Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls
Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 10.17.2014
Every Friday, Sam Smith of Bulls.com opens his Ask Sam mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers
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Are these Gerald Green trade rumors real, or are they just fake like the rest of the rumor mill?
Sam: These kids are stealing my fake rumors. It’s just media speculation, like with Rondo and trying to guess which teams might make sense. With the addition of Isaiah Thomas for some reason and bringing back Eric Bledsoe long term the Suns are loaded with guards now. Green had a breakout season playing a lot, though he’s still a bit Lance Stephenson-esque. So if he doesn’t play as much there could be issues. It’s a reasonable guess to presume he could be traded as they’ll certainly keep Dragic and Bledsoe and no one’s taking all that Thomas salary. So the Suns are stuck there. They resigned probably one more Morris than they needed and they like Archie Goodwin. Green’s not going to be quiet in a reduced role. He had a terrific season last season and the Bulls, sure, don’t have a true shooting guard. Thus the guess. But Green’s nowhere even close to defending like Jimmy Butler and a not the kind of showboat player non-defender Thibodeau likes. Doesn’t seem like a match to me.
Is there any danger of Snell not making the team? I'm hearing many in the Chicago media talk a lot about how he's now the "forgotten man". I hope that's not case, because while I know he's still raw I still think he has a fruitful career ahead of him.
Sam: I expect him to have a fruitful career with the Bulls. Just not with a big kick start this season. Not everyone can play, and Thibodeau clearly has taken a liking to McDermott and Mirotic. That’s a positive as many speculated Thibodeau would not play rookies, but he seems comfortable using both and I’d expect McDermott, at least, to play good minutes this season. Snell with little playing time last season is almost another rookie with a veteran team with large expectations. That’s the forgotten man stuff, as someone has to be. Perhaps Mirotic at times as well. The D-League is the interesting part as if Snell isn’t playing it might make sense and help his confidence to let him play in the D-League and develop rather than wasting a season on the bench. There’s no shame playing there and for first round picks there’s no cut in pay.
Duncan and Parker are not coming from knee surgery. Can Noah and Rose count on regular season rest? I do not understand the pressure.
Sam: This is the Bulls’ relentless and regular chicken and egg: Can you win a title if no one actually plays? This would be the coach’s point. You can’t keep resting guys and then be ready for high level competition. The critics say if you play them that much they wear out and cannot perform at crucial times. Though Popovich is most referenced because the Spurs have been successful, he’s the exception. Most coaches are more like Thibodeau than Popovich in playing their best players the most minutes. This also is a zero sum game. When the team loses, it’s asked why you left out your best players so long. Plus, there is no scientific basis ever that has suggested what is the proper amount of playing time. Thibs’ proponents point to the top 10 players of all time, who basically averaged 40 minutes or more in their primes. Critics point to injuries and say, ah ha! Thibs has been consistent from his first day as head coach. He’s playing his best players the longest and believes in playing yourself into the playoffs rather than easing your way there. The Bulls chose to give him an extension. Management decides who is on the roster; the coach decides who plays and how much. That will conclude this discussion for today, class.
Following immediately on the heels of that realization (of the potential of Rose and Butler) is the recognition that the fulfillment of their performance together (Rose and Butler) is threatened by injury that will limit one or both of them. It’s my contention that coaches do not possess an accurate understanding of the equation of superior conditioning of pro athletes today versus body fatigue that accumulates over years of intense play, a part of which is overly long schedules and back-to-back games, sometimes three days in a row. Or, alternatively, the coaches are indeed aware, but the pressures for winning in a current season blind them too much to the broad health picture of their players.
Sam: More life or earth? The peach or the peach basket? I prefer the story of what was believed to be the first basketball game ever played which was not in 1892 in the Springfield Y but in Mexico in the 1500s with instead of a ball the teams using the skulls of their conquered foes. Talk about your bad bounces. But I digress. Injury is part of the game, as we so often hear. Next man up and all that. But the pressures and demands are mutually exclusive. The pressures of winning, which everyone demands, require you use your most talented players the longest. Again, take out Popovich. He has unemployment insurance: He cannot be fired. Everyone else can be. So why rest your players so the next coach has fresher players to use? No coach wants any of his best players to be injured. That hurts his team and him, as well. Players want to play. The best ones hate sitting out and generally ask back in. All our takes of great “heart” and being a competitor are about playing and performing beyond expectations. Should Jordan have played when he was ill in 1997? Seems irresponsible. You make the best judgments you can weighing success and prevention. No one truly has come up with the right formula. We generally check who had the most success and decide they did it correctly. And like the old saying goes, Don’t dribble on the nose. You never get a true bounce.
With the 31st looming fast, any idea what Jimmy Butler’s choice will be, or are us fans still going to be left in the dark?
