Ask Sam Mailbag: 02.24.17
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to answer readers' questions.
Does GarPax own stock in the Thunder? Seriously though, why does it seem that so often in the NBA that mediocre teams give good players to better teams in exchange for nothing? I thought that Taj was supposed to be one of our most valuable trading assets, and we had to add McDermott and a 2nd rounder - granted, almost no value there - in order to get Payne, Morrow, and Lauvergne? I would've thought that McDermott, Taj, and a 2nd rounder would've brought back at least 1 player who'd be a lock to contribute to the team for multiple years. Am I missing something here?
Sam: Plenty, though you are right about the Thunder in that it’s a good, albeit, short term deal for them. With Russell Westbrook having an MVP-type season and suddenly with New Orleans maybe about to come up from behind—or maybe not after that blowout opening loss with Cousins--and the Rockets adding Lou Williams, they had to take a shot to give Westbrook some help. Doug’s worth a look for a team that has a point guard who draws that many double and triple teams. But you can’t worry about that if you are the Bulls. They were criticized for getting nothing for Pau, though I was for playing it out to see what they could do last season. OK, they did nothing. Time to unload and begin their process, which they did in unloading Rose, Noah and Gasol. They were running in place last summer without the new labor agreement signed to know the new rules and the market was paying free agents like Evan Turner and Chandler Parsons $90 million. You don’t want to go there. Ask Portland with their league high payroll next season.
So now the Bulls know. OK, Taj. Get something. They wanted a 1. No one would offer because as good as he’s been he’s still considered a marginal NBA starter and a rental with as Taj said at his Thursday’s press conference, eight teams talking to his agent about this summer. So get something. Same with McDermott. He had his chance with the Bulls and not enough has occurred, and now they have more young players in the wings like Portis and Valentine. They decided they want to give them a shot. The mark of a progressive team is to accept a mistake and move on. Doug was the right choice then; big time scorer and shooter. It wasn’t a mistake. They decided to move on. I also think it will get Doug out of the bigger city spotlight and he’ll do well. One way to try to steal talent is find players who were highly regarded before who have not played. So Payne and Joffrey Lauvergne.
Sure, they haven’t done anything, but one plays behind Westbrook, which means you don’t play, and another plays behind Adams and Kanter, meaning you also don’t play. Are they any good? We’ll find out. The Bulls obviously haven’t been thrilled with their point guard play, so take a look at a point guard taken in the lottery, which means he has talent. He projects in style like the Lakers D’Angelo Russell, a left handed scorer who isn’t a super athlete but can run the position. He was his conference player of the year, so take a look at a young player. Same with Lauvergne. It’s a direction. You were losing Gibson and had soured on McDermott. It also suggests maybe hanging onto Jimmy Butler. This draft is supposedly all about point guards. Maybe trying out a young point guard because you aren’t going to try to get into the lottery to get one. Who knows.
Maybe I’d give McDermott a longer look, but I found myself in the minority on that one in the community as well. Are the Bulls worse? Probably somewhat without Gibson. But they were fighting to be .500. I’m not a tank guy, but the worse thing is you end up in the lottery like last season. Though you still have Butler, Wade. Lopez, Rondo, some young guys who are enough to compete. Maybe one breaks through a bit more. I guess we’ll find out. But the idea is to try to find greater talent. It’s part of the process. Morrow was to fill out the money. So you traded a former lottery pick who didn’t work out for you for a former lottery pick who didn’t work out for them, a player you might have six more weeks for a 25-year-old 6-11 center. Not blockbuster stuff, I admit, but doesn’t seem unreasonable. Check the other trades; it wasn’t like there were great deals. The best was probably Noel, and you had to give up a first. The Bulls weren’t doing that; they were trying to get more of them.
Couldn't the Bulls trade Rondo (expiring contract ) and a 2nd rounder for Brandon Knight? Good shooter and would fit right in with Butler/Wade. Bulls need guards that can shoot.
