Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 12.10.10

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

How much do you think sharing the floor with Taj less has impacted/will impact Noah’s performance on D and the boards? As a duo they can seem dominant at times, but both seemed to get exposed in pure one on one match-ups. With Boozer on the floor 35 minutes a night will it hurt Noah?

Buster Baines

Sam: It has been something of an issue, though you have to watch closely. The obvious observation with Noah’s decline in rebounding overall the last five games, though it still is terrific, is the accumulation of minutes. But Noah did have a good thing going with Taj. Taj blocks out better than Boozer and Noah thus has been in better rebounding position. Boozer is more lax on the defensive end, though it becomes the chicken and egg beaters question. Do you win by scoring more with Boozer or holding your opponent to less with Taj? Playing with Boozer thus far, he’s been more likely to let his guy get by, forcing Noah to slide over to help and be in a less advantageous rebounding position. Boozer was just five games in after the Cleveland near debacle, so he’s hardly ready to contribute at a high level. But Thibodeau will have to be more demanding with him. We’ll see if he can be and whether Boozer with a long term deal responds. Only the fate of the team rests on it. OK, other stuff, too, but you want to begin with some drama. Wish I had some music to back this up.

Ugly game for the Bulls (against the Cavs)... Thank God for Rose... because we weren't winning this one... I may be over-reacting but I really love Thibs... Boozer was being hammered by Jamison and he adjust the system, put the little guys on the floor and puts back for Rose to finish. What do you think of his coaching?

Rui Dias

Sam: I think he’s been very good. Fans will disagree with some things he does like the John Lucas III free throw shooting disaster, and I do as well, and we’ll get to some of them later, but all sports are second guessing games. It’s unavoidable as fans and media know what should happen but never have to do anything, so when we are wrong we don’t tell anyone. Only when we are right. Coaches’ decisions are right there and have to be done quickly, and for a first time head coach I think Thibs has been terrific. What I liked about the Cavs game was that he saw Boozer didn’t have it and didn’t get caught up like so many coaches do by being intimidated by the top players with the long-term deals. Thibs’ deal in years if half of Boozer’s. But Thibs as saying you’ll perform or sit, and that’s how it must be. He’s sending the right messages thus far.

Not to be a downer but the last six minutes of the game last night (Oklahoma City) just reinforces the big deficiency with this team. Without a second player who can make a play with the ball from the perimeter, this team won't be able make a deep playoff run. It was pretty ugly once OKC went to the full court denial of Rose. Coach Thibodeau went to Watson, his only option at that point, but he just doesn't have a good enough handle to make plays from the perimeter. Obviously the best way to combat the full court denial of Rose to get stops on defense but teams are going to score and when they are able to take the ball out of Rose's hands, there's a good chance for opponents to put together good runs. Forcing Noah and Gibson to make plays with the ball is just what the opponent wants. It isn't that this team needs a true shooting guard, they need another perimeter player who can get it into the paint and make play. Easier said than done but I can't see how they make a big playoff push without solving this.

Tim Payne

Sam: Yes, sometimes you don’t get what you want for Christmas. Hanukkah, I think you do, and maybe Kwanzaa. Sure, the Bulls would love to have another perimeter guy who can create. They’d love to have Kevin Durant and less snow. So you figured it out: The Bulls may not be a championship contender. But it’s not over. Like the Heat, they knew and everyone knows coming out of free agency you can only spend perhaps two thirds of what the top teams spend. This is not a one-year plan. Plus, you never know what falls into your lap. Where would the Lakers and Kobe be without Memphis’ generosity regarding Pau? The Bulls have a hole at shooting guard we all knew coming into the season. Deng isn’t particularly a shot creator and neither is Korver. You fill out as best you can, and the Bulls did a pretty good job of it. Now, you try to grow your players and steal some wins and, hey, someone sprains an ankle in the playoffs like when Magic went down in the Finals, and who knows. You keep playing and keep trying to fill your needs.

Let’s assume that Boozer’s presence will decrease Rose’s scoring a bit and increase his assist average. If for the season Rose averages 21-22 points, 9.5-10 assists, and 4-5 rebounds per game, with some slightly improved defense and the Bulls win 50+ games, do you think that puts him in the middle of the conversation for MVP? Honestly, how many other players in the league (aside from Deron Williams and possibly Dwight Howard) Just noticed that… we could throw Dirk into that conversation as well.

