Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls

Ask Sam | Sam Smith Opens His Mailbag | 12.12.2015

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 | 12.12.2015 | 11:50 a.m.


Taj is one tough guy. Why would we trade him. There's no real truth to that is there? What would we do if one of our bigs got hurt? We need him.

--Ateeq Ahmed


Sam: I guess there was a Taj trade rumor somewhere. I missed it, but, no, I don’t see any way they trade Gibson. I believe he’ll start the rest of the season, anyway. So that would end that. And he is valuable. He is that energy player so often discussed. He stops offense as he’s not a ball mover, but this is an imperfect group of players with a lot of skills toward one side of the game or the other. Taj’s positives far outweigh what he doesn’t do.

Though the larger issue is looking forward. Both Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah can be free agents after the season. I suspect at least one will return, but it’s not up to the Bulls. So if neither were to stay the Bulls would badly need someone like Gibson to go with Bobby Portis and then some more front line help. So with a very good contract for this era, Gibson becomes one of the Bulls more valuable players. I see him in a strong position with the Bulls for at least the next few years. And vital with the current group. He’s been quietly as good as anyone the last few weeks.


The season is only 20 games in, so I think all the hysteria surrounding the team's last few losses is a bit much. However, there are some definite concerns. For this team to be a contender, they need Derrick Rose to be aggressive, and for whatever reason, he just hasn't shown much of that this season. It kind of makes you realize how good Rose truly was. For those years he was healthy, a lot of us took for granted how dominant Rose was on a team that had a shooting guard rotation of Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer. I don't think Rose will ever not be my favorite athlete, but he just is not playing aggressively this season, and it's hurting the team. It'll get better...right?

--Christian Boblink

Sam: I’ve long believed Rose will get better as the season progressed, especially after having surgery in the preseason once again as if everyone acts like it’s no big deal. Well, it isn’t to them. Here’s a guy with four surgeries since 2012, three on knees that have changed the way he has to play, if not also the way he wants to play. I know last year in sports is 20 years, but the first 20 games last season Rose was building and though he needed a meniscus surgery again he came on stronger in the playoffs.

This all seems obvious to me with Rose even if I haven’t asked him and don’t hear him talk about it. It’s about getting through one season—yes, one season to start—healthy. Because if he’s not healthy, he can never help the team. So it’s not about dunking now or taking extra risks. I do see him pushing the ball into the front court, but the offense quickly bogs down with one pass and a shot. Let’s see what would happen if the ball swung around and got back. I don’t think anyone can compare Rose to the player he was. But look at all the ACL players. Rondo had his first dunk of the season Thursday night. Gallinari doesn’t dunk, Rubio is slower. Jabari Parker moves tentatively and now they are talking in Milwaukee about what sort of player he’ll be in three years. That injury changes you.

No one can promise what sort of player Rose will be, but he’s obviously being punished by the community for not being who he was. Funny we were much more forgiving in the 60s with Gale Sayers. And that was an angry decade. I was getting mail a week or two ago about Rose shooting too much. The last few games he hasn’t shot much (5-11 both games) and now I got mail saying he isn’t aggressive enough. He’s an officially polarizing figure no matter what he does for now here. Like with LeBron, there are people who hate him no matter what. And he’s great, a joy to watch, one of the best players ever. But many will find fault, as others do with Kobe.

Rose accepts it and as I’ve said before I marvel the way he speaks frankly with media after every game even as it’s obvious some of the questions are designed to bait him into an embarrassing response. He’s often shown a maturity much greater than his critics. I’m also guessing in three years of rehabilitation the doctors and trainers have talked to him. And I’m guessing they said this is what you have to do or this is the best thing to do to avoid another serious knee injury. Look, this is not a guy who can’t wait to finish his basketball career to get to his next phase in horticulture. I’m sure Rose is trying to do everything to maximize his playing career. And I’m guessing that includes very particular instructions from very good doctors about which muscles not to expose too much or pressure.

