Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 5.20.2016
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By Sam Smith | 5.20.2016 | 2:13 p.m. CT
Maybe I'm too optimistic but I don't understand some of the Media rag on the State of the Bulls. If we can re-sign Noah, along with what we have: Rose - 1 more year, Gibson-Mirotic-Butler-McBuckets-Portis, along with the 14th pick (hopefully we strike Gold there) and Felicio. Add a couple (tier 2) free agents and I don't see why the Bulls can't be a top 5 Team in the east? Your thoughts? What do I see that others don't? The Eastern Conference is not like the West. The East is still a one-horse conference. Bulls handled Toronto pretty well during the season. Washington-Detroit-Indiana-Atlanta don't strike fear in anyone's hearts. I would keep an eye on Boston though but that still puts the Bulls in the top 4-5 In the conference.
Sam: After seeing the Eastern Conference playoffs, I stand by my preseason prediction of the Bulls finishing second or third in the East. For the 2015-16 season. The only issue I have is they didn’t. But they could/would/should, all but did. There has been an incredibly angry, mean spirited media response to the Bulls season that doesn’t fully make sense. Sorry, didn’t mean to have “media” and “make sense” in the same sentence. I know plenty are in the nyaah, nyaah that the Bulls said they had a title contending team when coach Fred Hoiberg was hired. Let’s call that Donald Trump’s “truthful hyperbole” from his business book. What baseball team in spring training says they can’t win? What candidate says they can’t win. If you are honestly realistic you are portrayed as a loser. But with a new coach, new “leader,” new rotation players and various players coming off injuries and surgeries hardly any outside considered the Bulls serious title contenders. The general consensus (check the national publications and Las Vegas odds) was 48 wins. Healthy. They won 42. It happened in a rare Eastern Conference year not good enough for the playoffs. In some of the last four or five years it got you fifth or sixth. Sure, ninth place is no achievement. And a time for legitimate consideration and reassessment. But that kind of overreaction? Jimmy Butler is a bona fide All-Star. Derrick Rose is coming into a season off his first healthy season in five years. Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott finally have one full year behind them. Bobby Portis, as well. The center situation has to be worked out, but the Bulls likely will sign one or have lots of money to sign someone else. They’ll add a low lottery pick which should provide a rotation player. They’ll have money to add a mid level free agent, at least. The coach also will know what he’s stepping into. The Bulls swept the Raptors; the Hawks, Heat and Hornets all got run out of the playoffs. The Pacers changed coaches. No one is better than the Cavs, and like last season there again next season will be eight or nine teams who can be second or 10th. Like this past season, the Bulls will have enough talent to finish second. After all, they’re still the only Eastern Conference teams in two years to give the Cavs a series. Any doubt they’d give the Cavs a better series than they are getting from Toronto? They could also miss the playoffs again if individuality trumps coordination and sacrifice. You just need a few more things to go right, some stability at center, some backcourt maturation. It’s not that bad. Unless you’re really angry.
I've been all over the place with suggestions on how to improve over the summer. But I don't think a blockbuster trade is available and I'm not sure one is necessary. Circumstances were less than ideal this last season. Pieces didn't fit, players were hurt, identity was in flux. If we resign Moore and Noah we have a solid ten again. With Gasol gone we have a better flow, and better hierarchy of responsibility. I believe with the team below we have a shot at regaining a top 4 spot in the East.
Rose / Moore
Butler / Holiday / Snell
McD / Dunleavy (experiment with who starts)
Mirotic / Gibson (experiment with who starts)
Noah / Portis / Felicio
I'm not sure McDermott is ready to start next year, depends on how much he can improve his defense. Same with Mirotic. He can light it up but Taj is more of a steadying force. Portis is 6'11" and if he can gain a little more muscle he can certainly become a Noah protege. I have no idea what to do with the #14, #48, Snell, or Felicio. Perhaps package some or all of them for a solid rotational player.
