Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
Ask Sam | Sam Smith Opens His Mailbag | 6.12.2015
Sam Smith of Bulls.com opens his Ask Sam mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers
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.
By Sam Smith | 5.12.2015 | 9:00 a.m.
There has been a great deal of speculation about how Hoiberg will handle the four bigs the Bulls have. People talk as though none of the Bulls frontcourt fits except Mirotic. But if you watched Gasol last year and in his time with Spain he can hit the three? Why not have Gasol play stretch 4 on offense with Gibson for defense and have Mirotic pair with Noah? Seems like it would work to me.
Sam: I think things are open and do expect those four in some sort of rotation. Though Pau technically was the best three point shooter on the team—46.2 percent last season—it was with just 26 attempts. He’s not comfortable being a long distance perimeter shooter. He prefers the mid range, and I think that’s another area where the analytics express arithmetic rather than reality. Sure, three point shots are worth more, but only if you are comfortable shooting them. I’d rather have seen Rose shoot more mid range last season, but I think part of the issue was the congestion in the offense with no one going out to defend Noah. So Rose found himself pulling up a lot more for shots that weren’t always in his comfort zone. I believe that changes next season with Noah back playing center.
I understand Thibodeau wanting to respect a veteran and all-NBA first team player and not bench him. It was an uncomfortable spot for a coach when the Anthony recruitment failed and the Bulls turned to Gasol. While it was a good personnel addition, it was tough for a coach given Gasol pretty much left L.A. because he didn’t want to play outside. Noah was classy in surrendering his favored position, the sort of ultimate team player Noah represents. But it obviously wasn’t best for Noah. The Bulls won 50 games and a home court, so it was hardly a failure. I’m not sure how the rotation will go yet—and I doubt Hoiberg does, either—but I suspect Noah will be back at center. He could play some with Taj or Mirotic. And so will Pau be playing center.
I don't care what anyone says, peak Kirk Hinrich was better than Dellavadova will ever be. Hell, this Kirk Hinrich might be.
Sam: I don’t believe that’s been a big topic at the Finals. But Kirk was a lottery pick, all-league defender and invited to play for USA Basketball, though he wasn’t able to in a contract year. Dellavedova has done well and deserves the credit he’s gotten, but we know what he is, a limited role player who works hard. These are the sorts of things that happen in the Finals because there are just two teams left and everyone is watching and everything is over analyzed and projected beyond reason. It also demonstrates why your average GM isn’t smarter than you, but just was luckier, and probably because he may have been a former player or knew one.
We saw this for many years with the Bulls. Jud Buechler would make some shots in the Finals, or Luc Longley or Scott Williams and have a big run and win some games. And then they’d be free agents and they’d get big offers and good for them. But suddenly they are not playing with Michael Jordan like Dellavedova is playing with LeBron James and defenses can react to them and they are asked to do it on a regular basis and that’s not who they are.
It reminds me a little bit of Brian Doyle. He was a reserve infielder for the New York Yankees in the late 1970s. I was a political reporter in Washington then but doing some sports free lance. I got to cover the 1978 World Series, which was a big thrill as I played baseball in college. Which was as close to the majors as I was ever getting. Willie Randolph got hurt, Doyle filled in and led everyone in the Yankees series win. He batted .438, even higher than MVP Bucky Dent. But he was Brian Doyle. He batted .120 the next season and never batted over .200 in his career. As we often say in Chicago, “Dellavedova, he’s no Kirk Hinrich.”
It’s ironic that the Cavs are beating the Warriors with a 90s style grinding and physical style of play, which has been the Bulls blueprint under Thibodeau. It also helps to have the best player in the world. The Cavs control the tempo and slowed down the game, and figured that the Splash brothers are really uncomfortable with physical play and driving the ball to the basket, not giving them any open 3s. A week ago the media was beating up Thibodeau and old school coaches and whether their style of coaching has any future in the NBA. Do you think the Bulls are making a mistake of trying to be more of a "run and gun” team under Hoiberg and not staying true to their defensive identity, which made them successful over the last few years?
Sam: You should play according to your talent. The Cavs have played smartly to the talent they have, which is mostly defensive other than James. Yes, having James helps. A lot. Next season the Cavs will be an uptempo, scoring team with Love and Irving back playing. You win with defense. That’s not changing. But you don’t have to walk the ball into your offense to play defense. The Warriors have done it well while pushing the ball and scoring. I think that will be the Bulls model and should be.
They were trying too much of that round peg square hole thing last season with the additions of Pau and Mirotic. They can defend; but they aren’t the lockdown defensive team they were when they had the likes of Keith Bogans starting, Noah at full health, Deng at small forward. It’s a different team now with the talent that demands a quicker tempo. As I always write, it counts as much to win 107-100 as 92-89. I don’t expect a Rockets type run and gun shooting threes team, but more a flowing offense with the defensive rules and commitment the Bulls followed under Thibodeau. Hoiberg will benefit from that base Thibodeau installed. The players will enjoy more the freedom and flow of a different offense. I doubt it leads to 67 wins, but I see the Bulls being better. Certainly more entertaining to watch.
