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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 6.26.2015
Sam Smith of Bulls.com opens his Ask Sam mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers
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By Sam Smith | 6.26.2015 | 2:45 p.m. CT
Why did Portis drop from potential lottery to the Bulls? Nobody is talking about this.
Sam: Because this is the most inexact of sciences and to call it a science is to insult Einstein. It’s why I often do those looks back at the draft five and 10 years later. The draft is a lot of guessing and speculation, and especially more difficult with players so much younger. Potential lottery had Portis maybe somewhere between 12 and 18. The Bulls had 22. So he fell, what, five or six spots, maybe, on general speculation and inartful analysis? Didn’t Winslow “fall” about the same number of places to 10 for a player talked about as a “certain” top five? Did Jimmy Butler fall 26 spots? “Falling” in the draft seven or eight places based on predraft examinations and observations is an irrelevant measure. Portis as he said could be the best player from the draft in 20 years. Or he could be a bust. It’s like a minor leaguer going to the majors. Now we watch and see what he has. No one really knows until then. It’s an odd sort of human flesh market that I assume future generations will be appalled at discovering that’s the way we decided how people should be able to start their jobs.
Seems like the Bulls were fortunate to get a player with the accomplishments that Portis has picking so late in the first round. It was also encouraging to hear from Hoiberg, after the drama between Thibs and the front office, that everyone was on the same page with the pick. All of that said, I can recall a lot of tall skinny power forwards from recent drafts who disappointed and never turned out to be quality NBA players. It'd be hard to call someone taken with the #22 pick a bust, but what kind of game do you see Portis playing in the NBA? Big men with height but not a wide body seem to need to be extremely skilled to be above average NBA players. Do you think Portis has any outstanding skills?
Sam: It’s difficult for me to determine since I rarely watch college basketball, and the difference is I admit it since very few NBA talent evaluators know for sure either since there is such a big difference between NBA and college. The college game is awful, slow and over controlled with so little teaching and fundamental work that the young players who come to the NBA are generally ill prepared and have to get by on talent until they learn a few things. Portis’ advantage seems more to me his size than his game. He’s NBA size at almost 6-11 and 250. He’s got some shooting touch, so you can teach him and he’s seemed like a kid willing to work. He comes from a rough background, so you never know how that will impact him once he has money. Some are conservative and stay in the gym and some go the Eddy Curry 12-cars-in-his-driveway route. Life changes once you have to play against men fighting for their living and you having to face a lonely life traveling around the country all winter as you better have some discipline. You never know any of that until you see them go through it. Portis is like a lot of kids in this era who survive tough childhoods. Some like Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson prosper with the structure of pro ball. Others like Curry or Eddie Robinson fall victim to its temptations. There have been few players through the Bulls over the years as talented as Curry and Robinson. Portis isn’t much needed yet, so the Bulls will have a chance to determine whether he’s worth keeping based on his commitment and readiness to contribute. I do think Hoiberg will give him chance and if he just hustles and works like a young Noah he could help. He’s got more skills than Noah, but does he have the desire, commitment and attitude? You can go far with just that when you have the size. We’ll have to wait to find out.
If the Bulls think Portis can play center I would love for the bulls to bring in Cliff Alexander, especially if there's a chance we move Taj Gibson and/or Joakim Noah. I mean this kid was projected as a lottery pick before the whole NCAA issues. Nearly 6'8" with 7'4" wingspan. Why not take a look? Can't hurt right.
Sam: Some guys headed for stardom don’t make it, like Joakim Noah’s buddy Lenny Cooke. Alexander may be one of those, though perhaps more for a problematic NBA size, like another former Kansas guy, Thomas Robinson, who in an annual ritual like Sacramento Kings coaching changes (nine since 2006) apparently must be traded every season. The athletic forward from Curie High School was a top five national prospect, just the second ever now not to be drafted. There was a poor freshman season, injuries, an NCAA probe (who cares as the NCAA generally is more corrupt than any player it investigates) and questions about attitude of play.
Talk spread around the NBA of a problem player, and as an in between forward suddenly not much worth the risk. A few inches taller and it would have been. Here was a classic case of a talented kid whose draft stock declined, but who still insisted on trying the draft. Bad signal to NBA teams that he’s not trying to get better but just cash in. Better start learning some languages as his career is probably going to be overseas. The Bulls not in need of the position anyway, whatever position it may be, aren’t about to use a roster spot or even consider one for someone like Alexander with still many needs at backup point guard.
The Bulls did what any good team would do with so many veterans. They took the best player available. I'd have been surprised and disappointed had they picked a so-so guard.
