Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 03.23.12
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Very happy the Bulls are not looking at Fisher but who do you think they hold their interest in? I'm guessing they are looking to bring a fifth big man and Turiaf would be a great option but with Miami, Boston and even SAS lurking I don't think the Bulls stand the chance due the simple fact those other teams can offer more playing time and a bigger role. So, who is left out there?
Sam: Yes, and don’t forget about Boris Diaw and J.J. Hickson. Obviously, we know now most of those guys have signed like Fisher in Oklahoma City, Hickson with Portland, though picked up in the waiver process as they had cap room, and Turiaf with the Heat. I think Turiaf stings the most, assuming he is healthy, which he often isn’t. He could be a big help to Miami in the playoffs since the Bulls biggest edge on them is in the front court and rebounding. The Bulls have looked at big men the most this season, and I heard they went hard for Turiaf. But his agent, Mark Bartelstein, pushed him toward Miami. Actually, one of the Bulls strengths proved their weakness in signing one of the bought out players. The Bulls have probably the league’s deepest team and coach Tom Thibodeau uses his bench liberally. The Bulls have four big men they use regularly in a rotation. For the players who left their teams, the goal is to show the league something to get a new contract. So their agents look at the Bulls and don’t see where their players will play and steer them away from the Bulls. The Bulls make the case they can have a long playoff run and in that time you’ll always get a chance to show what you can do in a big game. But the agents tend to think small and look for where their player can get a larger role and perhaps produce a big game or two they can sell. You probably can’t blame them as their job is to put their client in the best position to make the most money. It’s too bad most players don’t stand up and say they’d like to be in a good situation with solid teammates and a good playing system. Instead, the Bulls have been shut out because they have so many useable players even down beyond the top 10 to the likes of John Lucas.
Although the priority for any potential additions to the roster is a 3rd center, with the 76ers releasing Nocioni, would the Bulls consider bringing him back? If he's still physically able, I think he would be a good spot defender against LeBron in the playoffs to give Deng some relief especially with his banged up wrist. I wouldn't expect him to play major minutes, but if I remember correctly he used to get under LeBron's skin with his physical play. Is he still able to do that for 7-8 minutes per game? Would the Bulls be interested?
Sam: As for Noce, the feeling is he’s physically spent and cannot catch up fast enough not having played in almost two years and with basically no practice time to come. Plus, the Bulls have Jimmy Butler with fresh, young legs sitting there and he doesn’t even get into games. So how would Nocioni do as much as it would be fun to have him around again? I know Deng mentioned he’d love to have him back as we all would. He’s one of the better guys in the league. But I don’t think the Bulls believe he can help at a higher level after not being able to get on the court with the 76ers. With one roster spot open, the Bulls seem to want interior size. If the Bulls cannot find another big around the NBA, they may sign a D-League player before the end of the season.
Do you think that the constant injuries to Rose and Hamilton, but Rose most of all, are blessings in disguise? It seems like it will teach the rest of the team to win without having to depend on our MVP.
Sam: No, because the rest of the team isn’t going to win without those guys. The Bulls have done remarkably well without Rose and Hamilton and it’s been a pleasure to watch. But those guys are role players with distinct roles and you cannot count on that for the playoffs. It hurts the team to have Rose and Hamilton out. I know some will say rest helps, but I agree with Thibodeau on this that you play better with continuity and regular rhythm, though I hate that last word to describe everything in the NBA. Basically you play better with repetition and communication you are comfortable with. I think you saw with Noah missing all that time last season he wasn’t the same player in the playoffs and really wasn’t until a month into this season. It looks a lot easier than it is because they are so good at it. But it hurts Rose and the Bulls when he is out and they’ll need he and Hamilton back for at least two or three weeks or it will be a very difficult playoffs.
