Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 10.22.10
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I can't wait for the season to kick off next week! With LBJ out of the division, I see the Bulls as the favorite to win the division and secure a top 4 playoff seed in the East. Our first 2 weeks have some winnable games, but how do you see us faring in the 9 game circus stretch with 8 road games and facing only Orlando at home? This trip seems to be the Achilles heel for this team that can be the difference between a 7-8 seed or a 4-5 seed. I think if we can pull off 4 or 5 quality wins, it would be a huge success for us, especially without Boozer for the start of the season. Bill Marzano
Sam: Yes, we’re ready for the season, but perhaps not as excited as if Carlos Boozer were playing. I believe it’s going to be a rough November. Let’s be realistic. It was good to get Boozer, who seems a good fit with the players the Bulls have. But in a two-year stretch, the Bulls basically had to jettison Hinrich, Gordon, Salmons and Tyrus to get him. The goal was LeBron and/or Wade, so you had to give it a shot. But without Boozer, the Bulls are probably no better than where they were, which is a .500 type team. Assuming Boozer returns on time, they could have a good second half and be stronger heading into the playoffs, which is what you want. Given the landscape, I think they did a solid job coming up with complementary pieces, but that was predicated around having Boozer. The two guard spot remains a concern with Ronnie Brewer likely not at full health and power forward, especially, with Boozer out and Gibson starting slowly. I’m actually looking more forward to December.
Kyle Weaver? Was he kidnapped by martians? or did he kid "Thibs" about his resemblance to Ed Sullivan?
Sam: I heard he shot Thibs’ dog. Nah, just kidding, but he certainly didn’t get a fair chance before he, John Lucas and Roger Powell were released Thursday. It’s not like you are owed one, as a training camp invitee with an unguaranteed deal. But Weaver opened some eyes when he got some playing time and in those brief appearances outplayed, at least in my eyes, Bogans, Brewer and Watson as a playmaking guard. Coaches can be like this: They have guys they want to go with and trust. That’s that so-called numbers game you hear mentioned at times. Plus, those guys have guaranteed deals and aren’t going anywhere, so there is reason to get them up and going. I haven’t heard anything that management is pushing the paid guys over Weaver. In fact, Weaver was brought in by management on the recommendation of Bulls scouts while Scalabrine, for example, was brought in to accommodate Thibodeau, which isn’t unusual, either, given the coach’s comfort level with Scalabrine in Boston. It probably came down to something like Thibodeau, for whatever reason, wasn’t going to play Weaver and management decided it was better for Weaver to give him a chance to hook on elsewhere rather than languish with the Bulls and then be released when Boozer returns. I’d heard the Hornets tried to get him into their camp, but he preferred the Bulls. So maybe they give him another look. It’s a 14th man, so not exactly a season make or break. But it looked to me in short minutes or an emergency that Weaver could help make the team better.
While Powell (being released) is no surprise, everything I'd heard up to this point suggested the team would keep either Weaver or Lucas. Obviously the team's season doesn't hinge on either of those two players, (if either of them ended up playing major minutes for the Bulls this season, something would have been terribly wrong), but having said that, why wasn't one of them kept? Also, the roster is currently at 13 players, do you see them picking up anyone else before the season starts?
Sam: As I wrote above, Thibodeau was down on Weaver, and it was clear Lucas was no NBA player. One reason also might be given the issues so far at shooting guard and with Boozer out, perhaps the Bulls believe they need someone they view better than a 13th or 14th man. The rebounding has been poor, so many they check the roster moves around the league for a big guy. I’d heard there was some continued interest in Erick Dampier, but he wants all their remaining cap room of more than $2 million, and that would limit what the Bulls could do if something bigger, like Carmelo or Rudy, falls into their lap. Maybe someone like center Earl Barron. The Bulls have been mining the Jazz, and they released guard Sundiata Gaines or Chicagoan Othyus Jeffers. Adam Morrison got bounced, though I sure hope not. Damien Wilkins, son of Gerald, got cut. I’d heard some talk last summer the Bulls might take a look at Bonzi Wells. I wouldn’t be surprised if they brought someone in given the roster uncertainty these days and someone Thibiodeau would play. I do think Weaver lands somewhere and helps a team as he has a nice feel for the game.
