Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 07.26.2013
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I must say I have been counting down the days until training camp even starts. This season will hold much in the way of compelling story lines. Seems half the league is intent on tanking for a deep draft. You have perennial powerhouses that are going to look like teams of scrubs (looking at you Lakers and Celtics). Finally you have the NBA teams that are going to make a run at the title and the perpetual villains of the league looking for a 3-peat. With all this in mind, the most exciting aspect is the return of D Rose. Truthfully, I think at some point he could have played last season but I am glad that he chose not to. I did not find myself angry over the idea. We were still treated to a fantastic season, in fact, I would argue it was one of the better seasons in Chicago that had no parade at the end of it. To top this all off we have a Derrick Rose that is no doubt going to play with a chip on his shoulder which I cannot wait for. Athletes such as himself are very good when they play angry. What has Rose so angry? How bout discovering have the Bulls fans in Chicago really we’re fair-weather fans, people anointing Kyrie Irving the best PG in the division (without even close to a sub .500 finish no less) and now Rose seems to be the subject of ridicule because he has confidence? Big deal he thinks he is the best player in the league right now, how is this surprising that a superstar believes that they are amazing. Good for Derrick. I think this ACL recovery has made him mature more into manhood plus he had a son in the interim too and I am sure that will boost his maturity as well. What are your thoughts on Rose and the way the league seems to have written him off already?
Sam: I think you expressed it well. The negative backlash toward Rose was a surprise to me. And I’m from New York, where they booed Roger Maris on the way to 61 home runs because he was not Mickey Mantle, who they were booing before because, well, who knows and what the heck was he looking at! Many athletes would look at it like Chicago isn’t a very good place to play. But I never sensed a thing like that from Rose, who I’ve always found mature and, you may be right, grew up even more. I think having his child helped as well and I got a kick out of him saying this week he’s the league’s best. Of course, what is he supposed to say? But beyond that it’s reminiscent of when he asked why he shouldn’t be the MVP and then went out and won it. I thought it was no coincidence he did so after the summer free agency hunt when everyone, including the Bulls, were chasing LeBron James. In Rose’s mind, I suspect it was something like, “OK, you think he’s so hot.” Well, now LeBron is going for a third and no one mentions anyone at his level. So Rose is reminding people not to forget about him when they think LeBron is all that. It’s a great sign for the Bulls that Rose retains that attitude, and you know he wouldn’t if he didn’t feel healthy and wasn’t practicing at a high level. I know it’s sort of romantic to say he’ll come back angry like some Dirty Harry movie. But I believe with Derrick it’s more he just loves to play and compete and can’t wait to get back. That’s what was so surprising with the fan and media reaction. Anyone who’d seen Rose the previous few years had to know what a great competitor he is and how he just loves to play. That Rose would prefer to sit out showed a lack of understanding of who he is, if not the game in general, and how much the game means to him. We all must qualify with Rose given we have basically not seen him healthy since he won that MVP in 2011. But his return is going to be a great story and that he’s putting himself on the line so early also suggests he’s ready.
Give me your best guess at the starting lineup for the Bulls in 14-15!
Sam: Did the Bulls win in 2014?
More and more I'm liking what the Bulls did this year in the draft. Snell seems solid and has been amazing the during the last Summer games. Erik Murphy seems to be settling in as well. I'm really seeing Snell as being a solid player in the NBA. So far how would you rate this offseason for the Bulls from 1-10?
Sam: I’d say the Bulls had a good offseason given a limited agenda. Perhaps you look for a backup big man, which they don’t have yet. So it would look more like an eight given that the rookies look pretty good despite being low picks and they did make a nice free agency pickup with Mike Dunleavy in place of Marco Belinelli in a limited free agency/trade agenda. I think one of the biggest things has been the play of Marquis Teague, who for the first time I’ve ever seen him is playing without the harness of being afraid of making a mistake and being taken out. He showed a shot and the quickness we knew he had as well as an impressive confidence. While many fans pine for Nate, I like Teague’s overall game better coming off the bench to support Rose.
