Ask Sam Mailbag 4.29.20

Sam opens his mailbag and answers questions on Michael Jordan, the Bad Boy Pistons, and his all-time Bulls roster
by Sam Smith
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Cee Dee:

Obviously the Blazers get killed for passing on Jordan, but we never hear about Houston? Yes Olajuwon was great but could the case still be made that they also blew it?

Sam Smith:

Only in hindsight, which we know is 20/10. No one in the NBA or elsewhere other than perhaps the North Carolina locker room believed the Rockets had made a mistake. Bulls GM Rod Thorn has reiterated over the years he would have taken Olajuwon No. 1 without hesitation. In fact, the whole reason for the start of the draft lottery in 1985 was so many teams losing on purpose down the stretch in 1984.. All to get at Olajuwon. Though draft picks built dynasties, like with Magic and Bird, they were not as prized then as they are now. That was the genesis of the so called Stephen Rule that prevented teams from trading No. 1s in consecutive seasons. There was virtually no TV revenue, so box office supported teams. Which meant competing all the time; no time for rookies and rebuilds. So teams were trading off No. 1s routinely.

If you want to condemn someone for 1984 it was the Pacers. They traded a future No. 1 for journeyman center Tom Owens in 1982. It became the No. 2 pick in 1984, which Portland used for Sam Bowie because they had Clyde Drexler from the prior draft. Few considered that a mistake then because Drexler also projected as a Hall of Famer. And the Bulls were talking about Jordan as merely a perennial all star within the next few years. There's wonderful history here. The NBA destroyed the incoming ABA teams in the 1976 merger, and the Pacers were only just coming out of it in 1981. They got to the playoffs with their first winning NBA season, but center James Edwards left with the new free agency rights. In attempting to continue the momentum, they went for Owens, who lasted one season in Indiana and the Pacers fell back. It was a center dominated league then with Kareem, Parish, Moses. All the best teams had top big men. With 7-4 Ralph Sampson from the 1983 draft, the belief around the NBA was the Rockets would be a dynasty adding Olajuwon. And they did go to the Finals by 1986. The move in retrospect would have been to trade Sampson to Portland, who wanted a big man, for the No. 2 pick to select Olajuwon and Jordan in that draft. I spoke many times with both Bill Fitch of Houston and Jack Ramsey with Portland and neither said it was ever seriously considered by either team.


Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

João Henrique:

Was wondering about what would be the best Chicago Bulls roster of all time. I'm 40 years old so I didn't have the chance of watching the teams from the seventies but I know the Bulls have two numbers retired from that time so I believe they were good. I also dismissed some players who played for the Bulls but not when they were at their best, like Dwayne Wade, Pau Gasol or Ben Wallace. Just 15 players (3 PG's, 3 SG's, 3 SF's, 3PF'S and 3 C's). Here's what I came up with:

PG: Derrick Rose; Norm Van Lier; BJ Armstrong
SG: Michael Jordan; Chet Walker; Jerry Sloan
SF: Scottie Pippen; Bob Love; Luol Deng
PF: Horace Grant; Dennis Rodman; Toni Kukoc
C: Joakim Noah; Tom Boerwinkle; Bill Cartwright

Would you change anything?

Sam Smith:

It's a list. Though with some notable omissions. Jimmy? Plus, Chet played with Sloan and was more their power forward in Dick Motta's front court offense. So I'd probably have Chet No. 1 among power forwards. After all, he's in the Hall of Fame, though he did spend half his career with Wilt's 76ers. Probably Sloan after Jordan because of his Mr. Bull status and Reggie Theus, who was a Hall of Fame level player at shooting guard. Zach LaVine is coming for them. We hope. Then we move Jimmy Butler to top three small forward, though I do agree Horace ahead of Rodman for the first three peat run, which was tougher. Derrick and Norm for sure at point guard, though I'd have to go with Paxson for all the big time shots. For talent, probably original Bull Guy Rodgers, though he only played two seasons. Artis Gilmore bumps them all back at center.


Isiah Thomas.

Christopher Billingsley:

I understand as a Bulls fan that when reliving the Pistons/Bulls series, we often focus on the cheap shots like the Dave Corzine headlock or the slap of Ed Nealy. But what often gets lost is how good the Pistons were. They had a dominating HOF backcourt (Thomas, Dumars) very similar to Golden State. The bench could have easily had starting roles on other teams (Salley, Edwards, Johnson, Rodman) and somewhat of a trendsetter with a perimeter shooting big man in Laimbeer. This team did advance to 5 straight conference finals. Is it fair to say that they are the most hated and least appreciated team in NBA history?

