame for not picking up the slack in lieu of Derrick Rose's injury so far this season. Second of all, why do the Bulls constantly get blown out in games they're supposed to win?

Ken Hidaka

Sam: I’m about perspective, if nothing else, and I hope there’s more. But everyone basically felt this was a 40 to 47-win team this season. The Bulls currently are on pace to win about 46.57 games and finish sixth or seventh, which was where most predicted preseason they’d finish. So if you are going to win 46 games and I’ll round down not to look too smart yet, you have to lose 36. And there are only about five or six teams in the league you would not expect to beat. The Bulls won in Miami, which leads many to ask why they can’t do that all the time. They can’t! What was this great offense without Rose, though I must admit I’m not getting the Rose-may-hurt-the-team-unity questions I was a month ago. The Bulls have had a fragile mix of sorts the last few years, a greater than the sum of its parts team thanks to Rose, the coaching of Thibodeau, the defensive and committed play of guys like Noah and Deng. Without Rose, you don’t have a single so called go to player, players to create for themselves, to beat opponents off the dribble when things break down. The Bulls unlike most teams are able to overcome that with such committed and intense play for longer stretches than virtually any team and a consistent system of play that is a model of unselfishness. But you cannot keep losing key players like Hinrich and Gibson and Noah and Deng in addition to Rose and maintain the same level of play. Check Boston, for instance, whom everyone had better than the Bulls this season. How about the 76ers, who were predicted by almost everyone top four before the season. So the Bulls will have these droughts, but given the commitment of the coaching staff and players I see them able to recover.

The more I think about the Bulls lack of movement at the trade deadline, the less I understand it. I’m not Reggie Rose – if the right deal was not out there to improve your team, don’t force it. However, since that was the case, they should have made moves to cut salary and get under the tax. Particularly as they weren’t far from the threshold. From what I can find online, by not making a move (trading Rip, per se) the Bulls are going to be about five million over the tax limit, paying dollar for dollar on the exact overage. To what end, exactly? So that Rip can play 18 minutes in a losing effort to the Cleveland Cavaliers? But the tax bill is for GarPax to explain to Jerry. As a fan, I’m more concerned about what this means for their financial flexibility in the future, particularly as it concerns the Repeater Tax. Next season, assuming Rip is bought out for $1M, the Bulls have eight players under contract for about $73M. That is already over next season’s likely tax limit. And that’s without signing another 6-7 guys to fill the roster. Point being, they’re very likely to be over the tax limit by next season’s end. Regardless of the result, that’s two years straight of tax-paying. The following season, 2014-2015 is where it gets very tricky. Right when you start having some financial flexibility, the threat of the repeater tax appears. Because you can’t go over again given the new rules without awfully punitive measures coming your way. I’m getting a little ahead of myself here and who knows what happens over the next 2-3 years. But my question is – why on Earth did the Bulls decide to enter the tax this year on this roster? Why compromise future flexibility by doing so? What did they gain? What did they hope to gain? It seems awfully short-sighted. And even in the short-term, there was very little to gain.

Dan Frystak

Sam: Here’s a twist. Condemning the Bulls for being in the tax, which is the classic no win as the Bulls routinely are faulted for not being in the tax. You pretty much can tell from the movement at the trading deadline, or lack of it, that teams weren’t taking on money without you giving up something, which meant a No. 1 pick. Though you hear mixed opinions on the effect of the new labor agreement, which was one big reason why there was such little movement, one thing you hear from most teams is to hang onto your No. 1 picks because those players will be the most valuable given the small contracts they’d get and your rights to retain them for four or five years. I assume the Bulls would have liked to have moved below the tax to hold off those repeater penalties, but not at the cost of future stability and depth, which they lost enough of last summer because of the new labor agreement. Your point is more interesting because it says less about this season than most fans’ who wanted additions to the roster. Since basically no one made them at the deadline it’s fairly obvious that was unlikely. But you bring up the issue facing the franchise, which no one likes to consider. But if you are paying your highest paid player $16 million not to play there’s no way to overcome that. The Bulls loaded up their roster to compete for a title in 2010 and 2011. They did and had a shot, but with Rose’s injury that ended. Now they’ll have to sort through plenty of decisions over the next few years, though you truly cannot make any until you see Rose play and know who and how he is.