What do you make of Jalen Rose saying that Wesley Matthews will sign with the Bulls this off season? It makes some sense since he is a good defender and runs the floor really well, and shoots 3s in transition, which I assume the Bulls will run more under Hoiberg. However, if Butler signs a max deal, is signing Matthews still workable with the salary cap? Would that mean Hinrich, Dunleavy and Brooks are not coming back next year? Another name that comes up is Jarrett Jack, which the Nets are trying to trade. He is owed about 12 million for the next 2 years and is only 31 years old. I think he would be excellent addition to the Bulls and a definite upgrade over Hinrich and Brooks. Any truth to these rumors?
Sam: No. So that’s where that came from. All of a sudden I was getting some mail about Matthews coming to the Bulls and hadn’t read it anywhere. Jalen’s on TV, so he’s not really a reporter but an entertainer. The Bulls, I believe, will work out a deal with Jimmy Butler unless Butler decides to play out another year to get to free agency and risk injury another year. It’s one thing with the $40 million or so deal he turned down last season. I wouldn’t have, but I don’t need as many pairs of cowboy boots. It’s another thing to reject some $100 million. I doubt Jimmy will do that; my guess is he’ll sign a deal, not become a restricted free agent, and then the Bulls personnel summer is basically over.
They’ll be well into the luxury tax and at that point signings come with severe penalties, resulting in multiples of the salary as a penalty. So not only is the addition of players like Matthews and Jack not likely or really possible given the Bulls have no free agency financial room, but you can pretty much ignore any of these personnel rumors. I don’t expect any major trades and certainly no free agency additions. It’s unlikely with the No. 22 pick the Bulls could move up in the draft without giving up one of the young players who have value, like McDermott or Mirotic, both of whom are expected to be part of the regular rotation next season. Hinrich has a player option and will be back. The Bulls likely will replace Brooks with a veteran minimum deal and I believe they’ll try to bring back Dunleavy. That would be your 2015-16 Bulls. Who will be very different because of a new coach, style of play and use of depth. They have enough personnel and several players who haven’t played enough and need to start playing.
I understand your expectation that the Bulls will resign Butler but make few team changes this off season. Yet with the terrible last game against the Cavs without Varejao or Love and with a limping point guard it’s a challenge to have championship aspirations next season for the Bulls. This is especially difficult given the current LeBron clinic against the Warriors.
It may be projected that McDermott emerges somewhat and Mirotic continues to improve but is that enough? Is it reasonable to expect Pau to perform as well as last season? ‘15/’16 may be entertaining basketball but these eyes have only a very faint hope for winning the East. It’s not like the young Jordan Bulls trying to beat the Pistons. How do you see it differently?
Sam: If you are an underdog should you give up? I’m not sure that’s the message many of us want to send in life. Someone is always the favorite; the favorite doesn’t always win. I like the fact that Rose and Noah will be coming off summers of workouts rather than rehab, that the best shooters on the team, Mirotic and McDermott, should play from the beginning and a team with some of the fastest players in the NBA will be looking to push and move the ball. Often changes in personnel don’t mean that much unless it’s LeBron. Take a look at some of the big free agent additions in recent seasons. Continuity is really more important. The Bulls will return with a veteran group mostly accustomed to playing together with a fresh voice, which should enhance enthusiasm. I expect the Cavs to be the favorites because of LeBron. They should be. But the favorites don’t always win. You’d like to think most people wouldn’t give up or concede defeat because the odds and predictions are against them.
Not so easy beating a Cavs team without Love and Irving after all is it? I now feel better about the Bulls performance against the Cavs. They are showing that Defense still wins you games in the playoffs/Finals. Is it possible that it was a blessing in disguise losing Love and Irving? Love never defended or rebounded with the tenacity that Thompson does, he makes everyone look like they don't know how to box out. Dellavadova frustrates point guards and harasses them on defense in a way that Irving never could, not to mention he always manages to end up with the loose balls. With the way they are defending right now, it's hard to imagine them doing the same with Love and Irving playing heavy minutes.
Sam: The injuries in some respects were fortuitous given it enabled the Cavs to put out a lineup that was anathema to the Warriors given the strong defensive component. But as you saw in Game 4 you can’t push that too far. It did seem to give the Cavs a look that they normally wouldn’t have had and which bothered the Warriors because of their uptempo game. It forced that radical lineup change for the Warriors in Game 4, which I loved and why Steve Kerr win or lose is going to be a great coach. Great coaching is not worrying what anyone thinks and taking chances. Sure, you need the study and repetition, but it’s also a game. Chess is a game, too.
