Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 09.27.2013

Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of emails from his readers

The recent social media spat between Durant and Wade about the top ten players in the NBA. Sports illustrated asked if Durant agreed with their list, Durant said he felt Harden should be there instead of Wade. Wade responded on twitter. It's ludicrous that Rose is not on the list. Injury or not. He's dominated Paul and Parker almost every chance he's got. Guess it's just another chip on his shoulder this year. That being said, who is your current top ten for this upcoming season?

Phillip Bracero

Sam: How dare anyone challenge the great and powerful Oz, er, I mean Wade. You’d have to be pretty old, but Dwyane Wade once seemed like a regular guy. Maybe he was joking. Could he really care what Durant thinks? After all he’s accomplished? Though it may suggest some desperation, and the evidence seems clear that Durant is right. After all, you’d be hard pressed to find a gm who wouldn’t take Harden over Wade. Or Kobe for that matter. It’s not Wade’s fault. Wade turns 32 this season in his 10th season, and very rough ones. He never complained. Well, not about that. But the Heat put some dog years on him asking him to carry a team to the playoffs for two years as they cleared the roster to get LeBron and Bosh. It worked for titles, but it wore out Wade as a star player as his body is breaking down. It’s also why the Bulls and Pacers and Nets have much more hope than otherwise this season. Also, why doesn’t it surprise me Rose isn’t tweeting about being left off Durant’s list. This was the Sports Illustrated list:

1. LeBron James
2. Kevin Durant
3. Chris Paul
4. Tony Parker
5. Russell Westbrook
6. Tim Duncan
7. Dwight Howard
8. Dwyane Wade
9. Kobe Bryant
10. Carmelo Anthony

My list? I don’t have Wade or Tim Duncan. Duncan’s great and a Hall of Famer like Wade. But I’d list a top 10 for whom I’d want on my team now. Rose would make it, though you can understand Durant’s position as the world pretty much is out of sight, out of mind. Who else? There aren’t as many true superstars in the NBA as you think. Or they think. Obviously, LeBron and Durant. It then gets more difficult and you’ll notice many of these guys haven’t come close to winning anything and not in any order: Carmelo, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Howard (yes, you’d take him if you could), Westbrook, Kobe (big health question there as well), Harden and maybe Steph Curry. And you could probably make a case for slipping in some of these guys toward the end of that top 10: Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, someone on Memphis, Dirk, Blake Griffin and Pau. Wade probably makes it somewhere in this second 10, though depending on whether he can regain some of his explosiveness and not necessarily high in that second 10. If he is like he was in the playoffs or Finals, then maybe not even top 30. It happens to them all. Maybe Wade needs to contact Dorian Gray. And where is that fountain of youth exactly located in Florida?

It seems like we are going to have a few interesting rivalries entering the 2013-14 season. Rockets vs Lakers, Knicks vs Nets, Thunder vs Spurs seem to be some of them. As the Pacers have gotten better, they will have a big shot at beating the Heat. They had a great matchup in last season's playoffs, although it wasn't much of a rivalry as they don't hate each other that much. Same happened with Heat vs Spurs. I guess Bulls vs Heat will be the most heated rivalry again in the NBA. In my opinion, they are the only teams that revive those 90s rivalries. Joakim Noah pretty much hates anything Heat-related, and Miami doesn't seem to appreciate Chicago's toughness. There is pure hate between them. Last year they had nine face-offs and all of them got very physical. With Rose's return, it appears it will get even worse. What's your take?

Luiz Pedro

Sam: There’s a rivalry or sorts there, but I don’t think the Heat quite take the Bulls that seriously yet. They do when they get into games and series with them as the Heat players have resorted to a series of cheap shots in many of those games, like after the Bulls won Game 1 of the conference semifinals earlier this season. But even though the Bulls have outplayed Miami in the regular season and last season had that great streak stopper, the playoffs have been a different matter with Miami 4-1 wins. So Miami basically possesses an attitude toward the Bulls that the Bulls will fall in the playoffs. Though I don’t agree, the Bulls have to show them by beating them. Until they do, it will be more like the Bulls/Pistons of the late 1980’s where the Pistons were the Bulls rival but the Pistons looked for bigger rivals, like the Lakers and Celtics. I also think right now the Heat view the Pacers as more of a threat since the Heat’s primary offseason move was to add Greg Oden, whom they see as an answer to Roy Hibbert. Not Noah. The Bulls get to begin to make their point on opening night in Miami. But they’ll have to make more noise in the playoffs to truly get Miami’s attention.

