Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 11.05.10
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The New York game just ended, and I can't believe Thibs kept Rose and Noah on the bench down the stretch! Steve Kerr commented during the broadcast that he believed it was a good decision for Thibs to rest the starters, both to reward the reserves for playing well enough to make the game close and to keep the starters fresh for the Boston game. I don't buy this reasoning at all. I don't care if it's November or April, the first game of a back-to-back or the final game of the season. If you have a chance to win a close game (the Bulls were down by as little as 8, which was actually the Knicks margin of victory), how can you not have your best player and leader (Rose) and your best rebounder/interior-and-help defender and emotional leader (Noah) on the floor? This was a very questionable decision by Coach Thibs. Korver was shooting the heck out of the ball, and Rose already had 14 assists. Who could get Korver better looks, Rose or Watson? I could go on for paragraphs on this topic, but I'll conclude by saying that I hope Thibs remembers this game the next time the Bulls find themselves in a similar situation. End rant.
Sam: That obviously was the big question and I dealt with it in my game recap column. I probably bring them back, but I talked to some other coaches and general managers after the game and some agreed to let it ride with the group he had in. It’s one of those instant second guess situations which always come up for coaches, but I thought Thibodeau dealt with it well, had thought it out and made his decision based on factors he considered, which included the group sitting on the bench had allowed 75 percent on threes. I might not agree, but I could understand what he did.
I was watching the Bulls vs. Thunder game the other day and was struck by something Mark Jackson said. He was referring to the Melo rumors and the Bulls reluctance to include Noah in a deal and indicated that this was a mistake because "you can always find high energy defensive bigs." Ignoring for a second that this isn't actually true, it occurs to me that both Mr. Jackson and the majority of fans lump Noah into the Anderson Vareajo / Chris Anderson category incorrectly. While he doesn't have a traditional center's post game (who does anymore?), he's far from unskilled. He's a terrific passer and ballhandler, has shown an improved jumpshot, and overall, has an understanding of the game that is beyond most players. I think fans and most commentators lump him into the "high energy / limited skill" category because the skills he brings to the table aren't necessarily tied to his PPG. When you contrast this with Melo, who's PPG is easy to see and obscures the fact he scores those points relatively inefficiently, I understand the "it's crazy not to trade Noah for Melo" reaction, but I think that reaction is just wrong.
Sam: I happen to agree and so do the Bulls, the latter being all that matters. But it’s interesting you bring that up as I’ve had a few general managers tell me since then that they laughed when they heard the comment because they wanted to know where those guys were, seven-footers who average a double-double and can lead a team with their defense and hustle and playmaking. Noah, which might be a problem for the Bulls, may be the second best decision maker on the dribble on the team. I know it’s an opinion, but it just shows on some level how little some of these TV guys really watch the NBA. Noah has a good shot to make the East All-Star team this season, and I’d hardly include Varejao in that category.
People are complaining about Denver pulling out of the Nets deal and waiting for a better deal or thinking Carmelo might sign the extension with them, but isn't making the deal with New Jersey for Favors, Harris, and the 1st rounder a better deal if it is made at the trading deadline? At that point they will have likely lost more games than they would have lost if Carmelo was on board since the beginning of the season making it in theory a better pick. If they know that this season is probably lost anyway, and the Nets are chomping at the bit, don't you think the Denver management team is doing the intelligent thing by waiting? Plus that will allow them to tank the second half of the season and have two lottery picks...not that an NBA team would ever do that...
Sam: I like your thinking. And I think that’s definitely one scenario the Nuggets are working toward. Plus the Nets have another high first or another team they’d throw in. The key is whether Anthony would re-sign there. The logic to me for Anthony is to say he’s rich and will make $10 million (maybe instead of $20 million) no matter what the collective bargaining agreement is, so why not go where you want and pursue the lifestyle you want, whether it being winning or partying. But players rarely do that and generally follow the money. So it will come down to who blinks first, but, you are right, I doubt the Nuggets are in any hurry.
Reading around the internet, a lot of people seem to be concerned about CJ Watson, and this includes some Bulls experts. I'm nervous every time Rose is on the bench, and while I realize that there is going to be a huge drop off in both production and style while Rose rests, no matter who the backup is, I would like CJ to play with his head up a bit more and look to set teammates up.
When the Bulls first signed Watson, you first warned us that there would be an adjustment period & a learning curve, as with all new teammates, but especially one coming from Golden State's (lack of) system. I believe you gave him at least 40 games, maybe the whole year for him to unlearn everything he was taught by Nelson. Can Thibs work with him?