I've found it interesting that as a general rule all the injured players still travel with the team. Is this because all of the Bulls medical staff is also on the road so they travel to keep getting the treatment from them? With all the 'Sports Science' around recovery these days I would have thought that there quickest road to recovery would involve getting treatment in Chicago and avoiding the plane travel, hotel rooms etc.
Sam: I’ll admit I have found that curious as well. But the medical staff and massage therapist is with the team, moreso this season because players need a lot more treatment on the road than usual with the rush of games. There isn’t as much practice, so the trainers and therapists and workout specialist have been traveling more than usual. Hamilton had been gone from the team for a long time, and it’s good he’s back now even if he’s not ready to play and has been going through some shootaround stuff. There’s an ethic in sports and this Bulls team is close. They want to be around their teammates and their teammates want them to be around. You lose that sense of identity and teamwork when you are gone and it can also be unhealthy in a mental way. I’m guessing Rose really wanted to be with the team, though they haven’t had much travel this month and won’t until April. And knowing Rose he probably thinks every morning he wakes up there’ll be a miracle and he’ll be healed and can play. Kids feel that way. We don’t want to take that away from them.
The '89 Pistons came as close as I've ever seen to '71-'74 Bulls at locking down the other team. Legendary matchups: Sloan/Van Lier vs. Big O/Lucious Allen; Sloan/Van Lier vs. Bing/Walker; Love/Walker/Sloan/Van Lier vs. DeBusschere/Lucas/Bradley/Clyde/Pearl; Sloan/Van Lier vs. White/Chaney/Hondo while Walker dueled Silas. Love deserved the credit, but Walker was underappreciated. Asik continues to have problems with clumsy arms even as his lower body is pretty active. I hope they think real hard before they change the roster. Since this team has been put together I've often more enjoyed watching the second unit. I've been hoping that Hamilton gets better so among other things Brewer can go back to the second unit again.
Sam: Yes, I made a mention of that ’89 Pistons team having seen the way they’d be up eight with six minutes left against the Bulls and Jordan, and the game was over. It’s amazing given what Jordan accomplished to know that was occurring regularly. I did leave out those early 70’s Bulls in talking in a recent post game column casually about great defensive teams compared with the Bulls — it wasn’t a formal study — though I probably shouldn’t. Phil Jackson always used to tell me his Knicks hated playing those Bulls more than any other team the way they’d get beaten up. As for Omer, he is much unappreciated as well and a vital piece. Yes, the Bulls will be better when they are a unit as well.
Very happy with Bulls team and how they play the game. They play as hard as any team ever has on a consistent basis. Chicago should be very proud. The Bulls seem to play every night with a playoff level intensity, almost as if they have reached their highest gear. I thought in the playoffs last year each team they faced really stepped up their own intensity and matched the Bulls, which was different then what they faced throughout regular season. I thought they struggled a bit to cope with that difference. Do you think that some of these other teams have a higher gear they can step up to compared to the regular season and the Bulls are already playing at that higher gear? Do you see this as somewhat of a disadvantage?
Sam: That’s a question that came up last season, will again and always does. There’s this general theory that certain teams have more room to raise their level of play at playoff time, though that’s looked down upon by the league as it suggests some teams aren’t working as hard otherwise. The Bulls did make it to the conference finals in a close series last season, so I didn’t see much real evidence of this last year even though the view with this Bulls team is they play harder on a more regular basis than any team in the league. If that is the case the notion would be they have less room to raise their game. It’s something we’ll find out as the view is a team like the Knicks is coming together late and could pull an upset in the truncated season like they did in 1999 in going from No. 8 to the Finals.
Is it me, or does the team really look good enough to beat Miami in a 7 game series? Seriously, I watched Kyle Korver last night chase JJ Redick around and through a Dwight Howard screen to block his shot. Granted, it was JJ Redick, but the effort was breathtaking. How can this team not benefit in the playoffs from a healthy Hamilton/Rose and a second year under Thibideau?
