Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 03.21.2014
Every Friday, Sam Smith of Bulls.com opens his Ask Sam mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers
If you could go back in time, would you redo the Green/Plumlee for Scola deal? Sure Green was terrible last season for Indy but he’s been amazing this year and Plumlee is going to be a solid bench guy for years to come.
Sam: It doesn’t work that way as you can’t—though most sports fans do—have it both ways of agreeing with something until it doesn’t work and then saying they shouldn’t have done it. Obviously, that trade has helped make the Suns’ terrific season. And Scola hasn’t played very well this season, averaging career lows in about every category. But his minutes also are a career low and at the time it was a move applauded everywhere for a team going for it. And when you are going for it you make moves about doing it now. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Pacers and I never understood this notion, especially among a lot of Bulls fans, that the Pacers could win but the Bulls needed a second star. The Pacers, essentially, were built to beat the Bulls and are the same kind of team, defensive oriented, slow paced, big with rebounders and with one scoring star in Paul George, who, by the way, doesn’t match a healthy Derrick Rose. Indiana doesn’t have a second star, and don’t give me any of this Lance Stephenson stuff. He’s much better, but still well out of control and no go to guy. He averages 14 points and isn’t a very good three point shooter at 33 percent. His numbers aren’t that much different than Jimmy Butler’s. The Bulls are in Indianapolis Friday for the first of their two statement games/measuring sticks in the next four days with the Pacers in the United Center Monday. The Pacers are in a bad stretch, which is also understandable as they pushed hard all season and don’t have that much to play for with Miami also going into second gear. But the Pacers remain a vulnerable team in every round in my view, though not the Heat. That is if the Knicks make it. I had a GM tell me this week he’d pick the Knicks over the Pacers in the first round if they met. And that was before Phil Jackson’s magic began Wednesday. But because the Knicks are healthy now and have the scorer in Anthony the Pacers don’t have. Though the Knicks making up the ground on the Bobcats and Hawks still seems like a long shot. But even without Rose and Luol Deng, the Bulls have a good chance with the Pacers because the Pacers don’t have many offensive options to go to. That enables teams like the Bulls to stay in games with them. We’ll get a good idea if that’s possible for the Bulls over the next four days.
With less than 15 games left in the regular season, it's almost safe to say that the 3rd to 6th seeds in the East will be decided between the Toronto Raptors, the Chicago Bulls, the Brooklyn Nets and the Washington Wizards. Which teams would you pick for the most exciting series between any of these four?
Sam: All season all we’ve heard about the Eastern Conference is forget everything until the conference finals between the Pacers and Heat. We don’t hear that as much anymore. Those four in the three through seven spots are pretty even because they all are flawed, capable of beating or losing to any of the other three. All four are playing their best ball of the season now. The Wizards and Raptors have probably the best and toughest to defend backcourts in the East, which make them dangerous. They’re the least experienced, but a first round win won’t be an upset. And this is a better Nets team than the Bulls saw last season even without Lopez and assuming Garnett returns as Deron Williams seems to be returning to form. Any of those three through seven could be out in the first round or be in the conference finals and I don’t see a favorite among them.
It was very refreshing to see Phil Jackson, upon taking his new position, give a "shout out" to Jerry Krause . I believe that Krause received a very raw deal in Chicago. I also believe that much of the Krause/Jordan feud was fueled by their competitive similarities vice their differences. Doesn't this show a deep respect for Jerry Krause by Phil Jackson? After all he worked for Jerry West also who has been recognized by many as the benchmark for GMs!