Sam: It’s going to be difficult to trade. I know there’s this “package them” mentality, but where are all these packages from the last few years? Your players lose value (artificially) when you miss the playoffs. After all, you only are worth what someone is willing to pay for you. Not how you compare with people in your field. Plus, with maybe 20 teams having maximum cap money this summer teams figure to be less willing to give up players than buy free agents. This is an uncharted summer for the NBA with all that cap room everywhere. Plus, the Bulls have to remain patient for 2017. Rose, Mike Dunleavy and Taj Gibson are free agents then. Maybe they finally get the Sacramento pick. There’ll be a money rush to spend this summer. It might be wise, especially considering the Cavs dominance for now, to not try to do too much for this season but position yourself with gradual improvement this season and then a chance to make a major case the summer of 2017. And maybe at a time when a lot of teams have spent their money from this past summer. Building, or rebuilding, or whatever one calls it in these situations is not an instant gratification, do-it-now-or-else scenario. You want to put together something that lasts and not overreact to one disappointing season. Don’t do a quick fix, and surely not the crazy, hysterical media/fan “blow it up” scenario of cashing in for draft picks, who basically are teenagers now. Seen that in 2001 and it doesn’t work. How many years have the Jazz been doing this and still aren’t in the playoffs. Even in the weak West where the Bulls would have been sixth with their record.
I agree with you that the Bulls greatest needs are a #2 (or a #3 who shoots like a #2) and a Center. I know who I want, but we’d have to move up for him – Buddy Hield. I like Denzel Valentine too (great name), but we may need a better athlete for Hoi-ball. If we go for a Center, maybe the Sabonis kid. Good DNA can’t hurt. Ask Steph Curry...
It was also interesting to review the Bulls draft history. Some great picks... and a few bad ones.
2000: Fizer drafted to play #3. Big mistake. Wish we still had Jamal Crawford
2001: Could’ve had Gasol instead of Tyson! I never liked Chandler, and still don’t.
2002: Don’t even want to talk about Jay-Won’t. What a moron!
2003: Loved Kirk (or ‘Kurt’ to VDN), but would’ve loved Wade even more. Damn Riley!
2004: Never a Ben Gordon fan (one-dimensional), but loved Luol!
2006: LaMarcus for Tyrus. Pax’s biggest boo-boo. Aaaargh! Thabo àTaj, That was nice.
2007: Noah from the Curry trade. Excellent!
2008: If he only stayed healthy...
Looking back on the Curry trade, we got Aldridge, Noah & Asik.... Not bad!
Sam: Although it’s popular to draft from behind—check the list after the draft and identify whom you missed, which by the way Jerry West decries as imbecilic—the Bulls mostly have done well overall in the draft. And you don’t mention Jimmy and Mirotic after the top 20. Golden State’s highest picks are Bogut and Livingston. Hitting 50 percent is Hall of Fame stuff in the draft. And while no one likes injury excuses, sorry, they matter. It didn’t look like in 2011 Curry would be an NBA player with severe ankle problems while every team in the league wanted Derrick Rose. That’s why Curry plays on a contract maybe half of Rose’s. But unfortunate and fortunate things happen depending on your perspective and you are better off being lucky. When you are not you have to accept the fate and move on. Not lie down.
Any chance the Bulls deal with the Kings to help them get out of the bottom 10? The Bulls have some players that could help them win now. With Rondo a FA they could use a PG. If they were able to match salaries wouldn't a trade centered around Rose make a lot of sense for both teams?
Sam: No one really believes a Rose trade makes any sense for an incoming team as a free agent to be, an injury history and making more than $20 million. The larger issue to me is Rose may be on the verge of his best season since 2011. Why walk away from that? If it’s not, he’s a free agent after this season. Rose finally had no major injury last season, showed flashes of previous form and obviously was extraordinarily careful so he would have no major injury and could show flashes of previous form. So he sat a little extra and defended a little less. One can condemn that, but you didn’t have three major knee surgeries in three years. And then a broken facial bone with another surgery. This season with the carrot hanging out there of free agency could be one of Rose’s best seasons of his career. Does anyone want to see that somewhere else? What’s the hurry to see it somewhere else? If it doesn’t happen, well, it’s not like you even have a backup point guard on the roster. No, Butler is not a point guard. He’s not even a shooting guard. And what could you get for Rose given his issues other than maybe some other bad contract a team wants out of that could mess up your financial situation for years? For this next season it would seem to me Rose should be more untouchable than almost anyone.
First of all, you can't get talent back without giving it up. Our biggest assets, in order, are Jimmy, Derrick, and the young guys. The more I think about it, the more I realize it'd be lunacy to hang on to Jimmy. He has the Cinderella story, can play at both ends, has a hell of a motor and is on a reasonable contract. I think the hype around him is enough to overshadow his (sizable) downfalls. Hopefully we can find value for him on the market as I strongly doubt anyone's lining up for Derrick. Plus, I'm willing to bet Derrick steps it up a notch or three in his contract year and we saw his confidence slowly building this season. As for the rookies, Bobby looks the most solid all-round and has some mongrel to him. Doug has a scorers instinct and defense can be taught. Niko's upside is big, but I'm shopping him because that kid is a textbook loose cannon.
