Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 05.20.11
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If Korvers shot stays down then it is a completely different game. Do you think the Bulls advantage in depth will start having more of an effect next week when the games are played closer together? Al Horford said after the Atlanta series that the Bulls front court depth started to wear on him.
Sam: Yes, most games come down to a key play, which often is a lot of luck. The Bulls got unlucky as they came out of the timeout with a great play, Noah laid a beautiful pick on Bibby to basically pancake him like an offensive linemen, Korver got his feet set and the ball was halfway down. That's a two point game with three minutes left and the Bulls actually scored next. The Bulls' plan — and hope — is the depth, but James plays a lot and it doesn't seem to affect him and Haslem ought to have fresh legs having been out all season. They are basically adding a starter if Haslem is OK, and that's huge for their depth as he matches what the Bulls do. Their big men otherwise are awful and Spoelstra refuses to even take a chance with Ilgauskas, which may suggest some Eastern Eurpoean bias. Otherwise it makes no sense. Juwan Howard? Jamaal Magloire? Haslem is the kind of player who throws his body around and dives for a ball and, at least off Game 2, could be crucial for Miami.
Do you think we are going to see LeBron and D-Wade both take turns guarding Rose throughout the rest of the series like they did last night? That way they don't exert too much energy on defense like Wade did in game one trying to guard him by himself.
Sam: Yes. LeBron did guard Rose some in the first round last season, but like in Game 2 I expect it more at the end. I thought where the Bulls let down was not going hard with Rose when Bibby was on him. Clearly the Miami strategy, like any team's against the Bulls, would be to slow down Rose. Their plan is to blitz the pick and roll to get the ball out of his hand, show him different defenders and size at the rim, which is fairly standard stuff. The Bulls need to take advantage when they play Bibby on him and force Miami into moving the defense and then have Rose penetrating and finding shooters or players rolling to the basket. They need to make the action happen as they sat back a little too much in Game 2.
Will coach Thibs go to something different when they have games like last night? Why not take a chance on putting Rasual Butler out there with Korver struggling?
Sam: Thibs doesn't believe in change of that sort, which everyone should understand by now with Bogans starting every game. Would Korver be struggling if that three that went half way down stayed with three minutes left? I expect Thibs will stay with what has worked as it has gotten the Bulls a lot farther than anyone imagined. You've heard the players repeatedly credit a lot of the success of the season to repetition of the drills and plays, which includes the rotations and lineups. So I wouldn't expect to see much different. Thibs believes in execution and effort over trickeration.
Boozer needed to be out there at the end. He would have only been guarding a tiring Haslem at the end, or a useless Howard, or a cold Bosh. I think it would have been worth the risk in defensive liability to have him out there, especially when no one can make a basket. The team needs to get him going in the post more in the second half, or even take his jumpers. They are not involving him in many plays, just him and Noah passing the ball around the 3 point line. We all know Boozer is capable of dropping 20 points a night, but he is just not getting enough looks where he wants the ball. Which brings me to another point. Our pick and roll is hideous to watch. Firstly, the pick. They are not setting the pick on the defender, especially Boozer. Instead they give some room and force Derrick to find the pick. This gives the defender room to squeeze through and immediately double team Rose. Then there is Derrick. He doesn't push over the pick (however bad it is) hard enough. He pulls back too much looking to split. Go over hard and get the big man on his heels.
Sam: Maybe you made Thibs' case. Yes, you could have gone with Boozer more at the end as that's what he was brought in for. But he was finishing soft and was just three of 10, and Taj had eight of the team's 10 fourth quarter points. Thibs never plays Boozer with Taj because of size. And if Boozer isn't setting hard screens, maybe that's another reason Thibs wanted to go with Gibson, who has been playing perhaps the best of the big men in this series. He's the only one on the team shooting more than 50 percent along with Ronnie Brewer. It's a balancing act for Thibs late trying to mesh offense and defense. Boozer, as we know, isn't nearly the defender, so it's been a credit to Boozer that he's bought in as a team player and hasn't made an issue of not finishing. When Korver missed, fans then wanted Brewer for defense. But who is scoring? You've got to make a decision and live with the consequences. You can only put them out there. Sometimes the others guys make the better plays and their shots go in.
Why is there a four day lag between games 2 and 3?
Sam: The series started early when both teams won before seven games, so they are slowing down to catch up and this round generally goes to Memorial Day weekend, though the league says it is not being held up for that reason.