Sam: There have been some great moments with this Bulls team this season making a regular season many questioned because of the lockout a fun season to watch. So, yes, all things are possible and the Bulls have beaten the best. They have a pair of Miami games left and games in New York and Oklahoma City which will give us some potential clues on where they are. As I’ve long written this season, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Hamilton, they can make the Finals but they are not the favorites.
Do you think Chicago should regret passing on Redd and taking Rip? Now, Redd is healthier and cheaper!
Fernando Martinez Sans
Sam: No. It was the right move at the time and I never second guess what I believe should have been done then. Redd was a way bigger risk and still is an in and out player. Plus, he’s had the benefit of the Suns training staff, which seems special the way they’ve resuscitated Grant Hill, Shaq and others. I still think Hamilton can bring more than Redd, who doesn’t defend or pass the ball nearly as well as Hamilton. You just have to ride it out and hope these are exceptions for Hamilton and not the rule.
Do you think it would be wise for the Bulls to start Brewer and bring Hamilton off the bench, in anticipation of match ups against the Heat and Thunder? Brewer seems to be a better fit (considering Hamilton's fragility) to guard Wade and Westbrook, with Deng on James and Durant.
Sam: No. Hamilton views himself as a starter and though he’s been accepted by the team, he’s not exactly a part of everything they’ve done. So he’s not as likely to have bought in. He had great difficulty in Detroit when they brought in Allen Iverson and he went to the bench and it was the beginning of the end of his time there. It’s a mental thing with some guys, like Boozer as well, as they see themselves as starters no matter how long they play or even if they finish. It’s why it’s often trouble to take a superstar on your team late in his career. Though of what we’ve seen of Hamilton he is still a high level player and better than Brewer and should be a starter.
Could you see Mike D’Antoni getting the gig with the Clips if Vinny chokes? That would be a good fit. I can't see Phil ever wanting to coach the Knicks as he would want all control and everyone knows the owner still has a say in things.
Sam: Yes, the posse may be closing in on Vinny as suddenly the Clippers are even in danger of missing the playoffs. I tend to think they’ll make it as Chris Paul will figure something out. But they are losing some games badly and Vinny seems to be very on edge. If they do make a move, you can’t really bring in someone like D’Antoni now with a new system. Though I think with Paul that D’Antoni would be terrific with his space the court game. Plus, he’ll be better in the more open Western game. The other intriguing name is Phil Jackson. He wouldn’t have to move and would have almost a ready made team to compete. Would he do that to his girl Jeanie, who works for the Lakers still? I don’t believe Phil wants to coach, but I know he wants to do something and if nothing presents itself that might be an appealing option. I’d hate to see him go to New York, where Dolan still makes too many decisions and doesn’t allow his coach to actually coach or his GM to run the team. Phil would hate that as much as he enjoys the city and getting the New York Times crossword early.
I watch every Bulls game and love D-Rose. However, I am concerned that he may be lacking heart or the will we need him to have. He is the only superstar in the league that continues to finish games to later find out he is “injured” for an extended amount of time. Turf toe, back spasms, and a sore groin, are NOT injuries. He is going to miss his fourth game tonight in another big game against the Magic, and these games do matter. 20 something games to go, we need to have this teams' chemistry ready for the playoffs. My concern is he is really turning into a baby. [You] never see Kobe, LBJ, or Dwight, much less MJ or any other real stars from the 90s, finish a game and then be absent for the next 5 on what may or may not be an injury. I mean Luol is playing with a torn ligament, now that’s a real injury. What’s changed, the kid used to have heart and play through times when he was hurt?
Sam: I’ve gotten a few emails like this and was frankly amazed given the body of work and evidence we have on this kid. He’s one of the truly great competitors and team players and sometimes you get hurt. These sorts of emails are interesting to me in that I know some fans see these guys as super human automatons with this “playing hurt” mantra as some sign of manhood. It’s why I try not to get into that stuff too much as the media does contribute greatly to that ridiculous hero buildup and worship. But players do tend to go along with it as it also is good for selling stuff. Derrick is one of the best and toughest competitors I’ve ever been around and I have no doubts about him and his willingness to compete. But these are human beings as well and we should all remember that.
