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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 11.13.2014
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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It turns out there was a spirited discussion this week about Derrick Rose. Surprise, eh. Your questions really were fairly evenly divided among the highly intellectual, “We’ll be better off with Nate Robinson” to “People have no idea what an athlete goes through” to “He may not have expressed himself personally.” To the many of you who wrote in on the topic:
Sam: If you are in Congress you get to say you misspoke and move on to the next misstatement. I don’t believe that’s exactly what Rose meant when he said he’s considering events decades in the future. We pretty much take for granted athletes, basically not trained or experienced in public speaking, like, say members of Congress or the president, being asked to comment so much and then dissecting every sentence for meaning and purpose. Imagine your daily comments parsed like that. In any case, avoiding lifetime pain for Rose is over. After two major knee surgeries and playing at a professional sports level even this long, Rose is sentenced to a lifetime of tendinitis and eventually replacements. Actually, Bulls fans should be heartened by Rose’s comments. Basically, he was saying he wants to have a long playing career. So he cannot keep throwing himself at the game like he has. Even coming back from his sprained ankles Monday, he hit the floor after drives more than any other player. And that’s being careful. I saw Rose all summer with USA Basketball. I’ve had a bunch of fans write telling me how tough they are and went to work with broken arms or some such thing. Rose wears ice packs on his knees all the time. When Rose talked with reporters after every practice in the summer it was with ice packs attached to both knees. He’s in ice before and after games. I’m not making the comparison between what he does (and is paid) and others. The point is he’s signed up for a lifetime of soreness and pain. What Rose was saying, which seemed to me didn’t come out clearly even with the benefit of one year at the U. of Memphis with John Calipari, was this Bulls team has won 60 games, it’s led the league in wins; it’s about the playoffs now and long term given this is a team that’s got other talent and it’s just important for Rose to be around contributing. He doesn’t have to score 25 points every game. He has to be there, however, for the big games and big times, which means the playoffs. So if he’s not feeling quite right in November or December, why push it. Gregg Popovich and Spurs fans would applaud. They understand sometimes the sacrifices for success. I’m not always in agreement with their philosophy and prefer that players play. But this has become a different era as the most mail I get is fans complaining about Bulls players playing too much. Bulls management, obviously, has changed the game plan this season as it’s been clear several players have playing limitations, Rose clearly included. So Rose certainly has been instructed that if he’s not quite right he shouldn’t play. Sure, some fans are fooled by the Dennis Rodman diving-out-of-bounds-for-a-ball con game after it’s already in the stands. That Chicago tough, lunch pail, blue collar narrative is sort of laughable in one of the world’s most sophisticated big cities. They’re signed for their skills and not their articulation. And, really, it’s not like Derrick Rose is running around Rush Street. He’s playing basketball. What else does he do? He’s hardly preparing for a life in medicine or public service. Here’s a kid who has done rehabilitation for two years to get back to playing at a high level. And he is playing at a high level. Imagine the trauma of being faced with losing your life’s love at such a young age. It happens to many; it’s not easy to endure for anyone. Some say don’t watch what I do, listen to what I say. With Rose, watch what he does. It seems to me he’s trying to do what’s right for the long term health of the franchise.
Rose did make the crucial media mistake of messing up on a slow news day. After the first week of the NBA season, there’s not much of substance going on until the Christmas Day blitz of games. So Rose’s comments, which I believe didn’t represent what he believes or acts regarding playing, became the object lesson for fans who like the storyline they are tougher than the players and the old days were the best. I will say players were much tougher in the 1960s than 1980s and 1990s by that standard given they played three in three nights, always traveled commercial and had coast to coast back to backs. Of course, then the guys in the 1950s seem much tougher as they traveled by train after games and some trains didn’t even stop in the cities they were playing. So going to Ft. Wayne, as Johnny Kerr told me, they’d have to hitch rides after getting off the train 30 miles away, do their laundry and then shower in arenas with no hot water assuming they even had a shower. Ah, the good old days. Times change and the ethic these days isn’t to play as much. Everyone takes games off. LeBron James hasn’t played one 82-game season in his career despite never having had a serious injury and being the greatest physical specimen we’ve ever seen in sports. Derrick’s sin, as I gather here, is what he’s said and not what he’s done. He played nine games in 16 days with USA Basketball when Bulls fans were inundating me with emails that he shouldn’t play and save himself for the season. It seems he’s trying to be in the best condition for the playoffs. And now people are mad at him?
