Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 3.25.2016
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By Sam Smith | 3.25.2016 | 3:32 p.m. CT
You may not be quite as aware of this as I am, because NBA League Pass often gives me the opponent’s feed of the games. But even some Bulls fans are culpable. You know how Kobe said that in the ‘legend of MJ’ he never missed a shot? Well, the pre-ACL Rose has a somewhat similar mythology. He was phenomenal!
So, what I’m getting at is this. Whenever you hear a an opponent’s feed or a national broadcast, the first thing they tell you (usually before play has begun) is that Derrick Rose isn’t what he used to be and probably will never get back to that level. Then he goes to the hoop, and they say, “That looked like the Derrick of old.” And after he’s done that 2 or 3 times, and maybe hit a couple of floaters or bank-shots, or nailed a 3… Well, they’re really impressed. One of the Jazz announcers the other night. He explained how Rose used to be unstoppable, driving to the hoop and hitting 3’s.
And I thought, “Wait just a minute there. I don’t remember that.” Yes, he was a blur going to the rim. And that was hard to stop without fouling, but a lot of those fouls went uncalled, and he really didn’t shoot well from anywhere else. His pre-ACL 3-point average was about 29%. And he was a weak defender too. That’s why I thought – even at the time – that he was not the strongest of MVPs; more flash than complete player.
You also hear how Rose used to dunk all the time. What? I remember him as dunking very selectively. Maybe my memory is flawed, but it looks to me that he’s every bit as fast as he ever was and actually finishes at the rim better than he used to. Noah & Taj used to clean up a lot of missed Rose layups... remember?
My point is that – aside from sitting out with minor injuries – Rose is truly playing better than he ever has, In his past 16 games (since 2/5), he’s scoring about 20 ppg and shooting about 43% from the arc, with almost 6 assists/game and an assist/TO ratio of 1.8 (not bad, but s/b better). His offense is a lot more versatile, he’s passing better than ever, and his D is much improved from those early days. He was a bit more prolific in the pre-ACL years, but mostly because he dominated
the ball and had so little help. That was more a matter of necessity than anything else. Rose is 27, the age around which most players peak. But having missed about 2 years to injury, and being as cautious as he has this season, it’s likely that we still haven’t seen the best of Derrick Rose. There may be some days ahead to make everybody forget those false memories of “the old Rose”.
Sam: I think he was kidding, but I remember one day back at The Tribune Mike Royko lecturing us kids and growling, “Don’t even let the facts screw up a good column.” He did drink a lot. Anyway, it’s like the first impressions thing. Once a lot of people decide on something don’t bother them with the facts. And then there are those, especially regarding Rose, who have decided on a negative narrative and may want him to fail for whatever reason whether he let them down by being injured (the nerve of him!) or upset some ersatz intellectual superiority of theirs with his generally misinterpreted comments. As I’ve noted, I get fewer emails—and I really did get a lot a few months back—to release him and eat his salary and how much better off the team would be. Rose has handled this season better than most everyone around him, building, working, seeing the finish line wasn’t in November. Other events interfered to endanger the Bulls playoff chances, namely injuries to basically every other starter except for Gibson. Rose didn’t take the unnecessary risks of those who measure courage as the actions others should take that they never would put themselves in position to. Given everything Rose has gone through and the way he’s battled back despite unrelenting local and national criticism--which has demonstrated much greater maturity and intelligence than his critics—he deserves the break. Of course, something can always happen given it has happened before. But good for him that he gets to again enjoy his passion. The Kobe urban legend comment is a good example. Peoples’ memories always are inaccurate, and, yes, the Jordan story is he always came through. Rose was a spectacular athlete, and perhaps he can be again, but he won’t be to that level. It’s too much risk and not worth the chance for as little as it means. He’s classier than most of his critics, not resorting to cheap shots and insults, but regularly responding to media questions, which is part of his job, and building and working toward personal and team improvement. It should be obvious by now all those accusations of jealousy, resentment and indifference that filled my email box were hate filled vendetta by outsiders with agenda. He’s not perfect, and no one is universally beloved, especially in the public arena. But all that stuff about whose team it is and being the man and opting for personal gain and quitting was the stuff of conspiracy dolts. Rose generally seemed to have tried to do the right thing for the long run benefit of his career, which translates to the interests of the team. What else can one ask for? What’s wrong with that?