Do you think the Bulls are going to change anything in preparation and/or in how they handle players' minutes during the season to avoid injuries late in the season or the playoffs? I read you regularly and I know you've said these guys are young and should be able to handle it and 3 less minutes should not make all that much of a difference but you've also been saying, regarding the Rose injury, that everyone is different. So maybe some of these guys cannot handle the minutes the way their age would suggest. I'm not saying that's the case just asking if the Bulls are looking to change anything with that in mind.
Sam: It’s a classic second guess given guys like LeBron, Harden, Durant, Aldridge, Paul George and even soft-ankled Stephen Curry played as much or more than many of the Bulls. I’m not sure Noah doesn’t get plantar fasciitis with fewer minutes. Taj didn’t play a lot and got hurt. Deng’s worst injury was a virus. I think this tends to get overstated at times, though Thibodeau did say a few weeks ago he wants to cut back Noah’s minutes. The larger issue is the coach believes it tends to get overstated. And you leave with who brung ya, or something like that. In other words, if you want Thibodeau as your coach — which you do — then you have to go along with his coaching and his philosophy, and he believes in playing his regulars much like Pat Riley did when he coached. Thibodeau has said he plans to cut back some on playing time, and obviously they’ll be careful, at least early on, with Rose. But no one managed minutes more than Gregg Popovich and the Spurs still had late season injuries. Also, the oldest Bulls regular, Carlos Boozer, played the second most minutes on the team and never was hurt. Michael Jordan in his last 10 full seasons with the Bulls played more minutes each season than anyone on this Bulls team. He never got hurt. It happens to some guys no matter how much or how little they play. So play them and see what happens, I suspect, is Thibs’ philosophy. I don’t expect many major changes, and in a competitive East and perhaps going for the best record again there probably won’t be that much time for rest. I guess you can be extra cautious given team history, but I doubt many fans will appreciate the team giving up games in the hope that guys may not sprain their ankle in May. And then having to play that last playoff game on the road. The Bulls pulled one out in Brooklyn, but Miami needed it to win a title.
Assuming Noah continues at his current or better level for the next few years, wouldn’t he be recognized as the premier center in Bulls history? Cartwright and Gilmore were very good but isn’t Noah a step above them?
Sam: As no Bulls center since Gilmore in 1982 has made an All-Star team you can begin to make the case. Gilmore made four All-Star teams as a Bull and is in the Basketball Hall of Fame, though as much for his time in the ABA. Still, it would be tough to put Noah ahead of him. Then you get to accomplishment. Cartwright came to the Bulls to be a defensive role player and started for three championship teams and was an integral piece given the high level centers playing in that era. Noah has had some great moments in the playoffs, but he’s had a history of injuries in recent seasons that have set him back and still keep him from the top of the list among Bulls centers, hardly a great franchise source of pride. But given the weak field and Noah’s age you may be able to make the case eventually. Getting a title or at least to a Finals would be a tiebreaker.
Do you think DaJuan Blair might be a decent option to fill out the roster? He was caught in a tough rotation in San Antonio but was productive in limited action. He might not be part of Bulls playoff rotation but he plays hard, can score and rebound and you need guys like that during the dog days of the NBA season.
Sam: He likely wants more than a minimum, which is where the Bulls are now considering their payroll well into the luxury tax. I’ve heard Blair is looking for more than that, though he doesn’t much solve the issue as he’s about 6-6. You’d rather keep Thomas.
I understand that older players are normally cheaper players but, Marcus Camby? Why don't the Bulls try to develop younger big men?
Sam: The Bulls aren’t — and probably shouldn’t be — into development as they have a chance to compete for the title this season. You don’t see the coach play young players, which is not a negative as Phil Jackson didn’t play developmental players and you never saw the Bulls add young players once they were established. Phil often said you win with men. You don’t see many developmental players, especially big men, in the latter stages of the playoffs. Plus, a player like Marcus Camby could help and the Bulls could use a backup to Noah. Camby seems a longshot, however, since he lives in Houston and the Rockets are interested. The Bulls are supposedly among several teams recruiting him. You’ve seen in recent years how veteran big men, like Kurt Thomas and back to Antonio Davis and Brad Miller, have helped. It’s the way to go if you can find the right guy.
