Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 11.01.2013
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With Rose returning off injury and the way this team plays physical and fast I do see a good chance at competing for a title as we did in 2011. Like anyone else that loves and studies the game I do see that it is not going to be easy for any team in the east this year to be run away favorites. But after listening at some of our critiques for the past few years repeatedly expressing the fact that we need that one piece or more help to get over the hump because we just don't have enough scoring in a player(s) that can creative for himself and others besides Rose, I'm starting to realize the same things after watching opening night vs. the Heat. If the Bulls where to pursue any trades this year, who do you see us going after to bring more help to Rose and how do you feel trading for Arron Afflalo or someone like a Klay Thompson/Jamal Crawford?
Sam: I’ve gotten various versions of this question since the opener. Along with pleas for Nate Robinson’s return. Nate, by the way, is in Denver with a two-year deal. The Bulls looked at him for a limited role, but he wanted more and they were more committed to Hinrich and Dunleavy off the bench. Anyway, it’s not like the Bulls do not know this. No one internally is coming into the season believing this is a team that will win. I agree, it can. But it also could go out in a heck of a second round series as a couple of really good teams will. The Bulls could use another big man, and they tried this summer with Marcus Camby and Elton Brand, and they could use more shooting. Which is one reason they went for Dunleavy over Belinelli because Dunleavy has been a better shooter. Give him at least one more game. But there are no trades to be made. If you have a strong roster with highly paid players, like the Bulls do, you don’t have players to trade. OK, the guys you mentioned. Yes, it’s possible they’ll be moved given the circumstances where they are. But for the Bulls it would cost at least Butler and probably Gibson as well. Because of inexperience, age or playing time basically, you cannot get anything for Teague, Snell, Murphy, Mohammed and James. Because of free agency Deng and Hinrich have little value. Because he’ll make more than $16 million next season going on 33 Boozer isn’t of value in this luxury tax era. Dunleavy just turned 33. So your trade “assets” are Rose, Noah, Butler and Gibson. Which one do you want to give up? And if it’s Jimmy, you have to add someone since he makes so little. The Bulls are very good and have a legitimate chance. But they are not perfect. Which is why they aren’t considered the favorite. Not that the Heat wouldn’t like another big man as well.
I'm sure you're getting a lot of letters from people assuming the Bulls season is already over because they lost to the Heat opening night. I'd like to remind them of a game less than a year ago. The Heat had a 27-game active win streak coming into Chicago, who was without Derrick Rose and nursing various injuries. Aside from a playoff game, it was probably safe to say the Heat really wanted to win that game to keep the streak going. And the depleted Bulls beat them. At that time, no one said the Heat couldn't win the title because they lost to a deleted Bulls team. Yet somehow, according to several national media types, the fact that a Bulls team whose emotional leader played only 20 minutes in the preseason because of a groin injury that clearly hampered him, a Bulls team who had its two best wing defenders on the bench with three fouls each for the second quarter, a Bulls team that had a rookie picked at #22 called upon to guard LeBron James in his first game, and a Bulls team whose superstar was playing his first real game in over a year lost to the world champions means they can't get past the Heat and win a title.
Sam: Yes, it did mess up a lot of national media observations, but when you send someone to Miami for a game and spend a lot on airfare you need to get more than a game story. You need a what it all means. Since when is media coverage concerned with the long view? Or fan reaction. Actually, most of the Bulls’ fan reaction I received was mostly unfazed, and it helped when the Heat lost to the team those experts predicted could be the worst ever.
I'm not hitting the panic button here after 2 games, but one thing that concerns me about this Bulls team compared to the last few Bulls' teams is the lack of depth. Our second units were usually a major strength and we often went 10 deep with guys you could legitimately put in most team's rotations. I'm looking at the bench this year and seeing Taj, Dunleavy, Hinrich... and that’s it. And Capt. Kirk always seems one play away from missing the next 2 weeks. In my opinion our starting five is the best we've had since the Jordan era, but it seems one of the strengths that took us to the NBA's best record in 2 of the last 3 seasons is now a weakness. Am I wrong? Please set me straight.
