Sam Smith Mailbag: 1.27.17
Sam Smith answers reader questions and discusses the Bulls' recent frustrations
What’s with the Wade? The team better improve or I’m opting out of my Deal? Really, he came to Chicago in a Cash-Grab in the first place. If it was about winning, him & Bosh should have signed with the Bulls in 2010 when we had a healthy Rose, Noah and Deng. We (Bulls) need to find a way to develop players and have patience with them. Bulls can’t keep drafting players Like McBuckets, Valentine, Portis and Mirotic and lose confidence in them after 1-2 years.
Sam: Yes, it was quite the week in Wade’s World. I think the opting out threat was a bit misconstrued earlier in the week by some erroneous reports. He said pretty much what he had been saying or what was expected, that he’d consider his and the team’s options after the season; of course, success mattered, stuff you could picture him saying when he signed. That’s why you have an opt out, and what else should he say? Everyone says they analyze their situation at the end of the season, the team, too. As for the blowup—done the most matter of fact I ever have heard such a thing—well, I’m going for not enough sleep. Remember this was the second of a back to back. They had been in Orlando the night before, flew back after the game, had to get in early with traffic in Chicago with rain during the day. Maybe took an hour to get to the United Center, 15 minutes to go one block. Hey, everyone’s more cranky with less sleep. OK, maybe not. We’ll find out more what this was about in the coming days since the team took off Thursday.
No talk about one of this team outing bonding dinners that I’ve heard. I can see Wade saying as a veteran leader and champion this was his role, what he is here for, to deliver these wakeup calls and demand even of players who think they are working hard, that when you think you are working hard, that’s when you have to start working hard. Maybe it makes for a better, more serious team, though a look at the record suggests this was pretty close to about where the predictions were. So maybe it was Wade’s starting gun: OK, we play .500 ball into the middle of the season; now get ready to think about things and give everyone a kick in the rear to make a run after the All-Star break given that the East—and now even Cleveland—has been a mess as well. As an aside, pick me, LeBron, pick me. I know why you’re losing. Sure, Kyle Korver is good, but if you play him with Channing Frye and Kevin Love, like you do, and you mostly want to facilitate as you do, you are going to give up a lot of points, as you do. OK, back to Wade.
The Bulls were one of those missed threes or Atlanta not going Golden State on the Bulls from winning that game, in which they played well, and were on the verge of being sixth in the East. They’re only about five games out of second with Toronto also in free fall. So you can despite your own issues do something in the East this season, and maybe Wade recognized that and a little kick in the rear was OK since he could do it with his status when Butler really still couldn’t as the best player last year on a team that missed the playoffs, as he himself has noted.
It’s not my style of motivation, but I also don’t have the three rings. I’ve got a high school ring no girl would take, one from college, oh yeah no one would take that one, either, and a wedding ring I can’t get off, so I’m staying married because I can’t do that dramatic throw the ring in your face thing and leave. I’m still also not ruling out the no sleep, cranky and the shower water may not have been hot enough thing.
I've been following this team for a long time. I don't remember a scorched-earth postgame session like this one after the Hawks game, especially in calling out teammates. Can you? And assuming they were going off on Zipser/Niko for the threes, what the heck else were they supposed to do? They were open!
Sam: That is where I got lost a bit; yes, you can say—and I heard some discussion afterward about going to your best guys who are hot—but this Budenholzer is pretty good and I think he also noticed since they were trapping both Wade and Butler. All we ever hear is if you are open, you better shoot it, so they shot it; I agreed. I didn’t have a problem with those shots, either. If you are on the court at that time, you have to be a threat. That’s why I presume the non shooters weren’t, and Lopez was there if the mascot went off. No, Dwight Howard was on the court, so that made sense. But you’ll notice the Hawks got threes in their late run at the end from three different guys, moving the ball to the open shooter, to Schroder who Jimmy was guarding, Bazemore and Millsap, good but not exactly Steph Curry and James Harden.
Another aside here: If you watch those last three minutes and watch the defense, I counted five Bulls with their hands down on defense and mostly out of position chasing potential steals or turning their head on the ball. Plus, these things happen. It was a lot like the 2011 conference finals when the Bulls at home lost a 12-point lead to Wade’s (OK, LeBron’s) Miami Heat with three minutes left, a stunning 18-3 run to end the game against a much, much, much better Bulls team playing in a much bigger game. The Bulls went on to lead the league in wins the next season and, oh, we’ve talked about that enough.
