Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls
Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 11.28.2014
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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By Sam Smith | 11.28.2014 | 9:00 a.m. CT
Can we just say it? Playing in the NBA, especially starting, is uniquely challenging to the body, perhaps in more ways than any other sport. After two years away, Derrick clearly needs many playing months to get himself back in his groove, and that includes learning how to trust his body again, and what he can and can't still do. If we want him to be great by the end of the season, we need to accept the gradual process.... or at least not make it worse with public outcries about his character, competitive spirit, etc. Not that I have huge trust in the Bulls medical staff, but they're better at medical management than most of the blogosphere.
Sam: The medical staff really doesn’t know what it’s doing. Neither does management, the coach, the players and Rose as well. So I’m fairly sure the media and fans have fewer answers. No one has ever experienced anything like what Rose is experiencing, and by that I mean two major knee surgeries and missing two years for a former league MVP who plays guard and plays with explosion and acceleration at that position that no one ever had seen before. So how is anyone to know exactly what to do and what is going to occur? So the public and media are quick with their psychological observations and evaluations about a lack of character or commitment when no one physically at that size and with those characteristics ever has gone through this. So it becomes wait and see and trial and error for everyone, including Rose. He doesn’t know what will occur next; neither do his doctors. They can only guess. What we know for sure is players who have had major injuries can take years to get right, like Grant Hill, who regained a high level of play in about six years. Rose has missed two years. The body doesn’t recover in a month. He wants to play again at a high level more than anyone else wants to see him do so. So fans and media get upset, blame him because who else should they blame as Americans love to blame someone; maybe blame the coach, blame his doctors. Others get upset because they cannot be as successful without him, the team cannot do as well. Like most things America decides to investigate because it is not satisfied with the current result, it’s probably just is what you see: A player making a gradual return from major injuries and surgeries, which comes with stops and starts and setbacks and isn’t at all smooth. But who prefers patience when they can declare someone else at fault?
As the talk radio/social media has lost faith in Derrick, you have said that it is too early to tell if injuries are a problem and that the Bulls are doing the right thing in being cautious. I agree with you that it is way too early to make a judgment about Derrick's long-term health, and I'm wondering when you will feel the need to re-evaluate, assuming his status as day-to-day continues. Is it as early as February? As late as April? At some point this has to become a concern, but I can't decide when that point is.
Sam: I was watching the Bears NFL game Thursday and noticed them talking about this physical brute Detroit receiver who was out three weeks with a sprained ankle and even though he played well was still not quite right. Similarly with Reggie Bush, another of these football players out three weeks with a sprained ankle. And Rose misses one week and he’s called names. I know we’ve gone through all this small minded name calling and idiot psychobabble regarding Rose. It passes for substance when you don’t have anything significant to add, like being in Congress. The fact remains Rose’s body will take a while to adjust to the rigors of NBA ball, which I’m sure so many appreciate with the great athletic bodies they have. There’s no question Rose is trying to play and play hard; otherwise, he wouldn’t be getting hurt like this. He expects to play at a high level and is pushing himself to do so. Sit out? Play? Decoy? No one really knows. So Rose and everyone else takes their best guess and we all see what happens and can debate it game by game. If he can play at a high level by the spring, that would be terrific for the Bulls. If he cannot, hopefully he can next season. This kid is a once in a generation talent and you don’t dismiss that because it doesn’t go the way you want it to when you want it to. Compassion isn’t much of a media strength.
It looks like you’re in for another installment of a Derrick Rose mailbag. I actually feel bad for the young man. Yes he’s a bazillionairre, but he seems quite conflicted in how to move forward. I cannot imagine the fear he must have of another serious injury. Another year of rehab, good grief. Not being an expert certainly allows me to opine, I believe that he’s hitting the mental hurdle of pain vs. injury vs. fear. Pretty normal thoughts I would guess. Being a bazillionairre, he certainly doesn’t have to play and yet he has put all of this enormous time and effort to getting back. Maybe he is almost there. Maybe he will never get there. All I can say is Derrick Rose seems to be a genuine good guy who represents the city well. He doesn’t owe me anything. I’m not out the money. I wasn’t seriously hurt, twice. I admit that I’m partial to Chicago athletes who appear to be solid citizens. Especially Chicago born athletes. As far as Rose goes, I’ve been paid. I wish for him that he can get back to where he wants to be. Wherever that is and whenever that is.
