Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 04.01.11
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During the early 2000s, many All-Stars ended up spurning the Bulls to go to other teams because they were scared of Michael Jordan's shadow or many other reasons. Derrick Rose has seamlessly walked in to the Chicago superstar role and is being praised for his play all over the country. Do you think any of those free agents stars regret not coming to Chicago and will this affect potential free agents coming to Chicago in the future?
Sam: I'm not sure they were scared of following Jordan as much as they were scared of playing for Tim Floyd. With their core and the pending new labor deal, big money free agents now will simply be scared of coming to Chicago because with what the Bulls have to offer they'd only be able to rent. There's also always been a suspicion that given some of the episodes over the years and Jordan's departure to Washington and ownership in Charlotte, Jordan wasn't exactly a booster of the Bulls. The feeling during the 2000 free agency was Jordan steered some of the top players away from Chicago. But I've since heard Jordan privately told LeBron last summer that LeBron would be best off if he went to Chicago and not to concern himself with his legacy as he could create his own. It was good advice that might have made LeBron's life a lot less unpopular. And the night life isn't bad, either.
During the Memphis game Friday night, why did the Bulls swap baskets to start the game? In the first half, the Bulls were shooting at the end of the floor usually reserved for the second half. Athletes, as we know, can be a superstitious breed (as well as fans); With an incredible home record, why make any changes now?
Sam: I've been asked this question a few times since that game as it looked a bit different. The visiting team chooses the basket it wants to defend. Not the home team. Generally, teams always want to play defense in front of their bench in the second half. So the Bulls generally start going east to west in the first half and west to east in the second half. But the Grizzlies decided to reverse it. I'm not sure why, but teams sometimes will try to be extra clever and force the home team out of its routine to apparently try to gain and edge by not having the Bulls play defense on their bench side of the court down the stretch. Though anyone who has seen a game coached by Thibodeau should know this never would work as Thibs is yelling so loudly all game that his players can hear wherever they are. And the coaching box is merely rumor. So hardly anyone tries it as they worry more about their own team. Which they should. It broke down for the Grizzlies as their defense fizzled down the stretch. Sorry, Lionel Hollins, no coach of the year for you. No soup, either.
Before Boozer went down with his ankle injury I noticed he's been playing kind of soft and choosing to shoot his rainbow jumpshot instead of taking his opponent down in the post. He wasn't finishing strong, and he's had an awful lot of shots blocked. When he came back from his injury, Boozer still looked tentative and hasn't had a strong game in some time. I know the prevailing thought is that Boozer & Noah still haven't figured out how to play together, but I seem to remember Boozer having great games with Noah earlier in the season (the 12/6 home game against the Thunder would be a good example) so I'm not sure I'm buying into that argument. He almost looks afraid to post up.
Sam: It is the issue de jour, which is nice as things have gone so well the biggest issue is what may happen instead of what has happened. Keith Bogans is grateful, for one. I don't believe they are mutually exclusive even as Boozer's stats have gone down during the season with Noah's return. There is some issue given Noah's reluctance this season to shoot the ball, which allows his defender to lay back more in the lane. Opponents have routinely put a taller player on Boozer, his conditioning hasn't been great as a result of the two ankle injuries and he and Rose only run screen/roll occasionally as the offense draws the center up for the pick more often. I don't see it as a major issue, though what else would we talk about for now?
I've been listening to various columnists (from ESPN of course) that have been saying that Derrick Rose should not be the MVP and that Lebron James shoul be because he is putting up better numbers the Rose. Frankly I don't agree. I don't think that these guys have watched a Bulls game this year. An MVP is the most valuable player for his team am I correct? Who has been more valuable to their team then Derrick Rose? Then I heard from that same reporter, I'm not going to say the name but you probably know who I'm talking about, made this Rose-Iverson comparison and I nearly lost my mind. Are these people watching the Bulls play or just doing their job of being controversial?
