Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 05.13.11
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What do you think about LBJ if he wins a ring? I was talking to two people and they were talking about how he will get the monkey off his back this year if they win a ring. I was telling them that to me it means nothing. I feel that he is a second fiddle and he couldn't take the pressure of trying to win a ring alone and had to come to Wades city to get one. I personally feel he will never be one of the all time greats unless he wins a ring alone say if Wade gets hurt in a few years or is trades or if he retires. Am I thinking irrationally because of my hatred for him?
Sam: Yes. Actually, I believe if the Heat win, especially this season, it will create a whole new storyline that LeBron knew what he was doing all along, and it’s not like Michael Jordan had any titles before Scottie Pippen grew into a Hall of Fame type player, nor even could make the playoffs without him. Ours is an instant analysis world based on what you did last. It will be depicted that James, like his comments after the Boston win Wednesday suggested, realized his own flaws and weaknesses and really was just about winning and not ego, and that winning was so important that he was willing to take on the criticism because he knew what it took and how rewarding it would be. There also has been a lot of national media in hiding who had predicted greatness for LeBron and the Heat that will return in an angry, arrogant series of I told you sos. I suspect if the Heat does win, they’ll take away Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize and give it to LeBron.
So one question I never hear people talk about, when it's all said and done, who is history going to look back on as the greater player, Wade or James?
Sam: I guess we’ll have to consult the history books, though I hope it’s not the history book the kids in school use. Well, however many titles they get now if they do, Wade should be one ahead. Though James has a much longer lifespan as a player. I guess the question would be who is considered better now. OK, I’ll answer: James. And he has one fewer title. There you go.
Now that Boston, LA and San Antonio are out of it if any of them should decide to break up there team and go young do they have any players that would interest the Bulls? Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan would look pretty good on the Bulls and given their ages I doubt they will be leading their current teams to anywhere near a championship. Would the Charlotte pick and all of this year's picks be enough to get anything?
Sam: There’s been this wild notion that you have a great season and don’t win a title, so you must become an expansion team. It’s ridiculous. I don’t see any major changes on any of those teams. The practical issue is all those players make huge salaries, so to get them you’ll have to make a major trade, which means Noah or Deng. So I’m not sure then how you are better. The Lakers, for one, are fine. They need a point guard, sure, and maybe some bench help, but the Heat could have the league’s worst bench. I’d take a chance with Bynum, Odom, Pau and Kobe. The Spurs also aren’t about to break up a team that won 60 games because they hit a hot Grizzlies team. It happens. Malone and Stockton were knocked out early by low seeds and the Jazz basically tweaked and got to two Finals. The Celtics still are formidable, though declining because of age. They blew it on the risk everyone believed was a mistake with Shaq and Jermaine and trading Perkins. It killed them as many said the moment of the deal. They lost all basket protection and would have had a much better series with the Heat that wouldn’t have been over now if they’d kept Perkins.
I was wondering what you think of Rajon Rondo. Frankly, I am sooooooooo tired of hearing how great he is. He has to be the worst player that has ever garnered as much praise as he has. I know he is a solid point guard and he deserves to be considered one of the better point guards in the league but really, I think I could score some assists on accident passing to three sure-fire hall of famers. He has a HOF low post threat, a HOF shot creator, and (arguably) the greatest three point shooter in the history of the game on his team. Put Mo WIlliams on the C's and he looks like Jason Kidd in his prime. Are we going to come down to earth on Rondo when he doesn't have a barage of complimentary all-stars to pass to?
Sam: He is a unique and flawed player, though we are not counting the Heat series in which he was hurt. It defies the imagination that he still cannot shoot. It seems almost impossible and should forever make his a second tier top point guard. He is very good in different wants with the way he defends and can impact the game without scoring, which is unusual and more like Jason Kidd. He’s probably better than you give him credit for, but not among the elite of Rose, Paul, Williams, Nash, Parker, Westbrook. And if some like Wall and Holiday come on he could be on the edge of the top 10. But you’d still want him if you didn’t have them.
