Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 12.31.10
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
For the last month I know everyone, including myself, has pondered how we could improve this Bulls team. The biggest hole is the 2-guard position and now everyone is saying lets go get OJ Mayo, Stephen Jackson, or J.R. Smith. I for one say let's keep the team as is. Why mess up a good situation to improve our guard play. We are one of the top rebounding teams in the league so if we were to get one of the three guards mentioned we would have to give up Taj and someone else. If we give up Luol, who is having a decent year, then we will have to fill in the small forward position with someone who is better and no one on the bench that can play the SF position better than Luol. I don't see how we can make a trade and keep up the intensity we have right now. Players are getting used to Boozer and with the career numbers D. Rose is putting up, bringing in someone like Stephen or J.R. may diminish Derrick's role. Do you think we should make a trade or should we keep it status-quo and make a move next summer?
Sam: I am for trying to improve if you can, but what you note is the big issue. The Bulls really don’t have much to give up of value that won’t hurt them elsewhere. That changes if you can get a shot at Carmelo, but that seems remote. Short of that, I don’t see the Bulls having anywhere near enough to make serious bids for bigger name guys like Jackson, Mayo, Hamilton, etc. I even thought about Evan Turner for awhile, but he just had a huge game against the Suns. From what I’ve heard, those teams basically have indicated to teams like the Bulls to not even to bother. I would like to see an addition at shooting guard that costs you a draft pick or two, maybe Taj under the right circumstances. I’d look at Rudy Fernandez, though things are uncertain in Portland with Brandon Roy out and Fernandez may be less available now. I also like Courtney Lee in Houston, though he plays a lot of defense in key times against top opponents and I’ve heard the Rockets want a lot for him. One issue sometimes overlooked is with so many two year contracts, the Bulls will have a lot of expiring deals next season perhaps they can parley into a big time two. So you have to ask whether it’s worth it now for an incremental upgrade and then maybe blow a chance for a high level player next year for a star level player to move forward with the team’s core. I don’t see the East as unassailable now, though, so I’d like to make a deal. But I am not optimistic given the current landscape the Bulls can do anything with what they have coming out of free agency when their payroll has to remain below the salary cap.
Obviously the Bulls are trying to address their SG issues. Assuming they cannot find someone willing to give them a true upgrade at the position from Brewer (also assuming Bogans eventually goes to the bench or gets traded), how about upgrading at backup PG? Maybe someone like Chris Duhon, who Pax obviously likes and is now available? This would allow them to use Watson more as a scorer off the bench, which is a role he's better suited for.
Sam: Duhon is out of the question because of a big contract. The Bulls do not have the opportunity to address more than one need. If they were to try to do something at point guard it likely would put them out of the race for a shooting guard upgrade or even something on the front line with Noah out if Thomas is hurt. The Bulls know Watson isn’t perfect, but I believe they also are committed to going with him for this season.
After watching the Bulls' biggest deficiency being exposed in front of a national audience on christmas day, I was wondering why the Bulls aren't looking for a "quick fix" at the 2 guard position.
Sam: Because as much as it doesn’t seem right, the league now isn’t operating to help the Bulls. The Cavs like Anthony Parker, for example, a lot for his presence and see no need to dump him unless they get something they really like, from what I’ve heard. Plus, teams like to hang onto guys like that for bigger deals, not your J.J. or Scalabrine type things. Plus, I don’t see the Bulls looking for short term rentals at all.
I value your basketball IQ (and I'm sure you have "length", "NBA range", and a "tremendous upside", as they say in the draft prospectus world), but I'm a little confused about the letter you agreed with in your last mailbag indicating the desire to trade Charlotte's pick and Gibson (plus Johnson or the Bulls' first rounder) for Courtney Lee. I like Courtney Lee and all, but he is a guy who averages 7.5/game for a crappy Rockets team. Is he that big of an upgrade over the group they have now, at least big enough to see a valuable reserve like Taj Gibson and a couple of picks go just to get him? If Lee were that good, I'd think he wouldn't be on his 3rd team in 3 years.