I’ve been watching a number of Rockets games recently (initially to follow Asik, but more lately as they are just fun to watch) and have been struck by their extreme difference in style compared to the Bulls. Whereas the Bulls play standout defense, but struggle to score, the Rockets often surround Asik with multiple 35%+ 3-point shooters that can take the ball to the basket, making them really hard to stop. Both styles are obviously successful, but my question is about the physical toll the Bulls style has on players. Since Thibodeau demands near-maximum effort, is it any surprise that so many Bulls go out with minor or nagging injuries? The only injury a Rocket is likely to sustain is a “shooting elbow”. I guess my questions are first, do you agree with this point of view? For example, have the Bulls (and other high-effort defensive teams) lost relatively more player games to injury than low-effort defensive teams (e.g. since Thibodeau took over)? Second, what can (or should) be done about it? Since this defensive style (and success!) appears to be inherent in who Thibodeau is, maybe the solution is to try to have as deep a team as possible to insure the team against the injuries that are likely to come? If so, that suggests the Bulls perhaps shouldn’t invest in any more “stars” at the expense of solid depth on the bench, despite the conventional wisdom

Gregory Crawford

Sam: Yes, it’s always best to work backward. It’s interesting in that I read where Chandler Parsons said this week it’s a fun system to play in but very hard work that wears you out. Guys get hurt. The Suns played this style for four years under D’Antoni and ran through the league, averaging almost 60 wins. I believe you can win that way, but I remain in an NBA minority about that. So we’ll see with Houston. Amar’e Stoudemire kept getting hurt playing that way. Hinrich was a risk on some level given he’s had injuries and no one expected him to play 82 games, but you knew he’d play as long as he could. Deng’s held up better than when he was playing under Skiles and Vinny and Noah has played far more minutes than ever in his career. He has a right to wear down, especially the way he plays. Perhaps no one wore down his players more than Pat Riley with his style and extreme practices. Is he the fault of Ewing’s injuries? But he won, so he’s a great coach. Pippen had serious back issues at the end of his Bulls days. Was that Jackson’s fault? Plus, Thibodeau tends not to practice hard, and probably wouldn’t be scrimmaging at all if the team didn’t want Rose to get in some scrimmages to see if he can return. Again, most fans want “stars.” The Bulls couldn’t get them in 2010, so they build depth, which almost worked. They’d have preferred the stars, but there aren’t enough to go around.

Do you watch any Euro League? I just caught a Real Madrid game and two things to mention, Nikola Mirotic is not the Bulls saviour. He got abused by the larger American Imports on D and his shot looked awful, hopefully just a bad game. The other thing I would like to mention is that Rudy Fernandez is the LeBron of the Euro League. Maybe the Bulls could lure him back?

Mike Burling

Sam: If Rudy equals LeBron then perhaps you need a bigger sample than one game. I don’t think the Bulls are looking at Mirotic that way, but more a low first rounder who could be a very good starter, like the Spurs saw Manu. Then you have to come to the NBA and show what you have. So we’ll see, but he’s still probably two years away from even coming. But in seeing him play a game here against the Grizzlies in October even Grizzlies players said he looked like he could play well in the NBA. But he’s not supposed to be ready yet, anyway.

I watched the adidas clip of Derrick dunking before the Oklahoma massacre and was unimpressed. To me, he looked like a below the rim player. After seeing that, I am not expecting much from him this year. The Bulls have a .360 winning percentage in the month of February, apply that to the rest of the season and you have a 500 team. Will the Bulls make the playoffs or worse make it in as the 8th seed to get drilled by Miami?

Jim Harlan

Sam: He hasn’t looked to me yet, either, like a player ready to make a difference, and as I always point out Ricky Rubio is just now not dragging his leg and playing freer 11 months after his surgery, which or Derrick would be the end of April. Many predicted the Bulls to be a .500 team. I felt they’d be better thanks to Thibodeau’s system and how serious the players are. I had them fifth or sixth and said they’d be better off sixth or seventh to avoid Miami in the first round. And even how things have gone lately I’d say if you don’t have to face Miami until the conference finals you have a chance to get there, and that includes the Bulls. Right now, the Pacers are the favorites to get there and the Bulls play similarly and always have matched up well. And, really, I could outrun Roy Hibbert.

