Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 06.14.2013
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What a great Finals matchup! I'd be shocked if it didn't take seven and I have no idea who wins. Really a great year of basketball.
Sam: It’s back to looking like Miami as Magic Johnson on the ESPN broadcast has eliminated each team after each loss. Why do the TV networks keep putting former players on? Few know less about the game. That’s why it’s a canard about you need to play the game to know the game. Just listen to some of these guys. Anyway, what the heck is the Heat doing? It looked almost like they were throwing the first three games, and then showed how you win 27 games straight. It’s the fatal flaw of the Miami team even if it goes on to win this title, and they are the favorites with two of three back in Miami. They play indifferently often, and it’s tough to understand why you would do that in the most important weeks of the year. It does suggest this incredible hubris, that they play down to everyone. I guess you can say if that’s the case they may truly be an alltime great team. After all, if you can still win a title without trying half the time then maybe you are an all time champion. But, still, it’s not in the spirit of any sort of athletic competition to play casually every other game. I guess it’s impressive to be able to turn it on when you need it. But don’t you owe it to yourself to be an elite competitor all the time? Dwyane Wade was the biggest mystery with a terrific, athletic Game 4 after dragging himself through games for a month. Sometimes you just need a shot of confidence. LeBron James was a curiosity for three games. So he announces he has to play better (try?), and he suddenly goes back to pushing full court, driving to the basket and playing out of the post. And being the virtually unanimous MVP. All were obvious elements of his game that he basically ignored for three games. Why? You get the feeling there’s something going on internally with that Miami team based on this sort of curious play from game to game. No one is saying anything. But it does make for compelling basketball, which is making it a fun series.
Who has been the finals MVP through 4 games?
Sam: Good there are at least two more games. The MVP generally comes from the winning team. Only Jerry West has won a Finals MVP from a losing team and that was the first time they gave a Finals MVP in 1969. Danny Green? It’s probably still LeBron even with three relatively indifferent games for him. If the Heat win, it will be LeBron. If the Spurs win, we’ll find out between Duncan and Parker.
I know you will get lots of emails on this but how does Parker's shot rank in NBA Finals history? Better than Mikes in '98?
Sam: What shot? Oh, right, that falling down banker in Game 1. But things change so much in a series, especially with the curious case of LeBron James, that, and especially if the Heat wins, all the hype about Parker’s shot will long be forgotten, of even remembered by anyone. I think Mike’s still safe.
Would a trade with the Suns work with Taj Gibson? Gibson for Brown or Dudley plus 1st round pick and same cap relief?
Sam: What, not Boozer and Deng? Taj just got a big extension and not a very big season, which slowed with two MCL injuries late in the season. He’d have to show a higher level of worth given he has four more years to go with more than $30 million. I don’t believe the Bulls have any plans to trade him given it’s always possible they could amnesty Boozer after next season and there’s no certainty about Mirotic coming to the NBA. So they’d have to get back a comparable power forward if they were to let Taj go, and as far as I can tell they have no such plans.
So with the upcoming Draft, should the Bulls address shooting guard or back up big? There will be plenty of 2's and bigs in the middle of the draft that the Bulls could choose (SG: Crabbe, Ledo, Hardaway Jr., Rice Jr. Abrines from Spain, Goodwin C's: Dieng, Adams, Withey, Olynik, Nogueira from Brazil, Gorbert from France-although he might not slip that far, possibly Plumlee if his stock falls). There's also the possibility of snagging a back up 3 should Butler be the starting 2 (SF's: Karasev from Russia, Mitchell, Bullock, Snell, Leslie).
Sam: The Bulls look good heading into next season with Rose’s return, but they’ll also have plenty of positions to fill with much of the bench probably being lost again. And while fans love the draft, you basically don’t get starters where the Bulls pick. Jimmy Butler is going to be, but he’s the exception. The biggest need is a big man to back up Noah. I expect Mohammed to return, but he’s more third string. It’s tougher to find a backup big, so that’s probably the greatest need. But you don’t want to be boxed in by position. I see the Bulls going for a wing player if they have him rated higher than the big man when it comes to No. 20. If the big man is rated higher, they’ll go that way. At 20, the players are not good enough to pick by position. You pick the best player, and with a team like the Bulls with about seven players they’ll find a place for him to play.
