Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls

Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 1.8.2016

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

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By Sam Smith | 1.8.2016 | 1:00 p.m.

As I watch Jimmy Butler continue to blossom, I notice the continuing trend by the national media for the most part ignoring his accomplishments. I see his bland highlights and I understand why it would be hard to sell the idea of Butler being a star to the public. Jumper, jumper, layup, layup. Nothing spectacular, just steady hard play. Butler is starting to remind me of a Hall of Fame player who also had a great career without ever being considered a superstar by the general public, Mitch Richmond. Do you agree with the comparison or is there someone else he more closely resembles?

--Will Grocke

Sam: Mitch is a good one for a physical guard who could get to the line, though a better shooter than Jimmy who often shot above 40 percent on threes and at a time it wasn’t as high a priority or practiced as much. As we’ve noted, Jimmy with his size and defensive abilities may be more a small forward type, though the Bulls don’t have a shooting guard. So he stays there. Of course, as Mitch is in the Hall of Fame that’s a pretty good start for comparisons.

Jimmy doesn’t have the explosive quickness of the great scoring swingmen like a Vince Carter or even Grant Hill in his pre-injury prime. Clyde Drexler was more athletic and got to the basket without being a great shooter, but on quickness. Which makes Jimmy’s rise unusual. Maybe a Dick Van Ardsdale type, though Jimmy is more powerful. But that’s also a product of this era as weight training was eschewed years ago as the belief being too muscular hurt your skills like shooting and flexibility. Maybe someone like Austin Carr, whose career was shortened by injuries, strong with a good mid range game.

Jimmy’s play lately obviously has been remarkable, but you are correct in a sense as he’s not as much featured because he doesn’t play a spectacular individual game. The way he attacked the basket against Toronto was basically the first time I’ve ever seen him do that. He’s obviously athletic with the lob-dunk-a-game play with Pau. But he’s not that beat you off the dribble and rocker dunk guy as much as knock you down and take a fall and get to the line. That next step test for Jimmy is whether he can do it regularly and get from 20 to 25 per game, which is the test of true stardom. He may not be able to, but you’ve got to be terrific to have just the step left, and none of us saw that coming.

The following trade proposal has absolutely no chance of happening. I know Gar/Pax are not going to make any trades before this summer, if then. Sac is also not known for making good trades. But it sure was fun to compose this trade:

Bulls send Joakim Noah, Mike Dunleavy, and Tony Snell to Sacramento in return for Rudy Gay, Marco Belinelli, and Willie Cauley-Stein (WCS).

1. The Kings desperately need defensive players (Noah, Snell).

3. They need a strong veteran presence in the locker room (Dunleavy).

2. Salary dump. They would save a ton of money (more than $36 mil over the next 3.5 years including $8 mil this summer alone).

--Taiji Praction

Sam: I include the occasional trade proposal, but usually leaves ones like this out that have absolutely no chance of being considered even by someone who loves the Bulls and believes the Kings are a communist plot. My answer to these is usually something like why not Cameron Bairstow for LeBron as the Cavs need interior size. Yes, two injured players and a role playing reserve for two of your starters and a lottery pick. Sure.

But the point for Bulls fans is they should not be trying to destroy the Kings. That draft pick the Bulls got from Cleveland in the Luol Deng deal is from the Kings and protected top 10 two more years. Then it’s gone. The West has taken a step back and suddenly the Kings look good enough to get out of that bottom 10. They could still implode and they’re not there yet, but they are close. That pick, especially as well as the Bulls have done in the draft with mid level picks, would be huge to have two firsts, one in the low lottery and their own. Then you have some leverage with deals using two picks and a player, using the picks, trading one. It could give the Bulls a heck of a kick start moving forward this summer with the cap room they’ll also have with the salary cap increase. Any more trade proposals with the Kings probably should stop as if you’re for the Bulls. Though it would be fun to see that veteran presence in the locker room of Dunleavy, whom DeMarcus Cousins called a clown when Cousins got himself tossed going after Dunleavy to pair with Cousins’ favorite coach George Karl.

I’m going around and everyone is taking them as the real deals: Taj for PJ Tucker, Snell for McClemore and Nikola for Covington. Those are not even creative...but Felicio looks good in the D league so far.