Certainly not early in the season, and not after not playing except for about 10 minutes in preseason. I can’t predict how Rose will play; I believe he’ll be much better later in the season. And, really, isn’t that what we heard here for five years? That the players needed to coast a bit more early so they would be better later instead of wearing down at the most important time of the season?


I'm not saying they're definitely not going anywhere, but say at some point management decides they probably aren't. Is Rose even trade-able at this point? I was thinking maybe Vivek Ranadive is the only person who might be gullible enough to go for the formerly big star who still has a kind-of big name (the Nets must have learned their lesson, right?). I'd take Rondo's temporary deal and Cauley-Stein even though I don't think he will be very good. Would anyone in the league take Rose at this point?

--Vince Alm

Sam: I guess you didn’t have a chance to read my previous response. Oh, right, just wrote it. I believe the Bulls have no intention of trading Rose or thinking about it, but even if they were to it’s not something that could occur because of the insurance policy in the league. It’s why you basically never see players traded after major medical problems. Teams can collect 80 percent of a player’s contract with major injuries. But the insurance company can eliminate some players. Preexisting conditions. No Obamacare in the NBA.

No one takes on a player with an injury history whom they cannot insure. Essentially never has happened. Though many critics prefer to give up on Rose, as they do on Jay Cutler and any athlete in a slump, let’s look at the alternatives. Much of my mail asks the team to release Aaron Brooks, Kirk Hinrich and E’Twaun Moore. I’m not sure Bobby Portis can play point guard, but I will ask him.


I find it funny that every move they make that finds success is taking a play out of Thibs' playbook. He puts Gibson with pau (balance offense/defense), playing brooks instead of Etwan Moore and benching tony snell (management needs to stop forcing hoilberg to play him). I know thibs had to go...but maybe it wasn't a bad idea to interview more people than hoilberg. I said Alvin gentry last year...

--John Rallis

Sam: So that should be a plus for Hoiberg, no? No offense regarding Alvin, but no one’s bragging about the Pelicans’ play despite having the player many regard at least the best player in the NBA not named Stephen Curry.

It was time with Thibodeau. He did a great job with the Bulls and the Bulls were better for having him, and the Bulls did him the favor of a lifetime and not only for paying him $9 million these two years for not working. For all the talk, he did not get a job for 20 years until the Bulls hired him and gave him virtually complete control. It’s rare for a rookie coach. Scott Skiles was a great coach for the Bulls and he’s great again and may win Coach of the Year. But it was time to go. Same with Doug Collins, one of the great coaches of our era. But time to go. That’s just the way it is in pro coaching with the rare exception.

Phil Jackson always said the lifecycle with any team had a maximum of seven years, if that. It’s why Phil literally almost quit after the 72-win 1995-96 season. That Hoiberg is doing those things shows he can be a very good coach. He’s flexible; he’s willing to change and adapt to his players’ strengths and fluctuations. Thibodeau took over a young, developing Bulls team. Hoiberg gets them toward the end of their run. Not over, but with the core in their 30s and Rose off three major knee surgeries.

These are completely different Bulls teams without a great young player like an Anthony Davis to carry you forward, or Rose in 2010. With Gasol and Mirotic unprepared for training camp after playing a tough summer for Spain, with veterans resting and not playing many games, with Rose out, with the NBA players having voted themselves limited workouts in training camp in the last bargaining, Hoiberg basically had to start his true evaluations during the season. So he’s seeing how players mix and who works with whom and for how long. His theory of Mirotic was right. On paper: spread the court, open driving lanes. But there are always unintended consequences when you try something new.

The defense faltered with so many players having to help both big men. And Mirotic tried to do too much to compensate, and the results, as they always are, become worse. So he properly goes back to Gibson, where I expect it will stay. Though the starting is somewhat a mirage as Hoiberg mixes and matches throughout the game and to close. Sometimes I think he does it too much as this isn’t a group of players who thinks well on the fly because they were so conditioned not to, instead to execute plans.

