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Ask Sam -- Sam Smith opens his mailbag -- 10.09.09

Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of e-mails from his readers.
Sam Smith at Bulls.com

Ask Sam | 10.09.09


The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.


Looks like the Bulls roster is set at least till the trade deadline. What can we expect of the Bulls the first 2 months? I think draft picks are sometimes a guess so what do you think the chance is Johnson might be a pleasant surprise and impact player like Milsap was in UT? Most years picks expected to be stars stumble (Beasley), and some mid round picks unexpectedly shine. Not that will happen, but if Johnson can contribute how much do you think that helps? What will be the Bulls win total needed to attract a top free agent? If the Bulls win 35 games the who wants to come here? If the Bulls win 49 games I think Chicago will be an attractive place to play.

Ed Krezel

Sam: I’m never one to complain about the schedule or back to backs since everyone plays the same number of games and plays back to back. But this is a unique start for the Bulls given an opener against a Western power and then road games against the Celtics, Heat and Cavs and then the big Western trip against top teams like the Lakers, Nuggets, Jazz and Trailblazers. The Bulls probably will be favored in maybe five of the first 15 games through November before the December opener against the Pistons and Ben Gordon. If the Bulls were to open 5-10, you never know how rookies and players going for new contracts, like Thomas, Miller and Salmons, will deal with it. I don’t think that would be a big deficit to make up and Bulls teams under Scott Skiles did that several times. But this is a new team in some respects with a new shooting guard and Noah taking over at center, the primary front court backups being rookies and Deng returning from a serious injury. If the Bulls can stay around .500 the first month, I think they have a good chance for a solid season. I do think it’s important to be a team on the rise, meaning making the playoffs. If you have money you’ll always be able to get someone, but you want to be a team people are talking about going into free agency. It’s one reason I think the possibilities regarding players like Boozer and Stoudemire will be out there all season.

Having watched summer league in Vegas, and I can only assume the beginning of training camp, do you feel the Bulls will regret taking Taj Gibson over DeJuan Blair with the 26th pick this summer? It seems like Gibson's traits can be found in a number of other Bulls while Blair's thickness and grit would have added a new dimension to the team.

Ben Rabchuk

Sam: No. The point is to get someone productive and I believe Taj will be. He may not put up the rebounding numbers we see from Blair, but everyone passed Blair in the first round. The reason was team and league doctors never had seen anyone without cartilage in both knees. Every GM was warned not to take Blair in the first round, which would mean a three-year guaranteed contract. Not surprisingly, no one wanted to risk a three-year deal when league doctors told them not to. It’s not unlike ignoring your own doctor’s warning. You do so at your own risk and then don’t come complaining to me. Blair will be an easy second guess for fans this season, but it’s never their money, so they don’t worry about spending someone else’s. I believe Gibson will be a solid, hard working contributor, which is a bonus for a low first round choice.

Any chance Taj Gibson sees some legitimate action and will end up starting over Tyrus Thomas this season?

Doug Seidman

Sam: Anything is possible regarding Tyrus. It’s been clear from the early exhibition games, even though a lot of regulars have been out, that the team likes Gibson and he’ll get real opportunities to contribute. As I said, it’s a contract season for Tyrus, so you assume he’ll be motivated. But he’ll also be pushed and with Vinny going into his final season and the team concerned with making progress and an impression coming into the summer of 2010, they’re not going to have unusual patience with anyone. You’ll have to perform, and if you don’t you could be sitting more. Which is the way it should be. I think that’s been one weakness of a rookie Vinny as coach in wanting to stay with the regulars too long so not to alienate anyone. It’s not unusual among rookie coaches, but I think Vinny will be tougher this season.

Like anyone else who watched the game against Indiana, I was blown away by Gibson. I didn't really follow him through college, so I don't know much about him. What can we expect from this guy and what are his downfalls?

Sean Kelly

Sam: I don’t expect you can see 20 and 12, but you’ll like him. He’s relentless. He’ll chase everything. He’ll defend. He’s smallish for power forward, but is a worker whom fans will like. He’ll have foul trouble early as he’s aggressive and who knows with the replacement guys for now. He won’t have great numbers. But you won’t regret the Bulls picked him.

Holy Bash Memphis Day, Batman! The Grizzlies add Zach Randolph & Allen Iverson and disaster looms? The University of Memphis president should be fired because the NCAA clearhouse (not the University of Memphis) gave the stamp of approval to Derrick Rose's SAT? Next are you going to say Elvis lip-synced?

