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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 5.08.2015
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 | 5.08.2015 | 2:02 p.m. CT
There's not much to criticize about the Bulls after that great game 1. My only issue was the use of Niko. I understand Thibs limiting his minutes in this series but if he's going to play him don't you think he has to pay more attention to who's on the floor for Cleveland when Niko goes in? He should not be in when Cleveland has 2 bigs on the floor because he cannot bang with Thompson down low. I think Niko would be a huge asset for us on the court when the Cavs go small with the likes of Miller, Marion or Jones at the 4. Any chance Thibs takes notice of this and changes his rotation around? Niko getting 4-5 minutes in the 1st half just to see if he's hot is a great luxury to have, it just needs to be the right matchup.
Sam: It’s another crucible for Thibs. That’s the fun of the playoffs, even if Thibs doesn’t seem to enjoy it as much as we do. I know no one likes being second guessed at their job, but that’s what you buy into with coaching. I could use better words often when I write and resent when I’m told. Not that I’m right; it’s my opinion. The lineups are Thibs’ opinion. He is trying to win the game. No matter what anyone thinks of him he is first about winning. We all disagree on how best to accomplish that, and the views become more acute in the playoffs, especially since most are second guesses after the fact. You can run the best play and get the best shot and if the guy misses someone has a better idea. Like the great Johnny Kerr used to say when he coached the expansion Bulls, “That’s five guys running around with my paycheck.” I’ll disagree with Thibs at times and based on the Cavs’ assisted living bench I’d want to play Mirotic and Snell and I hate that Doug McDermott never got acclimated and included. I’ve watched him in the short media sessions after practice; he’s slimmed down, stronger and the best shooter on the team by far. I routinely see him knock in 25 or 30 threes in a row. But Thibs likes veterans and likes using eight, and, frankly, an eight player playoff rotation is fairly common. Pat Riley liked to say in the playoffs you “played seven, used six and trusted five.” Thibs is hardly unique in that. But if it doesn’t work we know whom to blame. It’s what makes the playoffs so simple.
If necessary, would Cavs consider using hack-a-Noah? I mean what is up with his FTs lately? There's no elevation and he's 2 for the last 20 attempts! He was never a good FT shooter but not this bad. Plus he's always had a knack to make the important ones. His bad knees can't be the reason for this! He's just not the same player overall these days.
Sam: I don’t believe the Cavs will, and, frankly not many coaches do. Their coach, David Blatt, has demeaned the tactic, though I recall him trying it once or twice. It’s become an issue because the best coach with the champion does it. So it gets more attention. I haven’t seen Blatt use it that much and I think it would be a mistake as Noah is a career 72 percent shooter. This is an amazing and shocking run of misses for him, and really bad ones as the ones in this series have not even been close. I’ve asked around a lot and no one seems to have a good answer. Yes, his knees were a problem after surgery, but if they are affecting his free throw shooting they are worse than anyone thinks and he should not even be playing. So I doubt that’s it; he’s surely lost confidence in his offense and his failure to be a threat has hurt the team. Thibodeau as we know is both loyal and stubborn and hates change. It’s probably time for some with Noah, but I don’t expect any.
I'm not saying we played well in Game 2, but there was not a 20 point difference between the teams. They get so many bailout calls it's sickening. We probably would have lost this game anyway because they were on fire from deep, but we could have had a good shot at being under a 10 point deficit starting the fourth. In Game 1 we dominated them, and they were close in the fourth because of all those Kyrie bailouts and made up and-ones, those two Derrick scores that were taken away from him and all the free throws we don't get. This game was the same: double standards on foul calls right from the start and we never got even a slight chance to fight back. Again, Gasol and Rose are two future hall of famers and don't get whistles, Irving had more years in the league than playoff games coming into the series; shouldn't it be Rose and Gasol the ones to get a few bailouts? It's not like the NBA is rigged as people at times say, it's just the way it is against James' teams even if it's not done on purpose. You have to make up for that extra 10 point differential his team gets from officiating. I have faith though, we will be stronger than everything that gets thrown at us and send the Cavs fishing because we're by far the better team if Game 2 was the best they can do.
