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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 6.19.2015
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 | 6.19.2015 | 8:11 a.m. CT
What do you think about Gasol playing euroball this summer? I think it is a bad idea. I know he had a career year, but lets be honest he looked worn down in the playoffs and I don't think adding more mileage is going to help the bulls. I don't think he is a good fit for what Hoiberg is going to implement, especially if its going to be a similar offensive system to the warriors. He played a ton of minutes. If we were to entertain a trade for Gasol what teams do you think might be interested. I think Minnesota might be interested to bring in some experience to the front court. I'm hearing the bulls are very interested in their Euro stash Nemanja Bjelica. How about Pau Gasol for the 31st pick + rights to Nemanja Bjelica.
Sam: I don’t see the summer play as a problem and actually believe it’s helpful. After all, most of the USA players from last summer had good seasons and Curry and Thompson had extra long seasons and succeeded. Pau is good at pacing himself and knowing what he can do. Plus as a veteran he’ll be able to play a role in how much he plays and how. Guys end up working out in the summer and I believe playing is always better. So as a result why trade him? I believe he will be a good fit. No offense to the Warriors, but everything broke their way, especially regarding their ability to win without big guys. I don’t believe this is the end of the NBA center. Pau’s still a valuable scoring big man with an excellent pick and pop game that can be utilized well with a faster, open court game. The Bulls never used that trailing big man as shooter much because they were walking it up too much. That should change and you need size to combat size. No offense to the Serbian guy, but wasn’t he on the team the US beat by about 40 for the gold medal last summer and dominated on the boards as well? As long as Joakim Noah is uncertain with physical issues, Pau remains one of the more important players on the team.
Do you think McDermott, Snell or anyone else from last season's Bulls roster will play on the summer league team this year?
Sam: McDermott, obviously, given he’s still a rookie except in the eyes of the NBA. I think Bairstow also will play for the summer league team given his similar lack of playing time last season. I’m looking for McDermott to become sort of the Bull Durham of Vegas as one of the alltime summer league scorers with his second season. Remember, Crash was the alltime minor league home run leader.
It took one of the best teams in NBA history (statistically speaking) to take down a Cavs’ team that was without 3 starters (if you include Varejao). First of all, I no longer feel so badly about the way the Bulls lost to them. But I’m trying to figure out how the Bulls – or anyone else in the East – are going to beat this team in the playoffs over the next several years if they get those guys back and stay healthy. Aside from injuries, do you realistically think the Bulls will be able to get past the Cavs prior to LeBron turning 35?
Sam: The Bulls may not, but you don’t stop trying. After all, before the season began how many had the Warriors rolling through the West to win the title? It’s a team that had a great season; I don’t see them as a great team. Curry was terrific and a league MVP. But they played without much size with a roster of mostly role players; credit them for their commitment, unselfish play and determination and a blueprint for everyone. After all, if a team with a second round pick and a guy who the previous coach would barely play started and played major roles isn’t there hope elsewhere? The Cavs are better than the Bulls. I thought they were when the season began even before their trades, which don’t look so great now. They’ll improve their bench by offloading the guys who couldn’t play, like Marion, Miller, Jones, Perkins and Haywood. They’ll get back Varejao and have Irving and I believe Love, the latter probably for one more season. But they’ll have issues with that depth since LeBron clearly is more comfortable with Thompson than Love. Irving and Love substantially weaken their defense. I believe the Bulls will be a lot better because as I often wrote last season Thibodeau kept trying to force a defensive game on new players whose strengths were offense. It showed most in the playoffs when the Bulls basically played two awful series and still had a chance to beat the at least depleted Cavs. The Cavs appropriately will be the favorites. And maybe no one beats LeBron in the conference like no one beat Jordan. But the Knicks and Pacers had them in seventh games, the latter a jump ball perhaps away from a win. Irving has a history of injury; Love has a history of pouting; who knows when they might want or need another coach? Dellavedova appears to have lost his super powers. And they’re still in Cleveland, and we know what that means. I’d show up if I were the Bulls. Who knows what might happen.
I've heard and read this and friends of mine in other cities have witnessed it too (regarding the Marc Stein ESPN story about LeBron being critical and dismissive of his coach). I know you like Lebron, but I think he's acted like a jerk to Blatt- a guy who is well liked and very respected. This isn't just Lebron being peevish with Spoelstra. Lebron hurt himself and his team all year with this.
