Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls

Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 3.11.2016

Sam Smith of Bulls.com opens his Ask Sam mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers

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By Sam Smith | 3.11.2016 | 9:10 a.m.

Getting nine assists; that looked right for Rose. Fans who originally figured Derrick Rose is worth being traded: Dream on. This new version of Rose is exactly what the Bulls need/have been missing for a long time. New task: teaching Snell/Holiday how to shoot. Derrick Rose is no longer the problem.

--Kieron Smith

Sam: I am getting many fewer trade/release/bench Rose emails these days. It’s also why Rose always has been smart not to overreact/react to the criticism. Obviously, some is biased and prejudiced. But it’s also why team officials make the mistake—when they do—of responding to media accusations or suggestions. As Bill Veeck would say, you listen to them you’ll end up sitting with them. When the media/fans are wrong, they don’t say anything but, Oooops, never mind. And you’ve signed someone for six years or traded your team. Hey, anyone know what time the Blackhawks game starts? And they’re off to the next thing.

Rose has been brilliant this season in not so much ignoring the hostility and demands he do more--And right now!--but understanding what was best for long term success, which he also knows benefits his teammates, as well. So you can see how he basically separated the season into quarters, though set back more than he expected by the eye injury. But then getting a feel for the game, finding certain places for his shots, staying out of the air with the unnecessary dunks, building toward what works and hopefully a run for the team. Unfortunately, so many around him have fallen with Noah, Mirotic and Butler out. But he was the smartest guy in the room because for all those who screamed about how to succeed, he was the one who knew the best path and took it. All it drew was condemnation, yet he took the grown up path of not responding, keeping his head down and working instead of doing, as so many athletes do, engaging with critics.

Rose's actions and behavior transcended the narrative. Isn’t it interesting now that Butler with no major issues and what sounds like soreness has consulted additional experts and even in a crucial time for the team is listening to his body. It’s exactly the right thing for him to do with his maximum contract, but suppose it were Rose? So much of this latest with Rose began back on media day with some innocuous comment on free agency as opposed to Dwight Howard lately talking about, literally, what cities he might prefer, Kevin Durant talking about free agency every other week and getting less criticism than Rose received for some seeming stream of consciousness. What it suggests was more a grudge among grumblers than any semblance of equity and fairness. I know, I’m such a dreamer. Rose’s play since the beginning of the year, averaging around 20 points and shooting effectively on threes, is moving him back to the elite among NBA point guards. Sure, anyone can get hurt again, and you figure someone hurt—like someone ill—is more vulnerable. But one of the Bulls biggest issues coming up may not be so much what to do with Rose but how to persuade him to stay.


Remember that talk Hoiberg had with McDermott which immediately improved his game? Why isn't Hoiberg doing the same with Snell? Snell is looking completely lost out there. He's playing and even starts only by default because of all the injuries. His lack of confidence and aggression has always been a issue. His future with the Bulls is sure looking very dim at this point.

--Bambi Choy

Sam: Fred’s saying a lot, but Tony doesn’t shoot as well. It’s first a bit of media overstatement of the coaching effect. Not saying the coach isn’t important. After all, who’d call the timeouts and then everyone would get too tired with no water breaks. But that long season thing applies to media as well with a lack of story ideas, and then a player has a good game and there had to be some cause and effect: Coach told me he admired my new haircut and it gave me confidence that everyone wasn’t staring at me for the wrong reasons and it cleared my mind and I could relax and now all the shots look like they are going in. Got to have a story to get to the next game.

I’ve digressed again, haven’t I? Coaches talk to Tony all the time. Some episodes of The View have less conversation. When you are an athlete, you either are a great competitor or you are not. If you are not, it doesn’t disqualify you, but it makes the path much more difficult. Tony has had plenty of chances, especially in the last year. Thibodeau was forced into using him a lot the second half of last season, and it looked like he was coming along with some aggressive efforts, particularly defending LeBron James. Then Hoiberg practically handed him a starting job, Snell starting the fifth most games on the team this season and with maybe more scoreless games this season for any starter in the league, thus seeming to regress.