There is a sort of media piling on in cases like this that does send a message to other athletes—unfortunately for fans—that’s it’s better to lie. The losers become the fans because they want to know who their favorites are and something about them. We see it in politics as well with the competing point of view stations piling on the opposition and thus driving most back from an honest discussion. I admire Rose in the sense that he never seems to let any of this stuff bother him. He got beaten up pretty badly during the media driven ACL comeback season. There have been stories written about him making him look bad that I knew were patently false. Yet, Rose never holds it against anyone. I see him treat those media people the same as he would others and try to give an open and fair answer. It’s the way to behave, but it’s not always practiced among athletes who are burned. I think his character just happens to be higher than many in the media. Rose seems to innately understand it’s the entertainment business and part of that is a lively discussion that may not always be favorable to you. We’ve all seen athletes lash out on social media against critics. We’ve all seen our share of locker room confrontations. Rose never does any of that. I’ve never once seen him upbraid a media person or not act respectfully no matter what’s been written or said. That’s the dichotomy you see. Rose gets criticized by the ones who never come out of their newsrooms or studios, who never come to games and never face him, who shoot from behind the bushes. You see a different tone from those around Rose. It’s not because they seek some special access because he doesn’t have social relationships with any media. But they see how hard he works, how much he cooperates and how devoted his teammates are to him. Rose made those statements. So he owns them. In a sense, he’s dealing with it appropriately by absorbing the criticism and not blaming anyone or seeking out excuses.
I think Rose's assist to close the half against the Pistons was the most amazing basketball play I have ever seen. You see that kind of ball fake and assist every now and then, but he did it while literally flying. The fact that he was throwing a two handed jump pass to Gasol and was able to change his mind after seeing Noah open when his man moved towards Pau, gather the ball back to himself without losing any balance due to the strong pass he was launching and find Noah with a powerful one handed pass on the way down is mind blowing. It just isn't allowed by the laws of physics, he should have messed up badly when he chose not to complete the pass to Gasol. He made it look pretty easy, but really that play has no logical explanation and the more I watch it, the more it puzzles me.
Sam: That’s the point no matter what you may think of Rose, his verbiage or behavior. This sort of talent comes along once a generation. The Bulls lucked into two of those in 30 years. Most franchises get none; one if they are fortunate. Check how many teams have never been to the Finals.
You had some interesting thoughts on the two topics of Kobe going elsewhere and also Kevin [Love] to LA. I'm just wondering which you think has a better chance of happening?
Sam: I played with some possibilities in my Monday NBA column that seemed so obvious to me I didn’t think it would be any big deal. Of course, Love will opt out and why wouldn’t he consider the Lakers, where he went to college and loves being? It doesn’t mean he’ll leave Cleveland, but there’s plenty to come with Kyrie Irving, Waiters and who knows what. Besides the snow and cold. As for Kobe, of course the Lakers would let him go if they could speed their rebuilding with a potential young star. And it’s still difficult to fathom Kobe accepting some sort of 20-62 season. He’d be ideal for two years in New York. Anyway, I think maybe Love as the Lakers could present some interesting possibilities for the future and Cleveland is a tough place to sign onto for life after six years in Minneapolis.
What is up with the Bulls defense? I mean I understand we have a few new guys including Rose but especially considering the teams we have faced so far it seems there should be tons of cause for concern. I trust Thibs but you can’t argue with the numbers.
Sam: It’s really not bad. The Bulls were fifth in the league in field goal defense going into the big matchup with Toronto Thursday. That’s the key number. When you score more and play faster at times, you give up more points. I think Thibs has done an excellent job with it considering all the new players, the injuries with the starters together one game and the changing rotations with several players with minutes limitations.
Is the post up one of the things that Rose has worked on to become a better more tranquil player? In last night's game he asked for the ball several times near the rim, he backed up on Augustin and hooked it in. Its different for Rose, seeing him down close to the rim already asking for the ball inside instead of holding the ball far past the three point line and driving. Do you think he's trying to show a new style of play? He can maintain his body better. Not many point gaurds will know what to do with him now.
Sam: People concentrated on Rose’s shot in the time away, though it showed he has worked on other things. He’s a smart player and when he had a smaller player on him he immediately reacted to the matchup. But, yes, I have noticed a change in his game in trying to be more cautious, not going up for as many dunks where he’s left unprotected in the air, trying to make moves in the post, though I still do cringe with that jump pass.
I'm loving Nikola's game and his ability to get his defender in the air. Someone please tell him to jump into the defender after his pump fake instead of trying to dribble around. His defender is constantly flying into his face on his shot fakes but he continues to put the ball on the floor to go around. Slow down and go back up after the defender commits. Dunleavy had perfected this move. Hopefully he can pass along the wisdom.
Sam: That’s also why Thibs prefers the veterans. I recall a terrific locker room scene in 1989 with Jordan demonstrating to Pippen—they had no back areas to get away from media then—how to jump into a defender. It doesn’t come naturally and took several years for Pippen to understand. Mirotic will get there; he’s a baby in the NBA still.
It appears as though the coach requires a moustache to win a championship in Chicago (Phil, Coach Q, Ditka). Any chance you can ask Thibs to grow one?
Sam: So it wasn’t the curse of the goat