Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 03.04.11

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

While I'm not a big believer in statement games during the regular season, is it fair to day the Bulls have something to prove as far as beating Eastern Conference playoff teams on the road? They have a great home record and are undefeated within the division, but 15-14 on the road isn't anything to write home about. They have a few nice road wins in Dallas and NO but, In actuality, their only road win against an Eastern Conference playoff team was over the Pacers. For guys like Rose and Noah who haven't been out of the first round and Luol Deng who's been out of the first round once, how important is it to stack up some wins against Eastern Conference teams on the road? I think it's a good test of mental toughness and leadership to go into someone else's gym and leave with a win. Teams like Boston, Miami, Orlando and even NY are certainly capable of coming into Chicago and stealing a playoff game, can the Bulls do the same?

Rober Bernard

Sam: They can, though the question in the playoffs is whether they also can keep someone from doing it. The Bulls home record is impressive, and that can carry you as well. The formula in the NBA is generally to be about .500 on the road and win a large majority of games at home to begin to step into the elite class. So that is a huge step for the Bulls and they seem to be taking it this season. But it is an entirely new group as well with injuries all season. Miami’s record against top teams has been weak, which hardly disqualifies them from a playoff run. Those wins are good for your confidence and development, but in my view hardly fatal unless you are not competitive in those games.

There is no doubt that the Bulls are among the top 5 defensive teams in the
NBA. I always believed that you don't have to be a great defender to play
solid defense as long as you're dedicated to that end of the floor and take
pride in it. Most of the Bulls players are buying into coach T's system. But there were 5-6 minute
stretches against both the Hawks and Wizards where the Bulls just couldn't
score. You just can't have nights like that in the play offs when the
defense will pack on Rose. Unless Bulls bring in another scorer at the 2
position who can create and score in double digits, I don't think the Bulls
are a serious contender. Teams like the Lakers and Celtics do it very well
on both ends of the floor, and I just don't think the Bulls have enough fire
power offensively to compete with those teams.

Bobby Grbevski

Sam: They probably don’t, which is why they generally are not considered to be championship contenders. Sorry to break it to you. They know they need more scoring and they know they need an upgrade at shooting guard. But the cost to do so at the trading deadline, the Bulls felt, was too prohibitive as you can see how well Omer Asik has played in just his rookie season. Could they have made an upgrade with draft picks? I would have tried, but it may not have been possible. Plus, you need Gibson for defensive purposes as defense isn’t Boozer’s forte. The small answer is, at least for now, the Bulls need to try to push the ball more and run and get easy scores, always easier said than done. But given the way they play defense and with Rose and Noah they still figure to be a tough out in the playoffs, if also facing a tough first round series which will hardly be a lock even with home court advantage against, say, the Knicks or Hawks. The Bulls look at this as just the beginning of their widening window to compete.

I am truly hoping that Rasual Butler can work his way into the rotation.
While he is not a world beater, he is the most complete SG that the Bulls
have on the roster. Look, I understand how well the Bulls have played,
and there is the sense that you don't mess with a good thing. But the
fact of the matter is that the Bulls have been winning despite the lack of
production from SG. And I think that it is clear that it is taking a toll
on DRose because he has to shoulder that much more. Look at his last 7
games coming off the Western roadtrip. With the exception of the San
Antonio game, his fg% has been quite poor, his 3 point shooting has
plummeted, and his turnovers have increased. Just because he is 22
doesn't mean he won't tire. Butler is a better scorer than Bogans
and Brewer, and plays solid defense. It would take some time, but I hope
that come playoff time, Butler could be integrated and contributing.

Matt Maloney

Sam: It certainly is possible as the coach can make changes as he likes and this is a group of players not likely to be affected. Still, you have seen Thibodeau likes to rely on the guys he knows and has settled into a very predictable rotation. And the Bulls remain on pace for some 55 wins, well above the projection of everyone. Thibodeau also preaches a uniting defensive system that has been developed and relied upon through work all season. At this point of the season and with a heavy schedule of games in March there likely is going to be little time for practice. All of that suggests to me we will not see a lot of Butler but in spot duty.

How do you see the impact of Boozer in this Bulls, it seems to me or he still is not 100% , I believed that Deng is becoming the second option for the Bulls.

Alejandro Gorry

Sam: It is not supposed to be exactly that way, though to his credit Deng has taken advantage of opportunities. I think the Bulls have gone away from Boozer a bit too much and probably need to force the ball inside more. I expect them to do that more in upcoming games.

