Ask Sam | Week of 05.31.10
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What intrigues me most about Tom Thibodeau is that he seems to have the best chance of any current candidate at becoming a great coach. Jeff VanGundy has echoed this sentiment. Thibs to me resembles the mold of a Popovich or Sloan, in that they are great strategists and x & o guys, not very gregarious or warm & fuzzy yet maintains great relationships with players and players love playing for them, are no nonsense & accountable guys, and tireless workers.
My question to you, and its hypothetical as you would obviously have to hit the jackpot first and get James, but wouldn't Thibs seem like an ideal coach for LeBron? The one knock would be lack of head coaching experience, but Phil Jackson made it work with Jordan. Also its not like Thibodeau hasn't been around the NBA the last couple of decades. As a side note, I think Tom's prowess as a defensive strategist and specialist somewhat overshadows his overall basketball aptitude, and I have confidence he could put together a great offensive scheme, especially around the best fast break potential ever in Rose, James, & Noah.
Sam: With Cheeks likely not a top candidate, my choice would be for Thibodeau for many of the reasons you mention. He seems like the guy the Bulls were looking for when they hired Vinny. They just forgot to hire him. Thibodeau has had this stain following him as a guy who doesn’t relate well with players, and I think that kept the Bulls from taking him seriously two years ago. It may keep them from hiring him this time. There are other good candidates. No one questions his knowledge of the game and work ethic. I admit my experience with him is limited and never have been coached by him, but have always found him in conversation interesting to talk with about the game and decent company. I saw no signs of being excessively arrogant and dismissive, and he certainly has been humbled by being passed over for jobs for so many years. He strikes me as a pro’s pro. The point you make is right. Where do great coaches come from? Obviously, some is luck given having the talent. Popovich was reviled in San Antonio when he fired Bob Hill and took the job and at one time was rumored within days of being fired. And then Tim Duncan came along, and, well. Phil, too. He was an assistant whom the Timberwolves passed over for their expansion job. And Phil was upset he didn’t get it. You can become a great coach with a chance. Chuck Daly was almost done after years as a small college coach and 76ers’ assistant after one bad season with the Cavs. Few of these guys were regarded as great communicators with the players because that wasn’t their job. I think players respond to knowledge and professionalism. Players, though they won’t admit it, want to get better. And if you can help them get better, that’s what they want. They are not looking for a buddy in the coach and the coach should not be looking to be their friend. You want the players to be held accountable for their play. I think Thibodeau could be a good coach for LeBron because Thibodeau could help him with the game, and if LeBron doesn’t love him, so what. Mike Brown gave LeBron every leeway anyone could ask for and was fired, anyway. Probably, in part, because LeBron lost respect for him for doing that even as LeBron demanded it. You never know how things will work. But Thibodeau is highly regarded, has been supported by respected guys like Van Gundy and Doc Rivers and has been sought by several teams, like the Nets and Hornets, who both have excellent GMs. Short of the two coaches in the Finals, he certainly would be a credible choice.
Regarding tom thibodeau:
was he a defensive guru before kevin garnett?
what about when garnett was hurt?
if the lakers score 110 per game, is that the end of thibodeau-to-the-bulls?
Sam: No one really is a guru, but he did have a good reputation with Houston and New York. He didn’t look great when the Cavs were running up big numbers early in that series, and Garnett sure made everyone look better on defense when he got to Boston, Paul Pierce as well. But Garnett isn’t nearly the same defensive guy anymore after his knee surgery last season, and didn’t even look like he could jump late in the Game 1 loss to the Lakers. So it probably looks a bit better for Thibodeau given Garnett no longer is an all-league defender. Though the Lakers came out looking like that Celtics defense wasn’t all that.
I read yesterday that Kevin McHale expects to interview with the bulls. What is your assessment of Kevin's coaching performance during his brief stints as a coach?
Sam: So what about McHale? I actually think he did very well when he had those two interim stints with the Timberwolves. I thought the players responded to him, and he certainly has a higher profile than Thibodeau. He’d be an impressive face of the franchise, and that’s an important part of coaching in this era given the coach does two or three media sessions per day given games, shootarounds, practices, etc. But he doesn’t have the game coaching experience of Thibodeau, for example, and doesn’t quite have the longtime coaching expertise of situations and game analysis given Kevin has mostly been a GM for the past decade. He’d need some strong, technically minded assistants to support him given his lack of coaching history. Though I also can see him as Danny Ainge’s choice to replace Doc Rivers when Rivers leaves. He’s one of the most personable guys around the NBA and would be a media darling as coach, which Thibodeau or, say, Lawrence Frank would not be to the same extent. It would be difficult to say Kevin would be as prepared to coach in the NBA as guys like that, though I think he’d be a welcomed choice.
I heard the bulls were looking into Elston Turner, I know he has been Rick Adelman’s right hand man for a long time and I love the way Adelman’s teams push the action, utilize good passing big men and still play good defense (I know the kings didn’t, but you can’t blame him for personnel). What’s your take on Turner? Does he have a shot?