OK, back to the other side of the ball. Jimmy always makes the point he wants those guys taking those shots, and Fred as well, that if you don’t you can’t be on the court. So the mixed signal thing was a bit confusing, which is why I’m going with the motivational ploy thing for now. It did seem somewhat orchestrated given Wade’s moderated tone, both Wade and Jimmy coming back into the locker room from the shower together (they have gotten close), Wade speaking first with Jimmy watching and then Wade stopping and saying Jimmy was waiting for you (media) guys and go talk to him. We felt like props, but given as you say we haven’t heard much like this from a player in a long time, everyone herded over like those mass media scenes you see moving in concert.
I was looking for the puppet strings on the reporters to see where they would be dragged next. Fortunately, the Hawks were big time and left a Malnati’s pizza in the press room after the game. That’s right, free seats and pizza. No wonder none of us was ripping anyone.
I know you're not on Instagram - just making sure you have seen this from Rondo: My vets would never go to the media. They would come to the team. My vets didn't pick and choose when they wanted to bring it. They brought it every time they stepped in the gym whether it was practice or a game. They didn't take days off. My vets didn't care about their numbers. My vets played for the team. When we lost, they wouldn't blame us. They took responsibility and got in the gym. They showed the young guys what it meant to work. Even in Boston when we had the best record in the league, if we lost a game, you could hear a pin drop on the bus. They showed us the seriousness of the game. My vets didn't have an influence on the coaching staff. They couldn't change the plan because it didn't work for them. I played under one of the greatest coaches, and he held everyone accountable. It takes 1-15 to win. When you isolate everyone, you can't win consistently. I may be a lot of things, but I'm not a bad teammate. My goal is to pass what I learned along. The young guys work. They show up. They don't deserve blame. If anything is questionable, it's the leadership.
Sam: Well, you can’t say they’re not interesting. Perhaps not as they’d like to be, but that’s also why we love this game. You have to like what Rondo had to say, basically who he is, a teammate rushing to the aid of a teammate. It’s why Chicago fans disliked him so much when he was with the Celtics, taking down Brad Miller, going after Kirk Hinrich. You took a shot at someone on his side and he had their back. It’s why I always liked the signing despite the playing issues with shooting and the so called discipline problems, which weren’t all his doing. The Bulls haven’t had many of these guys, and certainly not without Noah.
Rondo has been closest with the young players on the roster, working with them at summer league, being in early before camp to practice with them. He’s the basketball junkie who just loves to play, so he plays with the young players. He knows they don’t slack off as Wade and Butler in their apparent frustration/motivation suggested after the Hawks loss. There were tweets (I do know what that is) from Grant and I think Isaiah Canaan and maybe Carter-Williams defending themselves, and so Rondo saw kids who needed someone to have their back. So he took it with a reasoned response.
Butler and Wade had their say; Grant, Carter-Williams, Mirotic, McDermott were in no position to respond given their lack of credentials. Rondo has plenty. He told teammates he had their back. No matter the message, you can’t be upset with that. Again, I think this was a bit of a motivational thing from Wade; perhaps he doesn’t do it the same way again; maybe he does. But when you put yourself out there like that you have to understand there’ll be a response. Maybe it will all be a positive even if it doesn’t exactly look like that now.
I love this Bulls team but I cannot wrap my head around what either management or the coaching staff are trying to accomplish. Help me understand what the Bulls are doing with the point guard position, the endless rotation changes, and death to any consistency that helps players, especially young players, get into a groove, gain confidence and with that solid production. As a fan, I am embarrassed. And I tend to stand behind the choices made by my favorite team.
Rondo wasn’t a fit in the starting unit, I like the back-up role with the shooters opening the lane for him. But sitting him several games? You knew what you were getting in Rondo, so work with it. If I were a veteran free agent considering the Bulls I'd be looking at that heavily. And now the flip-flopping of MCW and Grant at the starting position?
Sam: So this is the way I see it since management and media generally are best telling you why something did or didn’t work rather than what will. The Bulls had no point guard on the roster after the Rose trade, and Rondo as a short term, one year place holder made sense to most everyone. Sure, there were issues, but he did lead the NBA in assists last season. It seemed like a bargain. So then Wade shocks everyone and wants to come and then Khris Middleton gets hurt and Milwaukee needs a shooter, so then Michael Carter-Williams, a former rookie of the year point guard, falls in your lap for a guy you weren’t playing in Tony Snell. And you have Jerian Grant from the Rose trade, even if he’s not quite a point guard. Rondo suddenly is not needed once Carter-Williams is healthy. OK, so he takes a vacation out of the rotation.
