Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 06.17.11
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Where's your ambition? You have become conservative in your old age. People send you trade proposals all the time and you carve them up point by point. Yet, you are the same man who wanted to trade Jordan for Kendall Gill and Alonzo Mourning. After Jordan's second championship. People send in trades and you reply "can't do that", "collective bargain agreement this". What happened to the 1992 Sam?
Sam: I keep asking my mirror and barber that. I'm quite sure I never suggested that one, and certainly not right after the publication of The Jordan Rules. You mean I wanted loony Mourning over Cartwright, whom I probably was closer with than anyone on the team? I don't think so. But, yes, I have had to be a bit more of a censor because, well, most everyone wants Dwight Howard for Bogans. After all, Orlando needs defense. The danger of email, which didn't exist then, is I'm now aware of what more people are thinking. Scary stuff. I have offered trade suggestions for guys like Joe Johnson and Monta Ellis, but if you want a high level guy it will cost you Noah, and I don't see the Bulls doing that. Look, for all that Bulls fans were happy about the bench and giving them a cute name, it wasn't a group much in demand compared with say, the Mavs', who had a payroll $30 million higher. In fact, most reserves came to the Bulls because they had few other serious offers. The Bulls had a fabulous season, really too good in some respects because they didn't have 62-win talent. Not even conference finals talent. They had that season because of extraordinary seasons by Thibodeau and Rose. I'd expect fewer wins the next full season, whenever that is, unless the Bulls fill some holes. If you want a top 10 player you have to give up one, and Rose and Noah basically are the Bulls' at their positions with Deng on the fringe. I'm keeping them. The Bulls just do not have enough serious assets now to make a major deal since that 2012 Charlotte pick is not that highly regarded because it likely will not be a top eight pick in the end. But the other side is I don't believe the Bulls need a star at shooting guard. Just someone who can make a shot and needs to be defended.
I'm really disappointed when I listen to Bulls fans talking about trading Deng for Monta [Ellis]. Deng is the [player with the] most value [in] Thibs' system. He is [the] only all around player for [the] Bulls. [The] Bulls already have Rose... another Guard who is [of] weak size and D will change [the] Bulls into [the] Warriors.
Sam: I don't expect the Bulls to trade Deng. I don't believe the Warriors are interested as they have a small forward, and there is that issue of two small guards and adding a poor defender. Although I like Ellis, my sense is Bulls management does not.
Could Marshon Brooks out of Providence be a good pick to address our scoring dilemma? We would probably have to trade up in the draft to get him. He did drop 52 points on a very good Notre Dame team and seems to have the size to compete in the NBA. How far up in the draft could you go through trading a 28 and a 30 pick? There is much talk that we cannot afford Asik on the open market. Is this not the time to trade him while the getting is good? I love Omer, but if we can only keep him for one more season, why not trade him for a heavy scorer? Is Taj + Omer for Ellis a feasible trade? On the surface, I would say no, but you always preach about how valuable bigs are so that we should not trade them. Does this not cut both ways?
Sam: Brooks' name comes up as a good choice, though I don't see the Bulls able to trade up with what they have or, actually, are willing to give in addition to the two picks, which, as I explained, are albatrosses in some ways. The Asik situation will be interesting to watch, but maybe he becomes better than Noah and then you can trade Noah and get something major. I'd be reluctant to let Asik go at this point. Better to see the new labor rules first and remember the real mistake Orlando made in all those deals. It wasn't so much about Arenas and Carter and Lewis but losing Gortat.
With all the ruckus about getting any SG as an improvement over Bogans, most of the names like Aaron Afflalo and Courtney Lee are good role players and may be a great fit onto the team but are nowhere near that "2nd option" the Bulls are looking for. Maybe OJ Mayo is the best option given his scoring potential, but I see a SG signing as only a band aid solution.
Sam: For a wound or weakness, you need a Band Aid first. If the Bulls could get Lee or Afflalo they'd be in great shape, though I don't see how they can.
I know Deng had a great season and he did a lot for this team last season but it is only one season. Wouldn't the Bulls have jumped at a chance to trade Deng for Ellis 2 seasons ago? Who's to say that Deng won't go backward next season and be injured and inconsistent as he was for most of his career? Don't you have to strike while the iron is hot?