Sam: I doubt it. I can’t see the Bulls hiring a relatively inexperienced assistant coach after the situation with Del Negro. I agree with the personnel the Bulls have a coach who likes to push the ball would be good, and guys like Frank and Thibodeau, for example, have been identified with more half court. But I think the only reason Thibodeau, for example, is getting a serious look is because he is such a veteran and has been in more than 100 playoff games. I don’t see any other assistant coach getting serious consideration if that assistant hasn’t been a head coach previously.
What are your thoughts about Adrian Wojnarowski's article "LeBron aims to upstage NBA Finals” where he said that LeBron just needs the attention even when his team gets eliminated from the playoffs? I know we should only worry about an athlete's performance on the game (and not so much his personality), but LeBron's asking for power that he hasn't even fully deserved. Jordan, Bird, and Magic, earned all that after they worked hard through championships by helping market the league to new and better heights (such as Jordan promoting the Slam-Dunk contest and Bird the 3-Point Shoot-out); LeBron just wants to promote his own self-image. Do we really want him to be a Bull? What if he has a spat with the new coach? What if he doesn't get along with his teammates? We all know about his spat with Joakim Noah, and Derrick Rose has that humbleness that all of us Chicagoans have grown to admire (not something that we see in LeBron and I don't see how those two kinds of personalities will mesh).
Sam: In pro sports, you take your chances. Yes, you make determinations about character, which teams do all the time in the draft. No one wanted to take a chance on Dennis Rodman in 1995 when the Bulls did because of character. Wherever LeBron goes, unless he were to join the Lakers and Kobe, he’ll be the dominant figure on the team, so perhaps I knock down my own argument for going to L.A. given his behavior during the Finals. It think it’s selfish judgment, but overall LeBron isn’t a selfish player. And he’ll also have a lot at stake. He clearly wants to be identified as the game’s best, if not best ever. That goal has taken a hit with his recent playoff failures and personal meltdown this season. So he has a lot to lose as well if he goes to a team and contributes to its decline. He’s an unusually mature guy given his early stardom and at the core a relatively unselfish player given his willingness to pass. He needs some discipline and needs to be coached, which he wasn’t in Cleveland. If he knows what’s good for him—and spoiled kids rarely do—he’ll want to be coached and want to be challenged to not do everything the way he wants. As I’ve written many times, I’d take him if I had the chance over any other player in the NBA.
Do you know if Derrick is working on getting stronger even though he is one of the strongest guards in the league; and also, is he working on his speed and agility even though he is crazy fast!
Sam: You don’t have to worry about Rose. He’s remarkably committed. He’s been working out regularly at the Berto Center, and lately has left for L.A. because he wants to get a head start with some of the other potentials, like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, to prepare for the USA Basketball team tryouts in Las Vegas in July. The only worry I’d have with him is he may work out too much.
There's loads of talk of LeBron wanting to be "courted" or "recruited" by the other teams in the league. What kind of things will they say or do for LeBron in an effort to convince him to sign with their team?
Sam: Look, the president already has made something of a pitch for Chicago, so it will get really big. New York is known for expansive sales presentations loaded with celebrity offerings. Want to be in a Woody Allen movie? That kind of stuff. They have the edge on places like Chicago in celebrity. But Chicago is a major business market and I think you can expect many in the business community to line up to show LeBron in presentations how he’d benefit from being in that kind of major market with contacts and access to commercial benefits. But, look, LeBron can buy whatever he wants. Ultimately, someone will have to make the best combined case of his ability to succeed on the basketball court with an appealing lifestyle and environment for his family and friends.
Do you think Solomon Alabi would be a solid pick for the Bulls in the first-round? Reviewing the limited information I could find on the guy, he seems to be a mature, hard working, mobile and team-oriented guy with a lot of upside potential. Did I mention he's 7'1"? On most mock drafts, he's listed to be between the 19-21st picks. Perhaps the Bulls can steal him at 17 and add some size to the team?
Sam: Yes, he’s one of the possibilities for the Bulls I like. I did a mock draft for the Bulls season ticket holders magazine a few weeks back and had him as my choice for the Bulls pick. That, of course, could change as things develop closer to the draft. The point is as we’ve seen in the playoffs again, size matters. There’s some talk that he could be a duplication of Asik, though no one has seen Asik play, so who knows. Phil Jackson always wanted extra big guys, and at least you would have a lot of fouls for Dwight Howard. It worked on Shaq in the mid-90’s with Longley, Wennington and various additions like Parish and James Edwards. I’d consider him a good investment pick.
With free agency coming everyone has their attention on
lebron, but with Derrick rose with the Chicago bulls do you think the
bulls should invest in great shooters. Of
course lebron is the plan A. But do you think the bulls should rely
this summer on shooters?