I am glad D Rose is playing well as I hope he can have some consistent success. His overall numbers are better than Dragic who got roughly 90 million contract I think. Since the All-Star break, Rose has been a model of efficiency, averaging 20 points and 5.2 assists on 52 percent shooting and 50 from 3-point range. With this and say playing 65 games does he make the all star game and what range does he sign as a free agent and where Chicago or elsewhere?
Sam: He’s really not talking about free agency, so I won’t either. More than a year away is a long time for Derrick Rose. He’s obviously been assured of his abilities in the face of the doubts, so how good is he. I’d say Rose is back in the top 10 of NBA point guards. Let’s consider: Who’s better? Though as we know this is not a scientific approach. OK, Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook. Chris Paul has been there with consistency. You can make a case for Damien Lillard the way he’s played this season and John Wall, though Rose always has matched them when they’ve competed. Kyle Lowry? He’s having by far his best statistical season, but 10 years into his career averaging 20 points for the first time. Tony Parker? Not really anymore. Kyrie Irving? Maybe you make the case, but injury prone as well and being regarded more and more as an isolation scorer. And without LeBron, his teams never won 40 games. Jeff Teague, Mike Conley, Jrue Holiday? Would you rather have any of them? I wouldn’t. Isaiah Thomas? C’mon. Deron Williams? Reggie Jackson? Good, but maybe a version of Teague with more offense. Kemba Walker? Rajon Rondo? There’s no way Rose is not top 10 the way he’s played this season, especially as he’s come on following facial surgery. Say you go with Curry, Westbrook, Paul, Lillard, Wall, Lowry and Irving. That still puts Rose in the area of the top 10, and improving at the level he is you might not take Lowry, Irving or Wall ahead of him. Some would. Not everyone. The point is there’s no position in the NBA today more important than point guard. They’re hard to come by, like NFL quarterbacks, and if you have a good one you better hang on unless you have some way of getting a better one. And if you’re regarded as one of the top 10 or 12 point guards in the NBA, you’re going to be in demand because there really aren’t more than 12 of 14 really good ones who can make a difference. The Bulls and Rose don’t have to make any decisions for more than 15 months. Much will happen in that time. His free agency will be much discussed next season whether he does or not, just as it’s been for Kevin Durant this season. And now even LeBron James. So why should Rose discussion about free agency be any different? It’s part of life in the NBA. Plus, Westbrook also is a free agent after next season along with Curry, Teague, Holiday, Williams and Paul and Lowry have opt outs. It could be a wild free agency musical chairs. But if you don’t have one of the good ones when the music stops, forget about competing.
Gasol’s defense is getting worse. Have a great offensive game, get rebounds and the let opponents just stroll by him to the basket. Why is taking a charge so hard for him? Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge Gasol fan! Just seems to be soft at times, allowing 6 – 8 points a game that may be huge in the results!
Sam: Always have to be picking on someone? Same with Derrick; don’t bother me with the facts. Perhaps Pau’s defense is not his strongest point, but it was much better than that of DeMarcus Cousins, about whom I keep reading is the league’s best center or close. Plus, Pau competes, makes the right play, takes the right shot and gets himself in the right position. No, he doesn’t smother the pick and roll like Noah, but there aren’t many big men in the history of the league who can shoot like that and make big shots for you down the stretch. Though if I were Gasol, this would always be my answer: I was the sidekick, the No. 2 guy, on a team that won two titles and lost a third time in the Finals. I’ve led my Spain team to world championships. Let’s see your championship rings and international awards. So until then maybe stop talking about what I can’t do and figure out what you can do to even get close to where I’ve been.
Why does it seems like the Bulls players have no urgency or desire to beat lowly teams like the Knicks? This goes back to last season where they only tend to play hard against elite teams but doesn’t seem to do so against weaker teams. What makes this even worse is that this has nothing to do with coaching change or injuries too.
Sam: As you probably watch the Bulls, you notice it more with them. Good teams lose to “bad” teams all the time. Only the truly great teams don’t have those slip ups as often, or have a great player like a Jordan or Kobe to get mad at the end and rally them. Rose did that a lot a few years ago, and at times now, like against Sacramento Monday. But it’s not like the Bulls are so superior to the Knicks. Anthony, maybe Porzingis at times and perhaps Afflalo could start for the Bulls. When you are an eighth place team (or lower) there are no easy games. I wouldn’t say they lack urgency or don’t care. With the injuries—Butler some now and Gasol and without Noah—the field levels. What they have to do is play well to beat those teams. After all, the Knicks should win close to 35 games. It’s not like they’re the 76ers. You are your record, right?
