Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls

Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 2.26.2016

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 | 2.26.2016 | 1:30 p.m.

Do bulls have a chance at Joe Johnson? Seems like the veteran wing they desperately need in the playoffs. Please tell me they're trying.

--Mark Bakr

Sam: It’s that time of year, and you can see what happened with Anderson Varejao that it’s unlikely we’ll see Joe Johnson, except perhaps April 9 when the Cavs play here. Varejao, of course, went to the Warriors. If you are giving up money—the word was Johnson gave up $3 million—you do so to have the best chance at being in the Finals.

That not only nets you more money back with playoff share, but gives you the best chance to be on a title team, share in a ring ceremony and profit off it later. Which is why the speculation is Johnson will end up with the Cavaliers or maybe just better weather after being in Brooklyn. Though the history of these buyouts is very little impact, if any, it skews much unfairly to the best teams. I suspect the NBA will/or should look into changing that someway to level the playing field.

The only one I recall having an effect was P.J. Brown with the Celtics in 2008 and that mostly was a big shot or two in the Finals. Otherwise, a player in Johnson’s situation might go where he is familiar, which means back to Atlanta—after all, he did choose the Hawks over the Bulls in 2010 free agency—or maybe to chase a starting job. That’s possible for the Bulls with Jimmy Butler out, but if Butler is out it lessens the team’s chances of making the playoffs, and that obviously makes it look less attractive to someone like Johnson.

Players in Johnson’s situation generally look for the best chance to be guaranteed a relatively long playoff run as an audition for their next contract. So if that were you, would you select the Bulls given the widespread injuries? Thunder? Spurs? Miami? Buddies with Wade? Maybe Jimmy should introduce him to Wahlberg. Johnson probably could help even if he is an isolation, ball holding player going on 35 who isn’t as much interested in defending as he once was. But I’m not sure what the Bulls could sell him that would be better at this point than a half dozen other teams.


When the Bulls won their last title in '97-98, there were about 30,000 threes attempted in the league that season. These days that number exceeds 50,000 and seems to be climbing. Do you think this makes for more or less entertaining basketball?

--Dan Michler

Sam: It certainly makes you have to find three-point shooters. Like when Miami played the Warriors the other day and basically outplayed them all game but lost because the Warriors’ shots counted more. Fans seem entertained by that sort of shooting, and Stephen Curry’s pregame drills even have become spectator sport, so it would be hard to argue it’s not an entertaining game.

I have no problem as I believe in evolution unlike many of our national leaders. The game has evolved to this, so this is the game we have now. At one time, there was a lot of complaining about basketball because it was said to favor mostly the mutant, the seven footer who could dominate inside. In a sense, the transition to the shooting game makes the game more egalitarian in that if you can learn to shoot you can have an effect.

It’s a reason why Curry is so popular as well. He doesn’t look much different from many, or that many can see themselves doing what he does. You couldn’t imagine yourself doing what Jordan did. But Curry; yeah, I can do that. I’ve occasionally heard discussion over the years about how to make the game more accessible to more. Like why can’t someone like Jeremy Lin play a bigger role? The emphasis on three-point shooting is one way that aids in that realm; it considers other than size or speed or grace, though without those things it’s still difficult to play in the NBA. Guys like Steve Novak and Jason Kapono are great shooters, but they’ve been too weak defensively or slow to earn a regular NBA spot. So the things that always have made a difference, like height, speed and strength, still matter. But the three-point shooting has added a terrific element to the game that further opens it up and enables a player like Curry to be a star, a star I doubt he would have been in the NBA of the 1980s.

He likely could have been a minor star like Mark Price, the smallish, great shooting, sneaky fast guard with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Price was an All-Star, brilliant with the ball, a great passer and pick and roll player. But he could not dominate like Curry has. And when he tried to, Rick Mahorn - in an unfortunate incident with those Bad Boy Pistons the NBA came to regret empowering - knocked him out and nothing much happened. That probably wasn’t best for the game, and the NBA came to realize that and made changes. It’s why many old timers don’t want to get into declaring the Warriors and Curry greatest ever. But they play the way the game is now and deserve their acclaim. You can only perform under the current circumstances; not against ghosts. Fans seem to very much enjoy what they are doing. But you better find some three-point shooters.


