Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls
Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 1.16.2015
Sam Smith of Bulls.com opens his Ask Sam mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
By Sam Smith | 1.16.2015 | 9:00 a.m. CT
We see teams like the Mavs, Grizzlies, and Cavs making moves that sacrifice the future in order to win now. The window to be a championship contender doesn't stay open long so it makes sense to go for it if [you] think [you] have a chance. I think the Bulls are in this category as well and I think they are one move away from being a legit contender. Would they offer some combo of Snell, the pick we got from Cleveland, their own #1 for Wilson Chandler or Aaron Afflalo?
Sam: The seasons do change in the NBA. It’s gone from summer to fall to winter to panic. That’s been the theme of the emails I’ve received this week: Do something! There’s been a lot of Nate Robinson, Tayshaun Prince and just about everyone from Denver. Or any name that gets thrown out on some web site. My guess is the Bulls don’t make any changes and the team they have now is the team they’ll have after trading deadline in February except if Ray Allen decides to sign on. Given the Nuggets got two firsts for Mozgov, I don’t get the sense much will come cheaply with them. Though there is a larger issue with the Bulls. Or a few. One is when has a player added mid season with the Bulls under Thibodeau ever played much or at all? Once rotations are set and the bulk of practices have taken place in the first half of the season, I don’t recall Thibodeau changing much. Plus, the Bulls now probably have too many players. They’re loaded in the front court once Noah returns from his sprained ankle and can’t even get enough minutes for Gibson and Mirotic now. You’d say they could maybe use another wing defender, but Snell has done well enough on defense. Plus, Dunleavy and McDermott have been out and will be back, and figure to play, certainly Dunleavy. Thibodeau’s already been anxious to reduce the rotation and extend minutes. And then there are the realities. Players like Afflalo and Chandler make about $7 million. You have to match salaries. I have no belief at all the Bulls have any interest in giving up on Snell, especially as he’s just starting to play and shown some flashes. They’d like to see him play more, I suspect. But even if you were to trade, he only makes about $1 million. Where’s the other $6 million coming from? Butler? Gibson? You’d say Hinrich, whom Thibodeau and management obviously like, and who makes less than $3 million and with another year on his deal isn’t appealing unless you throw in No. 1 pick, which the Bulls absolutely rule out. And then you still are short millions of dollars and have to add more of your players to a deal. You’re breaking up your roster that is on a 50-win pace for a player who might play 15 or 20 minutes? And you certainly aren’t giving up Dunleavy for shooting as then you’d have to replace him as he’s the team’s top three point shooter. The Bulls have a deep and talented roster; if it proves not good enough in the playoffs, then you make moves. But now on paper it matches any in the East and remains building given the addition of new players and improving health of Rose. Better to listen to Aaron Rodgers.
With Nate Robinson likely being bought out in Boston, would the Bulls pursue him for a veterans' minimum? I know the Bulls are a possible Ray Allen destination if he decides to play and I'm not even sure how much Nate would add (being very similar to Brooks) but still I thought it could be a possibility given knowledge of the playbook/coaching staff, the mutual respect between him and the Bulls organization, plus mutual fondness between him and the fans.
Sam: You pretty much shot it down yourself as he’s similar to Brooks, though not as good, and I don’t think there’s so much of that mutual respect you mention. Didn’t it seem curious Denver would let Nate go with an expiring deal to take on Jameer Nelson with a longer deal? Don’t you think? Wonder why Nate has so many one season stops? He drives everyone absolutely nuts with his non stop talking and acting out and histrionics that after a season everyone’s begging to get him out of there. Sure, he’s popular with fans as he’s easy to identify with and colorful. But he’s also been brutal this season with the Nuggets in his return from knee surgery, shooting 34 percent and 26 percent on threes and as out of control as ever. I guess that would suggest I doubt it. But, hey, what about Chris Douglas-Roberts and Jordan Farmar?