Sam: There is something to that thinking, though, as I said, I have gathered no actual interest from the Warriors. Yes, the Bulls have had a tendency to fall in love with their players when things are going well, which has proven troublesome. So if they get a good deal that will help the team they need to take it. But since returning from his stress fracture, Deng has missed 12 games over two seasons, which is pretty good, and with just one injury, a calf strain. So he hasn't been injury prone for two years. He is only 26 and probably in the top 10 in the league at his position. So you better do well in a trade as you'd then have to find a three as well and one who can defend the other team's top scorer, which Deng routinely did.
What odds would you give for JR Smith to pull a Zach Randolph and grow up, get his head on straight, and finally maximize his considerable potential? He's never going to be an All-NBA-type like Zach is now, but if he got his act together, he would be exactly what the Bulls need (long-range shooting, ability to create own shot, willingness to take big shots, size and athleticism to defend). He's a knucklehead, but most people grow up at some point.
Sam: Or they are Bonzi Wells or Isaiah Rider. I'd say 100-1. No, make that 1,000-1. No, 10,000-1, no... Perhaps the greatest reason for the Bulls success beyond Rose was having a mature group that was willing to listen and compete, work together and defend and play unselfishly. When you begin putting head cases into that mix you are asking for trouble. And 10 fewer wins.
What about Mike Redd? I know he's being out for a long time and is injury prone, but I guess, at this point of his career, he'd be a good starting guard, 20-25 minute player for us. Do you think, considering healthy, any team would offer him more than the minimum?
Sam: The worst thing they say in coaching is to coach a faded superstar. I'm not sure Redd was quite in that class, but you don't want guys around on the bench who were stars as they find it difficult to change. Given health issues, it seems highly unlikely Redd can come back and play at a high level. Plus, at his best he was a poor and indifferent defender. Or look at it this way: Milwaukee is letting him go and they consider their major need shooting and scoring.
Is there any real possibility of this rumor of Iverson to the Bulls being true? I do believe IF he'd take the backseat and be just a regular 2 guard to create from the dribble from time to time and hit the open J, playing his 20 minutes a night, that would be a great addition for the veterans minimum. For the sake of this exercise, IF he'd be willing to behave in that proper way, would you see it as a nice compliment to Derrick in the starting 5, or maybe as a Gordon type of scorer of the bench?
Sam: I'd see him as a supreme act of desperation on the part of the Bulls and not be so confident or optimistic about their possibilities.
Can you see the Bulls trying to make a move for Marquis Daniels? He's a 6'6" guard that can play the 2/3 as well as even some back up point if need be. [He]should come for cheap as he just had surgery.
Sam: You're right about that. When guys are nearly paralyzed, you generally can get them for a better price.
What are your thoughts on the lockout? How do you think it will effect major trades/signings?
Sam: I really don't know what is going on with the labor negotiations, though my sense talking to teams is it is having a chilling effect on a lot of transactions as teams want to see the new rules before committing themselves to, say, major contracts in trade. So I don't expect to see blockbuster type deals at this draft.
What do you think about trading Boozer and his huge contract to Detroit for Ben Gordon and his huge contract? Move Taj Gibson into the starting lineup.
Sam: As I've said, the Bulls aren't down on Boozer and not looking hard for a deal. Detroit would like to dump some of its large contracts and Ben could be one, but they'll only taking expiring deals.
What should the Bulls do with Kyle Korver next season? He struggled with his shot at times, but he also was able to hit big shots despite his lack of defensive efficiency.
Sam: Give him more shots. He may be the best pure shooter in the league and needs more chances.
What do you think about CJ Miles as a possible addition for the 2-guard spot next year. Looks like Utah may not be able to sign him based on financial implications, and his contract with the option is affordable.
Sam: He is the kind of player the Bulls would likely try to add, although I don't know if they particularly like him. I never have heard much talk about him. If the Jazz were to let him go, its still questionable whether the Bulls would be in any position to make an offer as there are not expected to be many cap exceptions in the new labor agreement and the Bulls wouldn't be under the cap to make any offers. Of course, the other minor issue is he shot 32 percent on threes last season, way worse than Bogans, and under 30 percent after the All-Star break.
