Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 4.8.2016
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By Sam Smith | 4.8.2016 | 4:15 p.m. CT
I love Jimmy Butler so this isn’t a dig at him. As I’ve seen several players, the last half of this season, make post game remarks like Jimmy did after losing to Memphis: “I don’t feel like I did my job on either side of the floor tonight,” Butler conceded. “I didn’t make shots, I didn’t get other guys involved, I didn’t guard anybody. It’s easy to follow suit whenever I don’t do it. I took myself out of the game. I don’t know why. It’s disappointing; I’m disappointed in myself because I know that I’m too good a player for that.” – The players seem to have such precise reflection in all that they weren’t doing out on the floor mere moments ago, are they not able to have those same reflections while still in the game and adjust? What are your thoughts on this as you are front and center listening to their comments post game.
Sam: It is the distinction of the very unusual life of a pro athlete compared with the other 299 million of us. I’ve mentioned this to some of my colleagues at times. So imagine you are sitting there writing that story on deadline, and 20,000—maybe 14,000 if you are in Memphis the other night—are looking down on you sort of over your shoulder and screaming, “Verb, you idiot. Verb! Hey, that’s not a contraction!” I know, the answer is how much they get paid. Of course, that works it backward as well. If you got paid that when you were 50 years old, say, instead of 25, then maybe you’d have a better sense of perspective and proportion and would react better with more poise and patience. Of course, most of the people I know over 50 are nervous wrecks. The rich ones, too. The point is you have days that don’t go that well, when you just can’t finish the project or are distracted or things won’t work and you have to back off. With a basketball player you have two hours. You can’t have lunch, come back and talk it over. I understand this is what they do and have done this for years and been in hundreds if not thousands of games. I’m not sure exactly what happened with Jimmy against Memphis. I know he has said many times he is an exceptionally moody person, and as moody people know you have your days. The assumption that just because you “play a game” that most everyone dreams would be their job means you are perfect and motivated and enthused and at your best every game remains the fantasy sports has to provide for its customers. I’m sure the teams wish it were so as well. But some days you just cannot get going, and the difference in sports is you get a personnel review every day instead of perhaps quarterly or annually. And yours shows up in media and on TV and your neighbors and friends get to debate it. They’re not asking for new jobs, nor that you feel sorry for them. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen; if it continues for weeks or beyond it’s a problem.
My recommendations, disregarding the money factor...Load the out of town bus with all but Felicio, Portis, Mirotic, Mc D. Use another small bus for front office and coaching staff, icons or not. Try to find replacement players that will play team basketball, that do not shy from contact and give their all every game. Find a coach that can utilize his assets instead of sitting on them. The laying down pattern seems to be established, changing coaches did not help. Can only hope the four young guys are not contaminated completely.
Sam: Well, that might be enough to beat out the 76ers. Though probably not anymore with the Colangelos running things. Actually, Felicio looks like a nice surprise and perhaps a combination stopgap if the Bulls are not able to retain one of their free agent centers. He should be a rotation big man going forward. Don’t think I ever figured to write that. He sets picks, rolls to the basket, stays in front of his man, though you can’t expect many points. Though the larger point is not to panic. No, it’s fine for the fans and media, but teams cannot afford to do that. No one, I know, wants to hear about the reasons. You are your record, and all that. But I’m not ready to give up—and I assume the Bulls neither for next season—on Butler and Rose. There have been issues with both. If you prefer cynicism and believe Rose is about his free agency, well it’s coming up and so take the good season. I don’t see him that way as much as wanting to be able to enjoy playing again in good health. Step one was getting through a full season without surgery, and Rose is on the verge of that. Then comes a non-rehab summer and putting himself into a season. Jimmy’s an All-Star and a talent. He is not a point guard; he’s not even a guard. But you add an athletic shooting guard type player and then Jimmy at forward with Rose pushing the ball and Jimmy taking the defense down with him running out and you may have some pretty good stuff. You also have to get on them to do it. Without going through the litany of reasons, and the Bulls were 10 games over .500 before Joakim Noah went out, veterans who have been All-Stars are difficult to come by. You have referred, no disrespect, to role players. The others are the hardest to acquire. You better be careful if you think you can replace them so easily.
The 8th seed against Cleaveland would be 4-0 for sure with our team that can´t beat average teams on regular seasons when we need, so now we are going for the lottery. We have Mirotic, Mcbuckets, Portis, Holiday, Gibson and some 1st round picks with this lottery we will get. If we are lucky we could make a big trade holding Rose, Butler and Gasol and make a team to compete for next year if our management don´t try to rebuild. We are not far from the top and if Rose and Butler can´t play together, we could work a trade with Butler, because Rose as injury prone as he is doesn´t have much value, but if healthy have a higher sealing then Butler. I see some good trades for Butler that would work for us. If Rose doesn´t play or get injury we could rebuild once his contract expires.