Sam: Yes, there always is an officiating element in the playoffs. I generally don’t buy it as the aggressor gets the calls; the Bulls were in Game 1, and it was close but the Cavs did get a few more, mostly Irving. The Cavs were in Game 2. What stuck out and made the media was the difference in attempts between Irving and Rose given Rose was not pulling up for threes. I don’t mean to say officials do makeups since they get judged and penalized or rewarded for every call they make or don’t. But they did tend to pay less attention to Rose. I believe they will play more attention Friday and the free throw ratio will change dramatically. The Bulls always heard that same LeBron complaint you have now with Jordan, that they got all the calls. And nobody went to the line more in the playoffs than Michael. LeBron is bigger and stronger and the rules now don’t allow much perimeter contact. LeBron’s calls are legitimate. We’ll see with Rose as he did seem to get ignored.
I know what JR Smith is capable of but I don't think the Bulls need to worry about him so much. Yes, he's dangerous. He can hit 5 three's in a row... very quickly! He can miss that many as well. I'd like to see him jack up long jumpers and watch Kyrie run around in circles all game. I'd be fine with that.
Sam: Welcome back, J.R.? Yes, this series gets better and better. J.R. actually had a mostly calm and controlled season until it was most important to be so. Really, they were upset with the Celtics? J.R.’s playoff history is poor. His career playoff shooting percentage is about 39 percent in 55 games compared with about 43 percent in the regular season. He also averages fewer points career wise in the playoffs. And when he similarly took out Jason Terry in the playoffs and was suspended a few years back he was a mess when he returned putting up some of the worst shots this side of DeAndre Jordan. The theory is he’s important given his floor spacing and shot almost 50 percent on threes against the Bulls this season. But will he blow? Should be intriguing.
I know the MVP voting is pretty subjective. But.... There was one guy that thought James Harden wasn't one of the top five players of the season. Is this for real? Should he be voting next year? Arent there any rules to prevent this kind of voting? It sounds kind of ludicrous. And [by the way], there was 7 guys who thought LeBron wasn't in the top-5 this year. I know LeBron is the best player and maybe, just maybe we can find 5 guys with a better season. Then again, not sure I can. Curry, Harden, Westbrook, Paul and Davis maybe? I don't really think so. And I'm one of those "LeBron's haters." But c'mon... 5 guys better than LeBron this season? With all the changes and the emotional season in Cleveland? How can the league change the MVP voting so it will be better suited? And btw, do you think the players should be the ones voting? Guess that would be even worse?
Sam: The players with their new hateful union chief are going to do their own voting and that should be interesting since most players really don’t want to vote—they won’t reveal their votes like the media does for fear of offending their friends—and will likely be guided more by bias because they know these guys personally better than the media. None of us in the media really care if we vote or not. There’s no pay for it and no real honor other than someone calling you an idiot, Plus, many news organizations in the really stupid hypocrisy—like the New York Times—do not allow their reporters to vote for awards in the theoretical journalistic notion they cannot have opinions or else it would color the view of their objectivity. And we all know New York Times reporters have no opinions. And, hey, I read that newspaper. Anyway, the media basically never gets this wrong. Sure, there are some wildcat votes at times, but it never really changes the outcome. The right guy wins basically every year; Curry was the right guy for the season he and his team had. That’s what the award is about. It’s not a best player in the league award; it’s a snapshot of 82 games. Curry for those 82 was better than anyone, in part, because his team was as well. It is about winning, after all.
Do you think Adam Silver will take action against the [Cleveland] organization for the awful video depicting domestic violence at their game? It's not funny. When an executive gets caught saying something racist, in private, they get exiled, but showing a woman get bodyslammed and humiliated to a packed house gets a pass? The Rocket's media guy got canned for a lot less.
Sam: Firing that kid was sad and pathetic. Shame on them. It was sad. A job does mean something in economics, personal image, self confidence. That’s a reckless penalty for someone trying to, it seemed to me, do what was asked. Our society, meanwhile, has gotten much too caught up in punishing and humiliating people and trying to take away their livelihoods for mistakes, a practice of revenge and retribution for insults. Whatever happened to sticks and stones? The Cavs apologized; it’s obvious they didn’t mean it literally and were embarrassed the message was taken that way. So they obviously were naïve and oblivious. But in no way were they trying to make less of the issue. Does everyone need someone else to suffer to feel better about themselves? I feel like society in this social media world has gotten obsessed with punishment and vengeance, a world wide public police trying to punish as many people as we can for their mistakes of conscience, if not illegal acts and improprieties. We already put way too many people in prison for petty reasons, strangling our own system and costing us billions. Aren’t we supposed to be about forgiveness and rehabilitation? Murder, OK. I understand severe punishment for that as well as the imposition of minutes limits.