Any thoughts on Jason Phillips, in my eyes, taking away the Bulls aggressiveness on defense with his whistles in the second quarter last night (primarily a two minute stretch)? I thought it turned the game. Prior to that the Bulls were outplaying the Heat, with a carryover affect from the 2nd half of game 1.
Sam: Referee calls in the second quarter of a game are the refrain of losers. Yes, Phillips made a doozey of a questionable call early in the second when Watson went on the floor and passed to Asik in what could have been, I think, a 10-point lead and maybe taken some fight out of the Heat, who pretty much seem like front runners. But I don't like to talk too much about officiating during the playoffs because fans on both sides remain furious because they watch one side of the ball and assume all the bad calls against opponents are owed them. Frankly, even the Bulls would admit they received a very kind whistle in Game 1. If you shoot 34 percent in a playoff game and let your opponent run out for four straight fast break baskets in the third quarter, as the Bulls did, and you miss 10 free throws, and if you don't look in the mirror you would have the identity of a loser.
Sometimes I get a good laugh at the expense of some of the bloggers. One blogger suggested that the Bulls should trade Bogans, Pargo, Lucus, and the Charlotte pick for O.J. Mayo. I don't see Pargo and Lucus coming back, but my question to you is do you see the Bulls using Taj Gibson as trade bait to get the SG that they need, before they lose Taj?
Sam: That will be a big question for the team moving forward and with Omer Asik as well. It will depend more on the new labor agreement and if there is a hard or harder cap and when it becomes effective, if it does, and whether teams can hold onto what they have. The Bulls issue with the pending extension for Rose is they'll have four players earning eight figure annual salaries, more than Miami, which might leave them in position to have to discard salaries, like the Blackhawks did. Teams with depth could become passe in the NBA. It's great to do well, but then your role players acquire more value. Taj and Omer Asik have gotten attention, especially Taj. That's how the Bulls lost a valuable role player, Scott Williams, in their first title run. Those players often don't fare as well as they rarely fit into the similar support systems they had with better teams. GM's watch TV, see a guy perform and frankly, don't see the dynamics who whom they play off and how they work within an offense. They expect them to do the same for them. I remember when Luc Longley went to the Suns and they said he'd score on two of the first three possessions for the Bulls and then never get the ball. Imagine if we went to him. Luc got three plays because there was diminishing returns for him thereafter with defensive coverages. The Suns found out quickly. But the Bulls do have Taj for two more seasons if they choose at a low salary and it would be questionable to let him go if they don't have to given their strength now is their depth. I felt they made the right decision at trade deadline time turning down deals for Taj and Omer to get a shooting guard.
I love the way Taj is playing right now: great defense, monster dunks, mid-range jump shot falling. So I think that means it will be time to trade him at the draft right after the Bulls win the championship. The Bulls would miss him a lot, but if he continues playing well, his value is likely as high as it will ever be. There seems little chance they resign him anyway. Plan A should still be to take your best shot at trading for 1. Courtney Lee 2. Arron Afflalo 3. Wes Matthews 4. Gerald Henderson (despite the hip surgery). Plan B: This draft has a really bad rep. as it seems short on stars, but it doesn't mean that there are not some starting caliber talents there. If Plan A fails, why not take a shot with maybe Taj and one of the Bulls first rounders to move up into the late lottery IF Alec Burks is still on the board. I've seen him play many times and like his game a lot. He is an athletic scorer who can create his own offense. This is also a less expensive way of filling the SG role which gives them a better shot at trying to retain Asik.
Sam: I'd still like to find a shooting guard without giving him up now. Though you are right. With his play in the conference finals his value has exploded as he really didn't have a great regular season. Of course, the other part of that equation is whether the Bulls would or could trade Boozer. What if they do? Then you'd like to have Gibson and that awfully good defensive rotation with Noah and Asik. I've heard mixed reports on Burks and I don't see Thibodeau so quickly embracing the rookie though he does remind me he was very much for Rondo. I also think Rasual Butler could be an inexpensive option and seems like he can make shots and has the size to fit in with their defense and is being introduced to their system. The Bulls often like to go that way, and they have held his value down not playing him.
Wouldn't it make sense for Jordan to move the Bobcats to Chicago?
Sam: He's a North Carolinian not a Chicagoan. The years he lived here he always had North Carolina license plates on his car. Plus, there is no arena for a second team to play in. The United Center is not available because it is used by the Blackhawks and haven't we suffered enough with Tyrus Thomas?
