Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 01.07.11
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Introduction: The curiosity, if not the story, of Wednesday’s loss in New Jersey was big free agent acquisition Carlos Boozer sitting out the fourth quarter with the Bulls behind and then catching up, and Boozer still sitting. Boozer had been scoring big of late and the Bulls couldn’t make a basket down the stretch when they needed one. Isn’t that what Boozer was brought in for? Has this happened with Chris Bosh and Amar’e Stoudemire? Yes, the Bulls fell behind badly while Boozer did play, as the defense suffered. The third quarter shooting against the starters was a disaster. Kris Humphries and then even Derrick Favors were beating Boozer, though he was not alone in a fairly poor defensive effort all around. Boozer sitting out the fourth took the light off Rose sitting out the first eight minutes. We were getting close to Brian Scalabrine coming in for energy. Yes, Joakim Noah being out hurts on offense and defense. Coach Tom Thibodeau said a combination of trying to get back in the game with a smaller lineup, the reserves playing well and wanting to ride them, the Nets playing zone and the need for more aggressive defense left him to leave Boozer out. Boozer’s answers about it post game were short. But I didn’t think he was angry as much as not wanting to create an issue. After all, Boozer played for Jerry Sloan and had his share of run ins, and they rarely worked well for him in Utah. He’s a smart guy, and he was up and cheering on the bench all through the fourth quarter. So Boozer said it’s a coach’s decision and left it at that. No elaboration, but it didn’t seem to me he was trying to make a point or had any big problem with Thibodeau. Though I could be wrong, as I don’t know Boozer that well. He is personable and friendly. But he is sort of an enigma wrapped in a puzzle, covered by a conundrum, draped in a riddle and clothed in a mystery. Some of the people in Utah said after six years they still never got a good idea of who he was. But this is going to be the sort of Catch-22 thing for the Bulls with Thibodeau and Boozer regarding basketball. Thibodeau thinks defense first. Boozer is primarily an offensive guy. So they’ll each have to compromise some, though I believe Boozer will improve defensively because the team competes that way, and I believe Thibodeau is just trying to figure out how to win the next quarter. It was a bit of the old newspaper saw of, “Don’t screw up on a slow news day.” With so little going on with the Bulls this season but winning and a non-controversial, generally quiet bunch, this was a rare incident. No one’s beating anyone up on this team. Heck, hardly anyone gets a technical. The entire Bulls team including the coaching staff has fewer technicals combined than Dwight Howard. I received a variety of opinions on this from fans. Here’s a sampling. I’ll answer after I offer a few views...
This is the second loss I blame on Thibodeau, notwithstanding the Bulls’ dispiriting play. The first block-headed error was putting in his friend’s midget son to shoot free throws with the game on the line. It’s Thib’s job to put the best team on the floor when the game is on the line. Benching Boozer deprived the team of a player who is actually capable of dropping the rock in the hole a foot from the basket, unlike Deng who is just as tall but routinely goes soft in traffic, especially in the fourth quarter. He missed easy lay-ups. He got rejected, humiliatingly, by back up players. He bricked two free throws with a minute left. He reminds me of Lovie offering these lame, transparent excuses for his screw-ups. Take Boozer aside and say, “Carlos, you’re getting you’re head handed to you out there. Wake up! Hustle back! Defend! We need you to play better defense! Now get out there and win the game for us.” Pouting and not talking to your star will result in the players talking behind your back, losing patience and, finally, respect. They knew Boozer should’ve been out there.
What's this benching Boozer the entire 4th quarter all about? Is there some inner-turmoil the team is keeping from the public?
If Carlos Boozer really thinks he deserves to be in the game with as many defensive lapses as he has, he is crazy! He is becoming the low post version of Ben Gordon, fine on offense but gives up as much as he scores, that will not benefit us in the long run. To play in Sloan’s system you need to play D, so he must be capable?
I think (the benching of Boozer) is good as long as it’s not a trend. Send a message that it doesn’t matter who you are, if you are going to continually get beat down the floor and let someone like Kris Humphries have such an easy time on offense you are going to be on the bench.
Is there anyway the Bulls could trade Boozer, Deng, JJ and probably a pick to the Tmberwolves for Love, Beasley, and Corey Brewer?