Sam: There were some emails, but fortunately not that many. But you make a good point I fail to understand in some of the reaction. Here’s a kid who is an exemplary person. Wants to play in Chicago when free agents tease local fans and then laugh on the way elsewhere. Here’s a kid who gets lambasted and lampooned in the media and understands perfectly it’s a matter of opinion everyone has a right to express. Seen that from many baseball players? Any? Ever seen that from Mike Ditka when he coached the Bears? Here’s a kid who’s gone through two years of grueling rehabilitation and publicly puts his faith in a higher power and strives to return, and in doing so takes and accepts as much or more cheap shot condemnation than perhaps any athlete in Chicago ever has without complaint. Why would you not support someone like that? Actually, I’ve gotten fewer Rose emails than usual this week and more positive. If you can’t see the guy is trying hard to play when he’s not fully capable then you are not paying attention.
You have made it abundantly clear the Bulls are about championships. You have also made it clear that Thibs wants to win every game, possession, 50-50 ball, etc. During Tuesday night's postgame interview, it was clear to me that Thibs is increasingly frustrated with minutes management and Derrick sitting out. As a matter of fact, there was insinuation that Derrick could have already been playing but he (or someone else) decided that he shouldn't. For the record, I am on board with GarPax forcing Thibs hand (somewhat) regarding minutes management. Thibs is a victim of his own mania and success; however, our recent injury history suggests the need for greater caution. Yes, injuries are a part of the game but what once was a large window filled with endless potential is now a very small window with aging players who are continually battling injury. It is clear that hard work in Thibs' life has yielded him incredible results. I think Thibs should take more of a parental approach. Now that the culture and expectations are in place, allow the children room to grow.
Sam: Minutes has become an unusual obsession in the NBA among fans and media. I’m generally on Thibs’ side in this debate as I believe players improve by playing and not sitting. Healthy players. Is it a short term gain? You never fully know; there is no science to this. But I do believe Deng and Noah would not have been All-Stars playing fewer minutes for another coach. As Jimmy Butler has said all season in leading the team in minutes played, he wanted to be an NBA player to play, not to rest. But management, right or wrong, has to make these judgments. What a lot of coaches don’t understand is they are in charge of the game, not the team. Management is in charge of the team. If management believes players should be limited in playing time with a longer view, then it’s the coach’s responsibility to follow that mandate. It appears that is the mandate this season, and I believe Thibs has done an excellent job in staying to that despite so many players out. Of course, it’s a frustration to him given his philosophy and he’ll lash out on occasion as he did in Utah. That’s OK. It shows he cares and has passion for the final product. I want that in my coach. It’s no big deal the coach and management differ; they have different jobs. One’s is to win the game; the other’s is to win for the next four years. They are mutually exclusive. Thibs is a great coach and the Bulls are a better team because he is their coach. It doesn’t mean he has all the answers.
It seems to me that Jimmy Butler or Pau Gasol should be taking the last shot in games, not Derrick Rose.
Sam: The guy with the best shot should take the shot. As terrific as Jimmy Butler has been, both Rose and Gasol have more sophisticated offensive games and a better chance of making a last shot. But as Rose always notes, whoever has the open look. Many teams have succeeded that way, like the Spurs.
Pau vs. Marc Gasol? One on one? In their primes? How about the Lopez brothers? And finally, two on two, Gasol vs Lopez? It seems rare to see not one but two sets of big man brothers playing at a high level.
Sam: I take the Gasols by a lot. They’re probably the best brother combination in NBA history. Or will be. Maybe you go with Dominique and Gerald Wilkins because Dominique is in the Hall of Fame or Horace and Harvey Grant for the titles or the Barrys because there were so many. But given Pau’s titles and Marc even making a run at MVP this season they’re likely to end up with Pau in the Hall of Fame as the best siblings the NBA has seen.
Recently, as the Warriors were facing San Antonio, Steve Kerr noted that he had retired 12 years ago and the Spurs still had the same three guys leading their team. People admire the Spurs for their longevity and being in contention every year, yet they also receive flak for resting their guys and are knocked for failing to repeat in any of their championships. On the other hand, we have Bosh and Wade talking about how going on their fourth finals together was no fun. So what's better? Having a 2-4 year run then being burnt out, internally feuding, and being split up like the Heat, the Shaq & Kobe Lakers, and even our own 90s Bulls or having a sustained run of playoff success like the Spurs though some would say they're no dynasty? Maybe with the new CBA it's no longer even possible for other teams to do what the Spurs have done during the Duncan era.
