Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 05.06.11
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I pick the Hawks in five games. And it's not as if I was happy to write that stuff.
Sam: It’s OK, but you’ll be wrong. The Hawks aren’t winning this series with virtually no offense and little discipline. I still think the Bulls could sweep. Maybe the league gives them a Game 1 do over for all the distractions of the Coach of the Year and MVP. The Bulls have not played well, and I’ve outlined the reasons in my postgame analyses. There are some injuries, but also a bit of the closing of the gap in effort, a Bulls team perhaps reaching its level while others raise theirs. They played at such a high level all season and have to continue to do so in the playoffs, as they don’t generally match up in talent, especially with Carlos Boozer having difficulty. It is difficult to see them getting beyond the next round, which would be a phenomenal achievement to reach the conference finals with the league’s best record after a summer in which they struck out in going after their prime free agent targets, virtually gave away starters like Kirk Hinrich, brought in a rookie coach and were hardly expected to advance beyond the first or second round of the playoffs.
While I was reading your recap of Game 2 against Atlanta, I was reminded
of all those articles earlier in the season where the Bulls were winning
but not looking particularly good while doing it. The team struggled
some against weaker teams. The offense went dormant for long periods.
You kept writing that it was a bad omen, that the Bulls may escape
against middling opponents, but this kind of play would not be enough
for top tier competition. We kept waiting for it to catch up to the
team, but it never really did. The Bulls kept getting wins, sometimes
by doing just barely enough, and seemed to play their best ball against
the best opponents. As the season went on and the wins piled up, I just
forgot about all this. I just kept seeing the number in the win column
rise, and feeling excited for the team's success. Now I'm not sure
whether to take solace from this or to be worried. On the one hand,
we're being reminded that this is the team we've had all along, that the
Bulls are a scrappy, tough team that will play hard (if not always well)
and overcome you with effort, rebounding, defense and Derrick Rose.
Maybe they don't have enough to get it done when all the
other teams are playing just as hard. But on the other hand, this is a
team that knows the most important stat, at the end of the day, is wins.
They make smart adjustments to their opponents, they gang rebound, they
work together as a unit, and all they've ever done all season long is
find ways to get the wins, whether by 40 or by 1. I like that about our
team. I like that the guys seem to always
have team goals in mind, and know their roles well and accept those
roles. This has been a fun team to root for all season, and I think
it'll only get more fun as the playoffs continue.
Sam: That is well said. Now, that’s also not to say—given your observations and my own previously—that the Bulls cannot get all the way. As we’re seeing, it’s a whole new world in the NBA. The Spurs are gone. The Lakers and Celtics are on life support. Who does that leave whom you see as unbeatable? No one, which has long been my view of the Bulls’ ultimate season. I’ve long believed that cannot win a title this season, but I don’t see who will, especially now if the Spurs, Lakers and Celtics go out. The NBA is in transition, and when that happens, like in the ‘70s when teams like the Warriors, Bullets and Supersonics won championships, the unlikely can break through. So, yes, enjoy the ride. You never know when it will end.
I thought it was interesting that the TNT crew actually felt the Bulls haven't been playing all that bad. I believe Kenny Smith gave them a 7 out of 10. I was wondering on a 1 to 10 scale how you would rate the Bulls play? You yourself have mentioned all year that scoring in the playoffs would be hard to come by for this team and that the Bulls actually might not win the championship this year. That was before Carlos Boozer and to a lesser extent Derrick Rose being slowed by injuries. While the Bulls may not be playing perfect basketball, is it possible that they actually aren't playing too far off what they are capable of (especially considering the injuries) and they just aren't as good as some fans would hope?
Sam: I did get the sense after Game 1 against the Hawks that the view of the team had become a bit more realistic in the community. Everyone saw the struggles in four games against the Pacers, and then a home loss. I think the feeling gradually began to become that we’d seen a championship team and this didn’t seem to look like one. Which is not to dismiss it, but I think the Bulls are back in the position again of being mostly overlooked and dismissed despite being a No. 1 seed and they do play their best when it seems they are being viewed that way.
You were a little hard on Pip in your Monday column. It wasn't his fault that the Portland team tanked in the 4th Q. They had scorers that were running away from the ball.
