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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 10.9.2015
Sam Smith of Bulls.com opens his mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers
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By Sam Smith | 10.9.2015 | 2:30 p.m.
The Bulls don't have a chance at beating Lebron James Cavaliers. Our team isn't tough enough or good enough. Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol should each be traded before both players come off of the rails again. Rose has been an epic failure due to his injuries and ridiculous way of communicating to the fan base. We were spoiled by Jordan. These guys will never be champions. They just aren't good enough to beat Lebron let alone the Warriors. It's time to reboot when the computer still runs. I recommend the Bulls go after the best available talent. Maybe not right now but, when these two guys peak early in the season before they come off the tracks. Because definitely Gasol will get injured because he used all his gas in he offseason playing for Spain.
Sam: Well, that was a short season. The last time I witnessed that plan the Bulls drafted Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler. No, the Bulls window isn’t long, but it’s not closed. The Cavaliers are favored and should be since they went to the Finals. But while the East is better and I don’t see any sub-.500 teams in the playoffs this season, it’s not great.
And the Cavs have a lot of issues. There’s the Tristan Thompson holdout, Kyrie Irving out for maybe a few more months and having been injured every year of his basketball career including back into high school, Kevin Love having major injuries two of the last three seasons and missing at least 20 games more than half his NBA seasons and a questionable backcourt. So we’re not talking monolith quite yet.
The Bulls will have some decisions to make after this season with Joakim Noah a free agent and Pau Gasol having an option. So eventually they may get to rebuilding or retooling or whatever it’s called. But it seems way too soon to cash in for picks. If they were to do it now they’d also have to dump Jimmy Butler. Having Butler makes them too good to be really bad but not good enough to compete at a high level. So they’d be stuck around the edge of the playoffs, the worst spot in the league. The problem in the NBA is what the 76ers have experienced: There’s no guarantee of top talent with the lottery. And the talent given they are mostly freshmen not only drops off quickly, but is more prone to injury coming to play pro ball as a teenager. So you want to be the 76ers? No, then how about the Celtics with loads of draft picks they couldn’t even trade five for one last spring to move up?
Yes, you can fall into a James Harden as the Rockets did. But that’s rare and more doubtful now the way the Thunder has been condemned for the trade. Then if you are bad you find out free agents don’t want to play for you. Greg Monroe passed on the Lakers for the Bucks because all the Lakers have is a few young players and picks. I’m running it out as long as I can if I’m the Bulls because the East is winnable even if you are not the favorite—after all who knows what J.R. Smith can do next time before you play them in the playoffs—and the alternatives are most unattractive.
I saw another report claiming that Butler doesn't respect Rose's work ethic. Is this more of people endlessly wanting to drag Rose's name through the mud? It seems like there's a lot of media that love to report negative rumors about him. Have you ever seen any indication of friction between the two? It seems like DRose's work ethic is the last thing there'd be any conflict about.
Sam: I agree; that one has to be the most laughable. There’s an old newspaper joke that 95 percent of what you read is true; except the five percent you have personal knowledge about. It’s a week into the preseason and they’re feuding? Who comes to work the first week with enemies? And that angry? C’mon. There’s an old media trick that’s not much different than the devil’s advocate type person at the bar. If you don’t take the other side, it’s tough to have an argument.
There’s this image for players being all about team and about media being all about accuracy. I’m sure we believe both universally. Just like there are people where you work who hate the boss or the company, there always are media people who want the team to lose, or someone to get fired or there be a feud. It’s a better story than a happy team with a lot of feel good clichés.
Jay Mariotti when he wrote in Chicago was the best at it, raising questions, mostly inaccurate, about internal friction, who hates whom and the team about to self destruct unless everyone was fired. It’s like reading about basketball wives or the Kardashians or hoarders. Everyone is appalled, but then they watch. So it’s a much better story if Jimmy hates Derrick and Derrick hates Jimmy than how about that footwork by Tony Snell. So media can keep this one alive: You know, don’t believe what you see; believe what I tell you from anonymous sources. I listed earlier this week the players who have returned from ACL surgery. Rose among every one is the closest athletically to the player he was before the surgery. So after three surgeries and coming back to average 20 points in the playoffs with his share of wow drives you believe that this guy doesn’t work hard?