Coaches around the NBA were always surprised the Bulls scrimmaged so little; virtually never. But they were so prepared no one made much of it. They were that prepared because they would walk through those plays step by step for hours, again and again. You don’t break habits like that in a month or two, Maybe you never do. We’ll see. But because they never scrimmaged they never were put in those basketball situations of passing and passing again and passing again. When you are doing that, you need everyone doing it. If one or two guys break the chain there is no link. So we’ll see how they adjust to one another. Maybe they will; maybe they can’t, but that’s what this season is about for the coach and management.


This is a team without an identity and more importantly without any joy on the court. It seems to be against the Bulls policy but they desperately need to make a trade to infuse some new life into the team, even a minor deal for a backup energy wing player. A Matt Barnes type, anything really.

--Sundeep Shah

Sam: Well, that would qualify as anything. What, Stephen Jackson unavailable? I am a believer in the concept of playing with enthusiasm, the fun of the game, which infuses a team with the sort of energy they talk about that can be missing. Winning games helps, though you also see a paint-by-numbers look at times with the Bulls as players are trying to figure out how to adjust to the changes and don’t have everyone aware. It’s a simpler adjustment in theory than actuality.

The Bulls historically do not make many midseason trades. Will Mike Dunleavy be back and when? Can they find time for Bobby Portis? Doug McDermott is among the league leaders in valued three-point shooting. He needs more shots, not fewer. Plus, you don’t add reserve players who come to your teams as motivational leaders. I’m sure the Cavs would let you have J.R. Smith, one of those midseason acquisition types. It’s not any official start of the trading season, but this coming week the trade talk will begin as it ends basically the waiting period before you can trade players signed over the summer.

Little is likely to happen immediately, and with players facing free agency this summer the Bulls will have the names of some players thrown around. But they already are so deep they haven’t found time for Portis. I suspect this group will have to continue working through things with episodes of the kind of public hysteria that accompanied this week’s three straight losses.


Is d rose deron williams?

--John Leichenko

Sam: Actually, Williams is having an excellent season and is a borderline Western All-Star. It’s too bad in a sense the way he quit on the Nets after they paid him a max deal and gave up some terrific players, especially Derrick Favors. You never see Rose say or do any of the things Williams has done from routinely blaming teammates and coaches and lobbying for firings and trades and bringing up injuries all the time. And I don’t think they were even that mad at Williams in Brooklyn, where I know from growing up there they are mad at a lot of stuff and a lot of the time.


Unlikely an undefeated team would trade one of its core, but I'm assuming Harrison barnes is going to get a max offer this off season. Even though the cap will be going up, I find it hard to believe the warriors can keep everyone. My far-fetched idea this time is to acquire barnes for mcdermott portis and a couple of picks.

--Mike Kay

Sam: So you’re the Warriors and have one of the great runs in NBA history going and you think to yourself, yeah if I can get Bobby Portis who hasn’t played yet and Doug McDermott whom the weak shooting Bulls get about seven shots a game and play behind Tony Snell, yeah, that’s the ticket, I’m going to break up my team and trade one of my starters for them, a starter who is so versatile I can play this amazing small lineup and have him guard three or four positions because he’s also such a good defender and three point shooter. Yeah, that should insure a dynasty run. Anyone got Gar’s number?


Do you think that the platoon system works in basketball? Football obviously and baseball to a certain extent but I have my doubts on basketball. I see what Holberg is trying to do but it seems he gets caught out of position more often than not. Because of the teamwork basketball requires, (we don’t have LeBron), I thought that you need two-way players for the most part. Platooning also risks demotivating players (Noah) by denigrating their skills on one side of the ball.

--Greg Young

Sam: I believe Hoiberg is showing he’s a quick thinking, inventive guy. He just needs 72 time outs a game. Obviously the ideal is what everyone is searching for, and when you get it—and you rarely do—you’re talking about 70 wins. The Bulls had it with that great group in ’96 when they basically could switch every pick and roll because of the length and versatility of the defenders (Kukoc was much better than ever given credit for) and everyone but Rodman could score any way. The Warriors take that a step further with five guys doing that with Draymond Green and Barnes. Basically no one else has that.