With Turner most likely the future of the Sixers, how do you see Philly offloading Iguodala? It's obvious the only way Turner can flourish is if he starts and can run the point forward role, which Iggy is currently taking into his own hands. With a new labor agreement coming up, does it seem near impossible with Iggy's massive contract? Maybe a trade to Sacramento or Minessota, both craving a highlight reel wing player?
Sam: Yes, I expect him to be among several high profile players who are available after this season, and I'm not convinced no matter what the Grizzlies said they'll keep Rudy Gay. I'd also watch for Monta Ellis, Tony Parker, Michael Beasley, Kevin Martin, Andrea Bargnani, Danny Granger, Rajon Rondo, Devin Harris, Chris Kamen, Stephen Jackson, Jameer Nelson and Richard Hamilton among those who could be moved in trades.
I can see Phil not coaching again but if the Heat don't win a championship this year I could see LeBron calling for Jackson to coach the Heat. Jackson has coached the best player of the previous two decades and won 11 titles. It's only natural for LeBron to believe he is next and Phil should coach him. I would love to see Pat Riley's reaction to LeBron's request.
Sam: Phil working for Pat Riley? How delicious would that be? Phil always has been the one to counsel never say never in the NBA, but I'm fairly sure we could never see that one. That said, if the Bulls win this round there will be a lot of questions regarding Spoelstra, especially after the Heat regaining home court advantage in the second game. The consensus had been Doc Rivers is in the wings, but he's staying in Boston. So you assume Spoelstra rides it out no matter what. But you can be sure LeBron's "people," and we saw them at the United Center getting out of limos with security guards like they were heads of state, will be in his ear about how Spoelstra is bringing him down if Miami doesn't make the Finals. Riley stopped that in November. Can he again?
I just saw an interesting debate on ESPN regarding the greatest basketball duo's of all time. A question was posed as to whether Lebron and Wade could take Jordan and Pippen in 2 on 2. That got me thinking that if I could pick one player to match up LBJ defensively in the history of the game it would probably be Pippen. Who else has the size speed and ability to match up with that monster?
Sam: True, there aren't many guys his size or speed, but I'd like to see him have had a taste of Sloan and Van Lier in their primes. LeBron doesn't like to get his suit dirty and they may have made him cry. As for the 2 on 2, media today have short memories. How about Baylor and West? They combined to average almost 70 a game in 1962. Not the competition of today? Check again. There were no expansion phonies and the four seasons was just winter, spring, summer and fall. Howard Johnson's was high class for the road. How about Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas, who for a few seasons running combined to average more than 50 points and 30 rebounds per game. How about Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe running together? How about Russell and Cousy? Do championships count? Jordan and Pippen won half as many. How about Magic and Kareem or Bird and McHale? Wade and LeBron don't even get in the conversation yet for as far as I can see so far they are two guys on the same team whom I'd hardly call a duo.
Would the NBA ever consider changing its lottery process? Since a number of people believe it's rigged because of the coincidences that result (Bulls get the #1 pick when the hometown kid Rose is available, Abe Pollin dies and Wizards win, Cavs lose LeBron and get the #1 pick), there may be other ways to eliminate that. I have a suggestion. End the regular season at 80 games. While the playoff teams get a week off to rest up, the lottery teams play a one-and-done tournament. The final two teams standing get the top two picks in the draft, and then the other picks fall based on worst record. That way you're rewarding a team that actually is putting effort into getting better instead of handing the top prize to a poor team that just happens to get a lucky bounce.
Sam: I've heard things like that, but the NBA isn't ever changing to some sort of gimmicky NCAA play in thing. I don't believe the lottery is manipulated in any way because of the basic thing I know about the NBA: No one can keep a secret, and David Stern isn't going to prison over helping out the Cleveland Cavaliers. But the NBA should change the lottery. There is no way teams who almost made the playoffs should have such a good chance to get the top pick, and by that I mean on percent. Their chance should be 1/10000th of a percent. I understand why it was changed and was there when the Bulls and Rockets were throwing games in 1984 for a shot at Hakeem Olajuwon. I'm not sure where the cutoff should be, some sort of descending scale. But the teams with the worst records should have the huge majority of chance for the top pick and not have it go down to the 9th and 12th and 14th teams.
Do the Bulls get Toronto's 1st round pick? I thought Chicago got a Round 1 pick from Toronto when Chicago traded James Johnson to Toronto.
Sam: The Bulls got the Toronto pick they held from Miami, which is No. 28. Toronto kept its lottery pick. So the Bulls have Nos. 28 and 30 in the first round.
