Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 08.02.2013
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I know the Bulls are bargain shopping but why can't they land a reasonable backup big man? It seems like Dejuan Blair would've been a nice addition but he's going to the Mavs, Camby passed on us because he wants to coach, it seems like quality big men are just about gone. Al Harrington is soon to be released, do you think the Bulls would consider him? At least he can stretch the floor. Or do you think we might resign Malcolm Thomas? Darryl Rogers
Sam: I know the big worry now is the 10th or 11th player on the roster, a backup center, second or third string. Rarely do championships hinge on that. Sure, the Bulls have been trying. But I tend to agree that if you can’t get the player you want, don’t get the player who may want you. Players like Blair and Harrington are not centers. So they make limited sense. Plus, your season isn’t determined by what happens in July. There’s plenty of time to add someone as the playoffs, by my calculations, don’t start for about nine months, during which time any sort of production can occur. As I’ve written before, I prefer playing a good power forward to a bad center. I know fans love to spend the team’s money. But this era effectively starts this season with the penal new taxes that if you get into them regularly will prohibit you from adding high level players in the future. So you don’t get desperate for a 10th man now unless he’s the right one. It doesn’t appear the right one is there for now.
Al Harrington says he lost 30 lbs and feels good. He said he wants to join a contender. Let's roll?
Sam: He’s an interesting name, though his issue has been really bad knees. So it’s unclear how any weight loss will help his deteriorating knees. Of course, he’s a forward, one who likes to shoot who can’t guard threes and doesn’t much care for rebounding. You probably can do better.
The Pacers just added Scola to their bench along with CJ Watson and Chris Copeland. And with either Granger or Lance Stephenson coming off the bench they will be potent offensively as well as defensively. The Nets (AK47, Blatche, Terry, Livingston and Evans) and the Heat (Cole, Allen, Battier, Lewis and Anderson) have excellent benches too. (The only one we can make fun of are the Knicks). You need to add at least one more quality bench contributor. How hard can it be to convince Jamison to play meaningful minutes chasing a ring with the Bulls? I can see one of our three young players (Teague, Snell and Murphy) being able to contribute. Counting on two or all three to come up big is too risky.
Sam: They’re not centers, either. That’s the other side of the debate: Get more talent and forget about just a big man. The backup center slot is viewed as at least to give Noah a break on minutes played, which is important, obviously. But there’s the case you make of keeping up with the depth of your competitors. The Bulls bench seems improved with Hinrich moving to backup. That makes it Hinrich and an apparently improved Teague behind Rose and Butler; Dunleavy, Gibson and Murphy or Snell behind Boozer and Deng and Mohammed behind Noah. The Pacers did make a strong move with Scola. The key for them will be Granger and how he fits in and accepts the backup role. The Nets’ situation figures to be erratic as Jason Kidd works on rotations. Dunleavy, Hinrich and Gibson all could be starters elsewhere, so that’s a solid eight. I loved what I saw from Teague in the summer. If Mohammed can be solid in 10 to 12 minutes per game the Bulls should be fine to start the season. And for now it appears they’re also holding open flexibility in case of injury.
The big men are going fast, but I really like many things about Cole Aldrich. Seems like a good young energy prospect that can score and play defense.
Sam: He’s likely on their list, but my sense for now is to hold off until the need is greater, which it often isn’t at the start of August.
I'm impressed with what the Bulls have done this off-season (not that my being impressed makes any difference to anyone who actually knows the game), and it sounds as if the last item on the to-do list is a third center. I've heard a lot of possibilities, but no one seems to have mentioned Jason Collins who, as a veteran defensive big, sounds like he'd fit the bill. Do you think Collins is on that long list of possibilities? Either way, how do you think his big announcement at the start of the summer is affecting the free agent offers he is or is not getting?
