Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 04.29.11
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Since the beginning of the season, we speak of the big three of the Bulls, naming, D.Rose, Noah & Boozer. But for me it seems unfair to Luol. I know that Boozer had great games and Luol bad ones, but i think it is more Rose-Noah-Deng with Boozer 4. As it was shown from the first round.
Sam: Yes, Boozer is becoming the story of the team heading into the second round given a poor series, averaging 10 points and 10.2 rebounds (hey, a double-double!) on 36 percent shooting. But I wouldn’t exactly characterize any personnel grouping on the Bulls as a Big Three. Rose would never look at it as him being separate in any way. But no one ever really saw this season as more than a Big One and a great supporting group. After all, there were no other All-Stars. Yes, Noah had a shot if he wasn’t hurt, and I think Deng will be a serious contender next season as with veteran players you usually get credit a year after you do something. Deng could have made it this season with justification, but fans and then coaches watch numbers more carefully than effect. Deng’s been the most reliable supporting option, but the essence of this Bulls team and the attraction is the team element that fits with Rose along with a committed defensive effort.
What are the chances we see Taj Gibson replace Boozer in the starting line up? Boozer doesn't deserve to be our starting power forward. I also think Taj plays better and more comfortable with the starting unit.
Sam: None. Let me rephrase that. Zero. I guess it’s a nice situation to be in to close the first round in five games, score 116 points in the wrapup and decide you have problems with your scoring power forward. No question for a guy with a career playoff average of 20.3 points and 12.5 rebounds it wasn’t a good series for Boozer, who still did average a double-double at 10 points and 10.2 rebounds. I think his confidence is down a bit as he struggles with foul trouble. Remember, he and Noah haven’t played all that much together and he’s been more accustomed to playing with a perimeter shooting center in Mehmet Okur. Plus, Deron Williams was a wizards in pick and roll and gave Boozer great looks with the middle more open. The Bulls know they aren’t going where they hope without a big contribution from Boozer and they’re going to try to create more situations to get Boozer going. Gibson had a terrific Game 5 against the Pacers, but he’ll remain the energy guy off the bench.
Just wondering what you think of the Bulls perhaps having a look at signing Carl Landry when he becomes a free agent after the post season? In my opinion he's a very underated power forward who has great attributes to his game and a good demeanor. And with the drama surrounding Booz he'd would be a valuable asset to the Bulls. What do you think?
Sam: Anyone who reads me regularly knows Landry has long been one of my favorites and Chicago fans would love him, a bit undersized but with the so called bigger heart. Though Taj pretty much does what he does and the interesting part of the future for the Bulls facing Rose’s extension and a new labor agreement is whom they can keep more than whom they can add. The better the Bulls do the harder it will be to resign guys like Gibson, Korver, Thomas and Asik.
With all the talk that the Bulls looked vulnerable in the first round, do
you know who is getting a pass? Miami. They are playing uninspired and
generally bad offense bailed out only by superior talent. Not sure they are
going to win a series once the talent evens playing like they deserve to win
rather than like they want to. Looking forward to Celtics v. Heat even more.
Sam: I agree they aren’t scaring anyone. I know everyone keeps pointing at the LeBron/Wade combination and the who is the closer to the game thing. But we’re 90 games in and they still seem to have no rotation beyond their main three. Sometimes they go with shooters and then they change to defenders and back to shooters. Bibby is in, Bibby is out. Guys sit for weeks and then start. They change lineups at halftime, as they did even in Game 5 against Philly. They sure don’t look like a championship team. It doesn’t make for much teamwork or confidence. You can blame the coach or blame the GM. Both share some responsibility. But they have those two guys whom no one can match and who can defend and get 30 easily. The Bulls getting the No. 1 seed was huge. Boston/Miami sets up as a fabulous series with the loser looking at the other bracket and believing they would have won it. Too bad.
It is probably good for the Bulls to get rest, but should one be at least a little concerned of Bulls being rusty for game 1 of the next round with such a long layoff?
Sam: This is the question always best answered in retrospect. If you win, it was good; if you lose you lost your edge. It’s always been part of the NBA and never seemed to hurt the Bulls when they were good. They’d have weeklong rests often during the title years. The best team wins. That’s why the NBA is the best playoffs.
In the long run, which young "big 3" would you go with?
Sam: That’s a good one. I’d probably go with the Oklahoma City guys, as they have two All-Star level talents and Deng mostly edges on the fringe of that, though he should be an All-Star next season if all remains the same. Noah has a chance to get there, but has been injured too often in the last few years. So it’s difficult to project with him. If Boozer cannot be the Boozer the Bulls expect him to be, the edge goes to the Thunder. That is why Boozer is so vital to the team’s future with his long contract, because the Thunder doesn’t have the depth to match that.