Last night I noticed how the Bulls offense flow so much better as Gasol playing Point Center. It reminded me how the offense went thru Noah MVP type year. Perhaps that's what Hoiberg should start doing as it's clear that playing too much isolation with Rose or Butler is hurting this team which is why their offense tend to go flat at times?

--Tom Choi

Sam: Oh, you mean the guy who a week ago most of my correspondents were demanding be traded, cut or released and the future of the team was trash if he remained? That point center? The guy who played through the flu in the win and now is the rock and man of heart of the franchise?

Just joking, as I know all the greatest, most momentous decisions are pretty much made based on what happened yesterday. Unfortunately in government and business as well. Ratings down! Fire them! Call a consultant! I’ve lobbied all season to let this group have a last or penultimate run at it and am pleased it ended up that way. Unfortunately, Butler and Mirotic are hurt, and the hope is at least one returns sometime this season. And I frankly don’t see a lot of better options than Gasol for a transition toward where the franchise may be going. Yes, if you could have traded Gasol for a high draft pick or front line big man. But short of that as that obviously wasn’t the case, what’s the hurry to be rid of a double/double machine who has more big offensive games in a month that any Bulls center since Gilmore basically had each season?

OK, Noah had a few good months, too. I don’t see why the Bulls shouldn’t bring back Gasol (or Noah) for next season as they aren’t in position after this season to make major alterations with the Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler contracts and little value for other players given injuries and sub standard performances. After the 2016-17 season, that changes and with more time to see some players and contracts expiring, the team could be in position to select a new direction. They really aren’t this summer as you can’t be on a sustained run for almost a decade and then in one season completely change that. Obviously, the run hasn’t turned out as hoped because of Rose’s injuries.

But that happens. Look at Portland with Bill Walton. They should have had six or seven titles. Or the Knicks with Bernard King. Or Portland with Greg Oden. Remember him? Pau plays out there a lot as he’s more a pick and pop player with good passing skills; not the defender Noah is, but far better offensively with the things Hoiberg likes to do. All you hear even as bad as the Lakers are is Kobe Bryant talking about how much he begged Gasol to stay and how badly the team suffered without him. The Bulls larger issue after the season, I think, would be persuading Gasol to sign on again, at least short term. Because a lot of teams who are serious about winning likely would be interested in Pau Gasol. Why if they are would you not want to be? Even if I never get out of high school English after writing that sentence. Which I almost didn’t, which is a digression for another time.


What do you say? Should we get ready to see Dougie Fresh in 2017 Dunking Contest?

--Bambi Choy

Sam: At least I’m not getting the bust questions this week. Again, it’s the combination of out short memory society and too many people having access to me. But where would this feature be without them? And then the rest of you back home thankful you don’t know people like that. Doug’s not Ray Allen, but he can shoot. I remember John Paxson always explaining to me back in the 80s how it’s difficult to average 20 points on four shots a game. Fans would always blame Paxson for averaging eight points when Jordan was averaging 30 and say he needed help. And Paxson would patiently—OK, John was not that patient—explain he’s not getting the damn ball!

And so neither has Doug. Part of that was Thibodeau didn’t put him in the games last season, so when he did get it, the shots wouldn’t count from the bench. So now he started over with a coach who emphasized three-point shooting, though often alongside teammates who likes to dribble a lot on their own and others who didn’t always notice he was standing alone in the corner. Though on some of those possessions Doug was able to finish reading his fan mail so he wouldn’t completely be wasting his time. So then when he got the ball realizing he may not see it again he’d go twisting into the lane on some fruitless expedition that proved futile.

As painful as all this is, it does take time, especially when there are so many injuries and rotation changes. As I’ve often pointed out with teams like the Spurs and now the Warriors, the core of players are together four, five years in the same spots and then you understand passing and movement better as you add role players. This is Hoiberg’s first months, and but—yes, excuse, excuse, excuse—guys have to work in. You don’t give up on guys like McDermott because he has that pure shooting stroke and you can’t find many like that, and it’s even more important in today’s game. Doug tries hard enough to be satisfactory on defense. You get a player like him you better hold onto him. And now the dunking, too!


