Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 11.22.2013
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If you're going to inject reality into trade talk, I guess we'll just have to shift to a new genus of NBA conversation, to wit: Could Carlos Boozer beat Wilt Chamberlain in arm wrestling? Okay, who's faster, end line to end line Derrick, Jimmy, Kirk or Marcus? What record do you predict the Bulls will have after 41 games? (I'll go with 26-15 if the starters stay healthy; 21-20 if Rose or Noah goes down.)
Sam: I’d say Rose. Certainly with the ball. Though Kirk thanks you for including him. As for the record, the schedule lightens up in December and January with 11 of the 15 games against teams with questionable playoff credentials. So it’s more hanging in this month. At 6-4, that’s a reasonably good start discounting the late game meltdown in Denver Thursday. Playing .500 ball on this road trip should make something like 26-15 a reasonable estimate. Probably not good enough to send Thibs and his staff back to the All Star game, though possible as Erik Spoelstra went last season so is ineligible. The way Rose has started, it’s possible the coaching staff gets to the All Star game and not any player. Still, the East is weak overall and with a winning record, you’d assume the Bulls should get a player or two to New Orleans in February.
I just watched a segment on ESPN about the Bulls finding another shooter. Tim Legler and Avery Johnson agreed that at the end of games, the playoffs, everyone is going to trap Derrick Rose. So I am wondering, can't Jimmy Butler get a shot at being the other guy to create off the dribble in late game situations with Derrick on the floor? When he is less hesitant, he's hit a bunch of shots with the shot clock going down and his stroke looked good against Charlotte where he shot in the flow of the offense. I love watching Kirk and Derrick playing together but instead of trading for this 'shooter', why not Jimmy?
Sam: Why not, indeed? These ESPN things tend to be overly simplistic, though it’s no secret the Bulls have been searching for a shooting guard since Ben Gordon was in the NBA. I think Jimmy and his big toe can do the job there with what they have. Yes, if you have someone coming along like the Wizards’ Bradley Beal or kids like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Ben McLemore, those are classic shooting guards. Jimmy isn’t quite that as he’s a slasher/driver whose shot is improving. It will be better, though for now he still seems more comfortable with the drive. I’m not one who says he’s really a small forward instead because the shot is the same distance for both positions and he gets plenty of corner looks in the Bulls offense. I think the issue is less the Bulls don’t have this second option than they don’t spread the court as well as teams like Miami because they don’t have as many three-point shooters. That’s why they went for Dunleavy and he’s shown how good he can shoot. Defenses always crowd Rose. That’s nothing new. It’s not like the Pacers have two great scoring/playmaking options. Like them, the Bulls have ways to beat you and have a chance. These discussions always say a team like the Bulls are missing a high level shooting guard. This is no surprise to the Bulls. OK, whom do you get and how much do you give up to get him?
You think GarPax really have the intestinal fortitude watch us have 6-minute offensive droughts against bad defensive teams? Watching this Denver game just reminds me that we seem to be more vulnerable to getting blown out than any other top tier team in the league. I remember the last time we lost with most of these guys (2011), Pippen was interviewed and said he thought we needed more scoring. Indiana isn’t great offensively either, but I don't see us beating them in a 7-game series with 6-minute droughts!
Sam: Well, those things happen and I think they will be happening less so when Rose gets to putting full games together. He’s been good, though not in all those 48 minutes, as Thibodeau likes to say. Plus, it was an unusually unproductive game from Deng. Still, I thought the issue was more the defense with untypically players not getting back, failing to help in pick and roll coverage. The Bulls led the league in wins two straight seasons before Rose got hurt basically never outscoring anyone and Rose bailing them out of those droughts. When he wasn’t there to do so last season they won 15 fewer games. The Bulls if they had that offense would be the favorites. They are not, but I still feel as I did going into the season they are one of eight teams with a chance to win. I may have to take out the Nets and add Portland. But it’s still likely a close to great eight.
Has there ever been a more overrated player than Chris Paul? He has never taken a team past the 2nd round if I am not mistaken. He routinely gets outplayed by others such as Rose or Deron Williams in the past. Yet ESPN is debating whether he is the greatest point guard since Magic, even asking if he could be better than Magic.
