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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 2.19.2016

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 | 2.19.2016 | 3:10 p.m.

Am I the only one who views all this fire Gar stuff to be stupid? Gar has been incredible in his role as GM and with his selections of Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic (via trade) and Bobby Portis arguably scored the Bulls the best players available at those picks which seldom happens. That's pretty great!

Further to this we also have been excellent with our free agency moves, adding Pau, Mike Dunleavy on a small deal initially, all those small point guards on minimum deals who provided a speak off the bench. The Bulls continue to sign good players to small deals via free agency and not sign guys to bad contracts. So I have zero problem with Gar.

--Christopher Doerre

Sam: I hate it when my mail is filled with nothing but positive reviews for the Bulls and management. Bulls fans are so upbeat and positive. It seems to be sunshine, lollypops and rainbows every day, as Leslie Gore noted. And how much better than that does it get, my first Lesley Gore reference (hint: She was the Beyonce of her day except with the dancing and glamour).

OK, this was the exception this week. The fan community appears a bit restless. But before I get into some of those issues, yes, if they were clever and forward thinking in the draft to get a two-time All-Star and all-league defender, a budding difficult matchup shooter and potential top big man, all with draft picks that often amount to nothing, it can’t be all that bad.

No one cares for the injury excuses, but the Bulls were about 10 games over .500 when Noah got hurt at a time he was pushing for more minutes. ESPN’s weekly power rating had the Bulls second in the East and fifth in the NBA. And when are they ever wrong? The defense was ranked among the best in the NBA. And this at a time when the bulk of my correspondents were demanding Derrick Rose be released to let the real talented guys play. It obviously doesn’t look quite as promising now, but sometimes you can get so angry that the answer is the current crop of presidential candidates.

Wow what a difference a month makes. Personally, I have a hard time buying all the "effort" commentary - I think it is a talent issue with so many folks down.

--Al Warms

Sam: There’s also been this narrative this season that the Bulls don’t play hard. Perhaps it’s worse to say they do and are losing, which points to talent. It’s always talent. Obviously, again losing the hard playing Noah and Butler, the two best defenders and hard players, as it were, is fatal. But beyond that guys are playing hard. Doug McDermott plays too hard, which is why he’s running all over the place fouling guys too late, or Bobby Portis flying at the offensive boards and then putting up some wacky shots and Tony Snell, who is pushing himself. But he lives life as a slow walker. Aaron Brooks takes as many hard hits and falls as anyone in the NBA without calls and gets right back up. Mirotic before his surgery was almost urged to slow down because, like McDermott, he so wanted to please he was running all around and pump faking, as we saw, to get himself a foul or a play or anything to help.

The problem is a lot of those players are specialists, catch and shoot shooters without anyone getting them catch and shoot shots. So they try to get involved to help and it works against them. Plus, they aren’t top level athletes. E’Twaun Moore is a great fill in guy, hard worker, all effort all the time. But he bounced around because he’s not a great athlete. Jimmy’s really not as well, though good enough with his relentless drive to make himself better than the projections. So what it shows is what the Bulls need, better athletes, players capable of attacking and finishing better and stronger.

Rose obviously was all of that and while he’s coming back, not quite to that level this season. We’ll see next season. If he stays healthy, he could be very, very good again. It’s not indifference as much as not always capable. We wanted to see what these players had. When you play them you find out. But you shouldn’t ask them to do more than who they are. I remain confident in players like McDermott. He just can’t be asked to be Kawhi Leonard when he’s Kyle Korver. It’s a bit of why no one was too upset when Korver was let go here.

I thought you were referencing Plutarch Heavensbee from the Hunger Games who said, “anyone can be replaced”. Maybe he was talking about Gar/Pax. Here you were doing ancient Greeks! The pressing issue to me is why the team is so pass averse. It’s maddening to watch guys go 1 on 3 while people stand around at the top. Half the roster is unwilling passers: Portis, Butler, Brooks, Moore, Gibson. Rose is somewhat willing but if you miss he tunes you out and he can score on his own.

