Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 10.12.2012
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One of the really great parts of this season is going to be seeing who that second unit becomes. No Asik might the be biggest factor in changing the complexion, maybe entirely. Is it going to be a [Golden State] crowd of shooters, Phoenix screen roll flowing offense, old New York Knicks put-the-clamps-on-'em-and-run bunch? They've got shooters, don't know if they can rebound and run though. Gibson will. The other guys? not so sure. Butler can help here and if Robinson chips in. Who looks like principal distributor on second unit? I'm not buying Robinson for that. Asik did what I would have done, Bulls did what I would have done. Sometimes players are just not worth the price. See: Joe Johnson.
Sam: Yes, sometimes life isn’t fair, isn’t perfect and doesn’t work out the way you want all the time. Actually more than sometimes. The bench is a big question, which suggests the Bulls aren’t that bad off. If there’s that much worry about the reserves, that’s not a bad thing. The backup group of the last two years was justifiably celebrated in playing so well with Rose missing 27 games. But it didn’t come so fast or so easily. I recall pretty much everyone having had enough of John Lucas and C.J. Watson that first season. And Taj wasn’t fitting in that well with them. You never would have suggested Watson, Korver and Lucas could be defenders at all. But under Thibodeau and the Bulls system, they did as well as they were capable. So this group gets a chance as coming in their reputations are hardly worse for defense than those guys’ were. I see them now, as you do, more offensively oriented as many came from bad teams, like C.J. did, and had to learn responsible habits. It will be an evolving and regular story, but hardly anything like the story of Game 1. I’m fairly certain there won’t be a single game all season other than a blowout when at least one starter and maybe two aren’t playing with the reserves. So I doubt we’ll ever see those five guys trying to be an offense. That’s what preseason is for and I suspect we’ll see a tight rotation early on until Thibodeau gains confidence in more guys. As for Omer, he will be missed for his help defense, shot blocking and size. But you never get to keep all the toys when there is a salary cap. Only the Yankees do in baseball.
Once Derrick Rose is back and in the starting line up again do you think Hinrich will be the starting shooting guard or will Rip stay there? It might be more beneficial to have a combo guard like Hinrich off the bench.
Sam: I believe that’s what Hinrich was hired for. I’ve gotten suggestions when Rose returns he should play shooting guard next to Hinrich since Hinrich is more the point guard. It’s interesting how things change as when Hinrich left the feeling he wasn’t point guard enough, not enough of a distributor. I think he’s perfect for the combo guard position, of which there are many high level ones like Jason Terry, Ray Felton, Mo Williams, George Hill. And to your point, no, I don’t see him as starting shooting guard since he doesn’t have the size of someone like Hamilton. Yes, Hinrich is a high level defender and will play some shooting guard with Rose when Rose returns. But I’m fairly sure the team will go back to Rose/Hamilton. Derrick is the point guard of the team’s future and that’s not changing. Coach Thibodeau is big on not creating media controversy and not embarrassing veterans. He’s not taking Hamilton out of the starting lineup just as he won’t with Boozer. But I also expect Hamilton to have a good season and see no reason why he and Rose, assuming Derrick’s knee is good, aren’t the ideal backcourt combination for later in the season. Especially this season with Rose certainly limited in playing time assuming he returns, Hinrich will get plenty of time at point guard. The Bulls desperately need for him to remain healthy.
What happened to Malcolm Thomas? Watching all the Summer League games it seemed like he at least had a chance to get a look in training camp? I checked every NBA roster and don't see his name. Did something happen for the Bulls to sour on him? He seemed to be the type of guy that Thibs would love; defend, rebound, know his role and excel at it.
Sam: I’ve gotten a number of questions about him as he was the kind of active, aggressive defender Bulls fans like. He was a classic ‘tweener in many ways. He was a bit small for NBA power forward and not offensively gifted enough for small forward. Still, the Bulls liked him and he probably would have had a chance to make the roster. Which would have been a minimum deal. That was much the case with other NBA teams. So he went overseas to Israel to play for elite Maccabi Tel Aviv, one of the best and richest clubs and I’m quite sure he’s making multiple times what he would have made in the NBA and in a beautiful city with water you don’t have to walk on in January. Well, let me check again on where that walking on water happens or doesn’t over there.
