Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 06.21.2013
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I don’t know why I am so emotionally invested in the NBA. It’s been nothing but constant disappointment for me since 23 hit that shot in Utah in 1998. Seeing that Lakers dynasty and now this Heat dynasty over the past 10+ years and constant Bulls failures has just made me so sad. NBA has made my miserable worthless life even more miserable of late.
Sam: Bulls fans as well as many around the NBA feel your pain. But it was a heck of a series and now you know how all those fans around the NBA felt when you were celebrating in the 1990’s. Yes, the Heat got a little lucky (OK, a lot) in the way they got Game 6, but they didn’t give up and they hit a pair of big threes. And they never blinked in a Game 7 that was close all the way and they had to make big shot after big shot to win. It was impressive, and though LeBron James is a bit of an enigma the way he doesn’t always play as seriously as he seems capable, he clearly came through once again at the biggest time as a big time, pressure player making those big jump shots and plays when any one or two misses probably would have cost the game. It was great stuff and he truly is the greatest player in the game today and deservingly so.
I'd say the NBA has a spectacular villain for Derrick Rose to come back and slay. I despise the Heat like I despised the Isiah Thomas-Pistons. What great theater that David Stern has going for him! Have a great off-season, thanks for being so responsive over the years.
Sam: Yes, now it’s up to the Bulls, especially to produce a healthy team. The Bulls seemed to have shown this past season with their great coaching and the tough play of the core of their team that with the return of Rose they should be a serious competitor to the Heat along with the Pacers and perhaps the Nets and Knicks. The Bulls could lose some or most of their bench again, but they showed last summer an ability to patch it together with productive players. So you assume they can do that again. There are questions with Miami with Dwyane Wade’s knee and whether they’ll try to move Chris Bosh and make another move. But never discount what Pat Riley can do with a roster. Still, it is a season coming up that could be very interesting.
Before the Heat won their back-to-back championship, all those championship teams have big men who actually play big. The Heat don't have that type of player, yet they manage to win back-to-back championships. With implementation of zone defense, the Heat is setting the tone of playing by talent and athleticism surrounded by shooters. The way the Heat defend without having a true center and use their athleticism, even without running any significant plays. Is the game evolving in front of our eyes? Or the Heat just got lucky they didn't bump into a dominant big man (Duncan isn't exactly that dominant now) on their way to back-to-back championships?
Sam: Well, it helps to have LeBron James. There have been teams that have toyed with the idea in the past of putting together a team with, say, five 6-8 athletic players with the idea of everyone being able to switch and thus play an ersatz or disguised zone defense. The emphasis in the NBA on offense now is on the pick and roll over post play, which enables the Heat to have success with the kind of game they play. But we all had a taste of the impact of a big man when the Heat played Indiana, and that was against hardly a great big man in Roy Hibbert. I don’t know if the game has changed all that much as if you have a great big man I still believe you would be a title contender. The issue is so many of the young big kids these days either don’t try to learn to play out of the post and also aren’t taught. So many become face up, perimeter players that continues the pick and roll and face up game as opposed to the post up game. The Bulls weren’t a big man team with non scoring centers in all their title years, but they had Michael Jordan, like LeBron the best perimeter player of his era. Though Jordan, especially in the last three title seasons, played more out of the post, and Phil Jackson’s offense went through the post and played off the post men more than most offenses these days. But as with the Bulls, somewhat overlooked is how well the Heat play defense and turn that into offense like the Bulls. Though you need special players to do that and they don’t come along often. The same elements as always dominate the game, but it depends on the talent, and the Heat has the dominant, face up perimeter player in James.
I know the players decide games, but wow, did Greg Popovich blow this game. Not once, not twice, not 3 times, but I counted 4 big mistakes. I still can't believe he didn't play his best/franchise player in the final 20 seconds of the game. I don't know if Duncan grabs that rebound over Bosh, but at least he gives you a better chance than Boris Diaw. Up 10, you take out both Parker and Duncan. It's game 6, you have a chance to win the championship, yet you're resting your best players. Even with 1.9 secs left down 3, you choose to put Splitter and Duncan on the Floor. I understand not putting Parker on the floor in that situation, he's not a great 3pt shooter, but then why play Splitter. I'm a big fan of the Spurs. You can't recover from a loss like Game 6.