Sam: Trick or treat, eh? Remember, this isn’t sign or lose Butler since he can only become a restricted free agent next summer with the Bulls able to match any offer. You say they didn’t match on Asik. True, but that was because they had Noah starting at center. They have no other shooting guard. The Bulls love Jimmy (they generally love their picks, especially ones who looks so good as Butler was last in the first round) and Butler loves the Bulls and Chicago despite the lack of good country music and cowboy boots stores. It’s a lot like the Taj Gibson situation. Gibson maybe could have gotten more money if he became restricted and went onto the open market. But that means taking a chance for a year on not being injured and potentially risking a lifetime of financial security. Nothing bad generally happens, but then you could be Jay Williams. Life has no guarantees. Basketball neither. It’s not greed. Everyone deserves to make as much as they can. I don’t know many unselfish bankers. OK, I never heard of one. You can bet on yourself. Better than football betting. But how much is enough, especially when you have a great job in a great city where you love being? I’m sure the Bulls will make Butler a nice offer that basically guarantees if he’s not stupid he’ll be rich for life. But I’m also sure his advisors will show him how much more money players of lesser or equal talent signed for. In the end, it should be the decision of one person, Jimmy Butler. Which means no one will or should know until one person makes his decision. He should do well no matter what he decides.
We hear the "in contention" words thrown around often; however, is that satisfactory for Bulls fans? Had everyone (primarily Derrick) remained healthy during the last two seasons, maybe we could make a case for making it to the NBA finals. In our current situation (with age the primary factor), I don't believe we have the luxury to sell the idea of "being in contention". Derrick, Jimmy, Kirk, Taj, and Joakim, have helped maintain the continuity and core values of this team. Pau, McDermott, Mirotic, Brooks, et al. are here to fill the talent void. In short, we can't afford to wait any longer. Patience is great, but do you see as I, a fire sale if we do not win it all this year? How long can we throw the word "potential" with aging (and perpetually injured) players? This has to be "The Season".
Sam: Sorry, but I don't get this attitude. In contention is as good as you can get in sports; fire sale means you become the Celtics or the 76ers. I don't get this view of throwing everyone overboard if things don’t go well or you don’t have ultimate success. That's what the Bulls did in 1999 and it took maybe 9 years to even be a regular playoff team. That fire sale thing basically never has worked anywhere and is a wrongheaded view of trying to build a team. The 76ers have so humiliated the game the NBA is being forced the change the lottery system because of their felonious behavior with a system that wasn’t broken. I think the Bulls have done an impressive job of putting together a contending team that, of course, requires the good health of Derrick Rose, whom they lucked into in the draft. See, that’s the point of this fire sale thing that’s so misguided. Yes, building through the draft is the best way to success, but you have to be extremely lucky in the draft and to be in the right one. Look at the Thunder with Durant, whom the fell into because they didn’t have No. 1. As terrific as Anthony Davis is, it’s his third season and his team had to bottom out previously and has been poor for two seasons with him. No, the Bulls window isn’t tremendously long because no one’s is. Everyone likes to point to the Spurs because they have been so successful. How about the Lakers or Celtics? Where do you think the Heat will be the next 10 years? And the Spurs were out in the first or second round three straight years with an old team before making it to the Finals the last two years just because they had patience, didn’t overreact and understood they were in contention every season and deciding your window was closed because others said it was wasn’t worth considering. I actually see this Bulls group with the influx of young players like McDermott and Mirotic in position with this core with some changes year to year as contracts expire to be together for five or six years, at least. Championship or not. If you as a fan can hear your team is in contention most every season you are a very fortunate fan. You should treasure what you have now because you can end up with a lot worse.
How much credit, if any, does Boozer get for Taj's offensive development? As horrible as Boozer is on defense he is one of if not the most skilled big men if you ask me. We may not have seen a lot of it as Bulls fans or it was just overlooked because of the horrible team defensive skills. But I feel he had to have something to do with the improved offensive game from Gibson and if that's the case then I guess he was worth that contract after all. We got some decent years out of him despite his poor defensive efforts and a solid offensive mentor/coach. If only he could have learned some defense from Taj we would have been sitting pretty and he may still be on the Bulls.
Sam: No “How could they let Boozer go?” emails yet. Taj put in the work, and it did take some time, but, I agree, I think Boozer helped. Taj often pointed toward watching Boozer’s game and Boozer does have good footwork and is excellent on clearing space. He didn’t always commit to the move and accepted the outside shot. Though the other big development for Taj was he finally developed confidence with that shot. I believe working with Boozer helped there as well for Taj. The Boozer signing was not a mistake. Boozer gave the Bulls solid production and with him they had the league’s best record in consecutive seasons and were one of the winningest franchises in the NBA his four years as a starter. That hardly suggests failure or a mistake.
Derrick Rose had been coined a scoring guard because of necessity, with more options now on offense how do you see his roll changing? Will he average double digit assists? Are the Bulls a better team if Derrick is shooting less or are they still reliant on his scoring?
Sam: The Bulls have more offensive variety and versatility and options to choose from. And Rose doesn’t have to score quite as much or be the focus of every offensive play. Though he still has to be the team’s most important offensive player. And he still has to be that scoring point guard for the team to have great success. I’ve heard all this great stuff about Gasol and McDermott and others taking scoring responsibility, and it’s true there is help. But Rose is the team’s best player; he’s primarily an offensive player, though he is better defensively, and if he’s not scoring at a high rate, even if not quite like before, I don’t see the team doing all that well.