I fear a thud to the end followed by a mess for sometime. Anyone can replaced, hope the fans hang in. Right now, they’re hard to watch.

--Greg Young

Sam: That is the most frustrating part I assume for Hoiberg, as well. It must not be as easy as we think. Oh, right, it’s not. It’s a skill and art, also. I’ve discussed a lot this season of the built in habits from five years with Thibodeau, and I do think that remains a big part of it. But it gets complicated with the two factors a new coach inherited: A desire to expand the roster and see players who have not been used regularly, like Mirotic, McDermott and Snell as you have to make decisions on them of whether to pay them or move on, and to get a feel for the roster.

So what Hoiberg did, which is natural, is play a lot of guys and try them in different spots. But when you do that they have difficulty evolving into a free flowing game. One thing I know about NBA players is they like to know their role and have consistency. But that wasn’t possible early this season, really, with the personnel review. Then Dunleavy wasn’t ready to start, Noah wasn’t a starter, Rose was being brought up slowly on minutes, and then guys began doing down. So the rotations were constantly in flux and you never quite knew who was where to pass to.

And now with Hinrich gone, Rose is basically your only point guard. Moore and Brooks really are smaller scoring guards. There were enough pieces there to do something, but you needed the continuity and by bad luck it was gone. Remember, the great passing Warriors weren’t passing so great three years ago with the same players. But they stayed together and got used to one another and became a marvel. The Bulls weren’t a passing, ball movement team the last five years, but they didn’t have to be as it worked. It began to work a lot less with Rose’s injury issues. They just haven’t had the personnel stability this season to create a base.

You have teams like the Magic giving up their young guy for Brandon Jennings and Ilyasova. No way we couldn't find something. Pau is better than both of them combined.

--Mario Persico

Sam: I’ve heard this outcry of how could they have not traded Gasol for, what exactly? Not that Pau doesn’t have value to a team. But the expiring contract and rental status was poisonous. It’s also why you didn’t see all these Dwight Howard and Al Horford deals so much guessed at, and they certainly are better players. Teams weren’t risking giving up even players considered just good—and no one was trading first round picks in the next five years—for a potential short rental.

The Celtics could easily have had Howard, but wouldn’t give up a role player like Crowder. So what are you getting for Gasol? Then, to me, you dump the season for some second round pick? And while the prospects don’t look great now, I hate to see teams giving up. Butler’s progress isn’t clear, but if he returns in a few weeks and Mirotic after why not see what they can do. I’d like to.

I’d love to see the Bulls play the Cavs in the first round with Rose coming on as he is (badly outplayed Kyrie Irving again), Butler, Gasol and maybe a more mature Portis from these next weeks. Portis would give Tristan Thompson a run. And wait until they get a look at Channing Frye and his defense. I’m glad the Bulls didn’t pack it in. Maybe they won’t make it, but at least give the players a chance. They certainly seem more competitive than many of my emailers.

Some times the best move is not to make the move. We just didnt have the leverage to make a big trade. We are so banged up, and nobody will take Snell. If we will improve we need it to do within. I believed Pau will sign an extension he is comfortable playing here.

--Rollen Decuzar

Sam: I agreed with keeping Pau unless you were offered something substantial, which certainly wasn’t the case. But more than that you can’t keep giving away the children you don’t like. Perhaps Pau isn’t your ideal center choice, but he is a pretty good one. And if Noah isn’t returning—and we don’t know what Gasol and Noah want to do as free agents—Gasol is a pretty good option going forward, at least short term.

The reality of the Bulls situation is that with Rose’s contract through next season, there’s really little they can substantially do in free agency until then. And, remember, everyone was demanding they extend Rose rather than risk losing an MVP. That’s the way the rules work in a salary cap league. If you drop Gasol and Noah, then you could have some cap room. But who are you attracting to sign with a front line of Gibson, Portis and Mirotic? You still need size and big man scoring, and Gasol even at 35 remains one of the best.

