Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 06.03.11
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Mavs won! Mavs won! Thank you so much.
I don't know exactly what Boozer's stats were during the Eastern Conference Finals but apparently his numbers were much higher in games played in Miami than Chicago. I wondered if all the booing and local negative press got to him? Do you think Boozer is a bit of a head case — overly sensitive at times? Do you think Boozer would be open to getting sports counseling? It might help him to become mentally stronger.
Sam: So what was the Heat excuse? The Bulls had just one All-Star who was getting triple teamed. They had three and a 15-point lead whereas the Bulls only blew a 12-point lead. Probably doesn't make Bulls fans feel that much better, but this kind of thing happens. I still think Miami is the better team, but I will say I saw Rose try to take on as much as he could while LeBron and Wade pretty much were settling for long jumpers at the end and avoiding, as Johnny Bach used to call it, the defensive citadel. As for Boozer, it's an interesting point I hadn't thought of. But Boozer averaged 8.7 points and 7.7 rebounds in the three games in Chicago and shot 34 percent. In the two games in Miami, Boozer averaged 23 points and 14 rebounds and shot 45 percent. On one level, it does prove Boozer can do it as those Miami numbers were in line with his career averages. He acts above it all and isn't very revealing with media. But it may be that he felt additional pressure at home given he was criticized repeatedly in the media and community. So, I guess, it would only be normal to be a little tighter and feel more pressured. Still, that's part of sports and I will say I never once heard Boozer complain about any of the criticism or make it an excuse. If fans get down on you, you just have to play through that. The Bulls do have a highly regarded psychology professional on staff who has worked with players for years, and he's likely dealt with Boozer as well.
What do you expect the Bulls to do, realistically, this off-season. If you had to predict who will be our starting shooting guard next year? I know you have mentioned Joe Johnson and Ellis as good fits, but I highly doubt we will pull a trade for either of them, so that leaves the names you mentioned like OJ Mayo etc.
Sam: Rasual Butler? The Bulls could do worse. Yes, I offered some possibilities Monday involving premier players like Joe Johnson, Monta Ellis and Kevin Martin, all of whom I believe could be available. Someone apparently read it on the West Coast and threw out some Ellis speculation a few days afterward. The truth is there are no such talks, at least yet. But to get a player like that you have to give up something substantial, which likely means Noah for the Bulls as Boozer is just about untradeable given the combination of his contract and a poor playoffs. My guess is the Bulls don't panic and stay the course, as it were, decide they were within a few shots of the Heat and give it another run with the same nucleus. I can make the case with Asik and Gibson you'd have enough defensive protection inside and maybe make a bold move for a big time scorer. But given Boozer and Noah missed so much time injured I expect the Bulls would want to give them a season together. I don't see how you can get someone better than Bogans or Butler at the bottom of the first round. I think it may depend on the labor agreement. If teams have to cut payroll, there could be players available and teams might want the kind of expiring contracts the Bulls have in the likes of Korver, Brewer and Watson. So there's likely no way of knowing now who'll become available. There's also the possibility the Bulls could look for small forwards and shift Luol Deng to shooting guard since he defends so many good perimeter players and now has more range on his shot. So let's all be surprised.
The Bulls should look to trade Noah. But I think there may be a better target — Eric Gordon on the Clippers. Noah and Griffin could be dominating — a huge upgrade from what they currently have, or could acquire. The advantage of Gordon is that he's on a rookie contract — the Bulls gain 6M+ in cap space. If they could move a few of the smaller pieces — Brewer, etc — they could have room to go after one of the available centers — Gasol, Tyson Chandler or Nene. I'm not sure how Gordon is valued, but he was very good offensively last year — very efficient with a lot of 3s and FTs and 1.3 pts per shot. Is Noah perceived to be worth more than Gordon?
Sam: From what I've heard Gordon is basically untouchable there, and figures to be now that they messed up and traded the No. 1 pick in the draft to get rid of Baron Davis. The reason I mentioned Ellis, Johnson and Martin is there are reasons each team would make a deal given duplication or salary. There's no reason for the Clippers to move Gordon as they basically have no other shooting or replacement. There are replacements on their teams for the other three.
How come Caron Butler is never brought up as a potential target for the Bulls? I believe he is a free agent, although it probably take a sign and trade to make it work. But he can defend his position and create off the dribble. If the money works he'd be my first choice as a back court partner for Rose.
Sam: Hey, it's a week since the Bulls were out. I haven't gotten to everyone yet. Though it would be a long time until I'd get to Butler given the severity of his injury and a history of knee problems. He'd probably be uninsurable and much too risky for any sort of significant contract. If he'd take a minimum, sure. I doubt he would.