Sam: I've gotten a number of emails this week like this in what I guess is one of my roles to keep Bulls fans off the ledge. It's a bit of that Chicago second city mentality you run into that assumes they will lose. When these emails come from Knicks fans about their team they are assuming everyone is a moron but them. Everyone should remember most of what is "news" on cable TV is entertainment, unless you disagree, of course. It's like Fox and MSNBC for political types. I'm sorry to disappoint you that our society protects independent opinion, which, I know, should apply to politicians and government. But sports! We're not 1! C'mon, I can't hear ya!
How do you think the Bulls will use their draft picks this summer? Who do you think they might be looking at with two late first rounders? Do you think they will try to package them and trade up in the draft or maybe use them in a deal to get a SG? Or you think they will draft 2 SGs and hope one can play at a high level and start at the 2 spot?
Sam: In an ideal world they'd like to trade one or both as part of a deal to pick up a veteran, preferably a shooting guard. Failing that they'll probably use one on a European guy they can stash for a few years like Asik and another on a role player who might fit in at any one of their positions. Remember, there still are questions up the road regarding the new labor deal on whether they can keep many of their reserves, especially Asik and Gibson.
Is D. Rose the best basketball player ever from Chicago? Before this season I would have said the contest was between D. Wade and I. Thomas. What about players from earlier generations? (I don't consider Garnett from Chicago)
Sam: I guess if you go back you have to say George Mikan from suburban Joliet given his teams won seven titles in eight season and for his era was one of the most dominant players ever. Also you have to look at a Hall of Famer, mostly from great ABA seasons for Dan Issel of suburban Batavia. Rose is a great talent and perhaps someday may be considered the city's biggest contribution to the NBA, but you cannot rank him ahead of Wade or Thomas now, especially Thomas as both those players led their teams to NBA titles, two for Thomas, who in my view remains the game's so called greatest small man ever.
After the amazing jump Dwyane Wade made in his 3rd season in leading the Heat to an NBA Championship, and furthermore cementing his status as an elite player, who do you think is better after 3 NBA seasons: Dwyane Wade or Derrick Rose? I believe at this point in their seasons that both have done special things, but I feel Derrick is ahead. His leadership abilities as arguably the best PG in the league and MVP front-runner, and his improved perimeter shooting, which Dwyane still seems to struggle with.
Sam: Again, it's what you accomplish. Wade led his team to a championship with an amazing season in averaging more than 27 points and almost seven assists and six rebounds. You say he had Shaq, but Shaq did miss his usual 20 games or so and it's not so great for a slashing guard to have a fairly immovable object blocking all the light from above that might enter the lane. Derrick would need that MVP and a title to rank ahead of Wade's amazing third season. Wade, by the way, averaged almost 30 points in the playoffs and basically won the championship with Shaq barely breathing by the time the series with Dallas came along. Wade won a title with Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and Gary Payton, one of the worst Finals teams ever.
Boozer seems to get quite a bit of criticism from fans, and it seems that some would trade him for a bag of chips. Carlos Boozer the new Luol Deng? I get that Boozer has his deficiencies as all players do. But he is very valuable to this team with his personality, rebounding, scoring, and his ability to command a double. He has not had a great season by his standards, and he doesn't quite have the lift he typically does due to the ankle problems, but he has been solid. And he has always played strong in the playoffs, averaging 20.3 and 12.5. And the year the Jazz went to the conference finals he averaged 23.5 and 12.2. I think that Booz is going to have a really good playoff run.
Sam: How's that go? From your mouth to David Stern's ears? Something like that. Boozer has generally been getting the Deng treatment of late as fans are mostly worn out demanding Bogans be assigned to spend a week in isolation with an insurance salesman. It's been a statistical decline for Boozer since his return from his broken hand, though he broke out some Wednesday in Minnesota. I think the ankle injuries have been an issue, though to Boozer's credit he seems to be trying to escape the injury prone label and play through. He still does get some double team treatment, so that helps opening the court for Rose. Teams have put size on him, which has forced him outside more, though he's never gotten to the line all that much. He and Rose got some pick and roll stuff going in the second half against the 76ers, which was good, though we haven't seen it as much. The Bulls will need the Boozer of Utah and earlier this season in the playoffs because teams will try to wear down Rose and Noah and Bogans aren't giving you much offense.