What do you think will become of The Mini-Mamba, Mr. Goudelock? Don't you think he can fill the role we've had the past few years as that firecracker coming off the bench (John Lucas III, Nate Robinson)? We are going to be shorthanded at the backup shooting guard position anyway and I know Thibs can bring out the best in him. I mean he's the D-league MVP for crying out loud, he's going to get a job somewhere, right? Might as well be with us.
Sam: He had a good Summer League, but technically didn’t make the all-tourney team with a couple of poor shooting games in the middle. I like him, but the Bulls actually are pretty good at guard and shooting wing with Rose, Butler, Hinrich, Teague, who shot threes exceptionally well in Summer League, Snell and Dunleavy. And that’s not even mentioning Deng. Like with Nate, Goudelock probably wouldn’t play much and he’s really good enough to be more than a few times a month player. The talk is he has a lucrative deal to play overseas.
Think the Bulls can sign Johan Petro from the Hawks? He seems better (Stats/minutes played) than Priz or Gray.
Sam: Aaron Gray? That would define desperation. I don’t believe they are that desperate. It’s not like their fate rests on a backup big man. Even though they released Malcolm Thomas more for technical economic reasons for now, he could be in camp. Plus, Taj Gibson can handle some backup big man minutes and Nazr Mohammed will be better prepared and more familiar to Thibodeau to open the season and should get more minutes than last season. So for now, I wouldn’t settle. And I wouldn’t give anyone a guarantee unless that’s your guy. You never know who’ll come available and you want to retain that flexibility. The Bulls as long as Rose is OK are making the playoffs at a high seed. So you have several times during the season when guys become available: Guarantee date, trade deadline, release date in early March. Unless someone is there now whom they like, it would seem they can monitor transactions for awhile.
Can you explain to me the latest Bulls moves? I don't quite understand. I get it that they wanted to address shooting in the draft, but now when you look at it, there is no viable center that they can sign. I was high on Dieng for center at the draft. Again with Mohammed/Gibson, Noah will play heavy minutes at center which is really bad. He needs more rest in my opinion to stay healthy long term. Now they waived Malcolm Thomas who learned Thibs system for one year and could buy some minutes with his strong rebounding ability.
Sam: I think the draft picks showed in summer league they were good picks, and Erik Murphy also is an option to grab a few minutes backing up inside. Yes, they could have gone for a center in the draft, but Snell demonstrated he’s a potential high level talent, and the draft is about getting the best player, not about the position. We haven’t seen Dieng yet, but it’s tough to see at this point that he has a higher ceiling, though he does have a higher forehead, than Snell. If you get a chance at No. 20 to get a versatile wing man who can make shot, you can’t go wrong going that way. At least at first glance it seems the Bulls have made another good low first round pick. And we still will see on Mirotic probably next summer. The general consensus seems to be the Bulls are one of the top three teams in the East this season. That would suggest reasonable moves, at least.
I remember Larry Bird saying that the Pacers will not go into the luxury tax no matter what. Stating that being a small market team it's just not economical. With Hibbert and West signed to big contracts will they have the money to sign George to a max deal? If not I think he would be the perfect upgrade to Deng.
Sam: With Granger’s deal expiring they should have plenty of room to resign George. More interesting is how much help Granger will be and whether he’ll be healthy enough to try to trade. The Pacers are considered a top four team in the East coming into next season. But George excelled playing small forward, Granger’s position. Granger could be a huge boost given the Pacers had trouble scoring. But would he return and overwhelm George, who was passive until Granger was hurt and hadn’t developed as much? Many suggest Granger would be ideal off the bench, but would he accept that as the Pacers only All-Star in previous seasons? Most of the talk of an injured star last season was about Derrick Rose. But Granger’s return will be a big story for the Pacers and perhaps delicate issue.
Nate signs with Nuggets. So Lawson, Nate, Foye. I heard [the] Nuggets will try and coax Muggsy Bogues out of retirement.