It's clear that C.J.Watson has problems running the team ... I hope to see more of Weaver. Watson seems to be in Golden State mode: always looking for his own shot and not trying to get the ball moving.
Sam: Yes, Watson is proving to be more of a scoring guard. He actually may be better playing with Rose, and if his defense proves better, he would be a good option ahead of Bogans. But one of the issues with Watson is it often takes a year for players to, as they say around the NBA, to get the Golden State out of you. That’s because, especially under Don Nelson, it was such an undisciplined program where players had no defensive responsibility and were rarely held accountable that when they get into professional situations with an experienced and serious teacher like Thibodeau, they can take time to adjust. Jason Richardson was an example and it took him almost two years to return to being a responsible defender and less erratic player. In Phoenix, no less. Watson has obviously been both loose with the ball and his shot selection. Perhaps it’s just a matter of finally being coached as he has talent and perhaps can become that backup point. But it may take awhile to break his bad habits as that’s all he’s known in the NBA.
What is up with Brewer? I read that he's ok and healing up from recent injury but also read that keith bogans is going to start the year at shooting guard? for a team with a chance to win as many as 55 games this year, that is not the way to play. rose is good off the dribble and is a great scoring threat when in the paint and started getting hot at the elbow last season but doesn't have great range. Why not try to insert a scoring type of guard in cj watson in for shooting guard?
Sam: The biggest issue is defense given you don’t want to go back to having that smurf backcourt again, and Thibodeau is more attuned to defensive niceties. I know everyone continues to say Brewer is OK, but if he is, he better be playing ahead of Bogans. That he is not suggests he isn’t. That’s your so called eye test. I think Brewer will be OK even without the three point shooting range once he is fit to play, but he must not be because Bogans continues to have difficulty defending high level guards. He’s good for what he was brought in for, but it’s a lot to ask of him to be that Bruce Bowen defensive stopper. The Spurs gave him a shot at it last season and had to drop off by midseason.
As the pre-season comes to a close with only 1 game remaining for us, who have you been the most impressed with? Least impressed with? And most surprised with?
Sam: I’ve been most surprised with Omer Asik. He moves like a real basketball player. We don’t expect that of international big men the Bulls bring in. He seems to have good positioning and already is one of the better help defenders. I’m not surprised by Korver, though some are, because I always thought he was valuable, not quite Ray Allen but way, way better than Jason Kapono. I’ve been disappointed in Brewer, though he may be hurt, and Watson, whose ballhandling hasn’t been good and whose shot is wild. But he comes from Golden State, which can be a problem. I think some are surprised by James Johnson in that he’s not a total dud. I never thought he was that, but I’m still unsure where he fits.
So the way I understand it, after December 15th, we can trade any of our newcomers that were signed to deals this off-season. Also, the way I understand it, Melo can sign a new deal with any team any time throughout the season.
If that is the case, do you think we would then have enough assets to pry Anthony from the Nuggets after December 15th (if he is still around) while retaining our core of Boozer, Noah and Rose and if so, would ownership do it?
I personally do not think that Melo will sign long term with the Nets.
Sam: I am quite sure the Bulls would go after and sign Anthony, but I don’t see, according to everything I’ve heard out of Denver so far, where the Bulls have the pieces to make such a deal. Especially since by December, several of the guys they signed this summer may be just starting to play healthy. This heated up again last week after another apparently bogus Anthony-on-the-verge-of-going-to-New York story. Actually, the Knicks use the national media pretty well on this to continue to maintain interest. I can see Anthony signing with the Nets since it is the New York area and the Nets might have a better chance to succeed after a trade for Anthony than what the Knicks would have left. By the way, it’s only a three year extension.
