Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 10.18.2013
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Me and my friends constantly debate the criteria to be considered an NBA "Superstar". That being said I have two questions: what is your criteria to be considered an NBA Superstars and today who are those players?
Sam: It is a much overused term in sports, which basically gets a lot of players paid much more than they produce. It’s sort of like the word genius in society, which I have heard used in relationship to baseball managers, which thus renders the word meaningless. There really are perhaps a half dozen superstars in the NBA. You can get into the Hall of Fame without being a superstar, and most hall of famers aren’t superstars. They’re stars, which is very good to be. But superstar should be reserved for the player who changes the course of the game and impacts the outcome on a consistent and regular basis. He’s obviously an MVP or close. So in this era, it’s LeBron, Kobe and Rose. Dirk was, but he no longer is. Same with Wade. Their bodies have betrayed them and their best years are past, though they were once in that category. Similarly Tim Duncan. Though he was an MVP, I have Garnett more on the edge of that and Nash more by circumstance. The superstars are the players you build your defensive scheme around and you still cannot control, the player, in a case like Bill Russell, who dominates by his presence and effect on his teammates and the game. Jason Kidd was once like that. Though he is relatively unpopular, I’d still include Dwight Howard in that category. And then obviously Kevin Durant. Chris Paul and Tony Parker are close, but you can take them out of games with an effort. The great star you cannot. The guy who I think is closest is James Harden. I wouldn’t quite put Russell Westbrook in that category, but he is close. Guys like Westbrook, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Carmelo Anthony, Stephen Curry and Rajon Rondo are great players. But you don’t necessarily have great teams unless they are paired with as good or better players. They are stars in this era and you’d love to have them on your team. But I don’t classify them superstars. There’s perhaps a half dozen so called superstars, in my definition, who are the only ones who deserve the maximum dollars. But we know it doesn’t work that way since teams have to produce artificial superstars because there just aren’t enough to go around. Which is why only a few teams have a chance to win a title.
How many emails have you gotten from bulls fans saying let Deng walk and sign Melo blah blah blah he's the scorer we always have been looking for blah blah blah. Anyone who signs Melo is in a world of trouble. Yes he's still only what 29 but his body has been breaking down for years plus in his 11 year career he's only gotten as far as the WCF once and that was basically due to Billups.
Sam: It’s why I think Anthony’s talk is mostly a dare and if I were the Knicks I’d call his bluff. Anyone who has watched Anthony in his career knows he’s at his age and with injuries not taking the $30 million less. It’s one thing for someone like Dwight Howard with likely a longer career and another big contract to come. This likely is Anthony’s last big one. Plus, he clearly loves the New York spotlight for he and his family. So he’s not going to Minnesota or Memphis. The Lakers, obviously, would be the notion. But they are too smart to invest in a 30-year-old scorer as their future to play with Kobe, who is better. So they’re not dropping Kobe for Anthony and you sure can’t play them together. Chicago? The Bulls won’t have max free agent money even if they were not to bring back Deng and Boozer, who, by the way, are in my view superior to having Anthony. So Anthony’s taking almost $100 million less to go to Chicago? That’s really why I’m not getting such emails. I get some dumb questions. But not like that.
Everybody seems to be talking about the return of Rose and the emergence of Butler and the overall health of the Bulls in contending for a championship. Ever since we have signed Boozer I have said that this is the key and how he plays we go. Rose is going to get his numbers, Jo is going to play the D, Lu is going to do a little of everything and Butler having to be accounted for. But Boozer, you have to have a post game, even Miami turns to Bosh when the perimeter play bogs down. I have noticed this year that Boozer is getting lower in the block earlier in the play and setting wider picks. I have noticed that his spacing has been a lot better which has led to better rebounds and a lot more tips. He just seems to be putting himself in a better position on offense and defense.
Sam: This is officially full circle: As Boozer goes so goes the Bulls. But, good, a vote for Booz. I’d say it’s not much of a sample yet to determine Boozer’s new play. But he’s come in shape and has looked fine in brief sessions. What will be interesting to watch is how the offense works and how much involved he is once all the regulars are playing big minutes. But with as many offensive options as the Bulls appear to have now, it would seem Boozer should have plenty of chances to play an efficient game as a contributor.
Percentage chance Kobe signs on to chase another ring with the Bulls next summer?
Sam: Zero. Or let me put it this way: Do you think the Bulls are better off with the lineup of Rose, 36-year-old 18-year veteran Kobe after Achilles surgery, Butler, Gibson and Noah with basically no bench player making more than minimum? Or the rotation they have now?