Look at some of the greatest players. James Harden, runnerup for MVP is arguably the league’s worst and most disinterested defender. It’s one reason they have slumped again. Durant and Westbrook don’t defend much; the Clippers are easy to score against even with DeAndre Jordan. It’s tough to get those players because there aren’t many around. The Bulls have some, and some who are good enough on one end to make up for less on the other. But it’s also why no one picked them to win the NBA title. Not that they can’t as the Cavs have shown they are vulnerable again as they were last season. And as improved as the East is, there are no super teams or teams you don’t feel you can beat. This season is about reaching that climax in April and May and seeing if the players have meshed to cover up more weaknesses than expose them. If they haven’t, then you make changes.


So impressed with what Rick Carlisel gets out of his teams yr after yr. Getting a great effort out of guys like Zaza and Felton. Go figure.

--Mike Sutera

Sam: Carlisle is one of the better and underappreciated coaches. He got a coach of the year award with Detroit a while back. He can have a tough exterior, but the Rondo firing was good last season as you see no problems now with Deron Williams. But it doesn’t work for everyone, and Rick was so off putting at one time he alienated many in interviews. But anyone now would love to have him as the Mavs are one of the surprise teams this season thanks in big part to some of his work.


Last year the NBA beat writers seemed to puke every time they mentioned the Eastern Conference. Is it possible that Charlotte just has the Bulls' number? It seems like the Bulls just can't defend that team, even though other teams do fine against them.

--Kirk Landers

Sam: I love that a year removed from the national talk shows screaming that the commissioner must merge the conferences or he doesn’t know what he is doing the East teams have better records after the West’s top two or three, which was the old East formula. Leave it alone! Of course as we know too many people in this era have voices that should not be heard. No, Charlotte is for real the way they move the ball. The addition of Batum was terrific and though you never need say it about his fortunes, but good for Michael Jordan as an executive as he did take a beating for that for many years.


What's the story with Aaron Brooks who now seems a regular DNP, even with his injury healed? When he's in for Rose, we give up some defense compared to Kirk, but we also get someone who can get hot, both from the three point line and going to the hoop. Although he never met a shot he didn't like, he could be one remedy to these scoring draughts that we've been experiencing.

--Michael Mezey

Sam: So you’re talking to Fred, eh? Obviously, this was written before Thursday when Brooks was terrific and excellent playing with Rose. Of course, when he tosses up some of those wild scoops that knock out the 24-second clock on the top of the backboard I get a half dozen emails demanding he be sent to the D-league. Many players are acquired tastes and you live with their bad days and bad games and imperfections because they have strengths and skills. I’ve found it much easier to know what’s right and what to do when I’m watching rather than participating.

Again, you have to credit Hoiberg who sat Brooks three games and then played him extensively in the fourth quarter with some urgency needed in the offense. I do think these changing lineups sometimes set things back, but it is the way you have to go forward by seeing who can do what with whom and when and then answering with offense when needed.

I don’t talk with Brooks much, but he’s very funny with a clever mischievous streak. I didn’t get it in my game wrap, but I asked him if Hoiberg said anything to him before Thursday’s game. He said Hoiberg said to be ready. Then Brooks added with a grin that Hoiberg said that to him the last three games also. He gets it and is a terrific teammate. He’s, who knows, 5-9, 5-10, really with an amazing ability to make shots in the NBA. But guys that size who should not even be in the NBA are going to have games that don’t look good. You have to accept those and understand the imperfections; of course in the ballplayers you watch because we know you and your colleagues at work and home never experience that.


What is the latest on Mike's return? When he is back what do you think his impact will be? Will he right the ship?