And does it make sense that someone who has successfully come back from three major surgeries and more than a half dozen other injuries is lazy? That’s the story? It supposedly was said about P.T. Barnum’s hucksterism a century ago there’s a sucker born every minute. The phrase supposedly actually originated in Chicago in the 1860s about all the gambling establishments and has variously been used to describe so many gullible consumers. Modern day readers, as well, it seems.
I read an article recently about LeBron inviting his teammates to train with him in Miami and wondered why more athletes don’t do the same. It seems to me that this would be highly beneficial for both the players and the organization. I know D Rose trains with Russell in LA and Jimmy does too but at a different venue. I’m of the opinion that team chemistry off the court is just as crucial as it is on the court. The more you know about someone’s style of play to better you can adjust yourself to them and vice versa. There have been a lot of questions lately about some D Rose vs Jimmy feud and you’ve mentioned before that they’re not really close friends, but wouldn’t it be something if these two could figure out how to get into each other’s heads for the benefit of having more control and chemistry on the court not to mention the rest of the team.
Sam: Jimmy and Derrick did train together two years ago, and McDermott joined Jimmy for awhile this summer. But, really, do you vacation with your coworkers? Wouldn’t your office run more smoothly if you knew your coworkers’ habits, likes and dislikes and if you were together 12 months a year instead of just seven? Or maybe not.
The LeBron thing is overhyped since he talks about it. The Bulls didn’t have much to say, but everyone but the two guys playing for Spain was together this summer for several weeks working at Advocate Center. On their own. Teams cannot direct workouts until training camp starts. But players can use team facilities to put together things, and the Bulls had a lot of players together in September. But guys also need not only time away from one another, but they have differing needs. Like Noah who went to a specialty camp in Santa Barbara. There are big man camps and there are guys who need more fitness. There are also guys with lives and families whose kids may not think the ideal is for dad to spend summer training with LeBron. And after all, LeBron couldn’t even get Tristan Thompson to start the season with him.
Recently, Jimmy Butler has been tooting his horn way too much. He wanted the ball during the playoffs against Cleveland too much last year to prove he is the man, he's selfishly begging for playing time at the point guard position, and now he says he will be the leader of the team since there isn't one (which is a stupid comment when Noah is still on the roster). Is Butler trying to make it hard for Bulls fans to love him? It sure seems that way.
Sam: It seems like an angry fan base these days, and they’re a solid 1-1 in preseason. Jimmy is, from my mail, the favorite these days as reflecting the virtues of hard work fans like to see in their teams even if he has to mention it. I’m OK with his comments. Like the Cubs pitcher who actually went on Twitter to challenge fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a little cockiness is OK. Remember, you don’t get where these guys are without the ego and the bravado (why do you think they always give that check your ego at the door speech at USA Basketball?).
The coaches have urged Jimmy to be more vocal, which I think is a big part of what’s going on. Plus, he’s obviously way more relaxed having signed his contract. He didn’t mention it much, but it was obvious watching him last season that at times he was overly distracted and distraught by having passed on a $45 million deal and watching at least two teammates have meniscus surgery. You can see the relief on his face and hear it in his voice.
I’ve always felt the so called leadership thing is overrated. It’s basically been Noah the last five years because it’s an intangible. If you produce they call you an All-Star and a winner, so leader isn’t that important. This is a Bulls team of guys who are decent people, though mostly quiet and remote off the court, including Butler, who always basically stayed with friends and family on the road.