I'm seeing fans starting to say trade Butler now because Rose has come on, when before it was trade Rose. Go figure. The question I have is has Jimmy Butler's attitude effected the locker room earlier in the season and has he really been reluctant to buy into the system? I understand it's new to him being the guy etc etc...but has it effected the team? The offense has been much better without him, someone needs to step up and tell him to stop disrespecting the team (if he is intentionally or not) and play for the team not himself.

--Mario Persico

Sam: Well, after Rose didn’t play Wednesday the sentiment mostly has been to trade them both. That would be an unfair characterization of Jimmy. I don’t believe he sees being selfish as his road to success. But consider where he came from as a marginal scorer to his position with the team and subsequent demands. How he got there, yes, was his defense and relentless play, but also thanks to all the isolation plays Thibodeau drew up for him.

What changed so much last season is in Thibodeau’s differences with management over minutes restrictions, which Tom hardly hid. Tom decided and it’s understandable from his viewpoint that if I’m limited with other players I’ll go with the players I can count on the most. So he basically dictated the huge bulk of the offense to and through Butler. Jimmy never asked him to. But it clearly changed Jimmy’s arc as a scorer in the league that few imagined. When you have success and now with Jimmy being asked to take a greater role as management paid him a maximum contract, which also comes with it the unstated demand to take charge more, how else should you proceed than not only how you’ve proceeded but in the way you’ve had the most success.

And Jimmy has had some major games to pull out vital wins for the team, like against Toronto and the 76ers. So it’s not about sabotaging the team for personal aggrandizement. He’s been paid. He knows the only step to future success is team success. But it becomes a process of melding everyone together. And as Rose comes on with his facial fracture healing, Jimmy goes out with a knee injury. It’s tough to develop that harmony and chemistry without a sustained stretch of becoming accustomed to one another and those around them. Though the Bulls should be able to get a decent package of draft picks for Jimmy and Derrick if the fans tend to prefer Portis and Holiday carrying the load for awhile.


Unlike the others, I'm actually excited for Justin Holiday. I think he has a lot of potential. Can shoot the 3ball, defend, and he's athletic too. I hope Hoiberg uses him. I know Moore has really been playing well but I'm curious how Holiday plays along side Derrick Rose.

--Josiah Regencia

Sam: Like Fred said, first shot a three, “I like that thinking.” He certainly looks like a player worth a look, as it were. From first glance it looked like he’d play hard and get on the boards, that he tried hard and had more shooting ability than he’s shown. He’s looked better than a lot of the guys who’ve come in during similar situations. Not a future starter, but maybe a guy who could catch on. They could have done worse.


I saw that Byron Scott is finally going to start Russell and Randle for the rest of the year. He's taken some shots in the news for not having done so already and "stunting their development".

Let's be frank. If kids still did 3-4 years in the NCAA they'd still be coming off the bench. Perhaps is good for them to experience the humility of having to be underclassmen. Not to embarrass them or degrade them. But seniority matters and you'll always need to keep proving yourself no matter what job you work in. At this point in their lives I doubt those kids have had a chance to learn those lessons well enough. They're only around 20 after all. Plus LA will probably get to keep their pick.

--Wesley Davis

Sam: I’m with you. We’ve always loved to project the future with kids coming into sports, but it’s become worse in the NBA because of the players’ union. Why the players continue to accept their leadership costing current members jobs by promoting early entry into the NBA I’ll never understand. It’s an embarrassment for the players. Kids just aren’t ready, and the 76ers and Timberwolves situations are great examples. Towns with Minnesota is going to be amazing; they can’t win 20 games now with some other pretty good players. You’d love to have guys like Okafor and Noel. And then you are four years away from winning 30 games.

The Bulls had this with Curry and Chandler. Tyson became a star; Eddy may have been if not for being exposed to the pros too soon. Still, he averaged 20 points in an NBA season. There’s no hurry with kids, and it sets back teams to have too many because you don’t learn about if they can play until they are closing in on getting a new contract. Then what do you do? Scott has been getting beaten up in L.A. over this, obviously, though he understands it will help the kids in the long run. Of course, it probably will also cost him his job. Tough business.


Can six more teams beat GSW the rest of the season?