Sam: No, it doesn’t take long to want them out of town. There is something to making a bit of an example for defense by sitting out a player, though I don’t think that was what Thibodeau was up to. I think he does see life as play by play and was simply upset with the defense, took out Boozer in what was a regular rotation, anyway, going into the fourth quarter, and then when the group on the floor playing more like he preferred decided to stay with it. He did something like that in a loss to the Knicks back in Chicago earlier in the season as well. I don’t see Thibodeau as the philosopher/coach in the Phil Jackson style of measuring the long-term psychology of moves and comments. He’s a grinder with an emphasis on effort. You have to give him that so far. Without Noah, the Bulls’ best defender is probably Deng and they still rank among the league’s best defensive teams. But if you are going to have a guy like Boozer on your team, you are going to have to make some compromises in how you see the game. Actually, that’s one of the strengths of Sloan. He really doesn’t have a great defensive system and relies more on demanding and a compact offensive system. His players rarely are all-league kind of defenders. They are an efficient offensive team that plays more a position game. Karl Malone and John Stockton were individually tough, which gave the game that impression. I prefer less the messages than the demands. I do think because the Bulls have a group that thinks defense, internally there will be pressure on everyone to measure up. I don’t see Boozer as a guy who won’t care what his teammates think, even with a long-term deal. I’d prefer pushing him, but playing him. I want him on the court, as I did Rose before the four minute mark. I like to go with my best and have them make plays or not and live with that. I think Thibodeau did have a good reason and thought it out and you have to credit him that he believes if he puts someone in the game they can perform, which may help down the road as he seems to be placing more responsibility with the reserves and getting better production of late from Watson, Asik and Brewer. You can’t win them all, and the Bulls did get right back to the edge of winning that game on the road when they could have given up. So it was hardly a setback, though more something to provide some interest in the doldrums of the season before the All-Star break. And I thank Thibodeau for that.
After looking out how the season has been playing out so far, I was able to conclude that the Bulls and the Hawks will be locked into the 4 and 5 seed respectively. The Bulls are locked into the four because I dont believe that they can have a higher record than the Celtics, Heat, and Magic. The Hawks are the next best team and they will be the 5 seed. I’m a bit concerned. Can the Bulls beat a team like the Hawks in a best of 7 with or without home-court?
Sam: It is too soon for that, but there is a pretty good chance and the fun may be the teams play all their games for the season in March once Noah returns, so you’ll get a good idea of how they match up. The Knicks could still change that dynamic as they have played well and have moved into the legit top six in the East of Boston, Miami, Orlando, Chicago, Atlanta, New York. No one else is even close to .500. The Bulls are currently third, but they likely will fall to fourth. But it’s hard to see them moving any higher than third, anyway, so that’s Atlanta or New York, anyway. The Knicks are 2-0 so far over the Bulls and that would be a heck of a series with the Knicks’ offense against the Bulls defense. Noah did miss the Christmas loss and the Knicks have been healthier this season than the Bulls. The Hawks would be tough. They are good at two with Johnson and Jamal, which is where the Bulls are weakest. Of course, with Bibby, they have no hope of dealing with Rose. Smith is way too athletic for Boozer, but not as disciplined to play Boozer. Horford and Noah would be a great battle. It would seem to set up as a seven gamer and, yes, a tough first round series to win.
Who would you take in a seven games series the 2010-2011 Bulls vs 1987-1988 Bulls. I noticed that there are some simularities between this years Bulls. 1988 was the first 50 win season in
over a decade while the Bulls on pace for their first 50 win season in over a decade as well. 88 was Jordan's first MVP season and Rose is certainly a
candidate this year. Both teams had first year head coaches and the nba was coming off a Lakers championship over the Celtics.
Sam: Yes, there are some similarities in the potential beginning of a run for both teams. That was the rookie season for both Pippen and Grant, and neither were starting, Grant behind Oakley and Pippen behind Brad Sellers. That was maybe Jordan’s best year as an athlete, winning virtually every significant award from MVP to Defensive Player, effectively the league’s best player on both sides of the ball, the rarest of doubles. And that is why that Bulls team was much better. It was a 50-win team, and this team should be around there, but that was a much, much tougher league, especially in the East, with powerful teams in Boston, Detroit and Atlanta and much tougher opponents with Cleveland, Philadelphia and New York. It was a tougher time to get 50 wins, and with two young stars coming off the bench, one to be a Hall of Famer. It would be pretty hard to find that depth in this era.