I noticed that Andre Iguodola was not among the potential shooting guards you mentioned in your column that the Bulls may target via trade this offseason. It seems to me he'd be a pretty good fit for the Bulls and Philadelphia may make for a good trading partner. I can see the following deal working for both teams: Bulls get Iguodola and Jodie Meeks and Philly gets Asik, Brewer and Korver. While Iggy is probably not quite as good offensively as any of the 3 SGs you mentioned (Joe Johnson, Monta Ellis and Kevin Martin), I can't see how the Bulls get any of those 3 guys without giving up Noah.
Sam: If Iguodala were a shooting guard the 76ers would want to keep him. The problem is he can't shoot. He's a career 32 percent three point shooter, lower than Bogans, and shot 21 percent in the playoffs. The money doesn't match on your suggested deal, and if the Bulls had Meeks they probably wouldn't want Iguodala. He is a very good defender. His problem is he seems himself as a two way star, which is a big problem when you aren't. In two years, Asik will be way more valuable than Iguodala.
Do you think that Shannon Brown would be a good fit? He has the speed, leaping ability and can shoot the 3 and he can play D to after playing for Phil Jackson the last couple of years.
Sam: No. As I've previously mentioned, the Bulls likely are out of the free agent market except for minimum players with their payroll already over the current cap, which is expected to go down in the labor agreement. Plus, he's another shooter who doesn't shoot that well, about 33 percent on threes and about 42 percent overall. The Lakers complained of a lack of shooting from the bench in losing to the Mavs. Like the Grizzlies complained of a lack of shooting from the bench for costing them, ultimately, and they had Mayo. No, it's not an easy position to fill cheaply.
I think it hurt the Bulls in the playoffs that they didn't have a backup SF to put on the floor when Deng was siting. How about the Bulls picking up Sacramento 2009 1st Rounder SF Omri Casspi? Casspi has clashed with his his coach about playing time and I'm guessing their management would probably unload him for one of Chicago's late round 1st picks this year.
Sam: He's an intriguing name as, you are right, he seems on the way out in Sacramento for not too much. Perhaps he is a guy to play small forward with Deng moving to shooting guard. But then you have Casspi and Deng against Wade and LeBron. I'm not sure that's quite enough.
Like everybody I really enjoyed this great Bulls season. A lineup I did miss, which could be very effective, is the pairing of Asik and Noah. A frequent complaint this year and in the playoffs was the fact that your two highest paid players were on the bench during crunch time. I agree with the benching of Boozer if you need defense, but Noah should be in there. We saw the Asik & Noah pairing in the pre-season and from what I remember it worked great with two mobile, defensive bigs in the middle.
Sam: It was mildly discussed and used a few times, but Thibodeau is big on balancing offense and defense in his lineup and he felt those two together would clog the court for Rose even more. Noah regressed offensively after his thumb surgery and the Bulls didn't do much to develop Asik offensively. I think that will change next season as Asik showed in brief glimpses he has the athleticism. I can see it being more of use next season and then the possibility if Asik is able to develop that if things don't progress well the Bulls could do something with Noah. It's probably too premature now.
Where do you rank the Game 5 heart-wrenching loss among other Bulls losses in the past (and luckily there haven't been too many) I'd say it's up there with Game 5 vs. the Knicks in 1994 (the Hugh Hollins call), Game 7 the same year vs. the Knicks (ending our 3-year championship run), and 1995's Game 6 vs. Orlando (Horace Grant celebrating on the shoulders of his teammates as the Magic eliminated the Bulls in Chicago).
Sam: Since I go back a bit farther I have witnessed or recalled many more starting with the Game 6 loss in 1975 that kept the Bulls from going to the Finals. There also was the '73 conference semis seventh game when the Bulls led the Lakers and Wilt by seven with under three minutes left and were outscored 12-2 to close, the capper a Wilt block on Norm Van Lier in the last minute with the Bulls ahead by one. Wilt got the block and threw ahead for the game winning layup. Classic Norm, out of frustration he tackled Jerry West as time was running out and the Lakers shot two more free throws. Wilt grabbed Norm after the final buzzer and said the Bulls had deserved the series. It was unfortunate to blow the game the way the Bulls did, but they were not the better team. So it probably was just a matter of time.
If Dwight Howard informs Orlando management that he will not exercise his player option for 2012-2013, will the Bulls become a front-runner in the Superman Sweepstakes considering the pieces they have to dangle?