Sam: It’s true that Butler has the most value on the market as a two-time All-Star. I’m sure there will be plenty of bogus and ersatz rumored talks and some perhaps going on as well. But there’s a reason why there will be. Because Butler has the most value as a two-time All-Star. You better get a lot if you are giving that up, and I don’t consider that some picks in a draft in which some teams aren’t even sure where you’d play the likely No. 1 pick or how effective he could be without much of a shot. Porzingis was a great pick for the Knicks. They’re still not close to a playoff team. You have one All-Star, basically, though Rose and Pau Gasol could be. Rose and Butler weren’t great together last season, but why give up so quickly as both are potential All-Stars. If they can’t work it out you always can do something. Missing the playoffs often opens some eyes. After all, how great can you say you are if you are ninth? So maybe Jimmy drops a bit of that “I’m the man” stuff and goes back to work. He’s basically done nothing but say he will in the off season. Maybe Derrick ramps it up. You may say free agency, but who cares if the team benefits. Both have grown accustomed to handling the ball. So there has to be some sacrifice, some compromise. Coach Fred Hoiberg has to insist on some, and after a season he’s in better position to enforce it. Both have a lot riding on playing well. Less playing time sends a strong message. After all, no one will be picking them to be top four this season. Everyone has a lot to prove. When people do they can show great change if they are basically good people, and those guys have demonstrated they are over the years.
What do you think will happen this offseason? I really want the Bulls to bring back Deng since he is a free agent and probably won't be too expensive either. He would help make a difference in our lost locker room. I don't think we should bring back Pau but hey if we can get Noah and Deng back together I do think it can help get back to where we need to be.
Sam: It’s time to move forward, not backward. It was a fun, if not fulfilling, time with Noah and Deng a few years back. But they’ve both gotten older and slower and more fragile. Make the Bulls Great Again! They weren’t so much. Other than when Rose was MVP. The Noah situation is interesting. We all love him, and I admit I never thought I would after his rookie season. But he grows on you with his enthusiasm and team first mentality. I’m not sure what else Hoiberg could have done with basically a mandate to speed play and open the court and we all saw Gasol/Noah wasn’t a great starting fit previously. Bench Gasol? Probably would have been worse in a contract year. Noah getting hurt for more than half the season while easy to dismiss clearly was worth a few wins and a playoff spot. OK, forget that; discussed that. But Noah was in a contract year as well; no matter how much they deny it or say they only think about the team and now, well, they don’t. No one does. Going to the bench in a contract year is devastating, and one had to. Hoiberg was lose/lose on that one and it led to issues. But you were playing for a title when you acquired Gasol, who by the way was in demand—and still is—by top teams like the Spurs, Clippers and Warriors. There’ll be, I’d say, at least four or five new players on the roster. I’m interested as well to see whom.
It seems like the organization has admitted that Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler are tougher co-existing than they previously thought and I have also been hearing a bunch of rumors about the organization looking to trade butler (my guess is because it'd be an unfavorable trade for them if they traded Rose by some miracle). Personally I don't want either of them to be gone. With that said though, management is going to make decisions one way or another. Have they tried looking to Milwaukee for a trade? Again, I don't really want Butler to be traded, has management thought about reducing the amount of time the two have to co exist? Butler played almost 37 mins per game and Rose almost 31 per game. Why not just have Derrick play about 28 minutes per game and Butler 30 and the only time they need to work on co existing would be at the start and end of games (if needed)?
Sam: Hoiberg talked about that at the end of the season, but it mostly is an issue with how they see the game. The narrative has been—outside logic, here—that they don’t play well, so they don’t like one another, feud, etc. They don’t play great together sometimes because they both are ball dominant players. But there are teams like that who are successful—one is in the Western Conference finals now and another in the Eastern Conference finals, if the latter is winless—so you can make it work. Derrick has been a lead point guard since grammar school and won a league MVP award that way. Tough to change. Jimmy became an All-Star while Rose was rehabilitating by dominating the ball, attacking the basket with his physical play to get to the line. Tough to change. With Jimmy’s work ethic, I’m confident his shot will improve. Same with Rose, who was starting to shoot the three well before his ACL injury. I’m a believer in putting my best players on the floor for as long as they can and they’ll figure out a way. Jimmy got suckered a little bit, I feel, last season by being goaded into the narrative that he was in charge. I think we’ll see him back off that. Similarly with Rose, who never quite seeks that role, anyway. The Bulls had that issue a bit with Pippen, and Phil Jackson gave Scottie his time running the team with Michael off the floor that allowed Pippen to grow into the role of a more forceful offensive player. There’ll be some of that as well, I’m guessing, to give Jimmy time at point guard, perhaps, or in isolations, though the hope is both become more attuned to pushing, throwing ahead and running. Missing the playoffs should provide enough motivation given once you do you’re not exactly considered elite anymore.