Sam: Did I say that? I think I’d just had a shooting guard hot flash. I think I was generally agreeing in principle that I’d like to get Lee. Let me clarify. I’d probably give up the Charlotte pick or my own No. 1 and maybe Taj or J.J. Maybe I’d get something coming back. Not two 1s. If I suggested that, it’s too much and I’m backing out of that deal. I never called for physicals, anyway. I think Lee is undervalued and fits better with the Bulls than Houston because they like their small guards and have Kevin Martin. On some level I’d rather have Lee than Martin given Lee is a much better defender and when given playing time in Orlando shot more than 40 percent on threes. I’d probably wait out Carmelo to see if I still had a chance first. But I also think Houston way overvalues Lee and wants a lot while the Bulls value that Charlotte pick and likely agree more with you about Lee more than they do with me. So he may be a long shot as well.
Anthony Randolph isn't even playing at all for the knicks. Could we swing a deal for him, giving them JJ and our Charlotte First Round Pick? He may be a bit of a head case but his size, and skill set is too damn good to ignore. 7' lefty with an all court game is very rare, versatile can play multiple positions.
Sam: I’m quite sure the Knicks would do that in a second. The Bulls, of course, would laugh if the Knicks suggested that. I’ve heard descriptions of Tyrus Thomas without the skill set, thinks much better than he is, uncoachable. Who knows as he’s hurt a lot also. He’s neither a true big guy as he plays like a three or a shooting guard, the team’s major needs. If he can’t play in two of the less disciplined systems in the league with the Warriors and Knicks, you have to be wary.
Is Boozer going to make the all star team this year even after his long absense at the start of the season? He has played awesome since returning and definitely putting up all star numbers.
Sam: I would automatically have said no given he’d missed the first month of the season, but there is a chance with Boozer already up to 20 and nine for the season and averaging just under 27 the last seven games, especially with the Bulls having the East’s third best record. Stoudemire and LeBron should be the starters at forward, but then I think it’s Pierce, Garnett and Bosh likely the other three spots. Boozer could battle with Bosh and maybe Josh Smith if the Hawks get hotter.
Tracy McGrady seems to be playing quite well as of late, do you have any
regrets of passing on him during free agency in the summer? Or do you still
think he will never revert back to his all star form?
Sam: I doubt he’ll ever become what he was. That’s way too much to ask. I have no doubt the Bulls did the right thing because even when McGrady is good, i.e., scoring, he holds the ball, the offense stops and no one else gets to do much. He rarely plays more than one hard quarter a game and the team never fully knows when he can play. That’s fine for a team going nowhere.
In the past few games, Kurt Thomas has really seemed to have been helping out with his veteran experience. I am liking how he is playing and think he has become a big asset to the team. Once Noah is back, how do you see the backup center role going? Will Asik still be the first to come out off the bench or will Kurt take over the 2nd slot?
Sam: I hope Kurt can hold out that long. I thought the Bulls were smart to be not using him and giving Asik the minutes. I thought they’d get Kurt going after the All-Star break with an eye of having him at his highest level at playoff time. Now, he’s going to be extended for some time given Thibodeau remains uncertain about whether to use Asik much. So I suspect once Noah can play again Thomas will go back to inactive and then start him up again just before the playoffs. There’s only so much in those 38-year-old legs and the hope is the Bulls don’t waste it before the playoffs.
Should Bulls fans start to become uneasy with the coaching?
Are the following causes for concern?
Ignoring conventional wisdom (common basketball practice) by playing Bogans.
Failing to stretch the court by not using the record holding 3 point shooter to advantage.
Allowing it to become a two man game instead of a team game.
Failing to get a T supporting the star players in obvious mugging situations.
Sam: With the Bulls 20-10 going into the Nets game Friday, I’d have to consider Thibodeau a coach of the year candidate. With Boozer missing the first month and Noah basically since then, Thibodeau has basically never had a full team and still doesn’t have a starting level shooting guard. Rose, of course, has been great, but the Bulls are 10 over in large part because of Thibodeau. I cannot endorse everything he does, and there have been some huge “What!” moments, like the John Lucas insertion in Denver and Scalabrine on the inbounds the other day. But he’s always got a reason and thinks it through. We may disagree with some things he does, but he has been a terrific teacher and the players really seem to love playing for him. I know Derrick and Deng do. The Bulls have been a top defensive and rebounding team and more lately the offense has bogged down, though more because of the personnel as he basically has just three legitimate NBA starters in the lineup now. OK, maybe it’s his fault some for not going with a potential fourth in Brewer or Korver. But this is a man with a plan and as prepared as anyone. Perhaps he could back off at times and not try to do everything, but he is just starting as a head coach. I don’t see how the Bulls could have done better. He clearly is the best of everyone who’s been hired this season along with Doug Collins. I’d put him in the top half of league coaches already.
