Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 04.22.11
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Thibs says hard fouls are a part of the game and he respects Foster for playing and fouling hard. Why can't we have someone who fouls hard back and protects our franchise player?
Sam: I’ve heard that victory is the best revenge.
It has been a very physical affair. (The Bulls broadcasters) have been adamant that the Bulls need to send a message and put someone on the ground, preferably Foster.
What are your thoughts on this matter? I know you feel Howard has twice gotten away with endangering our franchise player, but this seems a little different. Is it worth to risk losing a player for the rest of the game and maybe even the next one for delivering a flagrant to someone as inconsequential as Jeff Foster?
On the other hand, if the Bulls let Jeff Freakin' Foster push them around, who else won't hesitate to get in their face?
After Thibs was clearly uncomfortable with Deng picking up that widely-praised T in Game One, I don't see him sending someone --say Asik-- with the expressed intent of putting someone on the ground.
Sam: This has been a big theme from fans after Game 3, though I tend to think turning the other cheek—as long as it’s not punched—on some level toughens you and then when you beat them you establish who you are. Some felt Foster’s fouls were flagrant. I would not put them anywhere near the level of what the Bulls once played through with the Pistons, and I don’t recall the Bulls ever resorting to goon tactics to defend themselves then. The Bulls play plenty physical or they would not be winning these games. I think Thibs’ point is to not let them get into your head with cheap shots and hard fouls and get out of your game by delivering hard fouls or cheap shots. I know it’s in the American mentality to like to fight, though that can be misguided. Derrick made his point verbally and his teammates were there. Running in and starting something gets you suspended and Thibodeau knows from those Miami/Knicks wars years back that can cost you a series. Yes, I did think Howard’s fouls were flagrant, but if you’ll recall no one on the Bulls agreed or made an issue of it. Then they seemed to stop and we didn’t see them this season as the Bulls have dominated Orlando. You might recall against Detroit in the early 1990s, the Bulls wouldn’t be drawn into the physical, cheap stuff. When Pippen was assaulted by Rodman, he went and made free throws and the Bulls won the game. He didn’t fight or hard foul. And the Pistons were so beaten and humiliated they walked off the court in disgrace. I’d hardly admit to being distracted by Jeff Foster. There’s that old saying about lying down with dogs and what happens…By the way, Omer is not a goon.
Do we finally have a player comparison for Derrick? Is he a bigger, supercharged version of Iverson? Is he what Marbury and Francis should have been? Is he Kevin Johnson 2.0?
Sam: I’ve never been able to get a good comparison because I don’t think there ever has been at that position. Derrick is a point guard at the core. Iverson was not. Marbury and Francis were of that order. Francis was explosive but not quite the point guard mentality as well as not very team oriented. Marbury was strong, though not as explosive. KJ was an athlete, but not quite the strength. Someone mentioned the old ABAer James Silas, whom I recall as not quite being explosive like that, but a very good athlete and finisher before he hurt his knees. Tiny Archibald could do just about everything before he got hurt, but didn’t have the size and strength. The future comparisons will be more to Rose. Like Magic Johnson, maybe there will be just one.
Noah, at least stats-wise, is nowhere near the player he was at the beginning of the season. His rebounding numbers are much lower, and he bobbles and misses much more than he used to. I know we read all the time that Noah gets asked after every game if he's okay, and he always says he is. Can you explain what's the issue? Which is closer to the real Noah: the one we saw early on (clear All Star-caliber player) or this one (clear starter-caliber player on most teams)?
Sam: Thibodeau always felt, even though he never really said because he couldn’t know for sure, Noah would have a hard time returning to form after missing so much time. You can have good games, but it’s difficult to regain that high level of play after working all summer and then having to start over without the benefit of camp and the summer program. You can see Noah hesitant to shoot, even as he came into the season better with his jump shot, though he finally made one of those elbow jumpers Thursday. Similarly, his thumb continues to get hit and probably won’t fully heal until being off for awhile. It seems easy to the rest of us, but I don’t think you get back your conditioning as well and he seems more to play in bursts of energy now. But his commitment and work ethic are good and I believe next season he’ll return to being the player we saw earlier in the season and last season. And he had a nice effort in Game 3, which seemed promising.