I played basketball in high school. I got hurt in the last 8 seconds of a game. My ankle snapped, and I had tore the ligaments in my ankle. I got a cast and was out of the cast in 6 weeks. It took about another month before I attempted to comeback and play the last two weeks in the season and it really didn't work out too well. I was not in game shape, I had a stiff ankle, I had no confidence in it, I couldn't jump as high as I could before. I played but was unaware what I could do, and I had learned to play at skill level that I was not able to play at. It was as if I didn't know how to play because all the moves I knew where not available, yet I didn't know how to play within the limit skill set that I possessed. It took another summer and off season to work through that injury, and I was able to get back to where I left off before the injury. As for Derrick Rose, he will need to create muscle memory and experiential knowledge upon which he is able to play. It is not a mental issue, it is an issue of knowing what your skills are and playing within the parameters of your game at that time. Derrick will know when he can come back. If he doesn't come back this season, I wouldn't hold it against him, as he may never be able to play at his high skill level, but only he will figure this out.

Tom Allen

Sam: That’s fair, which often doesn’t get into my email folder.

Have your thoughts on Derrick changed at all? Do you think he would honestly sit out the season even if he's ready to play because of the roster? If [this is] true, it will forever change my opinion of him. I just hope if he sits the whole year it has nothing to do with the roster. I really do.

Michael Koltun

Sam: If he sits this season I suspect it’s more to do with Tom Allen’s devastating high school injury and a sense of survivor’s guilt for Tom.

I'm getting a little fed up of seeing everyone asking the Bulls to completely trade just about anyone on their team for anyone on another team. How short sided can people be? About the only roster spot I'm not very happy about is Carlos Boozer and that's only because they are overpaying him, despite the fact that he is improving in most areas of his game. I still wouldn't trade him for some other player that another team would be glad to get rid of. What sense does that make? It just seems that everyone thinks that they need to make a move to win a championship. I know I'm not that old, but I remember some of the Bulls of the 80s when Jordan had to get past Boston and Detroit just for the right to play the Lakers. I see this as very little difference now. We have awesome pieces that just need a little more production from a couple spots. I can be patient, as long as Rose can be patient. They've recently hit on their draft picks and seem to get players that may not be the stud we need, but were better than what we had. Can't anyone else see this? Or am I just going crazy? This year was a virtual loss. I truly felt that the organization knew that but didn't want to completely wash it because they still have other players that can play and keep them in contention in the east. Again, I'm fine with this because it only makes those players better. Sorry to rant, but I'm tired of my friends and all their bloody, crazy posts about how they suck and they need to make a move.

Brian Wittman

Sam: Yeah! It’s OK. Debate is said to be healthy for a democracy, though I’m beginning to wonder about Washington, D.C. It’s tough work being a fan, especially in a big market with a franchise that has had success (third most titles) with a team with the former league MVP. Who now isn’t playing. The art of fandom is being short sighted, sort of like the coach. Your job is to be mad every day you lose and hoping for more when you win and then next moment or hour or day is the most important. The organizations guys have to meld that with three and four years out with long term contracts. The Bulls have the potential — and only potential depending on many decisions — for substantial flexibility to make moves after next season. With Rose back presumably at 99.8 percent next season and the addition of perhaps another player or two the Bulls should be better next season. But who much cares about that when they’re still showing and selling tickets to this season’s games? I understand, and I watch them all. This season isn’t over; we don’t fully know about Derrick. And if you can start the playoffs out of the eighth spot I think it has the potential for an entertaining spring, if not ultimately successful.

Did [you] see the numbers Cousins put up against the Heat? [He] flat out dominated them. [It ]goes to show you how good he can be when he's engaged. [The] guy can be the best big in the game if he ever figures it out.

Al Mirza

Sam: There’s that big IF. Everyone knows this, which is why the Kings aren’t dealing him and whoever the new owners are want to take another shot with him, presumably with a new coach and management team to see if they can get to him. The Kings’ situation is one of the most dysfunctional given the roster and the sale issue. So maybe he is salvageable. Plenty of teams would take a shot if they could.

Just wondering if you know the status of that Bulls summer league player that played really well. The one that was very similar to Taj. I can't remember his name, I'm sure [you] know who im talking about, and I wonder if the Bulls could sign him to a couple 10 day contracts.

Chris Roman

Sam: That’s the immortal Malcolm Thomas. There’s always one summer league fan favorite and he was the one. Last I heard he was available after being let go in Israel, though I don’t think he was tied to Yair Lapid. Gibson is only out two weeks. Given the way the hard cap situation has worked, I believe the Bulls have money to make an addition starting this weekend in March. I expect they’ll add someone, though there are a fair number of positions that could use support. But you should also recall Thibodeau doesn’t much use new players given his reliance on work with his system over the season, like not much using Mike James last last season when Rose was out. So I’d hardly see whomever comes in as much of a factor.