Sam: Yes, it was tough and they couldn’t recover. Not many expected them to after a loss like that, which is one of the toughest anyone can remember. But I’ll defend Popovich. And I give the Heat credit. They made a pair of tough shots, and three Spurs players split two free throws, any one of which probably wins the game. So players do decide the game. I know Popovich got a lot of criticism and second guessing over those moves, but I separate it first from Vogel taking out Hibbert because it opened the way for James for a drive when that wasn’t there at all otherwise. Popovich had good reason for every move. They didn’t work. First, the part about not sitting Parker and Duncan to lay on the Heat must have had Tom Thibodeau laughing. Duncan and Parker both played more than 40 minutes. And everyone said they should have played more? It’s another classic second guess based on the result. Thibodeau always was second guessed for not taking guys out when the Bulls lost. So Popovich is criticized for taking guys out to rest them when they were on a route to play more than 40 minutes despite not playing anywhere near those minutes all season. OK, the big issues, the offensive rebounds. So now everyone is second guessing because they couldn’t counter the great rebounder Chris Bosh? The guy is maybe the worst rebounding big man in basketball. The Spurs put in Boris Diaw, who is every bit the bad rebounder as Bosh. The point was the Heat needed a three and the Spurs needed to switch everything. Duncan isn’t and hasn’t played that role all season. So put in smaller guys to switch everything and deny the threes. It’s a sound strategy. Unless your guys miss free throws. As for Parker out at the end as Manu drove without a timeout, Manu has made some huge plays for them and calling a timeout allows the defense to set and makes a play harder. It’s a strategy many coaches use. It just didn’t work this time.
The Bulls should consider trading Luol Deng to Sacramento for DeMarcus Cousins. I know you’re going to tell me what a bad character person he is, but The Bulls has a team full of good character guys that could be a positive influence on him. Sometimes you have to take a gamble and I think this is a good gamble considering that we could lose Deng next season for nothing. No one can argue his numbers and he does play well on both ends of the floor. He can give us the offensive scoring on the blocks that we need. If we got him, we could then slide Noah to the 4 position as he can guard guys 12 feet from the basket. That would open up all kinds of options considering that we would be able to shed salary, hold on to Mirotic, and keep our 2016 Charlotte first round pick. We can't have a team full of choir boys. We tried this once before with a little guy named Dennis Rodman and that worked out pretty well for us-didn't it.
Sam: It’s a lot more complicated than that, and, of course, stands no chance of occurring. First, I don’t believe the Bulls will trade Deng, but I’m amazed at the flood of trade Deng emails I continue to get. I’m not, obviously, opposed to offering suggestions to improve. But that’s when you need help badly. One thing the playoffs continue to show is the value of continuing and chemistry. Deng is maybe the Bulls best chemistry player going into a season when you have to figure with Derrick Rose returning the Bulls would have a chance to compete to get to the Finals. Why break up the core now? Anyway, there’s no chance the Kings would take Deng if the Bulls are going to lose him. As an unrestricted free agent why would someone like Deng stay with a bad team? Plus, why would a bad team without a chance to make the playoffs trade for a rental player? Answer: They would not. But perhaps even more significant is what fans often are unable to factor into the equation with a player like Cousins. His agent is the notorious Dan Fegan, who is known for getting his clients big deals at the expense of team success. Already this week Fegan was reported to have told Kings management Cousins must have a maximum contract deal. So he’s obviously also told Cousins this. And how would you like to have not only Cousins with his basketball court anger management problems but perceived bitterness over not getting paid what he feels he deserves. And you’re going to trade for Cousins, who has done nothing but be suspended several times and lose games, and make him along with Rose your highest paid players, more even than Noah, who isn’t paid maximum? Of course not. The Bulls were able to control Rodman to some extent because they always had him on one year deals and could cut him any time. Some team probably will take a shot at Cousins, and then have deep regrets. It won’t be the Bulls.
Cleveland is looking to trade the number one pick in this year’s draft. Should Chicago package Deng and its second rounder to pick the two guard from Kansas?
Sam: See, this is my point. You’d rather make a run at Miami with a rookie, freshman shooting guard than Luol Deng? I know the future is fun, but what about trying to win when you may have a chance? Again, a bad team isn’t trading for Deng and losing him in a year.
On a scale of 1 to 10, what is the likeliness the bulls actually trade Deng this offseason? I think we should bring the core group back next year and try for at least one more run at a title.