This season is nine new players and you cannot use them all given Butler and Wade are getting big minutes. So you run them in and out. Hoiberg has been consistent in this inconsistency: If you play well, he stays with you. When you stop playing well, he tries someone else, which seemed to be the case with Carter-Williams, who had a pair of poor shooting games and difficulty guarding smaller guards, though he’s a legitimate player. The larger issue is Rondo didn’t work into being the starter they planned on because once they got Wade, who doesn’t spread the court, to go with Jimmy, Rondo’s effectiveness was limited. They also went into the season believing Mirotic with his shooting would win the power forward/stretch four spot, further enhancing Rondo. But when Taj triumphed, it lessened Rondo again with another mid range player.
So now Rondo was—no fault of his when signing on—a liability with that starting five, who didn’t much like to run the court. They found a place for him with McDermott, but that’s limited minutes and no place for an Alpha. So, like last summer, they’ll still need a high level starting point guard. Remember in Rose they had a superstar point. They’re tough to find, like NFL quarterbacks. Let’s also remember, by the way, that last summer’s roster was more the first step after the breakup. They broke up the roster in two weeks with Rose, Noah and Gasol leaving. The big moves were short term—Rondo and Wade—to give them time to adjust and consider how they wanted to proceed given there were going to be new salary cap rules, which are just coming out, and there was the gold rush of $100 million contracts flying out to pay modestly talented players.
The future wasn’t exactly about this season. I know everyone judges each season by the last game, but, hey, this is a process, too. They’re all processes until you succeed.
Now will Melo waive his clause or you still think he will stay put?
Sam: Stay. I think this is why Phil Jackson has resorted to this oblique campaign, which is the way Phil does things. We all ought to be used to this in Chicago for the messages Phil sent through media or players or smoke signals. That’s Phil’s way; he’s not confrontational. He likes to experiment with words and letters; he’s a big crossword puzzle player. He likes to make up words based on how the sound fits the meaning in his view.
Remember, Anthony was the anchor he was given when he took the job, and when Anthony was being romanced by the Bulls, Jackson said the Knicks would be good if he stayed and good if he left. Hello, that’s not hint enough for you? If Anthony ever wanted to be traded or leave, he surely could have since he had the leverage. He hasn’t. And now it’s probably too late. He’s not a particularly appealing player to add to you team going on 33 this May with various knee surgeries and lot of mileage, his body not as fit as it once was. He’s a stretch four now in this NBA, no longer able to play on the perimeter, though he clearly doesn’t like the contact to play inside.
It seems obvious even his buddy LeBron doesn’t want him. The Clippers would take him for Blake Griffin? C’mon. Plus, he’s had chances to push his way out previously to better teams, like the Bulls, and always said no to stay in New York with clearly inferior teams. He’s made it clear. He’s staying in New York to finish his career. It’s almost impossible to construct a contender with an elephant in the room. Because, well, there’s a lot of crap to clean up.
I think the Bulls need to be bold and not hold back. They need to not over value some of our players. Two trades I think the bulls should look into doing:
#1- Taj Gibson for Tyus Jones, Adrien Payne
#2-Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant, Doug McDermott to Philadelphia for Jahlil Okafor, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarott, 2017 2nd round pick.
Sam: So now overvaluing is a player with an expiring contract for two really good young players and the No. 3 pick in the draft for three guys either off your bench or who duplicate what you have? Plus, the money doesn’t come close to matching. There’ll be plenty of trade scenarios and speculation coming, but little really happens mid season and you don’t restructure your roster in February. There’s plenty of time. I don’t expect the Bulls involved in anything significant until after the season.
How much of this starting PG rotation is being decided by Fred Hoiberg? I know he’s mentioned that today’s change to Grant was his decision, but I wonder how involved the Front Office would be in these changes…and does any of it have to do with the trade window coming up?
Sam: I know fans love these back room conspiracies and players being displayed for trade. I don’t believe any coach does that; they are about winning each and every game because then we all ask why the heck did you do that? Fred makes the decisions. He has staff input, but not management. I’m sure they discuss personnel, but the Bulls historically have been good in insisting management not be involved in lineups. Minutes played, OK. Not lineups.