Was that a smart move by Memphis to lock in Randolph before the new contract is agreed on? I don't know what's going on with that but neither do the owners right? I thought owners were trying to shed salary or stay put, not add contracts and $$.
Sam: Well, Memphis is going to have some difficulty in that next owners’ meeting trying to explain why they need so much revenue sharing to compete. The other big part of the labor talks is dividing revenue among owners, and when a small market team like that has so many large contracts owners from profitable markets will ask why they should subsidize that. Yet, the small markets say they have to pay players to compete with the large markets inflating the market. From the perspective of the Grizzlies, it was a good move for the community to retain perhaps their most vital player. You could ask whom they were bidding against, but you want to create stability and the owner stepped up and spent money to build the team. The fan base has to love that.
I was a little disappointed that the fans were chanting "Pacers suck" tonight. Not because of manner or anything. I would've gladly joined the crowd if it was against certain other teams. I just didn't think this Indiana team deserved the treatment. They weren't trying anything unfair on us, they played hard and well on our court as an underdog. They openly admire our star. They committed some violent fouls on him at first but then after Deng's protest they toned it down but kept on playing hard and aggressive. They share the ball well and they play hard on defense. They really earned my respect so far. While it was our team that didn't play their A game. I was frustrated too and would've showed my team support as well. I just wish they didn't take it out on an exciting and hard-working opponent, quite like our own team.
Sam: Well said. I winced when I heard that and felt it was out of ignorance and mob behavior. I talk to a lot of fans at the games and basically find everyone interested, knowledgeable and friendly. I’m not sure where that comes from, but it is an embarrassment to the city when they occurs. Makes you feel dirty, like you’re in New York or something.
Would and Could Coach get Boozer to come off the bench? I think that is his future and to me a good solid “Scorer” to lead the second team and lets Dang catch his damn breath. Taj should be starting, BULLS are a defensive minded team so start and end games with Defense.
Sam: That’s not about to happen, certainly not after the team committed a major, five-year deal for Boozer. Boozer may not be the defender some want, though he wasn’t in Utah, either. But for how many years have people watching the Bulls screamed for a low post offensive presence? Heck, many wanted Beasley over Rose in the belief Beasley was that player. Remember, Boozer missed the beginning of the season and had a few ankle sprains, so he’s been slowed some. But the Bulls still need his presence and scoring as Deng is not about to develop into that second offensive option you can count on regularly.
I have seen many rumors online, and I mean complete rumors, that suggest the bulls trade for Dwight Howard before free agency. They all suggest three first round draft picks and either Boozer or Noah, and maybe even Asik along with it all for Howard. My opinion would be trade Boozer, keep Noah. It has been said that Rose and Howard have been really close ever since signing their contacts with adidas. Would a trade or sign in free agency even be possible for the Bulls?
Sam: We’ll be hearing more of this for another year and a half as Howard approaches the end of his current contract. It bubbled up once again last week when there was a report from an ESPN writer saying Howard would leave Orlando. No one paid that much attention, though, of course, it’s possible given his contract situation. But a lot depends on the new labor deal. I have a feeling that a lot of owners are going to be pushing for a proposal I’ve heard that players can be paid way, way more by their own teams. The notion before last summer when LeBron and Bosh left was if you can pay players more they always will stay, and the home team had the chance to pay $30 million more, though mostly with an extra year on the contract. But with the money so large now and the ability to by an insurance contract to protect against that lost extra year, that changed. So now I wouldn’t be surprised in this labor deal to see something like a $100 million deal if a player stays and maybe a maximum $50million if he decides to leave. Sure, he still can, so there is free agency. But would he? The idea would be to make it so the huge majority of NBA players still have the same free agent rights and financial opportunities and it only affects the top stars. I don’t know if that will occur, but you can be sure the Magic will be fighting for it and won’t be doing anything regarding Howard until they see the new rules sometime after July 1.