Sam, oh please ignore those trade emails, can we focus now on playing ball? Sick n tired of trade Boozer, now trade Deng (again). What’s next? Trade Thibs? No trades give this team a chance.
Sam: But I am due several dozen more Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge suggestions as well as those for any future so called star who says he’s unhappy.
Disclaimer: I love this Bulls team the way it is and hope they're smart enough to learn from OKC's mistake last year of trading Harden way too early. BUT... if Gar & Co. decide they have to dump Deng for money reasons, how would you feel about Deng, Taj and Teague to Minnesota for Love and Derrick Williams (who the Bulls can also let go -- along w/ Boozer -- next summer to open up cap space by not extending his rookie deal)?
Sam: Oh, yeah. Here’s another. I won’t go into any particulars with a deal that doesn’t make sense as I think this comes from ESPN this week experimenting with more Love-to-the-Bulls proposals. But I will say why I don’t think Love is going anywhere. First of all, he can’t go anywhere until after next season, when he has an opt out. He’s always hinted about an interest in returning to the West Coast, so no one is taking a big risk with him having that opt out after next season. Love had issues with former gm David Kahn. Flip Saunders is now gm and the relationship is fine. Longtime readers will remember my proposals for many years for the Bulls to acquire Kevin Garnett. Saunders was coach then and I once had a long debate with him about why Minnesota needed to trade Garnett. His point was Minnesota didn’t have a chance to attract players like that very often, and when they had one they were going to keep him no matter the future prospects, that you won with players and not with future hope. Garnett finally was dealt after Saunders was gone. I don’t see Saunders acting any differently now that he’s in charge. I think he’ll ride it out to the end on Love rather than take less than superstar pieces, figuring the only chance to win is with a star. If the star walks on you, then you have the money under the salary cap and you can always sign pretty good players no matter where you are if you have money. After all, the Timberwolves signed Kevin Martin this summer. If you want someone like Love in trade, you better be offering a top 10 player. Obviously if you have one, you’re not likely to be, however.
A somewhat neglected aspect of Rose's return: He's taking 30-36min/g off the books. That means that Hinrich goes back to 24-30min/g. MIA will be babying Wade. Bulls get to baby Hinrich a little, particularly down the stretch. We'll see how that goes, sometimes Thibodeau is a little compulsive with his minutes. Hinrich always does such a nice job on Wade.
Sam: That should be an ancillary benefit of Rose’s return. If, if, if he can remain healthy, as well as others, it figures to reduce the load on others and perhaps (fans crossing fingers and toes) produce a more healthy team coming into the playoffs. I’m not for the San Antonio method of sitting guys out games, including Rose, as your job is to play and you should be in the habit of playing all the time. I don’t see the Bulls sitting Rose for no reason but caution, though if there is soreness like in Brazil it could occur. But these enforced games off are not good for the game or the fans. One thing I’ve always seen in the great players is a desire to play and compete all the time. You build up a resistance to fatigue by playing; not sitting. I’m not making a correlation between the Spurs meltdown in the Finals and their forced vacation days. But I’d rather have seen them play through the tough times last season than pace themselves. It’s obviously debatable. Perhaps they’d have broken down and been unable to even play in the Finals or not get there had they not rested. I can’t say they were wrong. But I believe competing constantly, like Jordan did or Kobe does, carries you through those testing times.
I cannot get over how Memphis let Rudy Gay go and how terrible they have managed their team. Do you think that if they still had him and OJ Mayo they would have beat the Heat last year and be this year’s favorite? Makes me think the priority of some teams is not to win a championship.
Sam: Financial decisions in small markets with limited media get much less attention. Especially in a place like that with one media outlet traveling with the team and needing to have a closer relationship with the team. Plus, there was the sale and just afterward the new owner’s stock took a hit and there were financial considerations. Memphis had a nice playoff run and scared some national media people into thinking they were better than they were. I believe everyone wants to win. No one gets into the sports business simply as an investment. But at the same time, competitive business people who have enough money to get into the business generally have done well enough previously that they competed by making money. They don’t like to lose money. So when you look at it and believe you are not quite good enough to win it all, perhaps you make some concessions to if not profitability, not losing so much money. I understand. And maybe position yourself in the future. It’s an option. Gay’s contract was probably way too much, so you could see some reason there. They likely would have had a much better chance without the moves they made given they decimated their perimeter game and the Spurs took advantage and beat them that way. Coach Lionel Hollins obviously thought they had a better chance without the moves, so he’s not around anymore. Like they say, it’s their ball and they get to take it home when they want.
