Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 03.18.11
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Hypothetically speaking, the Bulls finish 1st and beat Orlando or Atlanta at the semi's, who would you rather meet - Boston or Miami?
Sam: The conference finals are a long way off for a group that never has won a playoff series. That said, the Perkins deal, in my view, will prove fatal to the Celtics. I think the Heat would be a tougher team to deal with if they get through. Unless they are not since against good defense like the Bulls their flaws show up of one on one offense with little ball movement and a soft front line. So why not? It’s not supposed to happen because groups that never won a series aren’t supposed to get to the Finals and win a title. But in some respects this NBA season reminds me of 1977-78. That’s when the Bullets and Supersonics came out of nowhere to go to the Finals the first of two seasons as teams around them began to change. Washington did make the Finals a few years previous, but they were swept by the Warriors in the 1975 series the Bulls should have been in and won. But that’s too tough a story to bring up again. The Trailblazers lost Bill Walton and the talented 76ers continued their dysfunction. Admittedly, there wasn’t comparatively for the time the talented teams in that down era of the NBA like there are today, especially with the Lakers, Spurs, Heat and Celtics. But there are flaws in each. And the new kids on the block are showing answers for the big guys. I can see with the Perkins deal the Thunder going to the Finals. They now have Perkins to deal with Bynum and Ibaka to deal with Pau. The Lakers cannot deal with Westbrook and Durant, I do not believe. Plus, the Thunder has put together a deep bench. It’s difficult to pick a team that never has done it, which is why most preseason predictions focus on previous winners. Most everyone will pick Boston and L.A. and I have been on L.A. most of the season, but maybe there’s a bit of wanting something new in a bit of a sentimental selection. But I can at least make a case for the Bulls and Thunder in the Finals because they have the elements to be there: Defense, size and a star. And youth may be as much help as experience. I still wouldn’t wager on it. And, of course, I didn’t pick either to get that far before the season. But that is what the season is for. If you know before what will happen, why watch. Of all the teams I’ve seen the last month, those two look the best prepared for a playoff run. Unless they lose in the first round, of course.
With the way the Nuggets have been playing since they traded Carmelo (8-2 since he's been traded if I'm correct) is it safe to say that he would have hurt the Bulls had we traded for him instead? Although we could have undoubtedly used his perimeter scoring, for a structured defense and offense would you say he would have hurt our chances at a title in this era?
Sam: It’s interesting to consider. Denver has made no secret how glad they are to be rid of him, though whether that is because of the way he held the franchise for ransom all season or for bitterness over him leaving is unclear. But the fact is until Billups showed up playing at a high level two seasons ago he never was out of the first round of the playoffs. He’s a diva who plays no defense. Would he have converted if he came to a program like the Bulls with a coach like Thibodeau? You can see already he has no interest in deferring anything to Stoudemire, so would he have with Rose. The Bulls had to take the shot, but I doubt they’re that upset they missed out. Because at minimum it would have cost them Deng and most of their bench, like Taj, Asik and Korver.
Derrick Rose has been fantastic but I've noticed that he hasn't been playing as well as a couple of months ago, mainly his shooting touch hasn't been there. Do you think its fatigue? What I also noticed is that he doesn't drive to basket as much as he use to. The great players in the NBA go to the hole more when their shots are off (Kobe, LeBron, Wade) but Derrick tends to keep shooting outside shots. He shoots way too much at the start of games when he should be involving his teamates. He forces up way too many shots and sometimes forgets that he's the point guard. He basically hit the "Junior Wall" for the past month.