Looking more closely at our schedule, it just seems like our schedule kind of stinks....
We're beating the bad teams (though teams like the Cavs (both games), Pistons (both games), Nets, etc seem to have played better than normal against us and then just lose.....
But if you look closely against teams with .500 records, we're 5-9 against them this year, and of the wins (Lakers, OKC, Phx, Dallas, Denver, Portland), I'd say only the win against Dallas is the real standout win. Do you think our record is a bit too shiny and that we'll bounce back to normal? Or do you think we'll be a 55 win team?
Sam: The Bulls have done awfully well with basically Boozer and Noah not playing together all season, so they really haven’t seen the type of team they can be yet. The schedule has been soft the last few weeks, but you have to still win, and the Nets game Wednesday shows you still have to play them. The fact is there aren’t very many great teams in the league and it’s too bad maybe two of the three against Miami will be without Noah, the first a week from Saturday. The schedule begins to toughen up later this month, and there are some definite issues hanging over the Bulls now, though less Boozer’s playing time than the lack of any fast break and thus the difficulty scoring with Bogans and Thomas starting and Deng being dragged through big minutes. The Bulls clearly are missing at least one big piece in perimeter shooting, and until Noah returns they are going to be stretched to beat good teams. Though to their relief there are not many around.
I’ve been hearing a lot about a possible lock out and not much about the anticipated fan backlash. A lot of people are out of work and I’m wondering if the owners or players have given any thought to the repercussions that a work stoppage could mean for them? It’s very disturbing to listen to these millionaires cry about all the money they claim they are losing. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t resolve whatever issues they are having, but to have a lock out right now with the economy the way it is, I think could have a larger impact on the NBA as it did for baseball and hockey.
Sam: Yes, that is the risk both sides have to measure, but there have been many times two sides don’t seem reasonable or to have the best interests of others as their main concern. Like Democrats and Republicans.
That's a pretty interesting game of chance the Bulls front office is playing with the Bobcats 1st round pick. You figure eventually, even with an incompetent front office, that consecutive/successive lottery picks would get the Bobcats in the playoffs. With that said, you never know and with injuries and the way the NBA lottery works, the Bulls could stumble into a pretty good spot in 2016 (when it's unprotected). Absent using it in a Melo deal, I can't justify trading that pick to get the usual cast of characters that are brought up as the Bulls solution to the 2 guard spot. I know it's, at best, unlikely that pick turns into a bonanza for the Bulls but I'd sure hate to deal that thing for only a solid, rotational type guy. I could justify that pick becoming worthless more than I could justify trading it for the likes of Courtney Lee, Rudy Fernandez, or
Sam: Ah, the rub. That is the issue. Management looks toward the future and the players and coaches look toward the next game. The players and coaches would like one of those guys to enable them to compete better, but management sees perhaps a bonanza up the road to carry them into the next decade. Rose will only be in his late 20’s then and what if you bring him the next Dwight Howard then? You maybe keep this going for more than a decade. That said, if you stall now maybe he doesn’t want to stay because you are not doing enough to win now when there is the chance because Boozer is moving in on 30. I can understand both views, though I generally prefer the win now or sooner group. But the Bobcats with terrible contracts and limited talent are maybe the least positioned of any team to improve and easily could miss the playoffs for five more years and hand one of the top picks in the draft to the Bulls. For now, the pick is alive if there are Carmelo talks and you’d have to do that. I’d probably do something less as well, but I am not sure management will at this time unless it can lead to a substantial improvement.
There was alot of talk in Israel about a possible trade of Caspi to the Bulls. Everybody is hoping that it will actually happen, because the Kings play at 4PM, and they suck. Does a Casspi-Johnson trade sound right for both sides? I heard the Kings want to unload Garcia as well, which would obviously kill the deal.