As much as some fans bother me with the way they question certain things about the Bulls. From Boozers and Deng’s contract situation, the foot health of Noah and Gibson. I think the worst stuff is coming from some of the local media. I saw you on that sports talk live show, and those guys seem to feel like if Chicago can't win a title right now this year that there is no point in discussing the Bulls. Between those impatient guys, and the bottom feeders on talk radio its no wonder fans are so stupid at times. So if the Bulls play well all year and are an exciting team, yet lose out to the Heat in the ECF that means the whole year is a complete waste? I would love to watch them win a title sure. But, I plan to watch the regular season and enjoy seeing Derrick be Derrick again. I missed it all of last season. Know what else I am excited for? Watching the Bulls work hard under Thibs. I want to see if Butler can step up his game to another level. there is so much to be excited about. Why be depressed because the Bulls are not favored to beat the Heat in the playoffs in 7 months?
Sam: That’s a Phil Jackson Zen philosophy I can appreciate. As Phil often said, it’s about the journey. I do get that sense often here, which is odd for a major city that has experienced so few ultimately successful sports teams. Perhaps because of the years with Jordan and how easy success seemed. I do think it’s a media talking point, at times, more than it is with the fans. After all, the United Center is regularly filled, even in times when it would seem there’s no chance. There is a lot of all or nothing view among some media as the finer points of games and competition tends to get lost among people who don’t watch the games very much while having to discuss them. I do love the journey, which I often see as a wonderful novel, unfolding annually with an examination of the characters, watching them go through crises and then whether they can triumph over the obstacles. A great story doesn’t need a happy ending. It’s nice if you like to drink a lot in public. But I’ve enjoyed all these Bulls stories over the years, and while most don’t have successful endings they do tell tales of character and strategy and personality that often are unexpected. It remains the great lure of sports. We’re not quite sure how it’s going to end, say compared with a Bruce Willis movie.
Pittman didn't play against Detroit. I guess it really doesn't look good that he'll make the team. I would suspect he would get some time to see if he had a chance to make the team. Who is your guess the last pine sliver will be on the Bulls bench?
Sam: As I guessed a few weeks back, probably Mike James for veteran experience. But I don’t think anyone is a lock and I think there’s still a chance it will be someone not on the roster depending on who gets released before the season begins. There’s really no urgency to have a 13th man now, especially since everyone is playing and Thibodeau isn’t using any 13-man rosters once the season begins. Best to remain flexible at this point, though they do have to open with at least 13.
Whether Dwayne Wade decides to go into free agency in 2014 or 2015, do you ever see him coming back home and playing for the Bulls? Do you think the Bulls would pursue him again as hard as they did last time? He has said that choosing Miami over the Bulls in 2010 was the hardest decision he's ever had to make in his life. Even though Wade might be 34 by then, given that his knees are feeling good I would love to see DRose and DWade run a Chicago back court for a couple of years.
Sam: Not me. Likely not Wade, either. The larger question hanging over him is whether the Heat would be so cruel as to trade Wade to enhance their chances of retaining LeBron after the season. I don’t believe after all Wade has done for that franchise that anyone could lack the heart to move him on. But I also believe LeBron will stay in Miami and they’ll be bold in trying to reshape the team to make it more attractive so he won’t want to leave.
I've heard a lot of people complain about Deng's 3pt FG% dropping and that he takes to many threes. A few years ago he was praised by many for his solid mid-range game, but some said it was horrible that he would shoot the ball a step inside the arch. They would say it was the worst shot in basketball and that he needed to take a step back. But I would think that if one can confidently hit shots from point A, why move back to point B? Jordan wasn't a great three point shooter, but was a master at the mid-range shot. I don't remember anyone trying to force him to shoot more threes. What is your philosophy on this (and it seems like a philosophy)? I know the three is more impressive, but if Deng shoots better one inch inside the line, should he be stepping back for a three?
Sam: That short corner three and the long two have been key points of dispute in this new era of stat geeks, some of whom don’t watch basketball as much as mathematical computations. They tend to love math and hate basketball. Daryl Morey of Houston gets mentioned as an avatar, though for all his computations the Rocket’s success is owed to him keeping a lot of spare parts around and answering the phone the day one of his competitors was short on cash. The statistical computations tend to tell you more often why what you did worked or didn’t, but they don’t generally govern what will work. I agree that you do what you do best. If it’s 22 footers, so be it. Five bad 25 footers do not score as many points as five good 20 footers. The NBA scored plenty of points without threes; Jordan as well. Players knows the game by feel; not by arithmetical progressions. Yes, coaches will design sets to put players in position to shoot those threes. But perhaps someone like Deng is not the best one for that. That’s the job of the coach, to put players in the best position to succeed. For Deng it hasn’t always been standing around shooting threes. The most statistically productive season he had with the Bulls was when he attempted seven threes all season.
