Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 03.22.2013
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.
I watched both plays in the Denver game several times over, in slo-mo and full speed. There is no way that 3 refs could all miss Koufos goal-tend. The ball bounced off the rim and sat back on it, which is where it was when he pushed it in. Koufos knew too, because he pulled his hands back instead of following through for a dunk. And it's not like it happened in a flash, with bodies all around. Should have been an easy call. On Noah's tip, the ball was at least 90% outside the cylinder. The shot would probably have hit the outside of the rim. And I do not believe there is any rule against an offensive player touching a shot on its way down. If so, most of those alley-oop plays would be illegal. If there is such a rule, officials have wisely ignored it for years. The other thing that everyone seemed to miss is that they didn't call a goal-tend on Noah until AFTER George Karl complained. That's pretty clear on the tape too, and there's no lame excuse or tortured explanation Ken Mauer can give for that. I sort of wish they had let Thibs go. He would have 'made contact' and been suspended. But maybe this would be bigger news and get the attention of the league office. But since it wasn't Miami or LA, nobody will even notice. It doesn't matter what the rules are if the refs can choose to twist them or ignore them. And no matter how well you write the rules, you still need intelligent officials to interpret them and enforce them fairly. There is really no excuse for a crew of NBA-level refs to have failed so miserably. So this isn't something you can fix in the rule book. Yes, it was an exciting game anyway, and Noah just keeps getting better. But he should have been the game-winning hero last night, instead of going home feeling "sick".
Sam: As Gandhi said when asked about Western civilization that it would be a good idea. OK, maybe that doesn’t exactly fit. But there should be something profound about the end of the Bulls/Nuggets game, which was, I agree most, that Joakim Noah showed why he became an All Star NBA player, why the Bulls are able to remain above .500 despite all the injuries (check the Timberwolves bemoaning theirs all season) and shame on you for not becoming an All Star NBA player of you are seven feet tall. Noah doesn’t have many particular skills you’d want as a basketball star. But he plays hard, is smart and relentless. His reaction to that Belinelli miss, which until I saw the replay I thought was an air ball so how are the officials really supposed to make these calls, was one of the great plays this season that will be long forgotten. As Lincoln would have said, “What Jo did here today the NBA world will little note nor long remember….” But it was fabulous, which is the worst part of the loss. Losses and bad breaks happen. But to erase that fabulous Noah effort is a sin. What it all comes down to may be the impetus to go to the international rule of allowing contact on the rim, which NBA commissioner David Stern has been championing for several years and always shot down by the competition committee. Goaltending may be the most difficult call to make. It’s tough on the officials as it’s almost a guess without a laser. The NBA’s point on this has long been not to stop play, which a goal tending call would and deny a fast break. Not a big deal to me and sort of a ridiculous excuse. Obviously, the Bulls’ issue besides the lob situation is Thibodeau was told they couldn’t review the Koufos play because there was no call on the floor. Official Ken Mauer claimed he made a call on the Noah play. So that triggered a review by the NBA rules, which likely will be changed. I personally doubt he did make the call based on seeing every angle of the play. We all wrote and the players said there was no reaction until the Denver bench complained. It can never be proven given the noise level at the time, but it certainly is difficult to see any evidence of a call (physical or verbal). What veteran referee makes a call without signaling or even blowing his whistle? And a game deciding play at that. The officials were already running out the other way to suggest no call when George Karl stopped them. I’ve always understood the goaltending rule as the ball in the cylinder and the cylinder going straight up. I never heard this interpretation of the ball coming off the rim can be touched even if still on the rim. Which may be another reason why it’s time to take this call out of the hands of the officials. So you move on. It happens. Life and basketball aren’t fair. But that was one heck of a Noah play I’ll always remember even if the NBA won’t.
Is the honeymoon over for Derrick and fans? I don't believe it's over just yet, but the sun is setting rapidly on that beautiful Hawaiian beach. I'm reading blog after blog and comment after comment questioning Rose's physical toughness, mental toughness, and worst of all, his heart. It's unsettling to watch it unfold. Derrick was our sweetheart and savior. He was one of us. Now it's like he's a stranger who doesn't care about this team. I don't believe any of it, but that's the impression on the internet and in the media. I think it's a lot of nonsense with a lot of unnamed sources and amateur bloggers attempting to gain views.