Sam: Sorry to disappoint you, as it was just the bad internet rumor of the week. It’s not always the fault of reporters, but the internet has turned gossip into viral information like never before. Just for a primer, this is what GMs do all day: They watch the box scores, and if they see someone having a bad game or not playing much, they call and ask if that player is available. Sometimes GMs call about 30 players a week. It’s sort of the game the GMs play, the “We’ve got to protect our phony baloney jobs” thing. And you never know, maybe someone is available. It’s what I’d do as well if I had the job. Then sometimes a reporter hears and said someone inquired about someone. And it’s true, but it hardly means anything. And there you have Casspi and your 4 p.m. starts.
Kurt Thomas has been doing a nice job filling in for Noah so far, but the just don’t have the same energy as when Noah is on the court. Does it make sense to move Brewer into the starting line up now? He plays at a high energy level and defensive intensity that they seem to be missing without Noah. Bogans and Thomas on the court together make them feel like an old slow team real quick.
Sam: Make sense to me or the coach. Yes, and no offense to Bogans, I’d go with Brewer as he was supposed to be the starter but was injured in camp, and he did lose his job to injury, which you are not supposed to do, though he never actually had it. But the coach, as we’ve gone through before, doesn’t like to disturb things when they are going well, doesn’t like to single anyone out as being “benched,” and is tired of your darn questions about this.
I don’t understand how Rondo is getting more All-Star Votes than Rose, despite the fact that Rose is having an MVP caliber season and Rondo has been injured for many games. I think it’s because of the much greater media attention that Rondo is getting, given that he’s on the star-studded, championship-caliber Celtics. How should Rose boost his recognition? I say, dunk contest.
Sam: Of course, that wouldn’t change the voting, but it might tire Rose out even more for the second half. Good he wasn’t included. Rondo plays for a winning team, has a championship and a Finals appearance and puts up huge triple double numbers. How much is because of whom he plays with doesn’t matter. Fans vote for winners and whom they know, and maybe there’s a lot of sentiment to vote for a guy, like them, who can’t make a 15 footer. But the voting is very close with the latest returns just out Thursday and it’s still unclear who’ll start. Though I am with Rose in that being selected is an honor and after barely being able to play last season after Dwight Howard’s assault, I assume Rose would just like to get in the game and feel good. He’ll make the team, and I’m booking my flight to L.A.
A lot of buzz here today in Boston after Rondo's performance last nigh (triple double with 22 assists). I'm not a big fan because I think his numbers are the product of smoke and mirrors given the cast of hall of famers he has around him. Wouldn't Steve Colter been a perennial all star if he had three hall of famers to pass the ball to? If Rondo were the starter in Sacramento today, where you didn't have to guard any of his teammates and he didn't have the luxury of gambling every possession at both ends, I'm not sure we'd be all that impressed and they'd still be about 7-25.
Sam: It is why it is difficult for some to understand how Rondo is getting more All-Star votes than Rose. I think Rondo is a valuable player more in the Jason Kidd mold as a guy who impacts the game without scoring than Colter, though I do recall at the time Jerry Krause said Colter would be an All-Star. Jerry never understood you set expectations low and then you look better if they do well. If they don’t, so what, you weren’t surprised. But there is no comparison as a player between Rose and Rondo. Rose is a legitimate MVP candidate and Rondo isn’t the best player on his team. They are opposites in a sense as defenses rarely focus on Rondo and all they do against the Bulls is focus on Rose. The Bulls have made it harder on Rose than it needs to be even with adding Carlos Boozer with the lack of perimeter offense. Though if Rondo were with Sacramento I feel like they could have nine wins.
It seems more and more players are hanging on the rim just a wee bit longer than in years past. There’s a little more flash, a little more gloating (especially with the arrival of Blake Griffin) but I haven’t seen this in years. If they hung on the rim a second longer than needed, they were immediately t’d up. Has anyone gotten a technical this year for hanging on the rim? Regardless, is there any word (with direct knowledge of another person’s thinking of course) around the NBA that this is no longer taunting?
Sam: Good one. You read the phony source stories I see. But you are right as they have forgotten to call that one, my guess being fans like seeing it. The NBA does a lot of this stuff where they make pronouncements that they are going to ban something and then pretty much forget, like flopping which went from a suspension threatened offense to an art form the referees seem to admire so much they give the call to the flopper almost every time. I have noticed Griffin does like to hang on that rim, but given the history of the Clippers, anything that will give those poor, suffering fans some joy we have to accept.
