Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 04.15.11
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How many times has the team that has the best record in the nba going into the playoffs won the championship in nba history?
Sam: As Thibodeau would say, you have to play the games, what you’ve done doesn’t mean anything going forward. There used to be a fairly strong correlation between having the best record and winning the NBA championship. But in the last 10 years, only two teams with the No. 1 overall seed have won the title, the 2003 Spurs and 2008 Celtics. Since 1993, there have been 13 different players to win the league MVP award, which Derrick Rose is a cinch to win. Six did not win NBA titles, and over the last 18 years, the regular season MVP only came from the championship team four times.
I'm sure you got this question a lot the last two days but, how dumb is Danny Granger?
Sam: Is this one of those one to 10 scale questions or about Granger voting for Mitch Daniels? Oh, that! Actually, I have no idea about his voting record, though you refer to comments Granger made to the Indianapolis Star about how the Celtics are potentially a tougher matchup than the Bulls because they have so many options compared to the Bulls. Of course, he’s right. If you have Allen, Pierce, Rondo and Garnett to go to compared to the Bulls offense, Boston should be better. But basketball is way more than numbers and stats. The Celtics continue to struggle to get out of their post-Perkins depression, and they are an aging team. Most figured it was a three year window when Garnett and Allen arrived. This is year four. So they are not who we used to think they were. And Granger does raise the principal playoff issue facing the Bulls: Can Rose do it when your opponent has so much time to game plan against him? I know most Bulls fans want to jump to the Finals as if it’s a given, but it doesn’t work that way. It’s a long journey and while the season has been remarkable and the top seed impressive, it guarantees nothing. This still is a team without much playoff success. Even the Utah guys mostly have been playoff disappointments except for one season when they got lucky when Golden State knocked off Dallas. It’s a whole roster with plenty to prove. As for Granger’s comments, they hardly caused a ripple among the Bulls because they know—and it’s not just talk—they haven’t done anything yet.
I know we’re a long way from the Bulls in the NBA Finals, but looking at the matchups on both sides I am really hoping for a Bulls-Thunder NBA Finals. Two young, talented teams who seem to play the game the right way. Two young superstars. Both potentially beating the reigning conference champs (who happen to be the premier franchises in the history of the league). Who would your dream NBA Finals matchup be this season?
Sam: My guess is the Bulls would prefer the Kings.
The timing of this question is far too early, but I have to ask, can the Bulls go 73-9 next year? 62-20 (or so) is extremely impressive, but with the extensive time missed by both Jo and Booz, no one would have thought it was possible. Likewise, the Bulls got off to a mediocre 9-8 start.
Sam: Thibs has asked me not to respond to questions that have anything to do with events beyond the opening jump for Game 1 against the Pacers. He is considering asking the Bulls to bar all fans from Games 1 and 2 in the United Center who mention the words “Lakers,” “Spurs,” “Thunder,” or “What do you mean Luol Deng can’t play 48 minutes?”
Do you think since supposedly Redd's career as a Buck is over and since he has been so injury prone do you think he would be a cheap option as a 2 guard who can shoot well from 3?
Sam: Redd will be a guy teams probably will take a look at, though everything is uncertain regarding the new labor deals and subsequent financial rules. For the Bulls with so many big contracts, it would have to be at a minimum, and I wonder if Redd would go for that. But even if he did I wouldn’t take a chance. There’s little worse than dealing with former stars who have to become role players. They rarely can get past who they were and can become internal distractions. I think you always go with guys who have played that role as specialists and don’t mess with players who saw themselves as All-Stars.
I am wondering about veteran basketball teams and their ability to "turn it on" as soon as the playoffs role around. Specifically, the Lakers and Spurs who are full of multi-championship veteran stars. Those teams would typically be favored heading into the playoffs, but you can't help wondering about the recent 5 and 6 game losing streaks for the Lakers and Spurs respectively heading down the stretch and into the postseason. On the other hand you have an unproven, yet hungry team in the Bulls who have been consistent all year and are actually peaking down the stretch heading into the playoffs (the Thunder are a good example of this too). Talking about "building championship habits" I would take my chances with a consistent and disciplined Bulls team over a spoiled-from-winning-too-much and overconfident veteran squad.