So he’s trying to change, and to do so he has to be more vocal about it. It’s like trying out for the debate team in school. You still can’t be afraid to ask someone for a date. I think at this point Jimmy is the most popular player on the team as he reflects what fans like to think about themselves, that they’d be tough and not complain on the court and as Thibodeau famously said, do your job. But in the end it’s always about results, and we don’t get to see that until there actually are games.
As I watch this Bulls team and think about where they've been, I see a team in transition. The team leaders and most productive players of years past were Noah and Rose but going forward it seems likely that both of those roles will be filled by Butler and Gasol. Knowing what you know about Noah and Rose as people, do you feel they could be comfortable being supporting players or would one or both have to be moved to maintain team cohesiveness? I look at (Rose) the same way I look at the later part of Allen Iverson's career. If Iverson, as his physical skills faded, could have focused on being more of a pure point guard and less about being the number one scoring option on his team, he might have had a longer career with some rings. I'd like to be wrong about Rose but I don't think I am. I believe his ego will make him a distraction on the Butler led Bulls.
Sam: I obviously believe it’s a bit premature to write off Rose and Noah. Mostly because if they are reduced to being role players the Bulls really don’t have a chance to compete seriously in the Eastern Conference and may not be a top four team. I don’t believe they are at that stage as I expect Rose to still average 20 points. I don’t see enough scoring without him, especially with Pau being 35 and being asked to play less this season for potential health concerns. That would be asking an awful lot of Mirotic and McDermott, especially with Dunleavy out.
I understand the implication of your anti-Rose sentiment that he is selfish and wants to be a scorer. I’m sure he loved averaging 25 per game a few years back. Who wouldn’t? But Rose’s history always has been as a team player. He famously held off in high school and college to help teammates either get college scholarships or drafted by NBA teams as it was obvious he could average many more points. He was asked by the Bulls to score as much as he did as any fair look at those rosters—yes, Keith Bogans as the scoring guard for 82 games—demonstrated if Rose didn’t score there might not be 41 wins.
Can Jimmy score enough? He’s still a shaky three point shooter (33 percent career to 30 percent for Rose). Can Pau at 35? Dunleavy and Gibson are coming off surgeries. Noah? We know that answer. The kids? No, Rose still has to be a scorer along with Jimmy. That Jimmy has impressively made himself a better passer gives the Bulls two players to run pick and roll (Rose used to be the only one). But both have to score and probably need to be the leading scorers, especially the way coach Hoiberg wants to play.
And remember Rose in last season’s playoffs averaged double the assists of anyone else on the team. So I’m not quite sure about this notion of being shoot first. Jimmy has said they could be the top backcourt. Though not if one is a role playing facilitator. Sure, Rose has had multiple injuries. But he’s still just 27 and everyone including Hoiberg says he seems as explosive as ever. Iverson still averaged 26 a game at 33 years old. The Butler/Rose backcourt is just getting started.
I can already picture you rolling your eyes and responding to this question with something like, "How about we see what happens this year before speculating about next year." Noah is a free agent after this season. If he wants big money over five years it's not hard to imagine the Bulls passing on that option and letting him go to another team willing to give him four years of big money. I'm not saying whether I think they should or shouldn't, but I could see them allowing him to move on.
Gasol will be 36 next year, and has the option of opting out of his contract which you'd assume he would now that he's reestablished his value around the league. I know a lot of teams are playing small ball now, but Gibson and Portis don't seem big enough to play center full-time. Hard to see it as a fit for Mirotic on defense. You don't find a lot of starting centers late in the first round. How do you think the Bulls might address the position should Noah not be on the team next year?
Sam: How about we see what happens….Yes, we agree on that. But that’s also why you don’t want to move away from big men too quickly. It’s not much discussed or credited, but one of the great strengths of the Warriors last season was their size with Bogut, Ezeli and a bit of David Lee here and there. They’ll tell you for all the flash and dash of Curry and Thompson, they would not have won without their bigs.
