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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 7.10.2015
Sam Smith of Bulls.com opens his mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers for the last time of the summer
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By Sam Smith | 7.10.2015 | 9:11 a.m. CT
Given the Mavs deal fell apart with Jordan, what about some combination of Noah/Taj/Brooks for Chandler Parsons, Devin Harris and Stoudemire? We have to change something, right? Is management expecting the new coach to have a "Kerr-like" impact, resulting in this roster contending for a title? If so, they are delusional, and it's a disservice to keep putting a mediocre product out there. I like a lot of our players, but we just don't have enough. Now Cleveland (and Milwaukee) got better, and we're sticking to what we have? I feel like focus has been more on the bottom line than on winning for a very long time. Feels like you have to have a Cubs fan mentality of wait until next year, which is a tough one to swallow.
Sam: I have heard a lot of this lament, Do Something! I know when all your friends are shopping you feel sort of left out and want to come home with something. Too often it remains in the closet. First, a lot of teams are going to have buyer’s remorse over this free agency period. Everyone is buying now with the idea that the cap is going up so much it’s no problem to spend and you eventually have to. Which is true. But you also could be stuck with role players whom you’ve paid incredible amounts, and even if you don’t go over the cap you still won’t have as much left as you wish. That’s part of the issue with the Bulls. Fans scream to pay guys; if you don’t you’re cheap. But the NBA is a salary cap league. So the more you spend on one player the less you have left. What would have been the response if the Bulls failed to extend Derrick Rose as an MVP? Maybe called cheap? Rose is hurt, but you still have to pay him the $20 million. And then the Bulls have been victims of their own scouting success. It’s great when you can find so much talent with picks in the 20s like they have. But then you have to pay those players. Butler, Gibson and Mirotic now are paid an average among the three of $10 million annually. The reality is the Bulls have been expansive and the opposite of cheap. They are in the luxury tax, which also limits how much of a salary cap exception they have. They have among the top four or five payrolls in the NBA. No fault of Butler’s and it is good for the Bulls he improved as much as he has, but at No. 30 in the draft he wasn’t supposed to be a max salary player. Taj wasn’t supposed to be close to $10 million annually. They earned their raises, but it alters the payroll structure. The stars were Rose and Noah and paid like it. The rest were supposed to be support role players. Butler is now paid like a star as well. That’s why the numbers do matter. Though he appropriately talked about winning in his media conference Thursday, he has to be a big time scorer now. He has been paid like one based on his production and cannot go back to being a role player and defender. If he good enough? Basically every champion for the last 30 years with one or two exceptions has been led by a top three or high lottery pick. If you don’t have that guy history says you can’t win. So that’s also why the Bulls depth has to be employed to a great extent. The Bulls have drafted well and basically other than Miami have been the top team in free agency since 2010. But with injuries, their strength has been depth. They have to use it more and perhaps this season they will. And then that depth has to be good enough to produce. We don’t know yet if they can with regular work. Of course, that trade suggestion is errant as Stoudemire is a free agent, Noah coming off injury with a year left isn’t in any demand and I think you need Noah and Gibson. There’s looking at the roster a lot of Gibson speculation. But I don’t see such great front court depth that you can afford to move him. Gasol is 35 and very healthy last season. Can that last? Noah obviously had physical problems. And Mirotic was wildly inconsistent and hardly ready to be a 40-minute starter. Small lineups with Dunleavy at four? Didn’t the Bulls get outrebounded badly enough in the playoffs? I think Kirk Hinrich is fine with 12 to 15 minutes; he didn’t need to play as much as he did. E’Twaun Moore can help. Tony Snell showed he could defend LeBron in the regular season. And then he never got a chance in the playoffs. He can shoot threes. I think there’s enough in the backcourt that it’s not worth another guard (I do like Harris) that’s worth giving up Gibson. No one is guaranteed anything until you play the games.
Until something changes this is "The Bron's Age". With Kyrie and Kevin healthy and key reserves back they are once again a brick wall. Will the Bulls be able to overcome this year with a nearly identical roster? Do you foresee a possible trade before the season starts?