Sam: They do have an awfully small backcourt, so it’s obvious they’re not playing any defense at all this season. Not that they played much before, and they lost their best defender in Andre Iguodala. Good luck Brian Shaw. I’m afraid he’s in for a shocker in a city with high expectations and a team not up to that level. Nate, JaVale McGee, Anthony Randolph, J.J. Hickson, Kenneth Faried and Gallinari coming back from injury part way through the season? That’s a team looking at a tough start. I think we also have the answer about whether Shaw is running the triangle offense.
We needed Nate back. You said yourself he was the toughest guy on our team last year and that's exactly why we need him back. He's not scared to get in somebody's face if needs be and he's strong enough to actually intimidate someone, which can throw them off their game. I saw JL3 get in LeBron's face because of a blind screen and LeBron laughed him off. Nate got leveled by Wallace and combusted. Yes, he's more than a little crazy and a distraction. But he can be very very special too. He single handedly scored us back into game 4 against Brooklyn. He can play an integral role on this team. We need a sixth man. Who is our bench scorer right now, Dunleavy? Taj? Teague? Kirk? Snell? Nate can score in bunches and he's not scared to be clutch. We can find some minutes for him this year. I'm sure Rose and Kirk will be dinged up at sometime during the year. He is the only guy we can really get that can be a legit second scoring threat if a team decides to throw the kitchen sink at Derrick. I think he has more good potential than bad. Everybody needs a good sixth man, why not Nate?
Sam: It seemed pretty obvious the Bulls weren’t bringing Nate back. I know he’s a fan favorite, and I know he’ll get a great welcome when the Nuggets come into the United Center. I have my doubts about him signing with Denver given so many small guards. That was one issue with Nate, though the Bulls dealt with it well. I think the larger issue was with Rose back and Hinrich moving to backup and Teague clearly showing in Summer League he can play and the team needing to find out if he can, Nate was going to be fifth guard, which means basically never playing. I think the Bulls extended the basic minimum to Nate, but even without an offer I didn’t expect him to accept that given the obvious lack of playing time ahead. Clearly because of his versatility, Thibodeau prefers Hinrich. And while guys get hurt, they don’t always. Thibodeau is big on the guy at the end of the bench, like Scalabrine and John Lucas, being one of those guys just happy to be in the NBA and fine with not playing for two or three weeks straight. I think it’s clear having been around Nate for a year he never was going to put up with that, which could have led to issues with Thibodeau. Nate’s history with being released numerous times includes combustible instances. He was always meant as a one year fill in for both parties: To have a guard with Rose out and for Nate to reestablish his value given he didn’t get a guarantee last summer. Now he got two years at about $4 million, which worked for the Bulls and for Nate. Win/win.
Write an article about Nate. Talk about how in a year that looked bleak due to Rose being out and other injuries, Nate always made it entertaining. Talk about [how] he matured with us and how the guys really liked him. Also how Bulls fans will always be greatful for what he did for us. Also talk about how he broke the dreaded curse of the #2 jersey.
Sam: I actually thought Nate was a good signing for so little at the time. Though he did much better than I ever imagined. His Game 4 against the Nets will remain a franchise classic. But it also was the perfect environment for Nate with a demanding coach who has respect and a hard working, serious team. Nate didn’t always have that in previous seasons, and when he didn’t he tended to lose focus. I don’t sense the Denver roster will be a great spot, but it’s his best deal and most security and has to take it. Though his offer came late in free agency, the Bulls always expected he’d get a guaranteed deal they wouldn’t be able match given their financial situation and needs. Hey, Norm was No. 2. Though lately, yes, it was Jannero Pargo, Tim Thomas, Thabo Sefolosha, Eddy Curry, Khalid El-Amin, Mark Bryant, Dennis Hopson, Rory Sparrow and Brad Sellers, who also wore No. 6. How did Nate survive?
The Bulls opted to go for perimeter shooting in the draft instead of a defensive minded center such as Dieng. I think that was the right move. Along those lines would they consider signing Antawn Jamison as the back up big? He would be a good stretch four to back up Boozer with Taj backing up Noah at center which I feel is better suited to Taj's skill set. And Jamison can be the perfect mentor for Erik Murphy. I think with Kobe recovering from injury and the turmoil besetting Lakerland this season, Antawn may want to sign with a legitimate contender and can probably be signed at the veterans minimum. If either Snell or Teague break through, the Bulls would be solid at every position off the bench.