What is your sense of how Denver will move forward? I know the CBA will
play a part, but I wonder what you think their priorities are. They have
5 key players that are likely going to be either unrestricted or
restricted free agents after this season: Kenyon Martin, Nene, JR Smith,
Wilson Chandler, and Arron Afflalo. They have some cap space to work with
for sure, but I don't see a scenario where they are able to resign all of
them. To a lesser degree, I wonder the same thing with the Rockets. Both
are decent teams in a transitional phase with some decisions to make.
It may be very difficult to get either, but I have long felt that Courtney
Lee and Afflalo are the 2 guys that the Bulls should be pursuing hard to
fill SG going forward. They are exactly what this team needs... not a
super star, but a solid all-around player with a good attitude who is
athletic, young, can shoot and defend. If Gar finds a way to get one of
those guys on this team thru free agency or trade, I truly believe the
Bulls would be a major force. They would be improved offensively, without
sacrificing anything defensively.
Sam: I, too, agree that is the most likely way to go and realistically the way they would go if they can. The new agreement is most likely going to limit what they can do given the pending Rose extension. As I’ve written before, I expect they will be out of any serious free agency consideration for several years to come with four eight figure annual salaries including Rose. They are positioned with several potential expiring contracts next season like Korver and Brewer and Gibson to combine them with draft picks including that Charlotte future which may not be able to used for four years to get someone. I like both those guys, but, frankly, unless they move Asik or Gibson I don’t see them being available. I think the larger issue down the road will how they can keep guys like Gibson coming off the bench when other teams would be offering starting jobs which then pay much more. No one knows the new rules, but if you were Asik or Gibson it would be difficult to take a small offer and backup role with the Bulls when you can do so much better financially and playing wise.
If I understand correctly, the owners are factoring depreciation of franchise value and yet-to-be-paid interest into their "losses", and that is a major factor in the inability of the players and owners to reach an agreement. Does anyone other than the owners and Stern take this argument seriously? Is it just me, or does it seem rather obvious that in the long run, franchise values will return to their pre-depression highs perhaps within a few years? If they are so worried about the value of their teams, how about not selling them? Its amazing how the more people have, the less they appreciate it. If I wasn't so compulsively addicted to basketball, I would organize a boycott.
Sam: The fact is there isn’t a market in NBA teams now, which is why the league happens to own one. I’d like to think my house will have the value is did in 2008, but I’m being told it might be another decade, if ever, before that happens. The NBA isn’t as lucrative a business as it once was. And franchise values don’t appear so great. There have been a half dozen teams on the market for several years with no buyers, you hear. Forget Chicago. Take a look at some of the arenas around the league. Heck, half the seats in Atlanta and Indiana in the playoffs were sold to traveling Chicago fans. The NBA is committed to a new financial model, as Stern has said, and I don’t see much compromise on that.
I think we have a large enough sample of playoff games at this point to start to see that strong play out of Taj correlates to victories much more than strong play from Boozer does. And when Taj does get an extra five minutes at Boozer's expense it seems to be a much better balance.
In 7 playoff wins:
Taj: 19.6 min, 6.6 points
Boozer: 28.4 min, 8.6 points
In the 3 losses:
Taj: 14 min, 3.7 points
Boozer: 35.3 min, 15.6 points
I would still start Boozer, but I hope Thibodeau continues to let Taj stay on the court in the fourth as he did last night. It is starting to seem like a myth that the Bulls really need to get Boozer going for playoff success. I think Taj crashing on Rose's missed layups is an easier way to get points than slowing everything down and clearing out for Boozer, and in fact Taj has shown some nice moves in the paint lately, too. His defense is obviously far better. I credit Booze for being a little feistier the last couple games, and he certainly contributed in Game 5. But that fourth quarter unit with Taj looked lethal.
Sam: Nice to know Taj has become an All-Star. I’m not diminishing his contributions and he has been the most energetic one of late and was huge in that Game 5 win, obviously. And Thibodeau by going with him the entire fourth quarter has shown he’ll make the adjustment if necessary. But all I heard last season was the team needed a power forward because while Gibson was good, he was smallish for his position, thin, and not really a long term NBA starter nor a post man. It is good that the Bulls managed to pick up his much better twin since then. I know you sent this before Game 6, but by the way, did you happen to catch Boozer in the closing Game 6? There’s a reason the Bulls have Boozer and if they can get those sorts of performances their chances are a lot better than if they have to rely on Gibson, even as good as he’s played.