Sam: That has been the most amazing part of the Rose saga to me, though as you say it’s mostly the internet snipers who love to trash people from the shadows. As I’ve written many times, Rose hasn’t changed, the players support him and enjoy being with him and the management as he’s noted supports him. It’s 10 months from major reconstructive surgery. What’s the hurry? Guys miss seasons all the time. No matter what any doctor says, if he isn’t comfortable I’d never let him play. Ever disagree with your physician? It’s not that he’s wrong. But you are responsible for you life. Not the doctor or anyone else. People loved LeBron and then they hated him and now they mostly seem to love him again. Most seem to be coming back to Tiger Woods. It’s part of celebrity. Derrick’s a strong person, especially through all this, and my sense is the majority of Bulls fans support him. You tend to hear the ones who yell loudest. Which is why it’s best to ignore them. When Rose plays this all will go away.
This may sound sacrilegious, but this may be the time to trade Rose and Deng for Kobe. Would we consider trading them for someone of a healthy Dwyane Wade’s caliber and open a two year window where they would likely have their best chance to compete with the Heat and Thunder for the foreseeable future?
Sam: OK, maybe not yet. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry or just make my email unlisted.
Do you think the Bulls have a shot at competing in the East if Derrick gets 10-15 games in before the playoffs? I understand the roll the Heat are on right now; however we have hurt them with our bigs before and with D-Rose back even at 75% that will only help.
Sam: Competing for a title? No. And I doubt Rose’s return or lack of it has anything to do with the record or play of the team. Remember, even if Rose does return it’s as a part time player and coming back from surgery. He might not play the second of back to backs. He would play limited minutes. He’s likely be cautious and be more a playmaker this season like the first month or so all the guys who have had that surgery have come back. But that sort of sentiment is exactly why I’d hold him out, though I don’t believe the team thinks that way. He’s no savior coming back from major reconstructive surgery, and not after not playing basketball for almost a year.
It’s 15 years from the last championship and it seems like the organization just can't get a break or make their luck. Championship hopes within the next few years seem pretty bleak. Losing Asik now seems like a pretty devastating loss from a size and value standpoint. Although players like Noah, Butler and Belinelli seem like long-term assets, players like Deng and Boozer aren't playing anywhere near the value of their contract. And then we have Mr. Too Big, Too Fast, Too Strong and Too Mentally Weak not suiting up because he's either waiting for the next Adidas campaign to start or waiting to hear from God when to play. Do the Bulls just blow it up this summer and start over? Or do they try to add pieces to their existing team and hope that Rose exhibits some mental toughness and leadership skills and gets back on the court?
Sam: I’ve gotten a lot of these cheap name calling emails about Rose, and I guess that’s also the price of so many people having a voice and a keyboard. Now Rose should understand the pettiness that LeBron James felt when people turned on him out of personal selfish anger. The medical recommendation for Rose by the surgery was eight to 12 months. It is now 10 months in. As Thibodeau says, right on schedule. Not necessarily to play, but in rehabilitation. And as I’ve noted, even if Rose returns this season it’s only as a part time player. Though it is a good lesson for him as it was for LeBron. Most don’t love you. They cheer for you so they can experience their own good feelings, be it their team or their wager or them declaring themselves a winner by you efforts. It’s the other side of what athletes say about the game becoming a business. Players unfortunately find out they are equally disposable to many fans. Can you blame them that much when they then don’t stop for autographs or blow off appearances. Now here’s a kid who has been a wonderful role model, never in trouble, dedicated to his family, taking terrible blows in games like those vicious falls after being smacked down by Dwight Howard and playing though excruciating pain and putting himself on the line in big playoff games again and again against the top players in the league, bringing home to Chicago honors and declaring his fidelity to the city. So he has a career changing injury. And yes, an injury like that often does change your career. While just a kid, just 23 years old. You are indestructible one day and the next you can’t walk or stand up without help and you have to go through long day after long day learning to walk again and it’s not even a year yet in a doctor’s recommendation that full recovery isn’t for 12 to 18 months and people are calling you names. So you wonder why athletes get like they do sometimes. I’m not suggesting Derrick is or even hears this stuff as he stays pretty much to his family and the team. I’m around the team enough to know his relationship with the players isn’t any different than it was a year ago. And now the Bulls should break up the team because he didn’t play?
