Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 09.12.2014
In this special edition, Sam Smith opens his mailbag while traveling in Spain with Team USA
I’m not going to be one of the fans that over react, but one thing that I find kind of interesting is that D Rose started really strong in preseason last year and once the regular season started, he seemed like a completely different player. It seems as though the same thing has happened this year. He started the camp really strong and played well in the scrimmage and the exhibition in Chicago. Since then he seems like a different player who has regressed.
Sam: Sounds like an overreaction to me. This examination of Rose’s every shot and move—and I guess I’m partly guilty being here in Spain for this tournament and analyzing every play—sounds like Richard Nixon’s complaint about the press, that he didn’t mind if they examined him with a microscope, but did they have to use a proctoscope? It makes sense what Thibodeau had to say about Rose trying to do too much too fast last year because of the buildup and months of expectations from the previous season and all the controversy about when he would return. That’s why this tournament really is so good for Rose as it gets him in playing condition and he knows—even as he thinks he did without doing so last year—what he has to do and how much to get back to that great level of play. Though we’ve much noted his poor shooting in this World Cup tournament, I think he’s playing really well. He’s fast and explosive. His moves in the open court and past half court defenders are breathtaking. He looks to be aiming his shot now because everyone keeps asking. He really does look great.
I read your article about Ray Allen, and I totally agree he would be a great fit. Though I remember you telling me he wouldn't come to the Bulls so I suspect you are just stirring things up for the fans.
Sam: Yes, I previously doubted Allen would select the Bulls because it was Miami and LeBron and Wade. This is Cleveland and LeBron and Irving. Ok, Love isn’t bad. But they have shooters and nothing personal, but at close to 40 with young kids it doesn’t seem Cleveland is a stop off. Some tell me Allen won’t play, though I tend to think he’ll come back like P.J. Brown did for the Celtics that one season around the All-Star break. But as I wrote and not to tease fans, Chicago is the ideal place because no one else can offer such a defined role. And so good a chance to win. Plus, he likes the Midwest. Imagine that.
I personally tend to be a bit goggle-eyed about the talent of the bigs, but that doesn't mean I'm missing DMD, Snell, or Butler. Curious to see how Brooks does. But it's all against a backdrop of the remade Bulls roster. Who thinks Rose would have won MVP if Bulls had landed LBJ summer 2010? That's the fairer question to ask in the current context. Let's get real blunt here. I don't especially want Rose to win MVP this year. That likely means he's dominating the ball and I want to see how this experiment with Really Tall Players works out.
Sam: It’s a good point about MVP and whom you have. With the addition of Pau, no one else is likely to be a league MVP. The mention of Snell is intriguing to me. There are more and more people around the league taking notice of his talent after the way he played in summer league, a guy with that size and shooting range and the defensive capability. But suddenly the Bulls roster seems busting and he could be an odd man out, especially if the Bulls add Ray Allen. Few coaches push two rookies into the rotation for a potential title team. Snell really has only the experience of a rookie, essentially, though McDermott seems the more ideal immediate fit with his pure shooting. It’s a nice problem to have and will likely be a subject of much discussion this season.
Rose winning MVP was great but Bulls were never going to win a championship with a PG scoring 25 a game and 8 assists. We saw against good teams we were very easy to defend. If Rose comes back as a 17-20 point scorer with 7-9 dimes a game and plays the type of probing style that Tony Parker plays only then will the Bulls be a legit contender. In the end, dropping out of MVP contention is the best thing to happen to him and the Bulls because now we've built a team including him rather than around him. It's a subtle but huge difference.
Sam: That’s the plan, and why this recent fan overreaction about “Rose never will be an MVP again, woe is us” seems curiously misplaced. Parker and the Spurs are a good example. The Bulls aren’t perfect as the shooting guard and small forward positions remain in some flux. But the front court seems best in the league. Yes, Spain lost in the World Cup, but Pau may have been the best all around player in the tournament. You forget how long he is and how good a shot blocker he can be. It may be more a problem of riches of how to use so many big men and whether Mirotic will get much chance to play.
I've only followed the box scores and read the recaps for the world cup. Therefore, I'm missing the context of Derrick Rose's shots, whether or not they were good decisions, contested, the locations on the floor, game situations, etc. That said, his field goal % is brutal so far and I'm not sure he's made a single short international three yet, though he is taking them. I know he's rusty, but I think we were all hoping the practice he put in shooting over the past couple of years while he couldn't play real games would at least help prevent him from regressing with his shot if not improve it. I know he's still getting used to live games again. Is that all that's going on?