What are your thoughts on Felicio? Do you reckon Cristiano Felicio could have a future with the Bulls??
Sam: You need 14 of 15 guys. He’s at least looked like a guy you can put into a game who’ll compete and has size. Given the uncertainty surrounding Gasol and Noah, I expect he’ll be part of the team going forward for next season. He’s been a good team guy, a serious worker. Maybe not a future NBA starter, but a player who’ll fill out your roster. It’s vital for end of the bench guys to be able to sit out weeks and then come in ready to go and he seems to be able to do that.
A lot of talk recently about a LeBron lead super team. I like it. Mainly because the Cavs are boring.
But I'm not buying them all ending up on the Clippers.
I am, however, intrigued by another potential Lakers Super Power.
If LeBron were to leave Ohio again, it'd have to be for a solid chance to compete for a title. And as the Cavs are currently constructed, I don't see them winning it all anytime soon.
Ipredict LeBron and Wade sign with the Lakers.
And somehow, Chris Paul and Carmelo are both traded to the Lakers. Not sure who'd play center, but I'm sure someone would volunteer to take a pay cut (Noah).
A lot would depend on if the Lakers get a Top 3 pick.
I can see the Knicks taking either Russell or a Top 3 pick for Melo.
Whether the Clippers would enable the Lakers to add Paul is the only flaw in my theory. But if for example they had the opportunity to swap an aging point guard for a young potential star that potentially could appeal to them, I would think.
And for cap purposes, they can probably entice a team to take on the contracts of either Young or Williams by including Randle.
Another fun question would be who would coach this juggernaut.
Thibs? Phil Jackson (if he's forced out in NY), not sure. A puppet. Doesn't really matter honestly.
Sam: And away we go. As if these next two summers of free agency weren’t going to be wild enough. Have I mentioned that I love this game? LeBron seems to love being in the middle of this drama and my colleague, Howard Beck, who did that interview back around All-Star said LeBron willingly brought that all up. I know there are some who are horrified in the middle of the playoff run and all that, but LeBron does seem to understand this is the entertainment business first, and he does a heck of a job of keeping the drama current. Sometimes he acts like he’s bothered, but he does love the hey, look at me aspect of all this. Really, who among us in the media can blame him, the walking car accident and rubber necking traffic jam. You can’t look away. He’s wonderful copy in an era where analysis and speculation often supersedes fact and information. It all doesn’t sound very plausible given the trades and changed salaries and maneuvers that would be required in some way. Cleveland may have the best path to get them as the Clippers probably would take Kyrie for Paul and the Knicks would likely take Love for Carmelo. But, really, Cleveland isn’t as much fun as it sounds. Except maybe this summer for the Republican convention, but that’s something else. I still do think Carmelo likes New York and it would take, as he said, a nice warm place. But given the Carmelo never has left money on the table I can’t see him giving up much, or anything. Plus, you’re getting toward a senior citizen team and a lot of guys who like to have the ball in their hands. It likely makes little sense, but, if anything, it should provide even more angst to the Cleveland sports fans, which is sort of a local religion.
I'm still enjoying this season (unlike most Bulls fans it seems) because I enjoy watching younger players grow, seeing castoffs like Moore and Holiday get a chance, and it's been great to see Rose stay relatively healthy and hush the critics. However, I also always enjoy looking forward to the future and am interested in realistic moves (what I can't trade Bairstow and Brooks for a perennial All Star!?).
I know you are unsure who the Bulls bring back between Noah and/or Gasol (probably leaning towards the latter if he wants to return) so the bigs situation is tough to judge (maybe a stretch four/five like Horford or cheaper options like Dudley, Teletovic, or Green).
You've said it before, and I agree, the Bulls need a shooting guard so Butler can play Small Forward. I'd like to see them draft and develop one (maybe Beasley from Florida State or Malcolm Brogdon who will go lower since he's older) and sign someone. For a few years maybe Joe Johnson? Cheaper options, Courtney Lee, Jamal Crawford off the bench. Wow, for the era of letting three pointers fly, there aren't many good shooting guards are there? The pipe dream would be to swing a deal with the flailing Suns for Devin Booker, but he's about all they have worth keeping. What kind of options do you think the Bulls have? Looking at free agents really shows how difficult it is to build a team through free agency especially with an expanding cap.