Sam: That’s the other opinion with the draft. The Bulls obviously need three point shooting depth after giving up Ben Gordon and John Salmons. I know all the attention remains on LeBron, but that may be no better than 50-50 now, which is way better that it’s been. But say the Bulls miss on LeBron and Bosh. Then there’s the likelihood of someone like Joe Johnson, who would be your spread the court three point shooter. If Xavier Henry falls there’s a chance they could take him as he’s not a guaranteed lottery pick or someone like Paul George or James Anderson. My guess is the Bulls try to find a veteran shooter, but if Henry were to get there you’d likely take him. I’m not as sure about Anderson and George is more small forward, but has been moving up the draft boards of late.
As a lifelong Chicago sports fan why is it so hard for us to maintain competitive teams? It seems to me that all of our owners (Reinsdorf, McCaskey, and Tribune), talk about winning but tend to be very frugal when it comes to acquiring the necessary pieces to win. I am in no way suggesting that we become the Yankees, but why do our owners seem to be so fixated on dollars and cents? With this fixation, don’t we lose our advantage as being a big market
Sam: I hear this whine a lot in Chicago and I think it’s mostly because of the Cubs. Chicago teams have done well. The Hawks seem about to win a title. The Bulls have won six, which is third most in NBA history to only the Lakers and Celtics, the latter, by the way, recently coming off 20 years without advancing to the conference finals. The Sox won a championship a few years back and the Bears were in the Super Bowl a few years back. Yes, New York has the Yankees, but the Knicks haven’t won in 35 years, the Rangers are all over the place and the Giants have had a bit more success than the Bears. L.A. doesn’t even have football. I can’t recall the last Dodgers team to win a championship. It seems to me at least 20 years since they’ve even been in the World Series. Some big cities never win anything. Phoenix never has won in basketball despite years of terrific teams. They did win in baseball with a spending spree and then went to the bottom and have stayed. San Francisco doesn’t win much. Denver? Atlanta? Washington, D.C.? Dallas has won in football, but never in basketball or baseball. Houston? I’m not a native Chicagoan, though I have worked here since the late 70’s. I’ve never fully grasped the city’s woe-is-us losers’ mentality that things will go wrong and we’ll lose thing. It seems to me there‘s been a lot of sporting success and a lot of money spent. Wisely? Not always if you check the Cubs’ payroll? But it’s difficult for me to see where they haven’t tried.
In your Chris Bosh sign & trade segment, you left out one realistic possibility for Miami. If Pat Riley likes Bosh enough, he may offer to take back Hedo Turkoglu in a S&T. Since the Heat have so much cap space, salaries don't have to match. The reason this ploy won't work for the Knicks is because Hedo will take up too much space for them to add an additional star. Do you think this is legitimate?
Sam: I do think there’s going to be a lot of creativity in the free agent recruiting. Certainly that could be one carrot to get Bosh, though I’m not sure Bosh/Wade/Turkoglu sounds like a dynasty to me, especially with Turkoglu going on 32 and with four huge years left on his deal. The larger issue with Toronto is whether they’d want a player back. At this point they seem to. I’ve heard more talk they’d prefer someone like David Lee in a sign and trade, and then the Knicks still would have enough money for another guy. And I’m not sure how big a market Lee will have. But there will be desperation in the air of guys begin resigning with their own teams and then anything can happen.
In one of your recent columns on bulls.com you mentioned possibly trading Taj, 2 or more 1st rd picks, cash, and a huge trade exception as a possible way to snag Bosh from the Raptors. My question is where the heck did this 'trade exception' thing come from? I've heard of it before but never totally understood how it works. So when and how can you use it? Does this trade exception totally void the NBA rule of having the salaries of the players involved in trade being within a certain % of each other?
Sam: You are right. Some of this terminology needs explanation. There is a guy, Larry Coon, who does a great web site, NBA salary cap faq, that answers just about every cap question you’d have. As for the trade exception, it simply is the money difference in a trade. So if Toronto were to deal Bosh at $16 million and get back a $2 million player and picks, they’d have a $14 million trade exception. They usually last about a year. Then they’d be able to take a huge salary player in trade without matching salary to go into their trade exception, or credit. Or they could do it with a lesser salary and have some left over, though it would expire. So if you are a team where free agents are not likely to come, you could be in position to get a player when a team that can get free agents might want to dump salaries, say someone like Michael Beasley. There is good value to the exception for certain franchises. My thought was you combine the exception with multiple picks and maybe one good young player and that might make a lot of sense for someone like Toronto.
You mentioned in a recent column that Dwight Howard never seems to improve his offensive game over the summers. Do you think this is also true for Luol Deng? He is still the same player he was five years ago. I think he should have been working on his 3-point shot for the last several years. It would have made the Bulls a much better team, especially for the last 2 years. I know he was injured at times and also played for the British national team, but don't you think he should have shown more improvement?
Sam: Probably, but his issue has more been injuries. He couldn’t do much for two summers, and then there was the combination of the coaching change and free agency which held him back some as, for example, Skiles had told him to stop shooting threes. I guess the upside is he still has room to improve.