Bulls packaging 28 and 30 to move up yet not a lot of interest just yet.
Sam: There will be plenty of rumors, but what I know for sure now is the Bulls haven't any thoughts yet of whom they might take and have been doing all day interviews this week at the combine/draft camp just to start to know these players. With first round picks guaranteed and no certainty of that in the next labor deal, I'm not sure teams would want two low picks. I suspect the Bulls end up using them and given the possibilities of having to move players after the labor deal, I could see them looking for two experienced players who have been in college who could become rotation players within a year or two and hope to hit with an older senior like Taj Gibson.
Again, I ask why the coach is not playing Kurt Thomas?
Sam: The coach, and with some reluctance based on how infrequently he used Asik during the season, has seen how effective Asik can be on defense. I thought that fourth quarter sequence of his in Game 2 on defense was some of the best big man defense I've seen. Stopping Wade like he did is something I'm not sure I've ever seen. Yes, Kurt can step out and hit a shot, and probably would start at center for Miami, which gives you an idea of the Mess in the Middle they have. I think they are making buttons with that slogan. If you play Thomas, who are you sitting? Boozer? No, they're not sitting down Boozer. And Gibson is playing too well along with Noah. Heck, there isn't even a Miami center who could make the Bulls roster.
Can you explain the mystique surrounding Perkins? He can't catch, jump, run, shoot, or do much of anything on a basketball court aside from being 6'-11" and scowling each time he's called for a foul (about every minute and a half for him). For months we've heard about the "Perkins Deal" and how it affected the Celtics, invigorated the Thunder and changed the balance of power in the East. I've watched the guy play. Not only this season, but the past 3 or 4. He's terrible. His value is completely psychological. He was hurt most of the season before the deal, rarely playing for the Celtics. Even when healthy, he was not a crunch-time member of the Celts. Now with the Thunder, they're clearly better when Collison and Ibaka man the front line. Yet people (okay, TV commentators) insist on his "leadership", "toughness", etc. But I watch games. He's bad. Maybe not Jamal Magloire-bad. I'd only go so far as to say he's Jason Collins-good. And that, my friend, is damning with faint praise. Am I missing something? Is it his fake tough guy act that allowed KG to preen even more so? I've always thought in the NBA that talent will out. But Perkins has no talent, yet remains this oft-cited beacon of NBA... what? Perhaps I just don't like looking at his scowl every time he's in. You have to earn a scowl like that. I just don't know that he ever has.
Sam: Is this Danny Ainge? I think that was fairly close to the Boston management conversation regarding Perkins and the trade, and it is a good reason why they didn't want to pay him. I don't totally disagree, though my problem also is I don't think Jeff Green is that good or worth what they'll have to pay him now. But for the short term I did think Boston should have kept Perkins. There is a psychological advantage for Garnett to have some protection and that group staying together for one more season. You are right that he doesn't jump, but he provides so called "basket protection," which coaches like, and Thibs actually was a big fan. It solidifies Oklahoma City some in freeing Ibaka for power forward and you never know with Collison as he is injured a lot. I didn't think the money for him was that bad in this environment and as the Bulls know you do require some pieces to make the whole. I wouldn't take him over Noah, but I did think he helped the Thunder.
It's a question no one would have asked a year ago, but do you think the Bulls can re-sign Deng when his contract is up? I know a lot will depend on the new CBA, but under Thibs, he really has become a key cog for this Bulls team and would be hard to replace.
Sam: It's fair to say I've never heard this request before. His contract, not long ago considered the team albatross, has three years left after this one, and many things will change for the Bulls before then. But coming off this playoffs if Deng remains healthy next season he should have a good chance to make the All-Star team for the first time. That seemed a lock a few years ago and seemed ludicrous ever since. Now Deng is becoming another steal in the draft the Bulls got in a swap with the Suns they originally made to trade the pick to the Pacers for Al Harrington. The Pacers backed out, so the Bulls debated Deng and Iguodala and settled on Deng. They now have no regrets. Interesting how things work out. Patience, patience.
How proud would Stormin Normin and Johnny Red be of this team?
Sam: Thanks for asking. Norm would be demanding someone be hit and Red would have a courtside wide smile. They'd both have loved who these guys are and how they play, and when I watch them I feel they play for guys like Norm and Johnny.