You weren’t going to be able to talk to him as a free agent if you had dumped him for some future pick. Retooling isn’t something done simply or quickly. You can change on the fly without destroying your team, but you have to remain somewhat competitive to remain attractive to free agents. Notice not many have been going to Philadelphia. Once you start blowing up your team, the rest of the league dismisses you as losers. They don’t come to sign for losers. You have to keep competing, and Gasol could be crucial next season for that.

A lot of rumors but only the Kirk trade. Hopefully you can discuss the reality of the Kings trade talk and Miami and Toronto. The return from the Kings on a Gasol and Snell deal for McLemore and Koufos seemed great but I could not understand the benefit to Sacramento.

--John Petersen

Sam: Nor could I, which means it likely was unlikely. You may notice the Kings did nothing. The reason from what I heard around the league was that their cap and draft pick status was so messed up from previous questionable deals that they were paralyzed and couldn’t do anything. So there basically was nothing to any of the Kings talk.

It was just speculation and apparently never could get down to anything serious because the Kings were hamstrung by previous deals, like the Nets with all the draft picks they owed. The NBA rules are when teams have rights to swap picks and things like that it prevents you from including picks and extras in deals until those encumbrances are lifted. It’s why it’s easier to deal at the draft and why there are so many fewer deals at the deadline.

With Bosh ill again, sadly, you saw Miami was out of business and everything I heard with the Raptors was they so much like their chemistry they didn’t want to do anything to disturb things. So I don’t think there was anything there to help the Bulls. They could have helped others, but I don’t believe that was their goal.

I think the main reason why Da Bulls have been so inconsistent this and last season is really simple. It’s Joakim Noah. I think a lot of us have forgotten how Noah makes such an impact on this team. He truly is not only the heart and soul but really the engine of this team. Just like how LeBron was for the Heat I believe Noah’s no different.

Just the fact he couldn’t play well last season and not as much this season is the reason why this team is so up and down. Da Bulls feed off Noah’s energy and leadership is something that does not show on paper and that’s clearly missing this year. It’s no coincidence that Da Bulls recent losing all started with Noah being out for the season too.

Before the season began I thought Hoiberg needed to start Taj instead of Noah to play with Gasol but I was dead wrong as that clearly hurt this team and identity. GarPax brought in Hoiberg to turn this team into more of an offensive team like Golden States but in reality they are not even close to that style which is why the results have been disastrous. It’s like telling Noah to all of sudden to become a shooter which we all know he’s not. I just hope the management realizes this and resign Noah after the season.

--Tom Choi

Sam: I don’t disagree with the impact Noah has had, but he hasn’t been the same player since his knee surgery. Not unlike with Rose. It’s like remembering that girl friend in high school or college and then you go to that reunion some years later. People change; players break down. Noah had not been able to do the things he did before, and the game was evolving. Other teams were also making it harder on him playing these shooting, small fours. The theory is if they do that you punish them on the other end with your size.

But Noah wasn’t an offensive player, and he regressed with the surgery and injuries and lost confidence in even trying to shoot and post up, which he’d gotten much better at before the knee surgery. He was more a pretty picture in your mind than the current reality. Still, true, he was valuable and his loss was devastating as he was the defensive pair to Pau and was making it work so well. There was no one like Noah to back up Pau and bring that defense and ball movement.

Consider Noah and Gasol are two of the best passing big men in the NBA. The Bulls didn’t have another big man probably regarded in the top 100 passers. Both sides will be making decisions after the season, which is why I’ve felt all along it was best to play it out rather than react to the slumps and misfortunes. See what they can do. They deserve that chance. Then begin to make your changes, and you still don’t even know if they’ll want to resign as they’ll have other offers.

Can't believe the Sixers have soured on Okafor. Sure had a rough patch off the court but it's hard to find a future 20 and 10 guy like him.

--Mike Sutera

Sam: Yes, I heard they think Embiid is about to return and dominate. I don’t see Colangelo making the same mistakes they’ve made there, so I doubt they’ve given up on Okafor. But for all the stuff surrounding him, a lot of teams will take the chance. He’s a big time scoring talent.