Watched a little of the Miami game today. Miami practices a disciplined shell on defense.
Outcome made me wonder something, though. I checked and by my count, MIA 7-14 in games decided by 5 or fewer points. Not calculating as to why. Just looking at the stat at the moment.
Defensive teams tend to hold the score down and keep it close 'til the end. Maybe that's why the Bulls were 3-0 against MIA this year?
I think MIA is going to have a hell of a time with BOS, who plays tough, smart defense (though not as effectively w/o Perkins) and can stick shots.
Sam: I had been counting Boston out after the Perkins deal and with doubts about anyone named O’Neal. They just seemed too small, and may still be. But watching Miami, they cannot seem to get in transition, their strength, even against a small, running team like the 76ers. If they continue to keep the games close, their isolation, one on one style isn’t going to win many close games the way teams close the lane in the playoffs. I’m growing less sure Miami can beat Boston. Could Danny Ainge have been right and me wrong? Seems unlikely.
LeBron's transformation into a villain this year has been well-documented, but I personally find Dwayne Wade's behavior much more disturbing. There were two startling moments last night that warrant some discussion: 1) His technical foul with 51 seconds left in a 2 point game. I know Wade is the poster-boy for abusing officials, but the replays showed a quite clean and impressive stop. How could his instinctive reaction honestly be uncontrollable anger at the officials? Even if he has been fouled you can't let yourself get a tech there. It's hard to explain. 2) His celebratory dunk when the game was over was bad enough--something Rose wouldn't do in a million years--but how about him then assuming a defensive stance to contest the inbound pass? With a 6 point lead and less than a second to play? You seldom see a guy go such lengths to degrade the other team and rub their nose in their defeat. What is his problem?
Sam: He is an interesting case and I think he gets by because he is so appealing when he speaks to media. He looks guys in the eye, is reflective and cooperative for the most part, just coming off as a very decent man. But you do hear around the NBA how he has gone so called big time. He long has been a world class whiner and complainer, and you hope it doesn’t get him all those free throws. Let me say he is a terrific talent. But, I agree, he does some insulting things on the basketball court that suggest ego over reason. I think he’s just developed a bigger head with the TV commercials and the accompanying attention. He is certainly not the guy he was or the first to change along the way. But that is difficult to maintain for anyone in the NBA world. Frankly, with LeBron, known league wide as a world class difficult teammate, and Wade, that must be a tough team to play for. Still, I think they are very good and when get a coach with a stronger hand and more of a philosophy to make them play more like a team they could win those titles they mostly talk about.
And now to chide you on your grade inflation of the Celtics, who just beat a Knicks team with one and a half NBA starters -- and not too convincingly with yesterday's second half collapse. Rondo was unguarded most of the series but made to look rather average last night by 36 year old Anthony Carter. I wouldn't put too much stock in Shaq shoring up the middle either. I saw a news item that he was mistaken for a Macy's dirigible earlier this week on 42nd Street. Hard to imagine him getting up and down the court too many times without further damage to the infrastructure.
Sam: No, I’m not confident Shaq can get under 390, either. My point in my NBA column Monday was the Celts though against a weakened Knicks team went on the road and swept and showed four players who could execute plays and score down the stretch, giving them an edge coming out of the first round compared to everyone else. As I continue to maintain, no one is good enough to win the NBA title, though I’m told someone will.
So, after that Hornets-Lakers game last night what's your stance on the Aaron Gray-Devon Brown trade from last year?
Sam: Brown being gone helps the Bulls as does Gray not being with the Bulls.
So with Orlando out, do you think Howard leaves once his contract is up?
Sam: It depends on the new collective bargaining agreement. If there is a clause that, say, that allows a $100 million contract for a player to stay and maybe $50 million maximum if he leaves, he’ll stay. There are a lot of teams that want that. If it’s like it is today, I see him pushing the Magic to trade him and I see it being the Lakers for something like Bynum and Pau. But that’s a big if, and a long way off, and completely dependent upon the new labor deal. If it ever comes to a trade, like with Denver and Carmelo, there isn’t a chance in the world they’d ever trade him to the same conference where he can come back and constantly haunt them.
I was wondering if you noticed the direct elbow to Rose's chin after the dunk during game 4. I figure since you're in the media you have some kind of leverage here as to inform the NBA / authorities necessary in order to stop this kind of dirty play, or at least to get the refs to actually blow their whistle on these.
Sam: Well, no, but the NBA can look at YouTube as well. I did see it and Derrick did as he offered his view. You’ll notice that McRoberts finally cracked in Game 5 and was ejected. I thought the Bulls handled the series just right in playing hard but not being drawn into the cheap stuff. Had the Bulls done that, I don’t think you would have seen Indiana’s meltdown of frustration at the end of Game 5. But when you spend all that much time trying to bait someone and they won’t bite, it becomes more frustrating. Which was why all those urging the Bulls to deliver blows and strike back were misguided. You don’t do that with inferior competition. You beat them. And you saw how they reacted with McRoberts ejected and Granger losing his mind.