Sam: As I was saying, I don’t fully understand this mentality that if you are not favored why bother? No, no one beat Michael once he won and no one may beat LeBron. The Cavs are the East favorite and should be because they have the best player, but they are hardly invincible. And not wishing anything bad on Irving, but he’s been hurt every season including in high school. Kevin Love scare you? Heck, you didn’t even know Tristan Thompson was on the roster until April. Isn’t a great part of sports the upset, the little guy surprising? Or should David have given up and said, ‘Heck, you go fight a Goliath.’ The Bulls were favored every year with Michael in the 90s, but the Pacers came a few minutes away from a Game 7 win; the Knicks got to a Game 7. Portland was just about there; so was Phoenix and Utah. And he was the greatest. Is Chicago really a city of losers? But is it really the fans with the losing mentality more so than the teams? That they’ll want to give up so fast before seeing what a team can do, how they’ll play? Oh, woe is us. The essence of sports and the games is the hope, the possibilities, the surprises, the unexpected. So you take a look, decide the last thing you saw is what will occur again and you walk away and give up? I was no great athlete, but I played sports for years as most guys did, and in college as well. I rarely was on the best team, but I never went out and felt my team couldn’t win. And a few times we did succeed way beyond anyone’s expectations. Do you think Norman Dale would endorse some Bulls fans’ lack of hope? Of course not. Because five players on the floor functioning as one single unit. Team, team, team. No one more important that the other. And there always are possibilities with a team.
I'm glad the Bulls are bringing back the old gang. I'm still very happy they didn't acquire Carmelo last year. You've got to have winners on your team and Carmelo just isn't a winner. I think there is an excellent chance that if the same kind of internal improvement occurs with Snell and McDermott as it did with Butler, the Bulls will challenge for the East title. Noah and Rose also rate to be better than last year. The team has a year of having played together. With Hoiberg in the locker room, the atmosphere ought to improve. Cleveland isn't going to be nearly as good as the media thinks. Prediction: Snell will emerge as the best bargain in basketball in 2016-2017.
Sam: Well, if that happens the Bulls really are going to have some payroll issues coming up. But for now they’ll probably take it. There you go, a believer. How’d you get in my mailbox?
I noticed that Ben Gordon is currently a free agent so why haven’t the Bulls tried to sign him yet? We can always use more 3 pt shooting and he may even thrive under Hoiberg’s new offense. Ben Gordon should’ve have never left as ever since he did his career has been going downhill so he needs to come back to resurrect it once again.
Sam: Sort of like with an old high school or college girlfriend or boyfriend. You basically remember the good times and overlook who they’ve become. Plus, you didn’t have to live with them as they aged. Ben is 32 and six years removed from Chicago with maybe a half dozen coaches who didn’t find playing time for him. Can that be a coincidence. Ben was terrific with the Bulls playing with Rose and in an ideal situation, but he let his ego get in the way of his best interests. The Bulls offered Luol Deng $7 million more. Ben still was offered $50 million. He was offended and jumped to Detroit for about $60 million to $65 million. It is a lot of money, so it’s understandable. But how much money did he also then lose in future deals by having his career flame out? And more so how much fun did he miss out while playing for losing team after losing team and never having gone to another playoff game after so many memorable ones with the Bulls? Those are the best days of your life for an athlete and Ben gave them up and the memories for the money. I never suggest someone should not make their own financial decisions. But what can you buy for $65 million you can’t for $50 million? Anyway, Ben isn’t what the Bulls most need in that backup guard spot, which was a combo who can play both positions and make plays. Plus, Aaron Brooks is better. Check the stats for the last six years. Ben’s a daydream; not a reality.
Do you think the Bulls might take a look at Ridnour on a minimum deal ? He’s a little bigger than Brooks shoots it better than Kirk.