--Mike Sutera

Sam: And plenty more to come. This is not a perfect Bulls team, as we know. They probably could use a more athletic and reliable wing, and they have that front court overload. So trade a good big guy for a small guy? Simple, eh? Not so much. First of all, that’s asking a lot of rookie Bobby Portis if someone is hurt. As we saw against the Bucks, a veteran big man like Greg Monroe at center could run Portis out of the game. And he had a tough time and little impact against Boston Thursday. It’s unfair to ask a rookie at 20 as potentially good as he will be to be in such a position for a team that believes it can contend.

Noah and Gasol are mentioned often. Because they are free agent “rental” type players with expiring deals only a team that sees them as a final piece likely is going to be interested. And if they are, they’re certainly not giving you one of their starters or even top reserves. Good teams look to add a player to get over the top; not one step back for one forward. Then you are not giving up on someone like Mirotic or McDermott so quickly in his first full NBA season, and you can get worse. Look at the Mavericks with Rondo. Chemistry is delicate and the Bulls’ seems pretty good.

Plus you have perhaps too many players now. Once you begin to take even more minutes away from players on your team to accommodate someone coming in then you risk further issues. If you believe you are not good enough and have no chance as presently constituted, perhaps you take a shot. But that to me would seem to overvalue the East and the Cavs, the latter who has a history with top players like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love being hurt and potentially disruptive and erratic players and also apparently their own internal issues about minutes and depth. I notice them benching their center of late. And Mo Williams.

I prefer the buyout route if some top player the end of February gets a buyout and you can bring him in with the idea that he’s a fill in and you are not giving up anything that seems more the way to go. As for Felicio, he had 18 points this week in his D-league game and a few legitimate three pointers. He’s a keeper for sure, a big guy with a soft shooting touch who moves well. He looks like another big find just out of the summer league team. It’s why those games are worth watching sometimes. With Noah and Gasol free agents, he’s important insurance. You could say further reason to risk trading a big man now, but you can’t put him on the court only late in the season in the NBA and expect excellence. He’s a good addition going forward.

The only thing bigger than Jimmys game was watching the entire team embrace at the end of the game. What a terrific moment.

--Mike Burling

Sam: Anyone say turning point? Maybe we look back from Grant Park to that scene. Maybe not. Fred Hoiberg pointed that out earlier this week as his highlight of the season. Coaches see significance and symbolism in such moments, and maybe there will be for a team many—other than themselves—believed might be fractured.

The backlash against Rose is just so unfair. Every time he talks to the media people always find fault in everything he says. Yea, they're frustrated Rose got hurt. We all were. We hated it. He would have been a monster by now if he didn't have those injuries. Dude has a decent game, gets half the credit. It's just unfair. When his teammates make bad plays or play a bad game, people find excuses. Just feel bad for the guy.

--Josiah Regencia

Sam: Don’t; he understands. Rose puts on a mask for interviews now as he’s come to understand how things said innocently get twisted by some who have an agenda. It’s nothing new. President Obama sympathizes. OK, let’s take it a step down. Justin Bieber gets it. Those around Rose and those who see him when he’s away from the daily prying say he’s just like he was before the injuries, fun, upbeat, playful. Too bad he doesn’t get to show it as much anymore, but some in the community prefer the good guy/bad guy debate. Conflict is a better selling story sometimes. In New York it’s a daily occurrence and anyone can be next. In the end, as with everyone in sports, he’ll be judged on results and he’s fine with that and will just have to roll his eyes about the ridiculous inquiries.

Looking back and considering all the money and injuries, would the Bulls have been better off drafting Michael Beasley, who obviously never lived up to expectations, so that they could be more active in free agency and trades, instead of being tied down and committed to what Rose has brought?

--Abe Rotbart

Sam: Yes, like that.

Toronto is another team with ball -crazy guards. They should secede into their own league with Pelicans and Thunder (who would call Durant a 7ft guard), go back to the old girls rules, then the front court guys could just stay back on defense while the backcourt would get the ball all to themselves, no clumsy bigs in the way. I can see why Amir Johnson left. In defense of Casey, Valenciunas has lousy hands - not Omer lousy, but he struggles with his feet a lot in close spaces and has a tough time catching the ball naturally - and Biyambo has no offensive game. Back to Valenciunas.... he's got some talent but you wonder if he's going to develop in Toronto. Based on what I saw it's guards from distance and guards penetrating. A big guy like Valenciunas needs a little space to figure things out. Yeah, I know it's evolved into a guard's NBA but big people doing interesting things makes the NBA unique entertainment.