The part that’s difficult to understand is he works hard—so much for that cure all—is generally in the gym as long or longer than anyone and is a good teammate who is always enthusiastic and supportive on the bench. He does all those little things fans and media say are so important. The pro game is about making plays, and Tony tends to defer way too much. You can’t help the team that way, especially one in need of so much help with the injuries. In Hoiberg playing Justin Holiday so much now, the message seems clear: Tony is going to have to produce big if he gets a chance again to just earn a reserve role. But the way Holiday played in a strong game in San Antonio, those chances may no longer be coming.


I know the bulls talk about retaining Gasol, but if the bulls spend 20 mil/year on a center shouldn't they target the younger more athletic Hassan Whiteside.

--Rocky Rosado

Sam: In the other set of demands I generally get that the Bulls essentially trade/waive/bench most of their productive players, I’m also getting fewer emails these days about dumping Gasol as he continues to set all time NBA records for production by a center. It’s never quite clear whom some want playing after cutting Rose and Gasol. Anyway, Whiteside, whom the Bulls see again Friday, will be one of the more intriguing free agents this summer, if only because it doesn’t look like the Heat is all that certain about retaining him and they’re the ones who sort of discovered him. It’s an interesting balancing act the Bulls face this summer.

Their only productive centers are free agents and can leave. You assume they’d want to retain at least one, but the only way the Bulls can pursue major free agents this summer is to release both Gasol and Noah. Then if they cannot sign a center to replace them, Jawann Oldham, Mike Smrek and Wallace Bryant would look like hall of famers compared to what they’d have. Whiteside, obviously, puts up some great numbers and easily leads the league in blocks. Yet, Miami routinely sits him at the end of games—for defense, yet—and the speculation in Miami is they’ll see what sort of offers he gets before making a decision on whether to retain him. Doesn’t sound like a great endorsement.

Maybe it’s the Heat trying to throw off suitors, which always is possible with Pat Riley in free agency. Gasol clearly is not a long term option for any team. I still think this is a two-season glide path for the Bulls through next season before any major changes are worthwhile and you can marshal your pieces and make major moves. I don’t see how it’s much possible after this season with the current deals for Rose, Butler and the young players and the uncertainty regarding the centers. Plus, with perhaps 20 teams having salary cap space for a maximum salary free agent, you are in an unusually competitive environment and better be sure you can get a good one and not just overpay because you have money before you start giving up on the players you have. After all, it’s a pretty good Bulls team if healthy, so maybe get a look at them healthy before gambling on perhaps a guy who played for 10 pro teams in the U.S. and overseas before Miami got rewarded. And then you are committing a long term contract to a guy getting big money for the first time. How would a guy off 10 teams deal with that?


Good thing we didn't trade Pau, ha !He is amazing! Best big chicago ever had? My theory for attaining the 6 seed seems attainable! What do you think will be our end stretch depth chart for these last 20 games? 8 man rotation? Starters plus Moore, McD, and Mirotic? Do Brooks, Holiday, Portis get pushed out? I think they should in an effort to gain momentum and chemistry for the playoffs?

--Matthew Mikulice

Sam: I’m guessing you were among the Pau off with his head brigade. Not so sure about what’s attainable. Given the latest uncertainty with Butler, I still think it’s not going to be easy to just make the playoffs. Starting with next Monday’s trip to Toronto, the Bulls close with 10 of 18 on the road and at least 10 of those games against teams fighting to get into the playoffs or for vital positioning. The Bulls close with six of their last nine on the road. And teams the Bulls have been contesting for the bottom spots in the East playoffs, Indiana, Charlotte and Detroit, have been playing some of their best ball of the season. It seems clear Hoiberg has narrowed the rotation to go with the players who can be most productive.

But the team is again without Butler and no certainty when he’ll play, though it doesn’t seem he won’t be out too long after a positive review from Dr. Andrews in the second opinion. They’ve essentially got an undrafted player who never has played meaningful NBA minutes and two rookies, Bobby Portis and Doug McDermott, who rarely played last season, as the meat of the bench with the injuries. Assuming Jimmy gets back healthy with that starting group with Dunleavy and Gibson, I think the Bulls have a good chance to make a late run, though they went into the Spurs game closer to 10th than fifth. Next Wednesday’s game in Washington could be a season turner.