Sam: Well, uh, it doesn’t look too deep as yet, does it? But those things tend to change as Thibodeau warms a bit to guys as the season goes on. Asik wasn’t playing until Noah got hurt, and then when Noah returned he played more. I’m not sure what the issue is with Teague as I thought he could fill a role. These weren’t great teams to start for Mohammed as the Heat don’t use a center and the Knicks went to multiple small guard lineups with Anthony at power forward. But, yes, the Bulls played eight against New York and you need to see more. I also think Mike James can take some minutes and will as well as Snell, though two games in I don’t consider the final roster spot set yet.
Klay Thompson (shooter) for Jimmy Butler (driver). Thompson & Rose. Curry & Butler. It benefits both teams.
Sam: Of course, it’s ridiculous as they traded for Iguodala so they could more feature Curry and Thompson and Thompson is an untouchable to them. Though I thought it would be good for Jimmy to know if he were getting a big head (he’s not) after a 1-1 start, some fans want him gone.
Having watched the Bulls' first two games, I've been pretty disappointed with our offense. I realize that it will take a while for the Bulls to adjust to playing with Rose and for Rose to shake his rust off, but it's been a pain to watch our half-court offense consist of just slow ball movement at the top of the key or getting trapped on the baseline and then someone having to go one-on-one at the end of the shot clock to force something up. Which brings me to my question: why don't the Bulls go to Boozer more?? Even dating back to last season, I still don't understand why we don't try to force the ball inside to him to get spacing for cutting and threes or just use him in pick-and-rolls a lot more, which we know he's good at running. Against Miami he scored 31 points going 13-18 from the field and against the Knicks he was doing really well but for some reason only ended up with 7 shots (of which he made 5). I just feel like he's one of the few players on our roster who can be a consistent scoring threat, and it's a shame he's being under-utilized.
Sam: That’s it; trade Jimmy and feature Booz. Being serious, it’s a good point. Boozer has looked very good in the post both games, and yes, the Bulls have tended to go away from that and back to their deliberate game to wait for the screen to materialize and then are stuck with the ball. But we’re going with the it’s only two games and as Thibodeau lamented many times after the Knicks game no one is practicing. Plus, the shooting is as bad as it’s been in years. So two games is too small a sample for now. But if it’s three…
I wrote you in the preseason saying that Boozer looked better than ever, well at least while with the Bulls. Against Miami he went off, but that's not what I’m talking about. His positioning, foot work and keeping his head on swivel. I don't know what he did differently in the off season but he seems more aware, ready and focused on the small things that put you into position for success. And I believe that when Noah gets his legs and timing back he and Boozer will be very dangerous in the paint.
Sam: Booz love. It’s everywhere. Yes, if only the Bulls could practice. Practice? Practice!
Very revealing Miami game. As a homer, though all the naysayers pointed out the lack of a second option, I remained confident. The last playoff series against the Heat showed us what to do: Rose just needed to get a jumper or a floater that would neutralize the big men waiting for Rose to try and score. Well, that will still work. We can still win a championship. The only things that needs to happen is for Rose to hit all those shots. Like all those shots. That’s the problem; we don’t control our destiny. I remember when Popovich was being interviewed after the Heat won the championship last year. I didn’t catch what he meant then but now I do. He said that when Shane Battier started hitting 3s, it was too much for his team. I get it now. If we’re going to win, we need extraordinary performances from people to win. Dunleavy needs to get hot like Danny Green did for them last year. Jimmy Butler needs to take over 2 games and give us 26 and 10. Noah needs to have an offensive performance like he did during Game 7 against Brooklyn last year. All that is possible. It’s just not in our control. We’d have to hope they get hot; that they find a telephone booth and be their best selves in that game on that day. It’s all possible. It’s just not likely. No matter what happens this season, I know we need another scorer to win a championship. Short of an acquisition/trade, we’re just wishing and praying. This time, the league’s best record won’t fool me. Beating Miami in 3 straight games won’t mean jack. The only way we win is for Rose to be Rose and Noah, Jimmy, Taj, Lu, etc. be someone else. Because if they’re their regular selves, it’s over.
