Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 10.04.2013
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Thank you for writing about the team. I can’t wait for everyone to get over Rose being back, so we can focus on the whole team and the season going forward. Maybe after we see him play on Saturday.
Sam: Everyone knows the interest in Rose’s recovery. But I think the obsession is more with the media, and more so with the editors of the reporters who write about the Bulls. I’ve heard several writers say how their organizations just want to be able to put the word “Rose” in a headline to draw internet hits. Sure, the fans are interested, and everyone wants to see Rose take those first few game steps. But I think most fans believe Rose will be OK and the larger interest is with the team. After all, no matter how well Rose does, the Bulls still will need 75 to 80 points from somewhere else. I think it is the team that intrigues most fans this season as the starting five has a potential All-Star or high level player at every position. And rarely in franchise history could the Bulls say that. The backcourt may be the most athletic ever with Rose and Jimmy Butler, and Luol Deng and Joakim Noah are All-Stars selected by the coaches. No one in Chicago really has ever seriously said “championship” in the same sentence without the name “Jordan,” and perhaps for the first time since the great Jerry Sloan/Chet Walker/Bob Love teams can fans here seriously think about being among the best without Jordan.
I remember reading in The Jordan Rules that MJ wouldn't sit out in '86 in order for the Bulls to have a better shot at Daugherty. That correct? I ask that to ask [you] this; Knowing how MJ felt about management and his teammates in 1990 do [you] believe that if he were a free agent in that summer would he had left for NYC to play with Ewing & Oakley or Philly with Barkley? I firmly believe that there's no way he would’ve came back especially the way [you] said he tore the locker room up after losing to the Pistons!
Sam: Ah, the old days. By the way, I updated The Jordan Rules last season in an e-book with about a 10,000-word chapter on some of the behind the scenes stuff I couldn’t go into back then and what happened after publication. Now that you had to sit through the advertisement you can get an answer: Michael in ’86 wasn’t thinking about Daugherty. The Bulls didn’t have a chance to get that high pick, anyway, though none of us really figured the 76ers would make that bad a trade of the No. 1 pick. Michael just couldn’t accept being with a team that didn’t do everything it could to win. He wasn’t into tanking. Though the team doctors legitimately said he was at risk of serious injury, Michael believed the team was holding him out to dump the season for a draft pick and morally he believed that wrong. I’m not so sure he thinks that way now running the Bobcats. As for being a free agent in 1990, it wasn’t done. The rules were much different and much more difficult for a top player to become a free agent. But the ethic among players then was to make your team better. Not leave because you couldn’t. Isiah Thomas could have gone to New York at the end of his career in the early 1990’s, but he felt it was more appropriate to try to get the Pistons back. Kareem left Milwaukee, but more for cultural than competitive reasons. He had way more success in Milwaukee than he did in L.A. until Magic came. Michael was upset with Bulls management in the late 1980’s. He didn’t believe you could win with Pippen and Grant because of the way they were intimidated by the Pistons. He wanted them traded and wanted different players. But he never really wanted to leave. He basically wanted most everyone else to.
Do you think there is a chance Dirk will come to the Bulls next season, or if he will leave Dallas at all? Cuban ruined his chances of ever winning another title in Dallas. Also, I remember Don Nelson was trying to decide whether to take Paul Pierce or Dirk in the 1998 draft. Both are Hall of Famers, but in your opinion, looking back on their careers, who is the better player?
Sam: You’re right. Cuban did blow their chances, and it’s interesting the way the NBA media mostly ignored the way he broke up a title team. It was viewed as a fluke winner in a way, I understand, with only one star in Dirk and a reserve as the next best scorer. But to win and then dismantle your team to get into free agency is well beyond anything the Bulls did with much condemnation given that was a lockout year, Jordan did retire and Rodman had gone off the deep end for good. But given Cuban does a lot of interviews for ESPN and the national web sites and networks, he mostly gets a pass from the media. It’s something I always tell team executives. It’s easy to have the media in your pocket. Just be available and talk a lot. It gets you a pass. Though Cuban is having a bit more trouble talking too much around the Justice Department, it seems. Dirk certainly has had a much better career than Pierce. I sense Dirk has decided that he got his title, he likes the atmosphere and he’ll ride it out. Frankly, I agree with him. I’m not much for chasing titles since only one team gets it. Why disrupt a nice life. Plus, maybe you owe your team something for spending all that money on you. I’m glad Dirk is likely to stay. Plus, he’s not that high level a player anymore with knee problems. He’s had a much better career than Pierce. He was a league MVP, for one thing, and had not Garnett and Ray Allen rescued Pierce, Pierce may still have been known as an indifferent player, a scorer who doesn’t care much about winning or playing hard and is just good enough for you to lose with him. He better thank Garnett and Allen in his Hall of Fame speech, though on numbers he probably would have gotten in, anyway, but with a lot of gritted teeth among voters.