Sam: They actually might have been able to, but that would have been a huge mistake unless you were committed to playing for eighth every season. Knight is a competent player, though not good enough to start for the West’s worst team in Phoenix. OK, they have a couple of pretty good guards ahead of him. But what people often miss is the difference between fantasy sports and the actual. Knight has one of the league’s longest contracts going through 2020 and averaging almost $15 million. That’s a heck of a financial commitment to make (Rondo can be bought out cheaply after this season) and then would limit you moving forward with no free agent money this summer. Is he better than what you have now at point guard? Likely. But with a very limited ceiling, now with his third team. Maybe you don’t get a point guard better, but you have to try, especially the way the NBA is now so guard heavy. If you are redoing your team as the Bulls are, you want more financial flexibility to perhaps get a shot at a top player; not less financial flexibility. You may look bad today, but you have to avoid the quick fix route.
Hate seeing Taj go, however I don't mind this trade. We pick up 3 adequate shooters.
Once the dust settles we will see if Portis was worth the look and if Payne was really just lost behind Westbrook and Morrow adds depth and shooting off the bench. C+
Sam: The Bulls will take that, though you’re one of the more generous graders in the fan/media community. But more fair. I do think people have allowed more personal emotions to get into this analysis than reason. As much as I value Taj, it was becoming obvious there wasn’t much trade market as a free agent to be. Doug was a four year rookie and had three NBA seasons. I still think he has a chance to develop as Kyle Korver did late, but that has not been a universal opinion. The Bulls obviously decided you are what you are after three years, which is the way we used to measure players before one and done. Moving up for McDermott made sense at the time; everyone agreed, and I know Thibodeau told me then he loved the deal. Even contacted Jerry Reinsdorf draft night to thank him. It was the right move then.
It’s not a point in what they gave up as neither of those guys did anything for the Nuggets or were regulars and one already has been traded. But even if they succeeded, everyone agreed it was right to get college’s best scorer then when the team needed shooting. It hasn’t worked the way everyone hoped. When things don’t work, you move on. The Bulls have been criticized in the past for sticking with players because it was said they didn’t want to admit a mistake. It’s OK, everyone makes mistakes in the draft. I hope Doug has a breakout career. The Bulls decided to move on after a three-year look. It’s not unreasonable. Taking a look at two young guys who haven’t played is what you then can do. It’s not like they will be markedly worse.
So who starts at 4 now? Is this some kind of salary dump here?
Sam: Well, you’ve been screaming for the kids. You haven’t? Well, ready or not here they come. Portis, I assume, with Mirotic in sort of a limbo, but he can play his way back. It looks like some continuing auditions with Carter-Williams and Valentine and Grant as well. The money was pretty even for trade purposes, but without having to pay Gibson next season the Bulls will be some $25 million under the salary cap. If Dwyane Wade opts out, they would be around $50 million under and have probably the largest amount of available cap space for free agents. So you can see they are getting in position, which is what you are supposed to do if you are not currently contending.
Well, you've already expressed your opinion about this when addressing Taj trade rumors in the past couple weeks so without commenting on whether this is or will be a bad or good trade I would just like to second what I believe is your opinion that Mr. Gibson was one of the hardest working, fullest effort giving all the time, toughest, do whatever it takes, do all the things that don't show up in the box score, and underrated Bulls players of all time and he will be missed no matter what...good luck Mr. Gibson, I am now rooting for OKC in the West!
Will be interesting to see how the new-look Bulls do the rest of the way... Man we're going to miss that guy...
Sam: I was glad to write about Taj after the trade in a bittersweet time given it was a goodbye. Sometimes with a guy like Taj you feel you cannot fully do justice to tell people about him. Fans, I understand, tend to equate success with decency. Good guys are winners, and it is much easier to be nice when things are going well. The measure of a person often is how they behave and respond when things are not going well, how they treat people in good times and bad, how they relate to co-workers and whomever they come in contact with. There have been wonderful guys around the Bulls. There are too many names to mention; it is more difficult to come up with a half dozen who were unpleasant to deal with.
Taj wasn’t as accomplished as the long time fan favorites and he won’t get the accolades they did for the success their teams earned. I understand how fans and media identify with that and seek to be a part of that. Taj was as great a winner as any of those players for the way he lived his life and behaved as a human being. There are many statutes for people you would not want to spend 10 minutes with for how they either treated others or lived their lives. But they became famous in battles and history, and I’m not necessarily talking sports here. Taj remained a heroic figure in the lives of many even though few will ever celebrate his athletic accomplishments on a level with others. You dearly miss those kinds of people.