Sam: I frankly don’t see how the Bulls can do anything significant this summer. The salary cap does go up substantially this summer, to about $90 million. With just Butler, Rose, Gibson. Mirotic, Dunleavy, McDermott, Portis and Snell, all with guaranteed contracts, I calculate about $65 million. That’s without Gasol, Noah and Moore. The Bulls then would have enough for a maximum salary free agent. But then your centers are Felicio and Portis. I don’t see how you could compete that way. To have that free agency room, the Bulls would have to renounce both Noah and Gasol. If you could get Kevin Durant, sure. But I don’t see any major free agent different maker. The best potentially unrestricted are DeMar DeRozan, Al Horford, Dwight Howard, Mike Conley, Hassan Whiteside, Rajon Rondo, Nicholas Batum, Jamal Crawford and Luol Deng. And you better be sure you have someone if you are going to release both your centers. The Bulls should get a good draft pick, better if they miss the playoffs, and I believe would have enough to add a lower paid free agent on an exception if they resign one of their centers and perhaps Moore. I see the essence of this team returning for one more season to see if they can get through a season healthy, supported by the experience of a season from Portis, McDermott, Mirotic and maybe a lesser priced veteran or two. The team will be somewhat different, though I believe more on the fringes than in the core.
Chandler Parsons:His tenure in Dallas has been a disaster.
Sam: And so the danger of free agency. Parsons was considered one of the top free agents a few years back and never could get much going and now is having knee surgery. The issue is you better get a good one because the salary stays with you. As Ron Mercer and Eddie Robinson will tell you.
The Bulls 2nd unit gave up a nice lead against the Kings. In both the 1st and 2nd half we had a lineup of Portis/Taj/McD/Holiday/Brooks. This leaves Brooks to dominate the ball and run the offense for 25% of the game. Why rest our 3 best players at the same time? Considering that Butler and Rose both excel in the same area (driving to the hoop) and don't exactly need to play off each other, it almost seems too obvious to stagger their minutes. What am I missing?
Sam: Fred has talked about that, and what you are missing are the restrictions he has to work under given the health issues now that Butler has them as well with his knee along with Gasol. He’s trying to stagger the substitutions as much as possible while having them all available to play down the stretch, when they won that Sacramento game. But as Gasol noted afterward, they’re going to have to live with these guys playing more minutes than anyone would like even with the importance of the games because you just can’t risk the health of Butler and Rose given Rose’s three surgeries and Butler’s latest issue, which seems still to be affecting him. For several years, there were complaints of players at risk with additional time played and short rotations. When you take that into consideration for the betterment of the players, you run into those situations in games.
Do the Bulls practice the odd man rush ? You know the old 3 on 2 break where you get the ball to the middle early and you get a layup every time ? They seem to have messed up about 4 of these in the first quarter of tonight's raptor game already.
Sam: It looks good in practice. They can be awful running the break, but that’s because they have too many guys who don’t make plays off the dribble running breaks. Also a lot of the guys don’t know how and don’t fan out and make it harder to defend. Guys like McDermott, Mirotic, Portis have found themselves running breaks that look pretty bad. Rose can do it, Butler can do it. Brooks some. But as we know there’s been this debate all season about how and when to get out to run and outlet pass and who should and how often. With the varied rotations and lineups, 14 different starters and 20 starting lineups, it’s not too surprising it can get confusing on the run.
Wanted to get your thoughts on our young guys. Do you see guys like Portis, McDermott and Mirotic becoming genuine starters in the next few years? Obviously not superstars, but do you think they are good enough to help get the Bulls up? Or do you think it will be our own version of the last decade of the Atlanta Hawks? Good team, but never going to get there?
I could see Portis getting up there, but he needs to develop his D (though I think it's pretty good for young big taken in the late first round), likewise with McDermott. Would love to see Portis go in the Garnett direction - certainly has the mental element (to a degree), and looks to have a solid game under him as well.
Though with McDermott, I see a lot of effort on D, but he needs to work on his physical attributes - agility and lateral quickness. I can't imagine him starting at SF against the likes of Durant, LeBron, etc. even if Jimmy takes them on the defensive end.