Jimmer reminds me of Reddick... step slow... hard to believe he is a top 10 pick. I don't see the Bulls going past a couple of rounds. I don't trust Boozer size wise injury wise in the playoffs.
Sam: I don't see him as a top 10 pick. A lot of team executives tell me he'll be overdrafted, but if he can make shots and with decent size and toughness he could be a rotation player, and if you can get one in the low part of the lottery in this draft you might be doing well. Utah's issue as it got deeper into the playoffs was that lack of size. The Bulls believe they have it with Noah, Asik and Thomas, though none can be counted on for scoring. Boozer was hired for that and he'll be called upon. The Bulls still don't know if he can answer.
I always hear that we need a shooting guard. But lately Bogans, Brewer, and Korver have been fairly solid, playing that position (I agree with you that Korver needs way more shots!) If things go smoothly with a new CBA and there isn't a lock-out next season, how would you make changes to the Bulls roster to make it more efficient?
Sam: The role players have done well for the most part, but the Bulls aren't fooled. They know they need an upgrade at shooting guard. That was one reason they brought in Lucas and Pargo, a financial transaction that might give them a chance to add a $5 million player, presumably a shooting guard. But the prospects for next season are so unclear no one is even speculating these days.
With Grant Hill playing some great defense this year and being the Suns' defensive player of the year, do you think he'll make the all defensive team? How is the defensive team chosen? You think people will vote for his grit over Lebron's flash?
Sam: The defensive teams generally are the worst voting of all the awards. They are selected by the coaches. It comes out mostly as a highlight show vote for some reason, which makes me think the coaches by the end of the season are either too busy or too fed up and give their ballots to an intern. Hill has had a great defensive season, but when you have one for a poor defensive team you often get overlooked.
Why do analysts say that it's a bad thing to have your point guard be your dominant scorer. It seems to me like it would actually be a good thing for defenses to be keying on the best player on your team at finding the open man.
Sam: I recall the conventional wisdom, as John Kenneth Galbraith would have said, that it was a bad idea to have a shooting guard dominate your offense and you couldn't win that way because no one ever had. Seem to even recall Phil Jackson saying you don't win titles with league leading scorers, especially when they are two guards. I'm sure he hasn't been wrong since then. He had some pretty good teammates, but it seemed to work OK for Magic Johnson, especially in an era with so few centers and so much difficulty for centers to dominate with the rules of the game now.
The week before the Super Bowl I heard Mike Holmgren interviewed. He was asked who he thought would win. He responded, well, it depends on how the crew calls the game. If they let the Pittsburgh defensive backs have their way at the line of scrimmage with the Green Bay receivers, Green Bay is in for a long night. If they call it tight, Green Bay will have the edge. When people write you discounting the Heat, and the Celtics I cringe for this very reason. There is no NBA referee conspiracy, however, there is a longstanding tradition of stars getting the calls and Miami has 2 1/2 of them, The Bulls have 1. Boston has 3 of them. It's not whether The Bulls have made it past the first round before, they'll do it this time. It's whether or not they can weather the ability of the established stars who they will have to face in the later rounds. Those who will be receiving more FTs.
Sam: I don't think so, Mr.Housman. I know there's this playoff conspiracy to get big city teams to the Finals like, say, San Antonio and Detroit. As I've explained, referees since the Donaghy stuff have been audited more closely than ever, and they were judged more harshly than you'd think before. Anyway, they are graded for every call and non call and the more mistakes they are graded for the bigger chance they have of losing their jobs. So let me get this straight: They are going to risk their jobs and better assignments so they can reward James and Wade, who are two of the biggest complainers in the NBA who make officials' lives miserable. It's a great theory that doesn't exist. Yes, I do know the Heat's basic game plan is throwing themselves at the rim in hopes of bumping into someone, so you know the NBA knows the ratings go higher the more fouls you see.
Don't most coaches of the year encourage their MVP to avoid turnovers and pass to the open man instead of listening to this take over the game hype?