--Pete Zievers

Sam: It’s another reason why not to give up on this Bulls team too soon. They are flawed in their own way, and they have the tougher half of their schedule to play. The Cavs are the favorites because they have LeBron, but Kyrie is no Wade and Love is not Bosh. And they don’t much even seem to like him.

The point is the rest of the East is uncertain. The Raptors have a big time backcourt problem for the playoffs with one guard who doesn’t shoot threes well, the other very small and both who don’t much care they have a center. You can’t dribble your way to the Finals. And they’re one of the best in the East. The Heat play too slowly with Wade and Bosh controlling everything and fairly unaware Goran Dragic is a fast guy. The Hawks can’t get Kyle Korver going on 35 on track, which should not be a huge surprise and took a step back losing DeMarre Carroll. The Pacers are small, the Celtics lack a go-to, the Pistons rely on two guys, the Wizards can’t seem to find themselves. Sure, any of those teams can beat you as the Bulls have found out. But you wouldn’t worry about being a playoff underdog to any. It could be a fun playoffs.

Please put your old trade hat on. The Kings seem to be playing a little better but certainly Karl is frustrated. While it’s uncertain the King’s will finish above the top ten pick it must be a concern to them as they don’t have many alternatives to improve. Should the Bulls consider trading the top ten protected pick back to the King’s for a later unprotected?

--John Petersen

Sam: Don’t see how that makes any sense for them. How is a 10 or 12 pick changing the Kings compared to perhaps a future star in the top five? They have a team filled with low lottery picks and barely use half of them. You may get an unprotected pick if you give up a starter. I don’t see the Bulls in dump mode.

As many have noted, the NBA is a copycat league. Many GM's seem to just try and build a team similar to which ever team is winning at the time. The Warriors are the team du jour; however, with Steph Curry's recent injury problems, although Golden State has continued to winning, they seem to be a much more beatable or even average team. Is it possible that the small-ball/3-point shooting heavy team model might only work when said team has a Hall of Fame quality 3-point shooter such as Steph Curry?

--Will Grocke

Sam: You’ve got it. I remember the late 80’s when Magic Johnson was so dominant and everyone was looking for the big guards to matchup. I remember the Pacers passing on Tim Hardaway and using a lottery pick for George McCloud, a 6-8 guy who could handle the ball. But he was no Magic Johnson. Because there was no other Magic Johnson. There is no other Curry. You can’t find a duplicate to beat the original. You beat the original with a better strength. I’m often surprised teams with size don’t use it better against the Warriors, who do have an answer for a lot of it, so they aren’t only Curry and fire the ball.

But use what you have; you can never beat them at their game. That’s why there is so much bad coaching in the NBA. I know every coach says the other team is well coached. What better excuse in case you lose. But so many coaches get fooled into following the model because that’s what everyone does. It’s why they all didn’t like Phil Jackson. Because he didn’t do it their way, the way they all did it with the same high pick and roll. Not good when he does it differently and beats you. It’s why so much of the college scouting also is so poor and Jimmy Butler can fall to 30. They compare their lists and basically pick the same guys in the same order; in case they are wrong there’s no one to really point to because they all had the same lists. Hey, I just blew up coaching and managing. Obviously, there are many good ones, but the same herd mentality that exists in journalism and banking and politics (OK, not Trump) is in sports, too. Examine your talent and put it in the best possible place to succeed while doing your best to counter—and not copy—what the other guy does. That’s how it should work.

Watching the last game against Raptors kinda remind me of Pau and Kobe. I hope Pau comes back next season because he complements Jimmy's game. And Jimmy can prolong Pau's productivity by being a complementary player to him.