Sam: I understand the view of many fans that new is better than old if not necessarily more talented, that the Bulls should have done SOMETHING. They tried, but take a look at the ridiculous salaries. Mirza Teletovic signed for $5.5 million, Alan Anderson for more than $4 million. The Bulls were not permitted under cap rules to spend more than $3 million. It doesn’t buy you much in the NBA anymore. I can hardly think of anything Ridnour does better than Brooks as Ridnour has barely played the last few years for some of the worst teams in the league. That’s improvement? Or just doing something?
Since the Bulls are bringing back the same team, why not add Dorrell Wright with the mid level exception? He's a good shooter and would be an upgrade over Snell and would ensure Butler isn't over worked. This would give the Bulls 5 wings to throw at the evil empire in Cleveland.Based on how these teams match up, the Bulls may be in trouble on the boards? Do we need more experienced muscle on the inside?
Sam: Of course, that’s the other thing with the salary cap. The Bulls only have the taxpayer exception, which is about $3 million. Not the regular $5 million or so exception. Hardly anyone works for that little anymore. And the Bulls are having to use a big part of it just to get a commitment from Brooks. The financial fact is the Bulls have spent all they are allowed to basically to retain Butler. The only moves to be made would involve trades, and the players teams want you don’t want to give up.
With 'Melo not happy in New York and maybe dropping his no trade would the Bulls be interested? Jackson likes Noah.
Sam: Given Anthony has a salary scale going up to more than $27 million in 2018-19 and is now 31 and coming off knee surgery, I'd guess that ship has sailed. It was similar with Joe Johnson. Once his own team gave him the full five years of money it was tough to imagine a deal making sense. The Nets did and you can see their regret with them trying to trade him. I'd speculate the Knicks at this point would take Noah and Gibson to get it done. But that would leave the Bulls woefully thin in the front court with Anthony your starting power forward and considerable limitations in player acquisition for the next few years with Rose, Butler and Anthony basically taking up almost 70 percent of the expanded cap after the new TV money comes in. So that essentially takes the Bulls out of free agency for the next several years. And you'd be building your hopes on Anthony at this stage of his career. And Anthony is a notorious ball holder and stopper and you want to push the ball more with your young players. Good plan? I doubt it.
Why do you think there was such angry response from many fans when it was announced Hinrich exercised his player option. Granted, Kirk isn't the player he was ten years ago, but who is? When Rose is not in the game, Hinrich runs the offense better than any of the other backup point guards the Bulls have had over the past five to seven years. And while he has lost a step on defense, he still is more effective than the other backup point guards the Bulls have had on the roster over the years.
Sam: Reverse racism? I get it in the sense there is a view that he cannot help anymore, which I believe is erroneous. In some respects he’s become an outlet for the frustration of some fans. But he makes relatively little money in this era and with managed minutes—Thibodeau relied on him a lot and probably played him too much, especially the way Kirk threw himself around, which should endear him to Chicago fans—he should be effective. Plus he’s a terrific leader internally (not publicly), helping young guys with a keen eye for subtleties of the game. Watch him and you’ll always see him taking guys aside and it’s nice having a nose stick in there guy, which Kirk will do and Aaron Brooks perhaps as much as anyone. Dunleavy also. They don’t stomp around with an act like Kendrick Perkins, but guys know they are around and know you’ll get a hard shot from them. The Bulls need more guys like them; not fewer. Kirk is a valuable addition. No one is what they were at 25. But you’ll get everything he has at 34. The Bulls will do well to take it.
The Bulls say they are looking for a guard. It doesn’t seem to me that there is much out there in the free-agent market. Does Nate Robinson have a chance? Do you think he would fill the bill as a combo guard?
Sam: Here we go again, though I will say Nate would fit being a combo guard when he records the first intentional assist of his career. I hope he gets to extend his career so he still can go for it.
Looks like Bulls mgt took the tack "can't fire the players, so we'll fire the coach". The talent is very much there. They need to remix. Noah is not a forward. In fact it's a disservice to him to play him there. He's at his best directing traffic on the defensive end under the basket. Figure out how to play him at center.
