Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 12.27.2013
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I don't understand why everyone is so doom and gloom on the Bulls future. I think we are in a good place. Should the Bulls amnesty Boozer and let Luol Deng go via free agency, as it stands our starting lineup next season would be Noah, Taj, Butler, Snell, Rose. I think that's a pretty good starting lineup go into the offseason. The Bulls most likely because of a weak Eastern Conference will have two first round draft picks and a second rounder in this year’s draft and are positioning themselves to bring over the best European player next summer. If D.J. Augustin continues to play the way he has for the remainder of the season then I definitely would like the Bulls to sign him to a long term deal to be Derrick Rose's backup. The Bulls have been great in its drafting. Adding a couple of centers via the draft to fill out the bench and I think the Bulls will be fine.
Sam: The end of the world gets more attention than the sun coming up in the east. I’m not counting out either Deng or Boozer as yet as much changes between now and July in the NBA. And I’m not convinced Charlotte hangs in there for that second first rounder as yet. But the issues are that much of the fan base, amazingly enough, has decided that Rose is no longer viable. That’s a huge misjudgment in my view, but fans do often prefer the end of the world scenarios when it gets cloudy. It’s led to this “blow it up” hysteria, which, fortunately, management does not embrace. You’d think having gone through that in the early 2000s fans would not want to try that again. No one is. The Bulls still have a good core with Noah, Boozer or Gibson, Butler or Deng, perhaps Dunleavy, Hinrich or/and Augustin and possibly cap room for a free agent or exceptions to use. We always saw next summer as a time of change no matter how the Bulls did this season. It still will be, but there won’t be a climb from the bottom.
So I have been watching around the league lately and, maybe it's just me, but the Miami Heat just don't look as tough as they have been over the past couple of years or so. On the other end, the Bulls have had a rough stretch but they seem to be putting it together the past couple of games now that they are getting guys back. So I'm wondering, is there any, and I mean any chance that the Bulls, if they can hold it together like this for an entire season, could knock off Miami or Indiana in the playoffs? Kind of how the Knicks did in 1999 as the eighth seed going to the finals? Tom Thibodeau was on that staff too so he knows how to do it. Ironically, that Knicks team actually beat both Miami and Indiana on their way to the finals. Even more ironic is the fact that Miami was the 1 seed that year and Indiana was the 2 seed, which is how it is shaping up this year with maybe them switching spots. What do you think?
Sam: That would show those “blow it up” guys, eh? It hardly seems likely, though not if you ask Thibodeau. And that’s why he’s such a good coach. He’s not into conventional wisdom. That was a lockout season in which the top teams you mention weren’t that strong with the Pacers beginning a rebuild and the Heat and Magic not top teams to come. They don’t compare with Miami now given none had the league’s best player or anyone in the top five in the major statistical categories of points, rebounds and assists. Plus, the Knicks were a good team with injuries and their players returning later that season. But stuff happens in sports. Derrick Rose being hurt changed everything for the Bulls. You hold together and you can get into the playoffs and LeBron James or Paul George gets hurt. I recall one playoffs the Lakers 11-0 going into the Finals and then Magic and Byron Scott were injured and they lost four straight to Detroit. I recall an early 80’s season when two sub-.500 teams played one another in the Western Conference finals. So you had a 40-42 Houston team in the Finals. I won’t predict it. But if you hold together—and you have an advantage in the Eastern Conference this season with only two teams considered high level—you can get to the playoffs and have a chance. Of course, getting in remains the issue for now.
Do you think the Bulls have found their future backup point guard in D.J. Augustin? I think he has played very well, a much better option than Teague at this point.
Sam: I think that was the hope in signing Augustin and thus far, anyway, it’s worked out better than anyone could have imagined. You’ll recall Hinrich is a free agent and though I am personally confident Derrick Rose will return at a high level, you definitely are going to be carrying at least two backups for a while. I’m not giving up on Teague as yet. He has an option for next season the Bulls picked up and I’d like to see him in the D-League since he really hasn’t had much chance to play regularly. He should now and some players have come back much better after being in the D-League. It’s something he clearly needs now to regain his confidence.
I was watching Nets vs Bulls and I was wondering why Jimmy Butler doesn't do any flashy dunks. It wasn't just last night, I have seen him before like vs the Knicks on the two steals on Melo. Do u know why he doesn't do any double clutches, windmills on the fast break because I seen him doing some sick dunks in practice and was even rumored to be in dunk contest last year. If I was 6'8 with a 40 inch vertical I would be doing between the legs in traffic.
Sam: Because he knows the baskets count the same. I accept basketball is entertainment, which it is and should be, and that many fans and not just the highlight TV shows enjoy theatrical dunks. Though it’s often not responsible basketball. I happen to have a higher regard for Blake Griffin than many NBA people. But I think part of his negative reputation is his concentration on highlight dunks over learning the game. Same with Dwight Howard. It’s fine when you are LeBron James and are also such a sound, fundamental player and good teammate. It’s also why you stay away from the Nick Young and J.R. Smith showoffs as they rarely enhance a team. Griffin still needs to demonstrate he can. The Spurs average one lob dunk a season as a team. And no one has a better record the last two decades. Jimmy is a smart player who understands the game is first about winning before individual recognition. It’s one of the reasons the Bulls have been such a good team under Thibodeau.