What do you think the chances of Dwight Howard coming to Chicago are this summer? And at what cost to the Bulls?
Sam: This, of course, will be the topic of the summer and into next season, whenever that is, and throughout next season if the Magic don’t trade him. It’s difficult to say what Orlando will do as things change that change an organization’s view. For now, they say they are not trading Howard, and it doesn’t make sense to until they see the new labor agreement rules which could make it so penal for Howard to leave he would stay no matter what. And Orlando has demonstrated they are a franchise that will spend money. Whether they do it wisely is another issue. As for trading him to the Bulls, that never will happen. If they are forced to trade him, they are not about to trade him in the East where he could knock them out of the playoffs every year. You’ll notice Denver wasn’t talking to any Western teams for Anthony. And if they were to trade him the Bulls couldn’t come close to offering what the Lakers could. Plus, the Bulls never will be under the salary cap to make him an offer.
When the Bulls went 21-2 to finish the regular season, the only two teams to actually beat them in that stretch were, Indiana and Atlanta! Injury troubles aside, could it be that these two teams actually, for reasons both quantifiable and unquantifiable, pose the Bulls match-up difficulties. I'm not saying that Miami in the ECF's would be easy, but nobody else beat us in that stretch and here we are with two 7 game series to help address the only significant woes (actual losses) incurred during the pre-playoff run.
Sam: Well, it is an interesting statistic, and the playoffs are about matchups, as the Spurs and Grizzlies know. I recall years back when the Warriors gave up games down the stretch to fall to No. 2 to get the Jazz because of Mark Eaton and the Warriors won. The Bulls did play Miami in that stretch and did make them cry, but just by a basket at the end. The truth is there really are no easy matchups for this Bulls team despite its great regular season. Yes, Korver should have more opportunity, though he did well earlier in the Hawks series and Thibodeau just pulled the plug on him early in Game 5 before he got a chance. But, sure, depict it that way that with the Pacers and Hawks out of the way, it should be clear sailing.
I find it amazing that all the so called experts are so surprised that the Bulls have not steam rolled the playoffs. I suppose if they watched some of the season instead of looking at the stat sheets they would understand. The Bulls rarely won big, they usually ground a team down a bit then surged at the end for wins. Now mix in the fact that they don't have tons of playoff experience, well hardly a shocker, in fact I think these battles will help the Bulls in the long run.
Sam: That’s why they are so called experts. I remember one of the national writers coming in to do a Bulls game late in the season. I joked with him about the Bulls then moving into the No. 1 and him finally showing up. He said there was no reason to watch the Bulls this season because there was no controversy, thus no story. The fact is most of the fans who watched the team this season know a lot more about the team than many of the commentators. The Bulls are a flawed team because of a lack of All Star talent. They have been a wonderful group of depth, defense and teamwork, which succeeds on effort and an excellent player. So it never truly could be very easy. I do think these sorts of games can help. If they win them, that is.
Why aren't the bulls playing Rashual butler?
Sam: Because no one can spell his name.
I am a psychologist as well as a Bulls fan. Much has been said about the amazing level of "group chemistry" that has been achieved by this year's team. I not only concur, but believe that chemistry has been the single biggest reason the team has done so remarkably well. Yes, D-Rose is having a phenomenal season, but one player does not make a team. With this in mind, I have to question the wisdom of the highly public criticism of Carlos Boozer - which includes statements by media commentators. And Scottie Pippen. How can he answer someone like that? That’s not fair. When it reaches the point where Joachim Noah feels a need to publicly defend Boozer and ask the "boo-birds" at the United Center to quiet down, then it has gone too far. There are no grounds to question the motivational level of Boozer. We all have times when things don't go as we might wish, and he has also been dealing with an injury. I strongly suggest that it is the Bulls' team chemistry and unity that will determine how far they go in the playoffs. And right now, some Bulls' fans are messing with that chemistry. I see this as completely counter-productive.