Why don't today's NBA players have hook shots? It's the hardest shot to defend. I'd like to see Asik develop one as well as work on his drop step moves.
Sam: It's not a cool shot. Why doesn't LeBron play out of the post? Not as cool as a three or dunk. You can coach them and instruct them and ask them, but that's also a shot for big men and since it's not cool they never work on it as kids — remember, we were told Tyson Chandler was a great outside shooter — in the flawed and corrupt AAU "amateur" system where they get little or no coaching. Look at Noah. How can you play basketball all your life and shoot like that?
I'm not in a state of panic. I've never been very high on Noah. I think we've seen what he is, and what he will continue to be. Trade him while teams still think he is worth something, or before he is injured for good.
Sam: OK, get rid of Deng, get rid of Noah. No one wants Bogans, anyway, and, oh yeah, if the Bulls can only find a taker for Boozer. Of course, Watson can't play point and Korver lost his touch and Brewer can't score. I guess the Bulls did pretty good adding eight new players last summer. Maybe they'll do it every year.
What is your take on LeBron? He has had some spectacularly good clutch playoff games and was amazing against the Bulls at times in the conference finals and has been throughout his career against the Bulls, but he has also had more spectacularly bad clutch playoff games for someone with anywhere near his talent. In Game 6 it seemed like there were points in the 2nd and 4th quarters when the Heat were playing well and taking the lead or cutting the Mavs lead with LeBron on the bench and I found myself, rooting for the Mavs, hoping LeBron would come back in, which seemed crazy because he is so good, but both times he came back in and the Heat started playing worse. I generally don't put much stock in +/- stats but I looked and LeBron was an astounding -24 in 40 minutes, by far the worst on the Heat.
Sam: There is a difference now for LeBron. He has made a lot of big, late plays in the past, but it's a different situation for him now. Like with Michael and Kobe, for example, they basically took every last shot. LeBron did in Cleveland. Say you take nine of 10 and make three, which is about what great players make. Playing with Wade and Bosh, LeBron gets now maybe three in 10 such chances, so maybe he makes one. Seems to be doing a lot less. I felt James suffered because of a lack of an offense in Miami. They basically seemed to say they'd beat you with defense and would score enough somehow. It was as poorly constructed an offense as you'll see in the NBA these days, mostly isolations and one on one with little weak side movement and too much half court. Once Dallas got going and scored 100 points, the Heat was in trouble. Still, they blew game two and shoulda/woulda/coulda put it away early. When you blow a game in a series it often comes back to haunt you because then you, in effect, have to win five games. I also thought the media's treatment of James, especially, with accusatory questions like you'd hear for a felon or congressman was unprofessional and bordered more on tabloid journalism aimed at getting only a response to create an incident or headline. It was an embarrassment to what's left of the profession. I don't fully understand the incredible antagonism toward James since he generally treats reporters well, is available always for interviews, and has never been associated with criminal or antisocial behavior. He has been built up to be Jordan and Kobe and Magic when he really is more like Pippen on steroids, if you will. No! He doesn't use them. But he's got no mid range game, like Pippen, is inconsistent with threes, like Pippen was, and is a great athletic talent and defender, as Pippen was. Though James is a more complete overall player. As for the Finals, he seemed to lose confidence and retreat, which is a sin among media and fans. I wouldn't count him out.
What do you think Thibodeau and the Bulls learned from watching this series on how to beat the Heat (besides making our shots)?
Abram G. Bachtiar
Sam: A lot of what they knew, which was with a shooting guard who could create they might have won a title and their bench is way overrated and not good enough yet to have a nickname.
What is your opinion of Tyson Chandler? We had him, traded him, I can't even remember for who, and now he went on the win a championship.
Sam: When you win you are built up beyond your true capabilities for most players, which we saw when the remnants of the 1998 Bulls dispersed and basically all produced less than that previously. Everyone who knew Tyson around the Bulls is glad for him since he was young and in a horrible situation with a coach, Tim Floyd, who didn't want him, and then one who was too tough for him in Scott Skiles. I've had several readers suggest the Bulls should have kept him, which is nonsense as Noah is better than Chandler now and Chandler was even sent back after being traded to the Thunder a few years back. Tyson has great timing since he's a free agent and basically has had two good seasons in the six of his contract, the best being the last. Smart guy. I'd personally be reluctant to invest too much in him, but he likely will be paid well by the Mavericks.