Sam: I agree, and I actually prefer the way Thibs has gone about it by playing to win. I know many fans criticize this worrying about injury and rest, but I like the idea of building winning habits. I know there’s a lot of pointing to the Celtics last season and teams like that which coasted in and made the Finals. I believe you build and practice winning habits by winning. Losing does nothing but cerate doubts. I think in Boston’s case they were bailing because Doc Rivers realizes they are on the verge of a mental breakdown and had to get them away from the game. I think the Spurs were just trying to avoid the Lakers for round 2, though they’re no sure thing for round 1. The Grizzlies seemed to want the Spurs for the opening round losing their last few. I also believe the NBA should do something about the way teams treat the end of the season. Fans aren’t allowed to pay half for their tickets when half the team gets to rest. I believe you owe something to the game and to the people who pay so much for tickets and I wouldn’t let teams sit their top guys without a good reason. Your job is to play, and if you don’t want to, then you should be giving refunds. Guys can get injured anytime. It’s more ill fortune. You mostly get hurt when you worry about it. Go out and compete! I like how the Bulls have done that and I commend Thibs for that. I think it gives them a playoff edge. Plus, there’s loads of days off in the extended first round and plenty of time for rest then. C’mon, man and lady up! Hey, we have the WNBA as well.
I was just curious as to how this seasons number 1 seed bulls team compares to the previous times when the bulls were number 1. Statistically and player wise, so how does this year look to you?
Sam: The biggest difference is this is the least accomplished top team the Bulls ever have had. All the ‘90s title teams had substantial playoff runs and successes. This group hasn’t had one. The teams from the ‘70s didn’t get the top seed, but had playoff success previously. So this Bulls group is fighting NBA convention that you can’t win until you have won. I don’t agree with that since it is an entirely different roster and coach and a flawed, less talented competition. Though in talent, this team doesn’t compare to any of the Bulls champions of the ‘90s. But neither does their competition.
I am confused about a few comments that I often hear about playoff play. I'm constantly hearing about how in the playoffs, the starters have to play more minutes, and about the reduced role of most bench players, but at the same time I often hear about how important the bench is to winning in the playoffs. What is your take on that phenomenon?
Sam: The starters play more minutes because there are no back to backs and you don’t have to rest them as much, not that Thibs worries about that too much. I’m with him: They’re 22 and 25 and the best athletes in the world. Quit babying them! Do you know they don’t even carry their luggage. They put it outside their door in the hotel and someone carries it to the bus and then someone from there to the plane and then someone from the plane to their car. And then some have drivers pick them up to drive them home and carry their luggage. I do believe most have to go to the rest room by themselves. It’s great to have a bench and deep depth, as it were, but you want to play your best players for as long as you can. Guys are generally reserves because they aren’t as good as the other guys. And if the opponent plays its starters longer, you don’t want them against your reserves. During the regular season, benches match up, so if you have depth you can have an edge. It disappears in the playoffs because starters stay in longer. So you play yours longer as well. Don’t worry. They can. And if they can’t or don’t want to, then you have bigger issues than you imagined.
I love how Doug Collins gets Kudos at TNT and absolutely no votes for Coach of the Year on ESPN. Is the media really this political?
Sam: Missed that one. Yes and no. I think most of the network and cable TV analysts try to be fair, though it is easier to be fairer to your friends. You know Van Gundy is close with Thibodeau and Doug was an institution at TNT. If anyone else was chosen then it was personal. There are only two legitimate choices for the award this season, Thibodeau and Collins. Any other No. 1 selection is basically out of ignorance or bias.
Does the current Bulls team or the current Heat team reassembles that 1991 Bulls team defense - if not in efficiency, in the way they play? Do either of the current teams apply anything like that fire-pressure which prove to be so successful for that team? I know the Heat defense is iffy at best - most of it against top teams - but I put them in the question for I reckon with LeBron and Wade they have a similar - even if inferior - duo as in the Jordan Pippen one. I know they lack the Grant factor - which was instrumental in that defensive triangle the Bulls had - for Bosh ain't no Grant on defense (not even a Boozer for that matter) but I thought maybe they could play a similar style.
