Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 03.25.11
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Do you think the Bulls can win 60 games this year?
Sam: They’ve got a pretty good chance, though it gets you… nothing. The Bulls won the 1993 title with 57 wins when the Knicks had 60. When the Bulls won their first title in 1991 the Trail Blazers led the league with 63 wins and didn’t make the Finals. I recall in ’04 and ’05 the Pistons and Spurs winning titles with fewer wins than the 60-win teams from those seasons. I seem to recall last season the Cavs were the only team to win 60 games or more and they were long gone by the Finals. It’s a nice number, but you often are better sneaking up on the title. Though it might be getting a bit late for that with the Bulls now as the national networks finally are catching up. ESPN seems now to know the Bulls are a good team. I assume they cleared it with LeBron. I expect any day an ESPN story saying they have learned exclusively the Bulls lead the East. Look, it’s not like I was predicting this, either. But the NBA and the networks didn’t think much of the Bulls with just two of the big Sunday ABC-TV games all season, and those in Miami and Orlando, teams they expected to be ahead of and more interesting than the Bulls. And in the matter of full disclosure, teams I had finishing the regular season ahead of the Bulls. Hey, I did have them ahead of Atlanta and thought I was being bold and perhaps overly optimistic with a 52-win prediction. Of course, that also was assuming full health.
Derrick Rose said "I'm beat down" is he more injured than he's letting on?
Sam: I don’t believe he is injured. He may have been tired, which many people are after a workout. And playing basketball. I’ve been there when he comes up with those responses and at times it’s practically been put into his mouth with the form of a question saying something like, ‘Having to do so much you must be tired.” Hasn’t looked too tired popping in threes like he has lately. He’s 22 and having a ball.
As a Bulls fan, you should not want Derrick Rose to win the MVP this year. Delayed gratification is one heckuva motivator, one that drives the best into the greats. Sure, Rose is having a phenomenal individual year and doing more with less than any other player this year, but if Rose wins this award, he will be validated and subsequently may lose some of that motivational fire. If he gets snubbed, then he would be set for the playoffs with beastly anger and insatiable hunger that normally drives snubbed MVP candidates. Malone over MJ in '97 being the prime example, and a lesser examples being Kobe over KG in '07/'08 and Lebron over Kobe the past two years (although Lebron probably did deserve it more). Going one step further, if you go back to that very year where MJ was snubbed in the 1996-97 season, you would find only instance where the regular season MVP was hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy at the end, and that was Tim Duncan in 2002-03.
Sure, it'd be great to have Rose be the youngest MVP ever, but if you had to pick it: wouldn't you rather have a title in this very much ballyhooed banner year than have the distinction of one player being the youngest MVP ever?
Sam: It is true the last seven MVPs have not won a title, but Jordan as MVP won four. I also count at least 15 others who won MVP awards the season their teams won the title. More to the point, if you believe that about Rose, you have no idea who he is despite so much written about him. He’s as little driven by individual honors as anyone in the league and hardly needs any perceived snub to play at a high level. He’s about winning the game and has been since he was a kid. He was the kid in high school making the others scorers so they’d get scholarships and in college so they’d get numbers to get drafted. Check out what his Memphis teammates have done. He knew what he could do and was about winning the game. He comes off the court these days asking coaches what he can do to get other guys going. The MVP would be more for the fans and his family. I know what you are getting at, that this would drive him even more. He might be disappointed if he didn’t win like if he wasn’t an All-Star team starter, but it wouldn’t change his demeanor and attitude a bit, I do not believe. So let him have it.
I read what you wrote about the 91 Bulls taking the 2011 Bulls 10 straight. Since they have become legends in my mind I guess I have to agree. They even seem physically bigger. But what about the teams they beat? Could the 2011 Bulls take the 91 Pistons for example, or how about the 91 Lakers? Could Vlade Divac make Noah cry? Seems unlikely.
Sam: Let’s not get to that Grant Park rally too fast. The Bulls are on a great run and looking strong, but until you do something you haven’t done anything—everyone write that down—and most of these players have had a career of playoff disappointments. Of course, you can’t win the first time until you do. Maybe I ought to forget this gig and get into writing motivational slogans. Yes we can! Oh, yeah, used.
Can you think of a better Finals matchup than the Bulls and Lakers? Kobe and the Lakers are going for their 2nd 3-peat, which would secure Kobe's place on ESPN as the 2nd greatest player of all time, only to Lebron James. Rose and the Bulls would have the honor of defending MJ's legacy of 2 3-peats, and would start a legacy of their own with a Championship and MVP season for Rose. It's time for the Lakers to pass the torch to the Bulls as the dynasty of the next decade, a la 1991.