I am currently watching the European Championship being a big fan of France. Do you think that the Bulls could have a serious look at France Big man Ajinca ?
Despite that Noah and Seraphin walked out on the team he is producing a serious impact at the post. He already played in the NBA and has become a far better player than 3 years back. He has good defense and can score plus the fact that he has a good percentage in FT. All that could make him a cheap candidate to be a the Big back up.

Roy Kienast

Sam: One issue is given he’s playing in Europe he’s probably not cheap. Larry Brown when he was coaching Charlotte was raving about him a few years back. It would be nice to get a player like him. But the Bulls well into the luxury tax are in no position to get into bidding contests. I suspect the Bulls will continue to remain flexible to see if a big man pops a head up somewhere. After all, they don’t need the help to start the season.

I just wanted to know. Where will the Bulls other offense come from outside of Rose and Deng this year? The second and third option.

Tivon Knight

Sam: The Bulls averaged 93 points per game last season. Now they get back Derrick Rose, who has a career scoring average of 21. That should take care of offense since only six teams averaged more than 101 per game last season. And now you also add Jimmy Butler at regular shooting guard instead of the occasional Richard Hamilton appearance. The Bulls should have no problems scoring points.

Please explain to me how the Kings can sign DeMarcus Cousins to a maximum extension and possibly designate him as the teams franchise player. I wouldn't want DMC designated as my garbage man (no offense to garbage collectors). His demeanor is so vile as to be a consistent heartbeat from being arrested. Am I missing something or are the Kings that poor a judge of basketball talent and leadership? 5 years at 80 million is what I'm hearing. 5 years of purgatory for the Kings.

Bruce Roberts

Sam: I tend to agree with that assessment that you cannot win with someone like Cousins, who overestimates his own talent and seems to have no concept of how to play the game. But now comes Shaq, the new part owner for the Kings. Who said he’ll tutor Cousins, which suggests to me Cousins will learn the fine points of coming into the season 50 pounds overweight and working himself into condition by April, which unlike with the Lakers means the end of the season for the Kings. Though Cousins doesn’t appear to need any advice on how to feud with teammates.

Tyrus Thomas. can they take a chance on him?

Amari Kendall

Sam: Like a shot at the power ball? It seems the rest of the NBA is saving their money as well. I assume you are joking regarding the Bulls, though Tyrus is said to be willing to pay teams the minimum to pick him up. Obviously, when you’ve made a mistake in the draft—and the Bulls mostly have not in recent years—you don’t want it around reminding you. But there remain few wastes of talent greater than Tyrus. And you could see it from the day he showed up in training camp with a miserable attitude, dismissive of most everyone and with this inexplicable anger. I never knew much about his upbringing, so maybe he had plenty of reason. But no one in the NBA treated him badly. I’d assume his NBA career is over given I don’t think his pride would let him accept a minimum deal, and he never much worked on his game to make himself better or develop any sophistication regarding how teams are playing him. And anyone who provokes even the affable Paul Silas into a fight has to launch red flags that tower over the league.

(You mentioned) Shakespeare and DRose. Bringing basketball to the late 1500's. Were they still trying to trade Boozer back then?

Greg Young

Sam: Supposedly Boozer had an ancestor who was to defend King Duncan against Macbeth. And Macbeth slam dunked the king, as we know.

Going into this season, I think management’s number one goal should be to try and trade Taj Gibson. I think this is the only way for the Bulls to get the financial flexibility to bring back Deng and improve this team going forward. Do you think a team like with cap space like Milwaukee, that doesn’t usually attract free agents would be a possibility. How about the Bulls send Taj to the Bucks for Ekpe Udoh’s expiring contract? Udoh would be able to fill the role of backup PF until the Bulls bring over Mirotic next year.