If you can pass this off to LeBron if you ever see him or even have his email or number, we do live in the real world where we have to work to provide for our families as we do for everything we own, but also part of being in the real world is being able to root for whichever team we choose and boo and be against whom ever we choose! I like the world I live in!
Sam: As LeBron would suggest, are you going to believe what I said or what I'm telling you? James said his comments about going home rich and you're not were misconstrued, though I thought it was finally reacting to the poking with a sharp stick he constantly got from the media. Though as always with LeBron and the dumb things he says, kids, stay in school.
[I am] wondering if it's possible that the Bulls could trade both [of] their first round picks for Pietrus from the Suns who is rumored to be traded? Though an SF, he is an outside shooter, a good one too who can also start and can also play solid D. The picks just seem like a waste of time for the Bulls at the moment as they too are in a win now situation after reaching the conference finals this year. The Suns are in rebuilding time so to have three picks they could play with to perhaps get themselves something decent by getting high. Yes [this is] a weak draft but a 13th pick alone won't help them. The Bulls can't wait for two rookies to develop, they need to impress Rose by getting to the Finals for him to sign his extension which will come soon enough.
Sam: I like Pietrus as well, but you're not getting him for low No. 1's and the extras the Bulls have on the bench. He's on an expiring deal and the Suns, if you haven't noticed, are not rebuilding as they're playing Nash and Hill as starters. Fans need to understand those two picks aren't worth much because they have guarantees. The first two picks in the second round are worth much more because they don't contain guarantees. I'd be surprised if the Bulls can move them without throwing in something valuable like Asik or Gibson, which is generally not their style.
I will admit that CJ Watson is not the answer for us, nor was Ronnie Brewer, though that position is harder to find the right player (Tony Allen was probably the right player to go after). Anyway, can you start plugging some Isaiah Thomas from Washington for me? [He is a] quick and strong scoring Point Guard. CJ Watson was like Hinrich on offense, [who] couldn't blow by anybody or cause defenses to break down, though he had a decent shot it was hard to create on his own. Isaiah is our answer — a confident, hustling, composed guard that can pass, shoot, and drive with the best of them and is clutch, something we seriously lacked. Isaiah and D-Rose together at times will be a blur. Think JJ Barea.
Sam: Thomas is small, generally not the kind of Point Guard the Bulls pursue. Also, I think though the spellings are different it would be difficult for management given past history to select someone with that name.
LeBron had the incredibly rare and special opportunity to bring his hometown team a championship. And he basically joined the Yankees. The plot line couldn't be more storybook. The Chicago Cubs of the NBA, the Cavs, drafted the greatest high school athlete in history, he was local, and a gift from the Gods. But yet again the potential lore was passed over. And for what? A team of BFFs? I've seen hometown kids accept the role more in European soccer where they are developed from infancy by their local pro team, building the dream up to play for home professionally one day. We think of it as extra pressure. It's something that you can't help but notice in American sports that there is no fondness for your home, no pride. And that's why we hate LeBron so much. Or at least why I do.
Sam: OK, I guess that's a good reason, though, as you note, hardly anyone ever decides to stay home and many leave their teams like Kareem, Wilt, Barkley. Look, Jordan ended up playing for the Wizards.
Some columnists are making too much of an emphasis on how this was a victory for team ball over individuals. Dirk was a great closer and better in this series than Miami's stars. But there were times when the Jordan's team won titles even though they did not play great team ball — they just had the best closer who masked some of the team's shortcomings. Jordan scored all nine points of the Bulls 1993 Game 6 4th quarter until Paxson's three, that wasn't really good team ball. Neither was depending on Jordan to shoot so many times in that 1993 series a sign of great team ball. And Jordan taking over the 1998 Finals with Pippen hobbling wasn't necessarily great team ball.
Sam: It was great team ball because Phil and Michael said it was. Great team ball basically is described as the team that won. After all, you cannot win with selfish play, so it must have been a team effort. Socrates would certainly agree.