Sam: That’s the hope. Right now he still has too much Golden State in him in that he’s firing up a lot of wild shots with no real purpose and unable to play defense out of. It is only four games. Yes, it has been a big drop off, as it would be with anyone replacing Rose. But Watson hasn’t been able to perform like a point guard, leaving Rose to probably play a lot more until Boozer returns.
So far this season, it seems obvious that Ronnie Brewer is not the player we thought we were getting. If this continues for the first half of the season, do you think the Bulls could pull off a trade with the Thunder to acquire James Harden? They would probably have to give up Taj Gibson to get it done, but I think Harden’s outside shooting and defense would be a perfect complement to Rose. Right now, Harden is not getting a ton of playing time with OKC, and they may realize that they will need more frontcourt help to compete with the Lakers in the West.
Sam: I think you could get Thabo. That franchise doesn’t give up young high draft picks. Brewer did play a bit better with the reserves late in the loss to the Knicks. I’ve believed he’s been hurt with that hamstring problem, so we’ll see if his athleticism improves. But, yes, right now, it’s left Thibodeau really searching on rotations as with Rose out the Bulls offense really bogs down. He probably needs to keep Korver out there more, and at least at the end of the Knicks game he did.
Is there any possibility that the Bulls could put a deal together to get Kevin Martin of the Houston Rockets and maybe another player like Jordan Hill? I feel like Kevin Martin could help the SG position greatly.
Sam: He’s one of the guys I mentioned in a recent Monday NBA column could well be available, especially with now the Rockets off slow and Courtney Lee cheaper. But he makes so much any deal with the Bulls seems unlikely in matching salaries, and, frankly, he’s not worth it.
So what's your word on Omer Asik? He shows promise, for sure--he seems to have a good basketball IQ and seems pretty solid as a backup big man. Once he works on his free throws and keeping away from foul trouble, I wouldn't be surprised seeing him get more minutes playing the 5 and Noah at the 4. My question, though, is what do you think Asik's upper limit is? Does he have the potential to be a Pau Gasol type, or will he always just be as good as a backup option?
Sam: He’s no Pau, that’s for sure. It’s difficult to see where his offensive game is going to come from, though I assume he’ll eventually develop something because he works hard and seems to have good instincts for the game. He’s been the team’s big surprise so far given he’s been coming first or second off the bench, and no one this summer would have predicted that, especially the coaching staff. Maybe like a Caldwell Jones type. Or Charles Jones. One of those Joneses.
I know it is very early but do you think Center Omer Asik could become a candidate for the Rookie team at the 2010 All-Star Rookie/Sophomore game?
Sam: I certainly hope not for his sake. In that game of lob dunks, I’m not sure the fans will be too excited to see Omer, though he can catch an alley-oop. And then what if he gets fouled?
After watching the train wreck that is Rudy Fernandez the other night I realized how badly I hope we DON'T trade for him. On defense I saw a player who wouldn't hustle despite the rest of his team playing together and being pretty aggresive. On offense it looked to me that he was chucking-up an inordinate amount of shots and missing most of them. I saw a truly poor team player which of all teams in the NBA has no place with the Bulls. I am afraid he is checked out for the season and suffers from Randy Moss syndrome. I wouldn't trade for him even if the price were right.
Sam: So much for the Rudy trade emails, eh? I’m still not down on him and believe he could help the Bulls. Yes, I’d probably—as I suggested in my Monday column last week—hang onto the Charlotte pick in case something bigger comes up. But I’d still give up the Bulls’ No. 1 for him. He is a bit on the emotional side, which is usually a positive for him, but given Portland’s personnel situation with his limited role it seems to me he’s sort of zoned out. I know. That’s not a great trait. But I’m told they’re used to napping a lot in Spain. Anyway, I think if he were in a better situation in a more important role he’d regain his enthusiasm, which is a huge part of his game. He’s big and can pass and get to the basket. If I could without yielding that Charlotte pick, I’d try for him, and it’s pretty clear by now Portland isn’t being offered any more than that. A solid No. 1 would be a good deal for them.
As tough as it was to watch the Bulls struggles against a Detroit team that they usually have no problem beating, there were a few moments early on that put a bewildered grin on my face. There were a few slashes that Deng made to the basket were I had to rewind to make sure that it was really number 9. He was SO fast! I have always liked Deng, but he never really seemed like he moved very quickly. But holy cow did he look like a speedster! If this is what a truly happy, healthy Luol looks like, other teams around the league had better pray that he never finds real consistency.