Sam: I assume this is a Rose is not the MVP reference. I don't have the exact numbers, but I'm fairly certain the bulk of Rose's scoring comes in the second half. One of the Bulls' issues is Rose won't look to score as much until he has to while trying to get other guys going. If he chose to he'd be averaging 35 per game like Jordan. But he sees himself as a point guard first, the wacky kid. It's one reason there are spurts of slow starts, so to break that he scored 13 early against the Timberwolves Wednesday. If Boozer and Deng don't get it going early, the Bulls are falling behind and it's the better player who takes it upon himself to save a team late. That's not LeBron on Miami but Wade. It's Kobe, Durant/Westbrook, a combo, an occasional Dirk and a dose of Manu. Rose also has become one of the game's best finishers while we were looking and didn't see it coming as well.
How do you think Thibs' coaching style will translate to the playoffs? During the season, much has been of what an excellent job he does of laying out game plans and preparing the team for different challenges night after night. Will he have an edge in the playoffs where the opponent will remain constant for four or more games? Or do you think it will take him some time to adjust to anticipating how other teams will react to what happened in previous games, or dealing with wrinkles in a scheme versus entirely new schemes each game?
Sam: I'm not certain of this, but my guess is he long has had game plans sketched out against every Eastern team for the playoffs. He does eat and I have seen it personally. Yes, everyone jokes about his work ethic, but his family is the game and he devotes considerable time to it. The Bulls are prepared as a result. I was up at the Berto one day last summer, in August, I think, and coaches were working out game plans for the preseason games. Perhaps it's the killing a flea with a sledgehammer thing, but Thibs will have the team prepared, and that's a good thing. Plus if you watched the Celtics the last few years he was running things on the floor during the game every bit as much as Doc. He's been there in big games.
It's clear that Doug Collins is a brilliant coach. In retrospect, while hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, do you think the Bulls were correct in firing Collins and replacing him with Phil Jackson? It's clear that Collins has a greater emotional maturity now that he may have lacked then. Perhaps he really wasn't ready to get the Bulls from Point B to Point C?
Sam: It was time. It was unfortunate for Doug as he brought the team to the brink. Could they have won with him? Possibly. But Doug was a kid then, his first job without ever having coached anyone, basically, but for some recruiting at Arizona State. He deferred a bit too much to Jordan and the Bulls did need a firmer hand with the exploding popularity of Jordan. Phil had been there with great teams and had been a head coach for more than five years in the minor leagues, but running teams and all the issues that go with that and winning. He was what a maturing Bulls team needed. It's fairly routine in sports that you cast around until finding something that works. Phil was better than the Bulls ever imagined he would be. Though we never knew that C was the final point.
The New York Papers are claiming that the Knicks can and will trade Amare and/or Melo for Howard. You mean to tell me that the Magic would take Amare or Melo but we have nothing to offer? Then we should have taken Melo and traded him for Howard if that is the case.
Sam: I'm not sure people understand how New York journalism works. It is basically run by tabloid papers, which are marvelously entertaining but about as reliable as those that helped start the Spanish-American war. I love reading them, by the way. I like Raymond Chandler novels as well. Anyway, there's a lot of 'what if' when you are in New York. Like, What if it were a liveable place where you could go to the grocery without waiting in line (not on line, you idiots!) for an hour and it didn't take two hours to get to work every stinkin' day with all that freakin' traffic and the boss wasn't the biggest mental midget in... Anyway, they're not happy and they basically don't like it if anyone is happy. So they think of scenarios because all the teams are run by morons who couldn't figure out what to do if you gave them a sliderule and can you believe that guy is running a team and I'm going to some damn shootaround in Westchester! Anyway, they speculate and if it sounds good enough what's the difference between something that might have happened and someone discussing it because unless they are complete lunatics they'd have to think of it so they must have had at least, and we wink here, internal discussions. Hey, boss, I got something here that might work for the back page. And it doesn't involve the ususual back page involving Donald Trump, someone naked, a toupee, and A-Rod. And you fell for it. Gotcha!