I hope Thibs keeps starting Dougie. MD would make the 2nd unit stronger - not having two rookies on the court at the same time is important. I Like MD a lot but DM is already more dynamic - can create his own shot, get to the line and is a far better rebounder, which is going to be very important against the Cavs in particular. That said you know how Thibs supports his vets. And while DM will grow as the season progresses he will be a rookie all over again in the playoffs.
Sam: It’s a reasonable point about the playoffs. Obviously, I’ve made several suggestions about McDermott starting even if I don’t fully expect it immediately. But then you ask yourself if you want to go into the playoffs with a rookie. As no doubt Thibs will point out, you don’t find that often on title teams. Sure, Magic, but McDermott probably is not likely to be top 10 alltime in the NBA. I do think McDermott at some point is the starter. Perhaps with injury; maybe to balance the second unit. But if Thibs goes to an eight or nine player rotation, Mirotic probably is out. And it’s still tough to see where his front court minutes come in, anyway. Then maybe McDermott and no other rookie is fine with the reserves as his and Dunleavy’s minutes probably will be similar. Thibs will go with the hot hand to close.
Nikola Mirotic is obviously shining right now. Is there any chance that Taj can slide over to the 5 spot to backup Jo so that Nikola can get more playing time?
Sam: There obviously are occasions you can play smaller, but that unit with Gibson and Mirotic playing together in preseason hasn’t been very good. The Bulls have the best size and defense in the NBA with Noah and Gasol. Gasol is a much better defender than given credit for because he played in L.A. where it wasn’t much practiced or demanded the last few years. It wouldn’t make much sense to take away from that and play so many guys out of position to give extra time to a rookie even if he is more experienced than most rookies. There’s no rush with Mirotic. And as much as everyone would like it, there always are injuries. As Thibs says, you have to be ready; next man up.
With a healthy D Rose do we have the nucleus to win 60+ games this year?
Sam: I would think not. Though at this point I think it’s clear the Bulls have a potential contender and there’s no reason to push for best record and home court, which seemed to wear on Indiana last season. It was different four years ago when the Bulls weren’t sure what they could do and did take some by surprise. That’s not happening anymore. It doesn’t mean you can pull your foot off the pedal as just because people say you are top four you still need to win the games. But anywhere around 50 to 55 wins is a nice season and puts you in position to make a challenge for a title.
Just a stray thought -- Scott Skiles caught some grief for saying about Tyrus Thomas "We ask him to sprint the floor. To my knowledge in his career he hasn't done it one time. Not one time." But I see TT is no longer with Charlotte, so the 6'1" SS played for 10 years in the NBA and 6'9" TT played for 8. One of them made the most out of little talent; the other made the least out of a lot of talent. I think there might be a lesson there.
Sam: My first Tyrus mention of the season. You had it right and it should be the topic of rookie orientation: It’s up to you. It applies to everything and not just basketball. Care, be committed and demand excellence of yourself every time you go to work and you’ll have a better and longer career. Of course, I’m often stumped as Tyrus’ answer is he’s a multi-millionaire, no longer ever has to work and basically didn’t give a crap. I’m still working that one out.
Just wondering your opinion on why the Bulls always seem to whiff on the big fish in the free agency pool? We went for T-Mac and Duncan in 2000 (if my memory serves me correctly) and ended up with Ron Mercer (bad) and Brad Miller (decent), had a crack at Wade and LBJ in 2010 and ended up with Boozer (decent for a season or two) and this offseason went hard at Melo and ended up with Gasol (will be good for two seasons I’m thinking). Is it our history and legacy of championships and MJ combined with Chicago fans expectation that is scaring off potential pick ups? Or is there something else at play here?
Sam: You mean like all the free agents who have lately gone to the Knicks and Mavs and Lakers? The year 2000 was different considering the team’s poor record and the generally unrecognized greed that probably cost them McGrady. McGrady probably would have signed, but Krause became convinced at the last minute they could get Duncan and Hill and who knows what and McGrady got turned off. Everyone went for LeBron in 2010 and we all know by now that was settled long before free agency. The Bulls did have a shot at Anthony this summer and basically no one else did. I guess that’s progress. There are factors like weather, though Pau was an impressive pickup given the Knicks, Lakers, Spurs and Thunder all went for him and he signed for less money than he could have made elsewhere to come to the Bulls. So your complaint should be moot now. But there is an element the Bulls have now which could be a huge positive in free agency: The Advocate Center practice facility. The Bulls are now in the only major American city where you can live downtown and play and practice there for an NBA team. Not with New York or Brooklyn, who practice in the suburbs with long drives; not in L.A., where there is no downtown to live by the arena. It should become a major recruiting tool for the Bulls that is unique in the U.S.
How high up do LeBron's powers really go? The last 2 players to beat him out for the MVP award have been stricken with injuries the following year. I know Durant's injury isn't as serious as Rose's. Yet. But don't be surprised if Durant misses extended time with more injuries this year. For LeBron truly is the chosen one and anyone who beats him out for an NBA award shall be cursed forever!
Sam: Now you really are scaring me.