There's a short segment in LeBron's horrid "what should I do" commercial where he asks, "should I embrace my role as the villain?" (and let's be honest here, I found myself saying "yes" after pretty much every question he asks in that TV spot) -- which brings up a strange concept. Has LeBron decided that he wants to be as much a professional wrestling villain as NBA superstar? With his comments about how he feels he should be at home opening presents on Christmas morning and how he thinks the NBA should seriously consider contraction, it really seems like he's just trying to be the bad guy at this point.
I actually believe that he's become more than just an athlete, he has become literally the embodiment of everything that society says is wrong with the culture of professional sports. In a business where self-awareness is already in short supply, LeBron is so painfully oblivious to the way his actions are perceived that he's drifting into Roger Clemons, Barry Bonds territory.
Have you ever seen a guy's image change this quickly without breaking any actual rules or laws? And do you think this is all part of some marketing ploy to sell him as the ultimate super-villain, or is he really that oblivious?
Sam: If it’s a marketing ploy, it would be hard to believe it being successful and thought up by his group. Yes, he has walked into everything as wince producing as you can imagine. I actually think he’s just not intelligent—other than about basketball—and has had a lifetime, or at least since he became a basketball phenomenon, of being told how brilliant he is that he has to believe if he says it that it makes sense. So I think this all should help him gain some perspective. I don’t think this is a Bad Boys thing where those guys cultivated the image and the NBA sold it until they realized what a monster they’d created. LeBron may not be quite as beloved as before, but I don’t think his image has been tainted beyond repair or even to a major detrimental effect. He hasn’t done anything morally wrong, and we often if not celebrate stupidity can sympathize with it as it occurs often in our lives. If the Heat should win this season or make the Finals, he’ll erase most of that—until the next goofy thing he comes up with.
I've been a Luol Deng supporter ever since he came to the Bulls. I always believed he was going to develop into something special, but it appears I was wrong. Occasionally, he will put up good to decent numbers, but most of the time he disappears. In watching the games, he doesn't seem to work as hard to get open as some (Korver). He seems to merely wait for the game to come to him and most of the time it doesn't. Unfortunately, I now see him as a journeyman sub in the future. What's you take on him?
Sam: I don’t think Thibodeau agrees as Deng may be his MVP. He rarely ever takes him out of games and seems to rely on Deng more than anyone on the team. Luol’s curse is in the enthusiasm of the Skiles run in the mid-2000s, Deng was set up as a star level player by management with his contract and by the media with erroneous reports the Bulls would not trade him for Kobe Bryant. He’s pretty much never gotten past that. But he’s putting up a solid, if not the quietest, 18 and 6 in the league, and is a valuable starter well more than a journeyman. A journeyman is Bogans, who journeys from team to team. Luol doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
Seriously, what is Rick Barry doing these days? Is he for hire to help resolve our FT problems? What about Reggie Miller? Mark Price? Steve Kerr?
Sam: Maybe they would be better shooting underhanded. I know, couldn’t be worse. Deng missing a pair at the end of the Nets game hurt and maybe it’s just one of those seasons that guys miss free throws. They are not great shooters (it’s not like the Bulls are bombing in threes) and I’d say it would help more to get Barry or Reggie or Price to shoot them.
It is clear that Thibs has no plans on giving JJ playing time. Tonight in the Toronto game, he played Deng 40 minutes in a blowout in a back to back game situation rather than giving James Johnson more than 2 minutes. Can you enlighten us as to why JJ is not even given time in a blowout? Thibs seems stubborn in his refusal to get Bogans out of the starting lineup and in giving JJ any playing time.
Sam: He does dig in. We all know the team needs an upgrade at shooting guard, and, I suspect, Thibodeau would welcome it as well. But the NBA is about shooting, and I also suspect he’d rather have the Bogans threat out there early with Rose and he does use Korver late. Perhaps it’s also a message to management to, “Get me a shooting guard or I’ll play this guy every game.” As for J.J., he’s not fortunate. I think he can help and he is the rare athlete on the team. But Thibodeau does use 10 players, which is enough in the NBA, and decided JJ and Scalabrine are not in the rotation, and that likely won’t change unless someone is hurt. JJ has a contract through next season, so he’ll have to be patient, and he has been.