Sam: Well, it didn’t take long for the LeBron bashing to begin. Only a week after he had passed Jordan for best ever. We sort of dealt with this during the Bulls series when James announced he’d changed the play for that last shot in Game 4. He was mostly condemned for the candor, though we did establish this sort of thing of telling a coach to change a play, checking yourself in and having a flash of anger during games is not unusual. We saw some of this with James when he first came to Miami and challenged Spoelstra that first month. Pat Riley interceded, noted LeBron had a four-year deal and the implication was to sort of stuff it. So we probably all should have known LeBron was leaving at the end of that contract. The guy likes to be in charge and despite his demurring, I think he loved running everything in the Finals and the chance to win with such a depleted group. Until he didn’t. Anyway, no such sacrifice of power and authority with the Cavs. LeBron’s in charge and they are fine with that. It’s the Damn Yankees/Faustian legend of selling your soul to the devil sort of thing for the earthly pleasures, which include a chance to win a championship, finally. You basically have your dreams, but there’s a price to pay. Perhaps LeBron is the devil. Well, he is powerful and he does seem to possess at least magical basketball powers. LeBron also always has seemed like someone—perhaps exposed to success and acclaim so soon in life, yes we are all not only witnesses but co conspirators—who likes to test people and circumstances to establish his dominance, sort of a cat marking his space. LeBron’s space is now the Cavs as they’ve made it pretty clear from the trade for Love to additions of dead wood like Mike Miller and James Jones that they’ll do whatever they can to accommodate LeBron. Actually, most will in sports. No one basically turns down a star no matter the price. The Bulls were ready to as well. There are these sorts of prices to pay in varying degrees with many sports (and entertainment, business and political, heck check your office) figures. But there’s an ambivalence here which to me suggests Blatt will be back as coach. If you run out the coach and put in your guy (named Tyronn Lue) then it’s on you if things don’t work. The Cavs obviously got pretty close and we much overvalue the contributions of coaches because the TV broadcasters are basically all former coaches promoting the genius of coaches to enhance their own brands and because the coaches are the only ones routinely available to the media and do interviews two or three times a day whereas LeBron, who is one of the more accessible players in the NBA, might do one a day and skip some days when only the coach meets with media. This is an interesting journalism question sort of story, also, since it comes from access given exclusively to the TV networks out of the ordinary realm of media watching and basically only because the TV network is in partnership with the NBA for broadcasting and paid for that access. Was it supposed to be off the record? There were no players quoted. I have no doubt about the credibility of Stein, one of the better NBA reporters. But it was observation based on an exclusive situation provided to ESPN as a broadcast partner paying for the rights. Is that checkbook journalism where you buy a story? They are good journalism school questions to debate and consider and ones that can go either way. I know these sorts of player/coach things happen more often than are mentioned because while they are perhaps not routine they also are not unusual given the emotional nature of the game and the level of competition embraced by fans and media. Don’t they always want players who are emotional? LeBron probably doesn’t like his boss. That’s not unusual in any business. But it would be difficult to suggest he hasn’t worked hard and given everything he has to his job. And that because of that not only is the team better, but by what he’s done and the way he’s behaved they got as far as anyone could suggest their talent enabled them to go. That really should be enough.
How surprised are you at this Wojnarowski article stating that Butler is most likely looking for a short term deal to capitalize on this cap increase? Sure it's his right, but wow I'm very surprised at the risk he's taking....especially considering he has had a first row seat to seeing D Rose's issue. Anyways, this could be better for us. I would rather get Butler on a cheaper short term deal than go full long term. It's becoming evidently clear his main focus is the most money possible, hanging out with stars in Europe etc...Very surprising. All I hope is that Gar/Pax and Reinsdorf learn from their mistake of not buying players when they are cheap. The leap he took was tremendous, but still.