When answering a question regarding free agents coming to Chicago, you half-jokingly (maybe not, though!) suggested it might be difficult due to the long winters/weather. Are there that many players who would really put their comfort ahead of a better opportunity to win a championship? You get paid well either way! I have a feeling that Michael or Kobe would play in Anchorage if they had a chance to win.
Sam: I was joking some, though the history of free agency over the last 20 years basically has had the top players going to Los Angeles, Phoenix, Miami and Orlando. But let’s not get too carried away with turning down the Bulls. They haven’t exactly won a lot of titles the last 15 years. So it’s hardly saying players are giving up winning by not coming to the Bulls. The Bulls need to do better to show free agents they would have a better chance to win. Not that the Bulls are uncompetitive. Everyone loves how hard Bulls teams have played over the last decade. But Chicago isn’t quite viewed around the NBA as a place to come to win a title these days. The Bulls have been out of the first round three times in the last 15 years.
I just read that the NBA is going to discuss the chance of allowing officials to review block/charge calls at the end of games, like they do other plays. Are you going to explain to them that they need to just get rid of the "run ahead of the offensive player so he runs over you and gets called for a charge" play? And we can get Shane Battier and Tyler Hansbrough out of the league!
Sam: It continues to amaze me why the officials continue to reward the bad defense of jumping in front of someone. Call a few of those blocks, as I’ve long said, and we’re done with flopping. You’d think Battier would have some pride in himself not to continue to constantly fall down for no apparent reason. Doesn’t a pro athlete feel the competitiveness to not have an opponent feel he can knock him down by bumping him? And Battier wasn’t even a soccer player. He’s become such an embarrassment to the game and himself. Hansbrough has few skills, so probably has to do something.
What is your opinion of Dejuan Blair and whether he might fit coming off the Bench for the Bulls? I have always liked his size but not sure what kind of player he has become since leaving Pitt?
Sam: He’s an unrestricted free agent and basically forgotten about with the Spurs. I can see him being done with the Spurs the way he’s been left out despite erratic front lone play for them at times. If he came for a minimum would the Bulls want him instead of, say, a veteran like Elton Brand. There’ll be 30 guys like that the Bulls will likely be looking at.
Is Gerald Henderson a good and reliable option to the Bulls at shooting guard?
Sam: Actually, I like the idea of Butler at shooting guard given his defensive ability and that he’ll work hard on his game and his shooting range. He’s one of the real surprises in the league as I hear coaches about the league rave about him. Henderson has played guard and forward and is a restricted free agent who’ll probably end up resigning with Charlotte and like every other restricted free agent out of the Bulls price range.
What about the idea that Thibs being an assistant on Team USA going forward will help him build relationships with stars and that could lead to a star wanting to come to the Bulls? I like the idea but have no clue if his spending time around those guys will make any difference.
Sam: It didn’t seem to help Nate McMillan or Mike D’Antoni. It didn’t help Larry Brown or Gregg Popovich as the coaches on the 2004 team or Rudy Tomjanovich from the 2000 team. Actually, no one who’s ever coached for USA Basketball has gotten a free agent. Which may be why they picked Thibs.
I know the Bulls have had interest in the past. What kind of contract offers will Tyler Hansbrough get this offseason?
Sam: I assume insulting.
With the draft approaching, I wanted your opinion on how much influence the right coach has on the development of a young player - with his particular skill set - reaching his full potential. Or does talent generally shine through regardless of the coach? One example that's been brought up is Darko Milicic. Do you think his career would have turned out drastically different if Larry Brown wasn't his first coach ("He wants to be like Toni Kukoc, and I want him to be like Bill Russell" - Larry Brown, 2003). If a fragile rookie Dirk Nowitzki was being forced to be Bill Russell, would he still be a future Hall or Famer today, or a draft bust that went back to Europe after a few seasons? Or a young Toni Kukoc, for that matter? Related to this, do you believe the current Bulls coaching staff has the flexibility to fully develop young players, even ones who may not be as defensive-minded as Thibodeau might prefer?
Sam: There aren’t any developmental teams in the NBA. You can tell that by a dozen coaches losing their jobs about every other year. No one much has time for development in the NBA, and with the schedule the way it is with three to five games a week against different teams, coaches are basically always preparing everyone for the next opponent. I loved that Larry Brown quote about Darko. It’s up to the player, and Jimmy Butler is a great example. He got the time, finally, and his work paid off. Players generally develop in the offseason. Early on, Don Nelson kept making fun of Dirk Nowitzki for being such a poor defender, which was laughable as Nellie never practiced defense. Talent generally comes through. It’s like the famous Potter Stewart quote on obscenity in the Supreme Court that he knows it when he sees it. Similarly with basketball players, you know talent when you see it, and then you develop that talent being in games.