Sam: Yes, this e-mail was before he got 40. So good for you for noticing that Deng was playing well and hard, but just not getting shots to go down those first two games. He has been more engaged, which I think is partly due to Thibodeau running stuff for him and putting him in position to do more and coming off a summer where he was able to play and work out. He came to the Berto Center sooner than he usually does and was working hard right away. We always wonder about health because he has had problems, but he’s certainly making it clear that he’s an asset, which he doesn’t always get credit for.
I thought your comment about a Deng for Iguodala swap in last week's mailbag was absolutely correct. I don't know why so many Bulls fans don't value Luol's all-around game. Here's my question: What small forwards in the Eastern Conference would you take over Deng? I have trouble thinking of anyone after LeBron James.
Sam: If anyone has watched the 76ers this season, it’s clear now more than ever that not only don’t you want Iguodala, but Deng is a far better player, a vastly better shooter, smarter and much more team oriented. So no more of those questions. As for forwards, I assume you’d take Paul Pierce given his consistency and ability to finish. Danny Granger can score, but I’ve never liked his game as he’s a volume shooter and prefers to stand around and shoot threes instead of going to the basket. Seems to me a very selfish player, if talented. I like Gerald Wallace a lot for his toughness and overall game, but I’d say now Deng is seventh in the league at his position behind Durant, James, Gay, Pierce, Wallace and Anthony. The Pacers list Granger as a four on their depth chart with Dunleavy at three, and, as I said, I’m no Granger fan. You can make a case he’d move ahead of Deng, but I see him mostly scoring a lot for losing teams.
What do you think about the Bulls starting J.J. at shooting guard? I've always liked this kid, as he showed me lot of character, and how he held his own against Lebron in the play-offs. With Brewer struggling, I see J.J. spreading the floor, plus he is a very good athlete and has lot of heart. Offensively at this moment he can give the Bulls more than Brewer and Bogans. I also think that being in the starting lineup will boost his confidence level more.
Sam: I know he’s become something of a fan favorite, especially after a good finish against Detroit. But he’s hardly ready to be a starter. And he’s certainly not about to spread the floor. His shooting has gotten better, for sure, but he’s still erratic. He’s an energy type player, which is best for now off the bench. His defense also isn’t particularly responsible. He does some spectacular things, and neither Bogans nor Brewer has. But it’s a nice step to get into the rotation, which no one was quite sure would even happen this season.
Do you think James Johnson will become the Tyrus Thomas of this Bulls team? I am worried he will. I think he will make smart decisions and show the kind of athletic ability that makes fans drool about every 5th game. The rest of the time he will run around like a chicken with his head cut off or, even worse, not run at all.
Sam: It is not inconceivable, though with one big, big difference. Tyrus may have been the most unpleasant person I’ve ever encountered in the NBA. OK, maybe top five with the likes of Anthony Mason. But Tyrus was just so difficult, moody, often mean spirited, condescending to staff. There was a chill being around him. Though Johnson was a bit goofy as a rookie, he’s worked very hard to be better and his teammates seem to like him. He seems involved in a lot of the playful talk among the players and seems genuinely a nice kid. He may not have the game to be consistent, but from what I’ve seen this season he’s improved and trying, and that’s a good sign.
You say a lot of intelligent things that I agree with. However, in your last mailbag, when you inferred that the combination of Rose, Anthony, and Boozer might be better than Wade, Lebron, and Bosh, I had to pinch myself. Do you want to use this space to make amends for that gaffe, in order to earn back the respect of the non-biased portion of your audience who'll agree with me?
Sam: It seems pretty clear the things you don’t agree with aren’t particularly intelligent. I know people like that. They seem mostly on Fox and MSNBC cable. I saw from your email you are from South Florida, so I understand. But having seen Bosh for two weeks now, I cannot believe you think he is better than Boozer even if Boozer isn’t playing. I’ve long said LeBron and Wade are going to be terrific, but neither of those trios could stop the other and have basically shown that in their careers. It would be entertaining to see, and while I don’t believe Anthony will be a Bull, I think it will be a very intriguing game against Miami once Boozer returns, especially with Miami having no one to deal with Noah. But thanks for giving me the chance to earn back your respect whether I could or not.