What are your thoughts of D.J. White making the team? If it was up to me, I go into the season with heavier weapons as the objective of the game is to outscore the opponent, not out defense them.
Sam: Well, you might get an argument from Thibs about that. But White has a better chance than he did before Wednesday, when two more guys were cut. The roster was down to 16, though the Bulls sound like they’re going with 13 to start. I can’t say I’ve seen White play much at all since he left Indiana. He rarely played in Oklahoma City, and it was tough to watch Charlotte last season. He’s a similar body makeup to Pittman, though I might not go with a big guy. I don’t think it makes all that much difference when and if a third string big man is in the game. The guy he’s playing against basically can’t score, anyway. And he’s usually not some great pick and roll defender or someone who’s going to be getting the ball. I prefer players, a guy who can come in and make an impact no matter the position, especially for a veteran team like the Bulls with serious intentions. It’s why I’d probably go with a guy like Mike James. Perhaps Dahntay Jones.
What do you think of signing Chicago native Corey Maggette to the last bench spot if the Spurs drop him? Would be good veteran for a ten minute guy. To come in and do something to contribute. Most of these bench guys will never be good.
Sam: Actually, I think the bench is pretty strong as Thibs doesn’t go that deep into the bench and Hinrich, Dunleavy, Taj, Nazr and Teague is a pretty respectable group. I was at some function last year and Governor Quinn was there. He grabbed me and made a pitch for the Bulls to sign Maggette. Quinn went to Fenwick, as Maggette did, and those Fenwick people have been pushing Maggette on the Bulls for several years now. As I only make fantasy trades, he wasn’t having much success. He gave me a strange look and I probably appeared to be Mike Madigan to him. I was a big Maggette fan when he came out of Duke, but he never really learned to shoot well enough. Now that his body has broken down it’s tough to see how he can do much for anyone. I hope he does well, but I’d be surprised.
This is more out of frustration than a question. Why are so many fans eager to run a two-time All-Star in Luol Deng out of town? Despite contract negotiations having broken off, I’m still confident Deng will be back next season. I understand the business end of things as well due to the new CBA. What I don’t understand is how so many are ready to see Deng leave and be replaced by Butler. I love the idea of having them both and I look forward to Deng & Butler becoming the dynamic duo of shutting down others teams 2’s & 3’s. Deng has been nothing but a trooper while being here.
Sam: I don’t really sense that. Yes, there’s speculation and suggestion regarding Deng given he can be a free agent. And he’s been a guy over the years who some people wish perhaps were a bit better. But then you look around and really can’t figure out many guys at that position you’d rather have. As I’ve written, a lot will depend on how the team does this season. But especially the way Deng has played for Thibodeau and given Thibodeau’s embrace of Deng, I don’t hear that much negative regarding Deng.
Hype of the moment: Jordan said he could beat some great players on a 1 on 1. Many people ask you that on mailbag. I'm one more. First, it's kinda dumb to compare a Kareem vs a MJ. So lets try narrow thinks out. MJ vs Kobe? MJ vs LeBron? MJ vs Wade? Pippen vs LeBron? What's the one great 1 on 1 you would pay to see? It's with Jordan or with another great?
Sam: Actually, you are the only one to ask. I’m glad as I don’t much like to get into this sort of stuff, though I do like the fictional trades. Anyway, everyone likes to say it’s Jordan because most view Jordan as the game’s best. I guess this sort of stuff is an entertaining, if without an answer, debate. Kobe was a better long range shooter than Jordan; LeBron is stronger. Jordan had a better mid range game and was a better driver. Oscar Robertson was as good as any of them at all three.
Folks will forget that Derrick Rose was nagged by all sorts of injuries in 2011-2012. There was the toe, I think a back issue, and a bunch of other stuff. He's had more than a year to get all that right. He probably feels better than he has since high school. I'm hoping LBJ is in love but good with his 3pt shot. My expectation is that there's some commotion about how LBJ can now beat you from deep. I will believe it when I see him stick a gamer from 3 and then get a glimpse of his defender visibly frustrated, as if this defender missed the assignment. I will be watching to see what is the free throw count for LBJ as the year wears on.