Sam: Again, I don’t see a trade for Butler, though, true, he probably has the most value. Look, his name will come up in rumors as will that of Rose, and everyone else. Because if you cannot make the playoffs you cannot be viewed as irreplaceable. The Bulls have to begin to identify the players who will fit their coach and the coach to them. They have to add speed and athleticism and perhaps big man size given the free agency circumstances of Gasol and Noah. They’ll likely have at least one lottery pick. If they don’t get Sacramento’s, they have one more year before it becomes a second round pick. This doesn’t appear to be a very strong draft, so trading off your players for draft picks doesn’t seem likely or very smart. The Bulls could have substantial free agent money without both Gasol and Noah, but then you better get someone, and pretty good. I still assume one returns. But I assume even the Bulls have no real idea of their plans or their market because you don’t even know who’ll be a free agent. Gasol could opt in for all you know. For now, I prefer to look at this season as an aberration given the circumstances and believe with the growth of coach Fred Hoiberg, corrections of the mistakes and misjudgments he and the players made of one another and some good luck, I’d take a last shot with this core and some, hopefully, athletic additions and then in 2017 you have the flexibility to be perhaps the major player in free agency in what could be a very big market of top free agents. Don’t blow that up too soon unless you have a chance of getting very good very fast.
Don't you think it is time we commit to Nikola Mirotic fully at power forward. The statistics don't lie that the bulls are 19-10 when Nikola scores over double digits. Also, how much do you think it would cost to retain E'twaun Moore. I also like what we have in Cristiano Felicio. He's a good defender, sneaky athlete, and is going to surprise next year. I'd like to give him a shot at starting next season. I think him and Portis are going to hit the glass hard next season. I think we should draft a Center and a high potential point guard, preferably one over 6 foot tall that can defend. I'd like to go big with our early pick and small in the second round.
Sam: Moore has been another surprise, really, as a guy who basically never played last season and has proven to be so valuable that his absence late in the season has hurt the team badly for his defense and ability to play multiple positions. Not great, but reliable and valuable. He’s probably played himself into a guaranteed deal for a change, and great for him. I think the Bulls would love to bring him back and as an East Chicago guy he probably would like to return. But then it comes down to the financial decisions and you have to begin to add stars and great athletes and cannot afford to get caught up in sentimentality. The Bulls have plenty of role players; they need difference makers. Mirotic’s three-point shooting has excelled lately as he’s surpassed McDermott, who has a better shooting stroke, but with his size can get his shot off easier. He’s cut down on the excess pump fakes and odd drives and taken his shot more squared up. Though it’s obviously not every game, and he’s also dependent on guards getting him the ball, as is McDermott. The issue with Mirotic for now will be defense and rebounding as he still has issues reacting to the ball and playing defensive position. But he’s essentially a rookie-plus with this his first full season in the rotation. Obviously, Hoiberg saw him as part of his ideal for a spread game, which changed with Noah out and Pau not a good enough defender to protect Mirotic on defense. So Tony Snell had to start, but he wasn’t impactful and with Dunleavy that’s three lesser defenders. As I’ve written, I like Jimmy moving up to help in the front court as he’s also a great rebounder and physical player who usually guards small forwards, anyway. I don’t see Mirotic going anywhere, but I don’t know where he will go yet. I know there was second guessing in the Miami game about the Gasol substitution for Felicio and then the Bulls getting beaten on the offensive boards. But at the same time when you have Felicio and Portis out there the offense stops. And as well as Felicio did in that stretch to help the Bulls into a lead, he had played five straight minutes and hasn’t been used to playing much. Could they have gotten away with going with him the entire fourth quarter? It was a few more minutes after the Gasol substitution before Miami pulled away. Felicio would likely not been in, anyway. Thibodeau always did this as well with Boozer until the amnesty was agreed upon, bringing him back late in fourth quarters. Coaches tend everywhere to do that with their regulars. Obviously the way it ended up with Whiteside dominating the rebounding, it’s easy to say they should have stayed with Felicio. But could they have scored enough? Could he have played that much and, after all, the Heat were going with their veterans and would it be reasonable to expect your free agent to outplay them down the stretch of a game the Heat needed to win as well for playoff positioning? And, really, if the season comes down to why they didn’t play a guy who many believed shouldn’t have made the summer league team there are larger issues.