--Matthew Mikulice

Sam: Mike Dunleavy the savior? I better ask him about that. Actually, I better not or he may stay out until 2018. It’s certainly more than a month and with recovery and training you maybe are not looking until around All-Star break. But that’s OK as it almost would be like a midseason trade or pickup of someone released. He obviously would help, and let’s remember Tony Snell is a substitute starter. No one expected him to start. Dunleavy is experienced, understands spacing and ball movement and was the team’s best shooter last season and has had huge playoff shooting games. Obviously, he’s the kind of player Hoiberg misses. But let’s consider him just a bit behind the likes of LeBron returning to Cleveland.


I feel sorry for Tony Snell – his confidence is just declining game by game. I’m not suggesting that the Bulls recent poor play is all his fault and the problem is of course, what options does Hoiberg really have? He could play Mirotic a little at the three, but he didn’t look very comfortable at that position when he played it in spurts last year and his confidence is anything but sky high at the moment as well. While McDermott is playing well, he is probably not ready to take on starters minutes yet, which leaves us back with Tony. We knew Dunleavy was valuable but you get the sense that this Bulls team needs him up and about more than ever at the moment.

--Andrew Robson

Sam: Hey, maybe he is LeBron.


If you had one move to make at the deadline, what would you push for? I'd have to think one of the blue chip kids from Philly (Noel/Okafor) has to available for the right price.

--Wesley Davis

Sam: We have to stop making fun of Philadelphia for awhile with Jerry Colangelo coming in, which most around the NBA believe is the beginning of the end for the current management—and why not—and the eventual return of former Executive of the Year Bryan Colangelo; by the way won the year John Paxson should have won for a coup that included getting the rights to Luol Deng from the Suns along with Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Nocioni and a little earlier hiring of Scott Skiles. Colangelo will bring reason and professionalism to the process, but not wins this season. They’re not getting rid of their best players now, and they’re not trying to get better until after the Ben Simmons draft.


Please explain what this "Jordan's shadow" thing is and why the free agents didn't want to come to Chicago after MJ left. I'm assuming it meant no one wanted to get MJ's torch passed onto because MJ was this city's icon and the greatest player ever. I still don't understand this. Chicago fans merely wanted a star free agent to join the Bulls so that they can start winning again, not daring him to become another MJ which everyone knew wasn't possible. I don't think "Jordan's shadow" was the hindrance but they just didn't want to come to a team that didn't have enough good players.

--Bambi Choy

Sam: Some players—Grant Hill was one—didn’t want to have to always be compared to Jordan, that no matter what you did, well Michael won six. Not that it would be universal, but there was that feeling, and Kevin Garnett also was open in saying he didn’t like the idea of playing in Chicago. The Lakers are going to have some of the same issues as one reason Dwight Howard got out was he didn’t like the Shaq, Kareem comparisons. I don’t believe it’s much an issue anymore, but it was 20 years ago.

And maybe always will be for some players as, after all, it seemed obvious Chicago was the best place for LeBron as he could have signed with the Bulls with Wade and played with Rose then healthy and Noah and chose Miami with much less talent. There was even a scenario where LeBron could have come with Bosh and Wade to join Noah and Rose and he still didn’t want to pursue that. Maybe the Jordan thing was on his mind, but no one knows and he’s never said or hinted why he passed on the Bulls.


I love the fact that Butler asked to play the entire 4th quarter, but I love even more that Hoiberg told him that he needed the rest. Seems like most fans/media were always complaining about minutes from Thibs, so to see a coach think more about the rest of the season/playoffs instead of that game is refreshing to me. I know you think the minutes debate was overblown with Thibs, but it will be nice to see if Hoiberg's approach will payoff in the playoffs.

We all know Jimmy can handle 42 minutes a game, but it is not really necessary for the long run. Besides that, this early season funk is no big deal, figure it out by March and that's all that matters as long as they make the playoffs, and I don't think anyone should be worried about missing the playoffs, even with a stronger Eastern Conference.

--Jon Kueper

Sam: They have talent, but there are obvious flaws and uncertainties. But it was pretty amazing to hear that from Butler as he’s complained the last few seasons about being worn out come playoff time. It’s good he wants to play, and he did play almost 10 minutes in that fourth quarter. But a coach has to do what’s in the best interests of the players because that ultimately is in the best interests of the team.