Oh, bother. Please play faster on offense too. The grinding handoff game got really tedious. I did like Noah's crazy passes which were a great break, but I"m looking forward to seeing a few shots up before the shot clock gets below 5. No disrespect intended towards Thibodeau, who I think is a wonderful coach and whom I hope has lots of basketball success. He made the last five years of basketball a lot of fun to watch I will ever appreciate Thibodeau's ability to put together a second unit. That said, there's something to look forward to with Hoiberg if he's as advertised. I hope that he cuts Derrick Rose loose a little more and that Snell comes out of his shell. As well looking forward to seeing what Gasol can do in the new offense.
Sam: Everyone has been tiptoeing around the Thibodeau thing because no one wants to start the blaming thing, but it was time and a coaching change can have an impact. Which is why the Bulls can be much better without any major personnel changes. The Spurs always have been good about being patient despite painful playoff losses and not overreacting with personnel changes, except perhaps for this summer. And then we applaud the Spurs for their continuity. Thus continuity, like many things, is good when you win and not so good when you don’t. I know the Steve Kerr comparison is brought up with Hoiberg, though I’m not expecting a title. Of course, neither was Steve. I talked to him before the season and said I was picking the Warriors to win the West given the depth of talent. He laughed. But look at Atlanta with Budenholzer, the Bucks with Kidd. A change of voice and style and pace can make a difference in changing your motivation and enthusiasm. I wanted to see it work with Thibs as I knew him before he came to the Bulls. But you could see beyond the likes and dislikes that the players ofteqn were acting more like it was drudgery and Thibs was more frequently coming to management and mentioning to friends trade suggestions. They all seemed to be wearing each other out, which I saw as more the let down against the Cavs. There was a famous postgame diatribe after a loss last season where Thibs barreled in and began shouting he isn’t changing and they better change. Nothing many coaches haven’t done or said. But the Noah thing was a point. It was obvious to all Noah was way out of position and ineffective as a result. But Thibs doesn’t change. He made Noah a power forward and that’s where he was staying. Noah being the great team guy would never openly complain, but he and Thibs supposedly had some rough moments about it. New voices in sports are the rule and the inevitability. They can have an impact as much as any change in personnel; perhaps even more. There’s no guarantee it will. But it is a change, a big change.
I saw a story on the Utah Jazz and their (good) use of the NBA Development League: It seems like a sensible model, and I wonder why the Bulls don't have a stronger relationship with the D-League. Is there a reason the Bulls have avoided this model? Do you foresee a more formalized relationship in future years, similar to baseball? If so, will this be a team-by-team change or a comprehensive approach by the NBA?
Sam: Well, it has been awhile since the Jazz made the playoffs. More teams are buying D-league teams to turn them into minor league models with some similarity to baseball. I believe it’s a good thing if it can be used for high schoolers to skip college and make some money, but the pay isn’t enough. At least for now. I do think there’s more need for the D-league with so many players coming to the NBA so young, fundamentally unsound with poor basketball skills. The problem often is teams need their players if they are good enough. The Bulls haven’t used the D-league model, I believe, because of the lack of control to keep a player accustomed to what you do. Yes, you can do that if you buy a team, which they haven’t as yet. And that’s probably because they’ve had few players in recent years who have gone to the D-league with all the injuries. Yes, perhaps it would have helped McDermott last season, but only if he were going to play. And coaches if they don’t see you basically forget about you. The Bulls had a few examples of times they sent someone to the D-league and had to call them right back. I’d like to see more of a league wide commitment to the D-league with salaries increasing, but then again the NBA seems to like the colleges being their minor league feeder system. It does cut costs.
What do you think of the opt-out and free agent signing of David West? My view: West and the Pacer leadership should have agreed to a trade, David Lee for David West. This leaves the Pacers with a lineup of George-Lee-Ellis-Hill-Stuckey to play small; David West gets his 12.6 million and has as good or BETTER chance to win a NBA championship with the Warriors.