Chris Duignan

Sam: Well, that’s three right there, and the Lakers will win a lot of games and here comes the Heat and LeBron still is going to be putting up huge numbers and Durant hasn’t gotten fully on track yet. Derrick has made a huge step as he is getting into the conversation, which makes you an elite player. I think the goal should be on an individual level to make all-NBA, meaning one of the top three at his position. Derrick has a chance. But given that so many teams will have better records and as you note with Boozer Derrick’s numbers will decrease, though not a lot, I don’t see him breaking into the top five in MVP vote quite yet. Remember, media votes and generally is a few years behind in recognizing who is coming on.

Since Hinrich has dropped out of the Wizard’s rotation, any chance the Bulls would be interested in trading for him to fill the starting two guard spot? “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone…..?”

Kirk Scott

Sam: Since I can’t have music, perhaps everyone can hum the Joni Mitchell tune to these lyrics to this answer. I get this question a lot and I must return to my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Coughlin, whom I thought was an ideal New York City elementary school teacher as she hated children, as she always slammed a ruler and yelled, “People, is anyone listening?” Not to you, you old bag, I’d murmur. In any case, my readers have not been paying attention as I’ve answered this one some. Kirk is ineligible to return to the Bulls for one year after the trade. They will not try to acquire him for a year after that because of the size of his contract. Perhaps when his contracts runs out after the 2011-12 season. So, people, get over it. By the way, he’s only gone out of the starting lineup.

Isn't this (players union wanting 18 year old eligible) a bad idea? Don't players get way better with a good coach for a year in College B4 they are millionaires and can't be told anything? Isn't Eddy Curry reason enough not to do this again? Won't this hurt the NCAA? And then finally why would existing players want this since there are only limited spots for players and the longer you keep another guy out the longer it takes for them to take your spot. Also money is not tied up on unproven talent that would go to present players through the duration of this Collective Bargaining Agreement, why would existing players wish to shot them selves in the foot?

Bob Bollow

Sam: This is only because the players generally are poorly represented. It’s also why it usually takes so long to come to a deal. I’m not saying the league is right in what they propose or how they go about it, and you are best to ignore everything said in NBA labor stories now because it’s all posturing a year in advance, which is meaningless. At some point, David Stern will have an epiphany and it will be over. Nothing that’s said or done until then much matters. So don’t ever read or pay attention to any NBA labor story. The 18-year-old thing is one of those head scratching issues, though I hope it is union posturing because they know the league wants it, so maybe they can get a concession by giving it up. That’s mostly what goes on now. But just to discuss the issue because the players have made an issue of it before, you are exactly right and it should be anathema to the players. If anyone should be a loser in the deal it should be the non members. Hello! They aren’t in the NBA! Not only should the players be pushing for two and three years in college, or at least not in the NBA for selfish reasons, but one compromise everyone should agree upon is to reduce rookie salaries. They are way too high. What leverage do they have? Where are they going? Let them play a few years and prove something. They want to go to Europe? Fine, bye. No rookie should make even $1 million until he’s shown something. Once they do, then they get paid. If the players want to keep money for themselves, why are they agreeing to paying rookies more than many veterans make? See what I mean about a messed up union? And then wanting them in at 18? This isn’t a constitutional issue. You have freedom, but not to play in the NBA. It’s a business. You can’t just decide to go be a lawyer or accountant because you are 18. Do something first. This notion of discrimination is lunacy. What business or industry allows anyone in just because? Businesses have the right and obligation to have work rules for eligibility. Colleges do. Sort of. And, yes, the NBA would be much better if these kids played for coaches for awhile who could actually coach them because they were going to school instead of classes for two months because they were leaving after one year. There are way too many players on rosters doing nothing because they are young and have been paid. It makes the NBA a lesser product. But union positions like that is why you’ll likely get a lockout of some duration. How do you make a deal with someone who doesn’t even seem to be representing its constituency?

Why haven't the bulls picked up kyle weaver from their d-league yet

Charles Reed.