I remember Game 1 of the 1991 conference finals with the big Pistons series. The Bulls were about to blow a big lead heading into the fourth quarter when Phil Jackson always rested Jordan. This was their seminal game, finally the season to beat Detroit and Jordan saw it slipping away at home the first time they had playoff home court advantage over Detroit. But Phil keeps him there because he knows he cannot over extend Michaels legs—yes, even Jordan—and this is not a one game series. The reserves—the first mention of my supporting cast—hold it together and Michael returns later to finish it off on the way to a sweep. Even though the Bulls lost to the Celtics, you have to credit Hoiberg for doing the right thing. And Jimmy for doing what he thought was right.


With the possibility of Joe Johnson either being bought out or traded or both, is there any interest in the Bulls getting him? Even in exchange for one of our bigs/draft picks or combination of? You can make the case that he is a shot maker and would give the Bulls another strong scoring option esp. on the wing. You could move Butler to the three or whoever is the toughest wing on a particular night.

--Elias Zimianitis

Sam: There are not likely to be trades for guys like Johnson making $25 million. I liked Joe as a free agent in 2010 and he was my post LeBron choice (I never thought he’d come even if it made sense) as the free agent until the Hawks offered him the max the Bulls couldn’t match. Johnson was all set to come to the Bulls before then and I wonder if he would rather have had the $95 million and the chance to play with a better team. I still like him even though he does hang onto the ball a lot; but he’s a big guard who can defend and make shots and I think the Bulls will be good enough this season for players bought out to have an interest. That’s an area to watch, though you never know who will pursue a buyout. Johnson has given no indication he would.


The Bulls defense ranks dead last in forcing turnovers (11.1% of possessions according to Basketball Reference). Not to say our defense is bad. We're 3rd in points allowed per possession and 1st in opponents effective FG%. The lack of turnovers is likely the result of our style of disciplined defense. We were typically toward the bottom in this category under Thibs as well. The Bulls also toward the bottom in fast-break points.

My question. Should we start to move away from this style of defense? Maybe gamble a little more often, try to get a few more run-outs and easy buckets. The Celtics do this. They rank 1st in the NBA in forcing turnovers (16.7%) and they beat the Bulls 25-13 in points scored off turnovers in a close game on Wednesday. We've got to try something different, right?

--Dan Michler

Sam: Well, you can get worse and after Thursday the Bulls were tied for fourth in the East with one of the tougher schedules and 1.5 games out of first. Of course also 1.5 games out of 10th. Which suggests nothing is certain, they’ll have to compete to make the playoffs, there’ll be good and bad stretches. But this is not an athletic team or a young team. They’re in transition more in personnel than on the court with players like Mirotic and McDermott, but they are not great athletes, more skilled. Which is good, also.

But it doesn’t lend itself to the sort of game you suggest. Boston is a young, athletic team that few figured to be better than eighth. They could be better, but they are doing what they can to win. Not win a title. No matter who wins in the NBA, the mistake teams make is trying to duplicate that. You can’t because if you try to beat them at what they do you can’t because that’s why they’re so good. You can’t beat Golden State’s small game. It’s why you have to play them slow and physically with length. Perhaps someone will figure that out by April.

Hoiberg is trying to have the Bulls style evolve to incorporate some of the best elements of where the game is headed, but you can only take small steps with the talent you have and the mistake you make is if ultimately you try to force them to become what they are not. That is the formula for failed coaches and executives. Players do not become who you want them or wish them to be. They are who they are and you have to adjust and compromise along with them.


I know team chemistry is huge, and Nick Young is probably more trouble than he's worth. But the Bulls could use a guy who can consistently hit a three... and Swaggy P at 5 million a year seems to be pretty low risk. Could you see him coming off of the Bulls bench and getting 10-15 minutes a game?

--Jason Kuang

Sam: I do like to end on a laugh.