While I'm enjoying the intensity of the playoffs, I'm a bit annoyed - as I am every year - that the officials call the games so differently in the playoffs that the regular season. All of the bumping, pushing, hitting, and the like limits the "flow" of basketball that is so fun to watch during the regular season. And then after "letting them play," the refs will make questionable calls like the two fouls called on Deng against a couple of outside shots by Dunleavy that looked like all ball. I know they have a tough job and I'm sure all of this comes down from the top (i.e. David Stern) but it really is annoying. If this is the way basketball "should" be called, then call it all season this way. It's like two different games.
Oh, and while I'm in a whiney mood, let me register my annual complaint about the 2-3-2 format of the finals.
Sam: Yes, I don’t like the notion that playoff basketball is different and accepted as such, which if you think about it too much isn’t a great commentary on the rest of the NBA season. Which, by the way, I love. Guys do compete all season, so it is specious to suggest it just occurs in the playoffs. Actually, I think there are too many fouls called in the playoffs, but I understand as the play becomes intense the officials are concerned about losing control and it becoming a cheap shot fest. The answer is there are none given you have a game in which contact is permitted, though not all the time. Also, I think the players overreact and incite the fans. Anytime anyone gives a hard shot guys stop and stare and talk and act out. Just play. No one is bleeding, after all.
It appeared that Danny Granger was jawing at Luol at the end of game 5. Do you know or what do you think that was about?
Sam: Granger, as he himself explained, was trying to get at Joakim Noah, though what he would do was not clear as he isn’t the toughest guy and has traditionally been a disinterred defender, though did a bit better in the series. Though Deng matched him and probably had a slight overall edge in the series on a player who has been an All-Star. Deng was trying to calm down Granger and explain the circumstances, though where exactly Granger was going into the Bulls huddle is as wrongheaded as his actions.
You have detailed Ben Gordon's strengths and weaknesses over the years and have repeatedly stated that he could be one of the greatest 6th men of all-time. But he never bought into that role. Currently I see someone who might be, and that's James Harden. The Thunder are considered an extremely well constructed team, and Harden is a large part of that. A sharp shooter who comes off the bench, but will finish games if he's effective. He receives praises around the league for buying into his role, even though he was a #3 overall pick, like Ben Gordon was. But I never hear him complaining about Sefolosha starting or total minutes played. I was wondering whether Harden has learned from Gordon's mistakes, or maybe his personality is different? Maybe Harden will change his tune once he's on a contract year, but I see his current approach making the OKC Thunder that much more dangerous in this year's playoffs and for the foreseeable future. (But somebody does have to explain to Westbrook that with Durant and Harden, he doesn't have to go 1 on 5 to close out games.)
Sam: It appears they did explain that to Westbrook before the clincher when Durant had 16 of their last 20 points. I think the difference with Ben in Chicago was he looked around and decided there wasn’t anyone that great. And he was leading the team in scoring, so his ego got in the way. It is clear in Oklahoma City Durant is the star and leading scorer in the league. Westbrook is trying to match that, unfortunately for them. But Harden came in with that role and, if anything, doesn’t get enough opportunities, so he probably has no reason not to be humble. Not that it stops a lot of other guys. But I think Harden is a developing sixth man winner (I think I picked him in my preseason this season) and my guess now is Ben would take any role just to have a role. The only thing greener for him turned out to be the money. I actually just had this discussion with Neil Funk and Chuck Swirsky as we handle all issues Association related at pregame press room meals. I’d mentioned I thought Joe Johnson regretted taking the $125 million from Atlanta instead of $95 million from the Bulls. They noted to me it was $30 million, and I could not deny the history that players always took the most money, especially when it was a lot more. They have been right in what players will do more than I. I stand for what people should do, my only flaw. Still, is $30 million worth having to play in that disinterested environment with a dysfunctional team to end your career? I guess, for me, it’s easy to turn down $30 million when never having a chance to consider the alternative. But, really, as I always say, what do you buy with $30 million above $95 million? There’s usually not even enough room left for more tattoos.
I have some issue with Thibodeau. His insistence on staying with Bogans, even when he's dropping the minutes of guys like Omer and CJ (guys that can actually help), is pretty indefensible. People have been saying all year that it will kill us in the playoffs, and it looks like it will. We shouldn't have to wait a quarter each half to get to Korver in the game so we can start seeing real basketball. And I don't like his demeanor after losses at all. I know that he's had a very positive effect on the franchise overall, and he'll likely be Coach of the Year, but his stubbornness, and childish behavior are pretty sizable flaws in his coaching. He might get away with it now, but if this team fizzles out in a round or two, I think the seat will get a lot hotter for him next season.