Sam: I’ve gotten some questions about Weaver since I wrote about him a few days ago and he is playing well in the D-League. So I’ll explain how the D-League works. The Bulls have zero rights to Weaver. He is a free agent. Players under contract (like Jonny Flynn with Minnesota) in the first or second years can be sent to the D-League for rehab or retraining or revenge (Terrence Williams). Weaver was never under contract with the Bulls, just a training camp player who is paid through camp. When players opt for the D-League to get noticed by NBA teams, which scout there daily, they must go to a team affiliated with the last NBA team they were with. If they were not with a team, there is a D-League draft. Players from the Bulls and Suns go to Iowa. Then anyone in the D-League not under an NBA contract can sign with any team. Teams usually wait until 10-day deals are allowed in January. As far as Weaver, the Bulls decided he is not a fit and have moved on.

I'm surprised at your proclamation that Rose "probably is the 2nd greatest player in Bulls' history." That's blasphemous, Sam. It's a direct insult to Scottie. It has no foundation. Scottie Pippen is a friggin' hall of famer! 6 time ch'ip winner. All-star game MVP. Shoulda been League MVP in '93-'94. Arguably the greatest non-center defensive player of all time. You making a statement like Rose is already better than Scottie in only his 3rd year is just, well...just plain silly. I'd expect that from a younger generation that didn't get to see Scottie in his prime. I will patiently wait for a public apology.

Paul Giuntoli

Sam: I thought that would get a rise as I mentioned it in my Cavs game column. Look, Scottie is by record a better player because he is in the Hall of Fame and Derrick hasn’t had a career. If Derrick doesn’t have a long career, things could change. That wasn’t the point. There is no comparison to their skills and abilities as a player. Pippen was a deserving Hall of Famer and a great individual defender and maybe the least accomplished prep player ever to be a Hall of Famer, a man with a truly inspiring story. But, for one thing, Scottie never had to be the main guy but for that one season without Jordan. But the point with Derrick in that game was here he is at 22, already carrying and closing for a relatively high level team. Even at his best in 1994, Phil Jackson didn’t believe Scottie could close a game. It wasn’t an indictment in my view, and I was frankly shocked at the time because Scottie was an ultimate team player, unselfish on the court, a facilitator for others, popular and always willing to give up himself by defending the best opponent or getting someone else a good shot. But he was never a guy like Kobe or even Wade or LeBron, and I’ve likened LeBron to Scottie over the years, a guy whom you could say, “Go win it for us.” In many ways, Scottie was more unique as there are few players like that, more in the Dennis Johnson mold who’ll get you a win in many ways. Look, it’s hardly an indictment for Scottie. Magic came along and was viewed better than Jerry West. It doesn’t diminish West, as it shouldn’t diminish Scottie. But as far as true, great talent, Derrick is more talented than Scottie, certainly at comparable stages in their careers, and, at least offensively in carrying a team, Rose is showing now he can do that very difficult job that establishes one as a truly great figure. But it is a good debate.

The Bulls are one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the league. Can a team that shoots that poorly from the free throw line realistically make it to the NBA Finals?

Phil Burdick

Sam: Yes, and may have. The Lakers with Shaq were always among the poorest and the Bulls in the champion years never were great. But a team with limited talent and stars like the Bulls has a small margin for error. Shooting free throws that poorly will eventually prove fatal in the playoffs.

How big/small do you think Taj's chances are in the 6th man of the Year Award? I got the feeling they give too much importance to points in that particular award, as past winners were all scorers from the bench (Jamal, Terry, Gordon etc)

Jay Ernani

Sam: He, of course, has no chance. The nature of the award, though it is not specified, is players who come into the game to give the team an offensive boost. If they counted screens and block outs Taj might have a better chance.

Can you please answer this question that me and a friend have been arguing about for some time now. Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson or Derrick Rose and Noah for the next 5-7 years?