Sam: It’s a good point about Derrick. It’s too bad he had to have an injury like that to work more on his body, though given it’s Derrick he saw it as a positive. I do remember coaches and trainers telling him in 2010-11 to work more on his body and diet. But then he won MVP. They don’t listen as much when everyone is celebrating them. You can see how good Derrick feels from looking at him and just talking to him. He seems so relaxed and comfortable. As for LeBron, he was playable when he shot that fadeaway three from the left elbow extended. He’ll still fling one up there, but given he’s not coached by Mike Brown anymore, there are people now who will remind him he’s an idiot to shoot that. LeBron gets it. And he knows it’s his team and his responsibility given Wade’s decline. No one should be underestimating him.
They are reporting on NBA TV that Luol is not recovered from the spinal tap illness, saying he has a "long way to go". Also that he and the Bulls know he is "gone" after his contract is up.
Sam: I guess we’ll find out soon as well with him. I haven’t heard any such thing and he’s been practicing. So given he couldn’t even stand when he was hospitalized last spring, I suspect he’s much better. Maybe the long way to go part was that the Bulls are traveling to South America next week. There’s already been plenty of speculation regarding Deng. The only thing I’m sure about is the Bulls haven’t made any decisions on anyone but Rose (he’s staying). No organization does a year before they have to. Sports executives are great telling you after something happens what should have been done. I find very few who know what to do before. They have to, so some get lucky and others don’t. Then the others get lucky, or they get fired. The Bulls have made no decision on Deng’s future. Or anyone else’s but Derrick’s, I suspect. It’s the same plan they carried out in the late 1980’s when they made no decisions on anyone a year early other than with Jordan. He wasn’t being traded nor not resigned.
With Thibs’ lack of confidence in mid-season acquisitions being able to pick up his system effectively enough for game time pressure, wouldn't it be smart for the Bulls to go with a fifteen man roster, so we have reserves that are more ready to contribute when that inevitable time comes?
Sam: It always remains much easier to spend other people’s money. It’s tough to say the Bulls should be even farther into the luxury tax, thus not only doubling salaries. But if you have a player on the end of your roster and he’s hurt you’re paying him off at double. Is it really worth the way Thibodeau uses the roster to have 14th and 15th men on the roster all season costing perhaps $5 million or more, which then could limit what you have to spend next summer on free agents or resignings or other acquisitions? Frankly, I don’t see much reason for 15-player rosters. Who uses so many players, and who wants to see those guys playing? If you remain flexible, as the Bulls are doing, you always can add someone if there is an injury. That seems the way to go.
What happened to Malcolm Thomas? He played so well during summer camp and was around last year and the end of the year? Did another team sign him? What kind of attitude does he have? Does he have the work ethic needed to stay in the league? Can be become a legit role player for someone?
Sam: He got hurt and wasn’t going to be able to be ready in October. So there was no point to bring him in. The Bulls would have. He’s a nice kid, hard working and could be an NBA reserve. I suspect he’ll return overseas, where the money is still good and he’ll have an opportunity to contribute more. His problem with the Bulls is being an undersized power forward with little offense, which is a poor man’s Taj Gibson. The Bulls basically don’t need another Taj as a third stringer at that position, though Taj could play some center this season given so many teams play small and use stretch fours.
What do you expect from Dunleavy this season? His minutes were very similar to Marco's last season. His shooting %'s were certainly an upgrade when compared to Belinelli. I liked Marco's ability to create offense off the dribble, but Dunleavy would seem to be an upgrade as a spot-shooter, no? Would you consider him a defensive liability? With the roster as it sits, I'm guessing he'll be getting a lot of play behind Butler and Deng (assuming Thibs ever gives them a rest).
Sam: I think Dunleavy will be very good. We all came to like Marco, though it took Thibodeau much longer. You may remember, in the first month of the season even without Derrick, Marco played fewer than 10 minutes four times and also had a DNP in another game. It really wasn’t until about six weeks into the season that Thibodeau began to trust him. I don’t see that with Dunleavy as Thibodeau has been all in with him from the start. Mike’s a veteran with size and certainly no worse on defense than Kyle Korver, who did fine. Sometimes that no D tag, like unleavy, is misplaced as defense is more a team game. Dunleavy always has been respectable. He works hard and is a serious minded player who should fit in with this Bulls group well. I see some big shooting games from him playing off Rose and Jimmy penetrating.
If the Bulls where to win the championship this year with their current roster how do you see next offseason playing out? As much I would like to say if it ain't broke then don't try to fix it. Would they really bring everyone back for another run, and not take a shot at landing LeBron or any of the other big name free agents?