I am a former Mavs season ticketholder. I never got over the Devin Harris trade, I got great seats for All Star weekend and will miss watching Dirk play in person. But Mark Cuban has the ESPN guys snowed that he wants to win so bad, when the truth seems to be he is in denial regarding Devin Harris & Steve Nash and it has hurt the team. He signed Terry & Damp to replace Nash and has rode them too long to be effective any longer, because in Cuban’s world to trade would be to show the Nash move was wrong. Now even Ray Charles could see Cuban took the $100,000 fine in order to gain attention for himself with everybody talking about the Russian owner. Also, did you notice D-Wade was on the bench for Pierce’s game winning shot? I wonder if he would have gone out with a cramp if he had made the shot the play before? You know better than I do what condition Michael Jordan was in the 1998 Finals with the flu. Yeah, an injured left elbow that James just had to let us know he had.
Sam: Some interesting stuff there. Cuban is a great example I actually give athletes when I talk to them about the media. The sad truth is the media isn’t as tough it would like to believe and easily swayed. Cuban is the ultimate example. He makes loads of bonehead moves, like giving up on Nash to sign Dampier, that probably cost his team at least one championship, but because he makes nice and is available with the main media they not only never challenge him, but applaud him as a great owner. And what has he won? Actually, I think he’s done a good job in maintaining that franchise, but fans, and I answered a question like this above, want to know why you can’t win ultimately. Cuban’s teams not only never do, but have the worst record in the NBA for chokes and premature playoff exits. Yet, you never hear him questioned by the major media because he talks to them. You’ve got to give him credit. He outsmarted them. The Wade thing is interesting as it got overlooked that he left the game when Pierce made the shot that effectively decided the series because it made it 3-0. Wade came back with a huge Game 4, so it pretty much got swept away. But if Kobe had done something like that you’d have read he was purposely sabotaging the team. It is also one reason why I’m further convinced Wade will stay in Miami. Of all the free agents, he runs the greatest risk of breaking down prematurely because of all his previous injuries and as much as he takes hard hits, and the way Miami likely has worn him out these last two seasons by not giving him much of a team to play with. It’s widely believed Pat Riley took years off Patrick Ewing’s career, and the same could be true with Wade because of the way he’s had to exert himself these last two seasons. I’d still take him as a free agent because he’s a great talent, but I’d say he comes with the biggest buyer beware sign.
It was difficult to see the NBA in here in Scotland for a time. I recently
read that John Starks moved to the Chicago Bulls a few years back. I was
quite stunned to be honest, Starks,from our great rivals in a Bulls jersey? However I then saw a comment on a website saying the he refuse to play for the Bulls? I was wondering if you could shed some light on this
as I cannot find any info, stories, reports or pictures to verify any of
Sam: It wasn’t among the Bulls' greatest moments as it was the last time they were in full free agency mode. They were clearing out the rest of the roster in 2000 and it was part of the Toni Kukoc deal to the 76ers in which the Bulls got the first rounder they used for Jamal Crawford. They got Bruce Bowen in the deal and released him, and Starks declined to report. The Bulls eventually released him and he signed the next summer with the Jazz, while the Bulls' free agency was a mess as they ended up with Ron Mercer and Brad Miller instead of McGrady, Duncan, Hill or Eddie Jones. But that was an awful Bulls team, though they did have Elton Brand and Ron Artest. This core is better and the Bulls are coming off another playoffs. I’m quite sure they won’t swing and miss this time.
I'm not too excited about the Finals either, but how about this for a storyline: If the Lakers win and Phil Jackson wins his 13th NBA title, is he the greatest winner in the history of professional sports in this country? If not, who is?
Sam: Winningest coach, for sure. I happened to run into Jerry Krause the other day at a Sox game. We actually had a civil, if someone stilted conversation. Jerry doesn’t let things pass and still is mad at me for The Jordan Rules. He actually looks really good and has lost a lot of weight. Anyway, we sort of had this conversation, and given I didn’t want to make Jerry mad again, didn’t say much. But his point was Bill Russell with 11 titles on the floor was the game’s greatest winner. It is hard to dispute. Phil has 10 coaching titles and two with the Knicks as player, though even Phil counts only one of those since he was hurt for the 1969-70 season and apparently didn’t think hobbling out in Game 7 against the Lakers would inspire the team. So he let Willis do it. I don’t know how you judge that winners thing. Jack Nicklaus with 18 majors? Auerbach with the titles as coach and GM? Phil certainly is in the team picture. Though in basketball many will continue to say you had to have more direct influence in the game as Russell did in 11 titles.
Excluding any crazy free agent speculation, which coach and what offensive system would best fit the Bulls current roster? Previously you had mentioned Cheeks. Do you still feel that way?