I think the year of the tank is upon us. With Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker mostly likely entering the draft in 2014 I think we might we see an emphasis on tanking. Do you think it is worth tanking to get Andrew Wiggins who definitely coming out, or Jabari Parker who is most likely to come out?
Sam: For whom? The Bulls? It’s never a good idea. Ask the Celtics. They got M.L. Carr to throw the 1997 season to get Tim Duncan. Carr still has the worst coaching record in Celtics history. The lottery gave Duncan to the Spurs and the Celtics and new coach Rick Pitino got Chauncey Billups and soon back to college before the classic quote telling his team not to expect Bird, McHale and Parish coming through that door. Henry Finkel and Conner Henry were the ones coming.
Why the big deal with players going 40 minutes a game today? Players in previous era's always played 40 plus minutes. I just saw a replay of the 1972 finals game 4 when all of the Lakers starters played 45 min and Wilt played 53 min. Is this similar to the pitchers pitch count? I would think with all the conditioning and supplements available today they would be able to go longer.
Sam: Yes, they are babies. And I love Thibs using these nom de plumes. Baseball trained its pitchers to not use their arms anymore, though they do use more torque with so many more pitches. Similarly in the NBA, there’s more effort demanded with defensive play. At least on some teams. But I do believe it becomes a mental hurdle as well as players are constantly asked by media about playing too much with 40 minutes the magic number. My favorite is the whining about back to back games when teams fly charter after the game and generally arrive in the next city before the reporters at the game finish their stories for that night. C’mon, toughen up!
What do you see as the most likely scenario for Deng after his contract expires next season? I know there's a lot of talk about potentially trading him this year to get some value, but I can't see that happening can you? If not, is there any realistic chance of re-signing him to a short-term deal we could afford? He already got his career contract in his current deal and he's such a huge part of the team and organization as a whole would he consider taking a potentially significant pay cut to come back and chase titles in Chicago?
Sam: He won’t and he shouldn’t. But none of this can be figured now. It all depends on how the team does. If the Bulls win the title next season are they going to dump him? It reminds me of the 1990-91 season and Paxson was trying to get a new contract. The Bulls were uncertain about a return as they felt they needed a higher scoring guard with Jordan. They were talking about maybe a $600,000 extension. There was talk Paxson would walk. Then he basically won the Finals with his shooting, including the clinching game and not only did he return, but he became a valuable free agent and ended up with a contract more than double of what he was talking about with the Bulls during the season. Everything next season depends on how far the team goes. If they lose in the first round, there should be plenty of changes.
I love Thibs and Phil, but Greg Popovich is the better coach of the three. If you would make a list of the top coaches of all time, who will those be and how will you rank them?
Sam: The best coaches in the history of the NBA are Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach. I favor Phil, but would have no argument with Red, who was the first great, innovative coach in league history. But he probably was the best executive for building the greatest dynasty ever. So I’ll give Phil the slight edge. After that I have Larry Brown, Pop, Chuck Daly, Alex Hannum and Pat Riley.
Do you think the Bulls could be interested in Paul Gasol? Would Deng be enough to make it happen? I know Gasol's contract is bigger, but we could trade more pieces to make it happen. I think it is a win win trade (if howard stays there) they get a SF All-Star that they need and we will be the most dominant team on the post.
Sam: What’s a week without the fans wanting to trade Deng? I’m not doing it, but Pau isn’t coming to Chicago, in any case. If the Lakers can’t resign Howard they’ll probably keep Pau. If they resign Howard, they’ll want to trade Pau into someone’s cap space to save at least $50 million in luxury tax. In any case, they’re most unlikely to take back any big salary if they were to move Gasol. Lu, Lu, he’s our man. If he can’t do it, Carlos can.
Who was a better player in their prime, Kirk Hinrich or BJ Armstrong?
Sam: So much for the Jordan/Lebron questions. Obviously, different players as Armstrong was one of the league’s best shooters and Hinrich is an elite defender. But B.J. gets the tiebreaker with an All-Star appearance and three titles, though Kirk was a far bigger scorer early in his career. Next week: The breakdown between Khalid Reeves and Dave Shellhase.