Sam: I watch ESPN all the time; they do a great job with sports programming. But you often have to listen as if it’s a primary debate. You can’t believe all the claims. ESPN understands people want to feel important, and to help them feel important you want them to think they are watching something special. You know, hey, I saw that! Anyway, so they turn on the hyperbole machine quite a bit and declare things they show like nothing you ever saw. So you better keep watching. You’re right. Paul’s teams haven’t done well in the playoffs. He’s not big or fast, but he’s really good. He’s a terrific passer, a clutch shooter and a hard competitor. But you can defend him in the playoffs because of his lack of size and speed and teams tend to take him out of games. Because he monopolizes the ball so much, his teams usually don’t have good second options with the ball. Doc Rivers is trying to work on that.
Is DRose not being aggressive as he used to be or is he just missing shots he normally makes? Yeah, the Bulls are winning again but I also guess that the Bulls need more scoring from DRose in the long run, right?
Sam: Let the Rose bashing begin? Last season’s Rose-is-scared stuff has transitioned to he’s no good anymore. Yes, I’m partial to Rose. But to me he’s having a great season. I know his shooting percentage is not high and he’s probably a bit what everyone decides is rusty. But he’s already won a game with the most unimaginable of shots against the Knicks, came up big in the biggest game with six threes to put away the Pacers and was the guy to bail out the team when they needed it most with a pair of scores down the stretch against Charlotte to enable Deng to hit his eventual game winner. This is extraordinary stuff less than a month into a season after not playing for 18 months. I can never recall a player in the history of the league coming back from ACL surgery and making as many big plays in as short a period. He’s not where he will be, but well beyond where I thought he might be.
I've heard whispers since Rose came into the league that his game was similar to Allen Iverson's, but until the pacers game I didn't realize how true it maybe. He looked more comfortable playing with Kirk than he has in awhile. He didn't always have to bring the ball up the court, and he played off the ball. I'm not saying he's not good at pg, but what if he's better at sg. What if Rose is the 2 guard we've been waiting on.
Sam: What? Iverson? Iverson was a remarkable talent and sure Hall of Famer, but one of the most difficult teammates ever because you had to shape a team completely around him and he never compromised his head down, offensive game. Rose is about winning as much as any star in the game given his willingness to get out of the way to accommodate teammates and excitement for the success of teammates. His career has been marked by not scoring as much as he could, both in high school and college. When he came to the Bulls he averaged fewer shots than Ben Gordon and after Ben Gordon left Rose only averaged three more shots per game than Luol Deng until Rose’s scoring was needed in his MVP season when the Bulls had their best season since the last title. Thibodeau had always planned to use Rose off the ball at times, which was one of the appeals of signing Hinrich. It’s like Isiah Thomas in Detroit in their title years moving off the ball as Joe Dumars often played point guard. It was a terrific attack, but Isiah was always the point guard because he had the best instincts to run the team just like Rose.
Even as poorly as he’s played, and through the controversy last year your support of Rose goes far further than any other player. In your NBA news and notes you take shots at multiple players per week, but no matter how poorly rose plays or how many games he doesn’t even sit with his team on the bench, you never ever even consider a shot on him. I understand teams are now game planning against him, but why give Rose a free pass on his decision making and defense? The Bulls played with more heart without rose on the court, as was seen all last year.
Sam: Well, I did mention last week Rose’s shooting percentage was toward the bottom of the league. There’s this vein that runs through the body of Bulls fandom that I’ve never fully understood. Yes, fans want the team to win. And I suppose on some level it’s laudatory, but Chicago also seems to have this Cubs related acceptance of losing that it’s inevitable, so if the guys play hard, if they dive for the ball, even if it’s fake hustle like with Rodman, and everyone can talk about how it’s a hard hat, blue collar team just like they are (sure) then they are willing to accept the second class status. There’s only one way to succeed, especially in the NBA, and that’s’ to have a star talent. And Chicagoans should understand that better than most. Rose is the only player on the Bulls roster of that description. The Bulls could never win 50 games after Jordan left and until Rose came. The Bulls led the league in wins the two seasons before Rose was hurt. They failed to get a first round home court advantage last season without Rose. But, yeah, they had heart, miles and miles of heart. When the odds say you’ll never win that’s when to grin, eh?
Some of my friends are talking about getting rid of DRose through the amnesty clause at the end of this season. I think they're insane. Do you know if he is eligible?
Sam: I’m having difficulty answering this question as I’m still trying to process the logic. No, only Boozer and Noah are eligible for amnesty. Are your friends actual voting citizens?
So was the time between the Raptors game on Friday and the Pacers game on Saturday short enough to keep your mail box from filling up with "the Bulls offense is better off without D Rose" messages? I was starting to get worried that Chicago sports fans might get side tracked from the Cutler/McCown debate.