Sam: I liked Cheeks for his overall ability to get along with players, to be sort of a Larry Bird like coach with some strong assistants. I get the sense he’s no longer high on the Bulls list. The Bulls personnel with Rose and Noah suggests mostly an up tempo, fast game. I can see someone like Kevin McHale in that vein as he mentioned this week he expects to be interviewed by the Bulls. But the organizational philosophy remains defense first, which is why I think guys like Tom Thibodeau, whom the Bulls were expected to interview this week in Los Angeles after his interview in Boston got cancelled last week when the conference finals were extended, and Lawrence Frank remain higher on the list. And it looks like Jeff Van Gundy remains serious about staying out, which I think, in part, is because he doesn’t want to get in the way of what he feels is the best chance of Thibodeau, one of his closest friends. And while Phil has said no there still seems a possibility all this delay is about waiting for Doc Rivers, though it seems to me he has a contract and it would be problematic for Boston to allow him to leave for an Eastern rival. And would he leave after going to the Finals?
I was wondering if you heard the newest internet rumors of Tom Izzo interviewing with the Bulls today (Wednesday). It's probably bogus but was wondering if you heard anything about it?
Sam: I got a bunch of emails about it. I don’t believe there is anything to it and I am sure he wasn’t interviewed this week. When I came up with my post-Vinny coaching list, I had Izzo as the only college coach I could see as a pro possibility, given his defensive game, history with NBA players and pushing teams farther than their talent. That said you still cannot hire him, especially after Vinny. No matter how good a college coach is, if he hasn’t been a pro coach there’s a huge learning curve and the Bulls don’t have time for another inexperienced coach who this time would have to learn the NBA intricacies and players’ patterns, especially coming off this summer’s free agency.
Who would the Bulls have to give up in order to get Amare through a sign and trade?
Sam: Their commitment to defense and tough play? I doubt Stoudemire will be very high, if at all, on the free agency wish list of the Bulls. His lack of rebounding in the conference finals was alarming and there remain concerns he’ll need another knee procedure from his microfracture within a few years. I’d say he stays or ends up in Miami or New Jersey.
LeBron is the best talent on the planet but he requires the offense to run through him which would stifle Derrick's growth. Yes, I'm serious. Granted Derrick would prefer to be more of a facilitator but with actual shooters on the outside and a post player who can pop out for that 15-18 footer, who on Earth could stop him. I really believe he's that good and would rather have him be the focal point than a King James. Derrick's all about winning and that is what great players strive for, he always has. With this is mind, who do YOU see as the best compliment to Derrick in free agency for the Bulls future?
Sam: LeBron James. I have heard this stuff about Rose and James not fitting together as they both like to have the ball. Jordan liked to have the ball until he gave it up to Pippen and Jordan still led the league in scoring. You always go for talent and then figure it out. The best pairing for Rose is the best player the Bulls can get and Rose is that good. And because he is he’ll figure it out.
What is the word on Cole Aldrich out of Kansas? I am just trying to think of a way to get some size without getting older with some of the free agents that will be out there? Plus with younger guys the defense might be better than with an older player clogging up the middle.
Sam: I hope size will be a priority in the draft, though the Bulls do have Asik coming from Turkey and he’s tall. You saw especially with the Jazz and Suns in the playoffs how they struggled with size. It’s why I think the Lakers are vulnerable. They’ve been playing midget teams and when they didn’t in the first round they needed a Pau miracle putback to keep from a seventh game. Aldrich is big, but not too athletic or offensive and could fall to the bottom or just out of the lottery.
A couple of friends and I are debating on a couple of dream scenarios that can possibly occur.
1. LeBron and just LeBron
2. Bosh and Joe Johnson via one of them sign and trade
3. Boozer and Joe Johnson via one of them sign and trade
What scenario would the Bulls rather have?
Sam: Again, LeBron, I’d say. It would be appealing to fill two positions with Bosh and Johnson more so than Boozer and Johnson. But the best talent wins. LeBron with Rose would be pretty special. You’d still have to say Cleveland has the edge for LeBron, but I believe the Bulls are moving up strong on the outside. I believe they’d like to try to trade a contract or two to be in position to have enough money to make a pitch for two free agents, say Bosh and LeBron. That, of course, would be something of the potential super team, though very hard to pull off. Just ask the Knicks. That’s their strategy, though they don’t have the talent base the Bulls do. You figure they’ve fallen behind the Cavs and Bulls for LeBron with the Lakers always my darkhorse.
As I get ready to watch the NBA Finals, it occurs to me that not a single one of the "top" free agents this summer was able to lead his team this far. In fact, only one of them (Stoudemire) made it to a conference finals. Like everyone, I'd love to see the Bulls strengthen their team this summer. But I'm wary of paying top dollar for 6 or 7 years for players that couldn't 't take their own teams very far, and in their primes, no less. Stoudemire and Boozer play with terrific point guards and solid supporting casts, and yet they couldn't reach the Finals. Bosh is probably the most frightening -- he never really made his team better in any of his 7 years, and in his final few months before free agency, with his team fighting for a playoff spot, he openly quit on them!
I still think Wade would look best in a Bulls uniform, because he might be the only one of the market with a Jordan-like mentality. LeBron is amazing, but he's the next Pippen, not the next Jordan, and with this big contract could end up being the A-Rod of basketball. If they can't get Wade -- and I know the Bulls aren't mentally tough enough to do this -- I'd pass on all these big names, maybe sign David Lee for less than the max and for just 3 years with a team option for a 4th, and see what they can do with Rose and Noah leading the charge!