Regarding James Harden: I think the deal was made due to the fact that if he won a Thunder championship in 2013, it would be hard to let him go and sell that to the fans! Plus I do not think they could better than Kevin Martin (except with Harden). Same logic with Rudy Gay except going to the Western Conference Finals would have made it hard.

Lawrence Bentley

Sam: That’s an interesting take and I assume you have your share of conspiracy theories. But, yes, if they had won the title with Harden, and I believe they would have been the favorites over Miami and no longer are, then it would have looked worse to break up a title team, and though I know the Bulls get plenty of grief about that from 1998 they could have consulted Mark Cuban down the road for his 2011 team and then dumping Tyson Chandler, who went on to become Defensive Player of the Year. And they won’t make the playoffs this season. I once heard a GM say the theoretical/cynical ideal in sports is to make the final four every year, thus giving your fans hope but keeping your owner off your back by not having to spend too much in case you don’t win. Maybe that’s the Thunder’s secret plan.

All Rose has to do is hit open 3s, do a few jumpers, a couple of layups and pass more often to satisfy me. Why does he feel he needs to dunk? Because that was Jordan's trademark?

Kieron Smith

Sam: It is who he is, as it were. I do understand as explosion was a big part of his game and who he’s been as a basketball player. It’s not so much he has to dunk but that would let him know that his body is ready to perform the way he knows how. Derrick was becoming less the highlight dunker with all the tough falls he’d been taking the last few years. But you want to maintain the threat. He’ll be a better shooter, but that’s not who he is.

Wow! I remember when fans and some in the media said the Bulls should have taken Hawes instead of Noah. I’m sure there were some of us who liked the Noah selection but who saw this coming? I can’t imagine the Bulls winning a title without Noah or Deng. It just wouldn’t be right!

Victor Devaldivielso

Sam: Yes, if the argument wasn’t settled, Noah sure did Thursday night. But that is going to be the big question most likely after next season. Can you add around what the Bulls have now given they already are in the luxury tax with payroll or do you have to get rid of one or two of the players who got you here and try to someone new. I’ve made the point that you can win without this new second star and fans keep pointing out to me the Bulls need him. I’m fine with adding someone like that, perhaps even lesser in the DeMar DeRozan category, a guy often brought up in speculation by fans. But the point is you can’t get guys like that without giving up someone like Noah or cutting Deng and Boozer. And say you add a scoring guard. Are you then better giving up Deng and Boozer or Gibson? There are so few star level players in the league and teams don’t give up on them so easily. Of course, the Bulls would love to add All-Star talent; just like every other team. But you may have to make some very hard and risky decisions first in breaking up unusually good chemistry. And who says the guys you add will be better and fit in better and not be selfish given they probably were a high level player and had the ball a lot where they were? Could they fit in and be as unselfish as the likes of Noah and Gibson and Deng, who are in their 20s? You’d love to see those guys get another shot like they felt they had last season.

Considering the Bulls are likely to let Hamilton go next season and everyone else signed for next season except Noah will be making more than they are this season, how much money do think will be allocated to the SG position next year? Looks now like Hinrich and Butler will get minutes there next year but doesn't look like much money will be left to bring in anyone else given luxury tax implications.

Larry Hughes

Sam: One reason the Bulls and Thibodeau were so anxious to sign Hinrich, and why even Rose appealed to him to pick the Bulls over the Bucks, was when Rose returns the Bulls can use Hinrich with Rose at shooting guard because of his defense and allow Rose to play off the ball, which is also vital to Rose’s health. The Pistons’ success was when they had those three guards, though small, who could all handle the ball. I also expect the Bulls would like to bring back Belinelli, which would be a nice three guard rotation.

I have entitled this article "we don't have enough to win" as the antithesis of Thibs bellowing to the contrary. As evidenced by losses to Denver, Miami, OKC, and the LA Clippers, we don't have enough. We look slow, non-athletic with certain alignments (save Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler) and Derrick will not fix all of these problems. Do you believe that we have gotten the maximum (or more) potential from the current roster? Is Thibs a great coach or just a great preparer (These are not 1 in the same)? Are you in agreement that with the current NBA culture we must get more athletic? I think we should make a bold play for DeMarcus Cousins. It might mean getting rid of Joakim and/or Lu. Maybe Cousins will benefit from a change of scenery similar to Zach Randolph.

