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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 10.23.2015
Sam Smith of Bulls.com opens his mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers
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By Sam Smith | 10.23.2015 | 2:40 p.m.
You often defend the theory that the Bulls should keep Taj, Noah, Gasol, and Mirotic. Seems like Gar and Pax agree and want to keep all of the bigs, with Bobby Portis thrown into the mix on top of everyone else. Unfortunately for the team and the fans, this is a terrible move. Players are not basketball cards, stashing one in case another gets ruined is a terrible strategy that does not work in real life. If you have quality players you play them, and if you don't have the minutes for those players then you trade them to a place that does and improve your roster elsewhere. Keeping players around in case of injury is a terrible strategy that upsets team chemistry and player morale. This happens on YMCA teams, high school teams, and college teams, and the NBA is no exception because the stakes are the highest. As long as Gar/Pax continue to play this game with our five bigs, the team will continue to struggle. This puts the coach in a lose/lose situation, trying to find playing time where it doesn't exist and attempting to keep players that aren't getting minutes happy.
Sam: Pretty angry for the team still being undefeated in the regular season, eh? This is likely going to be a continuing theme this season as Portis, even as a rookie, is showing he may merit reasonable playing time on a good team. That’s not common for these inexperienced players leaving college early. Good for him and the Bulls for getting a guy like that at No. 22 in the draft. I understand the concept, but that’s why fan/fantasy basketball is much easier than actually running a team.
Yes, you want to win this season because—as the saying goes—this is the only season you can win a title this season. You never know what will happen, so you go for it. I generally subscribe to that philosophy. But the Bulls are in an uncomfortable spot given both Noah and Gasol can be unrestricted free agents after this season. If they get huge, long term offers, do you want to keep both for four years? And if you don’t, and you have dealt someone like Gibson for this season your front court is Mirotic and Portis. See you in the lottery. OK, say you trade Noah or Gasol: That would seem to me to endanger your prospects for this season given both have had injury issues and both are over 30, and how wise is it to ask one to play major minutes in the regular season? It seems playing each less like the Spurs do will make the Bulls a better playoff team.
If you are the Bulls and are looking for help on a team that already as you say has perhaps too much depth, then your need is probably a starting level athletic wing player. No chance you get that for a 30-plus center who is a free agent and can leave after this season. Is it worth cashing Gasol or Noah in for a backup point guard? He won’t play much if Rose is healthy. And he won’t be good enough if Rose is not. I’m not opposed to trading, as most know given my history of deals that have not occurred. But I see too many negative outcomes if the Bulls do trade a veteran; and we know they are not trading Portis or Mirotic. I think the pieces are there. If they are not we’ll see in the next few months. Then you’d have a better idea of whether to move someone and whom. And whether you can get something to make you better. It’s not time yet to start stockpiling draft picks for talent.
In one of your answers in Friday's mailbag you wrote about the possibility of Hoiberg splitting up the front court minutes in such a way that keeps everyone under 30 mpg and that this approach could allow for five guys to all get significant time. I think that would be a good idea but I have one big reservation. Noah does not seem like they type of player who can produce offensively with sporadic minutes. Assuming he's healthy, we know he has the skills to contribute. I'm worried though that if he doesn't play very regularly or big minutes, he won't be able to add much to the team. In Noah's best year he ran a lot of plays from the top of the key but most of the passes he made from there were into the paint. Hoiberg's offense seems like it will feature much more outside shooting. Can Noah's passing ability be utilized to hit outside shooters or is that too hard for a center?
Sam: I don’t believe with Noah it’s so much about running the offense. That was mostly under emergency circumstances and he did so amazingly well, but with Rose out. We assume Rose will be healthy this season—or healthier—after not having to rehabilitate from a knee surgery in the offseason. If he is, there’s not as much offense being directed by Noah, which was more in the half court. The edge with having Noah is he will pass and can. And while defenses don’t guard him closely, he has shot the ball with less fear this preseason. So he may get the defenses to react more. But he’s also good in transition as an unusual big man who can run the court and then find shooters on the wing or corner.[?
I see Noah going back more to the player he was before Rose’s injuries, a player who’ll run the court and provide defensive energy, and as such vital to the team because you won’t see that as much with Gasol and Mirotic. When he and Gibson have played together in the preseason that’s generally been the Bulls best defensive look and activity. So he should be valuable, if not exactly relying on the way he played to become an All-Star. As Noah always has been team first, I assume that won’t be an issue.
Bobby Portis – DNP against Indiana. No comments by anyone. Why?!
Sam: Nothing wrong; just too many big guys (which most teams wish they could say) and Hoiberg wanted to give more time to Gibson, who hadn’t played early in the preseason, and playing with Noah. I expect Portis to play Friday in the preseason close and be part of the rotation when the season starts. How many minutes will pretty much depend on how guys are playing. But as I’ve written and emailers have noted, this is going to be an issue for Hoiberg, at least until someone is hurt.
