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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 6.10.2016
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By Sam Smith | 6.10.2016 | 12:06 p.m. CT
Shut off Game 2 at the end of the 3rd. My lord Kyrie/Kevin/JR no showed another game. Barbosa came in and was going in on Kyrie for a few minutes, unbelievable. LBJs biggest mistake was not leaving Miami (well ok it was lol) but demanding Wiggins for Love.
Sam: Well, the Cavs are back, sort of. We know the Cavs won Game 3 playing more desperately, hitting the boards and pressuring more. The great thing about these Finals games—and the worst—is how overanalyzed and over scrutinized each move and mistake is. Suddenly, it’s Curry who’s at fault and an issue. Can Curry and Thompson even be starters anymore in the NBA? It’s still on the Cavs as the Warriors have been in this spot before with several Game 3 playoff losses. And last year trailing 2-1. One of the big stories remains the Kevin Love should he play or should LeBron hit him on the head again. What, it wasn’t LeBron? I know the narrative of allowing LeBron to dictate damaging moves from the coaching change to trades. But, really, what else could they have done? He’s signing one-year deals and they were desperate to get him back. Especially after their scorched earth character assassination. They’re lucky he doesn’t make management wear their underwear on the outside. Kyrie Irving couldn’t even get the team into the playoffs. Sometimes you have to sell your soul. Many people do even by voting.
As the Jeff Goldblum character said in one of my favorite films, The Big Chill—yes, here I go again with references no one has ever heard of—where would we be without rationalizations. After all, ever gone a week without one? Most every team would have done it in this free agency era for Lebron. The intrigue will be if the Cavs and LeBron lose, which would be five Finals losses for the now aging LeBron. It won’t affect his legacy. Who else gets there that many times? Jerry West lost almost every time he was there. The speculation will be about Love, about whom it’s been about almost since he arrived. Sort of the Miami/Bosh effect. If LeBron and Wade lost, Bosh should have done something. I’ve theorized that, hey, as free agents maybe LeBron and Durant should pair up somewhere as both continue to fall short. Join forces. Plenty of teams will have money. Could LeBron attract Durant to all Cleveland’s vacation sites? Hey, he’s in Oklahoma City now. Maybe Noah changes his mind and does chamber of commerce ads. One scenario I like is the Kyrie for Chris Paul one. The Clippers are in for an overhaul with Blake Griffin’s cage fighting aftermath and the playoff failures. Maybe LeBron just starts going with the friends thing again. Though I don’t see Carmelo in Cleveland. Wiggins likely still would have been overwhelmed by all this, and LeBron was about right now last season. So the Cavs had to do that. It will be the story of the summer to see what they do next if they can’t get three more wins.
What are our chances of resigning Joakim Noah? I know he was not happy coming off the bench last. He’s the heart and soul of this team so he needs to come back. Unless Bulls are willing shell out of lot of money what our chances to bringing him back? If we can’t get Noah back then who can the Bulls really go after for Center?
Sam: The center position probably will be the center of attention for the Bulls this summer. Though I suspect they’ll weigh offers and consider dozens of possibilities, I expect the core of the team to return. I personally would welcome that because I do think injuries matter, as I’ve written many times, and being without the likes of Noah, Dunleavy, Butler and Mirotic for a month or more doesn’t enable you to rate a team. Next Brooks and Bairstow up? Plus, I’ll take my chances on Derrick Rose in a contract year and not coming off knee surgery for the first time in four years. But it’s a delicate balancing act as both Noah and Pau Gasol are free agents. Given neither is considered among the elite free agents, teams likely will not come after them first. Plus, both have indicated they’d like to consider the market. And that could take awhile. With so much money pouring into the salary cap this summer, teams are likely to pursue their priorities and later in the summer if they were unable to get someone then might offer huge contracts to fill holes or even spend to get up to the salary cap minimum with a new $90 million cap. So second and third tier guys might be inclined to wait and perhaps get a late windfall. Meanwhile, the Bulls aren’t in position to wait until later in the summer to see if Noah or Gasol want to return.
