Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 10.25.2013
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I was just reading the GM survey on NBA.com and was really surprised that Derrick Rose was not mentioned much at all. Especially to see that Kyrie Irving received votes for the player GMs would want to start a franchise with over Rose. Also, I think he is the best point guard in the NBA and if he is not, Chris Paul should not be considered by that much of a margin. I understand Rose is coming off serious knee surgery, but feel like so many people forgot what the man can do.
Sam: I’ve got a little secret for you about that GM survey: They don’t always fill it out and have assistants do it. That survey gets a lot of preseason attention and it’s a nice little gimmick. But I tend to pay not much attention given it generally reads like sportswriters preseason picks, pretty much based on the last thing they saw, which is who won last season. It’s not a place where you find people of great imagination. After all, how do you become an NBA GM? There’s no test. No license. You need to pass something to be a doctor, lawyer, accountant. An accountant can put together a good fantasy team. But can an NBA GM do his taxes? Not likely. Remember this as well, which is pretty much like all professions. Maybe 10 or 20 percent are really good, 10 or 20 percent are really bad. And all the rest in the middle are hoping no one notices. Being a sports executive reminds me of those cherry picking Malcolm Gladwell books where he finds a dozen or 15 examples of people who were exceptions so he can make grand observations to make you feel guilty about not being rich or successful. Tony Parker was probably a better point guard than Paul last season. They’ll see Derrick this season and they’ll all change their votes for next time. Then you can pay attention.
Some of us seem to have hit the panic button regarding Joakim. I haven't pressed mine yet but my hand is hovering above it. It just seems as though it has been a long time since he has been consistently healthy. What is the talk around the organization? Considering the way injuries have been handled in the past (a la Derrick Rose), some of us in the public might have issues trusting what the organization says.
Sam: I know the Rose injury upset some, most of whom now feel what they said should be forgotten. You know, the old boxing promoter Bob Arum press conference line that, “Yesterday I was lying; today I’m telling the truth.” The Bulls organization perhaps was the most honest. Really. And not because they read my stories. They said from Day 1 there was no date on Rose’s return. I’m sure you’ll never find a quote from Forman or Paxson or Reinsdorf saying when Rose would return. That was all media stuff, which in this, “I don’t believe the media or anything I read but if I heard it, it must be true” era transcends facts. Derrick always asked management not shut him down, so there wasn’t much else they could do. Again, the Bulls likely do not know regarding Noah. There seems to be this idea that a team management not only can prevent or should prevent injuries, but then they should be able to promise if a player will be healthy and when. I know after recent years fans are concerned about injuries, though they are pretty common around the NBA. Of course, it’s more the major/minor surgery thing: Major is on you; minor is on someone else. We don’t care about Nets or Pacers injuries! If Noah is out next week, so what? He has a history of various injuries. Some players do, like Hinrich. But Noah has basically always played in the playoffs. He sprained his ankle and was out in 2012. He’s got a groin strain now. It happens. For the most part, I think the Bulls can handle his injuries. Boozer has been mostly healthy along with Gibson. There aren’t many teams with dominant big men. Miami won with basically none. I’d hardly consider Tyson Chandler a game changer. Noah has always played about three quarters of the season. If he does that again and plays in the playoffs, it should not be a major issue. Though Thibodeau shoots for 82-0, it’s not that important. Fifty five wins is nice. The problem is you just don’t find players to replace All-Stars. You can add a big man, but there’s little point if they are a 12th man. The Bulls already have one in Mohammed, who has handled the position well. The Bulls tried in the summer. The Bulls had strong flirtations with Elton Brand and Marcus Camby last summer, but they chose other teams for personal reasons. Not that they were answers as Camby still is out and Brand often doesn’t play back to backs. You go with your best players and see if it works. It may not. But you have to ride it out with the players to whom you are most committed.
Saw this one online. What's your take? Faried, McGee and Gallinari to Houston for Asik, Lin, Jones and Motiejunas?
Sam: I’m sure Houston would be quite happy. First, the Bulls aren’t getting Asik back. I’ve received numerous emails from Bulls fans in Noah’s absence about getting Asik. The Rockets basically have no interest in any Bulls perhaps other than Rose. But I do believe Asik will be traded as that Howard/Asik starting lineup the Rockets have been experimenting with has no chance of working. Curiously, there have been rumors of Faried being on the market. He’s a rebounder in the Rodman sense. Though without the crazy. I don’t know what’s going on there, though the Nuggets have denied he’s being traded for how little that means. They aren’t a big spending organization, so they may not want to pay him. But they have a center in McGee and I think the Rockets would love to have a shooter like Gallinari, though he’s still out hurt from last season’s ACL. That deal makes no sense, of course, but several of those guys could be moving.