A bunch of us are watching the game and we started talking about coaching and how the Bulls have a huge advantage. Who does Thibs credit his coaching lineage to? And do you think any og the bulls assistants will get consideration for promotions in the off season?
Sam: I hear him talk the most about Bill Musselman and Thibs still uses a lot of the stat keys he got from Musselman when Thibs first came into the NBA with Musselman. As for the Bulls staff, there probably isn’t anyone considered for a top job now. Ron Adams could do it, but he seems to prefer being a top assistant. I think up the road Adrian Griffin and Ed Pinckney will get serious looks.
I remember sometime before the Rose hype began, sometime very early in the season, you said Rose is special, not exactly like Mike, but still very special. Not just good, but truly special. You sounded so convinced, and very few were convinced at the time, everyone laughing at Rose’s famous ‘why not me?’ statement. My question is, why did you think Rose is special at that time?
Sam: Thanks for remembering, and I did write a Rose could be MVP column in November, of course, a month or more after he said he could. But I’ve watched basketball in person since the late 1950s and I’d never seen anyone at that position play with the combination of speed, power and jumping ability, and be so absolutely team oriented. More than anything, what I first realized in Rose is that it was all and only about winning for him, and while many say it, you see it with him. He’s been a joy to watch from the first day. Chicagoans have to be one of the most fortunate fans and franchises in NBA history to get players like Jordan and now Rose. It’s really mostly unheard of.
I know the Bulls have a lot of big contracts on the books and Derrick Rose is due for an extention, but do you think Drose would take a pay cut to be able to re-sign Taj or possibly get a good SG. I know it's very unlikely because this will be his first real contract because he's been on the rookie contract, but Rose always says he's about winning. I just see him being like Duncan when he took a pay cut for the Spurs to be able to re-sign Ginobli.
C. J. Smith
Sam: Now let’s not get carried away. Rose should sign the contract for the maximum amount of money he can and if he doesn’t I’d criticize him. Duncan took a bit of a haircut at the end of his career. He didn’t give up a penny early on. Jordan made $33 million one year. These guys need to take care of themselves first and for Derrick to do anything else would be short sighted on his part and I’d recommend he not do it if he were to ask me.
As a journalist don't you have to remain objective? Don't get me wrong, I think you do. It just seems like it would be difficult not to get attached to the players and team. Shoot, I get way too nervous watching the games. But to watch and then try to objectively write about it must be hard. How do you do it?
Sam: It is an interesting question for fans, but it becomes easier than you think. Because you have your job, and in trying to do your job you find yourself lost in the game and what will make the most interesting and compelling story. I generally root for that. You come to enjoy some of the players and coaches and want them to do well as you are around them a lot. Most are very good to deal with, this Bulls group, especially. I didn’t start my journalism career in sports. I played sports growing up and always watched and enjoyed and rooted. I became a political writer first and thought I’d stay away from sports so it could remain a hobby. I have to admit I don’t watch as much sports as I once did, though I cannot truly figure if that’s because I matured and had a family or because I work in it. I always feared that if you make something your job it cannot be your hobby. The truth is, but don’t tell anyone, the job really has turned out to be like a hobby. But you don’t want the bosses to know or they won’t give you a raise.
Has Coach Thibs disbanded the BENCH MOB? I know Ronnie is hurting, but he says he wants to play.
They were so effective all year. Will we see them as a "unit" at all & if not, why?
Sam: In a way, yes. I’m not sure yet it is the best course, though the Bulls are undefeated in the playoffs. Tom still uses the bench liberally, though not quite as a group as before and surely not as long. Coaches often go more with starters and a shorter rotation in the playoffs, figuring without back to backs you play your best players longer. But the Bulls bench was very good and often bailed out a slow starting starter group. I suspect he’ll use them in the playoffs as needed if not as a group.
Did the NBA institute a rule this year requiring players to congratulate anyone who makes a free throw? I've noticed through watching many games this year that all the players near a free-throw shooter are clapping hands with that player if he makes a free throw. In my almost three decades of watching the NBA, I don't recall seeing this with the regularity that has occurred this season. Did they add this to the collective bargaining agreement in the offseason?