Yes, they could offer one or the other a big contract early, but you have to be careful given both are in their 30s and Noah has had knee surgery. You don’t want to tie up your financial flexibility going forward for sentimentality by locking in large, long term deals unless you are sure the guy can be part of a serious contender in the next few years. I doubt the Bulls even have a strong feel now about the center position given the uncertainties, so it may depend on which one wants to pursue the market for the long term this summer. Both are probably looking at it as their last contracts. They’ll likely want to max out as much as they can. So the Bulls also have to be ready July 1 to go after a center. Felicio showed he can play the position. And in the smaller NBA, Bobby Portis can probably fill in some. But they still need a starting center, probably athletic to run the court, and that’s going to be one of the big puzzles of free agency for the Bulls.
There are published rumors to the effect that Noah wants to go to the Timberwolves. True or false? Will the Bulls try to keep him? Also, regardless of whether Noah stays or goes do you think free agent Bismack Biyombo would be a good fit?
Sam: Noah could leave as a free agent. We know unexpected things happen in the NBA, but the last place he’s likely to go is Minnesota. One reason is they have three centers on the roster and thus he’d have zero chance to start. Remember that seemed to be an issue last season. Plus, Noah and Tom Thibodeau had, let’s say delicately, a very difficult last season together with Noah being moved to power forward. But this is the sort of blind speculation you’re going to see in the upcoming weeks with Thibodeau in Minnesota. Little of it will be grounded in reality, like the Noah speculation. So we’ll hear about all the Bulls players who played under Thibodeau. Though I’ve noticed his former assistants from the Bulls aren’t joining him, so Tom may be starting new, which would make sense. A better uninformed speculation may be Luol Deng, who is a free agent and fills a position where the Timberwolves aren’t strong.
I'm watching the finals half heartedly because the Bulls aren't there. My thoughts on improving the roster are as follows: Center is where they have a real problem. I love Noah but in this day can we have him on the floor if he can't score around the basket or from distance. The problem is there aren't many options in free agency. Maybe we go after Horford? He has been hurt also. Gasol was good, but can be a defensive liability so perhaps he's still our best option. Biyombo perhaps? Stay away from Whiteside, I'm not sure he is quite mature.
Sam: Another Biyombo mention, which is two more than I’ve gotten since he’s been in the league. But he probably is going to be paid a lot by someone after a good playoffs with the Raptors. You know how it goes: You see a guy do something in the playoffs and you think that’s who he is. Biyombo probably will ride that to a big contract and maybe he’ll be overpaid, though I’d probably take him over Tristan Thompson, who suddenly was a hero of Game 3 of the Finals and makes a lot of money. Money, money, money this summer in te NBA. Perhaps GMs never should watch the playoffs. We saw this happen with former Bulls, like Scott Williams, Luc Longley, Steve Kerr, Jud Buechler getting big contracts for hitting key shots in big games. Which doesn’t mean they will when they are not playing with Michael Jordan, or even Kyle Lowry. Biyombo has averaged about five points and six rebounds in five years. He’ll likely be asked for multiple years over 15 million annually. This isn’t fantasy sports. Once you have them, you have them.
Of course, the Bulls could use more athleticism, running the court and shot blocking at center. The complication is the Bulls can be in great free agency position next season with potential expiring contracts for Rose, Gibson and Dunleavy. That summer promises to be a much stronger free agency class. And with the ability to add multiple free agents (hey, want to bring a friend?) you become more attractive. It could be a mistake to threaten that by trying for minor upgrades this summer. Whiteside is an intriguing guy because he wasn’t even starting all the time for Miami and there always was talk they weren’t sure about retaining him despite his leading the league in blocks and having no center. Seems like a warning. Though athletic, young centers who can switch on defense are vital these days and for now Miami seems to indicate amidst the uncertainty with Bosh that they’d retain Whiteside.
The Jimmy Butler position issue has me thinking since you and others recommend moving him back to 3. If the Bulls would do this switch it makes them rebuild 2 positions. First, I disagree with the switch regardless of shooting % and working 1-2 with DRose. The NBA 2 guard has changed to a taller leaner player that Jimmy Butler fits very well as long as his 3 point % keeps improving. If Jimmy moves to 3 then who plays 2? Currently Holiday/Snell would be first options. Free agent? Who for the 2? With Jimmy at 3 what to do with Dunleavy and McD? Maybe the switch allows Bulls to let go of more of the current roster and find new pieces including new starting 2.