Sam: There’s that elephant in the room. No one in the NBA much likes to talk about this one, though not because Collins announced he is gay. Well, sort of. This is a tricky one because being gay probably means less to anyone in the NBA than in any major sport. NBA guys given their early celebrity in life and high profile tend to be the most sophisticated of pro athletes. And there is no league even close to the NBA in its commitment to social justice and as unbiased and color blind. I have heard of several players over the last 20 years whom coaches or teammates believed was gay, and nobody much cared. If they didn’t want to say, that was fine. They were treated the same. Actually, the guy you most stayed away from was Ron Artest as you never knew what he would do. The issue with Collins is not that he declared being gay but that he declared it in the New York Times and Sports Illustrated and People magazine and CBS news cared. NBA teams worry about someone knowing their pick and roll calls. Not their social calls. I raised Collins’ name with several team executives when he made his announcement and the consensus seemed to be the fear of distraction because of the media. Not Collins. His announcement, which was viewed as a major development, brought widespread and mainstream media attention. Teams don’t like talking to TMZ and US magazine. They don’t want their players being asked in every city they go to about playing with Collins. The players, I’ve found, couldn't care less on the whole. But there would be stories and press conferences and “outsiders” being around to potentially provoke issues, perhaps boycotts by fringe groups. No one is quite sure. But they pretty much agreed for a soon-to-be 36-year-old center who barely has played the last few years it wasn’t worth the potential trouble. Everyone was hoping someone else would sign him as he’s a likeable guy widely admired and respected. But no one seemed to indicate they wanted it to be them. Which the summer free agency seems to be suggesting. It will be a story to watch, at least for a few more months. I hope he does sign somewhere as he’s always been a credit to the league, which most executives I spoke with agreed.
I have been reading much lately on the recent free agent class, specifically how close the Clippers came to losing Chris Paul. I believe that Paul may have left without the addition of Rivers but I am not sure it was wise to pander so much to Paul. We are increasingly seeing teams in the league do all they can to keep their players short of offering ownership stake. My reservations about pandering to Paul include his very poor post season record. I understand the need lock up a proven talent such as Kobe or LeBron. But players like Paul (2 post season series wins in 8 years) or Wall (no post season appearences) Irving (no above .500 season finishes) do not seem to be worth leveraging the farm for. I will not deny the obvious talent that is there but how does one justify such gymnastics to keep players that have accomplished so little? What are your thoughts on this level of pandering just so that your star does not dump you for a hot new team/owner?
Sam: It's a new world as we saw with 2010 free agency when Dwyane Wade remade his team. Paul was never going to leave, I'm convinced and they believed. But they did not want to call his bluff. Though perhaps the larger question is who is so accomplished? Durant? Carmelo? Harden? Curry? Deron Williams? There really aren't that many stars, so when you have a player better than your other players you make accommodations. I'm no great fan of Wall's, but I'd probably pay him as well as your chances of getting great talent are limited. Now there is speculation the Knicks to keep Carmelo next summer will tell him he can build the team when they have money in 2015. Of course, no one much likes to play with Anthony. So it's probably a moot point. The NBA tried to wrest the game away from the stars in the last labor agreement, but basically could not the way free agency is structured in this era. And there's little penalty for jumoing your team. They created the monster and now it's on top of the Empire State. Hey, I'm rolling now! Anyway, it's nice to say you'll build your team your way and not listen to your star player. But as players leave today regularly you don't have much choice. And Wade did basically put together a better team than most executives. I'm fairly sure every team will operate that way now. And what's wrong with keeping your best player? The Clippers are a better team now. What's wrong with the accommodations they made?
Are the Bulls interested in Chris Wilcox? Athletic big man who played with Thibs in Boston. Wilcox have that affinity with the ball. Seems always in the right place at the right time to grab rebounds and score (mostly in the dead spot below the rim).
Sam: I haven’t heard his name as he’s really another version of Taj, though not as good a defender. Probably too small for what they have in mind and he’s always been more of an offensive minded guy. Maybe a return for someone like Kurt Thomas, who was cut by the Knicks last season.
I was just reading an article about various players from the 2010 draft class and whether to extend or wait. When discussing Cousins, the consensus seemed to be that the Kings should extend his contract. I initially thought that that seemed insane considering who we're talking about, but then one of the writers mentioned a front office passing on a potential star is more likely to ruin a franchise than extending a bust. I was wondering what you thought of that line of thought.
Sam: I guess the question becomes whether Cousins is a star. Or if he could become one as he hardly is for now. We do know he’s a bit eccentric. I wouldn’t be opposed to an extension if I were the Kings, though I heard he is seeking a maximum. I’m not going there. But in either case I’d trade him. He is a star talent. Given his basketball skills he’s reminiscent of Chris Webber, though taller, sort of the five-tool version of a basketball player. But without much basketball IQ and in need of Ron Artest’s anger management counselor. I know he’s only 23, but in three seasons he’s been one of the most disruptive players on any team, Rasheed Wallace without the impact. The problem is given his level of all around talent and issues there probably isn’t a great market for him at this point at reasonable value. You don’t want to be giving him up for so little. I’d probably ride it out given he’d be a restricted free agent after this season. Then if he gets an offer you could match if he’s deserving. In the meantime, I’d hope he’s playing more in control and appealing to someone and I’d try to trade him as quickly as I could. He’s no criminal and seemingly not a bad person. You just can’t succeed with players of that mentality being your best talent.