Sam: Yes, Derrick’s shooting percentage is about 40 percent the last 10 games, though his three point shooting is up the last five. He gets more defensive attention than any other top player in the league with the Bulls having so many injuries and no great second scorer. My criticism might be exactly opposite. I think he lays back too much early to get his teammates involved and doesn’t look to score. He had a bad run of threes, which knocked down his percentage, but I’ve found his continued play with big minutes and being beaten up through every screen even more remarkable as the season has gone on. It seems clear he’s moving farther ahead for MVP. Yes, I know fans think he is wearing down and he and Deng need to rest. Though his numbers are down, for example, he did a terrific job defensively on Deron Williams Thursday. He seems fine to me for the most part and come playoff time, especially in the first round, there are two and three day breaks between every game. I never imagined for a second they’d have a shot at the No. 1 seed, but now that they do you’ve got to go for it. He’s 22. Noah and Boozer have been off half the season. Plus, I’ve talked to Deng about this often and he loves the extra minutes. Feels he knows what to expect and it energizes him. This isn’t baseball. They don’t have to baby the guys as they are actual athletes.
What happens if Deng is Injured? Every other starter has a backup that can play halfway decent ball. Hopefully, this injury/illness bug doesn't spread, but who would replace deng at SF if he were injured? would brewer have to play there? Or would they have taj play?
Sam: Deng obviously has had a terrific season and has been the team’s second most important player. Actually, the Bulls have shown they probably can survive losing Noah and Boozer more, which is your point. But Brewer can play three as well as Korver, who is more a small forward. Any team that loses its second most important player—a surprise given the view going into the season—will have trouble. But the Bulls have just one irreplaceable player whom if they lose they cannot win. You can work on who that might be.
What ever happened to all those experts that said John Wall would be better than Derrick Rose?
Sam: They are still on Around the Horn, the ESPN show, sort of. I think they still are debating that Beasley/Rose pick.
What do you think the Chicago Bulls will do with their draft picks since it seems Tom Thibodeau will not play them very much? I know they will not do this but why not trade Carlos boozer and draft picks for cap space? I think Gar Forman can do some good with that money like he did this year. I don't think Carlos boozer has really shown us that he is that much better than taj Gibson. At this point I would rather have Gibson play more minutes with his defense and I will also rather have him because of his contract.
Sam: Well, I hardly doubt the Bulls are going to trade Boozer as no matter what his defense is or isn’t—the Bulls still rank No, 1 in the league—he can give you scoring and some post play down the stretch, and for how many years has everyone screamed for that? As for the draft picks, Thibodeau likes to remind me he embraced a rookie whom everyone said would foil the Celtics in 2008, Rajon Rondo. With two picks so low in the draft, there are numerous possibilities. The Bulls likely end up using the picks for a couple of guards who may make their rotation with good scouting, which the Taj Gibson pick shows they have. They could try to combine the two picks and move up a few slots or include the picks with another player as an incentive in a deal. There’s plenty of speculation to come.
Do you ever hear NBA players complain about the benches? First off, they are cramming these gigantic men into this small space with no room between chairs. And secondly, they are sitting on these cheap fold-up chairs that can't be very comfortable. It just has always cracked me up that in this luxurious sport where typically no expense is spared that this is how it has always been. I'm not suggesting that they should sit on la-z-boys or something, but I am surprised players have never lobbied for more space/better chairs.
Sam: I wonder what giveback in the labor negotiations the NBA would want for better chairs, maybe a hard cap if it’s really important. Of course, it doesn’t look that great for a man of action to be too comfortable waiting to enter a game. Some, like Tracy McGrady, would probably fall asleep. Actually, it’s quite the valuable spot as several teams sell those seats astride the bench for $2,000 per game and more. If the NBA does have financial issues, perhaps they should try to charge the inactive players for their seats. And if they refuse to play, sell them to fans. After all, why do 15 guys have to sit there? Only five play. Maybe have 10 watch the game in the locker room on TV until needed. Ten seats at $2,000 a seat over 41 games is almost $1 million. That could be a huge boost to many financially ailing teams. We might have something there.
Just sharing: “I really don’t see how, maybe I’m wrong on this. I don’t just see how going hard in practice is going to take my talent to another level. I just don’t see that.” Thankful on so many levels we didn’t sign McGrady this summer.