Sam: Though I think the Bulls are generally in favor of the Bulls and anybody.
Amar’e said he is tired. Yeah, he is the only nba player tired right now. Ask the suns if they were tired playing again tonight after 3 OTs last night.
Sam: Amar’e may not have finished the sentence. I think he meant to say he was tired… of playing with Carmelo.
Just like every other Bulls fan I'm getting really excited about the playoffs. I really believe that this Bulls team has everything that it needs to get really good results and even make it all the way to the Finals. They have talented players, an extremely good team morale, efficient bench and a good down to earth coach that keeps the guys motivated. My question is though, do you believe that their lack of playoff-experience is too much for them to get any silverware this season?
Sam: Only if they lose. That experience thing is generally one of those media “I don’t know what else to ask” questions like about being tired on a back-to-back. I think it’s mostly a canard. Not only have these guys all played in big games all their lives, but Rose and Boozer played for USA Basketball, the Jazz guys were in the conference finals, Asik played for his country in the World Championships at home, which is real pressure, Rose and Deng were in that great seven game series with the Celtics, Rose was in the NCAA final game, and I think Kurt Thomas taught Wilt how to dunk. If the Bulls lose in the playoffs, it won’t be because they aren’t experienced enough. It will be because they weren’t good enough. Though I am quite sure they all will be asked about that every other day in the playoffs.
I tried to find the videos of those 2 atrocious fouls Howard committed on Derrick last season but couldn't. You probably has that data over there so I wanted to ask you, how were those fouls any different than Bynum's on Beasley? Again, I do not have those videos here so I might be wrong, but my memory tells me those fouls weren't much of a change from what Bynum did, besides the fact they weren't even flagrant nor culminated in suspension or money charges on Dwight.
Sam: Howard’s fouls on Rose were much worse than Bynum’s on Beasley. I have been amazed how few even in the media have noted that. Bynum was suspended two games and Beasley was just going up. Rose was well up in the air at the top of his jump in an exposed position, like when guys like us got undercut because we couldn’t jump. Howard should have been suspended multiple games, which shows you that all Stan Van Gundy’s complaining does work because the league let Howard off the hook twice despite attempts to injure.
Watching the NCAA tournament has me thinking of a former Chicago Bulls coach. He's good at teaching young players, he maximizes the talents out of his roster, he has a great defensive mind, and his players seem to grow tired of him after 2 or 3 years. Scott Skiles would make a great college coach. Don't you agree?
Sam: Maybe, until he asks to check in at the Four Seasons and is looking for his 737 charter jet when he just got off in Iowa City on his commercial prop plane and then asks his accountant where is his $375,000 monthly pay check. No, Scott’s way too smart to lower himself to get involved in the hypocrisy and prevarication needed to be a college coach.
A while ago, you said we shouldn't leave Miami out of the race for the No. 1 spot in the East. Do you want to reconsider that? The so-called "Big 3" of James, Wade, and Bosh are playing as if they ran a marathon ten time in a row, the two most important positions-PG & C-aren't doing a good job for them, and there's rarely any bench production. If Miami keeps playing like this they won't even have a chance for 2nd or-and this might sound crazy-maybe Orlando will take their 3rd spot. Do you still think the Heat are still in?
Sam: I’ll reiterate they will be the team to fear in the playoffs in the East, which is why the No. 1 seed looms so important. I still don’t put it past them making a run against a weak schedule, which is what they have, after that run of 21 of 22. They’ve remained healthy among their main three players and have stayed on pace to have a shot at 60 wins (we all knew 70 was laughable when all those Miami reporters predicted it last summer) even with their shooters like Mike Miller inconsistent. If that changes, you don’t want to see them in the playoffs since, like the Bulls, they will defend. And I think they have more potential than the Bulls, for example, to raise their game, especially on defense, in the playoffs as I think the Bulls have played just about as well as they can thus far this season.
Say the Bulls clinch first place in the conference w/ a few games left in the season (distinct possibility considering our schedule). Do you think Thibs would rest the starters to keep them fresh or does he strike you as a guy that would send out his A-squad every night? Obviously, he himself wouldn't answer this question owing to his 'one game at a time' approach. But seeing as I'm just a fan and my speculations have virtually no bearing on the final outcome, what do you think? Maybe give Rasual Butler and C.J. Watson some heavy minutes along with Omer/Taj? Give the 2nd unit some quality time on the floor or ride it out with the starters?