Since Bulls' backup center Nazr Mohammed is, let's say elder, who's going to play heavier minutes when needed? Taj is 6'9 and Radmanovic... can't. I was wondering are the Bulls still looking for a big to sign? There are some available like Sean Williams and Hassan Whiteside. Both are defensive minded and Williams has a nice mid range jumper as well. I understand they brought Kyrylo Fesenko in just for training camp and I hope the GM is not looking to sign him or any other of them for the season (nothing personal, but we deserve better).
Sam: If they could get a big man with the skill level of Kurt Thomas when he was with the Bulls, then perhaps. There aren’t many available and I don’t believe they have any interest in the guys you mentioned. I happen to feel Gibson with his shot blocking ability and toughness can handle the job and the extra minutes given he only played 20 minutes per game last season. The East isn’t exactly loaded with big men teams are going to throw the ball to. I think the shot blocking at the rim is more important. I have no idea what they have in mind for Fesenko. Because of salary cap issues, no one in camp can make the opening day roster. But someone will be signed around Thanksgiving. If I were the Bulls I’d be waiting to see who gets released and who still isn’t signed, and I think they’re doing that. I still feel the biggest issue is scoring and not interior defense.
How do you correctly pronounce Nazr Mohammed's first name? Should it be "Nazeer" or as Stacey King called him "Nazee"? Just wanted to find out, so I can yell his name whenever he gets those offensive boards again.
Sam: If he keeps getting those like he did against Memphis, he’ll be taking away the Scalabrine towel currently being waved by Nate Robinson. That’s also what preseason is for media, both learning to pronounce and spell the names of the new guys. I think I called him Naz-R for his first six years in the league. Stacey had it, from what I’m told, which also makes it easier for Stacey to rhyme something for it: Na-zee with another Easy Breezy Big Sexy. Oh, used that one already.
Richard Hamilton missed much of last year with injuries and, from the outside as a fan looking in, it never seemed like he fit in with the tight knit Bulls roster that had mostly been together for a couple of years. This season the roster has many new players with the dissolution of the "Bench Mob". Do you think that the influx of new players on the Bulls may help Hamilton to feel more comfortable and, if healthy, produce on the court?
Sam: As I’ve written, I’m buying Rip stock this season. I think the staff was as guilty of this last season as many fans and media, and it’s understandable. Hamilton was out so much at an advanced age for an NBA shooting guard and with a history of missed games the last few seasons it was only logical to lose faith in him and begin to write him off. He’s essentially admitted he wasn’t ready for the schedule and uncertain start. He is this season, it’s been clear already. While 34 is old for a guard and once the end of a career, no more given the advanced training methods. And Hamilton perhaps more than most given the condition he stays in. And he’ll likely be a free agent after this season. He wants to continue playing and the best way to show you can is to continue. It wasn’t always to his credit, but his last seasons in Detroit were a mess. He didn’t handle it great, but they did start it trading for Iverson and giving Iverson his starting job. It’s tough to take when you were the leading scorer on a title team. It’s easy to say to go along for the good of the organization, but not so easy to do. I think he’s well past that and see no reason why he can’t play at a high level given his shooting ability and unusual skill at reading the floor and making plays. He’s a pro and I like that I’ve heard he’s been acting like a veteran team leader.
On Deng. I know people like to say bad stuff about him. And in the comments below your article its clear there's no sympathy for Deng from all, but for me this guy is one of the Bulls best and I really hope he could stay with the team after this contrat. One of those guys I really don't want to see with another uniform. Like with Hinrich. I think not always a great icon of the team has to be the best in the game. Hinrich proved loyalty coming back and I love that he is back. Way more then Ben Gordon who I like but not has a Bulls icon, just a player who passed. Kirk is Captain Kirk. Deng is Deng. And hope Noah can be too. I love these three guys and their willingness to defend and play as a team is remarkable. I know it's obviously soon to talk about that, but do you see them raising a banner for Deng? Even without a champion title for the Bulls?