Zach Randolph fills a hole at power forward that Grizz have had since Pau Gasol trade (before you say it, Grizz got Marc Gasol, Darrell Arthur, & the cap room to obtain Randolph & Iverson because of the trade to Lakers) and Iverson has ignited the fans. The Grizzlies have the most buzz in Memphis has they have had since the 2nd playoff year in 2004-2005. Heisley isn't following the Sterling model because despite staying at the salary cap, Heisley added significant payroll this season. Without better revenue sharing, all small market owners have to balance payroll. The Grizz brought in defensive minded rookies and have a better team than last year.

As far as Derrick Rose, college basketball is a joke, and I speak as a diehard Tigers fan. If you were able to verify how many athletes don't take their ACTs & SATs, many football & basketball teams would probably be affected. Whether Rose took the test or not, the University of Memphis got what the Bulls paid $5 million to get, a year's worth of services from a great basketball player, and all they had to give was the equivalent of $25,000 in tuition and room & board.

Mario Latilleon

Sam: I don’t mean to bash Memphis, but Z-Bo (I love writing that) and AI together just make me laugh. I will say there’s a chance of recreating the great posse wars of the Iverson/Stackhouse era in Philly when the posses literally fought it out over who was the Man. I miss those days. Though I don’t believe it can work, it is one of the few teams people are talking about and want to see. So that is something, I guess. As for Rose, you have it right. Memphis knew what it was getting and for so cheaply. I know Hall of Famers who were admitted to school with ACT’s of 10 and that was before the one and out years. College sports makes Congress and Illinois state government look like it’s still run by Lincoln.

With the dysfunction that is surely to happen in Memphis, can the Bulls go after Rudy Gay later this season hopefully without ruining their upcoming cap space? A team with Rose and adding Gay along with a big man like Bosh would make a pretty solid team.

Paul Kondos

Sam: Not everyone is sure there’ll be such dysfunction. I agree Rudy is the gem on that team. He’s been selfish because of his environment, but I think he can be reclaimed. They are highly unlikely to let him go as he’s cheap and a restricted free agent after this season. More importantly, the Bulls have a huge investment in small forward Deng, who has looked good so far in the preseason. They are not likely to invest in another three.

We will never stop hearing about 2010 until the time comes or a major free agent is traded prior to next year. Watching the bulls first preseason game, I'm not going to make any judgments on team success, but it seems to be obvious that the Bulls have the most to offer with teams that have cap space to sign a free agent. A perennial all-star in Rose (assuming healthy), and the ongoing improvement of talent from within (you "Know your personal"), Chicago is clearly the preferred destination for building a potential contender for years. Look at what kind of FA's New York has attracted in the past. Miami has south beach, but who cares, it's not like these millionaires don't already own multiple properties across the United States and they don't seem to have half as much of as squad as the Bulls. Who else, Golden State? Why would anyone go there excluding $$$ for motivation. Placing yourself in the mindset of a free agent with the goal of a championship, can you really see any better opportunity than playing for Chicago? They are established as a team that clearly is a star away from dynasty with all the pieces set in place whereas other cap friendly destinations are definitely years away from any foresight of future success. The only example in recent years of a team completely changing it's fortune from last place to first so-to-speak, is Boston, and Chicago was close enough to show a team loaded with more talent who they really were. I think it's time for you to start whispering in the ear of the greatest talent to come out of Oak Lawn, Illinois, and let's take down those stinkin' Lakers once again.

JD Deleon

Sam: You have bought in. That’s the Bulls pitch, but there are individual issues. I don’t believe LeBron wants any part of the Jordan legacy and I keep hearing Wade wants that extra year before the new labor contract comes in after 2011. He only gets that in Miami. Plus, you can imagine Pat Riley is making a similar pitch with no riding through the snow to practice. Recruiting gets ugly and Chicago has some of the issues of New York with bad weather, expensive housing, high taxes and an arena far from the practice facility thus involving heavy commuting. Players’ wives get more involved than you think and those non basketball things become issues. I agree the Bulls have a lot to sell, but they did in 2000 just two years removed from six championships and came up empty. I believe the Bulls are better positioned this time, but there are no guarantees, and you can be sure Miami with as much money will be selling Chris Bosh on playing with an All-Star and Olympian like Wade. And in one of the league’s most popular destinations. It going to be a very competitive summer.

I am a big Bulls fan but I think we are in for a very poor season. I think some fans forget how poor Deng played in this offence. you have Rose who can get by anybody but who do he pass out to Salmons is our only good jump shooter. I think our defense will be better but when we struggle offensively we are going to have to bring in Miller who can’t play defense. our worst defense guard was not Gordon last year it was Rose so I don't know how much better he gets in one off-season. Do you see this them making the playoffs?

