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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 3.4.2016

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 | 3.4.2016 | 9:10 a.m.

After my anxiety has subsided I got realistic and actually still feel pretty good about our postseason.We have 22 games to land the 6 seed. Not 8 seed, or 7, or 5.22 games for our top 8 (Rose, Butler, Dunleavy, Gibson, Gasol, Moore, McD, Mirotic) to gel.

Then we probably play Boston or Miami in the first round. We can beat either of those teams.2nd round we would meet Toronto (unless the Cavs collapse).If we play Toronto I seriously believe we can beat them too and make it to the conference finals vs Cleveland.

Crazier things have happened then us finally defeating Lebron (who has the shakiest cast he has had in years).Then we get swept by Golden State or San Antonio. All-in-all pretty good season!

--Matthew Mikulice

Sam: As the Ask Sam column is journalism, I like to present all sides. And here would be the other. I’m not quite on the side that is demanding most of the organization and players be sent to Guantanamo or to officiate a cage match between Donald Trump and Mitt Romney. But I’m probably not joining you to sing Barney’s, “If all the raindrops were lemon drops and gumdrops” song.

I thought a month or so back before Noah went out and Derrick Rose was one of the healthiest starters and playing more games than Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and Mike Dunleavy that the Bulls could get in position by building during the season with limited playing time, well placed under the radar play and a deep bench that they could sneak up on the East (meaning Cleveland) and take a shot. It’s not so much I overestimated the bench. It’s that I didn’t anticipate it would be starting with E’Twaun Moore and Tony Snell starting more games than Dunleavy and Mirotic and Noah 11th in games played and Kirk Hinrich gone.

Or that Cameron Bairstow would have almost as many starts as Doug McDermott, and Justin Holiday would be leading the team in fourth quarter minutes played in March. That would be Mike Dunleavy’s accurate definition of hodge podge lineups offered after the loss in Orlando. Unless Butler and Gibson return soon in good health and Mirotic reasonably afterward it’s going to be tough to get very far. It’s surely possible as the players note it being the East and no one making much headway. So your scenario cannot be discounted even if at this point it doesn’t seem realistic. Though it doesn’t much matter what any of us say or think. It’s on the players good or bad.


What is wrong with people? We're down Noah, Butler, Gibson, Mirotic and Hinrich has been traded, do they really expect the Bulls to win games? That is 2 of your best offensive players in Niko and Jimmy, and your four best defensive players. And they blame effort! We're playing guys like Bairstow, Felicio and Justin Holiday, that is Sixers tanking material. Moore and Brooks are two streaky undersized guards.

Portis and Doug will be good pieces but they are rookies playing heavy minutes for a team supposed to be a contender, ever seen that? Dunleavy is coming off back surgery at 35, you want him to stop athletic wings in their twenties? Pau is dominating offensively, but he just hasn't got the athleticism, foot speed or energy to defend. Derrick is doing great and the offense is better than ever despite the injuries. But you have to get stops at some point and the Bulls just don't have the players to do it at this point. No shame, they're trying their best but that's just not who they are. Think about it: if you take away Thompson, Green, Bogut, Livingston and Iguodala, are the Warriors still above .500?

--Cosimo Sarti

Sam: Hey, that’s what I said. And what’s the idea of being rational in my mailbag? Jerry Seinfeld famously said we were rooting for laundry, and that is the essence of sports in many respects. You don’t wear much player named material, unless it’s Jordan, of course. You wear team material. It would help if some players realized that and that the better the team did the better it was for them, ultimately. Unfortunately, many players are actual human beings who seem to believe what’s good for them is most important. Fortunately, our politicians and public servants don’t think that way.

The real blow was Noah, even if he was being marginalized, to an extent, and didn’t like it. Hoiberg said Noah will rejoin the team as spectator this week after some recuperation in New York after surgery. That’s good, but there’s only so much holding accountable you can do from the bench. Noah has been criticized by fans this season and last for a lack of offensive game and impact compared to a few seasons ago before his surgery. And though I digress here, this is nothing like the last few years as Hoiberg is dealing with almost an entire team post surgery in Rose, Noah, Dunleavy, McDermott and Gibson, which is very different from the Bulls team of three or four years ago. So many of these players broke down and are trying to recover, which is why this season always has been about heading toward the end of the run. But with the talent and perhaps different levels of recovery it was worth a look and worth giving them a chance to see what they could do. There’s always plenty of time after seasons to make determinations, though to fault Hoiberg is like blaming Obama for the recession. Oh, right, we did that. OK, never mind.