Sam: Remember, Phil was a child of the 1960s and the anti-war generation. He’s prefers peace. It was Krause who created the conflict. Phil was always trying to mediate disputes. He never was mad at Jerry and despite what Jerry believed always was grateful Jerry gave him the chance. Krause got caught up for years, as others have, in resenting Phil’s success. Though it was Krause’s personality which mostly undermined him. Not unlike Dolan at Madison Square Garden. There’s a price to be paid, fair or not, when you declare war on the media, as Krause did and Dolan does. The media is not unbiased. A smile gets you farther than a frown. Or saying you hate reporters. But Krause has six title rings; was voted executive of the year twice, which was as many times as Jerry West; has a banner with his name in the United Center and was well compensated. So I don’t know about all this never got the credit stuff. You should never need to have your achievements validated by the words or actions of someone else. Krause was the GM and no matter what anyone else suggested or lobbied for, he made the final moves and the team won. It was Jerry who wanted Phil out of Chicago and Phil was ready to go. Phil always appreciated the success the Bulls had and knew Krause was a big part and never denied that to anyone.
Enough already with the Melo talk! Thibs and Melo would be the worst marriage since Quinten Dailey and George Gervin shared the same backcourt. I can only imagine how many games it would take for Melo to complain about:
A) having to play defense
B) not enough minutes
C) too many minutes
D) not enough shots
E) all of the above
Melo is a chemistry killer hiding behind that smile. Don't do it.
Sam: As I’ve written many times, I didn’t see any way the Bulls could put together enough money without destroying their roster to make a run at Anthony. And even more so now. Can you imagine dropping several players to get under the cap on the belief you could lure Anthony without a formal promise, which isn’t allowed, and that he would leave Phil Jackson in New York to take substantially less money to play in Chicago with a roster you half blew up? So obviously even the most irrational fan would not suggest this any longer. Of course, being irrational would suggest having to promote it. With the way the Knicks are playing now and the excitement for Jackson in New York, Anthony’s dream comes true: He gets paid the maximum amount and doesn’t get criticized for taking it over “winning.” Overall, though, I couldn’t pass mention of the infamous Dailey/Gervin pairing, which sounded a lot better than it ever looked. Never to be confused with Sloan and Van Lier.
With how bad the East has been this year, it’s looking more and more like the Bobcats will make the playoffs and the Bulls will get their 1st round draft pick. With the Bulls having 2 possible mid-teens picks, is it possible to package the 2 of them and move up in the top ten? Would love them to move up and grab Jabari Parker but don't think the Bulls have enough to get that high into the draft. How do teams value first round draft picks? I know the NFL teams have a "guide" that they use to value pics for trading for other pics, do NBA teams have something similar?
Sam: The Bobcats could still miss the playoffs the way the Knicks are playing. But the Bulls likely still would get the pick as it’s only top 10 protected. That means Charlotte could miss the playoffs and if they don’t win the lottery to move up to 1-2-3, they could get 12, 13 or 14 and the pick would go to the Bulls. But there is virtually no chance of combining your picks to trade up. It’s basically never done, and to do so would take a high level starter with the picks, especially the way this draft has been favorably publicized. It’s done in the NFL because that’s more a quantity league than quality because of the high number of injuries and number of players needed for a team. The NFL is like Army privates; the NBA is more like the officer’s club. The Bulls should get two players who will be good enough to be in their rotation within a year or two. Their hope is to get one who’ll evolve into a starter like Butler or Gibson. But remember if they bring Mirotic over that’s a lot of young players with Snell, and Thibodeau doesn’t use young players extensively. So I could see picks combined with a player to perhaps trade for a player who plays a position the team needs, like shooting guard.
Would the Bulls like to see Tony Snell shoot more when he plays, or are they happy with the limited number of times he is currently shooting?
Sam: I think they’d mostly like him to make more. Actually, he just doesn’t play enough or regularly to make any judgment yet on what he is capable of doing.
In the 4th quarter, why don't the Bulls ever consider playing Taj Gibson, Carlos Boozer, and Joakim Noah at the same time? Thibs says that he goes with his best in the 4th quarter, but there have been a lot of games recently where Boozer and Gibson have both been playing very well and somewhere Boozer looks like the better player. It seems to me that in the 4th quarter, Gibson could take more of a Jimmy Butler role defensively, particularly on nights when Jimmy is not playing that well. Sitting Boozer out the entire 4th quarter in games where he has double-doubles, seems like a waste of talent.