Jamar Freeport

Sam: So I guess you have not brought in. I do see the Bulls making the playoffs, but I am holding off on a prediction before I see more teams. There are more contenders in the East this season with Washington healthy and Toronto deeper. Miami still has Wade and the 76ers have Brand back. I see Boston, Cleveland, Orlando and Atlanta as top four, so I see four playoff spots for maybe six teams who expect to be in, including the Pistons. I see it taking more than 40 wins this season. Charlotte will play hard with Larry Brown and the Pacers have a legit star in Granger. Plus, you never can underestimate what Skiles can do and Bogut and Redd are back. The Bulls have their share of ifs in the front court. I believe Rose will be better defensively and Salmons will be OK at two. Hinrich is as good a backup combo guard as there is. Can the rookies be consistent? That’s always tough. I’m leaning toward sixth or seventh for now, but not ready to make a prediction.

If the Bulls do keep one of the guys they brought into camp who will it be? Richards or Byars? You can make a case for both. Richards is a big body which may be needed with Gray out and Tyrus iffy due to a concussion. Richards had some good stats last season in the Dleague before getting a back injury. As for Byars well he is a tall 2 guard with a streaky shot who play decent defense, I kind of fall in love with projects like him (Morris Almond, Demitrius Nichols etc.).

Mike Queens

Sam: The old backup quarterback syndrome. Most teams are keeping 13 or at most 14 players this season for economic reasons. With the Bulls so close to the luxury tax, I don’t see them keeping anyone else into the season but retaining some flexibility in case they do have an injury and have to make an addition. I assume they hope eventually to get something out of Jerome James as well.

There seems to be some concern as to whether or not Salmons can play the
2. Hasn't he been a 2 his whole career, except last year when he was a 3
(and sometimes a 4)? If you're 6'5"-6'6", is there much difference
between the 2 and the 3? He has the size advantage over most 2s and can
defend well enough to make up for any lost quickness. Am I way off base
in thinking the 2 and 3 are both wing positions without much difference
in the way you play them?

Chris Corlew

Sam: I also think he’ll be fine. Sometimes people say you need to be more catch and shoot like Reggie Miller at that position. But you are right in that wing definition. I believe Salmons will be fine defending twos. Hey, Gordon was doing it last season. He’ll drop down to three a lot this season with Deng at four and Hinrich and Rose in the backcourt. I think the Bulls have more flexibility this season in players to play pick and roll and different positions. I like Salmons, think he was a steal last season and look for the Bulls to resign him next summer.

I have to disagree with the treatment of Tyrus Thomas. Yes, he should rebound, play defense, block shots and generally stay near the basket. Where Thomas thinks he's something else, I am guessing a player who handles the ball more, I say the Bulls should try to develop those skills in Thomas if he thinks he can and wants to do those things. I don't think Thomas wants to be a point guard but he should be given opportunities to grow as a player. I believe he has the potential to rebound and go coast-to-coast or to face up the basket and hit an open jumper or drive to the rim. If he doesn't get the rebound he should definitely be running on the fast break and while he shouldn't be the primary ball handler on the break, he needs to recognize when to catch the ball and either drive to the rim, finish at the rim or pass to another open runner on the break. Every pro team should try to develop their players to the maximum of their potential.

At best, Tyrus Thomas could become a superstar. At worst, Thomas learns that he can't do those things and be "something else" and is more likely to accept his role as defender/rebounder/shotblocker. Most likely, he becomes something in between. Instead of a star that dominates he becomes a better player that can exploit the occasional mismatch. I see the potential of Thomas as something like a combination of Horace Grant and Robert Horry.

David Yuen

Sam: Sounds great in theory, but what do you think the Bulls have been doing with Thomas for three years. There’s an old saying in the NBA that after three years, you are who you are. There are exceptions, of course, usually guys who didn’t play, like Jermaine O’Neal. But the Bulls have worked extensively with Thomas. It’s not like they haven’t taught him or wanted him to be more than he has been. There’s always been that excuse about being young and not having played much and not having been out of Louisiana and not even able to see Russia from his front porch. The Bulls made a huge investment in Thomas with the trade of Aldridge and wanted him desperately to succeed. They seem now at a point where they want to get something substantial and consistent from him. And when Tyrus should as well since he wasn’t offered an extension this summer and can be a free agent (restricted) after this season. He blocks shots well, which is a great skill. He should rebound and defend. Let’s do those things first, the Bulls are saying, and then we’ll go from there. But let’s do something consistently. Tyrus has yet to show he can. If he does just that this season, he’ll be in huge demand around the NBA and for the Bulls.