Why didn't anyone instruct Rose to just tell the media that the return would not be until late March, if at all? All we keep hearing is "Oh, any day now, who knows." I get it, he wants to take his time which I fully support and have no problem with. The problem lies in how they handled the entire situation with the media. Our sold out crowds are paying for his and every other Bulls salary. I just do not get why BJ or the Bulls management would not tell him, "Look, people are going to be asking, just give us an estimated time so they can at least stop for now even if you don't believe it." If he would have said "late march or not at all, I am still not sure" that would have been fine. It is frustrating when we do not know otherwise and his words, though unintentional, string us along. Would have saved a month of unwanted news articles and radio talk show topics.
Sam: You are right. I just don’t think anyone thought of it. Just because people have the jobs doesn’t mean they make every correct decision. No one’s really gone through this before as the Bulls haven’t had a star out like this for almost 30 years. But, yes, looking back everyone should have said he’ll be out all year. And then if he comes back. Surprise! Next time we’ll all think of it.
Finally all Bulls fans can shut up about Malcolm Thomas; he has finally arrived to save the day! Well at least for 10 days I guess. Anyway, was this signing because Taj Gibson still hasn't come back or is it just to fill up the roster? Can't imagine Thibs giving this guy meaningful playing time.
Sam: As my colleague Mike McGraw of the Herald noted, it’s big shoes to fill after Lou Amundson’s two minutes played. Fans always fall in love with one summer league player. It was Derrick Byars a few years back and often Chris Richard. Taj has returned, so it’s not so much that as Thomas was invited back by the Warrior but felt he wasn’t getting time there and like Amundson leaving for the Hornets Thomas contacted the Bulls and asked if they were interested. Not so much for now, but given the uncertainty regarding the roster in the offseason the Bulls figured it made sense to take a look and see him in practice and work with him. It’s always a good idea to have some guys who are familiar with your system and team who you can go back to in an emergency. But, no, I don’t expect him to play much.
The NBA has really slowed down the floppers from ruining the game and they were going to fine players that still flop and in review if it is determined that they are still flopping and the refs miss it they would be fined. Is this happening and does the league acknowledge it. Shane Battier lives by the flop like no other player in the league and I wondered if he is getting fined .
Sam: This is one of the inconsistencies in these sorts of things. You still see your share of flopping and the Heat do a good job. Why the officials keep rewarding guys jumping across the lane into someone’s way amazes me. Reward the guy for a strong move. What’s wrong with scoring? Anyway, the way these things work is as the season goes on the officials get tired of making the calls and go back to their routines. Same with the league. The explanation is always the players have adjusted and stopped. Nonsense. Some do, but not many. The issue remains, to me, rewarding guys for what is not defense but running across the court to stand in front of someone. When that changes the game will improve.
A month after the trade deadline. How do you think the different players have adapted to their respective new teams? Tayshaun Prince for the Grizzlies, J. J. Redick for the Bucks, Thomas Robinson for the Rockets, Rudy Gay for the Raptors, José Calderón for the Pistons, Marcus Morris for the Suns and so on...
Sam: I think the best deal was the Bucks for Redick. I’ve never been a huge fan and frankly wasn’t sure why the Bulls were after him in 2010. But he’s given them a very strong three guard rotation and his shooting ability apparently has gotten Brandon Jennings, who is an awful shooter, to think pass for a change. If the Bucks can get out of eighth they’ll also be a team that can get to the conference finals. The Memphis trade was the big one and while as expected Toronto has too many slashers now, the Grizzlies continue to dump on Gay and suggest he was the cause of whatever issues they had. The test for them will be in the playoffs, and whether Tayshaun Prince can provide some timely offense.
If you were the 76ers GM, what would YOU do?? Personally, if I was the 76ers, I would ask Bynum to sign a one year contract and revisit a max deal after the season or hit the road.