Neither of us are doctors but since you've been around the game a while, maybe you can enlighten me. In my 38 years on this planet, I've never seen an athlete come back from an injury that 25 years ago would have been career ending, to actually be better. Peterson came back in football to win an MVP, but you can argue he was already "as good". I know its only preseason, but my man Rose is in midseason form body wise. He's really faster and stronger and claims to be able to jump higher. He's giving it to the Bucks even as I speak. What the hell? Is Rose a freak? Am I dreaming?
Sam: But I stayed at a Marriott Courtyard. Oh, wrong commercial. It’s really been a truly amazing return, though to me less for what he’s doing on the court than the lack of hesitation and freedom with which he plays. Rose is one of the most unique players in the history of the NBA given there never has been a point guard who played with his speed and explosion. To see it again is a gift for all of us who appreciate the game. As for these Adrian Peterson comparisons, enough already. He never for a minute played anything like Rose does with the explosion off the ground. It’s a completely different thing and I still haven’t seen him dunk.
The Bulls are sweeping through the preseason and are beginning to look good for preseason favorites for the conference championship. My concern is that we are still yet to see all five starters play together. The big question is, will the Bulls be healthy this year to make the next step in de-throning the Heat for the NBA title? What does Thibs need to do to ensure the Bulls have healthy players when the NBA finals roll around? Will Bulls management place a greater restriction on players use in the season to save Thibs from over using of "The Races Horses" during the season so this doesn't becomes another broken record with the same results?
Sam: No one can assure good health; not by cutting down minutes or sitting out games. Bulls fans seem consumed by this. Enjoy the season; it's never championship or we don't care. Or shouldn't be. Was it Thibodeau's fault Hinrich got kicked in the head by a teammate? Was it Thibodeau's fault Noah played 19 minutes in four weeks and may not be able to play in the opener? They are professional athletes because of their skills and abilities. Not because they are invincible. They are people, not machines. They get sick. They get hurt. That's the luck part. The Bulls have all the same training staff and methods everyone else does. There are no secrets. The Spurs sit guys out all the time, and then Tony Parker got hurt late in the season and Manu Ginobili broke down in the playoffs. Consider the major injuries the last few years: Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Danny Granger, Amar'e Stoudemire, Chris Paul, Zach Randolph, Baron Davis, Brandon Roy, David West, Shaq. You play and then you hope you have a chance.
Do you think that Eric Murphy and Tony Snell will get any playing time? I know Thibs doesn't trust rookies, but these two this year seem pretty special for some reason. Snell is a smooth and in-control type of player while Eric is a hustler who takes charges and plays hard and smart. With a little bit more confidence, maybe his shots will start falling too. We can't play Nazr 15-20 minutes a night, he's getting older. So what do you think? Will we actually get to see the rookies play?
Sam: I know Thibodeau gets criticism for this, but rarely do rookies play on contending teams. Phil Jackson always used to say you win with men. You didn’t see rookies getting much or any time on any of the Bulls title teams. You rarely see rookies playing in the conference finals. I can see Snell being in and out of the rotation, though I see Murphy more as an emergency player. Thibs tends to keep a shorter rotation in the regular season, and the Bulls should have a solid 10 with Teague. Few coaches go very far beyond that. Of course, injuries change things as Asik never played until Noah got hurt in Asik’s first season. I think Mohammed is fine in 15 to 20 minutes per game. He stays in shape and works hard. I don’t expect either rookie to play regularly, and if they don’t, that will be best for the Bulls because it will mean the other 10 are healthy.
Of all the Bulls coaches you've covered while on this beat, which one had the best sense of humor?
Sam: Actually, Phil and Skiles. I know it’s probably hard to believe with Skiles and his snarl. But Scott has a wicked, biting sense of humor that I enjoyed. His bosses don’t always. Phil used to love to bait people as well in his quirky way and rarely, if ever, was someone upset or not trying to break the tension with a joke, which was very difficult with the basically humorless Jerry Krause. Stan Albeck was enjoyable with a good sense of humor, but just around one season. Doug Collins was, as you can guess, pretty intense. Tim Floyd was pretty much working his good ol’ boy routine most of the time. Bill Cartwright was serious but easy to joke with. Vinny was relaxed and could take a joke, but not much for offering them. And Thibs, well he’s misunderstood. You can have a fun time with him, but he doesn’t like many to know that.