--Matthew Mikulice

Sam: I don’t see it. They have that edge the Bulls did in those years in which they like to win, they think they will win and it’s more fun to win than lose. They play eight of nine at home after this road trip and then the games at the end of the season against the Spurs won’t matter as seeding will be decided and the Spurs won’t play half their team. Too bad as they set up as some of the best regular season games and we’ll never see them. But then we’ll all get to say we’ll never see a season like that again as we did 20 years ago. Good I got that 20th anniversary greatest ever story in.


How much does Bobby Portis remind you of Amar'e Stoudemire? He's athletic, big frame, good shooting stroke and can dunk like crazy. I'm waiting for the day Hoiberg runs a ton of pick and roll with Portis.

--Jason Kuang

Sam: Actually, he doesn’t at all because he’s not nearly as athletic. There’s a difference between athletic and athletic. Guys like Stoudemire and Shawn Kemp some years before exploded off the floor. Portis doesn’t do that. He’s athletic enough, but that won’t be his strength. He’s still fundamentally poor with box outs, shot selection and all the things kids don’t know coming out of college after a year or two. He tries, he cares and he has a nice shooting touch. Which will make him a good player. No Amar’e Stoudemire.


Rose. Oh my goodness. I saw him nailing midrange shots yesterday. Look out below, rest of the league. I wonder how many people out there understand what he's doing? Now that he's got the body that he's going to live with for a while he's re-calibrating. He still drives with the same old authority, he just doesn't get the lift he used to. So, he's getting used to working the tree a little harder. I'd add here that's what every basketball player ever has dealt with. Rose was never going to come back to be what he was not because he's gotbum wheels but because no one has ever been the same player at 27 one was at 22. Without pharmaceutical assistance that is.

All said, if he comes back in the fall with a step back he's going to be hell to defend. Rose doesn't any longer jump like Westbrook so posting up won't work as well every time, but I think that he's faster in space so he warps the defense when he gets close to the rim, which creates space for a guy like Portis or Noah for that matter. Plus Rose has become really slippery 10 feet into the basket. He's not just a guided missile at
this point. If Rose's health stabilizes they can have a really great team with him as the offensive focus but for different reasons than five years ago. I believe he will continue to develop his jumper and if that gets to where it's reliable 15 feet in, he's going to be pretty durned amazing if he gets all the way onto the same page with certain of his teammates.

--Pete Zievers

Sam: Derrick, we know, has been an easy punching bag for too long now because of essentially coming down to “how dare he be hurt.” I like how he’s handled this season because he’s not taking unnecessary risks. If he were with San Antonio, fans would be applauding him missing games, though it’s similar. It’s not about this season’s playoffs, though that is a part as well. How does it make sense for a player with three knee surgeries to play through physical warning signs in February and risk not playing in April? Of course, if you don’t play maybe you don’t get there; I understand that. But Rose did play through enough of them to get three major knee surgeries. And though he’d never say it, he probably goes back and wonders about playing that fateful day in April in 2012 when he had missed 17 of the last 22 regular season games with a series of lower body injuries. But we always look back on bad moments with a what if? OK, everyone does and you can’t predict what will occur if it never had happened before and you had played through things.

Remember, Rose missed six games among his first 246 regular season games. And everyone knows you play through plenty of aches in regular seasons. But if you experienced it and something happened, you’d be nuts to ignore it and say it won’t occur again. And worse to listen to outsiders whose only interest in you may be their personal fulfillment or concomitant jealousies. Which is why I believe the biggest issue facing the franchise is Rose going forward. It seems clear he continues to build, he’s a top player, his speed and motion drives the offense, he’s going to get better with a season behind him—he is on pace to play 69 games and I’d take that next season as well—and he is developing the feel for teammates like McDermott.

Then next season the Bulls will have to make a decision on their future and Rose’s, and so will he. Which is why this process for the Bulls is less what occurs this summer than what occurs next season. You’re not getting a player with Rose’s talent in free agency, and going onto free agency would require releasing both Gasol and Noah. C’mon, I like him, too, but you don’t want to see Felicio starting with Portis all season. Though the 76ers would welcome it as a chance to get out of 30th place.


You don't seem to be of the demographic that listens to the rapper Drake, but I'm sure you know at least a little about him. Recently, Drake released an album with rapper Future. The only solo song by Drake in that album is called 30 for 30 freestyle. When I was listening to it last week, I felt like he was possibly making reference to Jimmy Butler's rise. He has been known to shout out players like Stephen curry in his song 0-100, but these lyrics seem more subtle because they don't mention names. Anyways, this may seem silly to ask but do you think Drake is making a reference to Jimmy Butler's rise?