Sam: There’s always been a lot of ambivalence about Deng, in part because of the promise (overrated) of that group with he, Ben Gordon and Hinrich and him coming fast early in his career before his stress fracture issues. In some respects like with Boozer, people often want Lu to be who they want rather than who he is. He’s a hard working, fundamentally sound valuable player. Because you are paid like Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant doesn’t mean you are. Good for Deng for negotiating a good contract for himself. That’s not his fault. Under Vinny Del Negro, he wasn’t part of the offense. That’s tougher with a player like him because he doesn’t much create his own shot. Also, like his scouting report coming out of Duke, not a great athlete. He relies on team play, so he’s blossomed under Thibodeau. But he’s also good for a team. I wrote that story about him because quietly by being around as long as he’s been he’s becoming a career franchise leader. That means something. And it’s not just about attendance. But he will need some titles to be on one of those rooftop banners, I assume. Not many get there.
So the Heat are finally going to play LeBron primarily as a point power forward. Correct me if I am wrong, but weren't you saying that they should have been doing that from the very beginning? Spoelstra's got nothing on you! Or anyone.
Sam: I won’t correct you for that one, though I’m not certain Spoelstra wouldn’t have changed sooner. He’s a knowledgeable guy. But like the Van Gundys at one time, he owes his career to Pat Riley and his system, and that’s about defense and power and size. No one would have played those bad centers as long as they did. I think most around the league were long hoping Miami would remain stubborn and not take advantage of their athletic advantage they have over just about everyone. They finally figured it out last spring, though I suspect Spoelstra knew before then. Maybe Pat was at a Bruce Springsteen concert and Spoelstra snuck it in.
Let’s say your are the Bulls GM. It is November 1st and Taj has not signed an extension. Knowing that little value will come in return, would you trade him or you wait and risk losing him for nothing?
Sam: I would not trade him and I’m quite sure the Bulls won’t. Plus players coming into free agent years don’t draw much as they don’t have to sign. Players in Taj’s year, as you know, can sign an extension before the start of their season. If not, Gibson would become a restricted free agent after the season. I do believe the Bulls will sign him this month or next summer and not lose him. I know some will say they let Asik go when someone made a crazy offer. What if they do for Taj? I think they match this time because it was extraordinary circumstances with Derrick out and the need to get a point guard and Hinrich. Plus with Asik’s second round status a team could make that unusual backloaded offer. And with Derrick out I’m not sure you want to show all your cards and use most of your money. Also, Taj is 27. It’s a risk for him at that age to pass on a big contract offer from the Bulls this fall and play the season after seeing what happened with Derrick. After all, Rose signed his deal before the injury. Maybe Gibson gets more next summer. But is it worth the risk when you’ve never really made any significant money in the NBA? I believe Taj eventually signs with the Bulls, either this month or next summer. I take my chances. And everyone knows I like to make trades.
I’m confused about the salary cap. I keep reading articles about the Bulls being affected by a Hard Cap they can’t exceed. Then I read articles about other teams and Luxury taxes if the go over the cap. Are the Bulls held to a hard cap and if so why and why not the Lakers who I read are way over the Luxury tax cap?
Sam: I think Jack Nicholson pays whatever extrat hey owe. It just seems the Lakers operate under different rules. They had a trade exception for letting Lamar Odom go for nothing (the Bulls have one for Korver) and then traded Andrew Bynum, an All-Star center. Here’s what happened with the Bulls: They desperately needed a point guard until Rose returns. No, not C.J. Watson. He ended up signing a minimum deal. Not exactly in demand. Hinrich had other offers in the $4 million/year range. He wanted to come to the Bulls, but he wasn’t giving up $2 million annually. So the Bulls needed to use the non taxpayer exception of up to $5 million to get him. To become eligible for that they had to gut most of the bench to get below the luxury tax. Then they paid Hinrich and went into the tax. When you do that you become subject to a new hard cap at about $74 million. It’s the new agreement and a further effort to cut the spending of high payroll teams. They’ll all be coming down in the next few years. It is confusing and the best place to get information is at the site of Larry Coon, NBA salary cap faq.
The Bulls cannot include Nikola Mirotic in any trade package. The guy is just too good. The Raptors played an exhibition game against his Real Madrid team for their pre-season opener and he did very well - 17 pts, 12 reb and 3 blks. He didn't shoot great (5-13) but was perfect at the free throw line (6-6). It might be exhibition play but those are stats against proud, professional NBA players.