If Prince is bought out by the Celtics, do you think the Bulls would sign him?
Sam: I can understand the theory behind Prince given he has been a good wing defender, though at 35 next month the question is how much more, if at all, and whose minutes he’s taking. Dunleavy? Butler? Snell was barely in the rotation, anyway, before the injuries. I believe the Bulls feel Snell with his young legs and long arms is better suited to the job, anyway, and can give them 10 minutes, if needed. Also, I think Moore can do much more. In the playoffs, you know Thibodeau is going to have a tight rotation. I might take a chance, but I suspect Prince would want to be somewhere that he had a more defined role.
After a stellar December in which the Bulls plowed through a relatively tough schedule, we looked forward to a much easier stretch in January. Nonetheless, after disappointing home losses to Brooklyn, Utah, Orlando, and Washington (plus a road loss to Washington as well), what needs to change here? Can the Bulls simply rely on the talent they currently have, or will it take one more acquisition to put them among the elite? I would part with Dunleavy and possibly Snell for a younger starting SF who can help us beyond this season.
Sam: By the way, this isn’t the last season in NBA history. Any of these deals would involve one or multiple first round picks as that’s clear what teams are seeking. Those picks are much more valuable now given the new restraints in the collective bargaining agreement with the penalties for going into the tax. You begin adding contracts with the need to pay Butler and you basically begin to cripple your future and become the Nets. If you can get a star, OK, I see that, someone who can score 25 per game. I’m giving up Dunleavy and Snell if Durant is available. But for marginal players on losing teams? The Bulls have one of the league’s deepest teams with a half dozen new players. Maybe it takes more than a half season to develop that chemistry and consistency it took the previous group a few seasons. Also, with Rose coming slowly for good reason, both gaining confidence in his ability to play healthy and conditioning, which isn’t as simple as it sounds, the Bulls really never have had their top players playing at a top level the same time. That’s presumably to come, and thus it would seem to make little sense to disturb that now before you’ve had a chance to experience it.
So as we near the midpoint of the season the Bulls look tired and a bit disinterested. With all of the bad, we have done exceptionally well and I'm not super worried. I do think there is a glaring weakness right now however at SF and the second unit defensive effort. The only person that comes off the bench that can play D is Taj. Hinrich is looking awful, and I hate to say that because hes one of my all time favorite players. For as lanky and athletic we think Snell is, he is no defensive player either. We need to trade for a swingman that can come off the bench and give 15 minutes of solid defense every night. Is there anyway the Bulls could find someone better than Snell. Do you think the Bulls are starting to look around?
Sam: Teams are always looking around and what media don’t know is teams throw out "what if" names in trade every day. Occasionally a reporter will hear of one and it becomes a rumor. Yes, we’ve seen a lot of movement among the Western teams, especially, given the fluidity of the race. You obviously look at teams falling out of it and try to tap them. But the prices, as I said, have become first round picks. And I seriously doubt the Bulls give one up for anything less than a star, which you don’t get this time of season. There’s going to be lots of names coming out from losing teams. So here’s some guessing. Mo Williams just gets 52 and has an expiring deal. Or J.J. Berea. That will cost you at least one first rounder, but again you have to throw in players to match salaries. Brandon Bass, Marcus Thornton, most Nets, Joel Anthony, Luis Scola, Reggie Jackson, Jordan Hill, Jason Smith, Jose Calderon and anyone who may help the 76ers win games. As I’ve written a few times, I don’t expect the Bulls to make any significant moves this season despite the rampant community anxiety.
It's time to let go of draft picks. I know I know it's unlike the Bulls to make some kind of mid-season blockbuster trade, but I'm not even asking for that. I don't want to wait until the end of the season for player buyouts and end up with some sub-par player that won't get any minutes. Its time for a trade. The Bulls need another shooter. This was confirmed with Tony Snell getting the start. I don't dislike Mike Dunleavy, he has height, he can play defense he even has a team friendly contract, but he's just a very streaky shooter. Doug McDermott has had a tough start and will become a better player, but he won't be in the playoff rotation.