John Rider

Sam: It is a tough one that has had me stumped a bit. Howard probably is a greater force, and, at least of late, is finally learning to be a bit of a basketball player, making moves in the post. I’d have easily gone for Rose and Noah until now with Howard up to this point more of just a big, tough guy playing basketball without caring all that much for the game. Nelson is his weight as he’s not in the top half in the league in point guards. So if Rose is a top five point guard and Noah is a top five center, then if Howard is No. 1 or No. 2 depending on Pau, I probably lean for now to Rose and Noah, though just by a bit because of Howard’s improvement and potential dominance.

Do you believe James Johnson can have an impact for our team this season and get
some playing time?

It seems that unless there are major injuries, foul trouble, or we are down by
20 points with 1:30 left in the 4th JJ won't play. I need help understanding
this because he has played a key role whenever he comes off the bench and we are
in a deficit, he brings our team back in it. I can't understand why
the Bulls have exercised his rookie contract to keep him if he isn't going to
get an opportunity to play.


Sam: Well, it was management that extended his contract. It’s still early in the season and Thibodeau is playing about 10 guys with Boozer back, and you can’t play everyone. He doesn’t have confidence in Johnson yet, and Thibodeau is a coach who, somewhat like Skiles when he kept using Adrian Griffin and Malik Allen, who goes with guys he trusts over some with talent. Thus Keith Bogans. But Thibodeau was up front and told Johnson from the beginning he wouldn’t be in the rotation, though he eventually could be. Johnson is one of the few athletes on the team, and the Bulls need to be more athletic. But when he’s been in he’s made various errors to go along with some terrific stuff, and the mistakes are magnified with young guys. At this point, he’ll likely have to wait for injury, though, to his credit, he’s seemed positive about everything.

In today's NBA, if you were starting a roster from scratch, which point guard would you rather have for the next ten years, Steve Nash at age 25 or John Stockton at age 25? I keep going back to Stockton since the defensive discrepancy can not be overlooked. But others are saying that Stockton was largely a product of Sloan and Malone. They aren't trashing Stockton per se, but rather emphasizing that Nash has made so different players over the years look like brilliant offensive talents. Another friend of mine pointed out that the writers have made it clear that they believe Nash is clearly better, given he has two MVPs and Stockton might never had been considered. Please be the official authority to answer this question for the internet community.

Kris Dahlberg

Sam: I’m sure no one ever becomes official in that community. But those always are good questions for discussion, which is the nutrition for the game. I’d side with the media on Nash. I don’t see Stockton just a product of some system as he would have been good anywhere given his hardnosed attitude, work ethic and all around skills and longevity. That said, Nash is a wonder. Yes, you can say maybe there never was a poorer defender as MVP, but a lot of them were not very good. Magic among them. Nash is one of those rare players who are so skilled and clever and smart he takes your breath away. If Naismith really knew anything about basketball he’d have had Nash as the perfect point guard, maybe the best shooting point ever given threes and free throws, unselfish, making others better. Heck, I could name a dozen players who should have Nash in their wills for the contracts he got them. Few mention it, but it was Mark Cuban’s all-time mistake, giving up on Nash who with Nowitzki would have some titles by now. You could say Cuban is responsible for denying those two greats a chance ever to win a title.

I’m big Bull's fan from Latvia and I am really wondering, why don't Bull's use K.Korver as Starting SG? Yes, maybe he isn't so atlhletic as Sg must be, yes maybe he is lacking defensive skills a bit, but he is shooting great, and really, he fits in bull's offence, and it is working as we see. I think shedule is exelent for now, to try this on, how do you think? I think that better is to give some defensive play in order to obtain more offensive play if we compare it.

Matiss Stasjuns

Sam: I’ve given it some thought as well, though for now I’d rather see Ronnie Brewer get the shot and see how he does as he seems fully healthy now and perhaps his defense could get the Bulls in transition to open games. But I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility with Korver. Yes, the Bulls have to run him off a lot of screens to get him open, though maybe that works better with Boozer who can slip screens and perhaps get that pick and roll working more effectively. The biggest concern I’d have is I’m not sure Korver is a major minutes player given he’s had a number of injuries over the years. I’d hate to see him break down as the season concludes, and Thibodeau is using him a lot to close games, which seems a good role for now.