Sam: I’ve always liked Jamison. I’d sign him for a minimum, and I think he’d be wise to give the Bulls a shot given he’s trying to get with a potential title or contending team, which is why he went to the Lakers for so cheap. The rumors have been that he would sign with the Clippers, and it is tough to get them to leave once you’ve been to L.A., Dwight Howard excluded. He might feel the way the Bulls are structured there wouldn’t be enough playing time, though I’d go for him if I could as I always prefer the skilled player to the unskilled big. Of course, given his detour with the Lakers last season he might also feel it’s time to take as much money as he can as, after all, he thought he’d be in the Finals last season and he won as many playoff games as the Bobcats did.
So looking forward to the season do you see the Bulls keeping Murphy on the team? The value of a stretch 4 has grown lately. If he can defend some of the other 4s in the league I like what he brings to the table. It would be a real big deal for the Bulls to hit on another quality draft. Very few teams in the league have gotten the quality rotational players that the Bulls have gotten in recent years. The full roster is changing to 13 players this season correct? That means that they sort of have room to keep Murphy and still look for a 3rd Center.
Sam: I think it was 13. In any case, I assume Murphy will remain. For one thing, he deserves to. But in this NBA he’s very valuable as a cheap player without a big guarantee as a second round pick. Plus, he has that vital skill of being able to make threes. I doubt he or Snell really play all that much as rookies as Thibodeau likes a veteran rotation, as most coaches do, and the Bulls, at least without injury, have a pretty solid nine or 10 in Rose, Boozer, Deng, Hinrich, Noah, Butler, Dunleavy, Gibson and after his Summer League experience I’d say Teague and Nazr as well. But you can give Murphy some minutes at times with his shot and a big enough body to bang around inside.
[I read an] interesting article about Mirotic. Apparently he's just joined the Euro league 50-40-90 club.
Sam: Well, it’s not exactly the Hall of Fame with Trajan Langdon, but it does demonstrate that Mirotic can shoot. Which works anywhere. Obviously, there are issues with a buyout and cap room for next summer and what the Bulls end up doing with the players they have and how they do this season. As quiet as this offseason was for the Bulls, 2014 could be as wild as 2010. Mirotic is effectively first eligible to come then, but the Bulls will have a lot of other decisions to make as well. They probably also have to ask LeBron if he likes him.
I am excited for Nikola Mirotic’s eventual arrival. I have even been following him in Euro league a little. When he does come over what are the financial and tax implications? I know Bulls have to buy out his contract, but does that count against the cap? Is he limited to the rookie contract as if he were just drafted?
Sam: Basically, the reason he stayed three years — at least — is he had to get past the limitations of his rookie deal when he’d earn only about $1 million. Since teams can only pay $300,000 of a buyout, he has to pay most of it. So if he were to come to the NBA in the first three seasons after he was drafted it actually would cost him money to play in the NBA after paying his buyout. He’ll still have a buyout, but the Bulls will be able to pay him as a free agent with cap room or an exception, which should be enough for his buyout and to surpass his European salary. Which is also why there remains no guarantee he’ll come for the 2014-15 season. The Bulls will have to have a decent salary for him, and that will depend on who else stays from the current team and what other moves they may make. So a lot will depend on the upcoming season and next Summer.
What do you think will be the two teams in the finals? Who do you think will win it all?
Sam: Can I at least watch some preseason games? I’m going to do a last NBA column Monday looking at teams toward next season. But given we know how much even the great Bulls teams struggled trying to win a third straight and no one else could do it in the great 80’s years, I think it will be a tough ride for Miami. So the league opens up next season more so than for many years. I have the Bulls, Heat, Nets, Pacers, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Rockets as legitimate title contenders and some much improved teams like Cleveland, Washington and tough teams in Memphis, Golden State and maybe even the Lakers. It should be a great season.