Sam: And that is possible, but that has been the point I’ve been making about the Bulls can win it, which doesn’t mean they will. Things have to go right, which is more than good health. That’s the same way it was for the Jazz and Suns and Knicks and Sonics and Trail Blazers in the 1990’s. They were really, really good teams. But the Bulls had the best guy. Miami has the best guy. It’s tough to beat the best guy. More think they can this season because he doesn’t have a great second option anymore, or we don’t think he does. That levels the playing field. The Bulls had a strong Pippen until about the end, which was why 1998 became so uncertain and why the team, if not the rest of the world, knew it was over. They knew after that 1997 surgery that Pippen was never the same player again. It’s also why I don’t predict playoffs now. This is the regular season, so you see how that goes. Then you have a gauge to view the post season. If Wade comes into the playoffs strong it’s tough to see anyone beating Miami. But others have a chance, including the Bulls, by playing at a high level. It happens. The Pistons did it in 2004, the Mavericks in 2011 against better teams. Those things can go right for the Bulls as well, but if it were obvious they’d be the favorites. They are not. And not because they didn’t win Tuesday.
It seems every time Stern's beloved cash cow the Heat needs a big win, Joey Crawford is the head official. Opening night he showed once again how the officiating can completely take over a game and dismantle all hopes of a fair contest for the victimized team. Yes, the Bulls were outplayed, but not until Deng and Butler had to hit the bench on phantom foul calls, while the Heat mauled and hacked at Rose and Boozer. I'm losing interest in the NBA and sports in general with the manipulated outcomes, closed door draft lotteries, performance enhancing drugs, glamorizing, collusion, etc. What the hell ever happened to the joy of competition?
Sam: Of course, the irony is the Heat always grimace with Crawford because they believe he’s unfavorable to them. Which is why Joey is such a good official. The officials didn’t decide it. There were some calls that went against the Bulls, like Jimmy’s charge and one on Deng. But the Heat was the aggressor. The aggressors get the calls. It was obvious throughout the Bulls didn’t play with near the passion and enthusiasm that we’d seen them play with against Miami before and even in openers. Not that they seemed intimidated. But after a quick Bulls start, it was the Heat who came the hardest and the Bulls reacted. Miami was the better and more aggressive team in that game, and to the aggressor goes the calls.
Could you get the word to acquire Shannon Brown, we need a bench, get these kind of caliber players while they are available… we need a another big body player, or this ship gone sink when the playoffs come, because the starting 5 will be beyond wore out.
Sam: Shannon Brown has been the pickup of choice the last week as well. I’m not sure he’d be that interested in a spot mostly behind Hinrich and Dunleavy. But perhaps more so he was with the Bulls early in his career and I recall it being a bad situation where neither side cared for one another. Of course, things change. But Brown isn’t a shooter, anyway. He shot 27.7 percent on threes last season, which would be the poorest on the Bulls. Hinrich’s career three-point shooting average is better than the best season in Brown’s career. Brown’s best season hasn’t even been close to any of Dunleavy’s last three seasons. Plus, the Bulls shooting will improve as Butler gains more confidence in shooting threes. I have also heard get Vince Carter, MarShon Brooks, Reggie Williams, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Williams of the most prominent of late.
Dunleavy clearly couldn’t contain James/Wade. Marco seemed to do a better job against the big 2. Or is my memory fuzzy from too many Margaritas at AA Arena? Was that signing a mistake as its easier to get into foul trouble against the Heat?
Sam: Very fuzzy. Wade never even learned his name.
I know it is only the first game but it only showed the Bulls need a second superstar. My question to you is are the Bulls all in this year, if they are do you think they would make a trade to get a second superstar, using pieces of deng and the 2016 bobcats draft pick or maybe boozer and the bobcat draft pick, and our first this year for love. They get a power forward and 2 picks for a superstar to pair with rose?