Sam: Me, too. I suppose there’s a chance Deng could be traded if something intriguing came up or if the Bulls decided to let the fans run the draft and free agency. I’d give chances a 2.
With the talks between the Clippers and the Celtics getting closer by the hour KG and Doc seem to be destined for the west coast, but what about Paul Pierce? He has a five million buyout from the C's and could follow his guys in green to LA but what about Chicago? Could coach Thibs make a call to Paul and make a pitch for him to come to Windy City? With the mini MLE could the Bulls obtain him considering the Clippers probably can’t offer that much more anyway? A 2/3 combination of Deng Butler and Pierce would be really dangerous come playoff time next year.
Sam: Apparently, that deal is falling through given that you cannot link an outside personnel move with a trade. It’s still possible Rivers goes to the Clippers, and then the teams make some sort of trade. And it seems a reasonable chance the Celtics buy out Pierce. The Bulls being in the luxury tax with stiffer penalties to go further into the tax don’t seem likely to use an exception. And if they were they certainly wouldn’t, it would seem to me, for a short term, aging and declining player like Pierce. After all, if he could play at a reasonably high level I doubt the Celtics would just give him away like that. The Bulls aren’t building for six months from now. Plus, my guess if Pierce is bought out he’d most likely return to his hometown Los Angeles, which he’s talked of doing anyway late in his career.
I don't understand why the Clippers are bending so far to Chris Paul's will on trying to get Garnett for Jordan. I am sorry but Jordan is a very athletic 7 footer, they are kind of hard to get a hold of so why the push to trade him and picks for Garnett? I could see if they were bringing in a player who was in his late 20s or whatever, but to give away two picks and a 7 footers for a washed up one year rental? Sorry, Chris Paul is not LeBron James good. I would tell him he doesn't get a say in personal decisions in light of how terrible he would be at it from this example. If he wants to walk let him, I would rather keep those bigs and try Bledsoe out. After all, there are lots of point guards coming up through the league now. Hell, offer to sign and trade CP3 for rondo if he wants to play with Garnett so much. That way the Clippers would actually get somebody good back in the deal. So is Chris Paul even worth the hassle?
Sam: I won’t diminish Paul. He’s very very good, though he hasn’t led any team beyond the second round of the playoffs and is 28. So he’s not bringing titles quite yet. If the Clippers continue to listen to him they’ll never get past the second round, either. They’re probably fortunate the league is keeping them for now from making a major mistake trading for older, declining players with a short shelf life like Garnett and then maybe adding Pierce. If Danny Ainge pulls that off and gets a young seven foot shot blocker and picks he’ll be the new Red Auerbach. One issue as I wrote on my NBA column Monday was the Clippers effectively have no management with Vinny Del Negro gone as Vinny basically took over the personnel duties when he was there. Paul got him fired, and now we know it apparently was to become general manager as well. The Clippers should retain Paul, but they can call his bluff. He’s not going anywhere. He likes Los Angeles and the Clippers are giving him a lot. He’ll still get his coach, whether it is Rivers or Byron Scott or Lionel Hollins. They should just hire the coach and Paul will play for him. He is a competitor. But you don’t let players run your team because they don’t know how to put teams together when they are playing—Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson have mostly shown that—and if things don’t work they’ll blame you, anyway.
I knew the Celtics-Clippers blockbuster deal was never gonna happen; it would have been too bizarre, even for the Clippers. But what about the other rumored blockbuster this week, Dwight Howard to the Clippers in a sign-and-trade for Bledsoe, Griffin and Jordan? This deal would seem to benefit all concerned. Dwight gets to play in LA with his buddy Chris Paul out from under the outsized legacies of Shaq, Kareem and Wilt. The Clippers get the appearance at least of having pulled a fast one on their more-upscale crosstown rivals. The Lakers rid themselves of an unhappy camper and get to keep Pau Gasol, who's a better fit for them anyway. They also get a promising young point guard to take over eventually from Steve Nash, along with a crowd-pleasing dunkmeister who should keep Jack Nicholson and his buddies shelling out megabucks for courtside season tickets. The Lakers could even throw in Metta World Peace, who always seemed more like a Clipper than a Laker anyway. Any possibility this scenario could come true?