Why not Nate Robinson as our point guard? Here’s what he posted on social media:: "Looks like my guy Jimmy and Dwade needs a real animal to come help, I've been here guys just waiting to help a team I know the Chi got love for me still ??? I could be wrong, I just wanna play guys #natebacktotheNBA #facts y'all know what I did when I had that Bulls uniform." Robinson made a similar overture to James on a photo of James' postgame rant following a loss to the Pelicans on Monday.
Sam: The presence of the loudest, most obnoxious locker room presence who even drove Thibodeau nuts and demanded he not be resigned should be the answer. I must be slipping to not have thought of that.
I found it interesting Wade and Butler called out their teammates for poor shot selection basically saying the ball should have gone to them.
From where I sat (in my living room in Australia) Zipser was open for that 3.......
Niko on the other hand was at his usual spot , 1 meter from the 3 point line.
The defensive lapse was on the 5 that was out there when Atlanta hit three 3s in that 70 second stretch.
The post game interviews were more interesting than the game yesterday.
Where do we go from here?
Sam: It looked eerily similar in the Northern Hemisphere, as well. We can debate the “hot hand” vs “play the right way” pass all day (and night I think where you are or maybe next day or yesterday. Look, we’re Americans; we don’t pay much attention to the rest of the world). But the answer is in the success. If Mirotic or Zipser hit the shot, it would have been the right play. Since they missed, they needed to go to the hot hand, though as we saw with Wade’s bricked 20 footer with 1:50 left that three guys were coming to him and that baseline fadeway that was working so beautifully was not going to be so easy. And though Jimmy did score on that driving bank with 44.7 seconds left, he had to look like a football fullback, and they’ve even calling offensive these days on LeBron barreling in on some of those. Where to go is to play Miami Friday as the hope is Wednesday becomes just another game, though giving the fans and media plenty to talk about. And who said this season would be boring?
So the Spurs sat Leonard with the alleged claim of a sore hand. Would you like to make a bet that if the game is at home he wouldn't have sat? The NBA needs to do something. I think that it's great that the Bulls will play their players or sit them when they need to – but not just because of home or away games. The Spurs have really taken this in a bad direction and I don't appreciate it. They’re violating that trust.
Sam: It’s not just the Spurs as the Cavs have found this as well. I rarely get into disputes with coaches, but did with Tyronn Lue back in preseason when no one among the Cavs basically showed. I agree; the NBA has lost control and has a responsibility to its fans even if the teams often don’t see it that way. One issue is the NBA basically used to require a doctor’s note, so the teams hired their own phony baloney doctors to fake the notes. The league didn’t have the staff to keep checking. Then we went to the honor system, and you know about how that works in sports. I agree they most need to play on the road, especially when it’s interconference and one game a season. I’d come up with some surprise system. If a guy isn’t playing and a league doctor drops in and he’s OK, then it’s five games off. After all, if the game is for the fans, then make it that way.
I was against sending Rondo anywhere let alone the Cavs but now I see we are just totally wasting him. The Cavs are desperate for him and Lebron is constantly shouting out for pg help to Kyrie. Sure they don't have much to give back but do they at least have a late 1st rounder to give up and a young athletic wing who isn't getting court time? Lebron is the king of the superteams and whatever he wants, he generally gets. Even if the Cavs are paying overs. They also seem to pull in 3rd teams to get deals done which gives us more options on something to help us now.
Sam: I don’t think Rondo fits the Cavs because LeBron controls the ball and wants shooters to play off him. Rondo would clog things for them without the ball, which is why Fred had to basically stop playing him with Wade and Butler. And LeBron certainly isn’t running the court to accommodate Rondo. And come playoff time, LeBron isn’t coming out of the game much, anyway. I think they wait to see who gets bought out.
It’s kind of laughable LeBron insinuating they’re cheap since they have the biggest payroll in the league, pay the largest luxury tax and probably will lose money as a result. They have paid out above market contracts to the players represented by LeBron’s buddy. The Cavs have to win now; they’ve been pushing that agenda more than anyone in the NBA because of LeBron. I agree with that for them. But because of other moves, surely LeBron inspired, they don’t under league rules have a first round pick they now can give until 2021. Given the Bulls circumstance, I believe there will be a lot of talk and rumors, but usually not much gets done at the trading deadline. More, these days, comes from buyouts of players eligible for the playoffs, which is the early March date.
Zipser? Maybe another Jimmy 4 years from now?