Sam: I’m known as cautious and will wait until I see one preseason game first. Plans are great, as Custer once said. LeBron isn’t coming to Chicago other than for some games and some Rush Street stuff. So we can get over that. This will be an easy season for Bulls management as the season will tell the franchise what it must do next. There’ll be plenty of speculation regarding Bulls players who are free agents and hoping for extensions and others who might come. I’m not a big believer in next summer’s free agent class as I don’t see any chance LeBron, Carmelo or Bosh would be interested in the Bulls. Paul George has resigned. Kobe’s way too old and fragile. Zach Randolph? Pau? Bogut? Dirk? Granger? Rudy Gay? Marcin Gortat? The Bulls, to me, seem better off with what they have compared with that class. Perhaps in the future, but I don’t see next summer as a time to chase free agents.
Can you comment on Miami’s strategy in the playoffs. It seemed that in the first game of each series they got out physicalled. And their response prior to the next game was to complain to media, refs, anyone that would listen, that the opposition was playing dirty because they could not win straight up on talent. OK, all this is pretty normal up to this point but what was really interesting was this. In the second game (and to a lesser extent the other games) of every series it seemed it was the Heat players who very early in the first quarter started with dirty plays. In fact they did not care if they got called for the fowl or not. The point was to do anything necessary to force the refs into calling an extreme amount of penalties early. Then as the game went on, the refs ended up calling a much tighter game/series than any other playoff series. The result was that Bulls and the Pacers were pretty much not allowed to play the same level of defense that they had in the previous series. So while they still called a tighter game, they did not call fowls on the stars in order to keep them in the game. It applied to both teams but since Miami had the biggest stars they benefited more than their opponent. Am I crazy or did this happen?
Sam: This is always the lament and conspiracy of the losers. The Bulls heard that pretty much every season, that Jordan got all the calls because he was the biggest star in the game and you couldn’t play your game against the Bulls. There is something to what you suggest, though Miami isn’t that physical a team. Yes, Wade takes cheap shots and so does bird guy Andersen. Sometimes Chalmers a bit, but only because they always yell at him. Pat Riley teams have a history of being accused of this sort of strategy, that you foul every time and the officials can’t call them all. But it didn’t work until he got LeBron except for that one Finals when the officials had heard enough whining from Mark Cuban and sent Wade to the line every time he drove. Though Dallas contributed to its demise with Cuban’s rants during the series at his players. Miami didn’t exactly dominate as they needed a Spurs meltdown of historic proportions to win the title. But the Heat has the league’s best player, and those guys do often triumph and deserve to.
Everybody's talking about how good the Nets are going to be next year with the addition of Pierce and Garnett. However, both players were just shells of their former selves last season as Celtics and, without Rondo in the lineup, they accomplished little. So I don't expect the Nets to be much in the way of serious contenders in the East this year. The only team besides Miami which appears to be good enough to give the Bulls trouble is Indiana. But the Pacers making a run this year is predicated on Granger coming back, yet for years many sportswriters have been saying Granger and George cannot co-exist. That leaves Miami as the main competition to the Bulls this season. But Miami lost Miller, who saved them in the playoffs, and it's not likely Wade is suddenly going to regain his old form. So Miami seems to be a weakened team—and anyone who expects Oden to make a difference on this team is dreaming. So that leaves the Bulls as the creme de la creme of the East. So, assuming the Bulls actually avoid the serious injury bug this year (the law of averages says the Bulls are due for one), I don't see any team in the East blocking the Bulls path. And, then I look westward. Can Oklahoma take us with an injured Westbrook? Doubtful? Can Los Angeles return to form? I don't think so. Will Houston rise up in one season with a head case like Howard? That's almost laughable. Can San Antonio make one last run and win? Not likely. So am I guilty of wishful thinking when I say the Bulls will win the championship this year?
Sam: May as well just skip the season and book Grant Park, though perhaps they’ll do a parade this time as Michael didn’t like them. It’s easy to dismiss everyone on paper as much as to promote someone. I think the Nets will be very good come playoff time given how deep they are and the number of relatively high level players they can throw at you. Unless Wade is near crippled, it’s always tough to take out the league’s best player. If I were to put a team ahead of the Bulls in the regular season, I’d probably go with Indiana given its depth and toughness. Westbrook will return. Howard, though easy to mock, is tough to play against. The Rockets once they trade Asik could be loaded. And watch out for the Clippers. But that said, the Bulls should be right there given the return of Rose and a strong starting five. Which is why there’s a lot of local excitement, though justifiably restrained for now.