Anyway, back to Noah. There’s been all this accountability blame in recent months, and that’s what Noah basically took care of. No one played with his intensity and commitment, and now when there are issues or guys not doing what they are supposed to, Noah isn’t there. Phil Jackson could say as much as he wanted, but he always had Michael Jordan standing right there and you knew if you ignored Phil you had to face Michael. It’s easy to say it’s the coach’s job, and it is, but there’s no replacing a player who outworked everyone and wasn’t afraid to confront anyone who wasn’t. And then you could compare your all-league status and top five MVP vote to his and decide who was right. So forget Noah was also the best big man defender on the team, if not one of the best in the NBA. You lose than and you also lose his loudest and most impactful voice in the locker room.

It’s essentially a team, like Aaron Brooks said the other day, of good guys, but also quiet guys, respectful of one another. Noah broke through all that. So you lose him, and then Butler your best producer goes out and Mirotic with his shooting. Perhaps erratic, but he led the team in threes made. You’re losing by a few points a game for the most part and as much as you wish it so, Holiday, Moore, Portis, Snell, Brooks and Bairstow aren’t making it up. They’ll try, but there are good reasons they’re either out of rotations, out of drafts and out of the country to play.

Gasol was right when he said the Bulls were a .500 team. Because they have been playing players of that level in comparison to NBA All-Stars like in Miami and Atlanta or top five lottery picks with youth and athletic ability like in Orlando. Hoiberg has coached this season; he just hasn’t coached the team he was signed to coach.


Butler to Celtics for Amir Johnson, Marcus Smart and young plus the nets pick and Mavs pick in this years draft. Salaries match. Who says no?

--Billy Habibi

Sam: There were some rumors recently of Butler and the Celtics. Is Boston interested? Sure. But the Celtics also have made no secret for a year now they are after an All-Star talent, any All-Star talent. They basically call every team and ask about their best player. The Celtics package has mostly been David Lee (before the buyout), one of their irregular players like Terry Rozier and their picks outside the lottery. Perhaps that’s why with all the rumors around the Celtics—and you heard Dwight Howard for sure and Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Jahlil Okafor—they never do anything.

The Celtics basically have been trying to steal a star for low first round draft picks and save the good ones. You also heard all that talk last draft of all their assets they were offering and, what do you know, nothing. Perhaps that changes, though the Celtics have had a great season and coach Brad Stevens is a top candidate for Coach of the Year. But they haven’t done anything because the supposed deals you hear aren’t true. Anyway, the Bulls I do not believe have made any attempts to trade Butler. Which also is why the Celtics are having trouble.

Teams don’t trade All-Stars. They are tough to come by. And unless they are named James, Durant and Curry you’d be surprised how little you will be offered. Plus, teams are wary of giving up much for so called stars after the Knicks situation where they cashed in players for Carmelo Anthony, who was as big a star as you could get. And then Anthony didn’t have enough players to win with. The history of the NBA is when you trade a star you basically always are worse for it. So be careful what you wish for.


I think one of the worst thing a management can do in any organization is to over-valuate or under-valuate what they have. And I think Bulls management was really excellent in this during past years and also in this year.

Under Thibodeau the team did much more of the expectations and a lot of player became valuable assets, but the management never takes advantage of this. I think that if you are watching the players almost everyday you have to know their strenght and their deficiencies. But it seems this is not the case.

So, after losing Asik for nothing (and that was understandable because without the injury to Rose they were one of the two-three teams which can win the title) they lost Deng for nothing, korver for nothing, and now they are going to lose Noah, Gasol for nothing. And just last year, knowing what would have mean the surgery to Noah, which we all know is only a physical player, they construct the team putting him not in his role, and this year they take him from the bench. Remembering he was at his peak of value the years ago they could have taken someone more functional to the team. The situation with Gibson is similar in the way he is getting older and probably is losing value.

So the next summer the situation looks not so good, with no great cap space and with a team with a lot of question marks on it.

--Alessandro Libero

Sam: This is the conundrum for all teams and best analyzed in retrospect. Sure, they should have known. Even if they aren’t officially oracles. Sell high, right? It’s good for stocks, and it’s good for players, but then you have no players. Do you think Thibodeau wanted them to get rid of their best players knowing then the team had no chance to win but was better prepared for the future? OK, insert any coach’s name. True, that is management’s job. Thibodeau was furious about the Deng deal, but that was the only way to have a shot at Carmelo Anthony.