What ceiling do you see for Jimmy Butler?
Sam: Crown moulding or vaulted?. Not that kind? People ask this question a lot about players and I never fully understand why. Let them show you. I never imagined Rose could be a league MVP. Jimmy’s tough to figure because he’s come so quickly. You wouldn’t think he’s an All-Star player as he’s never really been a scorer. But he continues to improve his shot and his game and I wouldn’t place too many limits on him.
I believe the Bulls should keep Luol, he might not be super flashy, but still one of the best small forwards out there. However, let's say he made it known he doesn't want to come back. If you were the GM, what would you do? Call his bluff and see how free agency plays out? If you had no choice but to seek out a trade, any ideas who might be a decent/fair trade partner?
Sam: He could announce tomorrow he’s leaving and I’d keep him all season. Because you have a chance to win a title with Deng and likely not without him or what you could get if you traded him. I’m confident Deng will remain with the Bulls all this season no matter what happens. Because he is an unrestricted free agent no team would offer much for him because there’s no guarantee they’d keep him. He’s more valuable to the Bulls than to anyone else. So any trade rumor you hear about Deng this season is made up. As I’ve written, free agency is life in the NBA now. I’d play it out this season and see what happens. If the team breaks down again physically or if there’s some major failure, then I have to make changes and everything’s on the table. I’d rather be in that position than limited by long term contracts. I like the Bulls’ position this season going forward and would go with the group I have.
Have you heard anything about Tyrus Thomas? No camp invite? no overseas deal? It's like he just vanished.
Sam: And the NBA seems better off for the most part.
I am concerned about D Rose. I believe he's trapped within Thibs expectations and proving himself as an elite player. My concern is that he's doing too much and establishing a season long precedent. I am not concerned about his knee; rather, the season long wear and tear on his body. Haven't we (the Bulls) learned in the last 3 years that it is about the long haul? Wouldn't it be better for Derrick to facilitate throughout the game and pick his spots to excel? I am not overly concerned about the preseason injuries but with Derrick's reckless abandon to the hoop, this charted course has a familiar view I am speaking to Derrick's style as it pertains to his longevity in the league. In my opinion, he does not have to prove that he can get any shot he wants at any time. I want Derrick's Basketball I.Q. to catch up with his athleticism for his long term best interest. I am in no way suggesting that he not play, but that he share the load and take over when it is most needed.
Sam: I wonder at times if fans always felt such caution toward players. But I get a lot of this now. You have to be who you are; and you don’t not get hurt by not playing (that being my bad grammar multi negative of the day, but you get the point). Or pacing yourself. The least Rose ever played in the season was the worst he ever got hurt. Whether that was because of other injuries is a different issue. But I will tell you Derrick is having a ball being back and loves playing the way he’s playing. He hardly goes to the basket every time he has the ball. But he’s playing as he knows how to play and is comfortable. Anytime you ask a pro athlete to differ from his style and preference, that’s when I’ve found them most uncomfortable and most vulnerable. Fans seem to think you can keep these guys in glass cases and then bring them out for the seventh game of the playoffs. Players play. Jordan averaged just about 40 minutes a game until he was 30. Rose is 25. At Rose’s age, Tim Duncan was playing 40 minutes a game and every play went through him and the defense collapsed on him every play and he had to run the entire 94 feet. You don’t harness great thoroughbreds. It would be in my view a mistake to hold back Rose, and it seems obvious Thibodeau won’t. What I don’t fully get from fans is who they want playing (Teague? Mike James?). And who they want scoring (Gibson? Boozer?) Derrick gives those guys plenty of chances to score. But that’s not their specialty. It’s his.
Why are people so down on the Lakers this year? I think they could easily be a 50+ win team if things go their way, last year I was one of many who was shocked when D'Antoni got the job but this year he's got the kind of players needed to play his way. Obviously it will all depend on how Kobe comes back but if he's anywhere near where he was last year they will have a good season. How can two All-Stars (All-NBA?) and Steve Nash possibly be talked about as some kind of lottery fodder, add to that some quality role players who are proven winners and will fit D'Antoni's system I'm predicting 52 wins and a 6th seed, they'll never be worse then last year. [By the way] for the Bulls we'll finish 1st in the regular season with somewhere between 62-66 wins.