If the Wizards win and gain the tiebreaker edge and get back in the race themselves, then the Bulls maybe are in a tough spot with four teams going for two spots. Healthy, even as underdogs, I don’t believe the Bulls would be intimidated facing Cleveland even with all the losses in recent years to LeBron James teams, especially healthy. The Bulls are 3-0 over Toronto. Getting in could prove more problematic than winning a round.


It seems inevitable that Pau Gasol will be back next year. Moving forward, I don't know how long Gibson will play at his level and I question if Mirotic is a good fit to play with Gasol. My question is what do you think of a trade with the Thunder, Gibson and Mirrotic for Ibaka? It feels like Ibaka is losing his welcome in OKC and his shot blocking should pair well with Gasol's lack of defence, plus he can hit an open three. Gibson would give the Thunder a low post presence and Mirotic still has potential to become a part of their future as well as add depth to their weak lineup. What do you think of this idea?

--Steve Schnakenberg

Sam: I assume Oklahoma City may be thinking the same way: Maybe Taj Gibson is in decline. Let’s get him! I don’t think he is in decline, but the larger point is the Thunder, who may be the best playoff story. The Warriors, Cavs and Spurs are favorites; the Thunder is the enigma. And with the biggest questions given Kevin Durant’s free agency. I’ve long believed he would resign for another year to get the tens of millions of dollars extra he’d earn by opting out instead in the summer of 2017 with the second year of the enlarged salary cap.

But they’re such an erratic team, essentially playing no differently with the new coach, though with such high estimates due to Durant and Russell Westbrook. They’ve led the league in bad, blown losses and it’s another thing for Durant’s future if that continues. It’s tough to figure a destination, although we’ve heard all the Golden State speculation. Look, anything is possible in the NBA as LeBron demonstrated. Have we forgot Jordan in Washington? Yes, we try to forget.

Anyway, Ibaka. As I recall, they decided they could only afford three “max” type players and decided the third should be a big man, so they opted for Ibaka over James Harden. I don’t think Durant and Westbrook dislike Ibaka. They just don’t know he’s on their team. Or most anyone else when they are playing. The Thunder isn’t about to cash in Ibaka, who is way, way, way underutilized, after keeping him over Harden. And if they did, it better be a deal like the Harden deal, except this time with them looking like the one who fleeced someone. The Warriors may be the story of the season, but the Thunder may well be of the post season.


I though Oscar made a decent point but in a way that could be easily twisted. As a player, he understands that people don't shoot as well when you make a point to get them out of their comfort zone. Run him into hard screens. No lay ups. Make him feel you. That's still basketball even if the game has evolved.

Curry is really making a name for himself though and if he can play like this for the next few years then he will start getting into the conversation of all time greats.

--Wesley Davis

Sam: I guess in this era of internet insults even if you don’t insult someone, many seem more comfortable in seeing it as an insult. Oscar Robertson was hardly demeaning Curry. He was just pointing out what we’ve all seen watching basketball all these years: You pick up guys when they are hot when they cross halfcourt. Find a tape of the 1970 Knicks. Not a group with great athletes; but they were trapping up court all the time, especially against guys who got hot. Same with the 60s Celtics. They pressured, they picked up.

Mo

Maybe you do that because you didn’t know what to do when you were on the court and you study all night before. Oscar knew instinctively. He was smarter. He knows when a guy is hot you get up on him; you don’t worry about pushing the pick and roll baseline as if your “system” had everything to do with the team’s success. Whew! I sounded like DeMarcus Cousins. I may as well blame George Karl, too. As for Curry, yes, greatness is consistency over a long period of time. And you’d never have even considered it, but with a sure second straight MVP award this season, Curry’s going to be in the Hall of Fame. Pretty impressive stuff.