Sam: I don’t expect there to be any such ability to be that far out ahead with more than a game to go as Miami’s schedule is weak as well. Plus, the Bulls see the Magic and Knicks the last week, potential playoff opponents. I can imagine fans will be screaming by then to rest players. But Thibodeau has shown himself to be limited at times when using the bench or diverging from his rotation and resting guys. He believes players prosper from play. He’ll note there are two or three days off before the playoffs start and then in the first round, especially, breaks of up to three and four days to get all the games on TV. I’d be surprised if the minutes were to change at all.
I was looking at last night's game box score (vs. Atlanta) and wonder what the column titled BA is for? I am not familiar with that stat and it was the first time I've seen it anywhere.
Sam: You don’t see that stat in all box scores as it’s relatively new. It means shots you attempted that are blocked. It’s sort of like =/-, not something to read that much from but interesting.
That (exec) award was 'given' to Pat Riley before the season even started but I wonder if people will think this over again: who gets the GM of the year award?
Sam: Probably still Riley as he pulled off the coup that everyone was trying for and no one believed could be done. Perhaps better asked is if they knew then what they know now would they have gone there. But what Miami did is not a one year thing and given he was giving up so many pieces and despite the celebrations at the time I don’t believe Riley looked at it as a championship season for this year for sure. The media do not vote executive of the year. It is voted by the general managers and I expect Riley will get it and deserves it.
Given that Bulls split the season series with Lakers 1-1. Who will own the tiebreaker if they meet in the Finals? Bulls currently hold the slimmest of margins over Lakers - one game in the loss column - but Lakers have a softer schedule remaining. I've recently read your buddy Phil Jackson stating he is concerned with having homecourt over the East teams.
Sam: Bulls fans have basically gone nuts with this team. Forget this championship, what does the team do in 2017 when it’s playing for its seventh straight? I think tiebreaker goes for the Finals best overall record, then head to head, then your record against the opposing conference, then in conference, then... oh this is ridiculous... Going into the Finals 12-0, I assume the Lakers or whomever will forfeit rather than risking the embarrassment of playing the Bulls.
Channing Frye comes to mind as one player who maybe improved more as a 3 point shooter than Derrick in a single season. He made only 20 3's total his first four years in the NBA (11 in his third year; only 3 each of his first three years) and made 172 in his 5th year (shooting over 40%!).
Sam: That’s a good name and he did exponentially increase his threes, though I thought more for him it was with the increased play when he was barely used in Portland to going into a regular role in Phoenix. No one ever said Frye couldn’t shoot as they did with Rose. My point in my post game column Tuesday night on Rose was more how far he’d come with his shot in such a short time and at a time when he has been asked to do so much more. It’s really remarkable.
I heard talk of Luol making the all defensive team, but any whispers about all nba? maybe he sneaks on the 3rd team
Sam: That’s pretty exclusive company. Deng’s had a terrific season, likely his best. So I guess the case is whether he’s top six at forward. The list would include Durant, Stoudemire, Anthony, Bosh, Nowitzki, Griffin, Aldridge, Love, Randolph, Gay, Gasol, Garnett and some other guys having pretty good seasons like Brand, Scola, Odom, Al and Richard Jefferson and, of course, Boozer and Tim Duncan. Would you list Deng sixth or better?
Since everyone is talking about the Bulls' bench and how good it is, why isn't anyone from the bench being talked about as the 6th man of the year? I think Ronnie Brewer is one of the best 6th men in the league and Taj could start on teams.
Sam: So which one is sixth man? And what about Korver, who really fits the profile more of the scorer off the bench.? Should anyone in the league besides a Bull get an award this season? The Bulls really don’t have a sixth man as defined by the award, as Thibodeau uses four or five different players in that role depending on circumstances. I don’t see any member of the Bulls in the top five for that award.
As a loyal Bulls fan it kind of upsets me when the other sports Channel have their debate the NBA and the Bulls still don't get the praise. Even when the Heat went 0 and 5 they still said they were better than the Bulls. Do you think if the heat get knocked out the playoffs before the Bulls do you the media would give the Bulls their props or just make excuses for the Heat.