Sam: I answer this in many different ways and am running out of jokes. OK, not really, but there are no superstars to get. None. Doesn’t happen. Never, ever, never getting one in trade or free agency. There are maybe five or six in the entire league. One problem the Bulls have had is being good too long. They lucked out with Rose in the draft. Imagine if they’d have gotten the ninth pick that season which was their odds with the team they have. They have some very good players and enough to win. But they have been very generous to their players and only the Nets have more players making eight figure salaries in the entire league. The Bulls are easily one of the biggest spending teams. Perhaps they’ll eventually have to break that up. But for now they have to go with what they have.
Did you notice in the first quarter the refs called Miami for a couple travels that were really not that bad? This really irritated me. It was sterns pathetic attempt to make up for Game 6 of the finals. The Allen 3 in Game 6 was so obvious and blatant. The NBA is a complete joke now. We will never beat the Heat because of this. Wade and James and even Allen are allowed 1 or 2 more steps by the officials, and given more calls.
Sam: Now, that’s a lot of angst for the first game. All the Spurs had to do with three chances at the end of Game 6 to win a title was have one of three guys make two free throws instead of one each. Then all they had to do was leave Tim Duncan in the game so Chris Bosh would have run back to the three point line and not gotten two offensive rebounds, his career high, or Danny Green had not run out for a layup when they had enough points and LeBron wouldn’t have been open for that wide open three. Miami is beatable; they’re very beatable again. But you have to do it. The league is hardly covering for Pat Riley’s team given he barely even speaks to them.
What happened to Rose’s hang nail. I mean neck? Man I love Rose to death but his style of play hasn't changed. It will cause his body to continually break down. That play when he went to the basket against 3 heat players and ended up on the floor that's the plays he needs to stop. He will end up making Kirk look like Cal Ripken.
Sam: There’s two different issues here. You have to be who you are. He’s an attacking player who goes to the rim. He’s about the same size as Dwyane Wade, and maybe he’ll begin to break down in six years. But I’m not much for playing cautiously, and I doubt Rose will. The other element is today’s media. Not long ago his sitting out shootaround, next ouchie was never reported because there was no Twitter or internet immediacy and no reporters filing scraps of information all day and fans spending worthless time ruminating over non information. Because by the time the newspaper came out or TV news got to it, it was after the game and Rose had played and sleeping bad on your neck and skipping shootaround was not a story or worthy of mention. It wasn’t Thursday, but no one had anything else to say at the time. Trust me, the reporters would rather not be doing this. We used to go to shootarounds or practices to work on long term, depth stories, find out about the workings of the team and the game plans. Now it’s a race to the cell phone to Tweet a comment about a potential injury. I understand the decline of the media and this is supposedly hits for advertising to keep the businesses alive, and I’m for that. But you are not getting as good a reporting as you once did because so many of these good basketball reporters are being turned into injury update people.
There are two ways to look at the opening loss to Miami with regards to Rose's sitting out last season. Maybe Rose was right, and practice is different than playoff games just like preseason is different than regular season games. If Rose came back last year, even though he looked good physically, he would not have been effective. The other way to look at it is that any one sitting out for months will need time, mentally and physically, to get back. If Rose came back last year, he would have shaken at least some of that rust off. Which do you think is a more accurate way of looking at it?
Sam: So what was Luol Deng’s issue shooting two of eight with three turnovers? Rose was not rusty. He basically was defended by two and three guys on every possession as the Heat, seeing a rookie and non scorers on the floor in the second quarter with the Bulls in foul trouble, pretty much dared anyone else to score. And no one could make a shot. Other than the second quarter, the score was Bulls 77 Heat 70. Rose is fine. Stop asking!
With so many teams looking to tank to get that No.1 for next year’s strong draft class. Can or has the league ever stepped in to do anything about this? Why can't the NBA step in and fine the organization for obvious tanking in games? Sure a team can flush out their roster in the chance of giving them no chance in winning but if we see games when the 76sers are up 10 against the Bulls with 2 minutes to play and then bench their starters then I'll be very very disappointed. Even faking injuries or shutting down players from playing should be judged by the NBA if they smell foul play.