Sam: I’ve been long surprised to continue to hear this notion that someone will give him a “max” deal. What follows from that is someone is always stupid. But do they have to be. I’d move on. He’s now been in the NBA eight years and has had two relatively healthy seasons and again knee surgery. He’s a bit of a flake as well and I see him more as a guy like Samuel Dalembert chasing new one year deals every season. If you give him multiple years you’ve been warned and should not ask from any sympathy from your fans.
As a lifelong lover of the game, it is pretty damn cool to watch LeBron James max out his insane potential and talent like this. I haven’t seen anyone play on this level since Michael, not even close. He is absolutely incredible. He is locking down perimeter players, locking down inside players, orchestrating where his teammates need to be, is the best passer in the league, has turned into a lights out jump shooter, is an absolute terror on the break, and oh yeah added in a post game that is vrirtually unstoppable when he goes to it. The whole he isn’t clutch thing? Sure looks like complete nonsense as he continues to make huge plays down the stretch of games. I am just amazed by the guy. What a player.
Sam: It is special to watch, and as much as many have had negative feelings toward James since he declared himself a king and then abdicated Cleveland, there’s little denying anymore that he is on the way to being one of the elite of all time and a delight to watch. Plus, he truly plays the game with such joy and enthusiasm that I don’t know how you can’t love watching him like you did with Jordan. No matter which team you root for, it’s special to get a chance to see the greats of any specialty in their prime. I treasured watching Wilt and Russell and Oscar and West at their best even as I was for the Knicks then, and they always beat them. We’ve truly never seen someone that size who can play with such coordination and grace. And no more do you see a player who defers, who backs off at the biggest moments. LeBron embraces them and carries his team as well as the greatest ever. If you can’t enjoy watching him and the Heat you don’t love basketball the way they move the ball, defend and have a true star of the generation.
As the season is coming to an end, and the Bulls are looking more and more like the 41-41 team of 3 yrs ago are there any creative ways for the Bulls to improve their roster, while ridding themselves of those bloated contracts by Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, and Kirk Hinrich? I’d hate to go thru another year hoping that Booze and Deng will play as well in the 2nd half of the season as the 1st half. And to top it off there’s the media, and coaching staff convincing the public why Hinrich is needed as a backup guard (can you say Has Been). How can the Bulls improve their roster w/top tier talent, and stay under the luxury tax?
Sam: Maybe you can get Kevin Love and, oops, he’s just basically missed an entire season with a thumb fracture. Or Danny Granger for that shooting, but, oh he’s missed all season with a sore knee. Rose will be back next season and all indications are he will be just about back to his previous level. I don’t see why not with the current adding a league level MVP player you can’t go over the 50-win level and be a contending team, especially in the Eastern Conference. If you try to move players like Hinrich or Deng or even Boozer you are looking at young players with potential or draft picks, and I don’t see why Rose would like coming back to an experimental team or that you wouldn’t give this team a chance to do something. The big decisions will be after next season when Deng’s and Hinrich’s contracts are up and the Bulls can add Mirotic from Europe and potentially have salary cap room. For now, the Bulls remain on pace to win 44 or 45 games even with all the injuries. Adding Rose to that sort of team with two All-Stars seems good to me. Plus a significant move, like for Pau Gasol, would cost you Noah and Deng at least. I’m not sure how that makes you better.
I've been trying to fight it for as long as possible, but I finally concede that Derrick Rose should probably sit out this year regardless of anything. A lot of the arguments didn't make that much sense to me, like Miami being too good or this team not having enough good pieces. Since when do you only play if you have a 100 percent chance of winning a title? But watching an interview with Sam Bowie about injuries convinced me that it just isn't worth it. Derrick could easily end up a bust like Bowie (or Grant Hill to some degree) with just a bit of bad luck. His past 2 years of injuries could turn into 4 or 5 fast. My concern is that him coming back 100 percent is just as scary though, I really don't think it's a good idea for him to play like he did in the past, high-flying and reckless, at his size I don't think he can handle it. Also do you think that they will have to monitor his minutes for the rest of his career, like Pop does with Duncan? 39 min a game playing at Thib's intensity for 82 games doesn't seem practical if you have knee problems.