Sam: They better do something and they better do it now!
I remember during his first 3 years in the league when Derrick would come out and attack the other top point guards (Paul, D-Will, etc.) and he made a name for himself. It seems like now the newer breed of point guards are doing the same thing to him and it doesn't seem fair to judge him in those match ups because the rust hasn't completely come off. I can see he has has another gear left and am really excited to see him go against Wall, Lilliard, Lowry, etc. after the All-Star break and then we can judge how far along he has come and hopefully he'll go back to attacking the other top point guards instead of the other way around!
Sam: I think Derrick is as well. You know he sees the same thing you do and is taking names. But he also knows he cannot extend himself yet. You’ll see glimpses, like his 17 first quarter points against John Wall on national TV Wednesday. But he is being very smart in not taking the bait from his coach or the fans or critics to push too hard yet. Instead, he is building as the season becomes more important and it makes sense that the longer he’s healthy and gaining confidence the better he’ll be. He’s said to watch him later and he’s serious. It’s good that at least someone is taking care of his best interests and the team’s along the way. It just so happens it’s Rose.
Tony Parker played tonight and looked dead. Lots of min[utes] in his legs.
Sam: Time to write off the Spurs, an annual event? Parker hasn’t looked the same coming off injury and the Spurs have gotten a tremendous amount from Manu Ginobili. And, yes, Kawhi Leonard remains out. But the West is deep, deep, deep with the Thunder and Suns playoff worthy. It will be interesting to see how much rest Popovich gives his players the rest of the way.
How many Bulls do you think will be a part of All-Star weekend? I'd guess Butler and Gasol will make the big game, and Mirotic should be going to the rookie-sophomore challenge. Do you think the NBA will try to get Derrick there somehow, maybe for the skills challenge?
Sam: Players generally don’t go to those contests unless they are there for the game or one of the big contests, like dunk or shooting. I think Pau starts for the East as he’s the best center in the conference, and Mirotic is in the rookie game. I don’t think Jimmy is a lock, although he’s likely going as doing well early usually carries over with the coaches. But he’s gotten on the scouting reports, as he jokingly asked for, and is being defended and having to defend the most active offensive player every game. It’s likely worn him down some. He’s shooting below 40 percent this month. If Rose has some more games like that on national TV like he did Wednesday—if you watched that game do you pick Rose for the All-Star team or Butler?—he could move ahead of Butler in the coach selections or split the vote with him as they are fifth and sixth in the fan voting and perhaps headed to a split. The way the Bulls have played and with a really tough schedule coming up—Hawks, Cavs, Spurs, Mavericks, Heat and Warriors before the coaches vote—the Bulls could be stumbling and get two players at most. The Hawks with their great run could get three and there are guys on losing teams coming strong like Nikola Vucevic and Kemba Walker. And beating the Bulls twice the coaches might want to find two Wizards. The Bulls should get two guys in the game plus Mirotic, but it’s hard to say whom other than Pau at this point.
Do you think Dunleavy's absence may be partially why we've been playing how we've been the last few games?
Sam: Well, as Gasol said about Noah going out at halftime against the Wizards, it didn’t help. Though Mike doesn’t shoot a lot of threes, at the very least he spreads the floor as a threat. It’s why the analytics doesn’t translate well in basketball. You can’t measure how much a player like Dunleavy means opening the court so Rose can penetrate even if Dunleavy doesn’t score. The Bulls are not a good three-point shooting team. As well as Butler has done, teams don’t defend him much for the three. And then not Snell. Mirotic some, but it’s not a major defensive concern since Mirotic doesn’t have the feel to get to the right spots like Dunleavy does. So the lane gets packed in, which is another reason Rose hasn’t penetrated as successfully. You need the shooters to make the defense open up. Without Dunleavy, and McDermott never getting a chance with injury, it hasn’t happened. I may be mistaken, but I thought Gortat had a cot set up in the lane the other night and the Wizards built a campfire in there. But both will return before too long. You don’t have to win January and February.