Sam: The Spurs are a unique team that cannot be copied. Everyone generally tries to duplicate what’s worked, but the Spurs are an exception because of Tim Duncan, one of the top 10 players of all time who elected to stay in one place and often take less financially. You had some similarities in previous eras without free agency, but that doesn’t exist anymore. Really, Ginobili should have left and so should have Parker. But they signed deals, for instance, you didn’t see players like Ben Gordon, Luol Deng or Jimmy Butler sign. There’s nothing wrong with what they’ve done or are doing. Those are the rules both sides agreed to in collective bargaining, so no one should be condemned for following them, player or team. In addition to financial issues, it’s also unusual to stay together too long. The Miami case is a good example. Winning was nice, but my guess is Bosh harbors no regrets LeBron is gone. I’ll be interested to see how Kevin Love feels and would be surprised if he signs on to stay. It’s why I always say you go for it this season because you never know what will occur, who will stay healthy and who will leave as a free agent. The only title you can win is the one you are playing for.
I was just wondering what your thoughts would be on moving one of our bigs for an upgrade at the SF. I love what Mike has done at that spot, way above expectations, especially defensively. I'm just thinking why not use our depth to upgrade the starting five, as that depth becomes a little redundant come play off time. Obviously this isn't accounting for the plague of injuries currently going on, but I don't think you build a roster to over-compensate for injuries.
Sam: I think Dunleavy has done fine and with Jimmy Butler able to take the better scorer if necessary, I think the Bulls have enough on the wing, and I expect them to get more from McDermott. But who exactly are you trading? It’s difficult to suggest you have a surfeit of bigs when Cameron Bairstow has to start a game. Obviously, Noah has some physical issues that require caution and Gibson as well with his ankle. The Bulls you see I expect are the same Bulls you will see in April.
What are your thoughts on McDermott? I think the guy needs to calm down as he plays a very nervous and spastic game with his feet always shifting. He looks like he lacks confidence and is afraid to make a mistake. He's confused on defense with where to be and always bouncing back and forth between guys. I was hoping you could convince me he's not a bust. I know it's early, but he reminds me of Joe Alexander with the Bulls, who was very talented, but just played so nervously.
Sam: Doug McDermott is no Joe Alexander. I think the Bulls have done a poor job with McDermott, but it’s just November, he’s a rookie, there’s been unusual displacement given injuries, so it’s understandable. I agree he’s lost confidence not seeing his shot go down and as a result not taking some shots now. Thibodeau, to his credit, has been positive and supportive and telling him to keep shooting, at least publicly. Yes, players in the NBA are faster and close more quickly, which has had McDermott flinching a bit on shots. But the Bulls have not done a good job, which they usually do, putting him in position to succeed. This is a great spot up shooter when he is squared. It’s not that hard to find that shot. Run a side pick and roll, which the Bulls do, and then move the ball, back up on top, allowing the defense to close and then into the corner with the extra pass. The Bulls rarely do that, in part, because they run too much time on offense and get caught with the bench yelling five seconds and time to shoot. They need to push more before the defense sets, which has been a problem given the rebounding is down. Can’t run without the ball. And the only real push guard they have is Rose: Hinrich isn’t that kind of guard and while Brooks can he doesn’t pass as much. And before the rotation got all jumbled of late, McDermott was playing primarily with Brooks and Gibson, who don’t move the ball as quickly and end up with late shot clock shots. It’s a big if, obviously, but if the Bulls can return to a normalcy of health and McDermott gets in with the right rotation, I still think he can do great things this season.
If someone had to told me that Jimmy Butler will be our leading scorer before the season started, I would've called him crazy. He's scoring almost 22pts a game but what's more impressive is that not a lot of plays are drawn for him and he's really earning each point out there. He's become quite a master at drawing contact to get to the foul line too. Of course, he's as strong as ever in defense and almost seems to intimidate the opponent players. At the current rate, there will be teams throwing some huge money at him and I'm already dreading to see him in another uniform next year. Even with the new TV deal, will the Bulls have enough money to match the offers? Hopefully, he won't make the same mistake that Ben Gordon made which pretty much put this career on a steep downhill.