Sam: It’s the right thing to do for every team, though it will be interesting to see with the Lakers. They clearly decided they couldn’t go with a second post half court big man, though it’s not like you can’t trade Julius Randle. The conventional wisdom is you take the best big man compared to best small man, but things have changed in the NBA with the rules changes against doubling big men and lack of hand checking and contact with guards. So guards have become more dominant and the Lakers basically needed every position. So Russell was a legitimate pick at No. 2 even passing the big man. And Okafor should be available before too long as I’m guessing he’s already preparing for his first free agent season.
What the 76ers miss in their theoretical thinking is you poison kids with losing doing what they are doing. They become selfish, bad team players, seeking out stats and then have to become retrained, their careers lessened even if their numbers are impressive. Since the draft is so inexact, you should never get too caught up in drafting for position, especially since there always will be veterans at minimum salaries or reasonable contracts to fill reserve roles. Just keep trying to get the best talent. Their job is to identify it, and then once they do to try to get it.
What do you think of this trade, Joakim Noah or Gibson for Rudy Gay?
Sam: Not much. We should probably get past given the injury issues with both that there are no trade opportunities available even if the Bulls wanted to at this point, and I’ve gotten no indication they do. As for Gay, he’s just started a new extension that has three years left and about $40 million. He’s going to be very tough for anyone to take. Gay also is sort of this era’s Orlando Woolridge. I started a statistic years ago for the late former Bull, who really was a wonderful guy. But his individual, midrange, athletic game — much like Gay’s and only worse in this era — didn’t travel well.
Woolridge was traded several times and every time he was traded the team he left improved and the team he went to got worse. It happened about the first three or four times with Woolridge and it’s been similar with Gay, though by all accounts he’s always been a decent guy. But his individual, isolation game is a tough fit. A very bad one for a team like the Bulls even if they were interested. And then there’s the factor now that it takes a few seasons to just get Sacramento out of you as a player and learn to become a potentially successful player.
The perennial lottery Minnesota Timberwolves acquire yet another point guard - which is somewhere between five and seven of them in the last 4 years. Did you know that elephants also return back to the Timberwolves to die?
Sam: Well, it is a good place to be frozen. Actually, Tyus Jones was a pretty good addition given all the uncertainty regarding Ricky Rubio and injury and trade and that he still can’t make a shot. Yes, it was an ugly history with point guards, though, and the one they’ll never be able to forget was needing a point guard and passing on Stephen Curry, and even Brandon Jennings (OK, I’d pass Jennings, too), Ty Lawson (whom they did pick and trade), Jrue Holiday, Jeff Teague and Darren Collison to take Rubio and Jonny Flynn with the 5th and 6th picks in the draft. We assume this is what drove Fred Hoiberg back to coaching as he was an on–the-outs assistant in the front office then (hey, don’t look at me!), basically not involved much anymore since he’d been hired by the Kevin McHale group and not David Kahn, who was running them all out, as it turned out, on his way out.
The Daily News had this Kobe “rapist” tweet from their draft pick Larry Nance Jr.
Sam: Sigh. It gets more embarrassing to be an American every day. I don’t know if this goes on around the world, but it seems we have completely lost our sense of humor, that people seek with delight some social media comment from years ago (these when the guy was in high school) and then can make some declaration about his character and who he is and have the politically correct police condemn him. What sort of low lifes spend their time trolling social media to then become morally offended? Losers, for sure.
The Bulls pick, Portis, had to deal with this even right after the draft sending an apology (very unnecessary, I thought) for some tweets when he was in high school and obviously a Heat LeBron fan rooting against Derrick Rose (though less than the vitriol I often hear against Rose on Chicago talk radio) and condemning Pau Gasol. So these guardians of our sensibilities immediately are publishing his comments, which were sent to someone else about a sports debate to then make a judgment on his character or try to embarrass him. These are the same people who probably complain about too much government surveillance and then are trying to reveal your quips to humiliate and embarrass you. Obviously, people who do that are low lifes with so little in their own lives that their only gain is to try to demean others.
The larger issue is this ongoing lack of a sense of humor in the country most open to free debate in the world. Then you make a joke and you have to be punished, lose your job, your reputation. The joy so many seem to get out of twisting a joke or quip or humor into a statement of character and then demanding retribution and punishment is one of the worst developments to occur in our society. Whatever happened to sticks and stones? You know, words will never harm me. Get over yourself. Life’s best philosophy needs to remain if they can’t take a joke, well they should know what to do. Root for whomever you want, Bobby. Derrick and Pau will get over it. They’re menschen. And, you know, they don’t look Jewish.