And we know someone always is hurt. Another reason not to get rid of someone too quickly. Nothing wrong with a little competition as well to push guys. You did get the sense at times under Thibodeau no matter how much opponents said the Bulls played hard that guys would walk through periods because everyone knew when they were coming in and were guaranteed playing time as long as they weren’t a rookie. If you are mad about not playing enough, play better and contribute more. Hoiberg has impressed me thus far as a coach willing to be flexible and go with what is working and who is working the hardest. Seems to make sense.
The Knicks have a lot of depth. Phil did a good job. If healthy no reason this team can’t win 40-45 wins.
Sam: The Knicks on some level are a fashionable choice among many observers to do better. I don’t see a .500 season, but I know from his time with the Bulls that Jackson is excellent fitting the pieces to build a team. He and Doug Collins were the ones lobbying hardest for the drafting of Horace Grant over Joe Wolf and then Phil for the trade of Cartwright for Oakley even as Jordan also was against it.
Phil also deftly argued for the additional big men to counter Shaq and to get Rodman, though Phil did lobby first for Derrick Coleman because of his passing and shooting. I agree Phil has added some nice pieces and Carmelo Anthony’s value has been underestimated after such a poor season last year and surgery. I have my doubts about Derek Fisher communicating with that group, but I can see them at least being a contender for the last playoff spot late into the season.
What are the chances of Cristiano Felicio making the team this year? He hasn't played a whole lot but from what I saw, he's very active around the basket and not afraid to bang his body in there. I also watched on youtube and really like his potential. I believe it'd be worth a shot to keep him around and he may turn out to be a valuable role player.
Sam: The Bulls Thursday released Jordan Crawford and Marcus Simmons, so his chances improved. The Bulls still have a 15th spot open on the roster and I actually think he has a chance to stick. I know the Bulls like him and I also think given the future uncertainty regarding some of the big men that they’d like to keep a young big man around. He wouldn’t play much or at all if he stayed, but there’s at least a 50-50 chance or better that he does. And it’s not bad insurance if there are injuries even with all the big guys thus far.
Jordan Clarkson is playing really good basketball, but you always don't believe in good players playing in bad teams. Will he be this good if he's playing on a contender?
Sam: Like the saying goes, someone has to score. Even with the 76ers. I know the Lakers seem to like Clarkson, but that sometimes sounds like being late at the bar or party and looking to go home with someone. It’s not like the Lakers have much to choose from now. They’re going to be really bad this season. Then the question for them is Kobe. If he retires and comes off the books, it’s still L.A. and it seems most of the league lives there in the summer. So they’ll get a free agent. Probably two as with the expanded salary cap they’ll be able to offer two guys a deal to come together like a LeBron/Wade thing. Then your Chris Bosh type will tag along.
I’m not high on their young players, Randle or Russell, and I think if a big name player comes on the market with their cap room I can see them trading them. The Lakers are about titles; not that they’re getting any this decade. But they like to think so. Then there’s the Kobe issue. The big problem with having a superstar—like Jordan in Washington—is they are incapable of being someone other than who they were. No matter his age or infirmity, Kobe is going to believe he still is Kobe. Because people still call him that. And he expects that. It’s why it sounds good to fans to add a big name veteran, but it kills your locker room and chemistry. So until Kobe makes his plans known, the Lakers will be held hostage by him.
I would have thought that the Bulls are going to have fewer assists this year, but that may not be so. With this offense it may only require one pass off a drive to get a really open shot. And if they initiate faster that's going to be a tight rhythm. They attack from wing, baseline, and top of the key. Much more efficient with the clock than recent past.
You can also see how Rose will do pretty well here, though his scoring might be down a bit. There's a lot of space in this offense and Rose stands to get the other team moving in half court sets. Crucial aspect here is Rose's ability to finish. If he's back close to where he was, Brooks, Dunleavy and Gasol (and Mirotic if he figures out how to consistently catch and shoot) are going to kill it because he'll draw 3 sometimes 4 defenders to the rim with him. Gibson's got that little 10 footer and takes an inside pass down the baseline pretty well going to the basket.
Rebounding will be a little tougher because the longer shots make it harder to hold a box and bounce bigger. At the end of all this they will have more possessions this year and if they're sharp their assists may actually be up because they're going to score more. Key is to commit to the offense. Back to Snell. He's a bit symbolic of this offense because when he takes it aggressively to the rim, good things happen for him. When the ball is taken hard and decisively to the rim in this offense, good things happen fast. Second team is going to be fun again. Please, mercy on the injuries this year. It should be an entertaining rendition to watch.
Sam: I believe so, but I think it will take some time. Obviously not having Rose preseason was a setback, and Hoiberg basically conducting on court tryouts slows the process. Also ,you can see habits need to be broken. You see Bulls players when things break down with pace early running to spots as if Thibodeau is going to call a play. These are five-year habits for most and you don’t break them in a few weeks and without everyone playing. Yes, everyone wants to see less wear on guys; but you have to play to adjust to one another with a new style of play. I see those offensive elements developing and it will be fun to watch. I don’t expect them regularly for a while.