Sam: As it turns out, no.
How about the in season revamp? Asik wants out, let’s see what we can do to get him (shouldn't need our top assets) and then turn around and deal Noah and whoever else you need (probably Deng) for a second star. Can it happen?
Sam: Well, the Bulls have played 10 games and are third in the East. So why not? You really prefer Asik to Noah?
It's amazing the course Ben Gordon’s career has taken. I know you've touched on his decision to grab the money n run several times in your columns but didn't know his situation was this bad. Think Bulls can get him for the minimum next summer? Think he'll command much more than that?
Sam: He is the poster child for the grass not being greener. Unless, of course, that green is money. Ben will tell you the Bulls pulled an offer he would accept, though that came after he turned down $50 million because he said he was better than Luol Deng, who was being offered $57 million for the same term. Deng rejected his offer as well, though eventually signed a new deal. Perhaps things would have worked out differently for Gordon if he’d stayed. But it’s difficult to argue the Bulls didn’t pick the right guy. After all, Gordon went to bad Detroit and Charlotte teams and still couldn’t get on the court in either place. He’s probably a minimum player after this season, and someone might get a deal signing him. But he basically will not have played for almost three years and at 31 years old and barely six-foot tall the market isn’t going to be very generous for a player who doesn’t have a role player mindset. My guess is the Bulls will have no interest as the negotiations were ugly and bitter with Gordon’s representatives making explosive accusations about the Bulls at the time and Gordon burning some bridges on his own. Plus, he’s hardly a Thibs guy with his defense.
Bernard King was obviously a great player. I know about the ACL injury that caused the Knicks to cut him. That seems strange to me since his numbers say he was still plenty productive after he came back. Why did he bounce through three teams before making it to the Knicks? Based on his statistics it looks like his talent would've been clear from the start?
Sam: King lost a lot of explosiveness after the ACL surgery, and though Rose looks as fast as ever, there still remains the question about his explosiveness at the basket. Of course, no one ever has played like Rose did when he came into the NBA and he was beginning to curtail that game after numerous hard falls, including twice being taken out of the air by Dwight Howard. As for King, he deserves credit for straightening out his life. But he was involved with drugs and assaults with the Nets and Jazz and was playing his way out of the NBA before he came to the Knicks and then had his devastating injury.
If the Hornets are projecting to be better than a bottom 10 team or bottom 8 team next year, would Gar/Pax deal that pick for a bench scorer (i.e. Kyle Lowry/DeRozan (Ujiri loves to stockpile assets) or Isaiah Thomas)? Without a guarantee of the un-protection coming to fruition, does it make sense to deal the pick in the short-term rather than using it as an asset in an unlikely blockbuster?
Sam: Every indication I get is the Bulls intend to use the pick whenever they get it. More so now with the new financial rules and repeater luxury tax, draft picks are more valuable than ever given you can control the player for four or five years at a relatively low salary. Plus, that pick could be very valuable. After all, if you had a top five pick in this draft, would you trade it? The Bobcats pick if it goes to 2016 is unprotected, though, yes it’s 11 or lower this season if the Bulls get it and nine or lower next season. The Bobcats have been a surprise thus far in a relatively weak Eastern Conference. So, yes, the Bulls have a chance of getting the pick this season and two firsts in this draft wouldn’t be too bad.
If enough people write in Stacy King on the all-star ballot...would he be chosen to announce the game?
Sam: It doesn’t exactly work that way, though I’m afraid your suggestion may give Stacey some ideas.
Will Steve Nash get his starting spot back when he comes back from injury?
Sam: Assuming he doesn’t retire.
I think the biggest acquisition the Bulls could pick up is a shooting coach. I don't know who's in charge in that area but they are failing miserably. Why don't the Bulls hire Craig Hodges. He has two facilities one in L.A. and one in Chicago. I think he could really help this team and especially Derrick Rose.
Sam: The Rockets got a shooting coach for Howard. The Lakers had one for Shaq. Sometimes it works. Mark Price helped Rajon Rondo. Sometimes it doesn’t. The Bulls have a lot of assistant coaches, and they all know how to shoot. Craig was a good coach with the Lakers and I hope he can get back in it, though shooting coaches are like hitting coaches in baseball. Many have one, but it’s usually a guy you fire first when things go badly.
Do you see The Bulls bringing back Captain Kirk next year if he is healthy? It seems like he likes it here in Chicago and the team/fans share the same sentiment about him.