Sam: Boozer thinks so as well. There have been times lately with scoring droughts you could make the case of playing Boozer more in the fourth quarter. Though you can be sure Thibodeau does plenty of considering. But coaches defer to their habits and beliefs and Thibodeau is defense first. He believes more in stopping the other guy than scoring more yourself if he has to make a choice. The three really don’t work together because Gibson or Noah, while able to defend on the perimeter on switches unlike most big men, tend to stray inside. Thus you end up with way too many open long shots. Boozer said his piece about this and has remained the good soldier even if he hasn’t cared for the resolution. People are going to have issues with every coach because they operate by beliefs and habits. Thibodeau was there when McGrady scored 13 points in 39 seconds, so he’s never taking guys out too quickly. If you cannot live with whatever their biases are you change coaches. Otherwise, you have to look past that with which you disagree and accept overall how well they do for your team.
Do you know what that thing is that some of the Bulls players are smelling through their nose before games?
Sam: It’s smelling salts like they use for boxers. I don’t think it has any real effect, but if you think things do, then they do. I suspect it also numbs your nervous system a bit so Thibs’ constant yelling isn’t so shrill.
Saw your response about NBA players being approachable and brought up memories. When I was 18, I walked past a cleaners near Clark and Diversey and saw a tall black man who looked familiar. I quickly realized it was Juwan Howard, then coming off of his fourth season with Washington. I liked the Wizards and was a huge fan of Chris Webber, so I figured it would be cool to meet a member of the team and a friend of Chris. I walked in with no reason other than to meet Juwan and tell him how much of a fan I was of the Wizards. He was incredibly gracious, shook my hand, and told me to keep supporting them; just as he was about to depart, others noticed him and approached him as he made his way to his car. Again, he was incredibly gracious, and took the time to chat. Players like Juwan are the reason I get frustrated with the likes of the Minnesota legislator you mentioned and radio personalities who say that hockey players were more approachable due to being white and of normal size. It's a shame that some people unfairly judge NBA players based on race, tattoos, or upbringing. However, I am inclined to think that my interaction with Juwan was not an isolated incident, and that many players are approachable and considerate of fans.
Sam: Juwan always has been one of the best, classiest people in the NBA, though, as you sense, no exception. There’s no team sport where the stars are so cooperative and accessible. But we are a country still struggling with racist attitudes among some. People who are educated and know and ever have contact with NBA players know they are the class of team sports. I’m quite sure hockey players are nice guys as well, though I can’t recall seeing them in interviews as regularly as I do NBA players, though I assume that’s because of the garble of trying to talk with no teeth.
It looks like getting traded to the Cavs was probably bad for Luol Deng's free agency. One fit I could see is with Charlotte. They will have plenty of cap space. The big name free agents aren't about to sign there. However, a second tier guy like Deng might. Kidd-Gilchrest hasn't developed the way I'm sure Charlotte hoped he would, so there are minutes to be had at small forward. The Bobcats now play good defense, so Deng would fit in.
Sam: Yes, with the continuing collapse of the Cavs and Kyrie Irving out again as well, Deng is going to be out of the playoffs for the first time in five years. When that occurs and with nagging injury issues it’s a bad year to be a free agent. But also a good year to be one as the class is small with Anthony and James likely opting in or resigning. The Bobcats/Hornets could use another veteran and that might be the spot, ironically for the position Tyrus Thomas could not fill.
I am a Bulls history nerd, and have thought long and hard about specific players places in the pantheon of the Bulls. Where does Joakim Noah rank among the best Bulls centers? I have always assumed Artis Gilmore would be #1 based on his stats and induction into the hall of fame, but I was born in 1986 and never saw him play. My father tells me Joakim is a shoo-in over Artis due to his recent play, and I certainly rate him over the Longleys and Cartwrights of my youth.