--Rollen Decuzar

Sam: It’s why the offseason is going to be so interesting for the Bulls and the answers won’t come until the playoffs are over. For all the grand plans you may think teams have, they mostly don’t. They pretty much do what you do: See if they win and if they do pretty much stay as they are. When they don’t make changes on pretty much the last thing they saw assuming they can. So as Gasol and Noah are free agents, a lot will depend on what they do in the playoffs, assuming, of course, they both still are here, which I expect they will be. It becomes easy to dismiss Gasol at times as he’s not running all over the place on defense like Noah, which is fan pleasing. Gasol can be a more subtle, acquired taste, but he’s the only one with championship rings and the only one who’s played in more than one conference finals game win. He’s a shot blocker with his size, a rim defender not so much with movement as placement, a player you need to close games because he can make shots, make free throws, provide a bail out offensive option. Perhaps Gasol will want to move on depending on what occurs. He’ll be watching as well. If he does he’ll be very tough to replace, if possible at all.

I'm fine with our team the way it is, but just as an idea, what do you think about trading for a guy like Terrence Ross? He's had a somewhat rocky stretch in Toronto, so he could probably be bargained for, and he could be that player who can inject athleticism and shot-making into our starting lineup that would allow Jimmy Butler to play in his more natural position as a small forward. In return, the Raptors could get Mirotic and perhaps Tony Snell, both of whom have potential and would fulfill their needs for more outside shooting.

--Vinay Nagaraj

Sam: He’s had a tougher season since he’s gone to the bench and as I noted above the Raptors have a lot of dribblers. He’s the profile of the kind of player who might help the Bulls, though it would be tough to see how he would this season coming in during mid season and off playing less and in and out of the lineup. I doubt he’s going anywhere. They value him highly for their future given Luis Scola is a stop gap and, of course, now DeMarre Carroll is hurt so Ross will likely start or play much more. Fans often assume things will be the same, but teams know there are injuries and you don’t leave yourself so vulnerable. Plus, this is how these things work: Ross was a high lottery pick and is still young. They’d ask for value.

Say the Bulls would do what you suggest, which I don’t believe they would as they value Mirotic. But that wouldn’t get it done. Toronto would say my guy started two years, averaged doubles figures, was in playoff games. I need more. So they’d ask for Butler. Ha. Then they’d say Portis. They’d say that’s three picks from the 20s. That might equal a top 10 pick. Then they’d say throw in a draft pick. You agree to that maybe you get something done. It seems to me the Bulls don’t have the players now they’d be willing to part with. Good teams want your veterans for future considerations like draft picks. Then you are worse. Bad teams want your draft picks and young players like Portis and Mirotic. Then you could get players accustomed to losing. That’s why there aren’t that many in season trades, and fewer that work. The summer is different because then you have more teams to talk with and more of your assets to work with.

The Suns fired their defensive coach and they go and give up 142 points. I don't know about you but I lost respect for Jeff. When they told him they were planning on firing his two assistants he should have said if they go I go. I know your gonna say who would do that but it's about loyalty. He's getting fired in four months anyway.

--Bob Ding

Sam: I know it’s romantic to fall on your sword, but Hornacek doesn’t seem about chasing jobs. He lives in Phoenix with his family and isn’t moving, it doesn’t seem. So ride it out. Maybe something happens. Who quits jobs when their staff is fired? Firing the assistants was a cheap move and accomplishes nothing but embarrassment, like the pitching coach or special teams coach firing. It just gives the GM another few months of excuses. It’s not Hornacek’s fault, though they’ll point to him.

They messed up the team when they acquired Isaiah Thomas for no reason with a team filled with good guards. It supposedly was to create leverage and protection for negotiating with Bledsoe. Thomas is putting up big numbers and they’ve been raving about him in Boston, but players like that can sink you. He dominates the ball and shoots a poor. Not his fault. It’s the way he knows how to play and what made him against all odds an NBA player. But the Suns thus alienated their best player, Goran Dragic, who left, and then they traded Thomas as they acquired Brandon Knight. Then the Suns made it seem they did a promise of some sort to keep the Morrises together, which they both should have realized in the NBA was ridiculous. The Morrises felt they took less money and were conned. That blew up. So Hornacek and the assistants are the problem? Sure, gms don’t fire themselves. But that is the way sports work and coaches should never be surprised. Or felt sorry for. It’s always worked that way. The Suns made some great moves like with the Steve Nash steal, but being in position with young players and draft picks is no guarantee. The Bulls of 2001 can tell you.

I might have an irrational dislike for Chris Paul (I do have one for D Wade) but I find him overrated. I was talking with a friend and they said they would take Chris Paul over Isaiah Thomas. I asked if they meant the current one or Isiah Thomas of the Pistons. They replied Pistons and I laughed as I would take Piston Thomas over Paul in a New York Minute.
Do I have an irrational dislike of Clipper Paul or just old enough to remember Piston Thomas??