So, Magic (not Phil) will be the new boss in LA. Should be interesting. I think he’s almost sure to de better than Jimmy Buss. And while I liked Mitch K. as a player,he was never much of a GM. I guess we’ll see if Magic can make the Lakers relevant again.
Sam: I was a bit surprised since the word I heard earlier was Jeanie was bringing in Magic to ask him who to hire. I should have figured he’d say him. This obviously all fell into place with Jeanie’s separation from Phil. Doesn’t look like Phil’s opting out in New York. The easy thing to say is Magic as great a player as he was is too simplistic when it comes to personnel and the job, at least if you heard his TV analysis. But it’s in large part a job about getting lucky. Sure, you could piece things together and pull scouting rabbits out of the draft like the Spurs have done. But it’s the exception. Usually you build a champion when you fall into a top pick, like the Cavs did with LeBron, though he had to take a sabbatical first. Running a sports team is really one of the rare professions that require no training. There’s no school, no degree, no test, no apprenticeship required.
This notion that because you played you know the intricacies of the job is nonsense. You played because of superior talent. At playing. It would be like saying you should hire Usain Bolt to operate stadiums because he wins in them. Magic has a lot of appealing qualities, and he has been a real businessman, creating an empire with entertainment businesses. He’s a great salesman and based on the way the draft generally goes, all the guys have pretty much the same list. The Lakers’ larger problem is they have a core of modestly talented players and may not have their No. 1 draft pick this season if it’s not top three, and L.A. isn’t quite the attraction it was since LeBron has pretty much become a billionaire in Cleveland.
There’s obviously no great correlation between playing and executive excellence as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Bill Russell have found out. There are few who have won more in the game and—not that they’ve been the worst—but they haven’t been the luckiest. Magic’s had a lot of luck in his life; maybe he gets lucky again. Yes, lack of luck, too, as we know. And while Los Angeles hasn’t been a destination of late, in part because of Kobe’s farewell tour, there are several top players from California, like Paul George and Russell Westbrook, who will be free agents in the coming years. Maybe with Magic there and that it seems half the NBA lives in Los Angeles in the offseason, it becomes that place again. There are few better people to have back in the game. I’m all for it. It may just work.
Lakers deal for a slowing Brewer in exchange for Lou Williams? What do you think? And have you ever seen a bigger fall from all-star to journeyman than Roy Hibbert? Jamal Magloire maybe? The game has changed and these type of bigs are no longer useful and that's why I am happy we didnt trade for Okafor.
Sam: Magic is working on getting that draft pick. They should remain at the bottom of the standings. Heck of a pickup for the Rockets with yet another great three-point shooter. They could be taking 60 per game before long. If you score 140 points per game you may not have to play defense. Though you have to watch it with basically two Sixth Man of the Year on the same roster with Eric Gordon. But there’s usually plenty of shots to go around with Mike D’Antoni. I think they still were looking at Okafor, but more for a tryout as a former No. 3 pick for something a lot less. The 76ers’ moves again were the most confusing. But the point about the decline of the (average) big man is something.
I was surprised Hibbert was as productive as he was at all as slow as he was; arguably the slowest guy I ever saw in the NBA who moved like an old fashioned robot from a 50’s movies--in parts. The Pacers hid him well playing their super slow game. But once the NBA moved on there was no one left for him to guard and basically no one playing that way; he became a huge liability every minute on the court. You still need a big man, and a great big man still is great. Cousins would be if not for all the other stuff. But Felicio is better suited to play center now than Hibbert. Hey, he made his money. Good for him. Remember all those guys on TV a few years ago calling him the league’s best center. Beware of TV.
Call Alfonzo McKinnie up after the D-league All-Star Game. Can he play in the NBA? Who’s his game similar to?
Sam: I feel he can play in the NBA, and I thought Jerry Stackhouse had it right, that you don’t need him to be a top eight player, but as one of the last four or five bench guys he’d be great with his leaping ability, speed and enthusiasm. I’ve been writing a lot about him this Windy City Bulls season and he’s a classic victim of not being drafted high, overlooked and then teams stuck with all these guaranteed first round draft pick contracts. He’s like a Kenneth Faried type with a better shot. Sort of a Jerome Kersey, though a little more wiry. Maybe a little like a Bobby Jones type, play some defense, run the court. He’s a great story coming out of a public tryout to Windy City and making the All-Star Game and then one of the high scorers and even making a few threes. Plus, seems like a great kid to have around your team to show the merits of hard work and not giving up.