Sam: I didn’t mean to be, but the point was Pippen, as well as Jordan and Rodman, could no longer summon up the greatness that leads to titles. There were no other Hall of Famers on that Portland roster but Pippen. It wasn’t his fault they choked, but he couldn’t do anything to prevent it. I was dealing with this urban legend in comparing to the Spurs this season that the Bulls would have gone on for years and were cut short in titles. No, they were not. Jordan knew it. He never would have walked away from championships. The strain of playing to the Finals three straight seasons and playing summer ball as some like Pippen did for the U.S. as well as natural aging and injury took its toll. Look at all the pieces, like Longley and Buechler and Brown and Kerr. They never had major roles again anywhere, though Kerr did still hot some big shots as the Robert Horry of guards. You see it now with the Lakers and Celtics as well. The Bulls easily could have been out in the first round that first season after the lockout as basically no one among them ever had a good season again. We likely were saved the obituary and viewing of the body.
Are the Bulls televising the rest of the playoffs on Chicago broadcast networks? I don't like TNT commentators.
Sam: No, the Comcast contract ends after the first round of the playoffs and the national TV takes over, though Chuck Swirsky and Bill Wennington still do the games on radio.
Let's congratulate coach Tom for winning the coach of the year award. I just hope that he is exempted to that "COY jinx". I don't want to see him fired the next 2 or more years.
Sam: I don’t believe it is a scientific fact, but seven of the last NBA Coach of the Year winners—Mike Brown, Byron Scott, Sam Mitchell, Avery Johnson, Mike D’Antoni, Hubie Brown and Rick Carlisle—were fired not long after winning. The main reason is you generally get the award for doing better than everyone expected. But then your team levels off and it is viewed you took a step backward and lost your touch. In other words, you were artificially higher rated than your talent and then punished for not keeping them at a level above which they should be. That said, Thibodeau has shown to be a terrific coach who will have many opportunities no matter how this Bulls team goes, and it would be nice if he can stay with the Bulls. But only the rare ones have a long star, especially if you don’t win titles. What’s perhaps unfair for Thibs is the way this season has gone is he’ll be judged on winning a championship, and that’s as much management’s responsibility for the talent they provide. The hope is they can upgrade after this season.
I’ll make this real simple... Is paxson regretting signing Boozer and not pulling the trigger on Zac Randolph when we had the chance to get him a few years ago?
Sam: That’s really a lame second guess on Zach as everyone had the chance to trade for him but it isn’t always easy to explain to your fan base trading for a player who had recently requested a death in the family leave from his team so he could hang out at strip bars. I know. We all have our quirks. Zach has done a terrific job resurrecting his image and becoming an All Star level talent and person. But no one could have seen that coming. As for Boozer, bashing him is the hot topic of late. Paxson was on record in an interview I saw recently defending Boozer. My sense from the Bulls is they have been disappointed in his play at times, but also understand he’s had injuries and was a major contributor to a team that had the best record in the NBA, a team that would not have had that without him. They seem hopefully and optimistic he can have a full, healthy season and will be the player he was with the Jazz. They don’t seem ready to give up on him.
I know that the Bulls love Boozer and that no team would take his contract, but hear me out. He is definitely the odd man out with his lackluster defense and slow, fragile post play. This would lead me to believe that, if the front office had some choice in the matter, they might not be so happy with him after all. Further, with regard to someone taking on his contract, I could definitely see the Nets trading quite a bit for him. First, they need stars to attract fans. Secondly, they must appease Deron Williams, and a Boozer reunion would do just that. Lastly, they have that kind of rich guy hubris which leads to these kind of poor decisions. Thus, a three way trade with the Nets giving up Lopez and picks to go to some team whose players we actually want (a scrappier forward with low post presence as well as a shooting guard) might be somewhat feasible.
Sam: With the way this season is gone I haven’t had to get into trading mode for a long time. Deng reminds me, though, how often I had him traded. No one seems to want that anymore, and the Bulls hope Boozer becomes the next Deng, the allegedly overpaid underachiever whom the community now loves and is untouchable a few months after most fans wanted to give him away for cap room. First, the Nets are not giving up Lopez, a seven footer, for a 6-7 or 6-8 forward, and I don’t expect to see many teams taking on big contracts, if any, until it becomes clearer what the new labor rules will be. It could be a fairly quiet draft offseason, especially if there is a July 1 lockout right afterward.
Why don’t we try to get Boozer more face-up 15 footers? He is a good mid-range player and comfortable shooting that, especially when rose drives and his man collapses into the paint. instead of diving into the lane where he will get blocked, why not just pop to the free throw line?