When I'm not rooting for the Bulls during the summer, I'm a die-hard Mets fan; have you also noticed that much of Matt Harvey's situation with the Mets this year has almost mirrored Derrick Rose's situation with the Bulls? The Harvey camp vs the Mets camp, the drama with the agent, poorly timed statements by Harvey himself. Though I don't find Harvey to be nearly as likeable as Derrick I find the two situations eerily similar.
Sam: It is an interesting parallel and I know fans of the Cubs want to hear the opinions of fans of the Mets. That sort of thing is probably inevitable when you are dealing with an uncommon situation. After all, how do you know what to do if you didn’t do it before? I know fans and media expect executives to get it right. They’re the experts, I always hear. That’s what they are paid to do. The reality is they merely have the jobs. There’s no school for being a sports executive; no degree, no graduate school. There’s just on the job training. So they are training. Just because, say, you are a good scout or former player or coach doesn’t mean you know how to project an injury. That innings limit is like the minutes limit in basketball.
There’s no proof either way what works. So you take a shot and see if it works. What I’ve noticed lately is Jabari Parker not starting the season despite working out. It will be about 12 months before he plays again. Funny that no one in Wisconsin now thinks he doesn’t care and isn’t trying. And this is a state that elected Scott Walker. I’d be tempted if I were the Mets not to pitch Harvey in the World Series. But how do you know? These are only answers made after the fact. If he is hurt, the half who said not to pitch him will condemn the Mets. If he’s isn’t, the half who said he shouldn’t pitch will wait until something happens next season and then condemn the Mets. As Roseanne Roseannadanna liked to say, “It just goes to show you, it's always something. If it ain't one thing, it's another."
For what it's worth, here's my starting lineup, though it's already looking like it's not going to happen. Rose and Butler at the guards. McDermott at the 3. Taj and Noah at the 4 and 5. Speed, defense, especially under the basket...with toughness, no less...and outside shooting. I'd like to see some consistency with the rotations. Players seem to do better when they know they're coming into the game and who's going to be on the floor with them. I hate to see the Bulls so vulnerable on defense under the basket. I'll bet the opponents will have a circus sending men to the rim. But, then again, I'm probably the wrong one to ask. I sure hope we can score 130/game!
Sam: 120 might be enough. It sounds like Hoiberg has made up his mind to start, and to start Gasol, Mirotic, Snell, Butler and a Rose to be played later. It makes sense, really. I think you get more from Pau starting given both his age and that he doesn’t warm up into games quickly and Mirotic’s potential ability to spread the floor and make threes. Then you need Snell for defense as you need two defenders on the floor for a guard and forward. Part of the Bulls personnel makeup issue, as they’ve had for a few years, is a lot of players best on one side of the ball. It’s almost platoon basketball.
So you have to play a lot of guys to have a chance at ultimate success. It seems Hoiberg wants to do that. So you open with an offensive group and if it’s not working bring in the defense with Noah and Gibson. Though fans and media will focus on the starters, once the game starts rotations can change. I agree players like to know their role and responsibility, but that also can cause ennui. Perhaps get too comfortable. As I’ve written, I think Hoiberg will challenge guys to produce with a deeper roster. The theory is that should lead to better play. Theory, anyway. The Bulls have a good group of people, basically team oriented and supportive. So I think it should work playing in waves. And, after all, and as we love to point to the Spurs, they do an awful lot of that with Popovich as more mad scientist than predictable.
So what do you think of the Mirotic+Gasol starting pair? Is this Hoiberg's way of guaranteeing that at least one team will score 30 points in the first quarter? Or maybe T. Thompson will break the single game offensive-rebounding record in that first game of the season?
Sam: Actually, he did that last season against Gasol and Noah, though Noah at half speed off surgery. Noah has been much better and livelier, and Kevin Love will start and you have to go after him outside. I believe Hoiberg is flexible enough to change and players have said Hoiberg is more attuned to reacting to matchups than Thibodeau was. So yes, perhaps less stability but more dynamics. It’s not like this has been a championship Bulls team.
Regarding the 95-96 Bulls. Do you think this team (72 wins) could have beaten the 94, 95 Rockets with Hakeem?
Sam: That always was the team the Bulls did have problems defeating in the first title run in the early 1990s. I know the Rockets hate that people say they only won because Jordan left. But when Jordan returned it wasn’t the same Rockets team and the Bulls were too good for them then. They went in there that season and beat them badly. It would have been interesting to see them in the Finals between 1991 and 1993 because the Bulls then couldn’t deal with Hakeem and Otis Thorpe ran Grant.
Plus, Vernon Maxwell truly had no fear of Jordan. Or anyone else. Vernon would scream at Jordan and threaten him during games. Not that Jordan minded that much or didn’t play well, but Vernon had some big games and didn’t allow Jordan to help on defense. And Robert Horry and Sleepy Floyd could get hot and made those big shots. But the Rockets never did their part and got there, so there’s not much they can say.