Sam: No one can predict what someone wants to do. Butler has said he intends to remain a Bull and the Bulls have said they intend to resign Butler. But Butler could sign a qualifying offer to become unrestricted after next season if he wants. Players do it. I have no doubt finances will not be an issue on the Bulls part. This is different from the Asik situation in many ways. That was a two-year deal with a backload allowed. Not this time. And the Bulls had a starter ahead of Asik at the same position earning $12 million. If Jimmy gets an offer no matter what it is with no other shooting guard and really no true starting small forward they’ll match and have plenty of money to do so. But like Ben Gordon, Jimmy could decide he wants to be elsewhere. He says he doesn’t want to be, but none of us will know until next July. But I’d be surprised if he wasn’t back with a long term deal.
I've been reading that Taj could be out for an extended period of time, could the Bulls look to bring in another big man? Or will we just run with the Noah/Gasol/Mirotic rotation with Nazr making the odd appearance?
Sam: Who, exactly, since Bairstow probably is better than most of the bigs in the D-league? Someone suggested Jermaine O’Neal. Which would help the Bulls injury list. You don’t replace players like that. You fill in with what you have until they return.
This is the big difference between the NBA today, and years ago. I [was] at the Bulls vs. Trail Blazers game, paid good money to see my team, and there are the stars sitting out. I experience misery for the 6th time in a row in this arena. Players used to want to play in these games. Rose used to. He doesn't anymore. Against the irrelevant Bucks he sucked it up. But not against a quality team. I just think it's time for him to realize it's not the end of the world if you can't be 100 percent every game. Just ask most of your teammates.
Sam: You don’t have it right regarding Rose, though I cannot completely disagree with you. Rose is hurt. That’s obvious. The difference is teams today—every team—have gone to the practice of resting players routinely. The Spurs, we know, do this with impunity and I rarely hear complaints. Dwyane Wade’s been out about three weeks taking care of a tight hamstring. I’m not sure the reason, but I do think more players are injured in this era, and while I don’t know why, I think some has to do with the constant training that gets them stronger and puts more pressure on body parts. Again, I offer this with zero expertise, making me equipped for only a talk radio job interview. It’s been theorized kids get pushed into one sport early in life and staying with it wears them out; it’s also been said players are trained to play less, so they do play less. And players come into the NBA less prepared and younger. It’s not like Bird or Magic played every game; though Wilt basically did. I understand the disappointment, though it’s not like it’s any secret these days all over the NBA. Good luck finding any star who plays in every game.
If you were able to go back in time and somehow count all of Wilt's blocked shots, I don't even think it would even be close as to his complete dominance for any era.
Sam: History often proves inconvenient. It obscures our connection with the world. You say you say Jordan or Magic or Bird or Kareem or Shaq and you feel a part because you saw them and cannot imagine anyone superior. But there were. There was no one ever like Wilt in basketball. Jordan was a more transcendent figure as I wrote about in my new book, There Is No Next, because of his impact and influence on the culture. But there never has been any individual who dominated the game like Wilt. But it was another era. It’s what makes a mockery of the NBA statistics. It was like some statistic I read recently about Anthony Davis. Sure, but Wilt and Russell, of course, had so many blocks Davis—no offense—wouldn’t be among the leaders. They didn’t record blocks and steals until the early 1970’s, which in some sense separates NBA milestones between then and since. Similarly with baseball, though they don’t much acknowledge it. All those records for players like Ruth and Honus Wagner and Ted Williams and Ty Cobb really don’t mean that much because they didn’t let black men play. What’s the big deal about batting .400 against just your friends? That’s what they did in baseball before 1960. The NBA had a dividing line with the shot clock in 1954 and pretty much doesn’t acknowledge statistics until the late 1950s into the 1960s when the top black players were involved. Baseball should separate its record keeping and put all those artificial records from the era before 1960 in a separate category because only about half the best players were allowed to play. It’s difficult to compare eras because of the way the games changes, but no one physically and statistically dominated their era like Wilt.
I haven't seen the 76ers play this season yet so I don't know how well they are or are not coached, but we can agree they'd beat Kentucky or any other college team on talent alone, right? I generally believe that an NBA team that is trying will always beat a college team because they have more talent. No college team puts all of it's players in the NBA. That said, I'm not sure I can remember an NBA team that could come closer to losing to a college team as these 76ers since they have so, so many young and unproven players. An average bad NBA team will at least have a handful of veterans with adult NBA bodies that could just overpower a bunch of talented 18 year olds on your modern era "good" college team. Philadelphia doesn't have that.
Sam: Of course the 76ers are better. But how’s the old joke go, they just don’t get paid as much.