What would it have been like that summer with Anthony doing his rounds and saying the Bulls were his top choice—which he did say other than staying—but they kept Deng so they didn’t have the money? Management gulped and took the shot at trying to win a title. Remember, Deng was a long time favorite and the organization was chastised over the years for not trading him for Pau Gasol. There’s the old saying in sports of better to trade a guy a year too soon than a year too late, which is true.

But who does that? The Thunder with James Harden? Because you don’t know. And when you do, it means you stop competing now. Sometimes you have to, but the Bulls basically until the last week or so have been playing to be serious competitors and who disagreed. The national commentators still had the Bulls the biggest threat to the Cavs in the East until Butler’s injury. Are you supposed to quit on competing? And what message does that send to your players who want to compete? Good luck attracting guys then. It’s easier for fans and media after the fact to say a team should have taken advantage of declining players—as if the other teams don’t watch games—and gotten something for them before it was too late. It’s a great theory, but much more difficult in practice.


What was Hoiberg thinking of starting Cameron Bairstow over Bobby Portis when Taj couldn’t play? Has he really lost this team and the season? For all I know Bairstow shouldn’t even be on the roster let alone get any playing time unless the bigs are in foul trouble.

--Tom Choi

Sam:

He loves those Crocodile Dundee movies? It’s understandable coming off giving up 375 points in Miami. “I lose my remaining best interior defender, who’s next?” It’s Bairstow, and that’s part of the problem. That it is Bairstow. At least he knows how to get in front of guys and box out. Not something anyone seemed to mention to Bobby in college. Fred did realize he needed more offense so he started Portis in the second half.

I don’t condemn rookies, but Portis isn’t yet very interested in defense, lost in help situations. He’ll get better as he has a good work ethic, but he’s also fallen in love with his jump shot and hangs around 20 feet from the basket a lot. So Hoiberg coming off Miami took a shot focusing on defense, and it worked. The Magic shot 40 percent and the 111 points the Bulls scored in Miami would have been enough for a comfortable win. But with Gibson, Butler and Mirotic and Noah out and Bairstow for defense and having to play Snell 20 minutes they could score just 89 points.

It’s been easy to point to Hoiberg and say make it happen, but he’s done mostly the right thing regarding strategy and adjustments. He wasn’t planning that his adjustment had to be relying more on Bairstow, Felicio and Holiday, the latter who had to play almost 30 minutes. Which by the way was the fourth most minutes Holiday has played in an NBA game in his three NBA seasons. And I like Holiday’s game and aggression. But it’s not like he’s been in many rotations other than in Europe.


Can you please tell all these so-called "fans" and "journalists" that even Tom won't be able to make a significant difference with the team? Even just looking at the days lost with injuries, it's easy to see why the Bulls have a hard time with their record and playoff assurance.

These headlines of "embarrassing" are disgusting to look at. It's obviously not just about lack of effort. Shouldn't we all say the same thing about the whole league not being able to address the Steph Curry problem? Like you said, this roster is currently structured to bring potent offense, and not great defense.

It's easy to forget that Tom was actually in the similar situation when the Bulls lost Deng, but had the luxury of adding DJ Augustin to run their Noah-centric offense. Who know what would have happened given the circumstances then? Why should it be different now?

--George Siton

Sam: Yes, it’s been popular to say Tom would have fixed everything, but as you note the reality is very different. I won’t get into whether that reality has a lot to do with the way players on a tight rotation of basically seven or eight players for four or five years wore out and wore down. Lacking my medical degree and no one really able to quantify the effect of playing time (as players in Jordan’s era played those minutes) and everyone has an opinion, let’s just agree that this group isn’t the same with health and talent as they were five years ago when Rose was on the way to being an MVP, Noah on the way to being all-league first team center, Butler on the way to being an All-Star along with Deng.

All but Butler have had multiple surgeries since. As Tom gets mentioned a lot again in answer to the Bulls issues, I won’t get into issues with Tom as we got along fine and I hope he gets another job soon as he needs to work. He’s a talented coach. But five years as a head coach is an NBA life cycle, especially when you had seven years of contracts. Thibodeau was in the elite status among NBA coaches for tenure with one team.