Sam: Thanks. For all those fans who lobbied so hard for McGrady last summer, Tracy said it all in a HoopsHype interview last week. What a locker room cancer and team divider he would have been. He likely single handedly would have destroyed the team. Fans should remember this isn’t stats or fantasy basketball. It’s about team and chemistry much more, and McGrady’s numbers do more harm than good.
Why was Jerry Reinsdorf not present at the 20th anniversary celebration. His absence seemed very strange to me.
Sam: I don’t know if it was a conscious decision, but I’m glad it worked out the way it did. It was a celebration of the players and the coaches, the ones who took the journey and took the beating from the Pistons. People asked about Jerry Krause not being there as well. But this wasn’t a celebration of management. This was a celebration of the fans’ heroes, and I think the Bulls did it right, except for celebrating the reporters who brought it to life.
How many MVP's haven't made it on to All NBA First Teams? It seems like Wade and Kobe are going to get the two guard spots on the First team, but Rose is the front runner for MVP. This is probably the biggest argument against Rose as an MVP, even though I want nothing more than to see him win the award.
Sam: It has happened. I’m not sure how many, though I believe Dave Cowens and Bill Walton were two. It doesn’t make that much sense as media vote for both awards, though I cannot recall if they did vote for all-NBA back in the '70s. I seem to recall media did. My guess is if Rose ends up with enough votes to be MVP he will be first team with Kobe.
I am wondering what the chances are that the Bulls keep their young talent instead of trading it away. Primarily, I am referring to Gibson and Asik who continue to become more and more valuable as trade bait, but also an extremely valuable backup front court. Ronnie Brewer and CJ Watson are also young and showing signs of becoming solid role players and Korver is the kind of 3-point specialist you always like to have around. I would like to keep all these young role players and trade picks for/sign a SG over an offseason.
Sam: The problem is likely to be less the guys they want to keep than those they are able to. The belief around the NBA, though no one knows how the new labor agreement will look, is that teams like the Bulls with multiple eight figure contract players will have to shed players to get below some form of changed cap. It’s likely going to be difficult to keep the team together, much like what the NHL Blackhawks have experienced.
Why isn't Nowitzki getting serious MVP consideration? He's # 2 in my book, right behind Rose. He's the best player on one of the best teams. He's shooting .530 from the field (crazy), .900 from the line, and .400 from 3. If he wasn't injured, they'd be right there with San Antonio. When he was injured, they played terrible. On top of all that, he deserves "career achievement" recognition too, having never won before. How do you think people will perceive him when he retires?
Sam: Everyone can’t be MVP, despite the chants. Actually, he won in ’07 and will be a Hall of Famer and regarded as the best ever international player –so far—who didn’t attend a U.S. college. But the Mavs dropped off some in record overall, and every time Dirk is asked, he says Tyson is more valuable to the team than he is. Though we don’t believe that, if he doesn’t want the recognition, he likely won’t get it.
Coach Thibs has been confusing me lately involving his play with the bigs. When Boozer and Noah are in the lineup, Omer gets most of the minutes off the bench. But like the last couple games when Boozer is out, Kurt Thomas gets the start while Omer is on the bench. It was also like that when Noah was out. Is this because of experience or skill? In my opinion, Omer is a better player as of right now. It might be because Thibs wants certain machups too.
Sam: Thibs hasn’t completely bought into Omer yet, and one of the things we’ve disagreed about this season—and I’m fine with the minutes through I kid him about it at times—is the use of Omer. Though he did go with Omer quite a bit against the Nets Thursday and Omer had a career high in rebounds. The question is what happens when Boozer returns, which the way it looks might not be until the end of next week. We know now for sure Kurt Thomas can come in any time with no matter how much time off and contribute. So he really needs to play Omer. I don’t see it costing a first seed. But having him as a more confident, skilled big man come playoff time could be immeasurable for the team. There’s still time left.