You probably have already seen this, but this piece on SI.com (http://nba-point-forward.si.com/2010/10/19/carmelo-a-franchise-player-ma...) provides strong statistical and analytical support for your view that having Carmelo on the Bulls wouldn’t necessarily make them better, even if they didn’t have to give up half the team to get him.
Sam: The piece you refer to comes mostly from a blog in Denver (OK, some blogs are interesting) analyzing Anthony’s play and shooting and makes an interesting statistical case for him being a difficult player to win with and someone who could undermine your team given his selfish play. Yes, he has been designated in that star group, but he hasn’t quite produced much, which we mostly blame on being in Denver. After all, he did lead a team to an NCAA title. My point has been to be careful how much you want to give up and go in with your eyes open. That said, I would take a shot, though not with giving up Noah, and all indications are Denver doesn’t have interest—certainly not now—in anyone else.
Which position, in your opinion, is the most rewarding position for a team to have a superstar in? By rewarding I'm referring to wins in the regular season and playoffs. For me, I would probably say shooting guard, but that is probably simply a result of how Jordan had his way with the game of basketball.
Sam: Yes, it’s easy for us in Chicago to fall in love with shooting guard, since Jordan made it seem so easy, and the stars of the game now are shooting guard types like Kobe, Wade and LeBron. But historically, the best measure of success in the NBA is a center. Shaq was clearly the main guy in the first three Lakers’ titles, and Tim Duncan was the guy for the Spurs, and Tim, though preferring to be called a forward, basically played a center’s role. And if Dwight Howard had taken the time to learn how to play basketball, maybe the Magic would have a couple of titles by now. The history of the NBA game was so dominated by centers than when Phil Jackson came to the Bulls he wasn’t sure you could win with Jordan. It’s why from his first day as an assistant he was urging Jordan to cut down on his scoring. The rules have changed in recent years to thwart the dominance of centers and enhance the ability of perimeter players. As a result, more big kids see it as less glamorous to be a center, so they refuse to play in the post in high school. If the coach objects under the goofy rules of today, they merely change schools. But if you had the choice, which is why every NBA GM no matter what crap they give you now would have taken Greg Oden over Kevin Durant, if everything is equal you take the great big man.
I don’t understand how back in the days of wilt and Russell, that the big men were grabbing so many more rebounds than the big men today. Isn’t the game more athletic with technological and medical advances. I don’t understand how Dwight howard led the league last year at slightly over 13 rpg, when a decade and a half ago rodman was leading the league at 18 rpg, and back in the day wilt, Russell, were both getting well over 20 rpg? Why has rebounding fallen down when scoring has gone up and assists have pretty much stayed the same?
Sam: It’s actually fairly simple. Wilt and Russell were better. Well, there’s more to it than that. Shooting was terrible then as players today have become such better shooters. Just check some of the shooting stats in that era. Plus, there were more possessions and thus more shots then as teams played faster and scores were higher. Plus, there was less emphasis on defense. There was no zone defense to keep a big man off the boards, and before it was technically allowed a few years back, it was disguised with switching defenses. And today the rules are ridiculous the way they allow big men to be mugged while you can’t look angrily at a guard/forward without getting a foul called, especially one named Kobe, LeBron, Dwyane, Dirk and now Kevin.
Why hasnt evan turner's game translated well to the nba?
Sam: Of course, he hasn’t played an NBA game yet. But, I know, it’s never too soon to get down on a guy from Ohio State. It’s not exactly an NBA success factory since Hondo and Jerry Lucas. Turner is an interesting case as he didn’t seem a great athlete, but, I think, was helped by the success of Brandon Roy with this notion of intelligence and versatility. He became accustomed to having the ball so much at Ohio State that he’s struggled with the 76ers to play the position he was picked for, shooting guard. It was a bit of the issue Roy has with Andre Miller as Roy prefers to play with the ball and has clashed with Miller as a result. So in Philly you have a point guard in Holiday and a three in Iguodala, so Turner has to play shooting guard and doesn’t quite fit yet, though I think he will.