Mendel Monarchs

Sam: You can forget all the silly scenarios involving guys like Cousins and Randolph. This isn’t fantasy ball. You can’t just pick guys and then if they don’t work out get rid of them. And since when did Randolph become athletic? But to the main point, Thibs gets basically all you can get out of his rosters. But so do the players the Bulls have. You never are embarrassed or question their effort or willingness to sacrifice for team play. Sure, the Bulls could use more athletes, but they aren’t always so great to have around, like J.R. Smith. And many wouldn’t know a pass from a press. But it looks way worse without Rose. You can’t lose one of the league’s top five athletes and look athletic. A great coach is defined as one who wins and Thibs’ teams have done better than predicted every season.

Do you think the fact Derrick might not return Is psychologically hurting the team? They are humans after all.

Gorav Raheja

Sam: Humans get tired; they all don’t need counseling. But I do think the media is acting erratically.

I was wondering what are your thoughts on ways that the Bulls can improve their offensive play? My thoughts are that they should stop trying to play a shooting game and stick to the post game. With players like Jo, Boozer, and Taj the Bulls should be dominant in the paint. If you look back at the first time we faced Miami the Bulls had a great game and an easy win with out-rebounding the heat and scoring on second chance points. Boozer is a great post player along with Jo and lately I don't see them taking advantage of that.

Jonathan Prosper

Sam: It’s never even once been the Bulls intention to come out and shoot you out of the game. Every game plan starts with inside/out, but those pesky opponents having watched some Bulls games seem to have figured that out and have eight guys in the lane, or so it seems. You have to make some shots to loosen that up and move the ball better than the Bulls have been doing at times of late. But not having Hinrich, basically your only point guard, for most of February made that difficult. Perhaps if the Bulls played Teague more early. But if you did you probably lost five more games in December and are looking to catch up now.

Is it safe to say that the Bulls are on the clock in terms of improving this team based on Reggie Rose's comments? I never thought I would say this, and I know he just signed an extension last year, there may be a great chance D-Rose will look to sign with another team if the Bulls can't build a championship caliber team within 5 years. Do you agree?

Argie Grigorakos

Sam: Anything is possible, of course, but given his status as a native and the person he is I’d be surprised. The larger issue is that five-year contract. The Bulls would never trade him and we’ve all seen enough of Derrick to know he’d never come out publicly and get himself into a LeBron situation with the fans and community. It’s really unfeasible because to have enough cap room to accommodate Rose’s $20 million salary for 2017-18 they’d have to have such a stripped down roster that Rose would be farther from competing for a title than with anything the Bulls have done. And no way the Bulls do a sign and trade to accommodate a rival. If Rose wanted to leave he’d have to go to essentially an expansion team in a lesser market. Yes, he likes L.A., but are they waiting five years and clearing cap space until then? But Derrick has never given the slightest hint he would entertain thoughts of leaving and based on his behavior of not trying to lure free agents suggests he feels, like Jordan did, that you put some players around him — and it’s not like anyone predicted greatness for Horace Grant or Scottie Pippen — and he’ll figure something out.

I touched on this a couple months ago, and you hit it once again after the Cleveland loss: these guys aren’t machines. They know they’re supposed to give multiple efforts, they know they’re supposed to dead-sprint back on D every time, compete on every possession, not beat themselves, be low turnover, play inside-out, etc. But we’re seeing that they just can’t keep it up. It started showing over the holidays with those losses to the Rockets and Bobcats, and that really bad one vs. the Nugs. I’m very proud of this team and still love watching them play, but it’s getting hard, as a fan. I’ll keep supporting this team, but at this point it’s just hard to believe they can keep giving this superhuman effort. I think if they get into that playoffs, they’ll be tough for anybody to handle in a 7-game series, with days off and time to prepare for matchup, and no crappy teams. But the big point to all this is Derrick. I’ve personally kept his return out of my mind and decided to mentally focus on the team we have and get behind them. But when it comes down to it, is it really his call to come back when he’s ready? If doctors say it’s okay, what if he still doesn’t think he’s ready? What if he and the doctors think he’s ready but adidas (and/or his bro) influence him into waiting? I think that if he’s cleared by doctors he should come back, regardless of the prospects of the Bulls. I don’t think he can save the season or lead them to compete for a title this year, but come on, you can get hurt anytime, and if he’s a pro he should come back and help his team. If he doesn’t come back because he’s truly not ready that’s fine, but I wonder what kind of damage Deng, Noah, Kirk, Taj, etc. will suffer in trying to please their coach. They are professional athletes and I’m glad that they won’t tank the season, but if your best player is ready then he should be out there.