With the moves the Bulls have made and their team as a whole, it seems to me like
the Bulls will be the next Atlanta Hawks. For the many years to come, they'll probably be no
higher than a 4 seed bounced out of the second round every single year. The Heat and Magic
will always be 2 of the top 3 in the East, and the Celtics probably have a year or two left. Im
not a pessimist, but did the years of waiting, the free-agent summer that the Bulls built up for, and
all the hype of a to-be great team result in a mediocre team? We cant be happy with losing in the second round
every year?

Sujit Johnston

Sam: Sure sounds like pessimism, or, at least, Chicago sports fan mentality, this we never win thing you hear and poor us and always mentions of the Cubs as if there’s nothing between championships and the lottery. The Bulls are improving and getting in position. Which is the best you can do. I recall a lot of this kind of sentiment in 1988 and 1989 when fans and media were saying in Chicago not only would the Bulls never win but you couldn’t win with Jordan because he shot too much. Yes, true. But Jordan kept improving, as Pippen did, and they filled in some pieces, the Celtics broke up and the Pistons broke down and what do you know. Or you could just go bowling.

I was very upset when the Bulls failed to re-sign Ben Gordon when he became an unrestricted free agent. While the Bulls were not reprehensible in taking Derrick Rose with the first overall pick & that the existence of Kirk Hinrich resulted in a crowded backcourt that would have competed for playing time, I was upset that the Bulls hadn't even made Gordon an offer after everything he did for them. I'm sorry both in terms of how Gordon had left and that he actually did leave Chicago to begin with.
While Gordon may have made the best decision monetarily, he must be a rather miserable person with Detroit right now. The Pistons have become an organization that's been spinning its wheels to nowhere and the mood in that locker room must be incredibly depressing this year.

Fred T. Perel

Sam: Just to set the record straight, Ben twice rejected high seven and eight figure annual offers from the Bulls. He rejected five years for $50 million and six years for $54 million. First because Hinrich got paid first and then because Deng was offered more. The negotiations got contentious then and the Bulls gave Ben a deadline. He let it pass, the Bulls pulled the offer, and then Ben came back for it and the Bulls passed at that point. Ben is a good example of thinking the grass is greener. I understand going for the most and best offer you can get. I never begrudge that. Still, I don’t understand when you are going to be rich to the point you never will be able to spend the difference why you would leave a good situation for a bad place. Anyone could see it was over for the Pistons. After a great run, and they had one, it’s inevitable for just about everyone. Like with the White Sox, I was glad to see Paul Konerko elect to stay rather than maybe taking more money to go to Baltimore. Players too often get bad advice from their agents, who generally seek the largest contract because of their commission and reputation and sacrifice the players’ lifestyle. But it’s up to the player to decide. If life is good, there’s hardly any guarantee it gets better. Playing in Detroit for a franchise no one wants to buy or watch and coming off the bench behind Tracy McGrady for a bad team. Yes, Ben got his money and it’s too bad he didn’t think it out better.

I‘m from Iceland and I used to be a big Bulls and NBA fan when Jordan was playing. This season and last, I‘ve begun watching more and more and even been able to watch several games from start to finish (the reason why this is a big deal is the time difference, for instance the CHI vs. LAL started at 3:30 am here). Aren‘t you (and when I say you I mean you and almost every other columnist in the NBA) underestimating this Bulls team a little bit? Everything I‘ve read, either from you or other writers about the Bulls is this: If they can stay around .500 until Boozer comes back they‘ll be fine. Then Boozer comes back and the team will hopefully, if they are blessed with luck, fortune and other teams crashing, be able to get themselves to a top 4 position in the East and then finally they can progress through the first round of Playoffs. My take on this team that I‘ve been watching is: why should they be only satisfied with that? They have one of the best (yeah, best) players in the league in Rose, a high spirited moral leader in Noah and a solid group of other players who most of the time contribute in equally important way. I see know reason why this team shouldn‘t aim higher than this