What do you think about the idea of trading for Jamal Crawford? I think taking him answers some of the team’s concern, like a starting 2 guard, a decent back-up point, scoring option, and cap relief ( his expiring contract ). I think it’s a nice plan B in case we can’t land Melo or Rudy.
Sam: I don’t think much of it. First of all, Jamal now makes $10 million, so you’d have to give up $10 million in salaries. And, frankly, Deng is a better player than Jamal given his defense and rebounding. Also, Jamal is playing for a new contract, so has a good chance to be wildly out of control. And given he makes $10 million now, how much will he be asking for? And who wants to pay him more than, say, Boozer, with Derrick Rose coming up for a contract. I believe Atlanta would like to move him, and someone probably takes a shot for an expiring deal or maybe into a cap exception like Cleveland midway through the season as he can score.
Luol Deng looks to have put work in increasing the range on his shot. Thur six preseason games he is shooting over 50% on threes and looks to be comfortable taking the shots. I dont expect that pecentage to continue for a season, but I believe this will be big for the bulls offense if he can be a reliable threat from long range.
Sam: Yes, given Deng credit. He came back with something extra in his game. You always ask that of players and despite playing for Great Britain this summer he obviously worked enough on his game to add something. We know he’s the Bull most fans want to dislike, but he remains a valuable player and with Boozer out is scoring is going to be vital.
You've mentioned on several occasions the Hornet's 1st round draft selection that the Bulls own. What's the scoop on this pick? Is it lottery protected? Do the Bulls get to choose when they want the pick or are there certain limitations on it?
Sam: I get asked about this a lot, so here’s the answer and for anyone who asks again refer them to Oct. 22 Ask Sam. The pick is lottery protected in 2012, protected top 12 in 2013, then top 10 in 2014, top eight in 2015 and unprotected in 2016. Which means basically the first year the Bobcats make the playoffs starting in 2012 the Bulls get the pick. If the Bobcats continue to miss the playoffs every year in that five year stretch, the Bulls could end up with the No. 1 overall pick in 2016.
I am not, under any circumstances, condoning the hurtful texts LeBron has received since his Decision. However, it's hard to take this article (on ESPN about him) seriously when there is such a gargantuan contradiction at the heart of the piece. How can we believe that he was so "taken aback by the national response" when he has "such keen awareness" about his surroundings at all times? Maybe if he would have thought for just a moment about how much he meant to Cleveland, maybe if he considered how much he would be hurting his loyal followers by destroying them on national television, maybe if he didn't sound so pompous when he sputtered, "I'm taking my talents to..." Maybe if LeBron actually did have a keen sense of his surroundings, then maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't have to whine about reading negative tweets while warming up for his NBA game or while he watches his room of televisions in his mansion. I feel bad that ignorant people are writing ignorant things, but it's had to empathize with someone who wants to be loved for acting like a jerk and then displacing the blame and crying 'poor me.'
Sam: Yes, but that LeBron and ESPN are clever, as they seem to be able to keep them and him in the news. You know the old saying about not caring what they say about me as long as they spell my name right. Let me first say I’m not mad at LeBron and he certainly was within his rights in the rules of the game to do what he did. He did resign with the Cavs and gave it seven years. Everyone agrees he handled it all callously, but he’s a star athlete. They do stuff like that. Suggesting only he gets hate mail is ridiculous, especially in this era when anyone with a computer or a phone and an anonymous name can act brave and tough. Every public figure and player (and media people as well, as I can attest) gets them, but no one advertises them. Just like why they don’t show the idiots on TV running on the field. It just encourages more of that stuff. But on the other hand, LeBron does seem to be playing this villain stuff very impressively and they only stop watching if you’re not interesting. And no one is going to be able to say that about him.
