Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 03.11.11
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Do the Bulls have a legit shot at the 1 seed (with Miami falling off a little bit as of late) or is Boston just too strong to make up those games so late in the season?
Sam: Before the season I'd have said no way. In fact, I did. But the way things have gone they do have a shot, though I would not dismiss Miami. Not because they beat the Lakers Thursday, but because so many of those losses were close and they Thursday did what everyone said they would do but never did, which was let Wade have a bigger role down the stretch. They are capable of making a big run while Boston seems disjointed with all the injuries and having to work Shaq back in. Plus after making the Finals last season without winning the conference they are confident of winning on the road and coming from wherever to get back to the Finals. I do think No. 1 is huge because then you miss Boston or Miami in the second round if you are the Bulls. In some respects, I think the Bulls playoff success is predicated on getting that No. 1 seed. And not one bad Miami crying joke. I'm so proud of myself as that is what passes for serious journalism today.
Last night against the Bobcats, the Bulls held a very solid 15 point lead with less than 5 minutes remaining. Boozer had already gone down with his injury, but Thibodeau kept Joakim Noah in the game and he fell to the ground twice. What could he possibly have been thinking? Why would he not put in Kurt Thomas A) to keep him fresh and B) protect one of our most important assets. I know you aren't the coach, but I was wondering if you could possibly explain why he would keep Joakim in in such a meaningless situation after one of our best players had gone down.
Sam: I hear this one a lot that Thibodeau leaves guys out and they might get injured. It's a classic second guess in my view. Often coaches fear the late, crazy comeback because it happened one time in their career. Reggie Miller had eight points in 8.9 seconds. See, see! With more than four minutes to go and 15 points isn't an untouchable lead. Plus, why risk getting Thomas hurt as he hasn't played in weeks and then you bring him in cold? Thibs likes to rely on his veterans and play them, though he does use a 10-man rotation, more than many coaches. But the biggest thing is you can't play scared of injuries. They can happen anytime and often happen without contact. Thibs teaches anything but fear, and it's proven successful for the Bulls. So you live with moves like that. Plus, Rose was out. Why not cheer him for that?
I know the NBA has changed, but, is Thibs a believer is in protecting your own players at all? Time and time again I see other teams punking out the Bulls with hard and cheap fouls. The Boozer play is the most recent chase. I think this would've been a perfect time to build team unity and have another one of the guys give Kwame a nice, hard, old school foul that would send a message to not only Kwame Brown but the rest of the league that we will stand up for each other and not take any cheap shots from anyone. I have yet to see one instance were anyone of the players stands up for his teammates. I know you run the risk of an ejection or suspension but I think bringing Kurt "Big Sexy" Thomas off the bench to send a message would've been important to building team unity heading to the playoffs and a possible championship run.
Sam: I cannot be in agreement, especially regarding Kwame Brown. You want to have someone go after Kwame Brown? Hasn't he suffered enough? I know fans love to talk about that stuff and it emboldens people, but we should understand in our country that continuing to seek vengeance doesn't work. First of all, the Bulls are a tough team and play physically. Teams don't cheap shot them because of that. They outrebound just about everyone and defend harder than everyone they play. I give them credit for not being about cheap shots and retaliation. Plus, if you do that stuff you put the league and referees on notice and you end up with fouls and technicals for nothing that probably costs you a big game somewhere. The only guy who really went after them is Dwight Howard with Rose and the Bulls delivered the best message in beating them badly the last two games.
It looks like we have promising young talents and talented veterans in their primes. Kevin Durant is the youngest scoring champion, Kevin Love is breaking records, Kobe could end up being the all time scorer, D-Rose could be the youngest MVP in NBA history, Blake Griffin's superhuman abilities. Do you think that it is possible that the NBA could be entering a new golden era?