This is how I feel even as a Bulls fan: Following Tuesday night's overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Golden State Warriors will have to win out if they want to beat the Chicago Bulls single-season record of 72 wins.
While his team's season is heading down a much different path, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was asked for his thoughts on the Warriors pursuit of NBA history and whether he'd be more concerned with breaking that record as opposed to focusing on the ultimate goal of winning a league title.
"Why do you have to...if you go after one means you give up the other? I don't understand that," said Bryant. "If I'm them, and I got a chance to set a record, I'm trying to set the damn record. I don't care what anyone else says. I don't care how they feel about it. I don't care what they say about it. If you got a chance to do that, go do it. And win a championship."
Sam: I agree. What I most hate is all these late season rests. The Bulls did some of that in various seasons, but rarely ever full games. Guys played and guys wanted to play. I don’t like the way it impacts other races and the paying fans and your own lack of competitive instinct. Bravo for the Warriors and Steve Kerr. They’re going to be second guessed if they don’t win no matter what. So go for it because second guessing comes to everyone but the eventual champion. They are not going to lose because they tried to win games. After all, the Bulls did as well, so much so that with 71 wins in the 82nd game they played all their regulars to win the second of a back to back on the road. It’s also about keeping guys sharp and respecting the game. Plus, the first playoff round is interminable, two weeks long with breaks, and the playoffs start generally if you are the star team with three off days on Sunday. How much time off do you need when you are among what we consider the greatest physical specimens in the world? This proliferation of rest days is an embarrassment to the teams and the league, and I wish the commissioner would step in for the best interests of the game. Russell Westbrook needs rest? The guy spent his entire rest game running all over the place. It’s the reason I’d feel good about the Warriors breaking the record. They would be worthy because they are great competitors.
Not enjoying this season at all. I wasn't expecting us to conquer the Warriors, but I wasn't expecting us to lay down and get beat down - injuries or not. Though the Bulls had a plodding offense at times during our most recent playoff years, we could always count on our defense. That said, the pundits say we can't keep Pau and Noah. I like Pau's offense, but if you told me I could only keep one, I think I'll roll with Noah. I'm sick of getting punched in the mouth late in games.
Sam: Well, the Bulls did lose their best big man defender for half the season and then their next best the last part of the season. It sounds like an excuse, but it is what happened. We all wanted to see Mirotic and McDermott and Snell in situations, and now we know who they are. We also know there’s not the same defense there. You can’t keep playing them big minutes and expect the same defense, especially with no real defensive backup to push Pau until they unveiled Felicio late in the season. And, really, who had any idea? The dichotomy was Hoiberg wanted to push the pace and accelerate the offense with an athletic backcourt in Butler and Rose, and after last season’s grinding ending I didn’t hear anybody who disagreed. It hasn’t worked out, but with the contracts and reduced value of players from a team that missed the playoffs—how often do you see players from non playoff teams bringing back big dividends in trades?—it doesn’t make sense to hit the team with a wrecking ball at this time just because everyone is angry and frustrated. The good teams are rebuilt over time, a player or two a year.
This team needs an infusion of youth and athleticism and a large dose of lowered expectations from a rebuild.
Sam: I think they took care of the lowered expectations pretty well.
Bottom Line: Fred is rookie coach trying to install a new system in a team with a historic number of injuries. You can’t judge him by this season. But I also don’t think you reshape the team in his image, stir gently, wait two years for a contender to pop out of the oven. Still hoping for the best, but not necessarily expecting it. If next season is this bad, no more excuses.
Sam: I tend to believe that’s about how it will go. He’ll have to compromise some to adjust to the players he has. And he always has said he believes in coaching to his talent. As much as he’d probably like a team that plays according to what he outlined preseason with running, shooting and ball movement. It’s clear this Bulls group isn’t capable of adapting to that. Obviously when you miss the playoffs, assuming they do, no one is an untouchable. But it’s difficult to get value when you are down. Teams diminish the value of your players. Butler has by far the most value given his production and contract. And while he doesn’t play that style of ball, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to replace his production. As good as Butler is, he’s not viewed as a player who can carry a team. So you would mostly get draft picks and a starter of some level, though well below that of Butler’s. I don’t believe the Bulls are ready to go back to an early 2000s style rebuild. I tend to be for the tweak with an athlete, perhaps a center who runs the court and defends, a shooting guard with range, backup point guard, more athletes, players to make plays off the dribble. Which is actually a lot of stuff, when you think about it, little of which you get in the draft. See if you can have some better health, see what Rose has in the last season of his contract after going through his healthiest season in four years and work in some of the young guys. Hey, they were 10 over back around Christmas. Did I mention that?