What do you think about midseason the Bulls trading Brewer, James Johnson and our 2011 1st rd pick to Bobcats for Stephen Jackson? I see Bobcats really having a terrible year and thus getting some salary relief, a young talent in Johnson and a pick would be beneficial to them. Jackson is a big SG who can shoot and score the ball at a high level, is on a reasonable deal(including this year is owed 3 years, 27 million). Jackson also has playoff experience and won a ring with Spurs.
Sam: I only print this one because of the mention of Jackson. Of course, such a deal is ludicrous, especially because it would make the pick the Bulls got from Charlotte that much more valuable by saddling them with lesser pieces and years of hopelessness. Charlotte will be interesting because Larry Brown, not that he doesn’t do it all the time, has been on the phone around the league pretty much offering anyone. Now, Larry can’t officially trade anyone, but he has a lot of power in Charlotte, and as the Bobcats begin to fade this season with basically no center or point guard, Jackson’s going to be heard from and looking for an escape. He makes big money and can be a pain, but he can play and I’d certainly like to have his talent. The new guys do have short contracts, so maybe if Charlotte is looking to dump the money I can see if the Bulls were willing to return that Charlotte pick they’d have to have some interest. I think the Bulls have enough quality guys and a serious coach who could keep Jackson in control and I’d go for him at this point.
I was wondering what you thought of Jordan’s comments about probably either fouling out or scoring 100 points in today’s NBA?
Sam: You know how when you go to the park and see kids playing, you envision yourself beating them? Yes, even now, how your shot is true and your knowledge of the game so much better and if you knew then what you know now. Yes, Mike lives in that fantasy world now with the rest of us. I know he talks about the openness of the perimeter and limitations on hand checking and physical play. So why did teams average so much more in his era than they do now? When the Bulls won their first title in 1991 in the heart of that tough defensive era when Jordan was scoring his most, 24 teams averaged at least 100 per game and the Bulls averaged 110 per game, which was seventh in the NBA. With zone defenses and more sophisticated scheming it would be much tougher. Yes, Kobe got 81, but that was also because he is a better shooter than Michael ever was. I think Jordan would have more trouble scoring now than he did because of the reliance on the three-point shot. He never truly became a great long distance shooter. He’s fortunate for his scoring records to have played in the era he did.
There are fresh rumours about Monta Ellis not being happy pairing up with Stephen Curry in Golden State's backcourt, as they have similar play and are both fairly small at 6'3. What do you think the chances of Monta being traded are? I know you'd like him in Chicago, but would the Bulls be interested in a combo guard that can actually score? And if there is interest, is there a trade that could work?
Sam: I’ve watched Monta this preseason and he clearly is happier playing with Don Nelson gone and getting up plenty of shots. Though I think he’s right it won’t work with Stephen Curry. Curry wants to shoot as well and really isn’t a point guard. So they pretty much still play that bad no defense, forced shot style. There were talks last year with the Bulls, serious talks I’ve heard, but that was when the Bulls had Hinrich, whom the Warriors wanted to pair with Curry, and under previous ownership. With Hinrich gone and with the Warriors getting a small forward, Dorell Wright, in free agency, I don’t see any deal that makes sense. Again, you’d have a too small backcourt with defensive issues, but the Bulls need someone who can manufacture a shot and score other than Rose and they don’t have that, especially with Boozer out.
Not getting over confident in Asik at the moment but could you see him starting at Center until Boozer comes back leaving Gibson to come off the bench?
Sam: Coming into camp, I would have laughed that off. But seeing how things have gone I would not dismiss it. I don’t expect it, though Gibson obviously has some issues and Asik has done well as a defensive center, though fouls have been an issue and you couldn’t count on him much. I’d rather see him as the third string guy as he learns the game more, but you do what you have to when things aren’t going right. Thibodeau was smart to play him with Noah to get a look at Noah at four and perhaps we’ll see more of that.