I was wondering if the Bulls' roster is now set with the presumed signing of Rasual Butler or will the add another player? I'd like to see some insurance at point guard. Maybe someone like Carlos Arroyo. C.J. Watson is doing an alright job but if Rose needs to miss a game or two down the road, who would back up C.J.? Plus, the Bulls seem to need better ball handling. Any chance they sign a point guard to be player number 14 on the roster?

Matt Ahrens

Sam: I suspect that’s it, and though I’ve heard several suggestions regarding Arroyo, the Heat didn’t have a point guard and still never played him. Watson has been uncertain in running the offense and really seems more comfortable playing off the ball. But the Bulls are invested in him and the Bulls value their remaining salary cap space as important to facilitate deals at the draft. So I doubt they’d use any of it for a 14th player who likely would stand little chance to play. Though I haven’t seen enough of Arroyo of late to know what the issues are with him.

When it comes to 7 footers I think, above all else, the best attribute to have is a love of the game. Tools are great, but so many bigs played because their parents told them to and know that they will draw huge checks in the NBA even if they don't improve. Greg Oden admits he doesn't love basketball and wants to be a dentist. Who knows what Cousins loves? Look at Noah; he is not particularly skilled in any one area other than maybe dribbling or passing and not a super explosive athlete, but he works his tail off and plays hard. This impacts the game tremendously. So my question is this: can you tell if Omer loves basketball? He already has great defensive instincts and his potential is limitless, but he won't get there unless he wants to. He looks like he has fun on the court, but his body language looks tired at times (understandable given this is his first NBA stint) and we don't see him interviewed because of the language barrier. All in all, I'm still glad we didn't foolishly trade away our promising center.

Alex Banzhaf

Sam: I think if you can watch body language, and, frankly, I watch it more when it involves Playboy models—dirty old man appears—you should see a real competitor in Asik. He was stricken and cursing himself on the bench after missing those two free throws against the Hawks late. He strikes me as a terrific competitor. He’s obviously very bright and understands the nuances of the defense as well as any of the big men. By all indications he works hard and if anything I’ve sensed he’s most upset with not being able to contribute more, but cultural differences keep him from expressing himself. My sense is it’s inappropriate the way he was brought up to question the coach. Thus he can never play for the Pistons.

As much as I despise LeBron's handling of his free agent decision, it's completely his right. When teams dump players, it can be played off unquestionably as a "business decision." Loyalty is a two way street. That being said, I think we will continue to see stars team up in various big markets and only 8-10 teams a year will have a shot at the title. No different than other years, contrary to what some might argue. As much as the media likes to speculate where players will be 3 years from now, I am shocked I have not heard Kevin Love's name come up more as someone who could fill the starpower void in LA once Kobe's sun sets.
Have you heard anyone suggest this?

Mark Miller

Sam: Not really because the Lakers “plan” supposedly is to get Dwight Howard, who seems to be fading back with a regressing Magic team. The assumption is he goes somewhere with the Magic hamstrung with awful long term contracts. Plus, Love’s a bit of a mirage now putting up double/doubles for a bad team and not impacting winning. So he finishes a lot of games that are not contested and puts up some meaningless stats. We really won’t truly know about him until he’s playing for a competitive team.

We have all been impressed by the MVP level play of Derrick Rose and his supporting cast this year. However, I feel the Bulls bench is what will give us the edge in 7 game playoff series against the likes of Boston, Orlando or Miami. I think you'd be hard pressed to find a better front court off the bench than Asik and Taj. Along with Korver's offense and Brewer's defense, we are solid at the SG position, although a pickup of Rasual Butler would even further bolster our roster. Do you think the Bulls depth gives us a legitimate shot at being Eastern Conference Champions?

Bill Marzano

Sam: Actually, no. I see it as an issue. The playoffs are different because the rotations are tightened and better teams use fewer players because there are no back to backs. So if you play reserves, they generally are playing against top line starters. Your reserves aren’t playing reserves any more, which hurts the Bulls some. Plus, I don’t think the Bulls have done a good enough job this season in developing Asik, who could be a big help in the playoffs, where size makes a bigger difference. I’m hoping he gets more time the rest of the season.

Rarely do I get excited about players placed on the waiver wire or being bought 
out, but one name had me going from 0-60 in 3.5 seconds. Corey Brewer was just 
bought out by the Knicks and I was shocked to see that the Bulls have no
 interest in signing him. Here is a guy who is 
an athletic, long, agile defender capable of providing the Bulls quality minutes
 off the bench against the Lebron's and Melo's of the world and the Bulls haven't 
even considered him? To me this is an ideal low risk high reward situation. The
 only arguments against signing him are that he can't shoot or that he would mess 
up the team's chemistry.