Perhaps it's my slight superstition, or my Bulls history. Is it possible that the kid Russell from Ohio State may be a bit overrated like his former schoolmates Brad Sellers, Dennis Hopson, Jimmie Jackson, Greg Oden and Evan Turner were? I'm really surprised that the pundits have not spoke of this.
Sam: Me, too. I have heard some of that potentially overrated thing the way this kid has been called a passer like Pete Maravich. Everyone is hesitant to make those sorts of failure declarations after many were doing it for Stephen Curry in that draft as too small, no position. But if you were looking for champion athletic personnel from Ohio State I’d go with golfers.
With the Bulls selecting Bobby Portis, it concerns me that they may trade either Gibson or Noah. Why else would they select a power forward when there were so many guards left to choose from?
Sam: Gar Forman was asked that directly after the draft and as he answered that the two were not connected and selecting a forward was no reflection on Noah or Gibson or involved any plans with either. I went back and checked the tapes afterward and there was no growth of his nose at all. Though it was a bit shiny for TV and probably not enough makeup this time.
Could LeBron sign a max with the Cavs right now with player opt outs after every season? This would give him security in case of catastrophic injury but still allow him to avail himself of the benefits of the expected cap increase(s). Would the League reject the contract? Lebron has the leverage to do this; Cleveland owner can't lose him twice. This is like a reverse NFL contract.
Sam: LeBron probably is going to be signing a series of one year deals with a second year player option so at least he’d be guaranteed two years. You can’t sign long and have outs every year. But a lot of players are going to start doing this looking toward the expansion of the salary cap and potentially higher salaries after next season. But that’s also good for teams as performance varies and other than when you have LeBron you’re better off if more of your players are on short term deals. It will be interesting to see what Butler does. I’d take the five years if I were him. Of course, I also would have taken the $44 million last year. You know, start earning that one percent interest. But he thinks he can earn well above $100 million. Good for him, though I probably can live on that.
Since Jimmy wants the smaller deal, what is the maximum amount a competitor can offer him on a per year basis? Is it unlimited? Or can it not be higher then the 18 per year the Bulls offered??
Sam: No team can offer more than the Bulls in total and in annual raises. It’s why Butler no matter the years probably wouldn’t sign as a restricted free agent with another team. But he could go out and solicit offers as he didn’t get recruited out of high school and never had the chance so many pros do of being courted like that. It’s fun as anyone who has been through it knows despite the hassles. Everyone wants to be loved. So Jimmy could make a tour as Carmelo Anthony did last summer even as Carmelo knew he wasn’t going anywhere. Since the Bulls have matching rights Jimmy knows he’s not going anywhere for now. And no one can offer as much as the Bulls can in terms of length of contract, total money or annual raises. The Bulls certainly have no interest in a sign and trade.
Hopefully you will give your opinion on the Hornet trade of Stephenson for Barnes & Hawes. What was Doc Rivers motivation?
Sam: Probably getting rid of his past mistake, though I think he misused—or didn’t use enough—Hawes. But when officials see a guy they wanted every day whom they no longer like it becomes worse. And more so if you are general manager and coach. So Doc off loaded his mistake from last summer to take a shot with Stephenson, which I understand as he has just one year left and at least saves money from Hawes’ deal. I’ve heard Stephenson to be as bad a practice player as you can find perhaps other than DeMarcus Cousins.
Yes, to digress that’s also what George Karl knows the owner doesn’t understand. You lose with guys like Cousins around because he routinely walks out of practice when he’s mad or berates coaches and other players and no one wants to start with him because, well, he walks out of practices when he’s mad, berates coaches…. That’s the culture thing you hear about and whether you can absorb someone who is so disruptive. Few teams can. The Kings have much better talent to be this bad for so long. Doesn’t Cousins being there five years have something to do with it? George is right, but it seems he is being so with the wrong owner. As for Stephenson, Barnes and Redick was a bad two/three and one you don’t win with. So take a shot.
Could the Bulls invite Aaron Harrison to summer league and training camp in hopes of being signed as a backup point guard?
Sam: I haven’t seen the summer league roster, though the main story may be if Fred Hoiberg coaches. Steve Kerr did last year and the Warriors won the title. Head coaches rarely coach the summer league teams, but perhaps Fred consults Steve for the head start as Golden State did get off fast. I haven’t seen the summer league roster, but it’s basically for Portis and McDermott and the rest of the guys are usually favors for agents and things like that as I expect the Bulls to fill out the rest of the roster with veterans.
Bulls got a steal. I'm a big Arkansas fan. I never thought he'd last until 22. Portis will be a fan favorite. He doesn't try to be pretty, just hustles and had good footwork and mid range game.
Sam: That’s encouraging to know. I mean that someone watches Arkansas basketball.