Sam: No. Those are certainly some nice players. Kevin Love? C'mon. I can name a dozen role player who put up numbers like that and whose teams actually won games. Like Paul Silas. There are some nice talents around the NBA now, but let's not get too carried away comparing these guys to the players of the 1960's or 1980's, though this Rose guy is pretty good. Let's see where they take teams first. Kobe, OK. I accept him, but he's hardly in this young era. Half the guys you mention can't get to 30 wins.
Who do you think is more valued by the Bulls organization for the long term, Taj Gibson or Omer Asik?
Sam: Nothing against Taj as teams always love their good draft picks. But because of position as agile seven footers are rare they have Asik likely on the untouchable-except-for-a-superstar list now.
Given D-Rose's meteoric rise I was wondering whether you've ever seen a player who at 22 has garnered the confidence of his teammates and alignment with the coaching staff so quickly. There have been a lot of talented young superstars who don't get "it" until later in their careers, namely all the intangibles that create a cohesive team. Even MJ didn't buy into the team concept, such as making sure everyone was involved until five or six years into his career, albeit MJ shooting bad shots early in his career was better than Corzine jumpers or passes to the black hole a/k/a Orlando Woolridge. I know it is a love fest all around, but it is rare to see someone so young have the talent and leadership qualities that D-Rose possesses.
Sam: Well, Kobe had a title by the time he was 22 and LeBron had led a team to the Finals by the time he was 22, to name two. There was Magic Johnson carrying a team at 20 and playing center in the last game of the finals and scoring 42 points and a guy named Bill Russell at 23 as a rookie leading his team that never won before to the first of nine titles in 10 years. Rose is terrific, but let's not forget the NBA didn't start when ESPN came on the air, although they would have you think so.
Not that I really care about this stuff, but is Riley still the presumptive favorite for Exec of the Year? Seems like Gar and Pax did the best team building/coach hiring of anyone in the league this year. Riley hit a historic jackpot this summer, but the results are obviously becoming increasingly mixed.
Sam: I know suddenly the Bulls look good building that bench instead of loading up on stars and have a legitimate shot at the top seed in the conference. That said they tried to do what the Heat did. And they would have if they could have. What Miami accomplished was what no one believed could be done, and these guys are signed for several years. It's not over. It would be difficult to imagine anyone but Riley getting that award unless his peers are upset with him because they are the ones who vote.
I think it's pretty much accepted that Taj isn't going to sign back with the Bulls once his contract is up, he is good enough to start somewhere, and he deserves to as well. Now with this in mind wouldn't it be smart to look to deal him? Maybe add in a couple picks and we could move up in this year's weak class. I think it's fair to say we could get a top 5 pick for Taj, Korver or Brewer, the three 2011 picks, and the Charlotte pick. And with this pick we could pick up Harrison Barnes, a long athletic shooting-guard with range. This draft drops off terribly once you get past the top 5 picks, especially at shooting guard, the Bulls should either make a move to get a better shot at some one who can contribute or trade away the picks for something worthwhile.
Sam: I seriously doubt the Bulls are about to cash in half their team for a rookie with one year of college experience who went from consensus No, 1 to not. Actually, they'd be nuts to try something crazy like that. And they won't. Everything depends on the new collective bargaining agreement. The Bulls have managed their payroll pretty well, so we'll see. But you don't want to keep cashing in valuable players for futures and think you are going to have a chance to play for titles. Can't recall the Celtics or Lakers or Spurs or really anyone less doing that and having success.
I have been glad to see Asik getting playing time and being a difference maker on the defensive end. That was my biggest gripe about not trading for Lee, that Asik wasn't even playing much. My question is about his contract. Was he signed for 2 years (according to hoopshype) or for 3 years (according to various reports at the time he signed)? I do have concerns about the Bulls ability to retain him when his contract is up as he will likely command a sizable contract. I know the new CBA will play a role, but do you see the Bulls trying to sign him to an extension as soon as the rules allow? If he is able to add some strength and develop even a little bit on offense, the Bulls will not be able to retain him if he hits the open market.