Sam: I know there’s a lot of excitement about Noah, who has gotten an unexpected opportunity with so many injuries to play a role as a main facilitator that he hasn’t before and may not again on a regular basis. And he’s been terrific. He’s obviously made the most of it and I don’t want to take anything away from what he’s done. But it’s still premature to declare his position in franchise history. That said, the Bulls don’t have a particularly glorious history at the center position. Michael Jordan is the career rebounding leader and only three centers are in the top 10 with Noah 10th. Gilmore is in the Hall of Fame and had a pair of seasons with the Bulls when he averaged 23 and 13 along with more than three assists. In six Bulls seasons playing all 82 games in five, Gilmore averaged 20.1 points and 11.5 rebounds. Not having ESPN, I know, diminishes those accomplishments. Though it’s much easier to forget Tom Boerwinkle, who died last year. Tom has two of the three 30-plus rebounding games in franchise history, is the second leading rebounder behind Jordan and three of the top six rebounding games in franchise history, and that’s a franchise that’s had Dennis Rodman, Charles Oakley and Ben Wallace. Plus, Tom had five triple doubles when no one counted them and averaged more than three assists per game in his career, a full assist per game over his career more than Noah. Gilmore also averaged more assists in his Bulls seasons than Noah. No offense to Noah and how well he has played, but he still has a few guys to get past to get to the top of that Bulls list. By the way, when Noah had 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in the Bulls' 102-94 win at Philadelphia it was Noah's 19th game this season with at least 10 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists. That, according to Elias Sports, ties Scottie Pippen for the third-highest total in franchise history behind Jordan and Boerwinkle.
What do you think is really most beneficial for the newest crop of one-and-dones? Struggle your rookie year as a 19 year old child in a man's league, or continue to hone your skills for at least one more year in college? I personally believe that even a very impressive talent, like Jabari Parker, would be best served with another year under Coach K's tutelage.
Sam: With the back injury to Embiid, Parker has a good chance of being the No. 1 overall pick. So he’ll probably go to the NBA, which will be a huge mistake. Not because he will fail, but because his life will never be as good as it could have been. I feel badly for these kids who end up going to the NBA as teenagers, especially ones like Parker who appear to be in such a good situation. I’ve long been a proponent of a two or three year wait to come to the NBA after high school simply because every business has the right to set its own rules and protect the quality of its product. No one argues the product is better without so many teenagers, most of whom sit around on benches. The NBA isn’t a constitutional right. You want to be a pro and skip college? OK, there are plenty of places to earn money, like overseas and the D-league. The NBA will find you. But what these kids don’t understand is the NBA life isn’t so great. Sure, you get rich. But it’s pretty lonely. Because once you clock in you are an adult. There’s the college experience, which is irreplaceable, and to hear Joakim Noah talk about it is special because of the memories he had which last a lifetime and cannot be duplicated. Remember how miserable Noah was and how miserable he was to others when he came to the Bulls? That’s because you are expected to be an adult the first day. You’re on the road and you are on your own. There’s no college team together thing. You’re with adults who have long relationships in the cities. Rarely do you see players out in groups. It’s a fulltime job with practices and travel and you spend a lot of time alone in hotel rooms. Sure, guys go out to clubs and activities on the road, but more with friends they make or bring along. Plus, with a guy like Parker his team is just building again. It doesn’t look that good yet. But it could be in a year. There’s nothing like being on a great college team and enjoying that life. Consider most of the great players in NBA history had long college careers, like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan. It’s a time in their life and a lifetime connection. Your NBA team may trade you. It’s a shame when you try to rush through life because there’s so much to be enjoyed that you miss.
It is second time it is happening this season that Tom has kept a player from a triple double. First it was with Deng and now with Noah against the rockets. He could have let him a play. The game was already theirs for the winning. And it is not the case that he would be worrying about distributing minutes to the rookies. That is not one of his credentials. It is team game but somewhere these individual records also help. Records are what keep the memories of players from getting faded away.
