Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 6.30.2016
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 | 6.30.2016 | 4:00 p.m.
You hear some of the bigger free agent names coming up and who they have granted interviews with. Do you have any idea of who the Bulls could be looking at ?. They seem to be good in all the positions (Body Wise) except Center. Don’t think Bismarck Biyombo is signing here?
Sam: Well, the Bulls just traded for a starting NBA center and I doubt they’re about to use just about all their cap room on a backup center and pay him close to the $17.5 million Jimmy Butler makes, which is about what you hear regarding Biyombo. Yes, what! I don’t expect the Bulls, based on what management has been saying the last week or so, to be that much involved at all in free agency. And I actually think that’s a good thing for now. They’ve talked about this being a process, that the 2017 free agency class looks stronger and the uncertainty of the market this summer with almost every team under the cap thanks to the new TV contract and what we have considered just decent players—like Biyombo—suddenly being paid what max stars were a season or two ago. The teams have to pay the salaries to meet a minimum cap of more than $80 million based on the 50/50 revenue deal. If the money is coming in, half has to go out in salaries. But given the trade of Rose and seemingly based on comments and the trade for Lopez the likelihood Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah would leave in free agency, the Bulls are in for a reset or retool or adjustment. Whatever you may call it, free agents generally aren’t going to teams in those circumstances. Plus, it didn’t sound like the Bulls in this situation wanted to spend long term money that could limit them next summer at a better time. So I think it should be a quiet week.
Plus, the Bulls expected roster, even though no one is talking title, looks pretty filled for now. Consider:
Point Guard: Jose Calderon, Spencer Dinwiddie;
Shooting Guard: Jimmy Butler, Denzel Valentine, Jerian Grant, E’Twaun Moore, (possible as own free agent);
Small Forward: Mike Dunleavy, Doug McDermott, Tony Snell, Paul Zipser;
Power Forward: Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis;
Center: Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio
That’s 15 players with free agent Moore.
Here’s the other part of this: It’s seems a limited impact free agent class after LeBron, who is staying, and Durant, who has scheduled his interviews with New York, Chicago and Los Angeles (Lakers) not on the list. Consider that after those two, the top unrestricted free agents are basically career supporting or barely above players, like Al Horford, Mike Conley, Hassan Whiteside, Dwight Howard after surgeries, Nicholas Batum, Chandler Parsons, DeMar DeRozan (who seems like he wants to stay in Toronto) and oldsters like Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade. Certainly, you could improve with Horford, Conley, Batum, Howard or Whiteside, but you’d likely have to commit well over $20 million annually and would they be better than Jimmy Butler, who makes less money. You don’t want your best player not your highest paid so quickly. And change the arc of your team? Especially as those free agents are players around 30 years old who aren’t getting better and hardly seem a fit for a team going through a talent sea change. Maybe you don’t get a great star in free agency. But shouldn’t that be what you are trying to do?
I really like one aspect of the "retooling" of the Bulls. It is my good guess that this year's team will be more of a team. This year's formulation, due to the presence of young players and now the addition of new players, should be much more "coachable." Hoiberg's first year is finally over and he should be able to take command of his team. if everyone buys in...and there is no reason to think they won't after last year's disappointing season...the Bulls could be a fun team to watch. Of course, the question remains, will they be any good? I do have a question for you. Where do you think these guys will end up? And, who, if any, will the Bulls go after? Durant? Gasol? Whiteside? Noah? Afflalo? Barnes?
Also, almost a year ago I said that this would be Snell's breakout year coming up. I'm just reminding you now so I can brag about my prediction at the end of the year.
Sam: Fun to watch would be better after last season, I’d say. Of course, despite my projected roster above, things still could change. And the Bulls could venture into free agency as, after all, it is Chicago and despite this notion of failing on free agents, it’s basically not true. No, they didn’t get LeBron or Carmelo, but no one else did but LeBron’s buddy and Anthony always was staying right there. They didn’t get anyone in the big 2000-2003 free agency grab because the team was a mess with high schoolers. Even with the departures of Rose, et al depending, there’s more continuity and core and an All-Star player now. The veteran back then was Fred Hoiberg. Sorry, buddy. Carlos Boozer was sought after in 2010 as an All-Star averaging a double/double, the Bulls lured Pau Gasol when the Spurs, Knicks and Thunder were chasing him. Free agents will come, but it may not be the time to compete for free agents given you’re at a disadvantage now with turnover and probably would have to way overpay. And then you potentially make yourself less attractive for next summer. There are many seasons to come.