So if Noah isn’t always aesthetically appealing, don’t give up on him too soon. Same with Pau. Big guys are tough to replace, and for all the skills and hustle of guys like Portis and Gibson, as the saying goes and you suggest, you can’t teach size. Small ball is in fashion, but basketball will always be a game for big men. When you have them you don’t give them up without a fight. It is the one thing the 76ers have going for themselves now with, assuming Joel Embiid can recover, enough big men to start motivating someone to deal.
Why do the Pacers want Paul George to play power forward?
Sam: Because they don’t have one. It also seems apparent George is not exactly on board with the plan. Not everyone plays shooting forwards and it hurts to defend inside. What really is most interesting about the walk it up, physical Eastern Conference is the number of teams who, like the Bulls, are saying at least for now they are going to run (everyone says that before the season), shoot threes and open the floor. The Pacers for sure losing West and trading Roy Hibbert and trying to persuade George to switch positions. But the Wizards also say they’ll abandon their two big guys line and are trying to make Kris Humphries a stretch four. The Pistons want to run, the Bucks as we have seen even with Greg Monroe. The Heat isn’t going to beat you up and not the Hawks. It’s the wide open East?
Heard anything about Carlos Boozer? Always liked him. People always expected more from him but he was what he was. He actually was a better pro than anyone thought he would have been. Anyone who the bulls signed after striking out in 2010 on LBJ//Wade/Bosh would have been hated by Bulls fans.
Sam: Ah, the good old days with C-Booz. And one! Boozer is probably the biggest name that’s slipped by with the start of the preseason. He’s obviously made enough money with two longterm, eight figure contracts. He’s gone back to Miami to live and my guess is he hooks on with the Heat for a minimum sometime later this season if they seem in contention. He probably can still make a shot.
The truth is there wasn’t much choice that summer if you didn’t get LeBron. It’s not like getting Bosh was going to make that much difference without LeBron and Wade. David Lee, the next in line, basically fell out in Golden State as Boozer did with the Bulls, and the rest of that supposedly great free agent class were mostly overpaid busts. Which is the fallacy of free agency. It doesn’t much turn your team around unless you get the star of stars. Get Durant next summer and you’re talking.
But was there one single free agent from this past summer who is going to make an incredible difference? Sure, Aldridge was the big pickup for the Spurs. Though David West may do as much. Aldridge is the ideal addition for the Spurs to eventually transition away from Tim Duncan. And the Spurs have been pretty good. Free agency has mostly been about spending a lot of money you have. Teams have to spend it, and there’s always hope. And you don’t give up anything but money. So it’s worth the effort, but expectations need to be tempered. Boozer was a solid contributor on teams that had the league’s best record in consecutive seasons. The Bulls could have done worse.
Thanks for introducing some rational thought into the arcane discussion about Derrick Rose's capitalistic greed. I can't believe we're having this discussion. Even Bernie Sanders would encourage Derrick to get whatever he's worth. To get back to basketball, how about you only publish money comments from people who can honestly say they never pursued a new job for more money. That should at least limit the hare-brained comments to self-made millionaires and liars, with the liars maybe a little more interesting.
After that, maybe you could get the players and coaches to sit around a campfire and roast marshmallows and sing solemn songs together so we can get past the disharmony theme.
Sam: This feud story and internal rivalries is amazing in a sense. The players themselves have denied it multiple times; then there are anonymous sources from media people, some of whom have never even spoken to one or both of the players. So this is what the logic suggests: Better to believe the anonymous sources than what the players say.
Of course, if that’s the logic, then you have to consider the players frauds and liars and the media reports and those disseminating them the true avatars of truth and justice. Thanks, meanwhile, for my first reference to Bernie, who attended the same high school I did in Brooklyn, James Madison. So did Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Though I always identified more with the guy who became publisher of Mad magazine. Yes, by the way, America does seem ready for a self proclaimed Jewish socialist. Actually, good thing we have this Rose/Butler hysterics going on. Or we might have to pay attention to some of the presidential candidates.