Sam: Likely, no, but the latest according to some Orlando media seems to be Howard is leaning toward an extension. He denied that. I can see that on some level as he doesn't want to go through a season like Carmelo did. He does want to be liked and wouldn't do well with that kind of season in Orlando. Say he adds a year or two and then if the Magic don't improve, like LeBron, the path will be clearer to leave and by then teams will have been able to adjust their salary caps with time following the new labor deal.
I'm not taking anything away from the Heat but this must be one of the worst officiated series that I've ever seen. Yeah I know we had our chances but there were so many bogus calls that hurt our chances of winning. I think the NBA should look at these inconsistencies, what can you say about that?
Sam: Don't blame the officials. Miami shot 29 more free throws in five games, an average of almost six per game. But they had three players attacking the rim and the Bulls basically had one. Plus, you will remember a 12-point lead with three minutes left in Game 5. That's not about officiating.
I am a big Bulls fan, but I humbly disagree with the vociferously argued sentiment that the Bulls were the victim of unbalanced officiating in the Heat-Bulls series. The disparity in free throws seems related more to talent, not the bias of the superstar "getting all the calls". LeBron, Wade, and to a certain extent, Bosh, are aggressive, attacking players and they are very difficult for the Bulls' defenders (any team's defenders, in fact) to handle. They got into the lane and got fouled. The Heat have 3 of those players, the Bulls have one. Even their second scorer, Boozer, is a little more of a fade guy, not a go-at-the-rim guy. The foul on Wade with the four-point play was legit, as Rose got him on the elbow on the shot. Besides, I find it highly amusing that a fan base who celebrates MJ's final shot with the Bulls which was a clear offensive foul on the push-off is shocked (shocked!) at the idea the superstars get the calls. To me, I didn't see much "star treatment" and if there is such a thing, it helped our team get six titles so I don't think we as fans are in a position to gripe about it.
Sam: I am now forwarding all my "we got cheated" mail to you.
One of the biggest histrionic floppers I've ever seen was Noce. Who in Chicago, media or fans, called him on it? Quite the opposite, he was well-liked and this sort of thing was considered smart and hustling and winning play because he was a Bull. Same idea with Rodman, the NBA's biggest thug and miscreant and fake hustler until he became our thug and miscreant; then he's a hero. Many of us get all critical when an opposing player goes preening and chest-bashing and the like. The sort of stuff us old-schoolers never did and don't understand. Well, no one is worse with that than Noah. He goes berserk over an uncontested dunk. He goes berserk over the National Anthem. We all love it, what a hustler, what an energy guy, but do you think Chicagoans would be so pleased if Noah was an opponent? How about the Boozer roar. It's hard, for sure, to give full credit to opponents who are dislikable and disliked. But the reality is that the Heat matched the Bulls substantial grittiness and James was transcendent; he really answered (over two big series) all of the various criticisms of his game, from not being clutch, or an alpha dog, or able to close, the Pippen and rim shrinking and him shrinking ideas etc. We can appreciate both the Bulls and Heat superb efforts without carping about things that we laud when our own guys do them. Right?
Sam: Yes, we can, or should. James responded at the biggest times and that's generally how we measure these things. Their big guy was better. Perhaps some say he had more help, which is true. But the Bulls did win 62 games. It was no mismatch. James made the plays and performed and, right, if we could applaud Rodman we certainly could take a bit of his mugging and preening and dramatics.
I enjoyed this year's team more than any since the early 90's. The coach is a character, fun second team, Rose is a show all by himself. Boozer is not a big game player, though. He's a great guy to have for 82, but he's not post-season difference maker. He's just not, nothing personal towards Boozer who is very professional. I can imagine Deng is gutted. Considering his career to date, Deng astounded me. I always knew that he was the guy out of that crop of players to keep, but he played really well all year. Name your facet of the game. The guy is stiff from the waist down and sorta mechanical. He just produces. Noah needs to take better care of himself or he's going to get a new first name. He won't anymore be Joakim, he'll be The Injury-Plagued Joakim. He played really hard and as a fan I sure appreciate his attitude no less than I ever have. But, the reasons he was sitting in the 4th quarter could be found long ago on the calendar, nights spent partying instead of getting sleep. A tired Noah is that split second slow and as all of us know, the #1 cause of injury is not going as fast as you expect you can. As he gets older, he'll find that he doesn't heal as fast. Happens to all of us. Rose played just amazing all year. He puts such fear into defenders. He only needs a sloppy crossover because his straight ahead speed gets such respect. His perimeter defense got a lot better and needs to get better still. Offensively, he's a passer without a target. It's like having Johnny Unitas with no Raymond Berry. Bottom line, this Bulls team just isn't ready yet, and maybe that's why I had such a great time watching them this year. They were sort of the anti-Heat, 10 deep and under the radar. But at the end it was very much like the old Piston games. I expected the Bulls to lock down, and they just didn't but the Heat did. To their credit they didn't knock the officials. A fan greatly appreciates that. I expect this one to stay with Noah for a while. He's a big game player and this was the first really big series he's been part of for a very long time that he was expected to play a big part. He's used to coming out on top of these. All this shouldn't sit especially well with him. Let's see what he does about it. You have to give up quality to get quality, and maybe Gibson is gone. Now Bulls are in the same sort of hell draft-wise that late 70's/early 80's Bucks were - good enough to draft in the 20's every year. Heat vs. Mavericks. Not interested.