Adam Schechner

Sam: Another trade Taj email? Well, actually the first. But it does show the fan base may be moving on. My guess is the Bulls don’t have any plans to make any significant personnel moves this season. My sense is the belief is the team is very good and has a chance, and why mess with that, especially over some uncertain future. I remain a believer in playing for the title you can play for, being this one. As I’ve mentioned, the events of this season will determine the future as much as any grand plan. As for Taj, he had an offseason in 2012-13 with injury and, I suspect, pressure on himself to prove his worth with his new contract. So his value probably isn’t great. Plus, coach Thibodeau loves having his defensive ability to come in for Boozer. And if there are issues this season and the Bulls want to consider an amnesty, you’d assume the Bulls would certainly want to have Gibson around for insurance. And who would Noah call Taj-e-woo?

Rasheed Wallace a development coach? That could spell Pistons trouble next season.

Kieron Smith

Sam: As if Detroit doesn’t have enough issues. One hates to get too far away from the casinos in Windsor, though.

The Knicks basically fired Glen Grunwald as GM and brought back Steve Mills. Isiah is not far behind. Watch.

Mike Sutera

Sam: I guess it’s possible as we know Isiah remains close with Dolan and was very close with Mills. Given the ridiculously negative reaction toward Thomas in New York with the media and fans I’d doubt a formal position. But as Phil Jackson always counseled us, you never say never in the NBA.

I apologize if this question has been brought up a million times but the rumor on the internet is that Deng's asking price is too high for the Bulls right now. If the Bulls do amnesty Boozer then couldn't they just sign Deng with the cap room they'd have from Boozer's deal? I don't think Deng is worth 15 million a year especially with the new CBA. But if the Bulls could resign him to somewhere around $12 or $13 million a year that seems pretty reasonable and we would still have some left over room for other Free Agents.

John Lafoone

Sam: The Bulls have never said they don’t intend to resign Deng. There are any number of options, but, again, it depends more on the season and how it goes. The main issue remains flexibility. Shouldn’t the Bulls wait to see how this season goes before they make any major decisions on any players, which would lock them into the current roster? Plus, it’s rare veteran free agents like Deng sign extensions. Almost all, including the big names, eventually get to free agency and most resign. Among the All-Star free agents like Deng, I can’t think of one in the last four or five years who signed early. And sometimes you just can’t pay someone. Look at even the New York Yankees. Robinson Cano is their best player, and even among fans there’s a lot of talk about letting him go rather than paying him too much as when you do you limit other moves and signings. Since the Bulls and Deng are not negotiating, I’m not sure how anyone can say at this point that he’s asking for too much or the Bulls don’t want to pay that much. Though as we know facts and internet reports rarely are companions.

The Bulls' current roster has three guys on the bench that will play a significant role in maintaining the same offensive and defensive production on the floor when the starters rest (Gibson, Dunleavy Jr., Hinrich). After those three, no one really knows what the Bulls will get from Muhammad, Teague and the rookies. Injuries happen every year, and while every team hopes for an injury free season, the chances for that are slim as we see every year someone missing significant time due to an injury on this Bulls team. I recently read an article on Bleacher Report (I know) where the Bulls bench was ranked behind all of the other title contenders in both the East and West. Where would you rank the Bulls bench in the East? I still think for a title contender we are missing more scoring and 3-point shooting, which made it more disappointing to see Antawn Jamison pick the Clippers over the Bulls. I think he would've been a perfect fit on this Bulls team to spread the floor and give them another 10plus points from the bench. For a guy that said he wanted to be on a contender and get regular playing time, picking the Clippers over the Bulls makes me scratch my head.