I guess it's inevitable that he can't stay the nice humble kid forever, with a $96 million contract and a $200 million shoe deal, plus other deals. But I'm a little worried. Are these real yellow flags or am I imagining it?
1. He complains about refs after the game, and says (effectively) "What Superstar doesn't get that call?"
2. He buys a $2.6 million condo.
3. The car he was driving in the accident was a Bentley.
4. Most worrisome: In the Heat win, he showed no emotion or joy that the team was winning without him.
Any of this concern you?
Sam: None. I am glad, though, you at least made them yellow flags of warning as opposed to red flags of danger. No one, as I mentioned above, is perfect or should be expected to be. The referee thing was sort of misstated as Derrick doesn’t always express himself perfectly and was fishing for a word that ended up being superstar when you could tell he didn’t exactly mean that. He never talks like that and his teammates kidded him about it. Few guys take it as well. Michael Jordan drove a $500,000 Testerosa when that much money meant something and his house is up for sale for $29 million. When you have money you should spend some. It’s good for the economy. Rose doesn’t dress in diamonds and jewelry, wears casual clothes and carries his stuff in an old backpack. The guy is hardly working on a stuffy image. But when you are in the position he is you need some security and don’t exactly get treated like everyone else. Jordan complained about that for years about not being able to go to the grocery store, though I was never sure why he wanted to. Derrick’s expression is generally always the same, though there have been fewer players in the history of the game who more want their teammates to do well. Here’s a guy who gave up stats in high school and college so teammates could get scholarships and NBA jobs. After reading this, I now have decided to adopt him, by the way.
Thibs has been piling up the technical fouls lately. Are coaches under the same rule the players are; where a certain amount of technical fouls warrants a suspension? Watching the games on TV it seems he is angry with the officials quite often, then again it is hard to tell on TV if he if his anger is directed at the officials or his own team because the other team happens to score. As someone who is actually at most of these games what is your impression of Thibodeau’s relationships with the officials?
Sam: Thibs is among those with one of the better relationships with officials. I wouldn’t have said exactly that with Phil. Thibs came up the hard way and he appreciates others who do. He’ll get upset, but he’ll almost always make some small talk or a joke afterward, which is why, I think, he never got many technicals. He’s got four this season, which is a lot for him. I can’t recall the officials and whether they were new guys, which there are a lot more of these last two seasons. As we all know, he is unusually involved in the game. And it does happen. Too bad his players can’t give him technicals for what he says to them, though everyone knows Thibs is well meaning and just into each play. Yes, the same rule applies to coaches, but Thibs is way off. I think Doc Rivers leads with six this season and I think it’s about a dozen or so to get suspended a game. You know Thibs is never giving up coaching a game. Heck, I think Walgreens would go out of business with the 11 boxes of lozenges he goes through every game to keep his voice.
When I saw that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar visited the Bulls this weekend, it reminded me of a Sports Illustrated article toward the end of his career in which he attributed his playing longevity to yoga. The connection had me wondering how prevalent the discipline is in the NBA today, particularly in relation to Derrick Rose's back and some of the other injuries the Bulls have suffered this year. I know the NBA teams have the best of modern and eastern medicine, but I am curious whether yoga is part of the health regiment.
Sam: I don’t see much of that, but I know the teams do all sorts of similar exercises involving stretching and various innovations that probably produce similar results. The only issue I have with some of today’s training is the emphasis on weight lifting. I understand the need to remain strong through a season, but it seems to limit some the flexibility of players. Still, this era’s players have much longer careers than in Kareem’s era. So they must be doing something right. And certainly paying them more, which tends to keep guys around as well.