As far as the other free agents—and these are all guesses as opposed to quoting informed sources or team officials who are guessing—I think Durant stays another season in Oklahoma City as close as they were and with the addition of Oladipo. Plus, if Durant were to go to Golden State no matter how unfair it is he’d always be labeled as hooking on to win a title since they won without him and were also a minute away. Everything I hear about him is he wants to help bring a title somewhere and have a large initial role. I think Pau is more attractive to the Knicks than Noah given Pau’s close relationship with Phil Jackson and experience with Phil and running the triangle offense. Plus, New York has a better opera than either San Antonio or Oklahoma City, though Pau probably wants another title shot. That’s why the Spurs has come up with the possible Duncan retirement. Maybe the Clippers, though, as they also chased him previously. I’m stumped about Noah given several years of health issues (though I believe he’s fine now) and his inability to shoot or finish. I can see him in a later wave of free agents in late July or into August when teams have to spend and perhaps with a big one or two-year deal to prove himself. Brooklyn, for old time sake? Atlanta to play with college teammate Al Horford again if he returns? Miami if they lose Whiteside? I think Whiteside moves on as Miami doesn’t have Bird right after the steal they made getting him out of the D-league. I can see the Lakers with a young team taking a shot at Whiteside. Maybe the Mavericks as they’re always looking to make a hit. There will be many and I see him as a Jerry Maguire Show me the Money guy. And, frankly, I couldn’t blame him after playing overseas and in the D-league.
But I’d beware if I were the team and tying myself to him for big money for a long time. I’ve heard the Warriors if they can’t lure Durant have interest in Nicholas Batum. But as to me he’s not that much better than Barnes. I wouldn’t break up that amazing chemistry. After all, they were about a minute away from a back to back. If I can’t get a superstar, then I’m sticking with what I have. I’ve always liked Afflalo as an efficient scorer and defender, but now he’s into his 30s, about to maybe go to a sixth team. He’s a good addition for a team that’s close, perhaps the Clippers if they let go free agent Jamal Crawford. But Afflalo should draw nice interest in the second or third wave of signings. He doesn’t make sense unless you are close now given his age and recent physical issues. As for Tony, I guess you missed it last season. The Bulls sure could use that breakout coming up. And by the way, you didn’t ask about Greg Monroe, who is not a free agent, but seems to me also a big name on the move given the talk from Milwaukee all last season. He makes $17 million and probably will opt out after this season, so not a huge risk. My guess is the Bucks don’t ask much as he’ll be appealing as teams need to get to that cap minimum and likely would gladly give up a No. 1 pick.
At the time of the draft, one of the circulating rumors was that the 76ers were willing to trade Noel, Covington, #24 (Luwawu) and #26 (Korkmaz) for a pick in the top 8. No one made that trade. The 76ers did not get a backcourt veteran. Butler was rumored to be worth more than a top 8 pick. I am concerned that there may be some fallout from Butler being available for trade. Here are my questions - Do you think there will be any fallout? Do you think there is still a chance that Butler will be traded? I read some pretty positive reviews of Luwawu and Korkmaz, do you think the Bulls would have any interest in trading Butler for Noel, Luwawu and Korkmaz? The Bulls would definitely be younger, longer and more athletic.
Sam: I expect Jimmy to be with the Bulls this season. Even though I didn’t expect the Bulls to be able to trade Rose, I always felt if they made a major move it would be one or the other. So it was one, and the other should remain. I don’t see anything occurring regarding Butler this season. I don’t believe the Bulls had any interest in the 76ers’ stuff, except perhaps the No. 1 pick. I believe what the Bulls were saying was that they took calls and discussed Butler, as they should. After all, as they’ve suggested, who exactly is irreplaceable if you can’t make the top eight in the Eastern Conference? Rose having one season left on his huge deal and his injury history was not going to bring back a potential star. Trading Jimmy would have realized more because of his longer contract and better health history and him becoming the team’s top scorer and lone All-Star and Olympian. That’s big stuff. But you’d better get a potential star and more because, after all, here’s an All-Star/Olympian. No one apparently offered that, so the Bulls were right to hang onto Butler. I still held out hope Jimmy and Derrick would work together after being humbled last season, but I’m such a sentimentalist. As I’ve noted, that group had its run and proved itself not able to continue given missing the playoffs. They without specifically saying so told management that they were done. So anything at that point was possible. Now they begin to build back up, and thankfully not from the bottom. Sorry, but that’s all spare parts with the 76ers.