Sam: Neither really compares with the ’91 Bulls, an underrated great team, because the Bulls had the physical enforcer and presence at center in Cartwright and the active, aggressive defender at power forward in Grant. While Bosh and Boozer can score more than Grant, neither is remotely close on defense. Miami has almost no pivot defense while Noah is more an activity player than a force. A younger Kurt Thomas would more approximate what Cartwright brought. Rose has been a much improved defender this season, but you cannot compare the Bulls at the vital wing positions with Bogans/Brewer and Deng. Miami has athletes at those positions who make steals, but neither Wade nor James is a committed individual defender like Pippen and Jordan were.
In my mind I would be happy if the Bulls made the conference finals. That would be quite a leap in this year considering that the team aspect of basketball is underrated compared to the fantasy league AAU all-star rosters the players want to create. My question is who are some of the available shooting guards you think are attainable for some combination of draft picks and Taj? I know the new cap rules will have an effect, but let’s forget that and pretend you are still writing your column in 1990 and have some fun. I think a shooter would be that shiny new toy at Christmas that D-Rose needs to take another leap next year.
Sam: I assume your fellow championship-or-we-kill-ourselves Bulls fans are wrestling you to the ground. But that is exactly right. This has been a wonderful season and hardly a failure not to advance beyond the conference finals or semifinals. The unfortunate part is the way Bulls fans are setting this season up to be a disappointment without a title. The Bulls have made the biggest jump in the NBA, both in reality and respect. They are taken seriously for the first time since 1998 and now will be forward. Again, it is difficult to calculate given the new labor deal, but, yes, it will take something. It’s quite possible under the new rules the Bulls will figure they cannot sign someone like Taj, anyway, and make a deal. I still like Courtney Lee, though he has fit in and might be harder to get than he once was. Could you steal Marcus Thornton now? It would be costlier. I’ve said I even like someone like Prince, but I think he ends up staying with Detroit. I think Deng can play two if needed. Could you put together something for Aaron Afflalo, whom I like, a restricted free agent? The issue is it’s got to be a starter who can defend, so it won’t be cheap. I’m not a fan of Nick Young, who probably can be had. Anthony Parker? Probably too old. I’ll be working on it, but I wouldn’t be setting my sights too high.
What do you consider to be a logical arbitrary measurement for what we call 'statue' territory? What does a player have to do to get to that territory? How far is Derrick? Obviously, no championships, no chance. Given his projected output over the next dozen years though, all things considered fair trade in terms of games played...70-75 is acceptable even. All things being equal, how many in the NBA right now would you say have firmly embedded themselves or are a mere stone's throw away from statue territory?
Sam: None. I am not exactly a fan of erecting heroic monuments to entertainers, which is what ball players are. Yes, they are exciting to watch and excellent in their field, but I also think this is the old guy in me. Every game I come to the United Center I see fans posing for pictures in front of the Jordan statue, so it does mean something to them. And I can understand that sporting success measures a happiness for a community and a sense of you being a winner as well. Which I also understand as life delivers too many losses and you need some escape from that. I just hope we don’t get carried away with this. I am interested in American history, and when I was in New York this week I went into lower Manhattan to some of the sites of the revolutionary years. So I understand having a feeling of being around where great things were done, and everyone has his own definition. Though walking down lower Broadway near Wall Street, I did see a not uncommon New York City street scene with a man pulling down his pants and underwear and adjusting his clothing naked while everyone just hurried by. Given it was so close to Wall Street, I also took it for a metaphor for what the country’s financial center has done to the average person.
How do you think Deng's trade value has changed after this year? Do you think Orlando would trade Howard for Noah and Deng? Do you think the Bulls would try to free up cap space next year by trading Deng in an attempt to sign Howard?
Sam: I answer this now only as I get a lot of these. Forget the Deng part. I know there’s this notion the Magic will be forced to trade Howard given the circumstances there, and if the Bulls see them in the second round and win the cacophony will increase. If the Magic do sometime go that route, which I don’t expect them to, they certainly would never trade him to an East team where he could keep them out of the Finals. And hardly to where he could be part of a long dynasty. They’ll hang onto him until the last second, and the hope of most teams in this labor deal is players will have major disincentives to move and you can be sure the Magic isn’t going along with a deal that won’t. I expect Howard to stay there.