Sam: If I have this right, they are too fragile to compete. If some booing or negative commentary is going to be that detrimental, this is hardly a team that would be deserving of winning anything. Some fans may not like Boozer. Maybe they are Jazz fans, too. The point is it’s an athletic contest and part of enjoying that and measuring the best is seeing how they deal with obstacles, which is what everyone encounters in their lives. It would be nice of everyone cheered for us every day, but it doesn’t work that way. The real competitors respond to adversity and hostility and I tend to enjoy the games much more in those situations. My guess is the chemistry you see from the outside isn’t quite the love fest on the inside, and while I’m not suggesting there is any great turmoil or locker room issues since I don’t believe they are, I suspect there are times some team members have felt like booing as well about others, and not only Boozer.
Have you heard any rumors of the Bulls hiring an offensive-minded assistant coach in the offseason? Especially after Game 4, it seems obvious that we could use a more structured offensive system to help relieve Derrick from having to shoulder the entire load. When guys are hitting their outside shots we look pretty good, but otherwise our offense seems to stagnate if Derrick isn't 100% on. Is there a chance that Thibs has someone in mind to play Tex Winter to his Phil Jackson?
Sam: It’s not football. There aren’t coaches to run one side of the game. They don’t call a timeout every time possession changes. Tex is a terrific innovator, but he had little to do with coaching the Bulls. Sure Phil consulted him often, but Phil coached the team. Thibodeau has a terrific staff with veterans knowledgeable in offense and defense and he consults them and then coaches the team. I suspect if the Bulls ever did that Thibs would quit and would be justified in doing so. When an executive asks a coach to do that he really is saying, ‘You cannot do the job and we hope you take the hint and quit.’
Not sure if you saw the piece: of five coaches giving their thoughts on Phil's career. The interesting thing was how the two coaches who actually coached against Phil-- Jeff Van Gundy and especially Lenny Wilkens-- are much more reluctant
to give Phil any credit (in comparison to, for example, Jack Ramsay and Bill Fitch). Lenny's answers are especially comical in their clear avoidance of
giving too much credit (when asked what Phil does well, Lenny said: "His communication skills have been very good, and I think most coaches are able
to communicate no matter who they're coaching.") Is this typical in how his contemporaries react to him? Former players don't talk about MJ like this,
but Phil's contemporaries tend to be very muted in their praise.
Sam: Phil was never part of the coaching club and they resented him for that. You’ll notice all these coaches get on TV and talk endlessly about how well coached the game was and after every game you hear the coach say how well coached the other team is, and coaches keep getting fired all the time. Phil was never in that club and actually believed some guys who coached in the NBA were not the greatest. Imagine that.
Dirk in top-10 of all time? I know that Rick Carlisle is just voting for his player, but there are plenty who actually says he is one of the top-10 all time becauce of his unique capacity. I wonder, who would those people put in their's top-10 all time?
Do you see Dirk in the top-10? Or 15? Or even 20? The guy is huge and has something that not many have, but no championship and always a good team with him.
Sam: That top 10 is getting awfully crowded. It would be interesting now 14 years later to make a new NBA top 50. You’ll notice the NBA isn’t doing that. I suspect we’ll see a new list when the NBA reaches 75. But what about Kobe and LeBron and Duncan and Shaq and Wade? Dirk better than all those guys? Obviously not, and who do they kick out of the top 10? Kareem, Wilt, Russell, Oscar, Michael, Magic, Bird? I suspect Dirk could be a top 50 player as he did win an MVP. Top 25? Not on my list.
What would you have said if someone had told you eight years ago that Tyson Chandler would be the key addition to the Mavericks to help them stop the lakers fourth straight march to the finals?
Sam: Dirk keeps calling him the team MVP. That drops Dirk out of the top 50 for sure.
"But the Bulls did get an official bad call with 2:27 left and trailing 90-84 when Rose faked Crawford into the air and he came down on Rose. It should have been three shots, but veteran referee Bennett Salvatore called an inadvertent whistle, which meant a jump ball. The Bulls lost the jump when Smith beat Noah to the ball." Isn't that the type of foul you frowned on all season when talking about others committing such a foul?