What are the possibilities of the Bulls trying to get Omer Asik back? Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled with our current roster, especially with everyone healthy. However, I wouldn't suggest counting on 82 games plus the playoffs of great back up production from Nazr, even if he is in better shape. I mean, Asik is on record of not being happy, and McHale has basically told him to shut up and play. Can we offer up a draft pick plus cash?, or Nazr plus a pick and cash?
Sam: If the Rockets do decide to trade Asik, who has been injured thus far, it would be for someone like Rajon Rondo or the Pelicans Ryan Anderson. I don’t think the Bulls can beat those sorts of offers.
I agree that it's easier as a fan to spend the owner's money and perhaps it's too late already this season, but for future seasons, and not only applicable to the Bulls, but all NBA teams, can't teams sign players just to keep them from joining other teams? It happens in corporate America: it's called a retainer bonus. They pay people to keep them from going to competitors even if they aren't as productive as they once were. Can't we sign players that are fringe players so they don't join the likes of the Miami Heat and strengthen their bench? Shouldn't everyone had jumped on signing Greg Oden or Beasley even if they never played a minute of basketball just to diminish the choice of players the Heat can hire?
Sam: As unfair as it seems to the Bulls’ hopes, there still is this concept of free will. Oden chose the Heat after talking with several teams. Similarly with Beasley. It is an advantage of having won and clubbing with LeBron. The business world, though it should with banking bonuses, doesn’t have a salary cap. You have only so much to spend on your players, so they better be productive and help you.
Your thoughts: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman... Not really a bad starting five if healthy (big if). Just like the Bulls... minus the deep bench. If they somehow get to the playoffs, do you see them winning a round?
Sam: I’d mostly want to have a lot of bandages and oxygen around.
You mentioned in your weekly NBA news and notes column that the Jazz are supposedly wanting Marquis Teague....you mentioned the idea of a protected 1st rounder for him, if the Jazz would indeed give that up... first, I really like what Marquis is fast becoming; a lightning quick, athletic pg who makes sound decisions on court and is still so young, to me he's the perfect long term backup solution for Rose...what does intrigue me though is that we seem to have a plethora of PG options at our disposal but are really shallow in our frontcourt depth....the Jazz on the other hand are exactly the opposite, very weak in the PG position, but stocked up in the front court with Kanter, Biedrins, Goubert, and Favors. What I would like to know is your opinions on the Bulls offering Teague and some sort of salary filler for Favors, who will become a restricted free agent next summer but would fit perfectly into this team and wouldn’t exactly be demanding a ridiculous contract.
Sam: I never said the Jazz was interested in Teague. I wrote it was speculation from some media outlets when their point guard was hurt. That’s natural anytime a starting player is hurt, but rookie Burke should be back around Thanksgiving. Fans often then look at a roster and project excess. Favors, for example, is considered maybe their best player moving forward. Teague remains a mostly unused project, and if the Bulls were to trade him I’d suspect they’d be offered at this point a second round pick.
Since many sports fans now days want to know how things are going to shake out in the future, what does it say in your tea leaves about the Bulls in two years down the line? Who will be running the team in five years? What are the Bulls chances of winning the title in 10 years? Will there be another pro team in town in 20 years? Will the NBA have a separate league on each continent and will there be a world title championship game from 30 years from now? The great Carnac tell us about the basketball future!
Sam: Ball fake: What does Ron Artest answer when asked to dribble with a golf ball.
Fast break: What do protesting prisoners do when the lobster boats come in.
In and out: Players’ meal of choice.
Halfcourt: Not enough jurors for the latest DUI case.
Rose Bowl: Derrick Rose’s turn at the Bulls annual bowling outing.
Gatorade: Alligators on Medicare.
Sis Boom Bah: The sound of a goat exploding.
Gordy Howe, Stan Mikita and Dennis Rodman: Two hockey players and a hockey puck.
Sixth Man: John Warner, Elizabeth Taylor’s sixth husband.
When can’t I stop holding my breath every time Rose goes to the hoop?
Sam: Is that you with the bluish tint? Ok… now!