How does the new standard for complaining to refs differ from the action the league took in 2006-2007? It seems like the exact same policy. If I recall, there were more technical fouls called at the beginning of the season, but by midway through the year the refs and players pretty much reverted back to their normal practice.
Sam: It doesn’t differ, but they are really, really, really, really serious this time when last time they were only really, really serious. Like they were about policing flopping. It usually takes four reallys these days.
There still are some interesting names available:
Sam: I see where you are going, shooting guards. Mostly too old and slow, I’d suppose.
James Johnson. He's an interesting talent. In the limited minutes I've seen him play, he appears to have true NBA point guard ball handling skills. As the Bulls expect zero out of him the next year or two, maybe Thibodeau can work with him in practice playing against our point guards. My logic: he's far too slow and doesn't have lateral quickness, but, like Tayshaun Prince has long arms (okay not as long as Prince's which are freakish, but longer than opposing point guards are used to dealing with over an extended stretch), perhaps he could use them to envelop the opposing point guard and take many angles away from his passing lanes. It's also hard to shoot over except with a fadeaway. James Johnson will often get beat off the dribble, but, as he knows this as do the Bull's bigs, Johnson can chase and look to steal the ball on kick outs. I watched Pat Riley do this routinely with Magic Johnson of the Lakers on Tim Hardaway of the Warriors and on John Stockton of the Jazz. He does seem to have a knack of posting up smaller players and that's what gave me the idea. If he could genuinely run the break, set up the offense, and create a strange mismatch on opposing point guards occasionally getting opposing coaches to change their game plan, it might be worth tinkering with. Do you think Thibodeau would be tempted to try something like this to create a mismatch from time to time?
Sam: It’s an interesting idea and worth a try. The problem with Johnson has been just that: He has this unusual set of skills, but they just can’t figure out where they work. I’ve mentioned power forward for much the same reason, to give him some mismatches, which is one of the keys to developing an NBA game and position. Thibodeau has basically rejected that and seems to see Johnson mostly as a backup three. But given the weakness behind Rose and the apparent uncertainty about using Weaver, it might be worth a try. Once the season gets going, Thibodeau will be going more to a shorter rotation and has shown he’s more a guy to go with players he knows and trusts even over talent. Johnson looks like he can handle well enough to beat pressure and seems to have decent court vision. He seems to be heading toward a Bulls purgatory, so it might be worth a try.
Where would you rank Joakim as a center in this league? I'd say he's maybe 5th after Dwight Howard, Yao Ming (sans injuries), Brook Lopez, and Andrew Bynum (healthy). This is assuming of course Tim Duncan is not a center =)
Sam: It’s become an interesting question, one that you would be laughed at to mention a year ago when the august panel of NBA alleged experts failed to even include Noah on the All-Star ballot, which meant not even top 12 in the East. You obviously have Howard and Pau as the top two. Then you get into the more significant question of making an impact. I had him slightly behind Al Horford a year ago and you probably could make a case for either at this point. Yao is back only as a part time player, so we’ll see. Bynum is again hurt and Lopez has been involved in too many losses to know how he plays seriously. So you’d probably take Noah ahead of them for now. Chris Kaman, too. I’d probably go with Bogut ahead of Noah given Bogut’s all around ability, again assuming good health, which Bogut rarely has had. So maybe around five or six, which is pretty impressive from where he was a year ago.
I was just wondering with Kirk Hinrich gone, do you see D-Rose getting the opportunity to be a team captain?
Sam: I haven’t given it much thought or asked because everyone knows who the captain should be, the guy who is the best player and does the most for the team and is most responsible. I don’t know what Thibodeau’s plan is for captains. Sometimes a coach picks him or them. Sometimes the players do. For the Bulls, it should be Rose, Noah and Deng. And Boozer, but only if he cleans up his place better and puts all the luggage away.