Is there any chance the bulls would consider starting Rose and Watson together? CJ seems to be able to score, can handle the ball well enough...it could be like what the bulls did with Rose and Hinrich. Plus, I think Bogans can handle defensive role player/3rd point guard And Brewer as the back up 2 guard still. Am I just dreaming?
Sam: Probably. Thibodeau is a defensive guy, and that backcourt would be too small and defenseless, in a sense. As you’ll recall, everyone was always screaming because the backcourt was too small. So they’re not going that way again. Though I would like to see them play more together at times during the game. Thibodeau runs a fairly set rotation, and he’ll tend to get guys out at planned times. He doesn’t much ride the hot hand as it was funny to watch against Milwaukee when C.J. saw Derrick get up he started shooting, and he scored five quick points. Perhaps you ride him some then, but he came out. I do think it hurts C.J’s motivation some in that he seems to know no matter what he does his minutes will be limited. I would like to see Derrick off the ball on occasion with C.J. then delivering it and Derrick making a quick move from the wing where the defense can’t load up on him so quickly. Thibodeau has played them together some, but I think that would be a good change of pace backcourt more often.
It’s six months since “the day the planets decided to collide,” or whatever we chose to call the free agency spectacle. I think Boozer is a much better fit for this Bulls team than Bosh. Boozer’s toughness, experience, and team-first professionalism seem to be much superior to our skinny friend down on South Beach.
Sam: I think the Bulls did fine with Boozer, though Bosh, after a rough start, has played very well. His numbers are not quite as much as Boozer’s, but he’s playing with a much more talented team and has fewer opportunities. I’ve never been a huge fan of Bosh’s, but I think the Bulls would have done well with either.
Any chance of the Bulls reacquiring Aaron Gray on the cheap?
Sam: I sure hope not.
I'm thrilled with Rose's improvement this season and wait anxiously for every game. However since Noah went down it seems to me Rose is a bit out of control, forcing too many plays, not working the clock wisely, not finding Korver and Deng enough (mostly he finds Boozer). He's passing and shooting below his average. Don't get me wrong. He is still very good and carry us on but it's like he went on frenzy out there. It's "crazy". I think he needs to calm down Am I seeing things?
Sam: Let me put it this way, without Rose I’m not sure the Bulls would have five wins. He’s been terrific. The question gets to how much more he can do. Lately, he’s struggled some with his shot after basically being one of the best three point shooters in the league, and playing with two non starters in Bogans and Thomas (he could handle one), defenses are collapsing even more. He’s caught in between some as the coaches ask him to attack more, but he wants to get his teammates going and knows he can do that best by penetrating and drawing the defense to give them easier shots. So sometimes he’s caught among defenders and loses the ball. Sometimes he does try to do too much in a crowd, but the great ones believe they can. I know most people felt Michael Jordan never missed a shot, but Michael with lesser teammates was a high turnover player averaging 3.6 per game in 1988-89, for example, which was seventh in the league at a time most of the leaders were point guards. He was in the top 10 most of his first seven years and as high as fifth most. But Jordan had the ball the most and was relied on to make most of the plays and got the most defensive attention, like Rose. Noting these things about Rose is like rejecting Marilyn Monroe for her mole.
Where is Charles Oakley when you need him? Do you think we could coax him out of retirement? But seriously, is there anyone they could sign to fulfill that role? I'm thinking D Rose needs a bodyguard.
Sam: Oak’s an assistant in Charlotte now. I can’t wait to see how that works out. I know no one is fighting that team now.
I'm curious about what kind of coaching James Johnson is getting. I'd heard that Pippen was working with him a bit. Do raw players with high upside get extra coaching? Is Thibs sitting down with him and going over his game tape. It just seems surprising that he can't break these silly habits- doesn't he know they're the only thing that stands between him and a solid career? I'd just love to see him "get it" and play at a reasonably high level.
Sam: I can’t say exactly what they do with him individually, but the Bulls have a good teaching staff and Johnson has been a worker. I’ve heard he shows up at the Berto Center, often alone, at all hours. I think his attitude has been very good this season despite the lack of playing time. As I’ve written, I believe he can help with his athleticism and it will outweigh some his mistakes. But the coach remains uncomfortable with him on the floor, and until he gets some playing time no amount of teaching is going to matter.