I think the finals could serve as a tutorial on how to beat the Heat for Thibideau. He might be good at motivating players, but he seems to be not very good at playing a chess-like game. Whatever you say about Rick Carlisle, he made key changes when it mattered the most. Putting another ball handler in Barea on the court (a luxury we might lack, true) to speed up offense and create shots. Letting Marion, Stevenson and even Kidd take turns guarding LeBron while using Terry to attack him on offense. He put Mahinmi in but it didn't turn out well then he immediately took him out and subbed Cardinal without hesitation. One can always argue those were not game changing moves but you have to acknowledge his ability to react, especially with two injuries. And Thibs, on the other hand, always likes to stay with the same lineup. Not to take anything away from him, but everybody has room to improve. And lineup adjustment seems to be Thibs's weakness. Now that we lost, the way we did, while Dallas, a team many experts believed to be the first victim of an upset, defeated the Heat convincingly, it's time to reflect and learn a lesson from them.
Sam: Something that was routinely overlooked was Dallas had one of the biggest payrolls in the NBA, $83 million. The Bulls were limited to $58 million by going under the cap last summer, so the Mavs had many more players to work with. You are working backward, like fans and media generally do, seeing who won and then deciding that was the way to go. Thibodeau made loads of adjustments in the conference finals. He played Watson with Rose to get more ballhandling on the floor, he sat Noah and Boozer late for defensive reasons when they weren't stopping anyone, he played three different defenders on James and then on Wade, and it's generally forgotten how badly Wade played against the Bulls. The Bulls just couldn't get Miami in position for them to tighten. Miami won that Game 5 because they had given up and had no pressure, and those shots you'd let them take anytime went in. Maybe he could have gone to Thomas in Game 4, though the Bulls were tied with a last shot to win. Asik was playing better before that. And Thibs did adjust relying more on Asik against Miami's smaller front line. He played Rose off the ball at times to try to beat the pressure and had different guys in the pick and roll. But Korver and Boozer couldn't make shots, and he didn't have nearly as much to work with as the Mavs did. I know we generally see who won and decide he coached better. Thibs did way more than Spoelstra and actually had an offensive game plan. His guys didn't hit as many shots.
What are your thoughts on Terrance Williams? I saw him in college and an NBA game and he seems to have tremendous upside. [He has] good ball handling, passing, athleticism, and scoring as well. I bet he's eager to prove NJ and the whole NBA wrong given the chance. Would you give him a chance?
Sam: He is something of a forgotten guy, but basically still a rookie given how little he's played, and also a risk type player. For a minimum salary, sure, he'd be worth a look, but I wouldn't give him a guarantee.
There has been a lot of talk about how Rose came up short against the Heat. No question they made things tough on him. But isn't that the problem with relying on a Point Guard to carry your team as it may be the easiest position to neutralize? When has a Point Guard-dominated team won the title? Particularly one of Rose's size? I also don't remember a Point Guard being so clearly better than his teammates and asked to do as much as Rose was. It's one thing if Rose was a Center asked to do these things. But as a Point Guard, it's a position that has its limitations in the game.
Sam: I could mention Magic Johnson, though that would be unfair as he was one of the rare, unique players ever. So how about Isiah Thomas? Point guard, best player, dominant force on two title teams. Smaller that Rose. I also remember when everyone told the Bulls you never could win with a shooting guard being your main scorer since no one else ever had and the best, Robertson (also a point) and West couldn't without help of a better player. Rose is good enough to lead a team to a title and I didn't see him neutralized against Miami. He clearly played much better than Wade, who had less defensive attention, and we saw what James did in the Finals. Rose never backed off for a second like James. I'd still take him over either of them.
I agree no one wants pick 28 or 30 because of the guarantee, but also consider the teams beyond theKnicks at 17 may similarly not want to pay the higher guaranteed contracts at their draft position. Based on the 2010-11 rookie salary scale:
Pick 28 was guaranteed $2.8M
Pick 18 was guaranteed $4.0M
So moving down 10 picks saves $1.2M in guaranteed salary. And if the Bulls include $3M along with the 28th pick & the 44th pick, that $3M essentially pays the entire salary of the 28th pick. A team like the Washington Wizards may pull the trigger on a deal that essentially saves them $4.2M. The Mavs & Grizzlies agreed to trade the 25th pick last year for $3M. Considering this is a weak draft class that's comparable to the 18-20th pick in this draft.