A lot of coaches worry too much what people will say and how they’ll have to answer for a benching and what they’ll say to the player. You’re in charge; it’s not a lifetime job. Do the right thing for the team and then eventually look for another job. You’re compensated well. Kerr was so right to bench Bogut, who always has been a lazy and losing player. He was killing the Warriors not only with his inefficiency but his indifference. So Kerr benched him and Bogut playing again is probably the Cavs best chance to win the series. The basically single cover of LeBron was fine. The Cavs were only scoring in the 90s. The Warriors needed to score 100 points, which is what they do. So Kerr took a nice risk going that small with Green against Mozgov, who had a big game. But it also lured the Cavs to going more to Mozgov. But moreso it enabled the Warriors, especially in the first half, to speed up the game. They ran the ball out of the backcourt, which they weren’t doing, and they went at the basket harder, which they also weren’t doing. The Cavs defensive, slower play had lured the Warriors into casual play and Kerr did something dramatic to snap them out of it. He would have been widely condemned if they lost. So what. You do what you believe is necessary with the talent you have. If a guy isn’t performing, he should be benched. If he’s got pride he’ll respond. If he doesn’t respond, them you know who he is and begin to look for change. The Bulls have to hope in Fred Hoiberg they’re getting a coach who isn’t afraid to coach and do the right thing.
Regardless of what people say regarding Cameron Bairstow/the Bulls team, the Bulls still need 3 centers. With the fact Nazr Mohammed is 37yrs old, would it make sense keeping him, or someone young like Cameron Bairstow who's going to be 25yrs old next season.
Sam: I’d like to see them bring back Nazr at least as an end of the bench guy as he’s a terrific teammate and tough guy with strong league knowledge who could have and should have played more last season. But given the luxury tax considerations that as I note multiply salaries for penalties, it may prove too costly even with a smaller contract. I think Bairstow has a partial guarantee for next season, so he should be back along with E’Twaun Moore, who also has a partial guarantee. Both are good support guys who can fill nice end of the bench roles. I expect the playing time of both Pau and Noah to be reduced, so the four front court guys should have ample time to share. I assume the Bulls will look for backup point in the draft or possibly a backup center if one is available at No. 22.
Greg Monroe seems basically all for the Knicks taking now.
Sam: It was much speculated, but with the Pistons acquisition of Ersan Ilyasova it seems Monroe will leave as a free agent and the Knicks seem like a landing spot, especially with agent David Falk long familiar with Phil Jackson and wanting to have his client in a major market. Though Jackson gets a lot of criticism in New York, there’s little reason to judge anything he’s done until starting this summer. Though Carmelo Anthony had a tough season and injury, resigning him was the right move. Anthony is a lightning rod for criticism, but he’s a star offensive player, one of the league’s best. Jackson also cleared cap space and you have to give up contracts to do that. So Smith and Shumpert are in the Finals. Good for them, but they were hardly building blocks.
The Knicks got a bad break falling to No. 4 in the draft, which leaves open a lot of possibilities. Everyone expects Towns and Okafor to go 1/2 in some order in the draft. Then the next two most valued prospects are the point guards, Russell and Mudiay. No one figures Jackson wants to build for the future, so maybe he trades down to get someone ready, like Frank Kaminsky. Mudiay is considered by many perhaps the most exciting player, sort of under the Kobe Bryant model. But would Phil want to wait with an aging Anthony? Monroe would be a nice addition if that’s the way they go as he is a good post scorer. Maybe you cash in the pick for a veteran to go with Anthony and Monroe and that sounds like a playoff team, at least in the East. Which is a start. But can you afford to pass on potential great point guard talent? It should be a fun draft.
Joakim Noah+Taj Gibson in Sign and Trade with LA Clippers for DeAndre Jordan. Just because we don't have cap space doesn't mean we can't talk to free agents and make potential deals.
Sam: No, it doesn’t, though obviously your suggestion is pretty out there as the Clippers have one of the best power forwards in the league, making someone like Gibson unneeded. The Clippers need to make some major personnel moves, but primarily at shooting guard and small forward, where they are probably the least athletic and least talented in the West. Though I expect the Bulls will listen and rumors will come up, you’re not getting a big man for an injured Noah with one year left on his deal and because of Noah’s situation and Pau’s age and Mirotic’s inexperience, it strikes me you are not about to risk giving up Gibson with his front court versatility.
Scary thought......Cavs lose Finals, fire Blatt and hire Thibs. Unlikely.... But scary thinking of Lebron, Shumpert, Smith, Varejao and Thompson playing Thibs defense. Has a coach ever been fired after going to Finals? I can't think of any.
Sam: The one I remember most was Butch van Breda Kolff, who may be more famous for why coaches shouldn’t be allowed to consult on personnel. When he was coaching he persuade management (win now) to trade their future draft pick for Gail Goodrich. It was the pick that enabled the Lakers to draft Magic Johnson. Van Breda Kolff famously refused to put Wilt Chamberlain back in Game 7 of the Finals in 1969 after feuding with Wilt. The Lakers lost by two points with Mel Counts playing most of the fourth quarter for Wilt. Van Breda Kolff resigned shortly thereafter to avoid firing. Ed Macauley coached the losers in the 1960 Finals for St. Louis against Boston and then resigned to become general manager. I think given the 2-2 situation in the Finals and the way the Cavs have endured and prospered without Irving and Love I cannot see any way the Cavs (even if LeBron wanted to) would make a change. I actually think Blatt has done well all season except for that timeout call in Game 4 against the Bulls. But if they start next season 0-4, all bets are off.