Do you think Thibs' hard-headedness in sticking with Bogans is his reticence to "giving in" to sportswriters and bloggers calling for him to move Bogans much further back in the rotation? If so, maybe one of your New Year's resolutions should be to spend the month of January campaigning for Bogans to be included in the All-Star game.
Sam: I think he might pick up on that even though he is a New Englander. I’d say there was a chance of that if Tom had the time to read newspapers instead of watching game tapes and had ever heard of a blog.
Is there any chance we can steal Eric Gordon from the Clippers?
Sam: I got a question from a Clippers fan asking if they could steal Derrick Rose from the Bulls given they have Blake Griffin, who is better than anyone else on the Bulls and would fit best with Derrick. What should I tell him?
I know its way too early in the season, but considering how the Bulls have played against the Knicks and the fact that this is a possible first round playoff match up do you think the Bulls would have major problems in beating the Knicks in a series even with Noah back?
Sam: It could be, actually. The Knicks look good enough to be more than a last playoff seed in the East, and the Bulls are in good position to get one of the top four seeds by winning the Central. Presumably with Noah back and Boozer, the Bulls will be able to score more to keep up with the Knicks’ pace, but I think the Knicks are good playing D’Antoni’s style and unless the Bulls can upgrade with a shooting guard to spread the court it would be a first round matchup that could go either way. Eastern teams are not accustomed to the pressure of scoring against D’Antoni’s style, and he finally has players who can score. But with Carmelo still out there, there is much that can change.
Can you settle the argument on whether old-school all-stars could beat new-school all-stars? I'm saying, of course, that the shoes/baskets/balls are all the same and it just comes down to the players themselves. I really have to think that current players are better in every way, from athleticism to hustle to strength to shooting to heart. Do the old-schoolers have any advantage in your opinion?
Sam: You hear these days that the players are better and, athletically, sure. They train all year, are in better shape and much stronger. You see many point to shooting percentages, which are better now, as evidence of a higher skill level. There certainly are terrific players now, but if you put certain guys from the 1960’s into the 1980’s into today’s ball you’d find they’d develop their games to the athletic and strength level of today’s players, and I’d question whether anyone ever was stronger than Wilt, anyway. You always want to say players when you were younger were better because you have a more romantic connection, but I think so many great players today never fully develop because of the lack of teaching as they enter pro ball so quickly. I don’t see how any team today could beat Michael and Oscar or Magic in the backcourt, Wilt, Kareem and Russell up front with Rick Barry and Dr. J. Not in reputation, but skill and ability. But that’s just me.
I wanted to your opinion on a possible NBA contraction. would you think it is possible that one occurs, and if it does, would it be a good thing. Also, if it goes forward, how many teams you think would/should be eliminated, and what teams would it be.
Sam: I believe it primarily is a bargaining threat. I don’t think David Stern has any intention of his legacy including rolling back the league. Though there’s widespread feeling this would strengthen the league by distributing players, I think so many of these smaller cities are in such bad economic condition that it would be a betrayal by the NBA to take away sports teams like that. Teams mean a lot to their communities, and the hope is the players are reasonable in collective bargaining and can come to a workable compromise that will help the small markets become more competitive. Though I don’t feel there’s any more need for expansion, except perhaps an NBA sponsored league in Europe.
Merry Christmas. It's what's called Boxing Day here in Australia, the day after Christmas. Where we all actually have permission to beat each other up. No, just joking. This is one of our major sporting days.
I was writing about LeBron, just noticing a pattern starting to develop. He is really becoming an outspoken, young Ron Artest, Dennis Rodman kind of player lately. First he made enemy with probably half a dozen players on his roster and each roster in the NBA with talks of contraction. Then he went out and said he had the best shoes because they were the most expensive, snubbing every child in process.
It's really interesting to see what kind of person he is becoming. I hoped for more of a role model, but this is more entertaining.
Sam: He is becoming kind of a caricature of what a real person might be like. Though I think he has done youth a service. He is basically saying, “Don’t listen to what I say, appreciate me for what I do. I am kind of an idiot, but you watch me for my talents and not my opinions. I don’t know anything about health care reform, and you shouldn’t care what I think, anyway. I’m an entertainer, a gladiator of the modern sporting world, nothing more. Enjoy me for that. And get me a dictionary.”