The Bulls and Pacers have changed a lot since that 4-1 opening series win for the Bulls in 2010, particularly the Pacers. Could you please provide some analysis of a Bulls/Pacers playoff match up should they meet again this upcoming season? Do you believe the Bulls even with Rose 100% can win the Central?
Sam: I don’t get into too much specific prediction until I at least see a few minutes of a preseason game. But I am impressed with what the Pacers have quietly done without three or two stars, and until recently just one. Like the Bulls, they have a chance to defy the notion that you need two or three top 10 players to win an NBA title. It would be tough, I believe, to say Paul George is top 10. And nobody among the Pacers beyond him is even close. But developing the way the Pacers and Bulls have could be more the model in the NBA’s future as the new labor deal makes it difficult to have multiple maximum salaried stars. That’s why the Thunder traded James Harden and why Miami fears losing one of its so called Big Three. The Pacers have put together a strong team of second and third tier “stars,” like David West, Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert and now Scola. None will probably be All-Stars. Maybe Hibbert. Maybe West, but they are hardly certain to make it. Like the Bulls in 2010-11 with their greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts team led by Derrick Rose you can compete for a title that way. Dallas won it in 2011 that way. The Spurs should have last season. The Bulls and Pacers know this and in many respects their games will be much more vital than their games with Miami. I have the Bulls winning the Central, at least for now.
I do not use Twitter and I can not find Jimmy's offical facebook page, but when you get a chance to see him, can you shake that mans hand for me. Since Marquette days I have watched Jimmy develop. I can't believe how far he has come, since I saw him step onto the court in the United Center I told everyone Jimmy will surely be the face of our franchise soon enough.
Sam: So the Bulls do have a second star after all, eh?. Butler has come far and fast, but I’ll hold off on face of the franchise for a bit. But, yes, I am a bit stuffy when it comes to these things. Sometimes I actually want to see a guy start more than 20 games. Of course, after Jordan had played 20 games I felt fairly sure he was better than Rod Higgins.
I am very pleased with the Bulls draft picks and Dunleavy, Jr. should be a great pick up as well. I, like many others was intrigued by Louisville's Dieng, but after seeing and reading some more on Snell, I am quite taken with him and think he could end up being a great two-way guard. With Camby opting to become the what, 4th center for the Rockets, that leaves the Bulls with some slim pickings to find a viable backup for Noah. I like that they brought Nazr back, but he is more insurance than a solid option to play big minutes. So my main target would be Houston's Greg Smith. I don't know if that is even possible as he currently has an unguaranteed deal with the Rockets. Could the Bulls then offer him a fully guaranteed deal and possible even use that same loop hole they used against us to steal away Asik? Greg Smith would be a great back up as he is young enough, but also active and actually has some offensive game with probably the biggest hands in the game. I am actually somewhat relieved Camby opted against joining the Bulls as he is now 39 and it is unknown if he has anything left.
Sam: I do think Camby would have been a good risk, though given his family is in Houston it’s pretty tough to explain to them that your home town team wants you but you are going to spend the season 1,000 miles away as a backup. So no one else really had a chance once Houston got in. Which I also assume means Omer is sure to be traded at some point before February. Greg Smith, given he played eight games last season and comes via the Mexican league, isn’t a name I hear much. I appreciate your scouting acumen, but at this point I’d probably remain open for something better, which the Bulls appear to be doing. This should not be a developmental season.
Don’t you worry that Rose is going to try too hard to show the world that he is still the best and end up messing things up? Even without this chip on his shoulder he constantly tried to take things in his hands and shoulder. I think that the players play better without Rose. However, the team is better off with Rose. Rose undercuts the other guys potential performance. I’m really curious to find out what his game attitude and approach will be now, since he is really really hungry to make a point. Actually, I’m afraid.
Sam: I know memories are short and if there hasn’t been a Twitter entry in the last few hours you sometimes forget people are alive. I’ll go slowly so more can understand: Derrick Rose is by far the best player the Bulls have had since Michael Jordan and thus far the second best player in franchise history. The Bulls only chance of achieving anything substantial rests with Rose and his playing at a high level. Rose being on the court makes the game easier for all his teammates and makes them better. He didn’t just start to play. He has played basketball at a high level for more than a decade and by all accounts has recovered from his injury. I expect he will go out and compete as he always has because that is what he knows. Anyone can get hurt at any time, as we saw last season with the likes of Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and many other young, star players. But there will be no reason to believe Rose is more vulnerable than anyone else.
Nikola Mirotic, a new Dirk or a new Radmanovic? What do you see in your crystal ball?