Sam: As I answer with all these sorts of questions, personnel decisions will be determined by how the team does this season and the subsequent financial implications, none of which will be clear until June. I believe both sides would like to have Kirk here, but it depends on finances and the finish.
What's your take on the newly petulant Omer Asik? Given that Charlotte was in town and there was no Ben Gordon sighting, it reminded me that these are young men who sometimes tend to over react to perceived slights. Given that Asik will make $20 million between this year and next, does he realize that he might be negating future earnings by whining? Realizing that these guys have a limited career span but still this seems out of character for the big Turk. We've all had someone suddenly dropped over us but this doesn't appear the optimal way of handling it. Did you see this coming from the big guy?
Sam: I’m a bit surprised and not. We’d heard about Asik when he came to the Bulls that he came from a prominent family and isn’t a guy who’d gone through tough times and perhaps not learned how to deal with disappointment. He’s a very likeable guy, but he’s sensitive and often was annoyed about playing time in Chicago and did his share of sulking. He never said anything, and basically hasn’t yet, though his agents now apparently have been vocal, at least privately, with reporters. Though the Rockets haven’t handled this that well suggesting Asik could start and then benching him with zero playing time like it was his fault. And I suspect telling him al sorts of things which didn’t happen. Everyone knew it couldn’t work and they just should have started working on a deal once they got Howard, which they obviously did not.
The rumor earlier in this season is that the Minnesota Timberwolves would trade Kevin Love for Carlos Boozer and Jimmy Butler. Whether or not this is true, would you make this trade?
Sam: I assume you dreamed that. If it was a rumor, I suspect it was on those fantasy message boards and not actually ever discussed since the Timberwolves made it clear they were not discussing trading Love with anyone. Do I have to answer about making it?
Would you trade David Lee for Kenneth Faried?
Sam: It obviously doesn’t work financially given the massive disparity in salaries. But it’s an intriguing concept as the Warriors supposedly would like to move Lee’s $15 million salary and the Nuggets could use some interior scoring. I doubt, however, the Nuggets would want that salary as well. Players with those salaries basically cannot be traded unless you take on worse contracts. And Faried is awfully good.
The Pacers have come out of the gate hot, and that's great for them. However, there is a lot of basketball left to be played, and many things could happen. The biggest variable for that team seems to be Danny Granger. Is there any bigger variable for a team in the NBA this year? With this scorching hot start without Granger, the Pacers have leverage to make him fit into the team. It is impossible to guess how healthy he will be, but assuming he returns at 85% of his previous self, what impact do you think that would make for the team? As an expiring contract, do you think the Pacers could move him?
Sam: You forget about Granger given how well the Pacers have done. Though it doesn’t sound good for Granger being out basically all last season and going out again. It suggests his body can’t handle it as this is a different injury, apparently. He thus has basically no value in trade with that expiring deal and should he return I assume it would be to the bench in a limited role given his physical issues.
It's still a little strange sometimes to see former Bulls players in a different uniform like Nate Robinson, Omer Asik, Kyle Korver, and even Ben Gordon. Some of these players the Bulls just chose not to bring back, but some received much better offers, and we can't necessarily fault them for taking those offers. At the same time, looking at Nate's recent stats in Denver, Asik barely playing behind Howard, and Ben Gordon sitting on the bench for Charlotte would it be fair to say that most of them have not lived up to the higher contracts they found elsewhere? I know a lot of this might be timing and opportunities (sorry, Omer), but are Gar and Pax simply better evaluators of players' value/talent than most and should be applauded for not overpaying? Is there a Bulls' inflation effect where playing for the Bulls, especially since Thibs took over, allows non-superstar players to often perform beyond "the sum of their parts"/talent level? Makes me wonder whether Deng would still be an all-star if he takes a larger contract than the Bulls can offer him somewhere else next year.
Sam: There is something to that being in the right place. I’m sure Ben Gordon would have a better career, but Omer wouldn’t have been a starter behind Noah and not gotten the attention he did last season averaging in double figure rebounds. Obviously, Kyle has done well, but Ronnie Brewer has not. The Bulls have handled the roster well, though I know a lot of fans have trade suggestions they believe the Bulls should be doing. Though most of the issues I get with trades is they generally don’t work as well for the other team. Surprise, surprise. I understand about taking the money, and agents do push players that way given they are paid on commission. Like with Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash in Phoenix, you can end up in a system that fits you. But sometimes you need it to make money elsewhere, like Jeremy Lin did. You can’t blame the players, but the rules do make it more a mercenary system.