What are your thoughts on how the All Star Weekend has devolved - not in terms of investments, being a league wide sponsor focused event and overall visibility - in terms of quality of product presented?
The ASG to me is the greatest example. It seems that after 2003 (the last good game I can remember) it has gotten worse by the year. Do you think a big money prize for the winning team or even the more radical baseball rule (winner with home court advantage in the Finals) would enhance the quality of game?
I know everybody is worried about injuries these days, but it was very pleasant as a fan to be able to watch the best really compete against each other (if not in game 7 level, at least care at all). Is there anyway in your opinion we can ever get something like Blackman's 87 finish? Or even the thrill of MJ's 03 well defensed fadeaway shot?
I used to be critical of the MLB Finals home-court advantage rule, but I guess with today's players, it could be the only way to get them to carE and take it seriously.
I can't imagine Lebron, Irving, DeRozan, Lowry, Thomas in the East and KD, Green, Curry, Klay, Kawhi and maybe Harden on the West wouldn't want to win the ASG if that meant home-court advantage in the Finals. Then everyone else on the 2 teams would just follow and we would have a ballgame.
Sam: We don’t want to go there to reduce a season’s effort to one game. It’s easy to fix, but you need leaders. LeBron, sadly, hasn’t been one. Yes, I pick on him at times, but that’s because he’s Spiderman; you know, with great power comes great responsibility. It’s not only LeBron who has let down in this era with all the games skipped, especially on the road for the rest even at a time the league has dramatically cut back to backs and training camp practices and even practices in season. The All-Star Game was great in the 60s and 70s—though we’ll never go back there—because the difference between the winner’s and loser’s share meant something to guys not paid that much.
Then Magic, Isiah and Michael, though they weren’t great friends then, believed you represented the game and took pride in putting on a competitive show. It really turned last season with this no resistance dunk fest exhibition. It’s no coincidence it coincided with David Stern’s retirement. Stern never would have let that occur; I remember when the rookie game became like that and Stern went in and basically told them what an embarrassment to the game they’d become. That’s only part of it, and I understand Adam Silver didn’t want to waste any of his currency with the players on the All-Star Game while he was negotiating a labor deal. And he got one without a playing stoppage, which Stern couldn’t do the last two times.
But first it’s up to the commissioner to remind players they’ve made a joke of the game and themselves by doing this. Then it’s up to the best players, LeBron, Curry, Westbrook, Durant if they are talking by then, to remind the others that they’re going to play a game. Though Steve Kerr was trying to be politic about it, I heard he was fuming afterward at even his team’s refusal with his players to try. You don’t have to take risks, and you can have fun. Isiah and Magic made the game an art form with behind the back passes on the run and full court bounce passes. But in the context of an actual game. No hard fouls, no undercutting. Just play the game like they did growing up, fair and serious. It’s not difficult to do, and the league and its players owe it to its fan supporters to eliminate the travesty they’ve been calling a game of stars. The last few seasons it’s been a game of fakers.
That All-Star Game was a complete embarrassment! Save some money next time and leave the officials and coaches home! Sad that Wilt’s record had to go down by a bunch of uncontested, set up dunk plays for the local boy!
Did you notice the players walking off the court even before Davis finished his acceptance speech? They even felt the mood. From a quote from the Little Rascals movie, “Makes me vomit”!
Sam: Well, New Orleans is a good destination if you want to have to step around vomit. There’ll have to be an asterisk on that record like the Bonds and Sosa and McGwire home run records. It was laughable the way they handed Davis the ball to watch him dunk. Really, the embarrassment is he didn’t score 100 points. It was like being in the gym alone shooting. If they’re going to play this way, put Doug McDermott in. We know in practice he makes about 30 of those threes in a row. He’d get 100.