I just read your column on Taj Gibson and it broke my heart to hear that a guy this polite and hard working is going/has gone through what he's gone through. I recall meeting him at the Bulls charity dinner last year and I asked if he could sign my USC hat. He obliged, only to find that the pen I had had run out of ink. I was nervous and was at a loss for words but he gave me a warm smile and said without a hint of sarcasm in his voice, "Don't worry, you just come to me at any point during the night and I'll gladly sign it." Sometimes in this business, we forget that these guys are human beings that deal with real problems like the rest of us. For what it's worth, I hope he knows he's appreciated around here.
Sam: Thanks for letting me know. He really seems like a good, responsible, caring person and I’m glad to hear how he handled your situation. I think one of the big things the Bulls have going for them this season is a group of very nice people. I know. Winning is better, but it’s nice to be able to proud of the players you root for, and I feel you can with this group of Bulls.
Do you still believe there are just a very few chances to get Melo? Being honest, I thought he could be the man the Bulls needed to improve and maybe reach the Heat, but now I start asking myself if it is the right solution: Deng is showing everybody he's a tough guy, Taj Gibson is perfectly replacing Carlos Boozer and Coach Thibodeau can work hard on James Johnson to help him to become a very useful player for the team.
Anthony is one of the top players of the league, but maybe the game's not worth the candle
Sam: It’s an issue that few want to raise because of Anthony’s given status as a top player in the league. I’d still take a shot if the Bulls had a chance, but there are still some around the league in executive positions who feel he’s where he should be, as the man on an undisciplined team. Many around the league don’t feel he can give enough of himself to play in a disciplined system where he has to sacrifice for others. I’d take the chance, but it could just as well not work as until Chaucey Billups came in to settle things down, Anthony was an annual playoff failure and often a big reason why.
You know how we have the bobcats 1st round pick, now what if after the lockout the league decides to contract teams and the bobcats are one of them. Would that draft pick just disappear or are there rules on that?
Sam: It’s not something I’ve given thought to. I really, really don’t expect there will be any contraction, and though he doesn’t consult me, I don’t believe David Stern wants to be the commissioner who lost teams. If it were to occur, I’d assume the league would just award the Bulls a pick to be negotiated as I recall situations during expansions where draft picks were added.
Now that Portland has decided not to extend Greg Oden's contract, do you think it would be a good idea for the Bulls to take a shot at him? For the right price, we could bring him in as a back up to Noah.
Sam: My guess knowing the Blazers is given Oden was the No. 1 overall pick and that he was playing well last season before he was hurt they’d ask for Noah. How would it benefit them to ask for much less? After all, Oden could still be good. Many forget, but Sam Bowie had a pretty good NBA career after leaving Portland and was a double-double guy for the Nets.
Since the prospects of trading for Carmelo are slim and because of the sad history of superstar free agents signing away from Chicago, why dont the Bulls consider trading for Danny Granger? He's currently signed on through the 2013/14 season, is a prolific 3-point shooter, which, lets face it, the Bulls are in desperate need of, and can play the forward position (he can give Boozer a rest if needed).
Sam: First, he’s a three, but I just checked the NBA bylaws and there’s nothing in there saying other teams are required to trade their best players to the Bulls because the Bulls might need them.
Would Cavs have interest in a Bogans and James Johnson for Anthony Parker and Joey Graham deal? We get a veteran 3 pt shooter/defender with playoff experience to be our starting SG while Cleveland gets a young SF prospect to take a look at. Rose, Parker, Deng, Boozer, Noah with a Watson, Brewer, Korver, Gibson, Asik, Scalabrine, Thomas, Graham bench is a very balanced basketball team.
Sam: I know everyone is trying to help the Bulls are shooting guard, as have I. Someone else mentioned Dahntay Jones to me today. My sense is the Bulls aren’t going to change to bring in a role player. As I’ve written, I’d take a shot at a younger like Fernandez who could develop with your team. But I’m not much for going for guys at the end of their careers who are on the decline.
What % of Bulls fans would correctly guess that Deng is younger than Noah?
Sam: Certainly none who have seen the two on Rush Street.
In hindsight do you think the Bulls would sign Carlos Boozer knowing how much baggage he brought with him?
Sam: Yes, that’s the pun of the week. Carlos hasn’t said, but I’d expect him back Dec. 1 for the home game against Orlando. No sense starting on the trip as the Bulls have three full days off at the end of the trip after Sacramento Nov. 27.