Sam: Sort of. That should have been a foul, but to me it wasn’t a shooting foul. Yes, the NBA calls it that way now. But going into the shooting motion after a guy fouls you legitimizes the Larry Johnson four point play of the 90’s. It’s ridiculous. A shooting foul should be based on intent, which means the shooting motion. It’s why that whole end game foul with a three point lead thing is out the window. Now you can foul a guy, he turns around and shoots and it’s three shots. I have no idea why they changed this, but it’s certainly not in the spirit of the game. Same with when you stand there and a shooter raises up into your arms and it’s a shooting foul. What have they done to my game, ma?
What are your thoughts on Derricks Roses current performances?
For me I have to say that his current play is very poor in regards to his overall team game and would go as far as to say that our 2 loses to the Hawks have a lot to do with him. Yes our 2 wins also have a lot to do with him. Today the game was the most selfish I have ever seen him play and to be honest today's lose is 100% on him as the teams point guard.
Today our Big men were playing well and were doing the job with a total of 13 basket made from just 19 shots but our point guard thought he should be the star and jacked up 32 shots but only made 12. Yes Derrick Rose is unbelievable but how easy is it getting for the other team just to sit back a little and wait for him to drive. Rose is currently making the game harder for him self and it is costing the Bulls games.
Sam: I printed this one to balance with the next one. Then I’ll answer.
People complaining about the volume of shots Rose takes are making me sick. The average NBA game has 190.5 possessions, let’s say in the playoffs it’s a little less due to the slower pace…say 180. And for simplicity’s sake, let’s say that’s 90 per team. Rose played nearly the entire game last night and is not just their primary ballhandler – he is their only ballhandler. Meaning he had the ball in his hands for almost 90 possessions! And people are upset the MVP shot 1/3 of the time he had the ball? Really?? Oh, right, and let’s NOT factor in the following:
1) No shooters on the Bulls could hit anything last night.
2) Guys were constantly taking one dribble then passing back to Derrick.
3) Every time Rose misses on a drive the Bulls have solid chances at off-rebs/putbacks. People marvel at Noah’s offensive rebound totals – well it’s not that hard when he’s sitting under the basket alone because his guy is jumping at Derrick.
4) He only took 3 three-pointers – not exactly ‘chucking’.
5) He still had 10 assists (could have been 15 if his teammates could make a shot outside 5 feet).
6) He has to take 5-7 shots every night that are either at ends of quarters or shot clocks.
7) I counted six different times that Rose could have gotten a foul call but did not. Maybe at home he gets those calls, or at least half. Suddenly he’s in the 40-45pt range again on 12 of 25-28 shooting and we’re talking about building statues.He’s not Jeff Teague, or Darren Collison, or Rodney Stuckey…or any other PG in the NBA. He’s the MVP and the Bulls’ best scorer. And his teammates don’t mind him shooting because they like to, you know, win.
Sam: I don’t mean to denigrate the other players on the Bulls as they work hard, are good citizens, are committed NBA players you can be proud of, good NBA talents who would be nice complementary pieces on a lot of winning teams. This reminds me of the debates around Jordan in the mid-'80s. When he got hurt that one season they had trouble reaching 30 wins until he came back. Then they went to 40 and 50 with him averaging the most shots in the league. Until they got someone else who could break down defenses off the dribble and make plays to take the pressure off Jordan, it’s what Jordan had to do. Rose is far more unselfish a player than Jordan ever was. Remember, Michael was a shooting guard. Yes, Rose is a point guard, and you’ll notice when he has 13 or 15 points and the team wins he’s happier than when he has 40 because then he knows other guys are happier. He’s more about winning the game than anyone I’ve ever been around on the Bulls. Not to say Jordan wasn’t, but it was more his way in the early years. At this point, I don’t see the Bulls as a playoff team without Rose.
While watching Josh Smith last night, the way he plays and carries himself it made me think of... Tyrus Thomas. Did Josh Smith just play the game we all thought Tyrus could play?