Sam: That’s an easy thing to do…if you’re writing an email to me. People—and players—are worth what they are paid. It’s the law of supply and demand. It’s sort of the player bubble and hasn’t burst yet. No, you won’t be able to get market value for these players in a few years like the house I bought a few years ago, but at the time it seemed a good purchase. If Bosh, say, helps you win a title, he was worth it. If he doesn’t, he probably wasn’t. In sports you take your chances. We’ve obviously gone through the Wade-hates-the-Bulls scenario of the last week when Wade erroneously (though facts are often strange things for players) condemned the Bulls commitment to its players. So you can forget him. You could be technically right about some of the other players, but the issue becomes the dynamic. Is Bosh better when he doesn’t have to be the main guy? Will LeBron be better playing with his first legitimate All Star? It’s the sum of the parts theory. The Bulls backed off on the past season to make a run at a major free agent or two this summer. They will do that and pay just about any of their top choices a maximum salary. And they will thank the player for taking it. It’s the right thing to do now and you worry about the future when it comes. As they like to say, you can only win the title you currently play for. This summer is not about saving money. And the Bulls have given no indication they will not spend and I endorse that. So some player gets lucky and paid more than he may be theoretically worth? It happens all the time. Just not to many of us.
So now that LeBron has told Larry King the Cavs have “the edge” to sign him, so he could still stay in Cleveland.
Sam: Most around the NBA have believed LeBron was most likely to stay, though what he told Larry King doesn’t mean anything. You have the edge in games if you are ahead at halftime, but things always change. I know as much as anyone on LeBron, which means not much. But I do know his so-called team is still having meetings and strategy sessions on the free agency plans and that athletes routinely make emotional decisions. You know, they get “disrespected” by some offer they don’t like and then demand a trade and regret it forever. LeBron is going to be courted like no player in the history of the game come July 1. He’ll revel in that, and then anything is possible. Chicago has a great story to tell with the city, the possibilities and the core of the team. But Cleveland always has had the slight edge because I’ve heard the money is important to LeBron. Cleveland is unlikely to do a sign-and-trade to get him the full six-year max deal, especially to an Eastern competitor. While he’ll be treated great wherever he goes, in Cleveland he is as close as there is to idol worship in the civilized world. But it’s hardly 100 percent he’ll return, and if he’s talking to Larry King, he may not be as hip as we thought.
I find it maddening that people are still making an issue of LeBron "following in MJ's footsteps." Jordan's been gone for twelve years
now! Did anyone warn Kobe not to follow in Magic's footsteps when he demanded to be traded to the Lakers in 1996, Shaq in Kareem's
footsteps, or Garnett in Larry Legend's? Why is there such a stigma with superstars coming to the Bulls' franchise? This helped prevent
the team from landing any major free agents in 2000, but ten years later, it's absolutely ridiculous.
Sam: Actually, I don’t hear that much anymore for the reason you’ve stated, other than lately from David Falk, who is pretty much out of touch with the NBA and this era’s players and isn’t much relevant anymore. Actually, it’s an interesting test. If LeBron is a real competitor, he’d welcome that as a challenge like Kobe did and maybe want to go to Chicago to show he’s going to be better than Jordan and anyone else.
I just read an interview with Derrick Rose about what he's been up to this offseason, and he mentioned that he's working on his jump shooting. I'm curious if you know what other players are working on, or will be working on this offseason (especially Noah, Gibson and Johnson). Or, if you don't know, what would you like to see them work on.
Sam: There have been a half dozen or more players back working at the Berto Center already. I know Noah and Gibson have committed themselves to getting stronger, Noah working more an offensive moves, Taj on his shooting, especially those first of two free throw as he seems to miss three quarters of those. I think Johnson will go to summer league and Deng is playing for Great Britain, though he could use rest. Everyone talks about improving, but you won’t know until next season. Dwight Howard does every summer and always comes back with no move. Though knowing Rose, I expect he’ll be making threes next season.
As much as the NBA rules now favor guard play now, I find it very interesting that the two teams in the finals both have big front lines; two starters each who are at least 6'11" and another two starting wing players who are 6'6" or above. It is interesting to see what makes a championship team today and I have to believe height ranks right up there. Sure, any of the top 8 free agents would help the Bulls next year but to get to that top spot Boozer isn't going to be as much help as Bosh or Dirk would be. And they'd still need a taller shooting guard.
Sam: It’s a good point and why, at least, I’ve been lobbying for a center with the draft pick. You heard the Suns moan all series about the Lakers “length,” though having Kobe helped. Yes, you want an All Star, but size still matters in the game and it’s something Phil Jackson, especially, never loses sight of. It’s another reason he has so many titles. Even back with the Bulls he always was asking for extra big men. So, yes, you’d rather have Bosh than Boozer or Stoudemire, though the main point is to improve. If you cannot get LeBron or Bosh, then you get someone and you’ll be better. And the Bulls do have one big man in Noah. I still like Joe Johnson, at least a big guard. If I could have a center, sure, and while Bosh doesn’t defend in the regular season he showed he could in the Olympics, so it’s in him.