Sam: The point about Noah is interesting. He doesn't invite us along like Rodman did, so I don't quite know what he does. But it was not a good finish for him. We're blaming the surgery for now, so it will be up to him to prove that was so. The larger issue will be where you go from here. The Bulls did a lot of sneaking up, which is over. Their biggest problem was they may have been too much fun, going from 41 to 62. They skipped a step and the baseline becomes 60 wins, which is generally unrealistic without at least two or three All-Stars. The Bulls have one. If this was the first step, the next one becomes championship, and it seems to me that's asking an awful lot with this roster.
I always hear the playoffs are different from the regular season, but if the Bulls had a game plan that allowed them to sweep the Heat in the regular season, what changed to let them lose four in a row in the playoffs? Did the Heat improve that much, or did the Bulls wear down?
Sam: A lot, and not a lot. There's been this talk this season that the Bulls played so hard all season they would have nowhere to take their game while other teams could raise their games more and would then have an edge over the Bulls. But remember, every one of the games in the regular season between the Bulls and Heat came down to a last possession and the Bulls made the plays, the last one really lucky as a tipped ball ended up in Deng's hands for free throws. After the Game 1 Bulls blowout, all the games were close, especially the last two when the Bulls had the ball and a final shot to win and that 12-point lead. Yes, 4-1 looks like a rout, but it hardly was, except the way it's been depicted. But as the saying goes, you are what your record says and the losing team is the loser.
Rewind to Febuary. Nuggets say Noah and pieces for Melo. What's your answer?
Sam: Uhhhhh. I said keep Noah last winter and so I have to stick with it, though Noah did regress after his surgery. He as much as anyone needs considerable offensive work in the offseason. He's too stubborn to work on his shot, but he needs to be able to learn to finish at the rim and at least be some threat as Miami barely guarded him at all. Once Noah got his extension, it was moot because of the poison pill considerations and there couldn't be a deal. Plus, Anthony went back and forth on Chicago and obviously wanted New York. So it never was a sure thing. Denver would have taken Noah, sure, but it never was fully clear if Anthony would have signed. He probably would have, but then you still likely needed a shooting guard as it's still unclear if Deng can do that. And as great as it would have been to have Anthony as that option at the end of Games 4 and 5 against the Heat, he's a poor defender who has been beaten badly by LeBron in head to head matchups. I've never been a big fan of his game, but, yes, for this last playoff round he might have been much more help. Though we didn't know then Noah would break his thumb and never quite get himself right thereafter. He seemed on the way to being an All-Star at the time.
I would very much like to see them go after Ellis from the Warriors. That though could be very costly to what they would have to give up. What about Ray Allen? Boston has to get younger and I don't see Pierce, Garnett, or Rondo going anywhere so Allen could be the odd man.
Sam: Ray has a $10 million player option. The Bulls could only pay him the minimum unless Boston would trade him for Bulls reserves, which they obviously won't. So he'll stay in Boston.
We desperately need a 2 guard who can get his own shot and score; an athletic presence to play alongside Derrick. What's the downside of trading Noah if we still have Asik and Gibson (with Luol) on the front line if we can get a Monta Ellis or comparable player?