Since it's so hard to trade for a first round pick, how about if the bulls went the opposite way? What could the bulls get for their two first-round picks if they want to trade them right now? Is there any combination along with Deng that could net them a player in between an All-Star and franchise player?
Sam: The Bulls basically have a long standing policy of not trading No. 1 draft picks and rarely do. I think if they were to in this draft that would upset their fan base even more. Anyway, you don’t get stars for future draft picks, even in this draft. That’s what the Suns apparently have been up to with all those No. 1’s and rumors of trading some and basically being laughed at as they supposedly seek out guys like Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge. One of the recent times I recall a team trading a high lottery pick, the Wizards got Mike Miller and Randy Foye. Because the draft remains so uncertain you rarely can get star talent for draft picks. And the Bulls likely don’t have high lottery picks with their potential picks. Plus, Deng likely remains off the table, as the Bulls often have indicated, since as a free agent there’s really no market, anyway.
Remember how at the beginning of the 13-14 season how the East was destined to be great, and how teams like Brooklyn, Detroit, and Cleveland were supposed to rise? What happened to them, and how come the Eastern Conference is struggling?
Sam: It’s why sports is so great: You never know. Well, Derrick Rose got hurt, Brook Lopez got hurt after Deron Williams came back and Tyson Chandler has been hurt. The East was supposed to be top heavy with only four teams. The Heat and Pacers still are there and may be the two best teams in the league. The Heat is dominant over the Western Conference. The Bulls and Nets were the ones supposed to be in there, and injuries have mostly set them back. Teams like the Pistons, Wizards and Raptors are coming on about as expected.
I've also been meaning to pose the possibility that the difference between the eastern and western conferences might not be that great... after the top two or three teams in the west come a lot of teams with mediocre personnel. They play faster and have some advantages in inter-conference play, but those advantages disappear at playoff time when the game goes to half court. My feeling is, the league is quickly reaching universal mediocrity, which was the goal of the new cap agreement. The NFL is already there. I guess it's good if you like close games, but if you like great basketball I think it hurts.
Sam: First about that East/West talk and eliminating divisions and conferences and all that whining from Western teams if only they were in the East. Same as Atlanta and Milwaukee and Philadelphia being regularly knocked out early in the playoff with gaudy records in the 80’s and 90’s while even sub-.500 teams in the West got into the conference finals. I recall sub-.500 Rockets, Kings and Supersonics teams in the conference finals and a Denver team so overmatched its coach said he expected to be swept. It will change and there’s no reason to change East/West, which basically always has been done for travel and economic reasons and will continue to be. Charter planes do not travel faster than commercial planes, anyway. To your point, yes, the East has won five of the last 10 titles and is favored again. You play to your personnel. Western teams, and for a long time, have played faster. But the fastest team ever may have been the dynasty Celtics in the East. As you look around there are a limited number of true stars and at this point the East has more injured ones.
If I told you in June 2010 that Boozer would be the healthiest Bull for four years what would you say to me??
Sam: Uh oh.
Any chance Clippers would move Griffin? I'm guessing no for marketing reasons etc but from a basketball standpoint Melo could make them a more legit title contender. I know in past u have said Knicks won't trade Melo but if he makes it clear he wants out they should at least consider it. Clippers throw in Dudley too to match salaries. Griffin would create buzz for Knicks who aren't going anywhere as they're currently constructed anyway.
Sam: Griffin is an interesting name because I think it would be possible despite his profile and now that Doc Rivers is doing personnel. Doc knows what it takes to win and while, as I’ve written, I’m higher on Griffin than others I’m not sure Rivers believes he’s a good enough No. 2 guy. He may not be, which is the issue as it’s tough to have a third such highly paid guy. The problem from a Clippers standpoint is they feel they are small already and even now feel they are a big man short. They obviously score enough, fifth in the NBA, and the opt out is another issue as there is no guarantee Anthony would stay with them, anyway. I think Rivers could persuade Donald Sterling if it’s in the interest of winning. Could you win with such a small lineup? Seems questionable as they’re already not a good rebounding team. But it is something that could come up.
If Michael Beasley can get a second, third and fourth chance in the NBA, and seems to have grown up finally, will Tyrus Thomas get a third? Thomas doesn't have Beasley's offcourt baggage either. My perception is that Thomas is undisciplined and doesn't take coaching well. I watched him and Ben Gordon work out before Bulls' games, and Gordon had a precise routine, while Thomas seemed to be screwing around. Both were out there early, but only Gordon was sweating. Did you see the same out of Thomas?
Sam: What struck me more about Tyrus, somewhat like Eddy Curry through Eddy was a much better person, is that Tyrus never seemed to like basketball. He seemed to me more as a guy who played because it was lucrative but rather would have been doing anything else. So I suspect with his payoff from Charlotte he’s glad to sit out. But at some point he’ll most likely want to return because he’s out of stuff to do or money and someone will take a chance. He’s never much had the character to be a helpful player other than perhaps in a fantasy league sense. I’d stay away from him unless I were a title team like Miami that has the character and foundation in place that you either have to buy in or get out fast.