I know that you aren't a fan of people coming up with trade ideas, but I came across an article on the former ESPN Truehoop Bulls blog Bulls by the Horns where one of the writers discusses a trade he came up with. The trade was the Bulls send Deng and a pick to the Magic for Afflalo and Nelson. The trade would help Orlando get a pick for the draft and get them an expiring deal for cap space to sign extensions. They'd also be able to get rid of Afflalo and Nelson who aren't in their long term plans. Meanwhile the Bulls would get Afflalo and Nelson to help with the offense.
Sam: I’m obviously not opposed to trade suggestions as I make up my share. But as I’ve written many times, the Bulls have no plans to trade Deng. Or Boozer. Did I mention that? Anyway, I don’t see where this does much for the Magic as Nelson’s deal has a buyout for next season and they already have way too many young players and hardly need yet another draft pick along with theirs, especially one at the bottom of the first round. Plus, they actually have to start paying players as they’re so far under the cap and have to get up to 85 percent. And as Afflalo has played well, they seem to be viewing him as their most valuable “asset” to use in a major deal. Hardly to pick up bad draft picks. Meanwhile, if the Bulls were to take on a long term deal for someone like Afflalo, who is a very good shooting guard but never close to being an All Star, it pretty much locks them in to this roster if the season goes badly.
Deng and Boozer for Al Jefferson and Gordon. Or Boozer and a first for Al Jefferson. The Bulls can move Butler to his true position. Gordon is for only 1 year. He can give a little push off the bench.
Sam: Now that Boozer is playing well and Jefferson can’t play and the Bobcats are playing well without him you want to trade Boozer? Let’s see: Boozer has better career stats than Jefferson; Jefferson has a longer contract than Boozer and would tie up the Bulls for years to come. The Bulls could use amnesty on Boozer and not Jefferson. When Boozer led the Jazz they were a playoff team and went to the conference finals once; when Jefferson led the Jazz they failed to make the playoffs. And take Ben Gordon, too? See, I’m still taking trades. Haven’t gotten too many good ones.
I'm curious as to whether or not you think Marcus Thornton is a viable option for the Bulls. The Kings are reportedly shopping him due to him falling out of favor in Sacramento, and I remember the Bulls having interest in him at one point in time. I think his contract is at $8 million per season and comes off the books at the end of next season, and given the Bulls lack of cap space this might not be possible, but do you think it's a considerable thought? We know he is a scorer and he is capable of starting or coming off the bench, and given Jimmy Butler's recent injury, I think that the lack of depth at shooting guard is something that needs to be addressed.
Sam: Jimmy will return in a few weeks. No time to overreact. Yes, the endless quest for a shooting guard. Last summer most everyone seemed excited about the prospects of Butler as shooting guard after impressive play in the playoffs. So, yes, see if you can get a guy who never has been in a playoff game and makes about four times as much as Jimmy and for another season and basically also complicates the Bulls finances so they’d be limited in doing much of anything next summer and basically never plays for a bad team. There’s an economic concept about the cost of money. It’s basically how much you are willing to pay. Basically all these things that are proposed require losing Gibson, who has been one of the Bulls best defender and low post players, and/or Deng, who is winning games with his shooting and defense and is perhaps the coach’s favorite player. I post the trades that reflect the consensus each week. Deng is better than every player proposed in all these trades. Losing Deng and getting any of these guys would make the Bulls worse this season. Deng overall game with defense, scoring and passing fits the Bulls’ game and the coach better than any of these guys, all of whom could take months to work into the lineup with most, like Jefferson, awful defenders. And Deng is a much better forward than Butler and better able to handle the tall threes because of his size. I’m just assuming I’ve been overrun by rival executives posing as fans trying to sabotage the Bulls.
Michael Jordan told 2K Sports who his all-time 5 would be in a pickup game. It's an interesting list, with the obvious standout to me being James Worthy. I know Mike loves his Tar Heel connections, and my guess is from a pure chemistry standpoint with both Magic and Mike, it's not at all a bad choice. I personally would go Bird over Worthy. What do you think of MJ's list? Though I believe your 5 resembles Dr. J's 5 more than MJ's.
Sam: See, Michael really always has been a softie down deep. Scottie Pippen? James Worthy? Hakeem? I assume Michael named them so he could shoot all the time. We always used to joke as Michael made his annual appeal for Walter Davis that he’d settle for Lennie Rosenbluth, who led North Carolina to an undefeated season in 1957. Dr. J’s team with Russell, Chamberlain, Baylor, West and Oscar probably wins the matchup at every position but maybe shooting guard.