I look forward to hearing what you have to say in the AskSam mailbag and about the Bulls. With that said, I have to say that I couldn't disagree more with your take on Butler at the All-Star Game. I shadowed Jimmy Butler in the game because being a Bulls fan, he was representing us. To see him just casually walking up and down the court was a disgrace to the fans who voted to see him play. Every time up and down that court you could see LeBron, DeRozan, George and Kyrie running down the court alternating in alley-oops having fun and Jimmy? Nowhere to be seen.
Noah wasn't a flashy player and cared about wins more than the game, but he even rebounded and played D when he made played the All-Star Game. If it was that much of a disgrace to play in a game without D, Butler could have done so and set the tone early on. He looked disinterested and didn't respect the fact that he was representing all his fans. Is he still hurt? I would have rather him sit out than watch him walk up and down the court.
Sam: I get the point and it is a way to look at it, that it was an exhibition and everyone was getting in the mood with Curry laying down and covering his head once when Antetokounmpo went running by. OK, join the fun! I can accept that view, and Butler did dunk his first time with the ball. But I think as the game degenerated he lost interest because he’s not that kind of player. It’s a weakness and a strength; it’s why he’s a good defender. You noticed Leonard wasn’t much engaged, either. They made their bones in the NBA on defense, and Leonard has come farther on offense as a legitimate MVP candidate this season, though Butler isn’t far behind with his offense.
But his offense mostly comes from what produces his defense, effort and strength and serious play. He didn’t let on afterward that he was offended by the style of play; that would have been untoward to his teammates. So I read that into his play and the benefit of the doubt. I believe Butler truly wanted to be there as a starter for the first time. But he’s not a high flier, though he takes lob dunks in games, and not spectacular with the ball like a lot of the All-Stars. It’s one reason he was drafted No. 30; he worked his way to this. It was hardly pre-ordained. I didn’t see him aiming to offend in any way; it just wasn’t his kind of game. Mine, neither. You should have seen the faces I was making during the game.
Why did Jim Buss get fired? I know he said the thing about leaving if he didn't build a winner in three years, but the fact of the matter is that they made a decision to go down with Kobe's ship when they gave him that last contract and they knew that meant they would be bad for a couple of years. Kobe finally retires and the rebuilding starts in earnest and then Buss and Kupchak get fired? Was it for giving Kobe that contract? Because assuming it wasn't, what did Jeanie Buss expect? When your main players are 23 and under, you're not going to be good. And this was just the beginning of the process. Perhaps L.A. has no time for rebuilding and wants to have star players in their primes immediately. Join the club. Magic Johnson has been successful in virtually everything he's attempted, so he may be good at this job. That said, he has no experience so it's not like it's a given he'll be good at it. I don't follow the Lakers all that closely but it just feels like I'm missing something. The timing was strange.
Sam: I’m guessing Jeanie was the favorite. When Jerry Buss died he left the final say to Jeanie on the team. Had to pick someone; actually, the falling out Jerry Buss had with Phil Jackson when Buss insisted Mike D’Antoni be hired over Phil was because—yes, amazing as it seems—Phil wouldn’t make Jeanie an official fiancée as Jeanie desired at the time. Though Phil eventually did, and then Jeanie left him. Hollywood! Anyway, Jeanie has been looking to move Jim out, so she came up with the three-year thing. Jim wasn’t all that involved anymore, but Jeanie wasn’t close with Kupchak. My guess is what expedited it was the Cousins deal. The Lakers have been fishing around for a “star” and were involved with the Kings in talks. My guess is when they saw Cousins go for so little, Jeanie decided it was sort of a last straw and time to make a move. Magic had been making it clear to Jeanie and those around him he wanted to run things, and with Kobe’s agent Rob Pelinka coming in as basketball guy, it seems obvious Magic is putting the band back together and Kobe’s going to be in there, too. Things can get ugly when the patriarch does. Like with the Pritzker family. The difference is in sports we pay way more attention.
Ilyasova; Poor guy dealt again. Headed to Hawks for Splitter and a 2nd rounder. Dont get it for either team.
Sam: Has Hinkie gotten back in? Ilyasova nearly beat the Bulls on his own when they played the 76ers last. He’s been good for them and I can’t even remember the last time Splitter played. He’s played like two games in two years and they have three centers. It’s actually a nice pickup for the Hawks with a shooter the way they move the ball around Howard. The Bulls obviously have to make the playoffs first, but I think they’d much rather play Boston or Toronto than Atlanta. Yes, another draft pick for the 76ers. They say that stuff turns into a star, but Boston hasn’t figured that out yet, either.