With the Rose trade, I'm back on board as a Bulls' fan. Full throttle ahead! It's funny to me though that the "experts" are predicting the Bulls to struggle with the departure of Gasol and Rose. One radio predicted 23 wins. As far as I'm concerned, the Bulls have gotten better. Lopez is not the scorer that Gasol is but he's efficient and a much better defender. Grant can't do any worse than Rose did last year (ranked 44th amongst point guards in player efficiency and 81st amongst point guards in real plus minus). Plus the Bulls were 9-2 without Rose last year. Mirotic and McDermott will pick up the slack when it comes to the scoring and defensively the team will be more stout with Grant at point guard and Lopez at center. I can't see this team being worse than last year's 42-40 and they will definitely be more fun to watch. Assuming that the roster is similar in November to what it is now, how many games do you see them winning?
Sam: Look, it’s conceivable the Bulls could be a surprise with the potential versatility and depth since a coordinated team approach—assuming defensive excellence, or at least commitment—can help a team be more than the sum of its parts. But the concern is understandable given you are replacing veteran players with, essentially, rookies in Valentine and Grant and youngsters in primary roles like McDermott, Mirotic and Portis. I know it’s been fashionable to dismiss Rose and Gasol given the analytics, but Rose essentially played the first two months with double vision. His numbers from midseason were far better. And Gasol had little help once Noah went out and ended up pacing himself often. But that’s two of your top three scorers, and now the defenses shift to Butler without any essential veteran help or players who appear like they’d warrant double teams. It’s why analytics often are misleading in basketball compared with baseball. Because basketball depends so much on the movement of other players in relation to one player, something that cannot be quantified. I agree, the environment may improve without the sturm and drang of the Butler/Rose issues. Plus, Gasol heading to free agency and before being hurt Noah similarly without his starting position and Butler’s comments regarding Hoiberg created turmoil, emotion and conflict that was difficult to overcome. Can harmony translate to success? It’s happened, and the Bulls surely hope. Though here’s the other side? Are the Bulls better off being that 42-40 team, which wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs? Or one for one season with better odds in what is considered a much stronger draft in 2017?
I guess we are in a new era now. I think everybody are really exaggerating the bulls demise. The bulls are pretty deep up front. If they could re-sign E'twaun Moore I think we would have some decent depth. I think the bulls are in a pretty good place if some of the young players take a step forward. Both Taj and Nikola are in contract years so you know they are going to want to play their best basketball to earn a bigger paycheck in 2017. Automatically our starting front court defense is much improved with the swap of Lopez for Gasol. Bobby Portis is going to bring that energy off the bench with Mirotic. Felicio showed down the stretch that he is much more than meets the eye. I think with Grants length and athleticism him and Butler can create one the best defensive backcourts in the NBA. With Calderon, Moore, and Mirotic off the bench they have enough veteran leadership that I think we are going to be much better than people think.
Sam: So like I was saying, good or bad? I’m not a tank guy, either in the NBA or militarily. The Bulls really cannot tank, anyway, given they have Butler, who is too good to be that bad, and a solid defensive center with Lopez. Look, Jimmy remains a top NBA two-way player. I’d actually love a competitive team to at least take a shot at the playoffs and be in the hunt rather than watching 50 or 60 losses. Clearly, none of us has any idea given, first, we don’t truly know yet the roster makeup and you are putting together at least a half dozen new players with a coach who struggled last season trying to adjust to veterans and now is being asked to adjust to development and kids. I am interested in seeing, which is something.