Sam: Like with Gibson, that's the problem with getting better: Teams want your players. My understanding is he has a two year contract, though under at least the rules now the Bulls would have a right to match. I don't see how the league can take that away, but no one has any idea what rules will come out of the new deal. He'll be among the main players the Bulls will want to retain.
With about 5-6 weeks remaining in the regular season and the playoffs approaching, are there any playoff teams the Bulls especially match up best against? Also, which matchups through the conference finals would the Bulls prefer to play (hoping they make it there!)
Sam: Obviously, they'd like to get the No. 1 seed to avoid the 76ers and Knicks, who have become dangerous teams and can beat you in the first round. Although they've beaten Orlando of late, no one gives Noah more trouble and takes him out of games more than Howard. And also makes Rose a bit tentative. LeBron and Pierce as well, actually, the way he assaulted Rose last year. I don't think as much of Boston now without Perkins. Noah ran Shaq out of the games last year against the Cavs. I'd still fear the Heat because the Bulls don't have the two guard to deal with Wade.
Don't you think that after getting shut out by "the big 3" on the free agent market last summer that Gar/Pax has to be giddy over sweeping the Miami Heatles and then making them cry? Also, do you think the fact that they have been totally humiliated and embarrassed nationally will be the start of their demise or resurgence? You have to believe that 90% of this is in their head and if the game is close, they will continue to lose unless they can eventually break through and gain some confidence. The pressure continues to build with every loss! It's very similar to how no team wanted to lose to Cleveland during their losing streak. Now every playoff team is gearing up to beat the Heat.
Sam: As Wade said with disgust people are getting what they want with the Heat losing. You can celebrate their demise, but I wouldn't get overconfident. And I don't think the Bulls are, either.
What would you do if you ran the Heat, if you were the Pat Riley, so to speak? Do you get rid of Spoelstra? Do you look to move Bosh after the season to give yourself a deeper, more balanced team? Or do you do what is the hardest thing in pro sports sometimes, just wait? An argument can be made that they have, contrary to public opinion, actually achieved quite a bit in a short time frame. They put together 3 guys who were used to being the alpha males in the pack with no help around them, had Wade miss all of training camp which led to a slow start, have lost a series of close games to the top teams, and take every team's best shot when they play them, and are still playing almost .700 ball. I'm not sure I agree with that logic, but you could say they are almost on the cusp of being completely dominant.
Sam: What, some reason? How'd this email get through? Yes, let's note that this team can come close to 60 wins. No one expected the Celtics to win the title that season. The view was it would take a year or two. When they won as is everything in this era of instant feel good that it was the new norm. I agree not to let the close looses and discussion of failing at the end cloud they were close. When they won in 2006 they were 4-16 against the top teams in the regular season. And then they weren't. They play hard and if some shots go down from Miller or House or Jones or Bibby it looks a lot different. I think their biggest problem has been they don't shut up. Play and if you lose say you'll do better. Stop explaining! That said, I expect Doc Rivers to be coach next season and Spoelstra to be a good coach elsewhere.
Is it just me, or does Omer "Turkish Delight" Asik look like a young Will Perdue?
Sam: I think it's you. Is this an all white guys look alike thing?
I know people forget about him but doesn't Kobe deserve to be in the MVP conversation, especially if the Lakers finish strong? He has had to deal with Andrew Bynum being absent early this year. He has also had to deal Gasol and Artest being absent minded for a large majority of the year. Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard are great choices, just surprised Kobe is not at least considered.
Sam: You are right and I think he will be. LeBron may fall out of it with the Heat's issues and Wade perhaps playing a bigger role as the season concludes. Rose probably is the leader and Kobe will get top five, but they went on a roll when Bynum returned and you cannot come close to comparing Pau, Odom and Bynum to whom the Bulls play.
Do you think the Bulls will try and make a play for Mayo in the summer or do you think they will turn they attention on someone else?
Sam: I think in the end given Mayo's fight with his teammate, his drug suspension and issues in college and high school, though not criminal, I think they felt in the end he was like the kid in the Peanuts comic with the dark cloud following him, Pig Pen. It seems something bad always happens around Mayo even when he doesn't seem at fault. I suspect they will look elsewhere.