I'm still torn on Niko. Great ability and potential to be a weapon, but at the same time, he can be very inconsistent on offense. Coupled with average (or below average) D, I find it hard to see him being more than an offensive spark off the bench.
Keen to hear your thoughts.
Sam: It’s interesting you point to Garnett, who was picked fifth at a time teams weren’t sure about taking a high school guy, and he still was top five. Twenty teams passed Portis and Mirotic and 10 passed McDermott. It doesn’t mean they cannot be productive starters, but the stardom is tough to see. Portis has the right attitude, but looks several years away from understanding how to play. He’s aggressive, but in watching him you can see why he wasn’t top 10. He’s not that explosive. He can jump, but the distinction is that explosive move off the floor. He doesn’t much have it. I think it’s why he pulls up for so many jump shots. You don’t see him in that space 10 feet from the basket where guys will get the ball and explode in. He tends to pull up. My personal peeve with him is the pose on all his shots. C’mon, follow up your shot! What, no one ever told you? Though he projects at the top of those three, I think. I can see him being a solid starter, if not a star. He’s a rookie and it’s why you don’t succeed with too many. Or any playing key roles. He’ll be good. Just not ready. I think McDermott is more talented overall than Kyle Korver, but look how long it took a team to decide to start Korver, 10 years. McDermott has the greatest skill of the three, his shooting, but looks more like an ideal sixth man. Mirotic is difficult to read as well because he, also, needs to learn the game. The cliché of staying within yourself applies. He often tries to do too much, putting the ball on the floor, dribbling up court, over helping. He wants so much to please. He could be a fourth or fifth starter. ll that is fine. Look at the team the Lakers won three titles with: Shaq, Kobe and three guys. Similarly with the Bulls after Jordan and Pippen, basically guys who might make one All-Star team in their career. Rodman was not the Hall of Fame Rodman when the Bulls got him in 1995. I think they all can be terrific supporting players for a great team, but you need two superstars for them to support.
Do you think the Bulls would have made a run at the finals if everyone, including Dunleavy, were healthy from day 1? Even with the coaching changeover, it seems like this Bulls team would have been formidable in the playoffs. Rose is back on track, McDermott has put his game together, and who knows were Mirotic would have been at this point. If Rose, Butler, and Hoiberg had been able to pull it together, it certainly seems with the depth they would have had, the Bulls would have resembled the team the front office had envisioned at the beginning of the year. I know. Lots of "would haves."
Sam: Plenty, and Rose’s opening day facial fracture probably should have been a sign that even the Bulls are acknowledging now perhaps they might have forced him to remain out longer. There’s also another gross misperception in a way a player cannot defend himself against the reigning orthodoxy: Play and play badly, bum. Stay out and not play to heal, bum. Anyway, there was no reason to believe coming into the season this was a Bulls’ title team. They’d won 50 games and were out in the second round last season in actually a relatively healthy period—for them—with Rose good for the playoffs and playing his most games in three years, and Butler, Noah, Gasol and Mirotic all playing at least 65 games and Gibson 62. And Milwaukee puched them awfully hard for a sub.-500 team. So they were coming back about the same with the same questions of health and an ability to sustain and see what they could do if everything went right. We know it hasn’t. I had them from second to fourth in the Eastern Conference and around 50 wins again if most went well, and they would have been. They were 10 over in early January on a 53-win pace when Noah went out to be followed by Mirotic and Butler for long stretches, and it still doesn’t seem Butler is right. It should have been a slight improvement on last season with then maybe something happens to the other guy. And it is in a sense. The Raptors, who are no monolith, are right there with the Cavs thanks to basically being healthy. After all, the Bulls swept the Raptors this season. And the Cavs seem to have some dysfunction, and that doesn’t include the controversies surrounding LeBron’s mysterious social media. Kyrie Irving hasn’t gotten back quite right and Kevin Love is all over the place. They changed coaches and got worse and who knows what J.R. Smith has planned for the playoffs. The point was the Bulls weren’t favorites but in a group with a few teams below Cleveland that could take a shot. The Raptors stayed healthy with their stars and are the ones there. The Bulls had reason to believe they could have been, but they had to play it out to see whether they could. There was not much else to do, and perhaps for one more season.