Do you think the Bulls could make any sort of play for the Kentucky big man? My guess is that he would go in the top five. Is there any way the Bulls could get up there to make that pick? Either with draft picks, players, or a combination of both? I think he would be a nice addition to the post with Noah and I think him and Rose would work very well together.
Sam: Yes, that’s a tall guy. And a guy who you can see sliding in the draft. The talk already has been Minnesota desperate to get out of No. 4 because they don’t want to take him because of “character” issues. It’s never fully clear what they are, but teams are scared of him. But the Bulls don’t take those chances anymore, at least I assume they don’t after the Tyrus risk. It’s usually tough to trade into the top five or six as teams value those picks way more than they are usually worth. You saw Washington get two pretty good players in Mike Miller and Randy Foye for No. 5 and get condemned for it. Would Minnesota with cap room, say, take Gibson and Hinrich for the pick? Maybe. But I wouldn’t expect the Bulls to take Cousins. Though one of the scenarios I could see the Bulls pursuing would be to deal some pieces like Hinrich and/or Deng and Gibson and take back a draft pick to get a second max slot and then go after two free agents. You’d need to deal with a team with cap room who isn’t likely to land a free agent, like Minnesota or Sacramento, who both have high picks. But both have top point guards and decent and much cheaper forwards. It won’t be easy to do.
What you think about the Bulls sending Hinrich to back up the often injured and streaky VC and Nelson in Orlando and getting Bass and Redick in return, possibly Barnes since he just opted out? Gives us a shooter and some bulk up front and gives them more defense and steady PG if they dont keep white chocolate.
Sam: If only the Smith running the team were me and not Otis they would have done that and maybe be in the Finals. I proposed just about exactly that deal in February before the Bulls made the Salmons deal, though I didn’t have Redick in it because I knew the Magic wouldn’t give him up. It would have given the Bulls the cap room and a rugged four in Bass for the future. I guess Otis doesn’t read me, though I could have seen the Bulls doing that, especially since they were dealing Tyrus. Now it makes even more sense for them as their point guard play and defense was an issue in the playoffs. Though if the Bulls decide to deal Hinrich, which as even he’s said he hears every year and it never happens, I think they’ll try to go for a jackpot, like I suggested in the previous response, and get more cap room to try to make a better case for a major free agent.
Every now and then in an article speculating what LeBron will do in free agency, there is a mention of "Worldwide Wes", William Wesley, who seems to have the inside track (and maybe even influence) on where LeBron will go. I wanted to look into who he was a bit, but didn't find a lot on the web outside of a pretty intriguing GQ article from years ago and a surprisingly vague wikipedia article (it's almost as short yours!). He seems to be an enigma where nobody knows exactly what he does, but everyone seems to agree that he's one of the most powerful figures in sports today. It sounds like he is connected to everybody who is anybody, including GMs, coaches, retired players, current players, future prospects and even Bill Clinton.
Do you have any insight on who or what William Wesley is and/or how we can get him to tell LeBron to come to Chicago?
Sam: Yes, who is that guy? I heard he once was chasing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. By the way, what’s Wikipedia? Is that the encyclopedia put together by back channel sources? I can’t say I know a lot about Wes, though I’ve seen him around for a few decades now. Also, I doubt just how much real influence he has. I believe he has had influence with directing kids to certain college programs. But when it comes to pros and long-term deals, he’s more likely another voice. He is becoming a certified agent for coaches these days in the agency with agent Leon Rose that represents LeBron. But I am pretty sure LeBron will make his free agency decision on his own and won’t be going where some guy suggests he spend the better part of his pro career. Wes is a friendly guy and good company. I think way back he was one of those guys who wore the referee outfits in sneaker stores. I seem to recall him doing some security work around players and then hanging around with Jordan for a time. He eventually hooked on with Nike and was able to ingratiate himself with a lot of top players. Look, it’s not like they are discussing quantum physics. None of the teams know for sure what LeBron or any of the top guys will do, so no one can afford to upset anyone or not take everyone seriously. Since Wes is close with the LeBron group, it makes sense to stay on his good side. But I do believe LeBron is a strong enough figure to make his own decision without being influenced. I think my son and his friends did that Wikipedia entry. Did they mention my former marriage to Madonna?
Why wouldn't Thibodeau just stay in Boston and replace Rivers?
Sam: It should be one of the questions teams interested in him are asking. My guess is it’s two things. One is with a guy who has tried so long to get a head job and rarely was taken seriously he cannot afford to be picking and choosing and passing jobs. Also, he cannot be sure when and if Doc will leave. We hear rumors Doc would like to get out of his deal and come to Chicago. We also hear rumors of taking a year off and rumors he will re-up a long-term deal. So who knows if he’ll get the chance. And while Tom is a solid, knowledgeable guy, the Celts like so called family members and former players, which is why if Doc goes I can see Kevin McHale getting a shot. Heck, they still owe him a ring and playoff share from the Garnett deal.