Of the recent ex-Bulls players, which one would you like to have back in Bulls uniform for next year? Any chance management would try to bring any of these guys back?
A: Kirk Hinrich
B: Ben Gordon
C: Thabo Sefolosha
D: Andres Nocioni
Sam: I think the Bulls believe there are more players in the league than the guys they had. Ben and Kirk are too costly, Thabo can't shoot (they have that already), and Noce is about at the end. Next!
I have noticed something lacking in Boozer's game other than his well publicized lack of defense. In watching clips of him from last season with the Jazz, I noticed that he seemed to have much better lift and ability to finish at the rim than he does this season. I'm not sure if it's a conditioning issue or if he has already begun the decline in his ability to jump at the age of 29. Several weeks after Boozer came back from his injury Thibs said that Boozer was still getting his legs back and that he was at that time more of a broad jumper than a high jumper, but he was confident that Boozer's ability to finish at the rim would improve as the season progressed. Two months later and it seems like it hasn't happened. Is this something that is of concern to the Bulls? We all know that the Bulls are counting on his low postability to score (especially come playoff time), but he seems more of a pick-and-pop guy now than a pick-and-roll guy. And he also seems to be getting his shot blocked more than he should. Can we expect him to regain some of that lift and explosiveness that was evident on the highlights from last season, or is there something more significant and permanent going on with him that will prevent that from happening?
Sam: I really don't know. He never really was much of a dunker with explosion off the floor as he was more a jumper off two feet for some reason. But it seemed he did dunk more in transition. He does have clever post moves and does draw a double team, so he is effective. His numbers have suffered (obviously he's out now with an ankle injury) since Noah's return and he seems to have gotten in more foul trouble, which does suggest a lack of conditioning. He also appears a bit heavy to me. He was out a long time and clearly wasn't in great shape when he returned. Though it was interesting when the Bulls were in Miami. I heard several Miami people say the team would have worked better with Boozer instead of Bosh. Boozer's overall numbers still are good, and I think the Bulls just hope he turns up his game more come playoff time. And I don't think they want to trade him for Bosh. Or Al Jefferson. Or David Lee. And I believe they still have doubts about Stoudemire's ability to stay healthy for two or three years with his knee issues. It's still jury out until the playoffs as it generally always was going to be.
What is the deal with the Butler? Is he going to remain inactive for the remainder of the season unless injury forces otherwise? Or is it just a matter of finding the time for him to practice with the team? We could use the shooting.
Sam: He'll be active now with Boozer out hurt. But I don't see him playing this season unless there is an injury. Thibodeau's defense requires plenty of practice and teamwork and I doubt he feels any new player is up to knowing it without much practice as with so many games the Bulls won't practice much the rest of the season. Thibs is using a fairly deep rotation and has his guards now coming on at regular intervals and I don't see him changing that. Butler will have a better chance to make the team for next season.
I know I'm looking way ahead, but it's fun to think about who will make the Team USA roster and who will start. Assuming everyone from the last two gold-medal winning groups want to come back and play in 2012, and given the trajectory of players in the league, I'm thinking something like:
1: Rose, Williams, Westbrook
2: Kobe, Wade
3: James, Durant, Gay
4: Melo, Griffin, Love
5: Howard, Chandler
Sam: Yes, much can and will happen and they have pretty much invited Chris Paul and Deron Williams back, so the guard spots won't be so open and they'll likely start their 2008 holdovers. The problem with that lineup is in international ball you need bigs who are mobile and can get outside and shoot and defend outside. Bosh fits pretty well in international play.
In all the discussions about the latest Bulls v. Heat game, a critical question has been overlooked: Why not Los Toros? Thoughts?
Sam: Because there are no teams in the NBA named Toros. I think the NBA fears people will feel they are watching the wrong team and switch to Versus for hockey.