On the triangle. Supposedly Jeff Van Gundy said Hornacek doesn't have to run it.
Sam: Nice to see local guy Jeff Hornacek get another shot after it seems confusion in Suns management with several deals undercut him. The larger problem Phil Jackson has had in New York is trying to explain basketball to much of the New York media. It’s a tabloid media city, for the most part, which seeks out confrontation rather than cognition. It’s never been triangle or bust for Phil, but a system, really, any system. He happens to like that one because it enforces movement, spacing and passing. Sound like Golden State? He’s a student of Red Holzman, who didn’t run the triangle but enforced the same principles of having five players to pass, move and shoot. Phil always believed you need a system of play for players to fall back on because they’ll need that in hard times. Which is why he didn’t call those timeouts. The players have a system they can rely upon. They don’t need someone to hold their hand and tell them what to do all the time, because you can’t do that throughout a playoff game. That’s why Jackson’s coaching not only won because he had Jordan, Shaq and Kobe, but won after Jordan hadn’t for six years and Shaq hadn’t for eight. Shaq and Kobe won in Phil’s first year and Jordan in his second. So some hung the triangle on Phil in New York as a pejorative because it was hard to understand how the game worked without a screaming headline.
New NBA logo, Steph? If he never played another game, he is what basketball players and people should be all about! I think Jerry West (my all-time favorite) would be proud! A lot of kids don’t even know who Jerry West is, but everyone knows Steph! It’s time.
Sam: Don’t you have to be at least 30 before they build your statue?
Didn't you write once that Jordan wanted to retire after the 6th championship? If so, does it perplex you that he keeps saying he wanted to come back and go for a 7th championship only the Bulls broke up the team? Just wondering.
Sam: I’m not sure where he is supposedly is saying that, but I know then he said he didn't want to play anymore. I know he was offered a contract with a raise from $33 million for the 1998-99 season and was assured every player from the 97-98 team would be offered contracts with raises to match the length of his contract. And as Phil was leaving, Michael could determine what coach he wanted to play for. Yes, Phil had enough with Jerry Krause. But consider: If you are the owner and your GM is coming off winning his sixth title in eight seasons do you fire him to keep a coach who said he always believed a coach’s voice had a maximum of seven years with a team and this was Year 9? And Jackson has acknowledged he was offered a multiyear deal in 1998 to stay but didn’t want to be part of any eventual rebuilding. He was overdue for his sabbatical. Several players including Pippen rejected the possibility of such offers to stay with Jordan and were committed to being free agents, including Longley, also. Longley got a huge, multiyear deal the Suns quickly came to regret and same with the Rockets and Pippen. Scottie’s 1998 surgery effectively ended his career as an athletic player, and then he feuded with Barkley on the Rockets. It was a mess. Rodman did want to return, but you may have seen how much his game had collapsed when he played 20 games that season with the Lakers and they cut him less for his distraction than his physical inability. Plus Jordan badly cut his finger during the 1998-99 lockout and has admitted he couldn't hold a basketball with one hand anymore that year. And when he did come back with Washington, he needed knee surgery that first season as he was having knee problems during that 1997-98 season. It’s a good storyline to say the team was broken up and left alone the players would have played on to continued glory. They were done, and Michael understood that better than anyone. He knew even he didn’t have enough to carry them again as he was basically without an injured Pippen the last two Finals games in 1998. Michael, Pippen, Longley, even Buechler with a multiyear deal broke up that team because they knew even without saying out loud that it was over. Fans and media always regret teams or players that stay a year too long. This one didn’t. They knew better than everyone. They should be applauded for that by the conventional wisdom.
Call me crazy but I think resigning Moore, grabbing an energy a Bazemore or (Carroll) type and making some kind of move for a center would be a smart off season. Butler was a bit tone deaf this year but I think his heart is in the right place. He just cares and attacked the situation with what has always worked for him, hard work and personal responsibility. Trading him would be short sighted. I think Paxson is too smart for that. Speaking of Paxson, he called out Rose for defense, which was smart. Rose has pride. I think he'll step up next year. A bench coach shakeup has been reported. I think next year will be much more competitive and entertaining.
Sam: I agree, unless, of course, it isn’t.