Sam: Noah becoming an All-Star? Asik leaving? One issue with Asik is the Bulls only were able to sign him to a two-year deal. He wasn't thrilled with his limited playing time this season and there are no guarantees he'd stay beyond next season. He'd be a restricted free agent, but the rules could change and the Bulls might not be able to match to keep him. So you run the risk of losing him, though if you traded Noah it would seem clear he'd be starting center and I assume that would be enough to persuade him to stay. But he's impressed around the league and there will be plenty of teams trying to steal him. The Bulls tend not to be huge risk takers in deals and given Noah was their draft pick, their tendency is to hold onto their picks as we saw with Tyrus Thomas for so long. But I do think they could survive and be the defensive team they've been even without Noah, who still has the chance to be a star in the league with a bit more work on his offense. He obviously hasn't done that much yet, so what if you trade him and he blossoms offensively with that amazing motor and drive? Though you likely do get an All-Star guard for him. It is a tough one.
With the season over and all the trade talk beginning, I was wondering how much say Derrick Rose and Coach Thibs have about who gets traded for whom. As unlikely as Orlando trading Howard to the Bulls is, the players that some fans/announcers seem willing to trade for him amazes me — Deng, Gibson, Noah, and Boozer have all been in the mix. Also, there's obviously a lot of attention on getting a better offensive weapon at SG, so taking all of this into consideration, people are willing to trade away every starter except Rose to get two players. For a team that got so far this year when no one expected them to, this seems over the top to me. And the reason I wonder about Rose and Thibs's say in the matter is because they both love Lu, and if Rose was reluctant to part with Lu last summer to land James/Wade, why would he be more willing to this summer for Howard or a new SG, especially after the crucial role Lu played in getting them so far this year. Same goes for Thibs; he's called Lu the glue of the team all year, so would he be ok with seeing him go? I understand that this is a business, but considering that Rose was MVP and Thibs was COY, won't their opinion have more weight?
Sam: Rose and actually most players don't like to get too involved in trade talk, especially because, like you say, it involved teammates. The Bulls will consult Thibodeau and he has his opinions, and they often don't square with management. But you also cannot build a team around a coach's views because a coach is about winning the next game (next quarter according to Thibs) while management has to consider the future of the franchise. Still, I'd be surprised if the Bulls, even with my brilliant suggestions, made any sort of major move involving their core players. My sense is they'll want to run it out another season to see what they can do and hope Noah and Boozer can play full seasons together.
What do you think is going to happen with Kurt Thomas in the offseason? I know he would be appreciative of even a very low offer to have another shot at next season.
Sam: Then I guess you aren't his agent. Thomas had a very good season and finished strong and opened a lot of eyes around the league. My guess is he goes for the best offer, much as Brad Miller did in leaving the Bulls. I'd be surprised if he returns.
With all the talk of the Bulls needing to pick up a starting 2, I wonder why no one besides me doesn't see that they already have the guy for the job: Ronnie Brewer. Strong defender, solid passer with good court sense, is a quite decent shooter and can create off the dribble. Seems like if the coaching staff worked with him on developing a 3-pointer, he could be a great all around contributor.
Sam: I guess because he never beat out Bogans. He doesn't create off the dribble and though he throws in the occasional three (six of 27 this season), he doesn't have reliable shooting range. Remember, he was a fallback after they didn't get J.J. Redick, so he played the role he was basically paid for and did his job. To ask more is unrealistic.
Will the Bulls ever take back Kirk Hinrich? He would definatly solve our shooting guard needs.
Sam: I'm not sure as he'd really be better as that backup one who could allow Derrick to play off the ball because Kirk is a career 41.8 percent shooter. But he has one more big money season. After that, there's a chance.
All the Bulls fans that want Boozer gone are voicing the same reasons. Fat contract, underachieving, management thought they were getting someone else... trade him, trade him... Sound familiar to anyone? Luol Deng?
Sam: Fans and media generally need to have someone. Although defense has never been a strength, it hasn't been for Bosh or Stoudemire, either. So Boozer just needs to score, and he did have some big games in the playoffs. He intimated his multiple injuries — hand, ankle, toe — were an issue. And he did miss training camp. So, maybe like Lu, things can change.
Did you ever think you'd root for a Mark Cuban team? Me neither. I'll say this about the season — it was great! Nearly 7 months of of excellent sports viewing. You know, Jordan doesn't get to be Jordan without getting whooped by the Pistons first. This will be good for Rose.
Sam: And I heard he's long been back in the gym shooting.
In your years of covering the Bulls, have you developed a certain like or dislike for specific Bulls team? Where does the current Bulls team rank for you?
Sam: Like picking among your children, eh? I will tell you that of every Bulls team I've been around for more than 25 years I've never heard the coaches talk so favorably about the players as human beings and people willing to learn and wonderful to get along with. I heard the players all came in that day after the last loss and signed all sorts of balls and pennants and books and paraphernalia for one another, which I never heard happening in all my years around the team.