Sam: I guess we shouldn’t be surprised after last fall when Butler turned down what’s generally been reported to be $11 million annually. For a guy with nothing and the familiar story of being on the streets and sort of homeless as a teenager. Jimmy got a lot of credit for the “bet on himself” thing, though as I wrote then being conservative financially I would have taken the deal. I always believe in take your first deal, become rich for life and then who cares. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I’m not a professional athlete. Jimmy competed for a bigger deal and won. This time it’s a $90 some million contract over five years, and the Bulls have made it pretty clear they’ll offer him that the first day of free agency. But I have heard these rumblings for a few months now that Jimmy’s position from last fall of “Bulls only” has changed and he’d like to play the field some, get recruited. I have no problem with that. That’s what players fought for in free agency when for years teams and owners kept down their salaries and rights. They earned and deserve the chance to assess their value to their satisfaction and if Jimmy wants to do that he should. Everyone should support that right. Since Jimmy is a restricted free agent the Bulls can match any offer. The Yahoo story stated Jimmy might seek a two-year offer sheet with a third year opt out to get back into free agency in 2018 when the salary cap goes to close to $100 million from the current $63 million and $67 million next season. Top players can get a percentage of the cap. So obviously the larger the cap the larger the percentage. Jimmy could play next season for his option of less than $3 million and then become unrestricted next summer and then sign with anyone with the Bulls having no match rights. That’s certainly a risk for Butler to have no big money and risk injury yet another year. While Jimmy is an All-Star, he’s not Derrick Rose or Kevin Durant and not getting a big contract with a major injury. There is a clause in the collective bargaining agreement which would enable the Bulls to present Butler a maximum offer, and then that could wash out his chance to sign an offer sheet with a second year out and instead have to wait until the third year and free agency in 2019. So in effect the Bulls can guarantee Butler stays with them at least three years with an opt out at that time. I’m guessing they probably do that. The down side to that would be whether it makes Butler mad as his agent wants the two year out. So then Butler could if he were to pout sign just the one year qualifying offer, takes the risk of one season, play cautiously next season with “injury” days off and then sign elsewhere. That doesn’t sound like him as he likes Chicago and the Bulls. I suspect much of this is posturing and negotiating and assessing the options. Besides the risk of injury, if Butler were to play next season on the qualifying offer at less than $3 million, he’d be giving up a big starting salary on a new deal of maybe $15 million and then it would take him a few years on a new deal before he begins to make that up. It’s tough for all of us to understand the difference between $90 million and maybe $175 million for a guy who wears cowboy boots and jeans. But that’s been the story in sports for years. It’s not about financial security. It’s measuring your value versus your opponents and another form of competition that has enabled these few guys to achieve the heights they have when others of equal talent have not. If I were the Bulls I’m with you and would prefer the shorter deal. Not many long term deals work out well. Plus, this Bulls group could be in for a big revamp in two years with the contracts of Rose, Gibson and Gasol expiring then. So a short term deal might not be bad for the team, either, though I suspect the Bulls intend to offer as much as they are allowed and then it’s up to Butler.
Having smaller players (6'9 or under) who can shoot and spread the floor, such as Golden State playing "positionless" basketball; Less and less big players want to play / develop post skills and focusing more on mid to outside shooting How will this impact the talent landscape and international competition? Especially considering that in the last world level competition we (US) won with only Davis and Faried as the reliable bigs.
Sam: It’s not a new idea. Teams have experimented at times trying to get five 6-8 players to be able to improve defense by switching all the pick and rolls. The Hawks tried a decade ago. But it’s always tough to find the big Magic Johnson type point guard. Don Nelson experimented with this notion at times putting smaller players on big players to try to lure teams away from their strengths, like the Warriors did with small guys on Mozgov. There’s a lot of copying in sports: See what wins and see if you can do that. There has been an evolution in part because of rules changes that have made it tougher on centers and the AAU system and the changes in high school where kids are not limited to a geographical district and can decide where they play. So kids pretty much end up dictating to the coach what position they want to play, which isn’t center taking that pounding but shooting the ball outside. So seven footer Kevin Durant becomes a perimeter player instead of a center. Thus there are fewer big men to play inside and that is combined with the European game, which for a long time has featured shooting big men. Still, if you find a top big man, like there appears to be in this draft, they’ll play and you’ll play around them. Then when you win everyone will be trying to find a big man. Credit to Golden State for doing what teams say they will do but often don’t, which is playing to your strength, putting your five best talents on the floor no matter the position and putting players in position to succeed. That led to the win. Not so much the size. It just so happened they were smaller players and got a few breaks, like significant injuries in the Memphis, Houston and Cleveland series. But you can only play who is in front of you. It’s about winning; not who was there. The Warriors are deserving champions if not quite all time greats despite the record.
Can they stop this BS that LBJ should get the MVP even if the warriors win. It's disgusting and should go to a player from the winning team.