It’s just that time as change is a part of NBA coaching and given the depth of Tom’s displeasure, which was much on display, it probably did him well to step aside and with $9 million in pay, let’s not forget. Plus, I doubt this would have worked very well with Tom in charge of riding it out with this group, which is the mandate for this season. Fred is gritting his teeth through it as best he can. Sometimes you do things in the best interests of other people even if they don’t see it that way. How would Tom’s health have been going through this with this roster of injuries? Remember, no one’s even on minutes restrictions other than Dunleavy, and I don’t think any more. Yeah, that’s it: Bulls in line for humanitarian award for maybe saving Tom’s life? That’s the new narrative and I’m going with it.


As we stand today at 30-30, what should we do? Try to make the playoffs and get swept by the Cavs? Our best bet would be to make the 7th seed and get healthy. If that happens I think we can sweep the Raptors - they haven't beaten us in a couple of years.

--Abram Bachtiar

B>Sam: Based on what I’ve seen lately it’s to get a one-game winning streak going. Given the circumstances, I think the optimum now is to get into the playoffs. The playoffs always matter and with a healthy Rose, Butler, et al, other than Noah you still can make it a series. There’s a lot of funny stuff going on with the Cavs these days with some mystery about LeBron tweets (who is he sending messages to?) and one week Love unhappy stories and then Kyrie. Who knows the truth, but for sure they are an unsettled team. And J.R.Smith is telling them to get serious?

Many point to the Bulls not getting someone like Joe Johnson on a buyout, but LeBron made no secret he wanted him and Johnson went to Miami. And with no Chris Bosh. That tells you something, though we won’t know until later. Or someone makes up something else. I’d like to see the Bulls take another shot at the Cavs, and we know the Bulls already are 3-0 against Toronto. Of course, stuff changes in the playoffs, but the way things are going with Washington coming on and the Pistons and Hornets already having beaten the Bulls, just making the playoffs will be tough. And for those with the lose games model, no one’s building rosters with a pick here and there at the bottom of the lottery. Yes, the Bulls fell into Rose the one season they missed the playoffs in 2008 and that—and only that—was responsible for this run. Now it’s winding down, and to me you always profit from the playoffs. Go for it!


I am fascinated by this Bulls team and, as Hoiberg put it, their lack of resilience in the face of adversity. I have a theory about it and I'm sure you've been sitting there wondering when I would finally write to lay this genius on you. Hey, I'm a helper, it's just who I am.

I wonder if the combination of a strong coaching personality in Thibs and the injuries to Rose have left a leadership vacuum on the team. I have tended to believe that good teams have some form of collaborative leadership consisting of the coach and the best player, not that they have to like each other but that they have to have some sort of mutual understanding so the team can pursue its goals. With Rose being out so much, from afar I sensed Thibs became the dominant figure. Plus, with one year Noah being the alpha on the court and then Butler becoming the best player the next year, with Rose back the leadership lines became blurred with Noah as the vocal leader, Butler the best player, and Rose only a short time removed from being the MVP.

When you add the confusion of taking away the dominant figure of Thibs, the demotion of Noah from the starting lineup and his subsequent injury, and some very quiet dudes who think they should be the go-to guys, it seems they have a very fragile leadership situation. I think that's part of the reason they have such difficulty when adversity strikes.

Of course, I don't know if any of this is true. Heck, I can't even figure out my own life let alone that of a bunch of millionaire millennials. And if you've read this long-winded note to the bottom, well, I think you have some of your own issues of time management to work out.

-Craig Berry

Sam: Yes, and I am working on them. You are right, it’s a theory. I’m not much for this leadership media/fan shorthand to issues and then reporters running up to players demanding to know who leads and how and where it is. It’s more organic. Some teams have a dominant figure, and some teams have a dominant figure others listen to. It’s a fragile stew.

Kobe and Shaq won three titles with, I guess, the notion Phil was the leader, though he also later said you couldn’t coach Kobe. Obviously, if you have a figure like Jordan it’s easy. Or Bird. Was Magic the leader or Kareem? Riley? No. Not until Miami. You think John Starks and Anthony Mason acceded to coaching leadership? Thibs was terrific in being a demanding coach, and the Bulls had players of high character who welcomed coaching. Mostly they had healthy, athletic players, who are in shorter supply these days.