Sam: Players and coaches don’t tank seasons. Only general managers do. The coach loses his job if they lose too much; the players don’t get better deals if they lose too much. You only need see the 76ers and Suns, two supposedly tanking teams, winning opening night. But there are teams that build this way, which is a perfectly respectable way of doing it because for the most part you build through the draft. Even Boston with its aging Big Three that won acquired those players with draft picks. Eventually, you have to take a fall. You hope the draft you are in is a good one. This season’s looks like it.
With the new collective bargaining agreement, which has punitive restrictions for going over the cap, the era of big threes and big spending seem over. The Thunder traded Harden, Bosh likely leaves after the year, even the Lakers excess is being reeled in. There seems like there are two ways to go with new collective bargaining, one star with good solid pieces (Dallas, Pacers, Knicks, Golden State) or two superstars with complementary pieces (Thunder, Clippers, Brooklyn before they broke the bank). Which would you prefer if we can't keep Deng? Go with Rose, Jimmy, Snell?, Taj, Noah or leverage the assets and go for an unhappy star, Aldridge, Love, Horford? I have no idea.
Sam: This is going to be a big question facing everyone as the new punitive tax is going to be hitting teams these next few season and unusual decisions will be made. Though you don’t really know until you see how others are making them and which players will be available. There’s a large sea change coming in the NBA that no one truly knows the effects.
Since the Bulls don't have great offensive weapons, has the team ever considered hiring an offensive guru as a bench coach? If Miami continues to double team Derrick we could use someone who could design some plays to free him up.
Sam: This isn’t football. They don’t stop after every possession and draw up the next play. It’s a game in which offense and defense flows naturally from one end to another. The Bulls have toyed at times with a so called “offensive” assistant. But it’s different in the NBA, especially with the Bulls. The coach calls the plays. Thibs starts every season with more than 700 from the books I’ve seen of previous seasons. He knows offense. But the larger issue is like many coaches who are among the elite, his philosophy dominates. How come Mike D’Antoni doesn’t have a defensive coordinator? How come Mike Brown doesn’t have an offensive coordinator? A coach’s greatest value, in my view, is less x’s and o’s, less plays, than setting an environment or culture as teams like to say now, getting players to believe in themselves, putting them in position to succeed, developing a relationship in which they’ll trust and perform and getting them to commit to your belief and carry it out. Thibs does that well despite his unique methods. How come soccer doesn’t have more offensive coordinators given if you could score five goals you’d never lose?
Marcus Camby was waived by the Houston Rockets, do you think the Bulls would try to pick him up? He would be a good back up behind Noah and Nazr?
Bruce dela cruz
Sam: The first thing is I believe he’s having plantar fascia surgery, which would keep him out for some time. The Bulls did try to get him last summer. But he seems to be hanging around the Rockets, which suggests they have one of those wink wink things that when he is healthy they’ll take him back. His salary is guaranteed this season, so he loses nothing and his family lives in Houston and appealed to him last summer to stay there. He hardly seems in play for anyone.
I know you get millions of these, so I'll cut to the chase: hypothetically, if the Bulls were to move Lu after the season, would a sign-and-trade to a team be a feasible option?
Sam: That’s not the point. It’s not about moving Deng. It’s about signing him. If there were no financial issues to a signing, they’d rather keep him. The financial issues will be the question with all the moving pieces involving Mirotic, potential free agents, Hinrich, a first rounder and a growing luxury tax as the Bulls have been among the league highest payrolls the last two seasons.
Most tend to think that with Derrick winning MVP, he should have a fairly good chance on getting into the HOF. My question is, if our team can get a ring or two, what about Noah? With 2 NCAA rings, a NBA ring and a possible DPOY in the future, could he nudge himself in there?
Sam: Noah’s story is amazing from the player he was as a kid to as many honors and accomplishments as he’s had already. Rose will need a very good career for the next five or six years to make his case, which is hardly assured. It’s very difficult for players who are not high scorers, especially in this era. There are so many guys lining up with 20-plus scoring averages who won’t get in that it’s not likely, though Jo certainly will qualify for the love of life hall of fame.