Sam: I’d doubt it as the Clippers likely would be closer to a title, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Kobe. And I can’t see the Lakers helping the Clippers to that goal, by the way, with the two players they wanted, Paul from that trade the commissioner rejected, and now Howard. That would just ne too much to take.
Do you think Ricky Ledo would be a good fit for the Bulls at 20?
Sam: Yes, on to the draft. Ledo’s an interesting name as he has an interesting profile as a shooting guard. But he never played in college, so no one quite knows how he would play against high level competition. Given other so called “character” issues before college, he seems a high risk/high reward guy who probably needs a learning curve. That’s usually not the sort of guy the Bulls pursue—other than Tyrus Thomas, and we know how that worked out—and with the loss of bench guys I assume they’ll be looking for more ready to play players. And he doesn’t sound like one.
Because I have too much time on my hands, I follow a half dozen or so Mock Drafts on the Internet and I'm constantly puzzled by the fact that Glen Rice Jr. (and to a lesser extent Tim Hardaway Jr.) are generally relegated to the 2nd Round or the very late first round. Glen Rice seems like a better prospect than many of the 2 guards and small forwards that the mock drafters show going to the Bulls. I know he had a bad showing in college, but it seems like he's dealt with that. What do you hear about Rice and Hardaway, especially from the Bulls?
Sam: The Bulls don’t say much of anything about the draft, and if you hear much about who they want you probably should ignore it as even the coach doesn’t always know who they’re taking. I suppose either would be possible, though there have been questions with Rice from being bounced from school. Though he seemed to have changed with his D-league situation. I’ve mostly heard Hardaway in the middle first round, though scouts say he doesn’t handle the ball well, or as well as a good two guard should. Similarly with Rice, who is not regarded as particularly athletic.
I know the draft is yet to happen but what are the chances of the pick being someone that averages even 8 minutes a game and plays regularly?
Also, do you see Teague playing much or just being third string in case of injuries?
Sam: I think the Bulls are planning (hoping?) to pick someone who can be in their rotation. Will Thibodeau play him? That’s always the question. Given the return of Rose and Hinrich going back to the bench I wonder if the Bulls would look at maybe moving Teague for something like that Dallas No. 13 pick they don’t seem to want. Though I assume Dallas would want a more veteran player.
What does Derrick think the team needs are in the draft and in terms of what it is gonna take to finally cap off a championship?
Sam: Unlike Chris Paul, I get the sense Rose prefers to leave those decisions to management. Remember, if management listened to Michael Jordan, he would have been trying to win a title with Walter Davis and Buck Williams instead of Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant.
The only projected first-rounders as i see no-brainers for the bulls are Dieng and Oladipo. Of course, Vitor will be long gone by the time Chicago selects but what about Gorgui? Really, I'd be surprised and most pleased if he is still available for the bulls. He would fit beautifully on Thibs' system. Great team defender, shot blocker, P&R defender and very good passer. What are the chances of him being available?
Sam: Dieng should be picked right around there in the draft. I think the Bulls would be interested and I could see them taking him if available. The question is do you want a backup big man or a wing player who can become productive and with an upside, like say Ledo. My guess—and it’s just a guess—is unless there’s a guy who falls through whom the Bulls consider so much better I’d guess they’ll go for the big man.
The other day I was arguing with a friend about who is the greatest center of all time. I said wilt because he was more dominant and he had a bigger impact on the game, but he said Kareem because he has more rings/MVPs and he played in an era with more "competitiveness." And when you look at the stats, Wilt has 2 rings and 4 MVPs, while Kareem has 6 rings and 6 MVPs. My question is, what are the most important achievements for a player to qualify him as one of the greatest? Rings? MVP trophies? Skills? Impact on the game? Dominance in his era?
Sam: It’s a question without an answer; the tiebreaker in arguments is usually championships, which would make Bill Russell No. 1. Kareem usually gets No. 3 behind Russell and Wilt in some order. But I can accept Kareem as No. 1 given his combination of championships and all-time leading scoring. I usually go with Wilt because he was the most dominant player in the era with the majority of the top 15 players in NBA history. Wilt gets criticized because of only two titles, but Russell had so many better teammates than anyone. Wilt didn’t take it as seriously as Russell, I’ll admit, in part I always felt because it came too easy for Wilt and Russell had to give every bit of everything he had because he was so much less talented than Wilt. That doesn’t honor Wilt, but he never had the organization or management Russell did. You get to pick one of the three and aren’t wrong.