With all of the discussion about next year in the middle of this
year I was curious about the salary cap. As it looks even when you
remove guys like Scales and Thomas from the total payroll they still
will be over the cap over the Summer. Do they still have the ability to
offer a "mid-Level exception" to a player. I was only curious as guys
like Richardson, Prince or maybe even Redd who have made plenty of dough
but they were looking to go somewhere where they have both a chance to
win and a chance to start, we would look incredibly enticing to either
Sam: The Bulls with all their eight-figure deals and a Rose extension coming will have to be creative as they will be out of the free agency market. They’ll likely have to take advantage of other teams having to move players depending on the new rules with a combination of players and draft picks. No one knows what the new deal will look like, but I’ve heard one of the owners’ biggest issues is getting rid of the mid-level exception. I don’t expect there to be one and don’t expect the Bulls to be able to recruit any free agent players.
I think no team really wants to see the 76ers because of the confidence they display. They're unafraid. Play good defense, and somehow, the offense shows up when it needs too (see Iguodala's last play against the Celtics on Friday night). Even Spencer Hawes shows life when needed. Doug Collins has this team believing they are better than they are. But, now that they seem to be on the radar (beating the Celtics, Spurs, taking OKC in OT, above .500), teams will not come in over confident against them, and may use the Lionel Hollins strategy and play zone defense against a team that -- besides Jodie Meeks and Lou Williams -- can't shoot. But I can't help but to think I am missing something about this team.
Sam: Doug’s done great stuff with that team, as Thibs has done with the Bulls, so much so even Thibs’ buddy Doc Rivers said he’d vote for Collins for coach of the year over Thibs. They just do not quite have the size and rebounding for a seven game playoff series, especially against a team like the Bulls. But they look like they’ll get past the Knicks now into sixth and I don’t see the Bulls with their schedule falling to third. Their bench is the big problem bringing in Williams and Young, but in the playoffs you don’t use the bench as much, generally, and it will be tough for them to win a first round series as it will be for all the last three seeds.
If the Bulls win the #1 seed in the East, I can't see how Rose wouldn't win the MVP. However, you mentioned in a prior article that at the all-star break, most media members would vote for Lebron for MVP. Do you know if that opinion has changed amongst those media members? What if the Bulls finish 2nd in the East, do you think he'd still win MVP?
Sam: You’ll begin to get an idea in early April when writers begin to reveal their votes in columns. Also, some writer always runs around asking a bunch of friends and declares a winner based on 20 percent of the voters. I assume it will be tweeted as an exclusive. You’d figure with the Bulls 3-0 over Miami and LeBron beginning to take a secondary role to Wade that it is Rose’s now, especially if the Bulls finish first or second to Boston. I know many of the ESPN writers and many are very good journalists with no bias. But the network has such an investment in James and has such a disproportionate number of votes that it could change the final count, though my guess now is Rose has it pretty much clinched.
With the 20th year reunion, there has been a lot of discussions with and about Horace Grant
To me, Horace was sort of the heart and soul of those teams - similar to Joakim Noah for the current team.
They both do the dirty work hustle, defend and rebound.
Comparing the two, who do you feel is/was the better player? I lean toward Horace as a better offensive player and overall athelete
Sam: I’ve always had a soft spot for Horace, so I go with him as well, though also because he was a more well rounded and disciplined player than Noah. Maybe Noah eventually becomes that. Everyone loves his effort, which is great, but already he is missing way more games than Horace ever missed and there were times fans accused Horace of being a malingerer. In Horace’s first six seasons with the Bulls he missed combined 16 games. Noah missed more than that in three of his four seasons. So that is a long term concern for Noah. Also, because of Noah’s frenetic energy, he’s often out of position on defense to help, while Horace was much better at that and by far a better offensive player. In beating the Bulls in the 1995 playoffs when Michael came back, the Magic went to Horace on offense and he beat the Bulls with jump shots. This also gets me to a question I heard a lot last weekend of which team would win, the 2011 Bulls or 1991 Bulls. I assume everyone was joking. The 2011 Bulls could play the 1991 team 10 times and not get one game. Rose is the only player with an edge at his position as Cartwright would make Noah cry. And if you compare where they really played in the backcourt with Paxson off the ball like Bogans, the 2011 Bulls don’t have an edge at any position. It’s just not close.