Martin Ágústsson

Sam: Well, welcome back, though since I assume it’s always dark there does it matter when the games are on? Yes, excuse my American ignorance. It’s not that the Bulls aren’t aiming higher and their fans wouldn’t like to see them do better, but you also have to view reality and your opinion thereof, like why it’s greener in Iceland then Greenland. What’s that about? Anyway, the Bulls remain a flawed team even if improving. They obviously need a shooting guard and as I’ve noted above in answer to a question another player (or two) who can create his own shot. They are not particularly athletic and not that big as Boozer and Taj have trouble against bigger front lines, like Boston and L.A. The backup point guard position is uncertain for someone to run the team and there’s not that much perimeter shooting, though Rose and Deng are getting better from three. Heck, the more I’m going here I’m not sure how they’ve won any games yet. But they have put together a high level group with intangibles, like effort and teamwork and commitment with a good staff and improving players and the future seems positive. And there’s that Rose guy. When you have a star, you always have a chance, and the Bulls have one for the first time since 1998.

Is there a reason why there are so many elite point guards in the NBA today? So many teams in the NBA have a legitimate all-star point guard, Evans, Westbrook, Rose, Rondo, Wall, Williams, Paul, Curry, Nash, Brooks, Billups. Even Collison and Kidd can get a little mention. Was there a change in rules that caused this to happen like the no hand-checking rule? Or is there simply just more talent in the PG position in the NBA today than in the past?

Zachary Zhang

Sam: I think the freedom on the perimeter has been a factor in opening up the game, but I also think the game at a lower level has changed a lot with less reliance on big guys and centers and going inside and more emphasis on individuality and open expression of play with less discipline and coaching. The result, in part, is a generation of kids who can do wondrous things with the ball as most are scorers who happen to play point guard.

Whatever happened to Steve Javie? I used to regularly hear him mentioned as one of the best, if not the best, referee in the league, but I haven't seen him for a couple of years.

Alejandro Yegros

Sam: He’s back working this season after taking some time off last season for injury. In addition to the booing and second guessing, it’s a strenuous job that forces a lot of wear and tear on the body. I think that’s part of the concern with officiating this season, though it always seems like this. The NBA continues to work in new referees as guys retire and there were about eight good veterans who left last season. So you see that third guy on the crew and generally no one ever has heard of who he is. And sometimes those guys feel they have to do something and make a call as it takes a while for a new guy to get the feel of working with an NBA crew and on the NBA game. I know there’s this fury about Rose not getting calls, but get over it. Look, he got a big one down the stretch in Cleveland. Mostly Bulls fans just watch their side of the ball. Trust me, every team is complaining their guy isn’t getting calls. You just have to keep playing, which Derrick does. Do as Derrick would and watch and enjoy.

I heard an NBA analyst on TV say that if LeBron, Wade and Bosh can't figure out how to play great together, and the Miami Heat continue struggling, the Heat organization may be forced to consider trading one of them, probably Dwyane Wade. If that really happens, do you see the Bulls getting in contention for a deal with the Heat for one of them, or have the Bulls turned the page on them?

Samuel Ortiz

Sam: Damn internet. It’s like that scene from the old MASH movie with Hawkeye and Trapper in Tokyo with their golf clubs and their jeep driver just continually repeating “Damn Army.” That’s nonsense, of course. First of all, they’re not trading any of those guys no matter what happens. But this is the bigger issue with internet media these days, not that media ever was that reliable. But with so many having so much instant access and this era of so called citizen journalism just about anything that someone says gets repeated and if you look on the internet the New York Times looks the same as My Basement News. So some guys says he heard and people are writing me and saying, “I heard…” Though sources who may or may not know are telling me Wilt is making a comeback and wants to play for the Bulls. Pass it on.

So I have been trying to figure out how to solve this problem of slow starts, and I think I've got it.
One thing I have noticed is that, as great as Noah's numbers invariably end up by the end of the game, it sometimes seems like a little while before he really gets going.
It's usually somewhere between the 4 minute mark of the first quarter and 8 minute mark of the second quarter when he gets a tough rebound in traffic, slams it in the opponent's face, and does the primal scream thing.
So here is my solution: take someone who isn't playing much-- Brian Scalabrine, maybe?-- and, two or three minutes before the game starts, let Noah start dunking on him incessantly. The screaming and everything. Maybe even get a fan out there if we're worried about hurting Scalabrine's confidence (though he is one of the all-time greats at being dunked on).

Jack Murphy

Sam: And who says I don’t have a sophisticated audience?