Sam: It would have been a terrible stain on Noah’s reputation to get a triple double that way, playing it out in a blowout win. I’m sure Noah was relieved to be out of the game. Milestones only matter if you don’t try for them. Of course, the irony is that many fans complain to me that Thibodeau leaves the players in too long. Now I’m getting that he takes them out too soon. Tom must be doing something right if no one agrees.
I enjoyed your article on LeBron earlier this week where you hypothesized where he might go next in his endeavor to get more rings than MJ and be considered the 'greatest of all time'. But wouldn't that simply make him the 'greatest journeyman of all time'? After all, Robert Horry won 7 rings with 3 teams.,1 more than MJ.
Sam: A journeyman is a player who seeks out teams because he is not that talented. Teams seek out LeBron because he’ll make them talented. I don’t fully understand the dislike for James—other than the obvious, that he’s not on your team—because he is an amazing talent, is never in trouble, is cooperative with the media and public and a credit the way he plays the game. Though I can see you more upset with him when he goes to the Knicks in the summer of 2015.
I found Phil Jackson's debut at his New York Knicks press conference enormously impressive. That certainly shouldn't be a surprise given his past accomplishments. Still, some of the press has seemed so obsessed with minutiae such as how many college games Jackson will personally scout, that some of the larger picture of what Phil Jackson represents has been lost. I'm certainly not saying that scouting is irrelevant, but I think the biggest thing that Jackson can bring to the Knicks is enforcing accountability and responsibility for basic principles. I loved when Jackson said "focus is a capability." I wish Jackson well, although not at the expense of the Bulls, of course. I will also try not to quibble with Jackson's statement that there is no better place to win than New York. What else could he say under the circumstances?
Do you think Woodson needs to make the playoffs to have a shot at keeping his job? He seems to be a decent coach, but the question is whether a new voice is needed to make newly-annunciated principles resonate with the players.
Sam: I don’t believe Woodson has any chance of being retained; nor should he. When you take over an organization like the Knicks with so much Machiavellian nature over the years the only way you can do the job is to install your own people who you are most close to and trust. So Phil should be hiring a coach and new staff and general manager to do that scouting other than Steve Mills, who is more a business and executive guy. I assume he will with no offense to Woodson. Phil when he was named Bulls coach dealt with a lot of who is this hippie who has never done anything stuff. He did reasonably well despite that. Phil has a great ability to block out the noise, which is essential to just being in New York City. As I noted in my Monday NBA column, you can worry about the Knicks for the first time in 20 years.
I was just watching some Derrick Rose videos on YouTube and eventually stumbled upon his MVP speech. It had been awhile since I saw it, but truly made me remember what not only Chicago, but the entire nation and NBA has been missing. As far as I know, one of the most sincere, honest, hardworking people I ever seen in the spotlight. The type of person everyone should be, and the type everyone wants to be. It saddens me to see how the last two years have played out for Derrick, he’s only 25 and already through two knee surgeries. Penny Hardaway is a name you see often when reading up on Derrick Rose online. It’s awful, but what really gets me is the old saying that good guys finish last is true to an extent in Derrick's case. He definitely has accomplished much and been everywhere but last, but just regarding the injury itself makes it seem like bad things happen to good people. He plays the game it is supposed to be played, does not complain, does not ask for attention, but relates so well to the common average hardworking person because they are not recognized in their day to day lives as NBA stars are. Derrick does not ask for it though, and that’s what special.
Sam: I hope more people like you remember just what a good kid he instead of this what have you done for me lately stuff that seems to be popular. Rich doesn’t replace losing your passion. Though Derrick never talks about it as he is a big believer in things meant to be as they are, I know he’d give up anything to be able to play. Imagine how tough it is in your 20’s to lose what you most wanted to do. But he’s remained positive, his rehabilitation has gone well, he’s embraced by his teammates and there’s no reason to believe at this point he won’t return and play at a high level again. It’s unfortunate so many take for granted his wonderful nature and positive impact on the team.