Bobi Grbevski

Sam: Well, actually I think the Clippers will be really good. So I have no issue with that decision, and Chicago does suffer from most Christmas celebrations needing to be inside. I think the Bulls bench actually is pretty respectable. It’s much, much better than Miami’s bench, for example, and the Heat has done pretty well. I think the Pacers had the best offseason in enhancing their bench and the Nets also are deep with the additions of Kirilenko and Jason Terry. But to suggest the Bulls have a weak bench is not paying attention. Remember the famed and beloved Bulls Bench Mob? I’d take this bench over that one. Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague are way better than C.J. Watson and John Lucas. Mike Dunleavy is at least a wash with Kyle Korver as Dunleavy can shoot almost as well and with his size is a better defender. Similarly against Marco Belinelli last season. Obviously, Omer Asik is better than Mohammed. But Omer didn’t play much for the original Bench Mob. And you’d still much prefer Hinrich to Nate Robinson from last season. The Bulls still will add a 13th player. They’ll have Dexter Pittman and D.J. White (the latter for an injured Malcolm Thomas) in camp along with Mike James and former Nugget and Pacer Dahntay Jones. And the rookies, whom, I don’t think will play much. I think Teague is ready to contribute as like Jimmy Butler, it takes a season for Thibs to become more comfortable with young players. Hinrich, Gibson and Dunleavy are players who can start for many teams. Going eight deep with starters is impressive in this era.

Please rank these players in order of minutes projected played this year: Snell, Teague, Murphy, Dunleavy.

Mark Zylstra

Sam: Dunleavy, Teague, Snell, Murphy.

How often you think we might see a line-up of Hinrich, Butler, Deng, Gibson, and Noah on the court together? Also do you think Rose, Butler, Deng, Gibson and Noah would be just as effective?

Bob Edwards

Sam: I’ve mentioned that all-defensive team lineup as a possibility the Bulls can and will use, though I think the best lineups will be with Derrick Rose and the ones I expect most often to see.

What's the hype with the Pacers? Just because they have a bench now and took the Heat to game 7, that everyone is hailing them to challenge Miami. No offense to George, but his no super star. 2/9 for 7 pts in game 7 of ECF just prove his way behind D Rose. Am I missing something with the Pacers? Last time I check they’re missing a PG who can get George and Granger their shots. Maybe their fan base are thinking they got their answer in C.J Watson.

John Jimenez

Sam: You have noted their flaws, and they really don’t have that point guard. But they did a heck of a job upgrading from last season, particularly on the bench. And if Granger is healthy, which we don’t know, I think as a free agent he’ll go along with most any role to maintain his value. And that’s a heck of a reserve group coming in with Granger, Scola, Watson, Chris Copeland and Mahinmi. Consider last season they won the division bringing in Augustin, Hansbrough, Mahinmi, Sam Young, Jeff Pendergraph and Gerald Green.

Do you think the bulls are going to make any big trades this year?

Judy Jang

Sam: I do not. I expect they want to give this team, which rarely has played together since coming together in 2010, one last shot to see what it can do.

I have a trade: Danny Granger for Eric Gordon. Seems like it'd do both teams some good. Both have injury concerns so that's a wash.

Wesley Davis

Sam: It’s why fantasy leagues are dangerous. No way the Pacers take on Gordon’s money, which is $30 million after this season on a risky player. Granger’s deal is expiring, and I don’t think they would have paid Paul George like that did if they had to account for Granger’s money in the future. It’s a tough market with the Pacers among the bottom in attendance.

Do you expect any of the training camp invitees (in particular Mike James or Dexter Pittman) to make the final roster?

Shaun Chalmer

Sam: Someone has to as 13 players is league minimum and the Bulls currently have 12 under contract. I don’t see anyone getting a guarantee for the season out of camp so the team can remain flexible regarding other players who might become available.

Has Luol Deng recovered from his illness he had in playoffs last season?

Tod Reese

Sam: Yes. It was unfortunate and frustrating for both Deng and the Bulls as it would have been nice to see Deng and Hinrich in that Miami series. But the Bulls have had a lot of these woulda beens the last few years. I expect as a coming free agent Deng will have a strong season.

I truly enjoyed following the Bulls last year as they persevered through an injury riddled season. The season was extremely successful in terms of building the team towards winning another NBA championship. I found the story lines from last year's team to be far more compelling than some of the latter championship seasons in the 90's. Winning a championship is a journey rather than a single event. I also do not look at the league as having only one winner and 31 losers.