Joshua D. Levin
Sam: Finally, some constructive advice. It might be a good way to get him going some. I noticed when the Hawks briefly went into that zone in Game 2, Boozer floated out and knocked in a 16 footer at the right elbow. I would like to see him get some stuff in a comfort zone instead of trying to fight and get so frustrated inside now against the Hawks’ athletes. Take a look at my story on Blogs.Bulls.com as I get into more stuff about Boozer’s use.
I don't recall the terms Sloan left the Bulls with, but is there any chance he comes back into the organization? Would seem like a guy who lost the connection he had to Utah may appreciate the chance to come back home to the Bulls.
Sam: I can see Jerry taking another shot at being a head coach, though his friends say no. I do not see him being an assistant to do film work and such as he never was into that stuff much as a head coach. Plus, he’s got a new family with young children in Utah and I assume it would take a lot to get him out of there.
Rose has 8 turnovers last night and it seems to be in trying to get Boozer established. Rose is being pretty careless with the ball. Is this something Thibs is addressing with Rose to stop trying to fit pass into tight areas? Also....shot selection seems to become an issue with Rose also. Seems to be forcing up 3's for no reason, instead of driving or at least trying to move the ball to get into the post. If he has room for out there he is pulling it. Any idea is Thibs is addressing this Rose also?
Dennis L. Bonner
Sam: They are playing way off Rose and sagging into the lane, and all season he has shot when teams do that. He is confident in his ability to make shots, so the only issue may really be if he does have some ankle issue and cannot push off as well. As Thibs (one b) said after Game 2 Rose plays aggressively and the team wants him to. No one has to address these things to Rose. He’s toughest on himself and everytime I’ve seen him have games like that with high turnovers he’s come back and played near perfectly.
Why the uneven games off between the two series schedules? I can see breaking things up more in the 1st round, so that all the games could be on TV - but the Heats/Celtics are off until Saturday, getting three days rest. Meanwhile the Bulls go every other day. Are the Celts getting an AARP discount, or are the networks throwing their weight around?
Sam: No, Auerbach isn’t pulling tricks again. It was just those series were moved up as their earlier series finished more quickly in fewer games. Remember, there were no Game 7’s in the first round. TV has certain games booked for Saturdays and Sundays, the prime ABC viewing days, so the league had to slow the schedule for some teams. No conspiracy, sorry. Though with all that time off after Game 1, the view was it hurt the Bulls.
I do not want to be right here, I'm not saying I told you so, so
here's to hoping that Rose has that Jordan recovery gene! But he
looked less explosive against the Hawks (andrenalin and painkillers can
get you through a game against Indy, but they only go so far) and
tweaked it again at the end of the game, which you figured would
happen, because once you break the seal, if you don't rest it, you just
keep spraining it till you stay off it). I know they are athletes and
are paid to play with pain, but it is not pain that is the issue, its a
weakened joint due to trauma, plain and simple. The Bulls have to look
at the big picture with this stuff. An MRI will show any big tears to
the tissue, but it's the micro tears that get you here, as well as the
damage to the fascia (plastic wrap like tissue surrounds the
musculature and gives the body form, we would be jelly without it) and
that stuff does not show up anywhere on a scan. You just know it's
there because we know what happens when you sprain an ankle, you tear
tissue - ligaments, muscle, and fascia, and that stuff needs a few days
rest and ice, then it will heal (though ligaments are hard to heal,
there is very little blood flow to them, unlike muscle). 3 days,
starting with right after the injury, and I bet he recovers without a
problem, now we have to hope for a some super recovery gene.
Sam: Derrick says he’s OK. The Bulls say he’s OK. The team doctors say he’s OK. Kobe’s ankle is clearly much worse than Rose’s. You play on in the playoffs. Perhaps it’s short sighted, but you also don’t want to be over conservative because nothing is promised. If you can play, you try, though I will say if my two typing fingers go (yes, after all these years I still cannot touch type) I’m hot tubbing the rest of the playoffs.
How high of a draft pick can the bulls get if they package their 28th and
Sam: I’d guess 27. Though more likely 35 as No. 1 picks could have guaranteed contracts in the new labor deal and few teams will want to pay guarantees to players picked that low in a relatively weak draft. My guess is the Bulls use the picks and hope the players can make the roster within three seasons. I’m not looking for answers in this draft. I think Rasual Butler would be a top five pick in this draft.