Thoughts on the Boogie Cousins deal to New Orleans? I agree on Cousins' deal. Pelicans may have to commit over $300+ mil now to 2 players in Boogie and Davis.
Sam: I haven’t had a lot of good things to write about Cousins, but I would have done this deal if I were the Pelicans. I hate the way Cousins ignores his teammates and botches up the end of every game with his mindless play; I don’t even care that much about the technicals. I just think he intimidates teammates and the coach and makes it a difficult environment. That said, I thought it was a good deal for the Pelicans. Obviously, the Kings couldn’t wait to get rid of him once the owner finally gave the OK. You could probably have traded for him.
The Kings may not be better (they actually can’t be much worse, though they probably hurt the Bulls and keep their 2017 pick with this deal), but they feel they’ll be happier. With the Pelicans, you had to take a shot. You have one of the great stars of the game in Anthony Davis and again were about to miss the playoffs. You can’t keep doing that with him. Eventually, he will leave. Davis knows Cousins from Kentucky and obviously Omer Asik wasn’t Davis’ ideal for a big man. Davis wants out of playing center and a chance to compete. It’s a unique situation to take a shot. If it doesn’t work, you only have a season and a half with Cousins and didn’t give up much. You could certainly get as much as you gave up if you want to trade him this summer, even. And you showed Davis you’re trying. There’s few better people person player’s coach types than Alvin Gentry. And Cousins finally is playing with someone really better than he is. Like on the Olympic team, which was when Cousins was at his best. It actually may work there, but it is a deal they had to try.
Could there be an 8 over 1 upset in the making brewing. I'm sure eyes just got wider considering they could pontentially be facing a Pelicans team with both Demarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. Jrue Holiday is a player to snooze on either when so much attention will be given to the front court now. This could be a game changing trade in the west.
Sam: New Orleans still is in 11th place and even behind the Kings, who weren’t yet in eighth. So there’s no certainty the Pelicans make the playoffs. The Kings will likely fall, though they have played better at times without Cousins. The Nuggets have been playing reasonably well now in eighth and Portland has enough to make a run. Could Oklahoma City in seventh slip? They are a Westbrook turned ankle away from not winning a game the rest of the season. But Taj and McDermott should help. Even if the Pelicans get to eighth and even the way they played Golden State tough two years ago in being swept, it’s tough to see them getting more than a game from the Warriors. Sure, they could pound the Warriors inside, which would be intriguing, but how would they run with them. Cousins is practiced in walking back on defense. But I will say the Pelicans are going to be prime League Pass TV watching for the rest of the season. Heck, I couldn’t take my eyes off the Kings with Cousins. Now this!
It seems like NO is going against the grain by stacking together (in my opinion) the two best big men in the game today, in a league devoid of dominant big men. Do you think this formula will work against the run and gun styles and small lineups of the NBA? Or will these 2 not be able to coexist, or simply not have enough fire power on the perimeter to overcome this guard dominated league?
Sam: I’ve always believed you don’t try to copy what the best teams do; you do the best thing you do. I often make the comparison to the Magic dominated 1980s when everyone said you needed a big point guard to match Magic when, in fact, there was only one Magic Johnson. You can’t beat the Warriors at their game, and even though, as I wrote above, I don’t see the Pelicans with an upset if they get there, they would give the Warriors something different to consider. The inside is their weakness, and teams don’t exploit it enough. Coaches tend to get caught up in “adjustments” too much, going small when they do.
I always liked Don Nelson’s trick of trying to get you to go at his matchups in his crazy lineups, like when he’d put a 5-7 guard on a seven footer who couldn’t shoot to get you to try to play through the guy who can’t score because of the huge advantage. He beat the Jazz with Mark Eaton one playoff series that way. I liked Thibodeau for staying with his strengths. Tom wasn’t an adjustment coach, preaching just do it harder. It can sink you in a playoff series. But I do like when teams don’t get lured into a weakness. Stay with what you do best and see if you can make them respond to your strength. It would be an intriguing first round playoff series and clearly the one we should be rooting for. Enough of Durant/Westbrook. That’s boring by now.
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