Now the Bulls are back to one all-star which is reminiscent of when the Bulls had Ben Gordon. At the end of the game it was always down to Gordon creating a shot, often an off-balance jump shot that may or may not go in. Jimmy Buckets and his cast mates will play hard and be in games down to the wire. Then it will be time to turn it to Jimmy with a last shot gasp. The new addition, Denzel Valentine, reminds me of Kirk Hinrich. Bulls fans will love him. Solid, high floor-low ceiling player. It feels like this franchise is headed towards Mediocre Limbo. The Bulls need a lightning bolt? Where does such a thing come from in the NBA if not a high lottery selection? To complicate matters, I hate tanking.
Sam: The tanking debate, I expect, will begin before too long: What’s the point of playing for eight? Blow it up, next year is supposed to be a great draft, you’re not that far from the bottom, trade Jimmy before it’s too late and then you’re into the top three of the draft. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Maybe the Kings do improve and you get two picks. It rarely works. Witness the 76ers, et al. Even the Jazz post Deron Williams still can’t make the playoffs with all those picks and now are still trying to get to eight. Not top four. The draft is too much luck in this era as it seems that player is there about once every 10 years. The Bulls method now seems reasonable with better draft and free agency classes next year, more clarity on spending and a chance to weed out what you have and whom to move forward with. That can always be painful along the way, though not as fatal as 76ers or Bulls early 2000s.
In your mailbag everyone is wondering if Jimmy is going to slide over to play sf this year. I want to see him play pg as he stated he thinks he is. As Rose sat for general soreness in the last games jimmy proved he could get in the lane and distribute. He had a triple double or two i remember. Why not play him there? Since hes not the best shooter wouldnt it make sense to give him the ball and have three shooters and a tristan thompson type playing alongside him?
Sam: I see the concept, but I think Jimmy is better running ahead than bringing up the ball. If they are going to finally give Hoiberg’s style a shot, they need to throw ahead, push the ball, move it. Jimmy is their strongest finisher at the basket and best at getting to the line. He needs to be on the receiving end more than on the perimeter making plays. He got a bunch of assists at the end last season, but as I recall trailing the 76ers by 24 early when he started at point guard that last game. The Bulls caught up late when Holiday made four three pointers and the Bulls made seven in a quarter. And there went Justin Holiday’s scoring in the trade. Could that be the biggest loss?
Gar Forman said that we are not entering into a rebuild, but Derrick is gone, I believe they tried to trade Jimmy, Jo is as good as gone, Pau seems gone, there are rumors of Taj and Dunleavy being shopped....How exactly is that not a rebuild?
Sam: Well, for one they did not trade Jimmy and I don’t know so much they tried as the rumors all over the NBA were he could be had, so teams inquired. But obviously not that hard, and that happens a lot at every trade deadline and draft you hear of names available and nothing happens, like Al Horford last February and Rudy Gay every three weeks. Forman said “retool,” and while there is no exact definition, rebuild generally means Bulls 2001, 76ers 2013, your season being a success when you get a 10th win and not the all-time loss record. The Bulls are no longer top contenders, but as some of the emailers believe, it’s not inconceivable they could compete for the playoffs. Perhaps they don’t, but it’s something new and different and time for that, too.
All the hype is on Grant but Dinwiddie is better than Grant. Fans will see. Portis will replace Noah as the fan favorite, hustle/energy guy. Bulls vs Knicks in the playoffs. I'd love to see that.
Sam: So would the Bulls. We may have to settle for Christmas Day Knicks in Chicago for Rose’s first game back. Just a guess, as Bulls broadcaster Chuck Swirsky suggested to me the other day, and the NBA likes to do stuff like that. But Dinwiddie does intrigue me. He had two pretty good games against the Bulls a few seasons back and looked like he knew how to play and with aggression. I think he’s overlooked because, well, no offense, but Spencer Dinwiddie sounds more like computer nerd class. He had ACL surgery about three years ago, but has good size and is a good passer and, hey maybe. The Bulls have had a bunch of these mini guards and it’s nice to see one who’s about 6-6.
Do the Bulls retire Rose’s jersey once he retires? (I say yes, 3rd best player in team history- maybe 4th considering Sloan) Does Rose get in the HOF? (All NBA MVPs are HOFamers. Let's assume he gets another 5 years with similar averages from last season).