It's clear that the Bulls, in order to win, have to become better at playing sound fundamental basketball. Win the turnover battle, win the battle of the boards, learn how to defend the pick and roll, and get back on defense in order to prevent fast breaks. The Bulls lose these battles so much. 12 assists to 13 turnovers? Really? No matter how well the team shoots and defends one-on-one, they'll never be champs until they improve in these areas. Is it the failure of the coaches to get the team to do better in these critical areas, or is the current makeup of the team simply not equipped to play sound fundamental basketball?

--William Kochneff

Sam: Well, it also is tough to get assists when guys shoot under 40 percent, which is so often the case with the Bulls these days. Rose had two assists and I counted at least five wide open misses off his passes. We know that’s what you need to do. And I’m pretty sure I’ve heard the coaches say this and instruct on how to do it dozens of times. Again, the Bulls have had 12 different players start games this season. I don’t think that was the plan.

I'm pretty sure that Doug misses the first few shots he takes every game, and he gets decent looks. He also hasn't hit a runner in a while, and he was making a lot of them earlier in the year. This is more a rant than anything else, but you have any hope for Doug fans? He looks pretty bad on a consistent basis.

--Alejandro Yegros

Sam: What excuse am I up to here? More than 50? It’s like from that Billy Crystal movie—I’d reference movies in the last 20 years, but everyone’s clicking on cell phones so I stopped going—where he says one thing is all that matters.

One! Doug is a shooter. A catch and shoot shooter. A potentially terrific one. But he doesn’t get enough as the ball doesn’t always get there. He can do something with the ball, but then finds himself forcing things to get involved as Mirotic often will. You can see he wants badly to help, but sometimes you have to wait for your chance. Like in the corner. The problem is because he’s not a good defender—and that’s way overplayed because as average as Doug may be Charles Barkley was worse—but when you are not you have to make it up on the other end. He needs the chance to and hasn’t gotten it enough.

And you can’t make every shot if you are getting four or five. Then you press and aim. And though it’s tough to remember, he’s essentially a rookie with basically being dropped from playing at all once he got hurt last December. So this is his first full NBA season. I’d like to think we’re not making a final judgment on that.

Over the weekend I had the chance to watch the 1988, 1993 and 2003 All Star Games - you know, when they actually competed.

Why do you think the game became such a joke in the last few years? Is it for the "let's have fun and be buddies" attitude generation of LeBron, Melo, CP3, Wade, KD, Westbrook and cia have, in contrast with the "let's see who's the Alpha Dog, compete and get the win" attitude the generations of Isiah, MJ, Bird, Magic and later Iverson, Kobe, Garnett had?

I honestly used to love All Star Games, to be able to see the biggest stars showcasing their talents and going at each other (in 93 Barkley and Ewing even exchanged words and had a little argument during the game, in 88 Ainge suffered a foul under the basket and even stayed down a little as he fell hard on the floor) but now the game is so boring and not a real game that I ended up sleeping at half-time.

--Jay Ernani

Sam: It is where I think in this case you need more a not too nice guy commissioner like David Stern to tell these guys to start respecting the game. I hope Adam Silver will by next year. That game was a travesty. I’d been to the last 30 and basically watched every one since the mid 60s and that one in Toronto was by far the worst and most embarrassing. The lack of competition was an insult to basketball.

There’s some element of a fear of damaging their “brand” with an embarrassing performance. I believe it’s more the lack of leaders in this generation. They’ll compete during the season and they’re serious about it. But years ago you had players like Magic and Michael and Isiah and Malone and Bird and Reed and Russell who were respected leaders. They wouldn’t put up with the clowning around that went on in Toronto and would demand guys follow and they would. Assuming they weren’t.

As great as LeBron is, he’s not so much respected by the other players to be that leader. Nor are guys like Durant and Westbrook or Curry, who’s come later without quite the resume. They’re more independent corporations in this era throwing parties for themselves during the weekend with a corporate agenda. Basketball becomes less the reason for being an All-Star.