Sam: So who’s losing all these games? I can’t say I’m that optimistic. I don’t think anyone even wants to see the Bulls pushing for that sort of season even if they aren’t quite good enough, anyway, and the competition is too deep. As for the Lakers, I don’t see them as a playoff team. I think Kobe’s still more than a month away, Nash has been breaking down already and Pau and Kaman haven’t played regularly the last few seasons. Though Kobe will be back and will be too good to allow that to happen, the Lakers are caught this season before they have big cap room in that worst position of playing for 41 wins and a first round playoff knockout.
About two or three weeks ago in Ask Sam you were answering someone about the last moments of the Jordan Bulls in ´98, and It cought my attention when you were talking about that Jerry Krause tried to trade Pippen several times, but Reinsdorf always vetoed that, as he did with any attempts to Jordan. Did Krause really try to trade Jordan at any point?
Sam: I’m sure there were plenty of days when Jordan was making up more nicknames for him that Krause would have liked to. The Clippers when they had a pretty good core of young talent in the late 1980’s before the Bulls won offered six or seven players for Jordan, I recall. He basically was always the untouchable, which was assured when he signed that eight-year extension in 1988. The interesting one was in 1996 when Jordan was looking to get his big new deal from the Bulls. There was a long summer delay. Jordan’s agent, David Falk, supposedly was cooking up a plan with the Knicks to sign Jordan for minimum money as a free agent and give him all sorts of side deals through endorsements worth tens of millions of dollars (The Jordan Arms hotel?) as the Knicks were then owned by a hotel company. It never got very close, but that probably was as close as he ever came to leaving the Bulls for another team. Until, well, he went to Washington after he’d “officially” retired from the Bulls.
Taj Gibson seems to have improved a little over the off season, but look at the market value of Omer Asik. Why, oh why, did the Bulls let him go and sign Taj shortly thereafter for same range? Where is the outrage?
Sam: The league let one slip through the cracks in the labor deal and the Bulls paid. The league’s philosophy was always to protect the team to give them an edge to keep their free agents. But in an overlooked exception, the Bulls would have had to list Asik at 5-5-15 million on their books while Houston could have him at a more manageable 8-8-8 (that’s all millions of dollars). Thus had the Bulls signed Asik he would have been backup to Noah, thus not playing much and showing limited value, but making even more than Noah his third season and with the Bulls having to invest $27 million in one position. Gibson would be gone and with Asik at so much the Bulls likely could not make a substantial offer to Mirotic, who then likely would stay in Europe, or pursue free agents after this season if they wanted. That was a heck of a gamble and price to pay for a backup center. They really seemed to have little choice.
Bulls vs. Indiana was not just another preseason game. Coach Vogel really wanted this game, scratch that, [wanted to] beat the Bulls. It started in the first preseason game when he put his starters back in the fourth quarter but the bench was already in a beast mode and couldn't be stopped. Then, he rested four of his starters at the Dallas game just so he could possibly beat the Bulls but he didn't. And to add insult to injury we beat them without playing two of our starters. Not to mention that our bench still outscored theirs. If I'm an Indiana fan I should be concerned, shouldn't I?
Sam: Not yet. But those should be very entertaining games this season beginning with Nov. 6 in Indianapolis as Rose already has them upset again saying it’s no rivalry. Poor Hoosiers. No respect.
I know it's early in the season, and early in his career, but I'm not a fan of Marquis Teague. Watching him try to run the team, it's almost like he just doesn't know the plays (I know he does), his passes are sloppy, lazy dribbling and lacks the confidence to shoot when he is open. I just don't really see much development coming through.
Sam: I’m not down on him. He’s still just a kid at 20; he showed a lot more in summer league and given Hinrich’s history of running himself into freak injuries with his relentless effort, I think Marquis will be valuable to have around.
Have you seen any drop off in Dunleavy's game? He is 33 and a year makes a huge difference for a shooting guard.
Sam: Not at all. I think Dunleavy has a big edge in that category as he’s closer to the way he played at 22 than Jordan was when he was 33 since Dunleavy always was slow. I like Dunleavy’s thinking man’s game and feel and knowledge of where guys are and what they are doing. He lets the game come to him better than most guys because he’s not moving too fast and the game doesn’t miss him.