Elijah D. Humble

Sam: I think that’s where the media and to some extent others have done Rose a disservice, at least with some public perception. From being around he and his teammates nothing has changed, they joke with one another and seem to have the same affection. But with these “bulletins” for more than a month now of Derrick’s imminent return it’s given the impression that maybe he doesn’t want to. Remember what he said back in training camp: “I need to convince the team and the doctors to let me back.” That’s always where it’s been. Eight to 12 months to be able to be back on the court doesn’t mean eight or nine or 10 or 11. It means in that period they’ll make a determination, and the Bulls and it being 12 is normal. Twelve months means mid-May. Eleven months means the day the playoffs start. Do you want Rose’s first game the day the playoffs start? Like last year? Perhaps his brother didn’t phrase things perfectly clear, but this is a medical decision first. No one is consulting adidas. Then it is a Rose decision. A player will tell you if he can play, and if Rose didn’t want to play he’d hardly be dragging around with the team the last two months and doing all this shooting and training. He could have gone off and hung out in L.A. Would the Bulls have suspended him? You rarely see players with serious knee injuries around so much. But this is hard. Take a look at Danny Granger just coming back after missing all season and with not as serious an injury as Rose’s. He’s stumbled through two games shooting two of 17 and with little impact in 19 minutes per game going into Thursday’s game. I’m confident Rose and the team will do what’s right for them in the short and long run, but also, you are right. All working things run down no matter how hard they try not to. It’s what my doctor keeps telling me.

There was quite a bit of speculation this season that Coach of the Year would come down to Coach Thibodeau and Coach Popovich. Given the Spurs current record and how the Bulls have tailed off lately, the award looks to be Pops to win. However, no coach has ever won back to back Coach of the Year awards. Ironically, Thibs had the chance last year, but Pop beat him out, with some thinking it was because of that very reason — Thibs had won the year before. So, do you see Coach Popovich winning it again and becoming the first back-to-back winner? Or will voters swing toward Thibs or Mark Jackson or another coach rather than make that kind of history?

Chris Feldman

Sam: Yes, voters generally don’t like to go for the same guy twice in a row because that suggests the other guys aren’t very good and based on every coach interview I’ve ever heard every team is well coached. That award generally goes to the coach of the team voters didn’t think would do well. If the Warriors hang in there, Jackson probably has the edge. But they have been sliding. Spoelstra probably deserves a look, though you don’t get much credit when you have the best player as Phil won once. But if the Spurs with Pop benching his guys so often end up with the best record it might be appropriate he repeats as he is the class of NBA coaches now.

I know Thibs is loath to make any major changes to his starting line-up and in his defence, he has struggled to have a settled line-up all season with various injuries but I wonder with the resent funk that the Bulls find themselves in, is it time to make a slight tweak to the line-up just to see if it has any impact at all? This is not a slight on Hamilton at all but is it time to bring Belinelli into the starting line-up for Hamilton – and I think this on a twofold basis. Firstly, in the short term (this season), when Belinelli was given ‘starters’ minutes, he responded with his best stretch of basketball for the season. This notion that Thibs is saving Hamilton for the playoffs by limiting his minutes is a joke. Do you really expect that after playing basically no fourth qtr. minutes for 82 games he’s all of a sudden going to thrust Hamilton into that scenario in a playoff series?

Andrew Robson

Sam: Thibs doesn’t do starting lineup changes, and you’d think everyone would understand that by now. He is a players’ coach in the sense he doesn’t like to publicly demote players and a change in the lineup suggests panic to some, which Thibs studiously avoids. But get off Rip’s back. The Bulls led the Cavs, for example, when Rip was in the game and he was just one of three Bulls to be plus in the plus/minus in that game. Hamilton’s minutes haven’t been excessive and he rarely plays down the stretch. In the blowout loss to Miami, he had the best plus/minus among the starters and second best among the starters in the Thunder blowout. That statistic can be deceiving, but it hardly suggests a change will mean much change. Just make a scapegoat, which he hardly deserves as good a teammate as he’s been the last two seasons.

How far in advance do the Bulls have to announce that Derrick will playing in a game?

David Ishikawa

Sam: Did he play last night? OK, I’ll check about Saturday. Since Derrick has remained on the roster and knowing Thibodeau and I agree that you wouldn’t want to alert the national media and create an event — I’m back! — then I can see Derrick showing up when the lights go off for the starting lineup one day and everyone saying, Hey, if I would have known I wouldn’t have watched Law and Order.

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