I won’t compare it to the 60s when the winners’ share mattered so much because they were paid so little. But the game has lost those transformational leaders who could inspire guys. Kobe had the makings, but he was so aloof no one much paid any attention to him. So he just went into those games and played hard. He always did, but not enough followed.

What do u think of the bulls picking up David Lee if he gets bought out? Bulls were after him before and he played with Noah in college. He might be a good rotation guy with Noah out. And he's leaps and bounds better than the bigs at the end of the bench.

--Ryan Carpel

Sam: I’m OK with that. I’m not sure what’s gone on with him, but I think he’s been better than the lack of playing time he’s gotten everywhere. I know there’s the defense issues and now this lack of stretch four thing. But he seems to have been a good teammate everywhere and can make a play.

The issue I believe the Bulls may have is these guys who are being bought out probably want to be somewhere they’ll be assured of being in the playoffs or with major playing time. The Bulls starters are in tact up front and you don’t want to start sitting Portis and Mirotic when he returns. So it may not be as easy as it seems to get one of these buyout guys to come. That’s why it’s somewhat unfair in skewing toward the top teams and perhaps the NBA will make a change at some point in that rule.

How good is Justin Holliday? Better than Hinrich right now?

--LongGiang Le

Sam: He’s no Jrue, I guess. More a young journeyman type. Probably not good enough to make the regular rotation next season, but who knows. He stuck with the Warriors all last season even if he didn’t play much, and that’s a tough organization. I asked a scout and he told me, good guy, could help a team in an emergency. Not that great overall talent. But he’s got good size and is said to compete and sometimes guys who never get a chance will surprise you if they do. Certainly worth a look as he had a good college career.

I dined with Kirk Hinrich, I knew Kirk Hinrich. Kirk Hinrich was an associate of mine. Sir, he is no Kirk Hinrich.

I have two questions:

1) I remember watching a Bulls game during the second three-peat where the Bulls were having a little trouble scoring. Phil came out of the timeout with Longley and Jordan with Kerr, Buechler, and Kukoc. Those three all shot the three well enough that it was difficult to double team Jordan. The announcers were pretty convinced that Phil had invented the concept of spacing the floor on that day.

The announcers in the Finals last year seemed to think the Warriors invented it even though the same guys thought the Spurs invented it the year before. Are there other things you've seen that seem to be "invented" every time someone does it?

2) Where can I find a good sweater vest?

--Brian Patterson

Sam: Well, there was Curry's remarkable ball handling to set guys up in the half court that no one has even seen. Since Cousy was doing in '57. And there are these amazing and mysterious analytics that have revolutionized the game that we didn’t much write down but knew when a guy liked to go left we’d shade him to his left hand and force him right to shoot where he usually didn’t.

As for sweater vests, not so easy as golf courses usually are in warm places and no one wears vests there. It is often considered the art of manliness. Until Rick Santorum and all those washed up hippies in Portland got the idea.

After watching what Karl-Anthony Towns did to the Bulls a few days ago and his performance in the Skills Challenge, would you say Towns is KG 2.0?

--Jay Ernani

Sam: Actually, I think he could be better. When Garnett came to the NBA he didn’t have near the sophisticated offensive game and always was a player despite the tough image who didn’t like contact. That’s how he developed that great 20 footer. Towns seems to relish the contact and could become a truly great one and better than Garnett.

I usually don’t explain my twitter jokes, in part because it might take too much time. But I made one when the Bulls played the Timberwolves in preseason in I think Towns first game. Gasol blocked his first shot attempt, so I tweeted something about the reports being right that he is overrated or a bust. You know humor, exaggeration. It’s the lesson to players of why you never respond to the social media stuff. Now, I know they are a little more dense in Minnesota than most places because of the cold. But people send me told-you-so tweets of my tweet all the time to show me how wrong I was on Towns and how smart they were. You know, like when Rodney Dangerfield said he went to school and when he got home his parents had moved. He’d probably be getting tweets if he were alive about how they didn’t and he was wrong. Humor can be a tough sell in this generation. Even outside Minnesota at times.