I was reading Adrian Woj's column and was shocked to see that he claims Thibs departure is imminent. And that the management already had a substitute in Fred Hoiberg. He didn't quote anyone, actually. But the way he wrote, it seemed like he is pretty sure. I thought that maybe something was already set.
Sam: That you were shocked reading it maybe was the bigger story as that’s been about the 15th version of that written or discussed this season with Jeff Van Gundy delving into it on a few national TV broadcasts. But Adrian is an influential NBA columnist and when he writes something it becomes a subject of discussion, understandably. The only thing I do know is nothing has happened and nothing is going on; at least not for the last three months. I’ve addressed this various times during the season and believe now what I wrote three months ago, that the playoffs will determine fate as they did for Scott Brooks and probably Monty Williams as well. Teams make judgments after the playoffs every season on their coach and personnel. Players get fired as well. I strongly believe there has been no judgment made one way or the other. And ask yourself: If the Bulls get to the Finals or win the title do you believe they are firing the coach? So maybe it’s not imminent. This goes back to two issues. One was Van Gundy’s comments condemning Bulls management a few times on national TV. I doubt Thibodeau put Van Gundy up to it. But given Van Gundy is something of a verbal loose cannon with weekly rants from the ridiculous to the ridiculous, which seemingly has helped his popularity well beyond any level he had as a coach, it got a lot of attention. And, after all, you can’t blame Bulls management. If you are enduring personal attacks from the best friend of your coach on national TV whom are you going to suspect? The larger issue was the minutes and playing restrictions management put on players all season. Thibodeau disagreed, pointing out the Bulls title teams didn’t do that, and I basically agreed with him. I believe you should play. All these guys taking off games all season, especially in national TV venues, was an embarrassment to them and the league. Thibodeau felt it was limiting his ability to coach. But we both were wrong. Management was right. I was the one among Thibs and I to acknowledge that. For the first time in four years the Bulls come into the playoffs healthy and, amazingly, perhaps the healthiest team of all. It was sort of, ‘We tried it your way and it didn’t work.’ Not your fault but now we are trying it our way. That doesn’t seem unreasonable. But it was contrary to his coaching philosophy. Management proved right given how the players have come to the most important time as good as they can possibly be. Thibodeau will eventually be fired; the Bulls have fired better coaches. So has every team. NBA coaches get fired. There is no pension; that’s what the $4 million average salaries are for. I don’t know when that will be, but players eventually wear of the same voice. It will happen to Thibodeau as well and it will be OK because these are not lifetime jobs. Good luck having one anywhere these days, actually. As for Hoiberg, he recently had open heart surgery. So I doubt he’s coming to the NBA to coach anytime soon. The only thing I do know is nothing has happened or been decided yet. By either side. Events usually determine that.
If the Bulls beat the Cavs and make it to the next round, which team from the other series would be the better matchup for the Bulls? Hawks or Wiz?
Sam: Still want me to answer that?
Congrats to Jimmy on his Most Improved Award – well deserved. Thibodeau and Bulls Management have been together since 2010-11 Season – through that time:
2010-11 - Coach of the Year – Tom Thibodeau
2010-11 - MVP – Derrick Rose
2010-11 – Executive of the Year – Gar Forman (John Paxon)
2013-14 - Defensive Player of the Year – Joakim Noah
2014-15 – Most Improved Player – Jimmy Butler
2014-15 Rookie of the Year – Nicola Mirotic (2nd)
All Stars – Rose (2), Deng (2), Noah (2), Gasol (1), Butler (1)
All NBA First team – Rose (10-11), Noah (13-14)
All Defensive Teams – Noah (3 times), Luol Deng (once), Jimmy Butler (once)
Add Luol Deng – Citizenship Award - 13/14 (Cavs) & Kyle Korver (Sportsmanship Award – 14-15 (Hawks).I’m not saying that all the noise around Thibs future at the Bulls is rubbish (I have no idea how that will play out), but adding Thibs 255-139 record that the above awards looks like a coach and management team that has shown success on all levels for an organisation.
Sam: Great teams eventually break up, the ’98 Bulls, the 2011 Mavericks. You do your best, as both sides have, and you should then have nothing to apologize for. Parting is part of life; it will come to everyone eventually. Geez, that’s a sad note to end on.
We were having this debate in my office. Who would win in a 3 point contest if it happened today – John Paxson or Lebron James? I’m guessing Pax still has his shot and could take down Lebron.
Sam: OK, one more. I’d say time to get back to work as whatever goes on at your office has to be more productive.