Sam: No, I don’t believe it will be an issue for Rose after this season. The surgery they do now is amazing and his knee should be just about as good. That said, anyone can get hurt at anytime. But Derrick should be better prepared as for the first time in his life he’s worked on strengthening his core and lower body. He’s been a natural his whole life, and all of us remember as kids we did things so easily we didn’t think about conditioning it even more. I’d heard staff around the Bulls from the day Derrick arrived talking about the need for him to work on his lower body. But then he wins MVP and, really, how much improvement can you ask. So Derrick got his wakeup call with the first serious injury of his life. But he gets a second chance at basketball life and when you get that second chance you want to make the most of it. I haven’t talked with him about that as I don’t want to be seen as trying to influence him. But you understand that he’d really want to get it right now. Look, this was a near death basketball experience, and we know basketball has been his life. I sense he has more perspective on life now with the birth of his child. But perhaps then you embrace basketball even more. So it’s not likely to him about proving some twisted notion of manhood, but getting it really right to be the guy he’s been for both himself and his teammates. As for limiting him, that won’t be necessary if he does it right. Duncan is limited to preserve him given his age and importance to the team. He had knee surgery in 2000 at the end of the season and missed the playoffs. Coach Gregg Popovich refused to ask Duncan to return early for the playoffs to defend their titles and said repeating wasn’t as important as Duncan’s future with the franchise. With Rose’s knee fine, there should be no limitations on how much he can play. The season after surgery, Duncan played all 82 games and averaged 39 minutes. By the way, did you also read where Iman Shumpert, who was hurt the same day as Rose was, said he heard his knee “pop” during Wednesday’s game. He said the trainers told him it was no big deal and just part of the recovery process. Maybe Rose also doesn’t yearn for breakfast cereal noises in his knee as “normal.”
I always loved Adrian Dantley going back to his Notre Dame days. I grew up with Mark Aguirre and Isiah Thomas, but I was not happy when the Pistons opted for Aguirre over AD. I know Scott May was on a phenomenal Hoosiers team in college, but was he that much better than AD? I always thought the Bulls should have went with AD instead of May.
Sam: They probably would have been better off with a pair or second rounders who made the Hall of Fane, Dennis Johnson and Alex English. The draft can be tough, and worse when you look backward. But the Bulls were a horrible drafting team in the 70’s, especially when Dick Motta essentially was the general manager. Until Rod Thorn picked Jordan in 1984 he’s also blown about six drafts. Actually, that should have been Jerry Krause’s greatest moment and draft. The Pippen/Grant draft generally is considered his best, and the Tex Winter hiring was always designed by Krause to bring those young players along. Krause had the same idea as personnel guy for the Bulls in the 70’s, and he was touting Robert Parish for that draft. It is one of the great little told Bulls stories. Krause was on Parish form little Centenary College before anyone. The Bulls had the No. 2 pick and Maryland’s John Lucas was a lock to go No. 1. So Krause, always a man with a plan, had his. He talked to DePaul’s Ray Meyer about maybe working with the Bulls or Parish. The story is told differently by many. Krause said he was just seeking advice; Meyer said it was an offer. The story came out and the Bulls were angry and Krause was either fired or quit. So they went for the popular May from champion Indiana U. and May was a broken down, injured player almost by the time he started with the Bulls. It was a dysfunctional management then run by seven of the country’s richest men who paid little attention to the team. Yes, Dantley at No. 6 would have been better. But as we know Parish went on to a Hall of Fame career and one of the game’s top centers, which is why in 1997 Krause brought him back to the Bulls. Jerry never gives up on a find.
Do you think it's possible, if all the Stars and Witch Doctors are aligned that Coach Thibs could take a team past 72 wins? I think once Rose returns this team is better than the 62 win team so it could be possible.
Sam: I assume that’s Miami’s goal for next season.
Do you like Tyreke Evans? He's a bit of a knucklehead and the Bulls don't typically go for those, but he's the right profile to compliment Rose (similar game as Joe Johnson). A mature team like the Bulls can absorb one "problem" player and set him straight. He would come at a good price, and in all fairness to him the Kings are a circus. Would GarPax take a chance on him, and can you see him fitting in?