I was glad to see in your column some numbers and statistics presented positively on behalf of Derrick Rose’s great season. The knock on him, and specifically his MVP campaign this year, seems to be all about statistics and his supposedly sub-par defense – I was glad to see you knock that down some.Another metric provided by mysynergysports…They watch every play of every game and categorize the plays including who has the defensive assignments for every play. They track the initial defender on every play and then credit or fault him if the player he is defending scores or does not.It is the the unique tool for measuring a player's individual defense. In the table below, Rose is compared to those normally considered as the elite defensive point guards in the NBA: Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, Jason Kidd, and Chris Paul. For Williams, I used his Utah stats as they are superior.”
(Measured in points surrendered per play)
Player Overall Isolation P&R Ball Handler Spot Up
Derrick Rose 0.77 0.67 0.73 0.92
Deron Williams 0.91 0.87 0.89 1.13
Rajon Rondo 0.80 0.68 0.81 0.86
Chris Paul 0.88 0.76 0.77 0.98
Jason Kidd 0.85 0.76 0.78 0.96
Basically, Rose’s 1-on-1 defense is the best in the league at his position, statistically. But I guess the stat-hounds choose to omit this when discussing Rose’s statistical flaws.
Sam: The stat guys basically have been debunked. Rose is going to win the MVP in a landslide. There are a few holdouts, mostly the stat types at ESPN who have long been down on Rose. They had him seventh as rookie of the year in their awkward equations. But there’s also nothing wrong with that. Look, sports is entertainment and sports should be about debate as well. The games determine who is best. Otherwise, it’s just opinion. You may not agree with some voices at ESPN, but they do an excellent job at creating debate. It’s really the job of a good columnist or opinion writer. It’s why they have op-ed. You’d like everyone to be honest and sometimes you feel people are forcing an opinion to get a response, but ESPN does a good job getting you to respond, even if it makes you angry. You do keep watching, after all. Elections are won on majorities, and no one ever gets all the votes or all the support. The debate is good and it’s good to be challenged because it makes you justify and examine your own thinking and opinions. Rose won’t be a unanimous choice, but the only president to be was George Washington. We’re a very flawed society that seems to make it work, anyway.
I know the season isn’t over yet, but I recently heard from a friend of a friend who works in the US that there is speculation of a post season trade of Carlos Boozer for Andre Bargnani. Sounds an awful lot like an ESPN fueled rumour and as such probably has no substance, but it got me wondering whether the Bulls would look to offload Boozer’s massive salary for someone younger and cheaper? I know it doesn’t make sense in that with Noah and Asik we don’t need another centre, but seeing as Noah and Booz don’t work all that well together could it be a possibility? With the impending new collective bargaining agreement and considering that Rose will shortly require a max offer, I don’t see how we can maintain Rose’s salary alongside those of Boozer, Noah and Deng. Given that the Bulls front office has said the Rose and Noah are untouchable does this mean that one of Deng and Booz may have to be moved?
Sam: I assume this is someone from Canada hoping to trick someone into believing Bargnani would help. No, the Bulls are not trading Boozer, for one thing. They like him. They believe he’s essential for offense to play off Rose and how many years have people in Chicago screamed for an interior presence? They are not giving him up so quickly. Plus, Bargnani with Noah would be awful. Bargnani may be one of the worst rebounding seven footers ever to play in the NBA. And that’s his strength compared to his defense. Though you do raise a point about having three eight figure annual contracts with Rose’s extension coming up. It virtually assures the Bulls no room to add players and raises the question depending on the new labor deal how many of their bench players they could keep. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s just a few after their contracts expire, so this and perhaps next season may be the last we see of this group.
I'm not sure if you had the pleasure of court side seats at the knicks game, so please enjoy this brief exchange between thibs and boozer with about three minutes left in the game on what I believe was a douglas drive:
tom thibodeau : CARLOS! he's driving! guard him!
carlos boozer: my what?....oh. whoops...my bad
Sam: And you should have heard what he yelled at Korver after that and Joakim before that. This being after the Bulls were up by about 15 with maybe three minutes left and Thibs was down in a defensive stance exorting C.J. Watson. Hey, it’s worked so far.