Sam: It's not a bad idea, but the sense I've gotten so far is teams are expecting the new labor agreement to cut costs for them, so there's less likelihood of anyone doing a cost saving deal. No one wants to go into a potentially extended offseason telling its fans to buy tickets but they were selling off players to better teams. A large part of the labor impasse is teams want that changed so they don't have to do what you suggest. Among the picks you are looking at, Washington has a new owner and isn't cutting, Jordan is promising to spend money, Minnesota has loads of cap room, Portland is rich beyond imagination, the Nuggets have plenty of money after losing Melo, Houston has a new coach and is promising to go for something. No, I cannot see anyone interested in that sort of maneuvering.
Do you believe that C.J. Watson can be that scorer the Bulls need despite all of the speculation that he can't be?
What do you think about the Bulls trying to get Caron Butler? I know he is coming off injury, but if he can prove he is healthy, I think we could really use him.
Sam: His name comes up at times, but Dallas isn't big on letting guys get away. A lot, obviously, depends on the labor agreement rules. But it seems likely he'll be a free agent chasing more money than the Bulls can pay. If he's going cheap, he's probably returning to the Mavs.
Do you think the Bulls can fix their problem at shooting guard via the draft? I would love to see them trade down and pick up Klay Thompson, maybe they could work out a deal with Detroit or Charlotte.
Sam: I don't see them able to trade up and so I don't see the chance of getting a potential shooting guard starter, not that there is one in this draft, anyway.
I've been a little intrigued by Marshon Brooks since his 52 point game this season, and to now hear that he's impressing teams with his workouts leads me to this thought. Since we're a wing player away from being a championship team, should we gamble and trade, say, the Charlotte pick along with this years 28th move up and address this need through this draft? Reports are that he's Kobe-esque! Or what about Tracy McGrady?
Sam: So you're getting a Kobe Bryant type player in a weak draft with, what, the 20th pick? Seems right. I am a big advocate of trading that Charlotte pick, which the Bulls value more highly than I do. My sense, anyway, is that it isn't in much demand as it may not be available until 2016, and few GM's are cashing in talent now to help the guy who replaces them because they traded for picks five years away. Yes, McGrady. Only helped lead a team mutiny in Detroit against the coach and constantly complained about playing time. Sign him up!
You have previously commented on the future of the Bulls, specifically the task of trying to keep the current roster together and giving Rose his extension. My question is really regarding the Miami Heat, as they are the next hurdle for the Bulls. Given that the big three will be making close to $50 million next season, how feasible is it to expect Miami to keep their team assembled, especially if a deal containing a hard cap is reached?
Sam: No one has any idea what will come from labor negotiations, but if there is a hard or harder cap, I'm quite sure there will be a significant phase in. The league hardly wants to break up its top teams in its largest markets which produce the most TV ratings and attendance, I assume.
I was interested to read in your piece on Shaq that your all-time big man rankings are 1) Wilt, 2) Abdul-Jabbar, 3) Russell. I've seen you make passing mention before that you are a Wilt man, but did not realize you had Russell behind Kareem as well. While this is certainly not crazy, it is very against the grain, as you are undoubtedly aware. I can presume your reasons are that Russell benefitted from better teammates and wasn't nearly the offensive force the other two were, but why Russell third?
Sam: That's one reason, but also I feel Kareem's been vastly overlooked in that debate. He is, after all, the alltime scoring leader, has more MVP's and basically was on the all-defensive team every year. Plus, obviously Kareem was a better all around player and a player who basically won a title in Milwaukee with just an aging Oscar Roberston. I've long felt if David Robinson were on a team like Russell's with so many scoring options where he could mostly concentrate on defense and rebounding he'd have ranked with Russell. Russell was obviously a great leader, but I didn't see anywhere near the talent of Wilt or Kareem. I recall not being a Boston fan as a kid as they won so much as we always rooted for Russell to shoot.