Al Mirza

Sam: It’s not that the Bulls weren’t interested, but in the end they obviously couldn’t be a player as Boston lost out as well. Dallas had its mid-level exception and gave Brewer a multi-year deal, which the Bulls were not about to do. Their need was acute with Caron Butler out. I think the Bulls also felt Brewer was similar to Ronnie Brewer given limited range and shooting under 30 percent on threes this season. They felt if they were going to invest in another guard it had to be someone who could move forward as a starter and address the major needs of distance shooting and ball handling, and Brewer isn’t much at either. I would have passed as well.

I really hope some one from the coaching staff will convince Rose to stop leaving his feet with no idea where he is going to pass it. Teams have clearly picked on his habit of doing that and are looking for the steal when they see him drive and pass. That Atlanta game really came down to a few possessions and we can't give up that many lay ups off turnovers. Of coarse the Bulls would not be able to dominate teams for any stretch without Rose so I guess you take the good with the bad.

Ernest Obiozor

Sam: I wouldn’t say the league has figured out Rose, but the Hawks did the best job I’ve seen in teams picking off those passes when Rose gets in the air after he drives to the baseline. You teach guys not to leave their feet when passing, but Rose seems to have a unique ability to do so and get up in the air, hang and even adjust depending on where the defense is. It wasn’t one of his better games. It happens. Jordan once missed a shot. I know. Hard to believe.

In retrospect, do you think it was wise for the Bulls to forgo trading a big man for Mayo, now that Eddy Curry is free and looking to sign with a contender? But seriously, why did this guy fall so hard from what was a promising final season with the Bulls?

Christopher Prince

Sam: Seriously, I did get a bunch of e-mails asking why the Bulls didn’t pick up Curry. Of course there was the issue about testing to see whether he was vulnerable to a heart attack. Oh yeah, that. Eddy has had some horrific things happen to him in his life, but as for basketball, he never truly loved the game and I often felt it made him nervous to have to perform. I remember him once telling Scott Skiles he didn’t mind if he didn’t play in the fourth quarter. He’s obviously had shocking personal and financial problems and you feel badly for him as he’s a very decent guy, one of the nicer people to come through the Bulls. I assume he tries to continue to play now for financial reasons.

I was in Spain the last couple of weeks and spent time in Barcelona. I watched one Barcelona game on TV and later saw a box score in the paper of a different game. Ricky Rubio was the 3rd string PG. He didn't get into the game until midway through the 2nd quarter. In all the games I've seen, Sada is a better PG but this was the first time I didn't see him replaced by Ricky. The interesting thing is that all his teammates have their last name on their uniforms and Rubio just has Ricky. What was amazing though, was the box score had everyone's last name except for Ricky! It appears that it is possible that Ricky had great ball handling abilities at a very early age; i.e. a child prodigy, but has not worked on expanding his game. Perhaps understanding what's inside of an athlete is too difficult when they are under 20. The Bulls certainly had that difficulty with Eddy.

Dave Berkebile

Sam: It’s quite possible Minnesota overestimated and, actually, the NBA over sold this kid. He does play somewhat regularly, but he never scores or shoots. Yes, it’s difficult to judge players as high schoolers as the Bulls painfully learned. That’s why the NBA would love to expand the eligibility rule to two years in college, but with so many economic issues will probably not fight for that.

If the Bulls need a shooting guard next year, why not draft BYU's Jimmer 

Harold Hutchison

Sam: Though I’m not sure how he projects in the NBA, he will be long gone before the Bulls pick in what draft observers say is one of the poorest drafts for shooting guards in years.

Please tell me Gar and Pax are at least looking at Azubuike. He's a great 3pt shooter and is basically Rasual Butler but younger, meaning fresher legs for the rest of the season. He's also played with CJ and has great ball handling skills too.

Edward Fung

Sam: I assume they are not, given he hasn’t played this season and the Bulls are hardly in position to help someone rehabilitate from injury and also learn the system without any practice time. This isn’t fantasy basketball, though perhaps a fantasy world.

I love that the Bulls are really good and that we have a fighting chance at a title and to become a great team for a long time but for me I feel like the games aren't as fun to watch when we are winning all the time I kind of miss the days with Gordon and Hinrich fighting for the 8th seed in the East. We shut down the Heat after they won the championship and we played the best 1st round series of all time against the Celtics after they won. The Bulls played a very exciting type of basketball which I thought was the most fun to watch. I kind of miss those days.