I was struck by a section in your book, "There is No Next" where Isiah Thomas describes how the Bulls finally overcame the Pistons when Jordan absorbed the lessons Jackson was teaching them about the geometry of the game, the intricacies of the triple post, and the human element in team work. It's like Jordan and the Bulls finally achieved a transcendence that allowed them to overcome not only Detroit but the specter of the 80s Celtics and Lakers dynasties. We've been trying to fill the void left by those Bulls, with Bryant perhaps the most well-received faux Jordan, if this season's tributes are any indication. The public was perhaps even a tad resentful when Lebron refused to fit the Jordan mold.

Nothing against the Warriors; they're fun to watch and deserve the recognition that's coming to them, but I'm just a little sad to realize that lot of younger NBA fans I'm talking to (ex. my kids) didn't experience the Jordan era. If/When the Warriors eclipse 72 wins, they might be embraced as truly, finally, a new NBA paradigm: a young core of versatile players, led by a star who's capturing our imagination with his seemingly unconscious shooting and reinventing the game under today's rules. Kids during the Bulls' run watched commercials that preached "Be Like Mike", but kids today look at the slender 6'3" Steph Curry and believe they could actually become him someday (perhaps after they launch a few hundred shots from the far end of the driveway first).

--Ed Holden

Sam: I think the dominant theme here obviously is being struck by my book. Though Curry is the guy who by surprise has become close to being the next. No one saw that coming. There is no next, and I stick to that because Curry is nothing like Jordan, but my point in the book was the impact culturally that Jordan had and Curry really has come closest. Perhaps not in all the endorsements and style from clothes to hair or lack of it, but in his build. You wished you could be like Mike, but you really knew you couldn’t do that. You watch Curry and while you never did that, you know it’s possible. Hey, I can shoot, I can dribble. The guy doesn’t jump, he looks like he weighs 150 pounds, he can’t guard a recliner. That’s me!

The phenomenon of Curry in many respects is the first to mirror Jordan with the way fans flock to his pregame workouts and gasp at his play. Sure, LeBron and Kobe had that, though not the personal affection, which no one had since Jordan. I remember after Jordan retired for the first time, Kevin McHale said you won’t remember him in five years. It was exaggeration! He’d never live it down on twitter. The point was there’s always someone coming after for the next generation. Jordan won’t be forgotten like Babe Ruth hasn’t been, but the next generation will want its own. My father used to take me to Yankee Stadium to see old timers games because he loved Joe DiMaggio. He’d point to this overweight guy lobbing balls and say what a player. And I’d shrug and say he’s no Mickey Mantle. They need to find their own and they should. Curry is a great one because like few others, they can make a case for identifying.


I agree with you that there's only so much defense you can expect from this group. Bull vs duck and all that. But can Fred at least stop talking about "toughness" all the time? They stink at D because they're inexperienced and unskilled at D. Gibson is as tough as they come, but he's never been a good defensive rebounder, and it's not his fault. Pau is tough, but he's old and slow. Portis is tough, but he doesn't know what he's doing. I lose confidence in Hoiberg when he keeps talking about "toughness" all the time.

--Alejandro Yegros

Sam: OK, I can agree with that. I think Fred does sometimes get caught up in the cliché of toughness defense, that you need to be tough and physical and Piston-esque. But this is not who they are. I’d actually prefer he say we’re an offensive team, we’re going to try to outscore teams, Mike D’Antoni won 60 games a year doing it, and defense is way overrated. Who are all these great defenders, after all? Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving? Heck, Bairstow could score on them. Durant? Westbrook? Westbrook is awful. But, man, is he a heck of a comet to try to stop.

The truth is there are very few great defenders in the NBA; Jimmy’s the Bulls best and hasn’t been that good this season. The rules limit what you can do with basically no contact on the perimeter; and then everyone switches everything these days to try to beat the pick and roll. When you switch it means you have given up trying to seriously defend. Defending is getting over the screen and sticking to your man. But since the rules don’t let you do it much, most teams have given in and accept switching. The Warriors do it better because they were ahead the curve in getting a bunch of 6-7 guys with some versatility. It’s not like teams were saying you had to get them Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa to save their defense. But some things you can’t say, like in politics. Of course, Trump says them now and leads, so I am reassessing this.