I've been watching Tyrus for the last 4 years and not once has he showed me what James Johnson did in his second preseason game. Even if he hadn't nailed that GW vs. the Jazz, it's just so obvious how much better a basketball player he is than Tyrus. He has "it" and Tyrus doesn't. It’s hard to explain "it", but basically it just means he's a basketball player. Tyrus is an athletic freak trying to be a basketball player, but Johnson is flat out a player, similar to Derrick Rose. He understands the game, reads defenses, knows where to be, knows when to pass, knows when to shoot w/o even having to think about it. Tyrus seems to be so robotic on offense and almost plans what he's going to do in advance instead of just letting the game come to him. I know it’s just preseason, but still, this guy has got game! I think people overestimate the quality of understanding the game, and this guy gets it... Do you think I'm over-exaggerating? Because, I think it won't be long before Johnson or even Gibson is starting over Tyrus. What do you think? These rooks look awesome!!!

Billy Habibi

Sam: Well, I don’t put as much stock in preseason as you are. The game changes fast when the season begins and rookies get caught in that thing you see in the NFL where everything is moving so much faster. I think we’ll see some dud games early from both rookies, though I think Gibson will be more consistent because he’ll be asked to do less, more rebounding and defense. It’s why Johnson is that classic high risk/high reward guy. He is skilled, but that requires doing more things well on a regular basis. He doesn’t seem to have a classic position as he has the body more of a power forward and the skills of a small forward. I don’t like his high arcing shot, but he is amazingly smooth with the ball. He seems most comfortable when it’s in his hand. Tyrus should have a bigger impact if he blocks shots and protects the basket. I don’t see Johnson able to do that as well. Tyrus is more the athlete, as you note, and doesn’t have the natural, rare feel for the game Johnson seems to have. I don’t think Johnson is capable of outplaying Thomas this season, and if he does it will be bad for the Bulls because that will mean a poor season for Thomas at a time the Bulls are counting on him. I know Johnson had great numbers against the Jazz in London, but I think he’ll be very erratic for awhile.

What's the chance of us (the Bulls) getting Nocioni back? Now THAT would be a good move because we should never have let him go in the first place.

Nancy Fitzgerald

Sam: Little or none. As I wrote in my NBA column this past Monday, I expect Noce to be traded because he doesn’t fit their youth movement and isn’t a starter. I like Paul Westphal, but he won’t appreciate Noce’s defense. The Bulls have moved on with Johnson to backup Deng at three and Gibson to backup Tyrus at four. They want more pick and roll perimeter players and Noce is more the pop out shooter. He had a great run with the Bulls and I hope he gets a shot with a contender somewhere.

I just read your piece on the best of the Bulls all time draft picks. Toni Kukoc, what is your opinion of him and his impact on the Bulls? I always liked his game. When he was a Rookie in 1993-94 I have read where Phil Jackson got all over him in practice and games. Carrover from Scottie and Michael and Jerry Krause's infatuation with Kukoc ? I think in looking back he was a STEAL!

Richard Meagher

Sam: Toni was one of Krause’s greatest hits. Typically, Krause handled it badly by boasting so much of what he had done and how good Kukoc was that Krause initially alienated players against Kukoc, namely Pippen. Kukoc had a terrific personality and was so likeable that didn’t last long as the players, as usual, preferred to transfer their enmity toward Krause. But Krause came up with a gem as Tony was a key contributor to three titles, made huge, clutch shots and when Rodman was going nuts toward the end of the 1998 season Kukoc replaced him as a starter. As a second rounder, it was a great pick.

What do you think of this trade?

Bulls Trade John Salmons and Brad Miller to Houston for Tracy McGrady (all guys pretty much expire next season)
Bulls trade Tyrus Thomas and Jerome James and future 2nd round pick to Utah for Carlos Boozer

Larry Barron

Sam: Not that much. I don’t know what anyone sees in McGrady anymore. He does have a big expiring deal, but he’s coming off a major injury and out at least a month or more to open the season. When he does play, he’s a walk it up ball hog. Miller and Salmons are very useful and vital for the Bulls. That would be a disaster. As for the Jazz, what you hear is they are telling teams Boozer is an All-Star so they want an All-Star in return or two starters. That suggestion isn’t even close for now. I think that will change, but for now the Jazz seem in no rush to do anything and Boozer is buying in at this point. It seems more likely there’ll be talk regarding Boozer come trading deadline for a lot of teams.

I read that Joe Johnson rejected a four year 60 m deal and will test the free agent market. Will the Bulls be interested? instead of the bulls going after the big names they should settle for the second tier. Like Joe, Boozer, etc.

Sergio Fierro

Sam: Joe Johnson will be a player a lot of teams will look at. As the top names come off the board, the bidding will increase for the next echelon of free agents. Johnson will be in demand since he’s an All-Star, and you want to add an All-Star no matter the position and then you can figure out how it works later.