Sam: I’ve gotten a lot of emails lately from Bulls fans angry, despairing and hurt about commentary that doesn’t favor the Bulls. Hey, they’re disrespecting us! There’s nothing wrong with that as it’s opinion, which last I heard still is permitted, and makes for debate, which is healthy in sports, if not in the Middle East. This lack of acceptance matters nothing at all, and much less to the Bulls players and coaches. All that matters is what happens on the court, and if the Bulls win, commentators will say either they are an overachieving surprise or they had a feeling all along, though no one ever says a champion is undeserving. They go on to explain how they did it. And if they lose commentators will say, I told you so. It’s why they play the games, as we say. Most teams prefer the so-called lack of respect as it only is less pressure but gives them that lack of respect card to play. Jordan loved it. I remember the 1989 first round when all the writers traveling with the team picked the Cavs and before each game Jordan came over to us and pointed and said he’d be taking care of us. And they still wouldn’t give us rings.
For the past few months, the Bulls rotation has pretty much been set at 10 guys, with Kurt Thomas being plugged in when either Noah or Boozer were out. Tuesday night, Thibs used Thomas as one of the first guys off the bench, logging 10 minutes. The bulls rotation last night then was essentially 11 guys (not counting Rasual Butler's minutes at the end). Do you think this was strictly situational to have Thomas's defense on Horford? Or do you think Thibs is trying to work those 11 guys into a normal rotation? It would be hard to imagine Thomas would just be sitting on the bench in the playoffs.
Sam: Thomas had success against Horford in the second game against the Hawks after Horford killed Noah in that first game, so Thibs went early with Thomas. It was a good move as Thomas has shown he can sit for a long time and then come in at the same level as when he’d been playing, the stuff of a real veteran and committed team player. I see Thomas being used that way in the playoffs as a spot big man depending on matchups. While Thibodeau has been criticized some for riding his starters, he has developed a deep rotation and while many teams cut their rotations in the playoffs, I see Thibodeau maintaining the flexibility to use 11 different guys, though not all 11 every game. Unless there are injuries, I don’t expect we’ll see anyone else play in the playoffs.
Why was the mvp vote taken away from the players and given to the media? It seems to me that it would mean more coming from your opponents than it would from a few reporters.
Sam: Yes, the players had it until the late 1970s. Although many media—ok, most—are not as knowledgeable as the players, I don’t think the players want any part of the vote. I also heard the league always had trouble collecting the votes from the players, who would sometimes pass them on to their friends to fill out for them. What also happens when the players vote is they aren’t nearly as up on statistics and it becomes more a popularity contest as they tend to vote more for buddies or to help buddies. It’s why a lot of the All-Star reserves’ voting is skewed because coaches almost always will vote against a guy who would keep their guy from making the team. I also think the league wanted more attention for the award, so it figured by involving the media more would be written about it. Giving the vote to media members has, for the most part, led to a fair vote. I think there are more than 130 media voters, so it’s a pretty good sample.
I thought with the regular season winding down and all the awards' races
really starting to pick up I would ask who your stooges of the season were.
Who would be your First Team Anti-Glue/Bonehead Team? I was thinking:
PG Baron Davis (out of shape again, alternates between griping and being "injured" when he doesn't want to play)
SG Tracy McGrady (mutinied and was generally Tracy McGrady, again...)
SF Danny Granger (for stretches he makes Nick Young look like a facilitator, he's never met an out-of-the-offense ballstopping shot he didn't like)
PF Andray Blatche (close to the biggest bad attitude, one way player in the league if only the next guy didn't exist...)
C DeMarcus Cousins (bringing in bad attitude to a whole new level while only caring about rebounding when he can box out with an extended forearm).
Sam: Very nice list, though Baron had come lucid moments and did try for a bit with the Clips before he did give up again. I suppose you can give him the lifetime award. I guess Aaron Brooks gets a mention at point for leaving during a game because he was still upset about his role and contract and seems to pretty much be ruining his career. I think Stephen Jackson is trying to get back in the team picture with his extended “hamstring” issues after they traded Gerald Wallace. And, of course, there’s always Tyrus. No one knocks out Blatche at four, but Josh Smith’ shot selection has to earn him some merit. Ron Artest was melting down for a bit, as expected, but I still have to give it to Deron Williams over Baron at point for getting Jerry Sloan to walk away and then dumping on the Jazz so badly they sentenced him to Newark. That was cool, I have to admit.
We are not hearing more of the deng haters lately since he's having such a great season. Considering thibs constant praises, i think luol is no longer our more dispensable player of our "Big 4". I'm writing this because i truly believe that, eventually, the bulls will have to choose between them given theirs 8 figure salaries. Who would you say is the most likely to be eventually traded. I'd say noah for now considering omer's development.
Sam: From untouchable for ‘Melo to expendable for Omer. How did that happen so fast? Did I miss the parade again? Darn!