D’Antoni was vilified by media for years that you couldn’t succeed with switching defense and pushing the ball, shooting threes quickly, passing and playing fast until the Warriors did it, and now everyone is trying to do it. OK, Klay Thompson is a nice defender. But the Warriors give up 104 points per game, which is in the bottom third in the league. They score a lot, though. Margin of victory! If they were in Chicago, fans would be condemning them for all these games in a row giving up 100 points. The Bulls are in transition trying to become more of an offensive team, shooting quicker with more movement. Injuries and essentially role player tryouts have limited that. You didn’t have to be a great puncher to be heavyweight champion of the world. The Bulls want to be a better offensive team and the problem is not that they give up 100 points but not scoring 110.


I thought last year the issue with Thibodeau was his grinding down players during the season so that they weren't ready for the postseason. I thought bringing in Hoiberg would at least change that dynamic. The only one who has really made an effort to keep his body ready for playoffs is Derrick. Taj, Butler, Noah, and to some extent Mirotic, have all played while hurt, and in doing so, got more hurt.

Why haven't the players followed Derrick's lead and taken care of their bodies better so that all of them would be healthy now going into the stretch run? Is it the years of playing under Thibodeau and you go out there and give it your all mentality? To me that has been the most disappointing part of this year. I'd rather have players taking care of their bodies and being healthy at the end of the year, and giving themselves a better chance to get through the playoffs, than getting a higher seed with not being healthy and losing in the first round. I thought the idea this year was to be careful with health, and to try it differently than has been the case for the past five years.

--Elias Zimianitis

Sam: Of course, you also have to make the playoffs to be prepared to play better in them. But, yes, exactly. Of course, Rose has been routinely condemned from the arm chair expert of determining how tough someone is while screaming about where was the remote control. Get up to change the station! You did that? It’s why Rose has been handling this season brilliantly and in the best interests of the team as well as himself. Instead of all this fake macho go out and play through injury to declare your manhood nonsense, he’s said it’s best to build, to get as healthy as he can be and the healthier he is the better it will be for himself and the team. How that exactly has been interpreted to mean he’s in it for himself screams ignorance and bias over knowledge and reason.


I for one believe Hoiberg has proven he has the right stuff to be a quality NBA HC but some Bull fans are not sold yet. My take is at this stage his biggest hurdle to climb as the Bulls HC is similar issue as Phil had with MJ and that is getting Butler to trust his system and not go solo so often that it completely disrupts the other players ability to work within the system. This is probably the biggest issue every NBA HC faces getting the highest paid player on his team to follow the leader whether the player totally wants to or not. Of course with Phil and MJ you had two guys who could command the room anytime anywhere. Fred and Jimmy are not quite up to that.

I believe what Fred needs to do and this is easier said then done is if it is obvious that Jimmy is dominating the ball but not closing enough and the rest of the team is flat he needs to call a timeout and take control of his team. Looking back it is still is kind of amazing to recall when Phil called a timeout vs the Lakers in the playoffs then demanded that MJ pass to Pax when Pax's defender doubled up on MJ and then Pax buries his 3's when given the chance. Boy do I miss Phil Jackson. It does seem like there is an undercurrent that is building up to a confrontation similar but not as epic as this between Jimmy and Fred.

Do you have any other MJ vs Phil stories to share with the students?

--Tom Pappalardo

Sam: It’s a very valid point, and I don’t use verys that much. Remember also Phil with the Lakers that first season down 15 in Game 7 to Portland to go to the Finals and telling the team to forget Shaq and Kobe, get the ball to Brian Shaw, who hit the big shot just as Bobby Hansen did (his only points) in 1992 and the Lakers came back. What gets overlooked, though no one cares, obviously, is Fred’s a rookie NBA coach without half his team most of the time.

Remember, Tom came in after 20 years working NBA sidelines—and wasn’t it the Bulls who give Tom his first job after he was turned down constantly for head coaching jobs?—and Fred comes from college and not a very big one. Fred knows what he is talking about, works hard, tries to relate to players and cares. That’s the best stuff you can have. But as Phil has his own issues with Michael to start—I recall Michael telling me he was giving the triangle three games and then doing what he wanted—Fred naturally should have some. The difference is Jimmy is no Michael Jordan and hasn’t even played as many games as Derrick Rose. Jordan might not go along with everything Phil said, but he could bail out the team. Jimmy isn’t that good regularly.