Sam: Yes, he had an impressive weekend in the NBA. I wrote about him against Memphis. I think now everyone can see he’s an NBA player, and I think he’s probably as untouchable as anyone on the roster now. The larger question might be if you could get an All-Star for him now would you do it? What if Minnesota offered Kevin Love? What if Oklahoma City offered James Harden? What if Charlotte offered Tyrus Thomas? Well, you get the idea. At this point I think it would take a lot to get him after what we all saw last weekend.
I read your piece on Mirotic and saw the box score from last night against Toronto. Man, I wish we could get this kid over sooner! He looks like he is going to be a legit player, should be extremely developed when he gets over here too.
Sam: That’s the other positive about Mirotic. Under salary rules, he’s almost certainly destined to play in Europe two more years. It’s a high level league with good coaching. So he gets developed by someone else and then comes to the NBA a relatively experienced player.
What are the chances that NBA jerseys will carry advertisements on them and when would that happen? Also please tell me that the Bulls will not sign Fesenko. Did you see him trip over his own two feet in the preseason game trying to inbound the ball against Memphis?!
Sam: Well, Will Perdue had a rough start. Advertising on uniforms seems inevitable. As many around the NBA say, it doesn’t seem to hurt car racing or golf. Though the jury is out on bicycle racing. The NBA doesn’t have many additional revenue sources with no league mechanism for going to Europe and the U.S. pretty much filled with franchises. They’ll probably start subtly in a year or two, like college does with the Nike logos. I’m not sure the league ever gets to those ads like on Rocky’s robe. But watching baseball lately it looks like they sponsor every hit. It’s coming.
When will people realize that Rose hasn't recruited certain players because he didn't want to play with them? I think it was obvious Rose didn't want to play with LeBron. I'm glad LeBron didn't come this way, and I'm sure Rose is too. Rose recruited Hinrich because Rose respects him and his game. Rose seems to be more old school... he wants to defeat his main enemies, not join them.
Sam: I’m not sure I fully agree. Rose clearly is not close with James and Wade and that group. He’s a relatively private person, obviously. But I think the issue then was more he was growing into an elite player and he didn’t want to send a message to the other elite players he needed them, in part, because they’d always have that psychological edge of knowing Rose needed them. Plus, I think most players, including Rose, knew that summer that James wasn’t coming to Chicago. No matter what came out afterward, it seems pretty obvious that deal was long made before all those interviews for show.
Do you think playing without Rose for several months will help some of the Bulls learn to create their own shots more? I don't think he's stifling anyone. I'm just wondering if him not being there will force some people to step up.
Sam: I think you’ll see a bit more offense from Boozer and Hamilton, but no, you don’t become a go to guy just because it’s needed. The Bulls will have to do this offense more by committee than ever before. Coaches will tell you that can make the Bulls more dangerous because the defense doesn’t know where the shot is coming from. That sounds good, though the problem will be the offense often doesn’t know where the shot is coming from.
Looking at that preseason box score, I could see where the Hornets could be a really nasty team to play this year, with Lopez and Davis protecting the rim and some rugged guys coming off the bench. What do you think of their prospects for the regular season?
Sam: I am anxious to watch the Hornets because of Davis and Rivers. Lopez is a bit slow and in the long run once he bulks up I think you’ll see more of Davis in the middle. I suspect Thibodeau is pleased he didn’t accept that Hornets job offer two years ago.
Will they be sending Marquis Teague to the D-League (after all, Tom Thibodeou doesn't coach rookies remember?)? He'll be a waste of time on Chicago's roster now even if Hinrich and Robinson are running the show.
Sam: I agree he’s not likely to play much, especially once Rose returns. But it’s not like the Bulls have much depth at point with Robinson not exactly your classic ball distributor. So in an emergency you could use him. Plus, the Bulls like to have guys working with them and their coaches on their system rather than in the D-League with players from other teams. The Bulls haven’t used the D-League much, and it’s not like Teague needs a lot of playing time. He more needs to stop being 19.
I hear people in the Knicks organization are raving about [John Shurna]. Saying he's been one of the best in camp. A more athletic and higher motored Novak. Now if this is true and he makes the team this makes Novak a 16 million dollar waste.
Sam: That seemed to wake up Novak, who hit seven threes Thursday night. Shurna’s going to have trouble making an NBA roster as his shot seems a bit slow. But he could and he certainly could have a long career overseas. Plus, it’s tough being around the Knicks now for a guy like Shurna because he’d be one of the few players when they go out not to get the senior citizen discount.