Sam: I do like him as he’s improved his shooting and just needs some discipline and coaching after getting none of that in Sacramento. But he’s restricted and I see no reason with such a small payroll why the Kings won’t match. They would. Even if they wouldn’t, the Bulls being in the luxury tax won’t even have the full mid level exception. So under league rules they’d have no chance to even make him a competitive offer if they wanted to.
Is the NBA now officially boring? There was so much interest with the league coming back from a lockout and many fans wanting to see the heat lose again. This season everyone is hurt, a lot of old players, and the heat just manhandling everyone. Fans know the 2013 champs. Seems like every fan of every team knows season is over. Seems like everyone is checking out. Also no real rookies to make you say wow.
Sam: Were you as bored when no one could beat the Bulls? It’s always great for a league in my view to have a dominant team that draws emotion with fans loving or hating to the Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys, the Celtics, Lakers and Bulls. Yes, it’s become pretty clear the Heat is going to the Finals, but the seven-team tournament to be their victim in the East ought to be a lot of fun. And with the Thunder and Grizzlies having weakened themselves with trades of top players and teams like the Nuggets and Lakers moving up, the Western playoffs could be one of the best in years. As for rookies, if they’d stay in school a little longer we’d see some much better basketball players than we do anymore.
With March Madness around the corner, I've been thinking: What if the NBA had a single elimination March Madness style tournament? March Madness is a huge event causing even casual basketball fans to become interested in basketball. If the NBA did this it would be a great way to garner even more popularity for the league. Maybe decrease the length of the season, put in a single elimination tournament instead of the all-star break and give some sort of incentive to make players play hard. I know it would be nearly impossible to convince the league to do this...but imagine how exciting it would be.
Sam: Would the exciting part be having to cut everyone’s salaries by maybe a quarter to make up for the many fewer games? That should go over well. There are many first of alls. First of all NBA players play way harder than college players. Which is why when the best players from college come into the NBA they can barely get the ball across half court. So given maybe just a few percent of college players are good enough to play pro ball, most of the players you are watching in college are either incredibly lazy or incredibly inept. And then the only reason you are watching and so excited about the college tournament is you are betting. It’s the only sporting event there is more gambling on than the NFL. Do you watch college games all season? Watch a lot of PAC-10 or 12 or 15 or whatever they have now this season? It’s about the pool. Can you name three players on even one of the 64 teams? Or 68 or whatever they have now. Do you know how any of those teams play? Their style? Their system? Do you even know which state some of those colleges are in? Of course not. You are just playing a betting game. Which is fun, I agree. It makes for plenty of trash talking, but it’s not what makes the game popular. What makes the game popular is seeing the best in the world playing the best over a series to determine a true champion and not produce a fluke champion because someone had a bad day. I don’t dispute the popularity of the NCAA tournament. I’d like to check the ratings if gambling and pools were not permitted. You enjoying the NIT?
It's humbling", Kevin Garnett talking about his latest statistical achievement in the NBA. I don't think humbling means what he thinks it does. According to Garnett, his accomplishments on the court are so glorious, he is actually humbled by his own magnificence.
Sam: Being humbled has become almost a cliché now in the NBA to mean anytime anyone says anything nice about you or you break some record or achieve something. To be humbled is to submissive, be deferential. Players generally use it wrong, but it’s not grammar class. We generally know they mean they are trying to be modest given the compliment. Michael Jordan, of course, was famous for his malaprops and mistakes in usage. Btu he said it so well and had such a nice smile and was earnest it sort of sounded right. Michael’s favorite misused word was “predicament,” which he used to describe being in positive and negative situations. He famously mentioned visiting “the luge” when he was with the team in Paris. Even he laughed about that one. But you get asked so many things and have to talk so much how do you not make some mistakes and say some things wrong some of the time. Given how many interviews top players do, you’d think they’d make more mistakes. Try having to talk extemporaneously as often as they do. I get many more mistakes in emails written to me where you could look it up.
Would you say there is an upside to the absence of Rose in that other players like Butler, Robinson, and even Teague are getting a chance to show their abilities? Will that make them stronger off the bench once DR is back?
Sam: Nothing positive that I’ve seen yet.