Julian Good

Sam: Then I suggest you watch the Pacers.

If Bibby signs with the Heat, like many speculate, how good will they be? Will they be a lot better with him or will he not make much of a difference?

Michael Bala

Sam: He obviously has and I think he’ll be a good addition as a sort of veteran Eddie House kind of guy who basically makes shots. LeBron and Wade still will run the team, but it’s a good addition as he has played in big games. With his defense he’ll have to be a spot player, though.

Is Luol Deng the Most Improved Player in the league? Who is better at the small forward position in the East, besides James, Anthony and maybe Pierce?

Jim Mills

Sam: Luol is having a wonderful season, likely his most effective as a Bull. I never hear fans complaining about his salary anymore for the first time since he signed the deal. But I’d still take Rudy Gay and Durant and you’d get arguments regarding some like Iguodala, Gerald Wallace and Danny Granger—All-Stars—and maybe Richard Jefferson and even Grant Hill. But Deng is a top 10 forward and few would have said that in recent years.

So many fans seem anxious about 2-guard. I think that's silly. The team will win or lose with their best players. Bringing in a name 2-guard will not necessarily fit in with the team. Why mess up something that is going quite well? If Rose, Deng, Boozer, etc. don't play well, the Bulls won't advance in the postseason... no matter who the 2-guard is.

LongGiang Le

Sam: OK, Gar.

You probably get a lot of questions on the Charlotte pick, I don't get why people write in to mailbags to ask factual questions, other than the obscure, I mean they're writing an e-mail, so they obviously have access to the internet, but I digress.

Take a look at this page:

It lists in detail for all 30 teams the picks owed & held.

Ryan Schlanser

Sam: Thanks. Tell them!

I’m debating with my friend Yann the Knickerbocker, who are better: CP3-Amare-Melo (NYK in 2012) or Lebron-Wade-Bosh?

Mat Ramseyer

Sam: Rose, Howard, and Boozer? OK, Rose, Noah, Boozer, Deng and Kevin Martin. Ok...

My friend who owns Knicks season tickets told me PGs are like running backs. A few great years then a major drop off. Do you believe that? It really got me worried about Rose. I pointed out to him the longevity of guys like Kidd, Andre Miller, Stockton, Nash. He countered with the fact that those guys never relied on athleticism like Rose, Williams, etc. Put my mind at ease and tell me Rose will be a top PG for us for another 10-12 years.

Mike Sutera

Sam: Well, Jordan seemed to hang on and even when he couldn’t jump like he once did he still was pretty good. Pippen as well even as his physical skills began to decline considerably onto the late 90’s. What makes Rose truly unique is that athletic ability. But he also is a worker. He’s learned to shoot and I assume he’ll have a good post game in a few years given his strength and work ethic. Tim Hardaway still was a high level point guard even after serious knee surgery that robbed him of his explosiveness, for one. There aren’t many for Rose to compare to given there really never have been point guards like him. Actually, he probably needs to slow down some, anyway, like Kidd did early in his career because no one can run the break with him and he’s upcourt alone half the time. If I were the Knicks season ticket holder I’d be a bit more concerned about Stoudemire’s knees, which few who have seen and examined him seem to feel will hold out more than another year or two.

I've seen different times when national analysts are asked for their pick for league MVP, finals matchup, etc., and they start by saying, "Well, Player/Team X was my preseason pick so I'm sticking with them." I understand not wanting to be accused of being a flip-flopper, but isn't an analyst's first job to "analyze," to see what actually happens and base decisions on that, not what somebody stated before anybody played a game this year. I thought what happened on the court is supposed to matter, but it seems to less and less. The Bulls, with a 7-4 record against top 6 teams, is viewed by most as less likely to come out of the East than the Heat, who are 1-7 against those teams, just because they have the "big three." Meanwhile, there are analysts who wouldn't pick Rose as MVP because he's too short (yes, I saw someone say, in reference to Rose, that an undersized shooting guard wouldn't get his vote, and that's how he viewed Rose). As a fan, it feels like sports journalism has turned more into telling a story and hoping the facts end up fitting it than actually reporting on what's happening and discovering the story there.

Carl Feldman

The answer is just because you are an analyst and doing the job doesn't mean you are good at it or responsible. Human traits like jealousy, greed, laziness and who gave you a better free meal or who gave you a better interview enter in. And as Jerry once said, "People, they're the worst."