Chris Douglas Roberts is hinting on twitter about signing with the Bulls. Have you heard any potential signing? It would make sense as he played college ball with DRose, and can be a shot maker at the 2 guard spot.
Sam: Probably a bit premature. Yes, Rose played with him in college, but as we all know Derrick demurs from personnel decisions. This came from a hyphen Roberts tweet — players have too much to say these days — that suggested he’d come to the Bulls. I’m not sure the Bulls were aware of this, and certainly there are loads of decisions to make before then based a lot on what happens in the playoffs. I wouldn’t say hyphen Roberts has any more chance of being with the Bulls next season than many other players at this point.
How come Thibs never puts Asik and Noah in at the same time? I mean isn't that what made the Lakers so successful with two 7 footers in the paint?
Sam: He hates playing guys with four letter surnames together. I hope you are not comparing the post play and offensive games of Bynum and Gasol to Asik and Noah. I’ll make that a hint and see if you can figure out the rest from there. That said, I would like to see it some, though I don’t expect the same results you get with Bynum and Gasol.
Has there ever been a back-to-back COY? Do you think Thibs [has] a shot to repeat as Coach of the Year? The fact that D-Rose has been out at least 13 games, Deng's been out a couple of times and is not at 100%, and Hamilton pretty much shot except a game or two, and still has the best record (so far) in the league?
Abram G. Bachtiar
Sam: That got a lot of discussion this week when Thibs hit 100 wins faster than any other coach in NBA history. Phil Jackson may now have to learn how to pronounce his name. No, it’s never been done as there is an egalitarian nature to this award as media members like to spread it around, sort of saying, “We know you’re a good coach. We said so last year.” So it would be tough even if the body of work is deserving. It’s much as you look back and wonder why Jordan didn’t get MVP every year. And it’s not so bad. People like to reward others, and it’s not a bad practice. There have been a lot of good coaching jobs. Plus, Tom hates awards, so why keep giving them to him. Let's get someone with a better acceptance speech instead of, “All I care about is we’ve got Sacramento next.”
Do you think Luol Deng will be able to perform well this season? His numbers seem to be getting worse. I know his wrist is a concern. Does anyone know if he will have an operation in the off-season to fix the ligament in his wrist. Perhaps Korver could play more, but his numbers haven't been the greatest ether.
Sam: Deng has said he’ll ride it out and it appears he’s going to have some limitations offensively the rest of the way. But Thibodeau values what he brings and he’s still a high level rebounder and defender. He won’t hurt the team. But the Bulls will need Hamilton’s offense perhaps more than before. As for afterward, I assume he plays in the Olympics and then deals with it. It’s not clear to me if you need surgery with this sort of thing or it will heal.
I think Riley will rue not trading Bosh a month ago, when he was strutting and his value was highest. Sure, it would have taken Lucas sized (chutzpah) to break it up when everyone was calling them a sure thing; but that's greatness: seeing a fatal flaw when it's not so apparent, and having the guts to act on it when things are going good. They surely could have gotten a decent center, and maybe even a point guard too (at least a back up) for Bosh a month ago; that will probably be their plan over the summer.
Sam: Yes, that would have been something and even a GM who is so well regarded like Riley isn’t trying that. Similarly with the Bulls, no matter what need you may see it’s tough to break things up when they are going well and nobody ever does that, even the so called risk takers like Riley. That is their move, everyone presumes, if they do not win. But what if they did a take-it-or-leave-it offer for Howard a month ago? Would Orlando have blinked when they could have gotten a star? Maybe they would have. The Heat didn’t try. So with all the talk about LeBron and Wade, there’s perhaps the most pressure on Bosh. He may be playing not to be in Sacramento or Minnesota. Would you take him for Rubio, say?