While following the team over the offseason, I was put off by the basketball press overlooking the impact that Kirk Hinrich would have had on the Miami series. Although Carlos has deficiencies on the defensive end and difficulty generating offense on his own, I feel his lack of scoring production in the Miami series had more to do with Kirk Hinrich's absence than anything. Kirk knows how to get Carlos the ball in places on the floor where Carlos is the most effective. While Nate Robinson and Marquis Teague performed admirably in Kirk's absence, neither possesses the playmaking, leadership and defensive skills of Hinrich.

Although I do find Boozer's contract to be burdensome to the team from a salary cap perspective, I find that both Carlos and the team have done a decent job of getting the most out of Carlos Boozer on the floor. I find most teams carrying players with bloated contracts end up getting less than maximum output from that player. The player's performance often suffers because he wilts under the expectations generated by the size of the contract (i.e. Joe Johnson). What I like about Carlos is that he is always giving whatever he has to the team even if he is on the bench because of poor play. Most starters sulk on the bench if they get pulled for underperformance. Carlos and all of the Bulls starting five stay involved in the game by enthusiastically supporting whoever is out on the floor for the team. Carlos has always been a professional in terms of continuing to work on his game and doing whatever Coach Thibodeau asks of him on or off the court.

I also laud the organization's support for Carlos. It was management's mistake to sign Carlos to such a large contract. I am thankful that management has not compounded that mistake by yielding to fan unrest over a perceived lack of production and placing undue pressure on the player. Paxson and Forman are to be commended for not taking the easy way out and blaming the player for not performing up to the contract. It should also be noted that the contract was negotiated before increased penalties for exceeding the salary cap were negotiated in the CBA.

The Boozer situation also positively reflects on the team's policy of signing/drafting only high character individuals. All of the Bulls players appear to maintain solidarity with one another despite a wide gap in compensation between them. The humility, camaraderie and professionalism of the Bulls ranks at the top of the league. The humility of the veterans on the team has rubbed off well on the bottom of the roster over the last five years. Everyone has a positive attitude and works hard to improve their individual game both offensively and defensively. It was moving to hear how Derrick Rose's encouragement of Jimmy Butler to shoot more during games improved Jimmy's confidence.

Derrick’s approach to returning this upcoming season is encouraging. One of my concerns heading into this season was the team falling back into old patterns of simply letting Derrick attack the basket and the frontcourt looking for easy putbacks in the event he misses the shot. Derrick seems to recognize the strides the team made last year in his absence and has stated that he wants to build on the team's success from last year. Derrick espouses great respect for Kirk Hinrich, and it behooves the team for Thibs, Hinrich and Rose to get together and improve Derrick’s skill at delivering passes into the post where the big men want the ball. Another change I would like to see is that the team run a play during the final 24 seconds of a game rather than isolate Derrick one-on-one. I would much rather see anyone on the team shoot an open shot rather than Derrick face a double team or put one up under duress. This would be especially more effective against Miami since Derrick could draw LeBron away from the basket and allow the Bulls to more effectively exploit their size advantage at the rim for putbacks.

In closing, I would love to see the organization show some appreciation to Nate Robinson when Denver comes to town this season or preseason. Nate has to be one of the great "feel good" stories of last season. How many games did he spark the team to victory? I loved watching his Brooklyn post game press conference with his son at his side. I realize it is unheard of for a one year bench player to receive this type of special treatment. However, Nate's contribution to the team went far beyond his individual production on the court. I have to believe his confidence, bravado and enthusiasm provided a huge boost to the team last year over a long season plagued by injuries. Every time he came off the floor last year, you could see the enthusiasm and appreciation that his fellow team mates had for his contribution to the team. I believe that if you did something for Nate in February or this preseason, it would provide an emotional lift for the team as well as the fans.

Robert Curtis

Sam: Though I don’t much share the view of honoring Nate for doing his job over a short period of time, I thought you made some interesting points and decided to post your long email (everyone knows I like long) just for general view as I, too, enjoy these seasons for their breathe and depth. In our often simplistic world, losing is often defined simply by not winning the championship. But you miss so much of sports if you only focus on the ultimate success. I’ve felt the Bulls have demonstrated that well the last few years with entertaining and exciting seasons.

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