Sam: One thing about Jimmy is he’s always made himself better. That’s his strongest attribute as a leader. So being told his shooting is a weakness—and he brings it up himself a lot—I’m guessing he works at it pretty hard and who knows, maybe he comes back with a much better shot. With Rose and Butler able to draw attention, you don’t need a big money type shooting guard like Bradley Beal, though you’d like to have someone like him. All indications are he as a restricted free agent returns to Washington. There are shooters in a lot of places, like Europe, too. Perhaps someone like the Magic’s Evan Fornier, who is restricted. Not necessarily him, but someone like that who can catch and shoot. Maybe like a Marco Belinelli, the former Bull. Jamal Crawford? J.R. Smith? Courtney Lee? Arron Afflalo (if he opts out). Kevin Martin? Gerald Henderson? A Jody Meeks type? A lot for the Bulls depends on what they do at center. Without Noah and Gasol, they’re about $25 million under the cap. Divide it up on a few players? Pay someone big? They need a center, after all, if both walk on them. And you don’t want to get tied up with big money, long term contracts this summer on just pretty good players. You need great, and you need to take your shot at some point. You can’t be spending $20 million plus per year for your Harrison Barnes or Nicolas Batum types just because you can now. Good, sure, but not stars. It’s about stars. My bar for now would be is he better than Jimmy Butler? If he’s not, I’m not sure I’d want to pay him more than Jimmy Butler.
Is it just me or do you think Ben Simmons will be another Lamar Odom without all the psychological issues?
Sam: Well, Odom was pretty good. Simmons is being represented by LeBron’s agent (Kevin Love for the No. 1 pick? Kyrie Irving for the No. 1 pick? Start the rumors!). Nah. Simmons signed with Nike, though otherwise has been kept mostly hidden. It seems almost certain the 76ers will take him. He’s probably the right pick. He looks very talented with an all around game, passing and ball handling ability. But he looks like he needs the ball in his hands to be most effective, and it’s tough to do with such a young player. Plus, the 76ers have been most desperate to add a point guard with rumors about a trade for Jeff Teague being floated, though unverified. It doesn’t seem like Simmons can shoot that well, though he’s young and you can improve. There seem to be elements of Royce White with his play, though he obviously doesn’t have the issues. There’s such a premium on shooting now that as a No. 1 overall pick you probably need to at least be a threat. Odom had a pretty remarkable overall ability as a big man to run the offense, like it seems with Simmons. Odom developed into an adequate three-point shooter, as I suspect Simmons eventually should with his feel for the game. Odom wasn’t an All-Star, but was a major contributor on two championship teams. I think the 76ers would take that.
I like Adam Silver. He started the ‘last 2 minute report’ on the refs, and he won’t back down from the union (that wants it stopped). As he explained, it does three good things. (1) Increases respect for the NBA (because they’re being honest). (2) Increases respect for the refs (because it shows that the calls are overwhelmingly right), and (3) Improves the refs! The sheer numbers of bad calls have decreased significantly since they started these ‘reports’. The refs may not want the scrutiny, but it’s clear that at least some of them need it to do their best work.
Sam: Silver has been a terrific successor to David Stern thus far, though it was Stern would presented Silver with a mansion and he had to make sure the pool isn’t dirty. The last two minute thing is interesting and I don’t particularly like it, though you may be right. I’ve long been convinced the NBA officials are the best in sports and most scrutinized given the moving finish line with every call and rules changes. I think they were for the two-minute report initially as they believed it would show they got 95 percent right. It has, but that darned media keeps highlighting the other five percent. It’s like condemning a book for five spelling mistakes. Sure, pretty bad. But what about the 99,995 correct words? We’re not that kind of society, unfortunately. So the refs said get off our backs with this. The league is basically saying keep looking at the 99,995 even if no one does. I guess extra scrutiny never hurts, except with your ego and your neighbors.