Sam: I’m hardly predicting that, but Jimmy outworked us all with his potential. So I’m out of the prediction business.
I know that you were against Sam Hinkie's "process." I too thought that at a certain point they needed to start trying to win games; the trade of MCW seemed especially egregious. But it seems like that's finally happening -- slowly -- and poor Sam Hinkie wasn't allowed to stick around long enough to steer his vision to completion. If the 6'ers win a title with a core of Embiid, Simmons, and Saric, Hinkie should be given a ring and allowed to attend the ceremony. As it stands, Brian Colangelo may get all of the credit -- Jefferson to Hinkie's Adams.
Sam: I like the Jefferson comparison since Jefferson undermined Adams’ administration because of his love of France and riling up a public outcry over Adams’ refusal to make a friendly treaty with France to oppose England. Adams turned out right keeping us out of war then—Jefferson wanted us in on France’s side—especially because France then became a dictatorship under Napolean and Jefferson’s idyllic view of this harmonious nation was his classic fantasy. Then Jefferson disbanded the navy Adams built, so then in the War of 1812, the U.S. didn’t have the force to oppose the British and Washington was burned.
But Jefferson was a good writer. And Adams did get a law passed that jailed people who said bad things about him. Yes, those were the people we worship in the history books. Oh, yeah, back to basketball. I’m looking forward to Sunday’s game with the 76ers to see Embiid and hope it isn’t one of the other games he’s not playing. That’s what the “process” is, good luck. You get in the lottery every year and hope to get a break; he finally did with Embiid getting healthy and hopefully he stays that way. But a big difference is Bryan Colangelo coming in and not only explaining instead of Hinkie’s everyone-is-the-enemy approach, bringing in veterans to complement the kids. You need some stability and some veteran presence, neither of which Hinkie understood in constantly churning the roster.
Anyone can finish last every year. What about the Cavs “process” to get LeBron? That made them a contender. What about the Celtics “process” to get Duncan, but they drew the third pick and the Spurs got No. 1 and Pop could become a genius and speak about politics and Pitino went to Kentucky. At some point just about every franchise tries it; the Lakers are now and it’s tough and they still don’t have a franchise guy and basically are going nowhere for awhile. If the 76ers win a title, Colangelo will deserve the majority of the credit just as Jerry Krause deserved it over Rod Thorn, who drafted Michael Jordan. Hinkie deserves credit for understanding how to dump games without going to prison.
Putting the next generation of the Bulls together, I think you have to build around Butler. Without a foundation, it's really hard to put anything together. Wade has helped other players see that Butler is a guy you can play with. Keep McDermott, Felicio, Valentine, and Zipser. Keep Lopez if you can sign him for the right price. Keep Portis, Grant, and Carter-Williams as long as they're cheap. Now you've got some cap room going forward. Hopefully, someone will want to come and play with this team.
Sam: Well, that’s one way, and I’m quite sure it’s among the options. But I think much of this will come down to decision making after the season as opposed to emergency trading deadline measures when only a few teams care to deal, and they looking to steal from you. Remember, in February perhaps six or eight teams still think, hey, maybe if this or that happens we have a chance. In July, 29 teams know they weren’t good enough.
I'd rather watch Sean Kilpatrick pass to Chris Levert and teammates.
Sam: And then there’s that option.
I think this Bulls team isn't built for the regular season but is possibly for the playoffs. Playoff bball the game slows down and it comes down to the small stuff which bulls are good at. Rebounding second chance points low turnovers 50/50 balls and most importantly having superstars and superstars that can close out games as alot of games will be close and come down to last 5 minutes. And we have two of them.
If we can just avoid the 8th seed playing Cleveland and fall into the 6 or 7 seed we could potentially see them in the ECF. We've owned Toronto and teams like Boston Atlanta Charlotte don't have the superstar power to match against us. I'm not buying the wizards as a threat either John wall closed us out the other week but statistically hasn't ever been a guy who can close games.
Also the D wade we who had extra motivation because he had to back up his apology to the city with a big-time performance is the D Wade we will see every game in the playoffs playing more minutes and being more efficient and taking over more cuz that's how he is come playoff time. So I'm excited for the playoffs, just hope we get in. What do you think?
Sam: After this week, why not end on a positive note? Hey, crazier things have happened. And they do play those teams well and hardly anyone in the East has truly separated themselves, even now the Cavs. But there’s that making the playoffs thing.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.