What are the extent of the tampering rules? Can agents plot with one another? Do the rules extend to the free agents themselves? Could LeBron call or text the Bulls before July 1st and say "Gar, me and Chris Bosh want to be Chicago Bulls, can you make it happen?"
Sam: Officially, teams cannot contact, obviously mention or recruit free agents before their contracts expire June 30. To do so is tampering, just as it is with any player under contract. It’s a fine line the NBA has toughened for this free agency period. There are no precedent rules. The NBA makes them up as they go. But how can you not talk about other players in a sports league? But you can be sure there is a tremendous amount of conspiracy going on all the time with agents of the players making quiet promises and players talking to other players. I know already of several instances of free agents telling players on teams to get their team to bid for them because they want to go there. And why not? Every free agent would like several teams competing for him. And until something is signed, as the Trail Blazers found out last summer with Turkoglu, it doesn’t matter what a player says because often teams wait until one team seems to have a guy sewn up and then come in with something more. The top free agents long have said they’ll meet to discuss the situation. Their agents constantly do so and teams quietly do so while maintaining deniability. There are rules, which basically mean just don’t get caught.
Would either side be interested in a Chris Paul for the Number 1 pick (John Wall) deal? I can see the financial benefit for New Orleans and it would give the fan base a new dynamic player to build around. Pairing Paul and Arenas would be interesting and a ticket seller for DC. Obviously, you might have to throw in players to match salaries.
Sam: It’s an intriguing suggestion, though I can’t see it. Generally teams with the top pick are rebuilding and prefer the rookie, especially if he’s a possible sensation like Wall. Also, veterans don’t much want to go to rebuilding situations. I don’t see Paul wanting to start over again in a new city. And your expectations rise too fast if you get a veteran like Paul, and the Wizards don’t want that. With the pending sale and despite team denials in New Orleans, I still hear talk of a possible Paul trade given they have the cheaper Collison at point guard. Wall is going to D.C. I believe they’ll try desperately to deal Arenas and it’s going to be interesting to watch what New Orleans does, though Paul continues to give every indication he doesn’t want to go anywhere.
Is there any way we can ask Wade why he hasn't already signed with the Heat if he's so "loyal?"
Sam: I have to believe we’ve heard the last from Wade for some time after his stupid remarks about loyalty last week. This is a good point, given Miami has offered him a max deal already that he declined to sign because he said he has to wait and see if the Heat add enough good players to make to worthwhile for him to return. So much for loyalty. And as loyalty goes, it sounds somewhat disloyal to ask fellow players to be disloyal to their franchises and leave to join you even though you haven’t decided yet whether you’ll be loyal enough to resign. And since Wade is holding out re-signing, why would anyone sign with the Heat before Wade does?
I don't think the Bulls' own PR team could have done a better job than Dwayne Wade at getting the word out about how much the Bulls Organization does for its former players. If not for Wade's comments about loyalty, we (and other free agents) may never have heard so much from, or about, former players' experiences with the Bulls after their playing days were over. We may never have heard about how the Bulls paid for Cartwright's surgeries, Jay Williams' insurance (not to mention his salary) and Bob Love's gout treatment. And that's not to mention everything that's been written in the past week about Pippen's sign and trade (and second round with the team), and the careers of Randy Brown, Cartwright, Pete Myers and Paxson himself. Nice work Dwayne, and thank you!
Sam: Plus, the Bulls paid Jordan’s basketball salary to him while he played baseball and after he retired from the NBA and paid Williams $3 million on his contract even though Williams had voided the contract with his motorcycle riding. So maybe Wade is smarter than we think and he wants to go to the Bulls and wants to show other free agents if there is one franchise you can count on after your career ends it is the Bulls. Good point.
With Hedo Turkoglu unhappy in Toronto, do the Bulls make some sort of run at him? I thought they should have last year, but what would they have to do this year? Some sort of sign and trade?
Sam: I’d say be way more desperate than they are. The way he played last season it seemed he may have decided this was his last contract and it’s his golden parachute. He’s an older player, 31, but with 14 years pro experience with his years in Turkey. He doesn’t have a great body, and Orlando probably did the right thing not paying him for five years. Perhaps getting Vince Carter was wrong, but I cannot blame Orlando for not matching that five year deal. Plus, the Bulls have Luol Deng at that position. They would have zero interest in Hedo.
Who of this is the best defensive player: Bosh, Lee, Amar’e or Boozer?
Sam: That’s the old world’s tallest midget joke. They all are awful. The question maybe should be who is the least awful and who has the interest in becoming better. I think Bosh has the potential, which he showed in the Olympics, but clearly saved himself for scoring and free agency the last two seasons. Lee also has a chance because he’s a hard worker, but he’s small and the least talented of that group. Amar’e likely won’t once he signs a big deal and it just isn’t in Boozer. So I’d rate them Bosh, Boozer, Amar’e, Lee.