But you are right, and Jimmy has admitted it himself, that he’s trying to figure out how to be a max paid player and the responsibilities that go with it. Jimmy’s agreed he’s made mistakes, like being the only player to skip a team bonding trip earlier this season so he could hang out with his buddies. It’s understandable and Jimmy has shown, like Fred, he wants what’s best for the team. But everyone always believes they know the best way to do it, as Michael did. Phil played on championship teams, played in the media spotlight of New York, was an NBA assistant for several seasons, coached NBA players in the CBA and Puerto Rico. Fred’s resume is much thinner, but he knows what he’s doing and he was much recruited as a future NBA coach by many teams. He would have been offered jobs in several places. Part of the problem has been as Jimmy has come on to be a top player in the NBA, players have come and gone, his responsibilities have changed, and then he was out hurt. That’s no way to work out a relationship. They need to work together more, which they haven’t been able to do enough with the way the lineups have changed so much this season. But they’re both not going anywhere for awhile.


Lately, I've been seeing a lot of people comparing old teams and previous eras to the Golden State Warriors. So far, many of the '96 Bulls players have said their team would beat this Warriors team. Stephen Jackson has said his Warriors (2007) would beat these Warriors. Cedric Ceballos said his Phoenix Suns would beat this team. Oscar Robertson has gone as far as saying that coaches don't know basketball, saying the solution is just to guard him more tightly and physically. Which isn't a bad idea, but it discounts Curry's ability/skills to get out of tight spots and score when covered too. It also overstates the defensive capabilities of opposing players. Kareem has agreed with Oscar's comments about the physicality of this era.

My theory is that new styles of basketball stars tend to be taken with criticism. If I recall, Jordan's game was very different and unique when he arrived in the league. There was also a lot of talk of how his style was not conducive to winning until it was. After that, most of the stars essentially played a similar style such as Kobe and Lebron. Not that Lebron technically plays a similar style, but he's not as unique as Curry as a star. Now here comes Curry with a style that is successfully leading a team to victory in a way that has not been seen before that I recall.

So do you think that the current Golden State team isn't getting the credit they deserve? Is it because of their style of play? Did previous players/teams that changed how the game is played face such criticism?

--Jatin Patel

Sam: There is something to what you suggest as our tradition is to celebrate tradition. There’s no next Lincoln or Washington or Franklin Pierce, OK, I went too far. But we prefer to celebrate what we most saw in our time. I don’t believe Oscar and the former players were condemning the Warriors and Curry and I thought people overreacted. Big surprise there. I’ve talked with some of them and they appreciate what the Warriors have done. They’ve more alluded to the way teams play them, and that’s in part due to rules that limit contact that didn’t exist then. Yes, I would suggest playing them tighter and meeting them sooner over halfcourt, which was their point. But the officials are quick to call fouls above the free throw line now and coaches don’t want their stars risking that.

I do think the Warriors will break the ’96 Bulls record. What I see in them I saw in those Bulls, that joy to play and that confidence to keep coming no matter the deficit. Belief is a stronger intangible than you’d believe. Even the pros get shaky and intimidated when teams keep shooting and coming at them with the confidence they have, and you only get that when you win like that. The Bulls had that. You could see it with opponents. I remember even the ’96 Magic with a dynasty type team and Shaq intimidated and by Game 4 even trying to come up with an injury to not play. But in the fantasy game, I believe the 96 Bulls would win. Not any of those other teams, by the way. You hear people say you can’t play the Warriors their way because yours are not as good as theirs. Which is true. The Bulls’ were.

The Warriors’ big trick is to be able to switch all the pick and rolls with able defenders and size. The Bulls had that with Kukoc, a 6-10 guard. Curry at 6-3 is most vulnerable to a long, athletic defender. You’d have Pippen on Curry and Jordan on Thompson and Rodman on Green, and you take away all their strengths with long armed Pippen up on Curry, Jordan intimidating Thompson and Rodman out to play Green, whose versatility cannot be matched by the usual bigger men. And if Green thinks he could out outrageous Rodman, well we know better. If Golden State went with Bogut, you’d have an even taller Longley. Remember, the Bulls with Pippen made Magic Johnson have trouble even bringing the ball up court in the ’91 Finals. And no one ever had done that. And that was the Bulls’ specialty with Pippen and Jordan taking turns on taking out the great shooting ball handling guards of the era in Mark Price and Kevin Johnson. Maybe they weren’t Curry, but they were closer than you’d recall and Price was one of the great shooters ever. But the Warriors play in this era and they are the best and deserve all the acclaim they receive. Plus, Jordan in his 50s now doesn’t defend as well as he once did.

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