Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 05.31.2013
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
I am baffled at those "fans" who are in a hurry to break up the core of this team. I'm guessing that GarPax keeps the core intact, to see what they can do with everyone hopefully healthy and possibly make big changes in 2014. Do you think that Chicago has become a destination for players to jump start their careers? I think this coaching staff has a proven record for player development, which may help in the signing of players to below market deals.
Sam: If there is a plan—and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way as you really don’t long term plan in sports because things change so quickly and players you never imagined available become available—I suspect it’s something like that. I expect pretty much the same group next season, though as I’ve mentioned maybe without Robinson and Belinelli as they likely will get bigger offers elsewhere. Then you keep your options open for 2014 given it’s potentially a bigger free agent market. But the Bulls will have loads of decisions that will depend on how they do next season. If they get to the conference finals or Finals, they’d probably keep the same team, resign Deng and retain Boozer for his final season. If they have an early playoff out, things could change. So there’s really no way of knowing or even saying now where they truly are headed, and I doubt they have any real idea. Mirotic could come in 2014, but he is young enough and is popular enough in Europe he may not and decide to stay there for a larger deal. If the Bulls had to get in a bidding war for him, they’d probably wait. Which gets to your point of what being with the Bulls has done for players like Robinson, Belinelli, Mohammed and John Lucas. Though Watson and Brewer didn’t do as well and got minimum deals when leaving. You’d like to think players would see it as enhancing their careers and bargaining power like Nate has. Maybe someone like Greg Oden, though I keep hearing neighboring Cleveland as a destination, which maybe is why you hear less of Nerlens Noel as a potential No. 1 pick for them. But while the Bulls should be attractive, I get no sense they are viewed as any special destination, especially given the uneven free agency results of the last decade or so.
I'm curious what you thought of the sixth foul called on LeBron James in Game 4. I watched a video of it and it seemed like the right call to me, but the TNT crew seemed to think it was a bad call. One of them said Stephenson flopped on the play to sell it.
Sam: The best part, perhaps, was for everyone who says LeBron never gets called for fouls. He complained about four of them, which makes sense since he’s not accustomed to having any. There was loads of foul and flop talk after Game 4, but I probably wouldn’t have made the call. Yes, he seemed to lean into the defender, but the defender also got lost. I know the thing about a foul being a foul anytime, but there is so much contact that good officials—and Joey Crawford who was on the floor is one of the best—generally officiate a lot by feel and flow of the game. That seemed out of the flow of the game. The good officials want the players to decide the game unless it was egregious. I don’t recall Joey making that call, but it’s hard to tell on TV. They should have let that one go. If you watch the game on tape and decide to examine every play the games never would finish you could call so many fouls. But contact doesn’t necessarily mean a foul even in the rule book now. It is a contextual situation as well, and I thought the officials went way too far with that call.
I read some speculation (who knows how true it was) that the Cavs and Lakers might be looking to swap Pau Gasol for the Cavs' cap space and a few lower draft picks. If there's a chance of a trade like that, could the Bulls put together a package--maybe Boozer and the future Charlotte pick--for the Cavs picks 19, 31 and 33?
Sam: Of course not. That speculation, by the way, was mine. I was giving them an All-Star center and probably Hall of Famer with a one year deal so they could be in free agency after next season and have a shot at LeBron. You are giving them a non All-Star forward with two years left who would take them out of free agency when they have a young forward they like in Tristan Thompson. So obviously it’s a non starter. Though I mention it to try to head off—I know without any success—all the crazy Boozer scenarios to come. I only received about 25 or 30 this week. But it is early. Boozer had a good season. The Bulls are keeping him. They are not going to amnesty him this summer and because of his huge deal for two more years going past the hot 2014 free agency summer he is essentially untradeable. Once traded, he could not be amnestied. He will be a Bull for at least one more season for sure.
The Bobcats have a glaring roster hole at power forward and are in desperate need to get better as a team. They are in position to draft a top tier SG like McLemore or Shabazz Muhammad, and already have Gerald Henderson. Boozer and a couple second round picks to the future Hornets for the buried Ben Gordon?