Sam: That’s it. See if we can dump him before getting coach of the year. You never know what will happen with a coach, and he may not be perfect. But I don’t know anyone who thought this team without a roster change could be as good as it is and frankly many, even in Boston, who thought Thibodeau could handle the job given that demeanor. But one thing I always hear from the players is while he can be tough and curt, he moves on and doesn’t hold it against anyone, a very good trait. I believe it’s very hard to find a good coach and Thibodeau is a very good one. He’s got an excellent combination of preparedness (as complete as I’ve ever seen) and knowledge of the game. He’s not perfect, though we know only Phil is. But you wouldn’t want to be in a coaching search now. You won’t do better.
Do you think there has been a change or have I simply witnessed too many ticky-tack foul-calling 2000's Bulls playoffs series (I recall 3 quick fouls by Noah in 2010 for touching Shaq incorrectly, and I don't even want to talk about Game 3 vs Wizards in 04/05). Is this the NBA turning away from abysmal, "star-call" series like Kings/Lakers of 2002 and a move towards a more egilitarian style of play like the NCAA Tourney which favors hard-nosed young athletes yet leaves part of the game to the whims of the Whistle Gods (a la the World Cup)? Furthermore, do you think this hurts the more structured teams - like the Lakers, Spurs, and Mavericks- who have benefitted from veteran foul calls and knowing what the refs will call? It may be my imagination, but its seems like a wind of change is upon us.
Sam: I know officiating becomes a regular issue in the playoffs. And, yes, there are calls that are wrong, but since you mention the NCAA my view the little I watch is the exception is when there is a correct call in college. I never believed the NBA or referees tried to salvage the stars according to the general conspiracy theory. Yes, the home team often seems to get the benefit which can either be because the officials are influenced at home by the crowd or the home team is and plays harder which causes fouls. I prefer playing through the questionable calls and if you are a fan not concerning yourself with it. I, too, had some issue in that 2002 series, but 99.9 percent of the time the better team wins an NBA series. I feel confident enough about that to believe there will be the correct result. Sorry. It’s still on the players.
I know its early but im just curious since Thibs doesnt really like to have Rookies do you think the Bulls will get rid of all their picks and try to acquire some veterans from some team for them even though the picks are late (28th & 30th) and the 44th in the second round. or do you think they will try to find another player like Taj, someone who was late in the draft and was able to adjust easily to the NBA?
Sam: Not necessarily. First, it is too early given some things will develop based on how the rest of the playoffs go. Also, Thibs generally takes exception to that characterization and points to his embrace of rookie Rondo. The larger issue to me is the Bulls have made mistakes before drafting, and building to a coach, particularly Skiles. Coaches don’t generally stay for decades. You build your team. I don’t think they will be afraid to use the picks as I think they’ll feel they can get Gibson like players (hoping to get lucky and they’d be that good) to fill out the bench as they feel pretty good with most of the starting lineup. You don’t get starters down there, and not in a draft like this with a number of the top guys opting out. The big draft issue, I believe, will be filling reserve spots they already have filled since when a team does well the value of your players increases and the Bulls could lose some as everyone but the main players is on a short contract, and they may have to bundle two of three players to make a move for a higher level shooting guard.
I think the cavs should retire lebron James number. Do you agree?
Sam: I’m fairly sure “over my dead body” is somewhere in the Cavs’ thinking.
I gotta ask.. am I the only one yelling 'Bogey!' every time Bogans knocks in a 3?? I've been doing it for the past month or so
and I can't believe I actually have a nickname for this guy.. I wanted
nothing more than to see him benched earlier this season but I must
ngive Thibs credit- he was right. As long as Bogans is making that open 3 on a consistent basis, he should be the starter.
Sam: Yes, you would be the one.
The New York Post says Kurt thomas is a possibility for the knicks next season.
Sam: So is I assume by the end of the summer perhaps 150 other players, which was the number of guys the New York papers identified as potential targets, actual targets or sourced targets last summer. Kurt will be in demand next season despite being 39 by next season. I can make a case that given his salary combined with his contribution, Kurt was the Bulls’ best free agent acquisition.
Is Danny Granger a lesser version of Tracy McGrady?
Sam: Well, they are tied in first round playoff series wins. With me.
I was just watching your interview with chuck and was surprised to see you ditch the mr. roger's neighborhood look for a shirt that looks like it was made in this decade... heck i would probably wear that shirt and im only 23. are we witnessing a wardrobe update?
Sam: When the vest and saddle shoes ensemble goes out, perhaps. But it is difficult to imagine the end of a classic.