What should Chicago's general attitude towards Phil Jackson be? I personally am happy to see him retire, and hope he stays retired this time. Do we give him too much credit for his accomplishments? In 1989, he earned his first head coaching job, inheriting two of the best players in the history of the game in Jordan and Pippen. The Bulls were coming off an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. Sure, he helped Chicago win six championships, but he wasn't much part of any building process. I was a fan of Jackson's until 1997, when he decided he would coach his final year, and decided to bring the entire ship down with him. Understandably Jackson didn't see eye-to-eye with management, but he showed up to training camp that fall with booklets and hats reading "Last Dance". Who was he to decide it'd be everyone's "last dance"? His Zen craft encouraged (or brainwashed?) the players to walk away as well. Even Jordan threatened management after the 1998 season that he wouldn't play for any coach other than Jackson. We all know what transpired following Championship #6. So Phil rode off into the sunset. Once again, he inherited two more future hall-of-famers in Shaq and Kobe. When the Shaq-Kobe alliance crumbled, Phil deserted the team. I resent his arrogant behavior and cockiness in thinking he can make or break any team. How much credit does Phil deserve for his work in Chicago and Los Angeles? Shouldn't Pat Riley at least be credited with sticking with the Miami Heat (since 1995) through thick and thin?
Sam: Coaches generally get way more credit than they deserve when they win and way more blame than they deserve when they lose. Fans and media often have a tough time figuring out how things happened, and since the coach is the most accessible to reporters, he ends up looking more responsible or blameworthy. I like Thibodeau's approach a lot as he emphasizes it's a make or miss (shot) league no matter what he does. Surely, the coaches play a part. Many condemn Phil for inheriting stars just as many condemn kids for inheriting money. It's what you do with it (or them). The Bulls and Lakers won, which is all a coach can do. The same players didn't win before being coached by Phil, which is one measure. But to speak to leaving, Phil stayed way longer than he ever intended. He always told me he'd never stay more than seven years in a coaching job as he'd decided that was as long as players could listen to the same voice. He was fully ready to move on in 1996, but the Bulls had just won a record 72 games and several players came to his house, and from what was not a very close team, to ask him to return. He did, really reluctantly, and then again for the 1997-98 season to support Pippen as he and Jordan didn't want to leave Pippen with a year left on his deal. That's why they were so upset with him when he had surgery just before the start of the season because he was upset with management. The truth is Phil was never personally close with any of the players and his decision never affected any of theirs. That was more media stuff because it seemed like a good drama. In fact, Phil was offered a contract to rebuild over the wishes of Jerry Krause, but he declined. Phil made clear he wasn't a rebuilding coach, and there's nothing wrong with that. Many people leave their jobs after almost 10 years as they get tired of the stress with their bosses. Phil did have enough as working with Jerry Krause could be very difficult, as anyone who has will attest. But Phil was with the Bulls more than a decade coaching and who else can say that? Right, no one else. I'd hardly call that treachery. The Bulls did well for Phil and Phil did well for the Bulls, which is all the credit anyone probably deserves.
Hopefully, as you say, sabermetrics is dead in the NBA, with the Rose ranking being a self-inflicted wound. Game One illustrated the intangibles that sabermetrics cannot capture. Rose got zero of the Bulls 19 offensive rebounds, and therefore zero sabermetric credit. But surely he was a major contributer to the rebounding, as the Heat problem started with the need to trap or double Rose way out on the court, leaving 3 to guard against 4. If the Heat want to compete on the boards they probably need to play Rose more straight up. Of course, that's a Scylla and Charybdis choice; Rose could easily go for 40 or more if played honestly by any of the Heat guards (including Wade). The Heat's best option may be James on Rose the entire game, and without switching on picks. Although nobody in the history of the game could shut down Rose entirely, James may at least blunt his success, and allow the rest to stay with the 3 point shooters and go 1 v 1 with the big men, and at least have a chance on the glass. Of course, the law of unintended consequences then arises, and who knows what effect that would have on the Miami fast break, James at the other end, James' stamina and minutes, etc. And those negative consequences would not likely be credited to Rose by the sabermetric myopia. By the way, was the insertion of Magloire intended for comic relief?
Sam: That's a salient point regarding the stats nerds and how basketball doesn't translate well, if at all. It's a guide to check what you already know. And then if it doesn't square, eliminate it. I hate it when a week goes by without a good Greek mythology reference, though I am comfortable with it regarding the Heat as Greek mythology generally covers deities, demigods and monsters, and we know that covers what the Heat think of themselves and what others do as well.