Sam: This is the time of year I get a lot of help with trade suggestions, though most of them I don’t print. I mention this one less that it is possible—it isn’t—than to mention Gordon and what has become of his career. He’s made a mess of it. You say he’s rich, and he is. He’ll make $13.2 million from the Bobcats next season. Of course, they hate him. I can’t say exactly what would have happened if he’d taken $50 million over five years from the Bulls. I know it’s always said players will and should take the most money possible. Like everyone else. But Ben is the object lesson for why the extra money won’t change your life and if your career is going well it pays to perhaps take less and enjoy what will be the best times of your life. What’s tough about being a player, though everyone always says they’d trade n a second, is the best part of your life is basically done at 35. Or less. All of us have most or many highlights when we are young. But nothing like pro athletes. They retire in their 30’s. And they’ll not only never duplicate what they had but can’t get back what they missed. Gordon had a great situation in Chicago playing with Derrick Rose and being popular. Who knows what would have happened, but given the success Nate Robinson had I see no reason why Thibodeau wouldn’t have embraced Gordon. But Ben was offended the Bulls offered Luol Deng more and seemed to be swayed by advice he was being disrespected (the favored word of players not getting what they want) and the Bulls didn’t appreciate him. So, yes, Gordon made about $3 million more annually going to a Pistons team that was badly in decline and filled with guards and changing coaches. He was shuttled off to Charlotte, effectively given away so they’d take his salary, and benched on the league’s worst team. He’s a good guy and he hasn’t sniffed a game that’s mattered since his great 2009 playoffs when he averaged almost 25 per game against Boston. Now he’s barely in anyone’s conversation, perhaps a minimum salaried player over 30, a small shooting guard who has seen his best years pass without any joy. Given his lack of play and performance, who even can tell what he has left. So what can you buy with that extra $3 million beyond $10 million a year to make up for what’s he’s lost of his professional life. And had he stayed in a contending situation—and he is an unusual talent and great shooter—he’d likely be in position after next season to make up what he would have given up in resigning with the Bulls. Perhaps Dwight Howard sees it that way and leaves Los Angeles for where he may enjoy life more. It’s fairly well established money doesn’t guarantee happiness. And certainly not in the NBA. Maybe it makes a point with Luol Deng, whose contract expires after next season.
Do you think the Bulls could trade Charlotte’s pick and our second round pick and Mirotic to the Cavs for the 19th pick and the 31st pick so we can get Adetokoubo Deng and Hardaway Jr.?
Sam: I’m not sure, but my sense is the rights to Mirotic are almost as untouchable as Rose. I don’t see the Bulls giving up anything much to get another pick in this draft. They sometimes move a few places up or down with a future second, but they’ll most likely use their pick at No. 20 as I doubt they have someone special they have to have in this draft that is not especially likely to provide a rotation player for next season.
What do you think about the Bulls drafting Glen Rice Jr. or Tim Hardaway Jr. in this coming draft? They can score and have nice NBA size. What do you think about them?
Sam: I like Hardaway’s size as well and Rice supposedly has gone straight from his troubles in college. Either would seem fine, though it seems the greater need for now is a young big man they can develop.
With the Bulls possible cap space in 2014, I think they need to go after someone that fits their style with strong defense. Someone that'll be able to play big minutes every night. Someone that's earned multiple All-Star selections. I think I've identified the perfect player to target: Luol Deng. I don't think there's a better fit.
Sam: There you go. Deng is my next biggest trade suggestion, as we’ve seen already from some past weeks. The reason, in part, is that his contract ends after next season. There’s always this notion of something better. You know, life is good, but there’s always the lottery and what if (the powerball, not the NBA’s). As I’ve noted, most everything depends on the results of the season. You don’t think you have rocket scientists—or journalists--running these teams. Fans also tend to love the draft. But you can mostly check out the teams deep in the playoffs and you rarely find many young players on them. The Bulls seem to me now to have a very good mix of players who are not too old but who are experienced, like Deng, who is 28 years old and just coming off back to back All-Star seasons. I assume if the Bulls were to trade Deng—and you wouldn’t get much given he’s an unrestricted free agent after next season—that they could take a step back next season for some future possibilities. Given the way Miami has been challenged in the playoffs, they seem ripe for the peeling in another season and I’d hate to try that if I were the Bulls without Deng.
Do you think there is a chance LeBron will sign with the Bulls next season? Miami is not looking like a dynasty team and DWade is looking old. People are saying maybe Lakers or Cavs, but the Bulls look better than any of those with DRose, Noah & Boozer or Deng including a strong supporting cast.
Sam: No. Because the Bulls looked way better in 2010 and he blew them off. Consider if LeBron had come to the Bulls then he could have brought Wade as the Bulls had cap space for two players to play with Noah, Rose and Taj Gibson. So LeBron would be better off in Miami with that team instead of the team with Rose and Noah? But he chose Miami and I see no reason why he’d come to the Bulls in 2014 if they had cap space. Yes, I have thrown the notion out there as he has said how much he admires Thibodeau. And the Bulls could get to the cap space and take a shot again. But I do think he would like to return to Cleveland given he does care about his community. He is a loyal guy. Though knowing Pat Riley I wouldn’t dismiss Miami as Riley’s always been able to come up with innovative plans wherever he’s been. And by all indications, LeBron does like South Florida.