Sam: It’s a valid comparison, though Josh is a much better guy. Tyrus was one of the most difficult people to be around since I’ve been around the NBA. I don’t count Bill Laimbeer since he seemed a different species. But what the Bulls saw in Tyrus is what the Hawks see in Josh, a truly amazing talent who could be one of the best players in the league because of incredible basketball ability which doesn’t match up with a feel and knowledge of the game and quite the commitment. But when watching players like that do what they do you can understand why, at times, teams are fooled into taking a shot on them. If only…
I was wondering how much you buy into the Duke curse thing!! No NBA starter has won a ring from Duke !! And we have 2 starters from duke which is scary! We almost had 3 with Reddick !! Are we cursed until Booz and Lu are traded away?
Sam: The Duke curse to me seems that no one from Duke ever played with Michael, Magic, Larry, Kareem or Russell.
I find it interesting that no one mentions Durant getting (I believe) the final 3 possessions before going to overtime and hoisting up 26 footers, one wide left like a Florida State field goal kicker. Durant is fawned over, understandably, but his radiant glow seems to protect him from criticism of not getting to the rim or playing with aggressiveness each game, for 48 minutes. He may be the first top notch 6-10 athletic wing player that isn't expected to contribute defensively. And, even his coach publicly addresses his desire to be a jump shooter. Westbrook seems to have a more dominant personality and needs to improve his decision making and pace. But, there's a reason Westbrook took his team to the Final Four (Love was a complete non-factor) and the league's greatest scorer didn't. He's aggressive, gets to the rim, and would be the reason they lose than be a non-factor. Durant has enormous ability and as great as he is he still hasn't reached his potential. He should be the "franchise player" with Westbrook playing an Oscar-worthy supporting role. But, if we only focus on basketball game, Durant has a lot of Carmelo in him. Unfortunately, both the good and the bad.
Sam: It has been the great debate of the 2011 playoffs because it’s something we’ve never really seen with a leading scorer in the league not getting the most shots on a regular basis. Then, again, they are winning. It’s akin somewhat to the LeBron/Wade debate on the season and the last shot thing, though they seemed to have it figured out in the sense one or the other takes it and then if they miss just get blamed. Westbrook is a bit of a hot dog, brash and confident who believes he has a mismatch on every play. Often, he does. He really isn’t a true point guard, which is why I likened him to Marbury playing with Garnett. Yes, they won. But could they have won easier if he played off Durant better. And, of course, you ask couldn’t Durant have done more than stand on the left side? Then you wonder if he moved would Westbrook have passed anyway. I think it’s too late with the coach they have as Westbrook has been allowed to take over that role and nothing will change until they lose badly or unexpectedly, which likely won’t be this season. Of course, maybe Westbrook doesn’t want to resign. There have been no indications yet the two want a split, but it will be very intriguing and a constant storyline to watch.
It's very clear now that the Bulls really need another player who can create his own offense for this team to seriously be able to contend for a title. I believe if I were Paxson I would see what it would take to get Tyreke Evans from Sacramento. If they wanted Boozer or Noah I would give either. Fact is Rose is having to play both the point and shooting guard position at the same time and that is a recipe for disaster.
Sam: The Bulls are well aware of their need for another shooting guard and someone else to make shots and create plays. After all, they tried to get someone like that all season but there’s this annoying thing around the NBA that many teams do not seem to feel they should give up their best players to help the Bulls. I know. What’s with that?
You heard it here first: In two years, Derrick Rose's biggest obstacle for the MVP won't be Kevin Durant, Lebron James or Dwight Howard. It will be from splitting the vote with Joakim Noah. In Noah's four years in the League, he's probably improved more than anyone. Remember how he looked his rookie season? Like an uncoordinated twig, who sometimes dressed up as a clown. If you were going to bet, the smart money was on Tyrus Thomas becoming the fixture in the frontcourt, not Noah.
Now he's put on muscle, has a burgeoning hook shot, plays hard, smart and is athletic enough to man up the quickest point guards in the league at the top of the key. People criticize his offense, but he he's about 15 pounds of muscle and two summers of skill work away from being un-guardable. I think he comes back next year, like Rose did this past year, with confidence in his jump shot (from 15 feet, in Noah's case). That will force the defense to be true and with Noah's quickness and passing ability that will be scary.
I never thought I'd write this about Noah, but he has a chance to be a superstar playing next to Rose.
Sam: It’s this Jo’s grandfather again?