I'm a big Tom Thibodeau fan and he should be top candidate for coach of the
year. One thing I've noticed though is that Luol Deng plays alot of minutes under
Thibs SO with Deng having a busy summer travelling to Sudan, playing for
Great Britain in Eurobasket Qualifiers (I attended 3 games) and now playing
so many minutes for the Bulls, do you think he'll be burnt out come playoff
time? Secondly, Its obvious that Coach Thibs trusts and relies on Deng on both
sides of the floor. And I've heard you say that Deng really enjoys Thibs
coaching style. Would this play a part in the managments decision to make a
move for Carmello Anthony. I cant see Thibs being too happy if management
traded Deng for a player like Anthony who is not exactly known for his
defence. Would Thibs have a say in that?
Sam: The coach is generally sought out for his opinion as if he doesn’t want to play the guy it would cause problems, though management’s ultimate role is to care for the future of the team while the coach’s job is only to win the next game. So management needs to balance that with its own goals. It’s speculation on how this will effect Deng, though if he gets I’ll be getting a lot of mail on why Deng played so much. I don’t know. Does 39 minutes wear you down when 35 doesn’t? I don’t know where the number is, but Deng is as positive as I’ve seen him in years and contributing so we’ll see. As for Anthony, there is no connection. I don’t know exactly how Thibodeau feels, and if the Bulls have a chance to make that move I doubt Thibodeau gets very much of a vote. I assume he’d be able to live with Anthony, but as I’ve said I don’t see the Bulls as a likely destination for Anthony.
I wonder why Thibs doesn’t play Rose and Watson together more often? Seems like this would give us a much needed scoring punch! Its not your traditional 1 -2 guard combo, but a 1.5 and 1.5 guard set (which added up still equals 3), with Rose and Watson alternating b/w handling the ball and cutting/spotting up as the shooter.
Sam: He did for a long segment at the end of the Nets game and the Bulls almost pulled it out with Watson making some plays and if that three that spun out had stayed in who knows. But as a defense first coach he doesn’t like that small backcourt defensively so we won’t see it that often.
As I was enjoying your mailbag, I was reading the interesting entry about the Phil Jackson coached all-time team and you almost slipped something by me. Kobe ranked ahead of Shaquille O'Neal all-time? Normally I'm on board with your basketball perspicacity, but I just can't buy that Kobe has been more dominant or as material to the story of the NBA as Shaq. Kobe has always had a lot of help - including Shaq. Kobe's prime years were not with Shaq, but just after when the Lakers, with the talented Miami players from the Shaq deal, barelly made the playoffs. Plus, that year Shaq won it with Wade and a much worse supporting cast of the main two than Shaq/Kobe ever had in L.A. I really just don't buy Kobe - I think he is great, but not top ten because the numbers don't match up to his hall-of-fame peers in a weaker, more watered down NBA that is now referred to support perimeter success.
Sam: Well, there is a lot of ambivalence regarding Kobe, a sort of fan love/hate with most of the love in L.A. I’ll stick with Kobe ranking higher with the tiebreaker his commitment to the game. It’s like Jordan over Wilt. Wilt was the more dominant, really the greater figure, but Michael was more committed to the game, a greater winner. Of my all-time centers, I have Wilt, Kareem and Russell ahead of Shaq. Maybe even Hakeem, who won two titles with the worst supporting cast ever and basically playing without a second All-Star as Clyde was near the end in 1995. Shaq just didn’t care enough. He rarely was in shape and would play all season to get in shape, though he’d be great in the playoffs. He should have averaged six more rebounds a game easily, but didn’t try. He clearly didn’t love basketball but what it did for him. I break ties with the guys who celebrate the game, and whatever you think of Kobe and how he went about it, he was all about basketball.
Are you impressed with the Heats record in December? They had one quality win, in Utah and maybe in LA, maybe.
There are a lot of bad teams in the league this year.
Sam: I am impressed as that’s what they were supposed to be when they were 9-8. Though we have to be thankful since if they had started like this we’d have to watch ESPN specials every night on their quest for 80. We all owe the league a debt of gratitude for scheduling them into some early losses.