Sam: Obviously, West as a free agent wanted to pick his destination, so there wasn’t anything the Pacers could do but a sign and trade. And the Spurs didn’t care to or need to give up anything. I always wonder what the difference is between, say, $50 million and $80 million, how you live any differently. West is the first guy to basically agree. He has those tens of millions of dollars and wants to close out his career in a fun and potentially big winning situation. I love what he did. He’ll never go broke or be in need; someone who thinks like that isn’t an irrational spender, either. I believe I’d be the same way. You never know until you are there, but I’ve always believed—and it’s one reason why I left the Chicago Tribune when I did—that passion for your job was the gift. If you had that you’d be a success whatever you did. It also made the work fun and enjoyable. I’ve been around enough teams to know it’s much more fun when you are excited about the system, you job and the product. It makes the day go too quickly. As an aside, the Bulls days were long last season. I expect most players to make as much money as they can and they should. It is much easier also to have fun when your finances are secure. West’s likely are and I love what he is doing and hope he does get to that Finals.
What are the mavs plans now? Just try for that 8th seed?
Sam: The DeAndre Jordan saga was a stunning close to a frenzied free agency week that only promises to be the best July reality show for years to come. Trying to fit business morality into sports is fairly farcical for the behavior of everyone in the business. After all, until it’s illegal—like steroids in baseball—it’s not. It seems to me Thunder coach Billy Donovan did a similar switch, about face on the Orlando Magic a few years back and nobody much cared. Plus, the reason for this crazy moratorium period was, yes, the league computes the actual cap number, but teams years back were signing guys at 12:01, a minute into free agency. How with physicals and meetings can you do that? Of course you can’t. They were violating every possible tampering rule. You can’t read a contract in one minute. So the league told the teams to take a week but no deals. Everyone pretty much forgot that. But officially there are no deals allowed, so Jordan did nothing wrong. Caveat emptor, which in Latin means watch out for Mark Cuban and Donald Trump. Sure, Jordan could have told them he was changing his mind. But then again the actual rule is you shouldn’t even agree orally to a deal despite agents and teams telling reporters of dozens of deals. And anyone who ever has made a commitment to buy a car or a house or a gross of beef jerky knows until there’s a signed contract there’s no deal. It would be nice if people abided by handshake deals, though a woman in my neighborhood is in court this week because she said she bit into something that felt like a pit in a piece of cherry pie and is suing. People, as we know, are officially the worst. And then there are the agents for players, many of whom don’t qualify as actual people. And we do know pre law and contract law isn’t taught that first semester at Kentucky. Or Texas A&M. The guy changed his mind. Tough noogies. Deal with it. As for the Mavs, they are an official mess. I’m not sure they were a playoff team with Jordan after losing Monta Ellis and Rajon Rondo and Chandler Parsons coming off surgery. As well as free agent Wesley Matthews also off surgery. They gave Boston their No. 1 pick next season protected through seven in the Rondo deal. So just missing the playoffs, which they basically have no chance to make in the West, is bad. Finishing bottom seven is their best shot and then to reload with extra cap space next summer. Or try. I suspect they’ll be calling Sam Hinkie soon for the official dumping guide.
I don't believe this is what happened with the DeAndre Jordan craziness but that situation did expose what could be used as a great if extremely underhanded free agency strategy in the future. Any time a star or borderline star player hits free agency but intends to return to his own team, the team and the player should conspire to have that player agree to sign with whatever the team's biggest rival is and tie up their hypothetical cap space throughout the signing moratorium period only to say "just kidding" on the last day and sign back with his original team. It's exactly what Jordan did, if not on purpose, but it's an amazingly effective way to hurt a rival team's ability to compete without breaking any rules.
What if Jimmy Butler pretended he was signing with the Bucks until all the other good free agents committed to other teams and then revealed he was coming back to the Bulls? Just like that the Bucks have no Greg Monroe who would be in New York or L.A. or something by that point and no other players of a similar quality left to sign.
Sam: You’re writing me and you have such good career possibilities in politics? And to paraphrase the Great One (Jackie Gleason), away I go. This will be the final Ask Sam until next season. If you see me in the western suburbs you can ask me anything. I’m not that busy. I’m just not typing for awhile.