So, whose fault is this defensive malaise? This isn't something that just happened; it's been going on for at least parts of the entire season. Is Thibodeau failing to teach/motivate? Are the players not responding to the coaches? Is it because of the Bull's inability to have set lineups and defensive rotations due to injury, causing unfamiliarity among those on the court? Or is it simply a combination of all of the above? Gasol got no help much of the game against Orlando when it seemed obvious that he was over matched trying to defend Vucevic. I like Snell, but it seemed like his feet were stuck in cement when it was seemingly apparent he had to help cover to prevent a layup. Do you think the Bulls' defense can/will get better?
Sam: Just because someone was handsome/pretty it doesn’t mean they always will be. I believe that Bulls defense of the past few years is a thing of the past because this is a new team. It was going to be a new team for a lot of reasons. If they had gotten Carmelo Anthony, as they hoped, it would not be a defensive team as Anthony isn’t much known for his defense, and they wouldn’t have had the depth. Plus, they tried it for four years and it wasn’t good enough and didn’t always get out of the first round or much into the second. So it was time to try something new. It’s a more offensive team to change with the way the games is played in the NBA now. Look at the teams with the best records in the NBA this season. Do they look like defensive teams? They move the ball, shoot and push the ball. The Bulls are in transition toward that. They have a much improved offense with the additions of Gasol, which has been a coup, Mirotic and Brooks and a better defense than most with Noah, Gibson and Butler, though not the defense it was. Though the Bulls have in theory the pieces for excellence with size, speed and scoring, it’s still in the test phase with the recovery of Rose and addition of new players in varying roles. We never will again see the defense the Bulls played the last few years. But that also was a slow down, walk it up, everyone get back game with Noah before knee surgery and Luol Deng, a perennial all-defensive player in addition to Butler. So there will be games like the one against the Magic with a fast, young team. The Bulls have put together on the fly a different formula to adjust to the new NBA without completely sacrificing what they had. We’ll see how long it takes to be complete.
Every big sees 2 ribeyes when they come to town and get Pau and Noah defending them. We need to get a D-League tough guy rebounder or we may be toast when the games start to mean something. I do expect Rose to be himself then to counteract some of this but we have a glaring weakness. And you know it. I'm not overreacting.
Sam: Why didn’t I think of that: More D-League undrafted players or players who they weren’t interested in for China. Of course.
I know you are probably getting the, "What moves need to be made?", "Is Thibs the right coach?", or whatever other reason people are overreacting about due to the 4 losses in 5 games. So, I decided to do some quick researching on the top 5 teams in the East. Injuries are part of the game, yes, that is true and every team has them, but to what extent. I took the top 7 players from each of the 5 teams to see combined who has the most games missed and most missed by the starting lineup thru Jan 14. Guess who has the least? The conference leading Atlanta Hawks. The Bulls have the most.
Sam: Yes, we’re talking about injuries for the Bulls. And it isn’t Rose. Shouldn’t that be a big positive for the season? Maybe the biggest?
I'm from Italy and I've been a Bulls fan for a lot of time. I can't understand why a lot of people are not happy about what the team is doing this season. I mean, they had a difficult schedule at the start of the season, Derrick hasn't played the last two years and isn't playing bad (ok, he could do better, for example if he tries to do some more assist instead of taking a lot of shots), Noah had a surgery this summer, there are four new player in the rotation (Gasol, Brooks, Mirotic and Mc Dermott), Thibs isn't playing the players too much like others years and Bulls have the same one of the best records in the week east and are ahead of Cleveland. I think they could only improve game after game, so relax and wait the playoff.
Sam: It’s difficult to communicate with Americans. You know, they tend to have these irrational tempers which often make them blind to reason. Be patient with them. Be kind to them. They tend to think out loud.