With the Bulls rolling without Derrick, there has been debate about how much the Bulls depth will matter come playoff time when rotations are shortened. A byproduct of Rose's injury is the rest of the team gaining confidence, which is such a big thing in the NBA. Further, John Lucas seems to be turning into the Bulls "irrational confidence" man. Sometimes it scares me, but when he's hitting... watch out! His style of play and knack for hitting dagger 3s reminds me of the 2008 season when Eddie House was doing the same for the eventual Champion Celtics. Any thoughts on this parallel and what John Lucas' role will be with this Bulls team in the playoffs assuming Rose and Watson are at full health?
Sam: I assume Lucas returns to his role of rarely playing as Rose is going to get 40 minutes and if you are a Bulls fan you are hoping he can do that. So there’s not going to be much time. But given Lucas’ success as an instant offense kind of guy I can see him getting some time when the offense stalls and you’ll know quickly enough if he’s on because he doesn’t waste much time passing the ball.
With both Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett expiring at the end of the year would either be interested in joining the Bulls next season? Would they be inclined to take a lot less money and a very reduced role to come join Derrick Rose and try to win a title? Both have aching bodies and showed that their starting days are dwindling. So what a better way to get more years out of their bodies than a bench role? These two both made well over $150 million in their careers don't forget. Also if you think this has never been done before look at the '04 lakers with Malone and Payton.
Sam: Sounds good, but that stuff doesn’t happen. Yes, you make a good point with Malone and Payton, but the odds generally are both with some life in their bodies they’ll get decent offers and Allen likely wants to stay in Boston, where he has become close with the hospital system where his ailing child is treated. I also assume the Celts try to bring back Garnett if it’s reasonable. Though it would be fun to see Noah and Garnett playing together given their colorful history. Plus, you aren’t getting former stars backing up Boozer and Ronnie Brewer. Like with Payton and Malone when they went to L.A., it was also about big starters’ minutes.
The irony is that Lu is not necessarily shooting worse across the board; more specifically he is shooting more 3s and making them at a higher %. Strange that his 3 pt percentage is better, his FT % is better. The injury seems to be affecting his aggression level on offense more than his jumpshot accuracy; he is not getting to the line as much and is shooting twice as many 3 pointers per game since the injury additionally his rebounding is down slightly. What do you make of this? His game has changed a bit, however I am not convinced it is hurting the efficacy of his shot as much as altering his shot selection.
Sam: Yes, you seem to have the numbers right. NBA teams respond to your weakness quickly. Teams are playing Deng to his right hand, trying to force him left. When he’s gone left he’s had trouble handling. So as a result, he’s become a bit less aggressive that way and sat back more for his shot, which still is good and basically not much affected by his injury. He has ventured a bit more into the lane lately and I think as he finds a bit more comfort zone and angles on the floor to attack he will return to being more aggressive because at the very least the Bulls miss his passing on the move. He is surprisingly good at that.
I'm sure you've noticed, but it seems like Carlos Boozer has really been thriving with the absence of Derrick Rose this past week, especially against Orlando and Portland. When the Bulls run their offense through him, he is a brilliant passer and seems to find every cutter for an easy look. His passing ability also helps him create his own shot as well. However, this creative ability seems to disappear whenever Derrick is on the floor, which is especially disappointing because I feel like Derrick would be an assassin playing off the ball and cutting to the basket more. Do you think the Bulls should try running more offense through Boozer when Derrick comes back, or should every play still run through Derrick?
Sam: I think the Bulls prefer running offense through Boozer as a change of pace. Boozer has had some stretches of good play without Derrick, but Derrick does involve him when Derrick is playing. It’s also that Thibodeau prefers Noah as the screener given he’s more physical that way and is a good playmaker. Boozer is a good playmaker as well, but I think the Bulls offense is fine with Derrick as the trigger man. Perhaps the Bulls could use another guard to make plays with Rose off the ball, and without the injuries I think Thibodeau would be doing that more with Watson. I’d say they’re anxious to return the offense running through Derrick.