In your last mailbag you said "There is a season to be played and you owe it to the game to play it." What does that exactly mean? Look, I understand that tanking is not in the spirit of a game. But I am a die-hard bulls fan and I only care what is best for the Bulls, not the NBA this season. Truthfully, as long as Butler, Noah, Snell etc were still developing, I would prefer to lose every possible game and get the number one pick. Yes, that is selfish, but wouldn't the top pick (or the top chance at top pick) be a whole lot better for franchise down the road then "fighting hard" this year and finishing with the 10th pick. There is no point in being like the Bucks who finish just outside the playoffs most years, especially when one special player from this draft could make a difference for us. Therefore, trading Deng even for a second round pick gets us something (I know very little value), increases our chances of losing game this year, and most importantly gets us under the cap. Besides the mindset of tanking is wrong, wouldn't it be better to get the higher draft pick if its clear we cant make playoffs? Thanks!
Sam: I happened to notice you were from Washington, D.C., so I can understand your lack of a moral core or values about sport and the culture. Obviously it's easier to throw a season since you also don't spend any money going to games. Many people do; it still is entertainment, like a Broadway show, and you owe the customers a viable product and not only understudies to save money or attract a better show next year. There's morality to sports as well. Yes, there is gamesmanship to enhance your chances of winning. But trading your players for nothing to guarantee losing strikes me as ethically and morally wrong. I feel once you head down a path like that you lose the meaning and understanding of sport and then become little more than a corrupt politician trying to enhance his personal situation at the expense of the greater good. Leagues don’t operate in a vacuum. You need other teams to play or it isn’t a league. Sure, there are teams that trade their top players to begin a rebuilding, like the Suns, 76ers and Celtics have done. Of course, the Bulls did try that once in 1998 and it didn’t work out all that well. It is a strategy and I understand. So how does that differ? Because you are not looking to, in effect, throw games. You put this Bulls team together based on high character and with a high character coach. Because things have not gone as expected or hoped you cannot ask them to lose or put them in position to give up. That to me marks you as a franchise not so much willing to do anything to win but which cannot be trusted. Trading Deng for a second round pick or something less hardly equates with being an 8th place team. The Bulls have a core of players and draft picks and options with salary cap relief going forward that should keep them in contention. Also, I’d hate to be the 19-year-old coming into the NBA on whom the team has rested its hopes so much so that it was willing to be labeled a quitter and possible congressional candidate.
About the Bulls. I love their fight. Love it. They know they're outmanned most nights, yet they're bringing their all. But I'm sensing, as the injuries keep piling up, that their intensity may start to wane. I sure hope it doesn't. I love this team, same as I loved last year's. I'm going to support them no matter what. They deserve better. I want the rest of the city to rally around these guys. Don't give up on them. I look at this as an incredible opportunity for one guy - Taj Gibson. I've noticed his focus tends to fluctuate, particularly when he doesn't get touches on the offensive end. Plus he's been slightly turnover prone in the post. But I believe he needs to start demanding the ball in the post. He's our best post option, and there's a very real chance he'll be the starting 4 next season. If I'm Thibs, I'm going to be riding him like crazy. Also, about Booz, do you think the constant amnesty talk has gotten to him a bit?
Sam: I don’t think that will occur based on whom they have. Gibson’s a good example. No matter the losses of late he’s been nothing but surprised and certain it will change. Perhaps if they were to lose 20 straight, but you never are going to do that under Thibodeau. Thibodeau is right about something in the NBA: Every game is winnable. The Bulls get more than their share because they are so good with preparation and play so hard. Management has brought in high character players for a reason. It’s a big reason why they led the league in wins with overall talent you could question for two years before Rose was hurt. It’s also why trading off someone like Deng or Noah for nothing, as some ludicrously suggest, isn’t going to lead to some monstrous losing streak. These guys will continue to compete as you saw Christmas Day. They’re always going to win their share because of who they are. Gibson is a good example. I thought Boozer had a setback of late, but I think he’s come on again. I assume he’s bothered by the amnesty talk, as anyone might be. But there’s been all sorts of rumors about every player. He’s still averaging about 15 and 9 and screaming “and one” when he goes to the basket. This Bulls team is going to play, and that’s a tribute to them and something fans should be proud of and embrace. Do you quit trying at your job because you company is losing money? If you give up it’s one you and makes you a loser. And these guys have too much pride for that.
What would you point out on the Bulls old reserves or the "bench mob" and what made them succeed more than the bench of the last two seasons?
Sam: Having Derrick Rose as a starter. Because then they could remain reserves and pretty much no matter what they did Rose could come back in and save the game and they’d look a lot better after having won. Without Rose the last two seasons, reserves had to become starters, which then makes your bench the third level guys who basically previously were laughing at Brian Scalabrine’s jokes.
If the Magic are buying Hedo Turkoglu out by Jan 7th, could the Bulls be interested in signing him a min offer?
Sam: I think they’re probably going after Benoit Benjamin first.