Sam: He’s talked about the different ball, which all the USA players say is slippery and even the good shooters, like Stephen Curry, have struggled at times. I think he is a little tense about the attention to it, and I thought it was interesting after the Lithuania game Thursday he talked about being nervous. After all, you lose in USA Basketball and the stain stays with you for years. Rose never has been a great shooter, but his shot looks fine to me. I watch him with Thibs in practice and he’ll make 10 in a row moving from spot to spot. So it doesn’t seem in the form. I think it’s just circumstance of not playing as much and getting only a few jumpers. And when you are in a situation like that you don’t have a chance to shoot yourself out of it with a run later in the game, which Rose will have during the regular season.
How important is team chemistry in developing competitive teams? Would the San Antonio Spurs beat the current USA team?
Sam: Chemistry is overused, albeit vital. A happy family makes a happier life and vacation. But talent rules. The Spurs would be swept.
I was just wondering why Mirotic isn't playing for Spain?
Sam: Serge Ibaka isn’t anymore, either. They are allowed one player from outside who has played there. They chose Ibaka over Mirotic, who is from Montenegro. Both can now get a head start with their teams in the U.S. So it does turn out after all the USA will not be able to beat Spain in this FIBA Basketball World Cup tournament.
Should Riley have pulled a Krause and just tore down the Miami Heat after LBJ left? Paying Bosh would have been like overpaying Pippen after our 6th ring. I just think that this Miami team will be bad and possibly miss the post season while paying out high salaries to an aging team with no future and youth what so ever.
Sam: I tend to mostly agree. I think they’re falling to the middle, which is what you are never supposed to want to do. Yet, there never has been anything worse than that 1998-2003 period for the Bulls. Maybe in NBA history. Krause’s plan wasn’t wrong. It was the execution. The 76ers are trying it now, though in a more devious way in refusing to try to compete while they rebuild. There’s nothing wrong with what they are doing as building through the draft is a legitimate method. It’s just the daring of their dumping. If I were Miami, I might have paid off Wade the next two years and held off on Bosh, though you do need players even in a nice place to attract talent. It’s not an unreasonable plan, though it suggests a coming mediocrity. But who are we to talk having accepted that Bulls rebuilding plan.
Timberwolves trade: Another awful trade that only helps the opposing team? To me, the issue isn't whether Love could leave at the end of the year, it's the fact that some other teams are a horrible drag on the NBA. I've always wanted the NBA to contract, have less teams!
Sam: Contraction obviously is never happening given the labor implications of lost jobs. There’s some interesting stuff coming with these new TV deals that are going to vastly increase the salary cap and seemingly provide opportunities for smaller markets. Though with a cap and revenue sharing, it shouldn’t matter in the NBA. Oklahoma City could have been one of those uncompetitive markets, but they made wise personnel choices and got lucky big with Durant, which is the main thing. You get Jordan, but then you have to get the right pieces and environment, and Krause did that in the 90’s. I actually think it’s a great deal for the Timberwolves as they get a celebrated No. 1 overall pick and a less celebrated one whom I think will be much better than previously showing. And for a guy who was leaving and never led them to the playoffs, anyway. I think they’re a much more watchable team going forward. So we’ll keep them in the league another few years.
I was looking around on basketball-reference and noticed that Wilt Chamberlain averaged 43.3 minutes per game while playing all 82 games in his last three seasons at age 34, 35 and 36. I know Chamberlain was one of the most impressive athletes ever to play the sport, but those minutes just reminded me that Thibodeau didn't exactly invent playing guys a lot of minutes over the past four years via Deng and Butler.
Sam: It’s a point Thibs mostly makes, but I am sympathetic. You can’t compare with Wilt averaging 48.5 minutes per game one season in an era as we know that teams even traveled commercial, played coast to coast back to backs and Wilt even lived in New York while playing in Philadelphia. He did have a place in Philly. But we obsess about minutes and usage in this era and then say they are the greatest athletes ever. If they are, there’s no reason they can’t play. If they are tired, they should raise their hands to say they need a rest and a juice box. It’s OK.
So what have you thought about the play of Anthony Davis? He is looking like he is going to be a huge star and probably this season. I fully expect New Orleans to make the playoffs with him sliding over to the 4. That is a very dangerous front court, bet they are going to block a ton of shots this year. How long till you get ridiculous trade demands in do you think? People are going to want Davis in Chicago and begin the chatter shortly if I am any judge. I would love to see him here, but I hope he can carry New Orleans and be a star there for years to come instead of leaving.