I'm hoping you can clarify the specifics on the Sacramento pick that is owed to the Bulls. From what I understand, it is "Top 10 protected". Is this determined after the lottery? I see the Kings have the 8th worst record currently, but if they end up with the 11th pick because of bad luck in the lottery, then do the Bulls get the pick?

--Dan Michler

Sam: Ten means 10. If it’s 11-30 in 2016 or 2017, the Bulls get that pick on the day of the draft. If the Kings cannot rise, then it falls to a second round pick in 2018. At this point, it doesn’t look good for the Bulls getting the pick this season as the Kings have the seventh poorest record. They just also suspended Cousins for yet another loss of control. Whatever. I’ve never quite understood the disconnect observers have in labeling Cousins a star and his team never able to win 40 percent of its games. I’ve always maintained a team cannot win with Cousins because of what he does on the court.

It was evident again late against the Cavs the other night, Cousins taking the ball himself, freezing out his teammates, getting upset on a miss (or alleged lack of foul call), then committing a stupid foul, upset so not getting back on defense. It astonishes me even the coaches put him on the All-Star team when he is as anathema to winning as much as any player. Clearly, Karl barely isn’t even allowed to speak to him, thus allowing one of the great coaching careers in NBA history to end badly. The fear other players on the team have toward Cousins seems palpable.

Not that he is personally dangerous or a bad person off the court. Just because he’s so unhinged as a basketball player he won’t listen to anyone. My guess is the only chance he has to succeed with his brilliant talents—and I’ve had more than one executive tell me he’s the most talented player in the NBA—is to be coached by Gregg Popovich, the unchallenged leader in coaching respect. Cousins has shown he has little respect for his coaches. The only time I’ve ever seen him have some was on the USA team with Mike Krzyzewski. Perhaps because he badly wanted to make the team. But he played defense, didn’t try to monopolize the ball, hustled and was a helpful part of that 2014 World Cup team win. You just can’t be that good—and playing with at least two All-Stars—and have your team be unable to get the Bulls your draft pick. Ten protected! You can’t even get your team to 11th worst! Maybe he’s smarter than us all and just protecting the pick for the Kings.


I'd append to your comments that the college game is a masterpiece of marketing. Their fan base is impressive for sure. The whole tournament pool thing pushes the college game stealthily. They've transformed the tournament into a copy of the Super Bowl which acts like the variable piece on top of the two baseline pieces: people's sentimentality about their college days and gambling. Shrewdly done. I can't watch college basketball though. I dunno, maybe live, but not on TV. You wind up with these one-or-two-skill players coached by an out-of-control megalomaniac. It lacks flow, sorry. The drama is often manufactured leaving the fan feeling a little on the used side. NBA has nutty coaches for sure but it's a player's league and that's okay with me most of the time.

--Pete Zievers

Sam: Ah, March Madness, which basically is the illness you may have watching some of the most boring—talk about over controlling coaches, OK, I apologize to the NBA coaches, or some of them--basketball played anywhere. The college tournament is basically a betting pool of your weekend playground tournament. It’s like Monday Night Football; who’d watch that if they weren’t betting? Though I hardly condemn the concept as fantasy sports is about as popular as the games itself. Hey, the NBA is investing in it. People like to wager.

I get it; you can’t play the games, so it makes you feel competitive. I’m fine with that. Just don’t pretend those college games are high level sports. As you note, they are brilliantly marketed with the universities participating in the fraud on their students and alumni that they are in the business of education instead of being in, well, business. It’s too profitable not to be, so given our economic system it’s acceptable, encouraged and rewarded. Just look how bad the games are. Talents like Karl-Anthony Towns are hidden, underutilized and marginalized in the interests of the coach’s self promotion.

Why don’t we see any more Kareems and Bill Waltons, who even as freshman could dominate? Because the coaches prefer being the stars, and that requires slowing the game to limit the talents of the players. If the players were so good, the TV camera would stay on them. If you can make them look ineffective, the camera stays on you for your next move. American hates Wall Street, and granted college coaches haven’t done as much damage to the economy, though they are no less self serving and venal. So fill out the brackets; but don’t watch the games. Did I sound like Cousins again? Hey, maybe the guy is having fun. I enjoyed that.