Sam: I probably would have been OK with a LeBron MVP in a close seventh game, but it’s a fairly ridiculous vote in six games with the last three basically double digit losses except for a late Game 6 rally after the outcome was basically decided. Frankly, I was shocked Iguodala was named MVP. I recall an audible gasp. And more so that Curry didn’t even get one vote. I thought Curry was obviously the Finals MVP. Iguodala was terrific, and at times during the series I noted the flaw in the Warriors was that Iguodala was the team’s second best player. He was the best defender against LeBron, who frankly had a historically poor shooting series at about 39 percent. Often the statistics of the great players of the late 50s and early 60s are overlooked because of poor shooting numbers, the notion there were higher scores and more opportunities. No one ever mentions Elgin Baylor, but when the Lakers lost in the Finals in 1962 he averaged 38.6 points and 17.7 rebounds in the playoffs in two rounds and shot 47 percent. I know we love to crown the greatest the last thing we saw, but there have been some great Finals performances for many years. Oscar Robertson didn’t get to a Finals trying to get through seven Hall of Famers with the Boston Celtics until late in his career. But in his first 26 playoff games he averaged about 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. The fist time Wilt went to the Finals in 1964, he averaged 34.7 points and 25.2 rebounds in those playoffs while shooting 54 percent. Ah, but I digress. The Cavs schemed only for Curry. The trapped him off every pick and roll and made him make the plays, which he did for wide open shooters like Iguodala. Curry had the big fourth quarters when the Warriors climbed back into the series after trailing 2-1. Curry had all the pressure on him to perform of being MVP and LeBron obviously upset about that, the secret motivation we didn’t hear much about after Game 3. I liked the symbolism of Iguodala as MVP, unselfish role player reflecting the team. But Curry was the star, the reason the Warriors won and most deserving.
I'd love to read your thoughts about what the Bulls are likely to do with their #22 pick in the draft. It's hard to see anyone picked that late getting playing time when you already have Niko, Tony Snell and Doug McDermott needing more minutes, and if I remember correctly, you've previously stated late picks like this have no real trade value. I'm also curious why Notre Dame standout Pat Connaughton is getting left off so many mock drafts, even in the second round. He seems to have a decent shot and plays hard nose defense, kind of reminiscent of the young Jerry Sloan. Is he just too slow?
Sam: I’ll start writing about the draft Sunday and basically every day with a mock draft Thursday on draft day. It should as you suspect be a pretty uneventful Bulls draft, if very intriguing NBA draft because of the top picks. With McDermott essentially a rookie part 2 and needing to see what they have in Tony Snell and using Nikola Mirotic more the Bulls have plenty of young guys to work into the lineup. I’ll start guessing on a pick next week as it’s pretty much a guess for the Bulls as well based on who falls. They make their list and generally go next best player on the list. I don’t think they’ll look to position that much as you try to get a rotation player in the 20s no matter what position. They’ve done well with those picks without targeting a position that much. The biggest so called need is probably a point guard or big man. But you don’t find centers that low; perhaps the Bulls go for a point guard they can develop. That’s my guess if I have to make one, though it didn’t work with Marcus Teague as you don’t get a chance to develop. So you try for the best player. As for the Notre Dame guy, I like him and might take a chance late in the first as it’s a weak shooting guard draft. Most gms I talk to have him slated in the second round because of size and overall skill, but they did with Kyle Korver as well and he turned out pretty good. You’ll find a lot of guys who never made first round mock drafts starting in the NBA. And now with teams looking for more cheaper players to fill out their benches, being a second rounder might get you a chance as I also expect E’twaun Moore to return to the Bulls for next season.
When I heard Jim Boylen was joining Hoiberg's staff, I thought at first they were talking about former assistant coach Jim Boylan. Now that I realize it's a different person, I am wondering how he is. Coming from Pop's system, I'm sure he'll be good. I also see Adrian Griffin is joining Orlando. Is that because he believes that will be his best shot at becoming a head coach? For that matter, why is Boylen leaving the Spurs? Just trying to figure out why assistant coaches leave one team for another assistant coaching job.
Sam: Maybe he’s a big hockey fan. I don’t know Boylen, but he has a good reputation and credentials and obviously is getting a greater role with the Bulls than he had with the Spurs, who have been going through something of a staff reorganization with several staffers moving to other jobs. Plus, I’m guessing he was told he’s not the successor when Pop does leave. This job should give him the sort of exposure Thibodeau had in Boston and perhaps enable him to move up to a head job like Thibodeau did and Steve Clifford with expanded assistant jobs. Griffin is close with Scott Skiles and not as close with Hoiberg, so he’ll have a more prominent place in Orlando, and thus that move made sense for him. And Jim Boylan remains in Cleveland, where LeBron I’m told is demanding he change the spelling of his last name to match Boylen’s. And change his underwear four times every day. And to make sure LeBron knows he’s doing so to begin wearing his underwear on the outside.