Sam: I’ve gotten several of those already of “Let’s wait til ’18.” I think it’s pretty clear to most everyone now with his USA Basketball play. Everyone was seeing this last season in the NBA despite all the injuries there. It’s why when I did an early season preview in July I had them fourth in the West. I did that a bit to make a point, but I do think it’s possible given all the injuries they had last season to top players. It will put coach Monty Williams on the spot this season. Again, the Western Conference is going to have a team some think can win a title missing the playoffs. The Jabari Parker to the Bulls emails haven’t started yet, but I assume soon.
I was just thinking about all this fuss and this anxiety culture that's developed because as fans, we're so attached to Rose and seeing him play that having watched him get injured twice, we basically hold our breath every time he drives or if he says he's feeling sore. Then something occurred to me. When Rose was healthy during his MVP season, yes he was playing with as much reckless abandon as we've seen him play but that wasn't how he got injured, and that was one of his healthiest seasons so far. In fact, both times he's gotten injured, it was on non-contact plays that were essentially forced. Which in both cases reflects the reckless and forced nature he plays with. And now we're hearing him say things like he's learned to play more controlled and a little more systematic than always in overdrive. So my question to you is this: do you think those non-contact plays were independent and incidental or somehow correlated to the strain he puts his body through by being a little reckless and the cumulative contact he's had? Because if it's the latter, I don't think he should change his style of play completely to avoid injury but perhaps do exactly what he said he's doing, and that is to play a little more controlled and a little less reckless.
Sam: I do think that’s the plan. I think you can see from his play with USA Basketball, which is another reason it was such a good idea if not only to get me a trip to Spain, is that he’s playing fast and fierce. He’s also protecting his body more, strengthening, always with the ice on his knees, carrying around devices that seem like old torture chamber stuff, going through extensive movements before he comes into games. I don’t think he’ll change his style because that’s who he is and how he knows how to play. He wouldn’t be Derrick anymore. But he is working to keep his body in better shape. When he came to the Bulls he was a kid like we were when kids, just playing because things came so easy. He got hurt and it’s become work to maintain his body, which he discovered you cannot do without. I think we’ll see the same aggressive player, though also with better teammates having to do less like with USA Basketball.
Given the news that Rondo wants out, what do you think of a trade between The Suns and The Celtics? Centering around Rondo and Bledsoe?
Sam: Maybe it would prove too embarrassing to the Suns having once given up the pick Boston used for Rondo. Plus, the Suns have Dragic and the Celtics drafted a point guard. But it certainly seems Rondo is going to be traded. Danny Ainge is an astute general manager and is going to wait out who becomes the most desperate. Rondo, though, is a tough fit because as much as he does the shooting remains an issue. But it was good to get back in bad trade talk mode.
Where do you think Elgin Baylor would rank today as a small forward with current offensively minded rules? Also, in all the old video I see no one seems to cross over dribble, is that because it was considered carrying.
Sam: Yes, it was a carry, palming as we called it then. Baylor probably is the most underrated great star ever. You never see any film on him and he’s rarely mentioned, in part, because he wasn’t on a title team and retired early in the season the Lakers won. But he invented hanging in the air and scoring and would challenge LeBron for first team forward if he were still playing. Well, maybe not at 80. He was a high level Bernard King with those sorts of scoring moves.
The fact that players don't really see playing for the USA Basketball being a honor and a privilege. So many players drop out on the team and many wouldn't be even available to play that I found ludicrous. I know the teams are the ones who pay the players and injuries can happen, but they can happen on the way to the gym or the supermarket. Anyone remember what the '92 Dream Team in the Olympics did to the NBA internationally? My question is not only about the players but the population in general and journalists in particular. Why do journalists undervalue these international tournaments so much? This should be an honor and a privilege for Derrick to represent his country. The Bulls fans should be proud to have a player on their team that got picked to play for his national team. Isn't it arrogant to think the World Championship is a minor tournament?
Sam: Let’s say if this were ancient times, we in the U.S. would have come up with the scientific theory of the sun revolving around the United States. We are a very parochial country. Though oceans aren’t big barriers any longer, we developed with the idea of being separate. And the country being so big, Americans tend not to travel overseas that much, so they don’t learn other languages like in Europe. The larger issue these days and you hear it most publicly from owners like Mark Cuban is the American profit motive—What’s in it for me? It’s understandable the way teams pay the contracts they worry about their “assets,” as if it’s appropriate to consider people that way. So an NBA title means more in the U.S. than any basketball title anywhere, including the Olympics. Typically, now is U.S. football season, which dwarfs any other sport. The NBA doesn’t even do its big promotion until the NFL season concludes. I think playing in these tournaments is a wonderful experience, and life is all about experiences. If you never do it you will be shortchanged. I think every USA player who has a chance would be foolish not to take part.