What would it take for DRose to make the all-defensive team? His offensive skills are easy to observe but what are his strengths and flaws on the defensive end. Do you think that he has what it takes to be a solid on ball defender? If the Bulls needed a stop, Michael could at any given time, I've just never seen Derrick do anything like that. I see him playing good team defense but even Kyle Korver played ok defense in Thibs system. Isn't that the key to new Bulls succes to be a gamechanger on the defensive end.
Sam: I haven’t considered Derrick at this sort of level given how much scoring he does and has to do. But I have noticed his defense is better in his return in staying with his man better and working harder. But all defense team becomes something of a popularity contest and influenced by steals and blocks, which Rose doesn’t rank that high on. Plus, he’s got two or three teammates who could get that designation. Better to let them have the credit as there’s no one else who’s a candidate for league MVP.
The game has definitely evolved from say even 20 years ago. Whatever happened to most teams having a typical lineup of having a 7 footer in the middle, 6'9" rugged PF who does all the dirty work, 6'7" SF & SG who'll provide scoring and a "true" PG who runs the offense? Now we often have 6'9" guys playing at center, no Karl Malone or Oakley type of PFs and most PGs are scorers. We typically see small lineups and no team really plays consistent half court game. Players have less defined roles and are pretty much doing whatever is thrown at them depending on the matchups. No more knowing and playing your roles per position but just 5 guys playing together in a rather unorthodox manner. So with that said, would you say the game has evolved for the better and will continue to get better or can you see it coming back to the old school style?
Sam: I’m a believer in things always get better, though I am uncertain regarding the newspaper business. Though blacksmiths said the same when cars came along. This has been much discussed and you saw a great big man Wednesday when the Bulls were playing the Thunder. Only that Kevin Durant was playing guard. At one time he would have been told to play inside and gain weight. Now he tells his AAU or college or high school coach to bring him a sandwich. And quickly. So there’s been an independence of movement. I’ll sometimes watch good playground basketball when I’m traveling around with the Bulls. Yes, I have even less of a life than you thought. What I’ll often see is the toughest and biggest guy shooting threes. Because who’s telling me I’m not?! It’s become that way in the amateur world where kids can transfer schools or teams anytime they want. Sort of like the pros where players agree to join up on teams. You just have to make sure to hold the door for them. The rules also have been altered for less contact on the perimeter while leaving the wrestling inside. It’s in the spirit of increasing scoring (and fan interest, presumably), much like in the NFL with receivers and quarterbacks. But the game still comes down to talent. And Michael Jordan showed no matter where you put the best talent — no title team ever had been led by a shooting guard before — you can have success and a good product.
I see a lot of bloggers and analysts perpetuating the idea that the Bulls are averse to the Luxury Tax. But as far as I can tell they paid it last year and will have to pay it this year too. And further, other than not signing both Taj and Omer, I can't think of a situation in which the Bulls could have been afforded the opportunity to make a move that would put them over the cap but opted not to. Am I missing something?
Sam: It’s fun to call people cheap when you are complaining about Wal-Mart not giving you double coupons.
According to most rumor mills, the Cavs will be looking to make a run at bringing Lebron back to Cleveland after this season. In looking at their roster commitments, it seems that they don’t have a ton of expiring deals. Could the Bulls use this to improve their team now and going forward? Perhaps the Bulls could send Deng to the Cavs for Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao?
Sam: As I’ve been writing, Lu isn’t going anywhere. He’s not! I also don’t believe James will be leaving Miami after this season. He’ll take a spin around again, but the Heat can pay him the most and Pat Riley has again and again shown — whether Greg Oden works out or not — that he’ll make moves to enhance his team. LeBron is the team now. If Miami wins, James certainly won’t walk away with a chance to go for four straight. If Miami doesn’t win, I assume they move Bosh and have a different and interesting look that would appeal to LeBron. Plus, South Florida in the winter appeals as well. As for the Cavs, they have loads of room and don’t need to make deals as Varejao, Alonzo Gee, Earl Clark and Bynum all are on buyout deals.
I know they're coming off of two straight championships so this will not happen, but would a Bosh for Asik trade work well for both teams?
Sam: It would cost Houston adding players to match salary. It’s hardly likely now, especially with the Heat having hopes for Greg Oden and all the excitement of him actually walking and standing upright this week. But I have Bosh among the eventual Houston possibilities for an Asik deal. Again, I still think Ryan Anderson is the most likely, though teams not named Oklahoma City usually don’t like to trade with competitors.
You think this Rose kid can make everyone forget about the loss of Nate Robinson?
Sam: It’s starting. Only got five emails this week saying the Bulls cannot win without Nate.