Sam: Actually, a lot of that fake snow that flies around. Maybe a new Detlef Schrempf if the Bulls are fortunate.
Do you think there is any chance that coach Thib's participation with Team USA will help in bringing in free agents in the future?
Sam: It would be nice, though it didn’t seem to do much for former assistants Nate McMillan and Mike D’Antoni.
Do you think Rose will play for the US?
Sam: Yes. I know team president Jerry Colangelo had to be cautious in remarks last week at the USA camp because Rose has not played in more than a year. But he would have been on the 2012 team if he were not hurt. He’s played every chance he’s had with USA Basketball, played on the gold medal winning 2010 World Championship team and played with USA Basketball previously in junior tournaments. USA Basketball values previous commitment, and, by the way, Rose was an NBA MVP winner. He’s a lock to be on the 2014 World Cup team (they changed the name from World Championships to World Cup) and the 2016 Olympic team given good health.
Who specifically can the Bulls bring from free agency to help what Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli left?
Sam: The Bulls opted for Dunleavy over Belinelli. Many also tend to forget Nate was brought in only as an emergency fill in because Rose was hurt. Rose, as I’ve noted exclusively, is expected to play this coming season.
What ever happened to Andres Nocioni? He use to bring so much passion and fire to the game for the Bulls! Is there any way the Bulls can reach out to him to fill that "energy guy" off the bench to replace Nate Robinson for 2013-2014? The Bulls always had that energy crowd pleaser that gets the whole United Center involved like Nate, JL3, and Scal but I'm just not seeing it this year with this roster.
Sam: I think the reason Noce is out of the NBA — he played in Europe last season — is there isn’t much energy left in those legs. Perhaps the team can bring in some rodeo clowns.
What is the scenario with that Charlotte pick? Is there a chance the Bulls get that pick before 2016? I thought I read it was top 10 protected in 2015.
Sam: The protections have begun. The Bulls must take it the first time it becomes available. It is top 10 protected in 2014 and top eight protected in 2015. If the Bulls don’t have it by then, they get it no matter what in 2016. The Bobcats (soon to be Hornets again) probably need to win 30 to 32 games in each of the next two seasons for the Bulls to get the pick, which they’d want as they don’t want to risk it becoming a high lottery pick in 2016. If the Bobcats/Hornets continue with poor seasons as expected at least this season and get fortunate in the upcoming drafts they could climb to wins in the 30’s, which would make the pick around the No. 8 to No. 10 spot in 2016. But if they continue to languish toward the bottom of the East, the Bulls would have a shot at a top three pick in 2016. The Bulls acquired the pick for Tyrus Thomas, whom the Bobcats let go with amnesty this summer and who remains a free agent. Tyrus is said to be in the gym to build up his body so he has a shot at not being beaten up by Paul Silas or other grandparents again.
How do you think the Bulls-Heat opener will go down?
Sam: That leaked out last week as the possible opener for the Bulls. The schedule is still being finalized and put back for release, I heard, another week. So we cannot be fully sure. But it does make some sense to have Rose’s return in a marquee game like that with the Heat getting their rings. That’s always a very tough game for the home team. The Bulls were 3-3 in those games, though two of the losses were after Jordan left. The one in 1994 with Jordan watching in the front row was one of the team’s worst losses, 95-71 to Miami. So perhaps it’s time for Bulls revenge. The visiting team has to sit there in their locker room waiting out the long ceremony and generally comes out with an edge. It should make for a great start to the season if that is the opener. And you have to love Miami in late October when the first snows have hit Chicago.
I'm writing to you for the first time. Even though I live in Montenegro I stay up for Bulls games and your columns and mailbags are my intro into the NBA. I only have one message for all the Bulls fans no matter what stay by the team. We have had some rough years and we should be grateful for the oportunuty this Bulls team is giving us, and there is hope for a championship. So instead of complaining and overanalyzing what has been a great Summer we should only be focused on cheering this team to the finals and proving that we are the best fans out there. Best regards from a loyal Bull fanatic from Montenegro.
Sam: Thanks for your perspective. And for not suggesting the Bulls trade everyone for Pekovic, one of your countrymen. We here sometimes forget the reach of the NBA and the Bulls and that we are not alone, except when listening to a discussion of Knicks' title chances. I do think Bulls are in a competitive position for the 2013-14 season, though just one of perhaps eight or 10 favorites for the title. This will be my last Ask Sam for the Summer as I’ll be back before training camp in the Fall. There’s a Montenegro proverb that goes, No matter how hard you try, the bull will never give you milk. I think that's my cue. I'm out of here, folks.