Rookie season, I would've never thought this was coming

They knees give out and they passing to you all of a sudden

Now you the one getting buckets

They put their arm around you, now you becoming the crutches

Kids got on your number cause you the one they look up to

--Adam Chin

Sam: I’m frankly pleased to be in some demographic. I noticed Butler was to appear at a party when the team got to Atlanta Thursday night and it was said to be ludicrous. And I thought that was unfair that someone would condemn Jimmy like that for being ludicrous with his own time. After all, it’s not ludicrous to enjoy a nice evening out, especially given he’s not playing at this point and is trying to stick with his team. What? Ludacris with a capital L? That’s someone’s name?


At least I assume all the people shouting "Off with their heads!" about the current administration at 1 Madhouse on Madison are Trump voters. Inchoate anger seems to be the only reason one would be upset with the Bulls as an organization over the past 12 or 13 years. I've just finished watching Kobe Bryant's last turn as an NBA player here in Chicago, which is the reason I find myself writing. In Bryant's 20 year career 8 teams have won a Championship. Let's count only from the post-Jordan Bulls era.

Seven teams.

Four teams only won once (Pistons, Celtics, Mavericks, and Warriors - a team I wouldn't assume is done).

In the last 17 years the Spurs and Lakers have each won 5 chips. The Heat have won three. The others go to the single championship teams.

Look at how great the four teams are that only won one trophy!

Only the Mavericks didn't have at least two future hall of famers. That Pistons team had so many guys just short that I'm giving them a second regardless. Celtics had three HOF guys. Point is this. The Bulls have been an absolute pleasure to watch since the 2003-04 season, for various reasons. We got to watch the Bulls grow starting with the Hinrich pick. We had that first great run of picks: Kirk, Gordon, Deng, even Duhon. Nocioni. A slow building with ups and downs. A couple down years that ended up leading to Derrick Rose. Good signings of vets Ben Wallace, Pau Gasol. Not to mention Antonio Davis, Kurt Thomas, Nazr, etc.

We got Noah at 9. Taj at 26. Jimmy at 30! There were even a couple second round picks that were still in the NBA after 5 or ten years. We didn't get lucky enough to draft Tim Duncan or Kobe Bryant or Shaq or Kevin Garnett, or any of the other guys who have recently played in the NBA who are top 20-30 all time players. Lebron James has been our recompense for getting to enjoy MJ destroying everyone for a decade.

We've been very lucky. We've had a team that mattered in March and April and May for a decade. We've gotten to watch great players develop in Bulls uniforms. We've gotten to see guys like Thabo Sefolosha go on to quality careers and major social impact. Or James Johnson coming back to show that you have to keep working.

We didn't get to be the Spurs. Even the Spurs and their fans know how lucky they are to be the greatest team since Jordan stalked the court. We got to be the Bulls, and their fans. And what a pleasure. It's been a year of up and down. We march into March with a likely playoff berth. We might be the third best team in the East. We might beat everybody on the way to the finals. We'll probably lose before that.

When I get the letter asking me to shell out 3% or more of my annual income to keep my 1/8 share of four seats in 2016-2017, I'll have made sure the money is in the savings account, because it's a great joy to watch these millionaires work for their billionaire bosses and to hope that we get to follow a team with a player who speaks as eloquently as Joakim Noah about the guy selling newspapers, or the guy up in the nosebleeds, my nosebleeds. Because we hope to get a guy like Captain Kirk, who comes from the dusty cornfields of Iowa and just wants to keep coming back to our sides. Because we are lucky enough to come from a place that produces a Derrick Rose, and an E'tuan Moore, and that nurtures and maintains a Scottie Pippen or a Toni Kukoc 20 years later. (Or Bill Wennington or Stacey King.)

Some people only see that we traded LaMarcus Aldridge for Tyrus Thomas. Some people think that Ted Cruz is too cozy with the Washington elite. Some people think that paying to get in the building gives them the right to heckle the guy who shows up every day to work, whether at a game or at keeping their house warm, their water clean, their streets safe.

Some people.

--Chris Metzger

Sam: I know; as Seinfeld famously said, “People, they’re the worst.”

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