I don't believe Ainge will buy out pierce, but if they do, do you think Chicago has a chance? He would obviously like to play for a contender and start. The Bulls would love to have another ballhandler and playmaker. I guess he would have to play for the minimum since Chicago can't use their trade exception on him and can't offer him more money under the current CBA. If he wants another ring and a significant role, I don't see any as good an option than the Bulls.
Sam: Ainge scoffed at the buyout notion when it was thrown out last week. I wouldn’t dismiss it yet. But the Bulls have a small forward in Deng who is better than Pierce; if Pierce were available someone would offer him likely an exception or close and there are potentially contending teams with money, and he’s not likely to go where he can’t be a starter. Let’s not get carried away also. The Bulls have been out of the playoffs in the first and second rounds the last two years. While there are nice possibilities, health has to remain an issue given problems with so many players for so many years now. The Bulls would hardly be the first team you’d choose to do what Ray Allen did to chase a ring.
With recent reports of the rockets trying to unload a previous top 5 pick in Thomas Robinson for cap relief, any chance the bulls could absorb him in the trade exception they got for letting go of Kyle Korver?
Sam: I’d doubt it as given their luxury tax situation and the multiplier it could cost them maybe $8 million for him and if they were spending that I assume it would be for a veteran or to retain Belinelli and not a player dumped by two teams in one year. But some bad team with lots of cap space like Charlotte should get an interesting project.
If the rumbling is true about Dallas trying to get out of the draft. What would it take to acquire the 13th pick? Is something the Bulls should explore?
Sam: I assume Dallas would want a future No. 1, which I know the Bulls would never give up. Though I doubt the Bulls want to get extra picks in this draft as scouts say none of the top five players in this draft would make the top five next year.
With the luxury tax with the Bulls for next season, it would be desirable to try to negotiate ranked 20th overall by a high in the second round, as this would cost less and would not be a guaranteed contract, Cavs, Sixers, Rockers and Blazers might be interested in coming up and the Bulls could maybe get a good role player with excellent scouting eye have shown recently.
Sam: Yes, I can see them considering that, perhaps getting a future protected No. 1 as they got Jimmy Butler at No. 30 and often in these drafts there’s not much difference between 20 and 35. But for now it sounds like they plan to use the pick they have. Of course, you’ll hear plenty of speculation in the next month regarding Deng, Boozer and other potential deals, including for picks.
Any chance the Bulls could get Elton Brand for a minimum salary to play the Nazr Mohammed/Kurt Thomas/PJ Brown/Malik Allen/Antonio Davis role? Brad Miller came back to the Bulls after the dark days, I figure Brand could too.
Sam: Yes, I could see that. He’s be the kind of minimum guy who would fit their profile of a guy who is great character, good in locker room and wouldn’t have to play a lot of minutes. He was one of the best guys I’ve ever been around on the Bulls.
Do you think the Bulls would consider trading Deng, the 20th pick, and maybe the 2016 pick to move up to get McLemore to finally get the 2 guard the Bulls need. Than trade Boozer to the Nets for Humphries.
Sam: Maybe only if they could also trade Noah for Emeka Okafor and Butler for Kyle Singler.
I read two different sources indicating multiple teams remain interested in Deng (lottery teams). But I believe Thibs would never ok it. Deng is his guy. I think Deng will be back but Pax/Gar need to offer an extension right away and hope Deng is willing to take a discount. Something like 4 yrs 35-38 added on to next yrs deal. Nobody in this draft worth trading a 2 time All-Star for.
Sam: That would seem ideal. But would Deng who could be in a third straight All-Star game next season “settle” for maybe $8 million or $9 million before he knew what was on the open market for him and what he could get from the Bulls with leverage. A big part of the Spurs’ success has been getting their players early at so called below market deals. I’d like to see the Bulls do that with Deng, but it all depends on Deng. And, of course, what the Bulls would offer if they pursue that method.
I'm watching Tracy McGrady sit patiently on the Spurs bench, clapping on his team and getting involved in huddles. Surely we can throw him a lifeline and use him as a backup 2 guard.
What do you think the odds of the Bulls obtaining Cliff Paul? I'm pretty sure he's an unrestricted free agent. It appears he's physically as gifted as his twin Chris Paul.
Sam: I’m not sure, but I hear the Bobcats are scouting him heavily.