--Greg Young

Sam: And I just made my point about this Isaiah vs that Isiah, the latter who was one of the best players in NBA history. No offense to Chris Paul, but he is just one of the best players in this era among players who have a history of playoff failure. Isiah was underrated, if anything, and unappreciated, certainly in Chicago because of the rivalry with the Bulls. For one thing he was one of the most unselfish, team oriented stars ever. He could have averaged 25 points per season easily. But he figured out it was best for his teammates and best for his team for him to average fewer than 20 points and involve everyone.

The Pistons didn’t always display wonderful sportsmanship so they weren’t always so much admired. But they were perhaps the team most like the over celebrated Knicks of the 1970s. No one averaged 20 points when they won titles in two straight years. They had five or six players averaging in double figures and a few others around nine. So you couldn’t load up anywhere on the ball. This was all thanks to Thomas, who was far superior to anyone on the team, a great passer and virtually unstoppable scorer who made the big shots and big plays that Paul cannot. Paul’s terrific, but it’s tough on small guys. Isiah was small as well, probably 5-11, but so much tougher, a greater competitor and dedicated team player, the latter which Paul isn’t so much. He likes to pass, but more on his terms. It’s tough to see him ever winning a title; it would have been shocking if Isiah didn’t, and he won two and missed a third by a questionable foul call and retired at 33 in 1994 when he could have gone to New York and title chasing and probably would have gotten at least one more. But he wanted to remain loyal to the Pistons, which was a mistake as they didn’t remain much loyal to him.

They're saying it was INC, meaning incorrect-no call. Paul George claims Jimmy touched his arm on that play, and never touched the ball(it just happened to go in). What's your take on that play?

--Kieron Smith

Sam: No foul. The NBA in my view blew that one on replay a day later. It was the football play. Once you turn back for the ball to make your own play like Jimmy did it’s anyone’s ball. It’s not the offense’s ball. Jimmy had as much right to go for it and he did. The problem was the way the league showed up the officials for the “mistake.” I think the NBA officials do the best job in sports among arbiters. Figure out what a catch is in football yet? Or holding? The strike zone? The original rules of basketball didn’t include contact. It’s allowed but discretionary. Good luck getting that right.

The NBA under Adam Silver has sought to its credit to be more transparent. Part of that was to show how good their officials were as they do get more than 90 percent correct. So they figured they’d reveal the last two minutes of calls of every game. The officials liked the idea to show how effective they were. It backfired. All media do is focus on the missed calls. So it becomes a “See, see, see they got it wrong.” The NBA should drop the last two minutes sheet. It only now serves to undermine their excellent officiating. And the review booth took 24 hours and got it wrong.

Not so long ago, you wrote me this: Sorry you spent so much time on that (email) but butler and jordan should only be in the same sentence in something like “jimmy butler is farther from michael jordan than the earth to Saturn”

I'm still not saying that Butler is becoming Jordan, but he is trending in that direction. And, we did get a probe to Saturn, so it isn't an impossible distance to transverse.

--William Kochneff

Sam: A gotcha? I’m sticking by my response, though I’ll move him to Jupiter. I always loved those rings. As Jimmy quickly said, let’s not burden these guys with that comparison. There is No Next. Read it! Jimmy’s had a great few games, but he lost out on even player of the week because he scored five points in 36 minutes last week when the Bulls beat Toronto. Jordan scored six points with Washington after 866 straight games in double digits when Doug Collins took Jordan out to rest him for an upcoming return game with the Bulls. Jimmy’s had fewer than 10 twice this season. No offense. He’s having the season of his short career and is in the discussion for the best shooting guards these days. But Jordan? You can be Jordanesque for a game. After you’ve done it for a decade and when you are double and triple teamed on every play (Toronto for some reason never doubled Butler), then check back from Mars. Getting closer, but a long, long way to go.

Just writing in to eat crow for the trade Butler proposal.

--Wesley Davis

Sam: As I recall this was it: Crowder/Bradley, Thomas and top 2 protection and a late 1st/early second? Or Covington, Noel and top 2 this year plus one of the late first rounders? Yes, things can change in a week.