Sam:The Hall of Fame isn’t out of the question given, as you note, the MVP and the All-Star games. He’d need about three or four more All-Star games and taking a team deep into the playoffs. I wouldn’t write him off yet. Bernard King had as serious an injury, took two years off and then six years since his last All-Star appearance returned to the All-Star game for his fourth and final All-Star appearance and was voted into the Hall of Fame. He was a more prolific scorer than Rose, but never played beyond the second round of the playoffs. If Rose can produce a good Act II, even if not great, his start gives him a good shot at the Hall of Fame. The Bulls sort of have drawn the line for jersey number retirement on Hall of Fame. They won’t with Rodman because of just three years and haven’t with Chet Walker and Artis Gilmore because greater parts of their careers were elsewhere. You can make a case for both. If Rose becomes a Hall of Famer he’d deserve a jersey retirement even if feelings probably are not celebratory between the parties for now. As Groucho Marx said, time wounds all heels. OK, give me a minute on that one.
Rose's minutes were down 15%, his assists numbers were down by 19%. Compared to MVP Season. If you reduce his minutes, you reduce his productivity, if that's something that is acceptable, the 15% decrease in playing time should justify a 15% decrease in assists... Which means his assist were only down 4%. This is comparison to his MVP season!!!! But no one talks about his minutes in comparison to that season, they only focus on his production which is not fair at all. I also watched a lot of games, I know he wasn't that great, but how many times did he pass the ball to Mirotic who would then chuck it up.
Sam: I think that is a good point about Rose. He played fewer minutes, was in and out, and had that eye injury early. There’s that old stats line from decades ago about the guy who drowned in water that averaged three feet. I don’t think it was that bad between Rose and Butler, but even if it wasn’t it looked to everyone like it was, so probably something was inevitable. Rose and Gasol drew a lot of defensive attention. The larger point is things had to be done, and so it was Rose first and probably soon Gasol, who opted out. It was just time. Just as it was for Thibs a year earlier. The Bulls really did him a huge favor and put him in position to get this great job in Minnesota. Everyone is fooling themselves if they think after the playoff collapse in 2015 that last season’s Bulls team was going to reemerge as a healthy, defensive machine just because Thibodeau still was coach. I assume he’s sent the Bulls thank you cards and flowers. I always thought he was that kind of guy.
Dwyane Wade to the Bulls for two years? There are reports Dwyane Wade is "preparing to field outside offers" after early contract talks with the Heat broke down.
Sam: Of course not. Because in case you missed it, it’s “younger and more athletic,” compared with Wade’s older and less athletic. I guess he’d really take back his Bulls aren’t loyal thing from a few years back if the Heat dump him after not only carrying them and Shaq to a title a decade ago but getting them LeBron and then backing off to let LeBron be the dominant figure. If there is a franchise that owes its player—though technically no one does—it’s Miami with Wade as much as the Spurs with Duncan and the Mavs with Dirk. It’s basically impossible for me to imagine that ownership and Pat Riley pushing the franchise icon out and not suffering in the eyes of others for years. It just sounds like Wade like last season wasn’t offered as much as he wants after “sacrificing” financially in recent years. The problem for the Heat is without the Bird rights with Whiteside and Deng a free agent and other needs it’s going to be tough to compete paying a declining Wade big money. In the end, they probably have to and might be better off following the Bulls model—and may—if they cannot attract Kevin Durant. The big elephant there is Chris Bosh and his coming salaries of $23 million, $25 million and $26 million and can he play. It makes Miami a tough destination for a top free agent.
It certainly has been a wild post season so far and overall, it has me rejuvenated. I've seen the draft express breakdown of Paul Zipser, and I have to say, I'm really excited about this guy. His first step is explosive, he's crafty in the way he uses his body and angles, competes, appears very strong, obviously athletic, and seems to have a good stroke that can be developed. Is this the young version of Chapu? I think so. I hope he earns some minutes at PF/SF and ignites the UC with a big time block or a big time jam over somebody. Would love to see our own small lineup sometime this year: Mirotic, Zipser, Butler, Valentine, Jerian.
Sam: Yes, I see it late in the season, Paul hurt and the team struggling and Hoiberg, emotional, saying he’d just returned from the hospital and as he left, Paul said to him, "Sometime, when the team is up against it and the breaks are beating the boys tell them to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Zipser.”