Sam: Actually, it started several years back and seems kind of silly to me. When we played, we always told the guy who missed free throws to quit messing around and concentrate. No one congratulated him. But NBA players tend to be more sensitive in this era and apparently need that reassurance. So don’t boo too loudly.
All I am reading this morning is about Carmelo's amazing game, which it was offensively, but how about not fouling with 4.6 seconds left. He either forgot, which is about as big a mistake as CWebb calling a non-existent timeout, was 'fatigued' (his excuse) or didn't want to foul out, which is equally ridiculous. Another reason I'm glad we didn't mortgage our future on him, and once again the difference between true superstars like our own Derrick, and players who simply are capable of putting up terrific individual stats. I hate to just rip players, but I can't believe this isn't a bigger story.
Sam: Carmelo is an interesting guy. The Bulls sure could use that second big time scorer, you’d think, but at the same time he clearly needs to play with someone who’ll hang onto the ball and only give it to him to score. Rose could do that, but would they have meshed. He is a selfish guy, but a great talent. There may not be a better scorer only in the NBA. Are the Bulls better off? I guess we’ll find out if they get a point guard like Chris Paul, though it’s unclear how they’d do that financially.
I can't keep up with the Bulls draft options for 2011. Don't we have our own plus Miami's for sure. And we could use one from Charlotte. Didn't we get one from Toronto for Johnson?
Sam: The Bulls have the Nos. 28 and 30 picks is this draft. No. 30 is theirs and No. 28 is Miami’s from the James Johnson deal with Toronto. The Charlotte pick from the Thomas trade is first available in 2012, but only if the Bobcats make the playoffs.
Do you think Kurt Thomas retires after this season? Do you think Scal would consider retirement and join the coaching staff? He seems to have the ear of the players when he speaks and he doesn't really play anymore, so I wondered if even at a young age he would move to a coaching seat to free a roster spot.
Sam: Kurt, I believe, intends to play next season. I don’t see why he wouldn’t as on some level you can say he was the Bulls best offseason signing. For what he’s meant and what he’s delivered for a minimum contract, I’d say he’s the best buy in the league. But like with Brad Miller last season, I suspect he becomes too rich for the Bulls and someone offers him more than the Bulls can pay given the new labor agreement and the need to extend Rose’s contract. As for Scal, he’s not technically retired yet, and while he is smart enough and involved enough to coach, I hear him talk all the time about going into broadcasting. He may not be Barkley, but he has a chance to be the next great character in sports broadcasting. He practically runs radio talk shows around the team these days and regularly tests everyone with an eclectic and arcane curiosity.
I'm a big Bulls fan, but after watching a few games of the playoffs, I'm
convinced that it's the OKC Thunder that have a better shot to win it all
than the Bulls. They are extremely athletic and have, not one but two
dominant scoring threats in Westbrook and Durant. The Bulls only have
Derrick Rose--slightly better than Westbrook but not by much--and I think
the Bulls are getting exposed in these playoffs. The Thunder are
essentially the Bulls with Kevin Durant. The Pacers really aren't that
good, and the Bulls aren't that much more talented. During the season the
Bulls relied on outworking teams and playing better defense. You cannot
outwork teams in the playoffs so it's a much more level playing field.
Derrick Rose has been phenomenal but he cannot do it all playoffs, there's
just no one else. Why should I believe that this team is anything more
than the Utah Jazz of the East?
Sam: You sure know how to take the luster off a 3-0 start. But they could be. I’ll agree the Thunder have looked strong along with Miami. The Bulls are winning and trying to persuade everyone the Pacers are better than you think. Well, maybe not the Bulls but the media. I don’t think Westbrook is that close to Rose, but, yes, they do have two legitimate options and some nice interior size and toughness. Though, as it’s said, that’s why they play the games. The Bulls weren’t supposed to be title contenders this season and we should find out in the next few weeks whether they are. If they are not, this is just the beginning for them as with Rose and Noah and Deng just turning 26 you have to figure a window of opportunity for most of the rest of this decade. So what’s the hurry?