Sam Smith:

I'd say least appreciated great team. They are condemned for a style of play that in today's viewing was horrendous. I thought it was interesting in the documentary the way Rod Thorn stammered over why the league wasn't protecting players. Those Pistons were a great team that was perhaps two or three plays from winning four straight titles. There was Laimbeer's phantom foul on Kareem at the end of Game 6 in the 1988 Finals when the Pistons could have won the title. And the year before there was Bird's amazing steal and pass to Dennis Johnson to save that series for the Celtics, who then went to the Finals. Rodman wasn't a provocateur then and Salley never was. Their three guards were one of the best trios ever for versatility, offense and defense. But the NBA also validated their play. Sure, there'd be a technical or flagrant foul here or there. But there weren't suspensions, and the NBA was marketing the Bad Boys theme. It was even played up when the Lakers wouldn't let the Piston use their facilities in the Finals and the Pistons went to the Raiders for help, the other black hat guys.

Chuck Daly was a great, all time coach who they picked for the Dream Team. GM Jack McCloskey was a top executive. Their franchise was first class as they were the first team to use a charter aircraft, which forced the rest of the league to upgrade. Sure, Laimbeer was dirty. But the NBA never stopped him. Isiah was bothersome, but anyone from his Chicago neighborhood understood about being a survivor. Same with Mahorn, the kind of guy hockey celebrated in that era. And Detroit probably was a hockey town first. In arguably the greatest era of the NBA, the Pistons got by Bird and Magic in their prime and Jordan when he was winning MVP awards. There aren't many franchises in history that can match that.


Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan.

Kieron Smith:

Even though it happened a long time ago, the fact remains that MJ played for one season under the Washington Wizards, and i'm sure that the head coach wasn't Phil Jackson. So why was Jordon playing for that team? Makes me wonder if that ought to be mentioned in that series ‘The Last Dance', or not really? Maybe a separate documentary needs to be made that Michael Jordon went on to play for a coach who wasn't Phil.

Sam Smith:

Good point. I'll check with ESPN and the filmmakers, but I'm guessing they're moving on. It's why I've always believed the title and theme were something of a false positive. Good theme, however. Of course Michael could have played for another coach since, you know, he did. And he could change his mind as he did about being 99.9 percent sure of not playing again. Never say never, after all, as Phil counseled. But like Mike Royko once joked (I think he was joking) when he counseled me one day at The Tribune when I was asking him about something he'd written to never mess up a good column with the facts. Another guy who was brilliant about having the last word.


Charles Oakley and Doug Collins.

Tom Golden:

I know Cartwright was a force in his own way, but when you consider the ferocity of Oakley and the band of mediocre centers they had for the 2nd 3-peat, You've got to wonder. I know He loved his jumper and made poor decisions on taking it, but he was a whole different kind of trouble for opposing teams. I would've felt a whole lot better With Oak going against the bad boys and then again the Knicks.

Sam Smith:

Well, it did work out, after all. This was another one of those where Krause was reluctant and against the idea, and as stubborn as he could be, he was the one who agreed to the trade. As hard headed as Jerry could be, he did in his own way eventually listen to others in a coordinated way. Jerry loved Oakley for everything Jerry believed about scouting and players, the way Oakley played, his build, the hands, the shoulders, the family. Jerry always said to look at the mom for how the players would fill out. And that he was Jerry's first draft pick as Bulls general manager for the second time. Yes, second time.

Many forget Jerry had a brief run as Bulls general manager in the mid 1970s. That after that debacle he got another chance is one of the more amazing stories in Chicago sports. Jerry had scouted for the Bulls in the early 1970s with, like all of them, some big hits and big misses. He had a bad early 70s run as an advocate of Larry Cannon who went to the ABA, and first round busts like Jimmy Collins and Kennedy McIntosh. But he found Cliff Ray and Norm Van Lier in the third round and would have had Robert Parish if he has more status with the Bulls that first time around. But an apparent coaching offer to Ray Meyer became an embarrassment to Meyer and eventually cost Krause the job after a year. Management overruled him in that draft to take Scott May over Parish. Jerry said you could build around Parish. He was right. Jerry's speciality was the overlooked, small college guys like Parish, Norm and Earl Monroe when he was a Bullets scout. Known as "the sleuth" for his raincoat and hat scouting garb and usual place behind a pillar at a small college gym, Jerry spent the time to find the guys no one wanted to wasted time on. But he'd fall too much in love with his guys.

Bulls coach Dick Motta always introduced Jerry as, "The guy who talked me out of drafting Nate Archibald (for Collins)." Like how Krause found Scottie Pippen when no one else knew the way to Central Arkansas. But in that same draft Krause was insistent on taking Joe Wolf over Horace Grant. Doug Collins was adamant about the athlete. Krause was unconvinced, but Doug and the staff were all on one side. Jerry accepted their view, as he did a few years later when the staff was unanimous the Bulls needed a physical seven footer because it still was a center league, especially in the East with Parish, Ewing, Daugherty, James Edwards and Laimbeer in Detroit and Moses Malone. Jerry accepted their wisdom. Michael Jordan later acknowledged despite his anger about the trade and losing his best friend and body guard, Oakley, the Bulls probably would not have beaten Detroit without Cartwright.


Dennis Rodman.

Gorav Raheja:

How big was Rodman to the the second threepeat? Could they have won it without him ?I think You once wrote that you didn't think Dennis deserved the hall (though the piece you wrote about him after his hof speech is one of my favorite articles you've written). Did you think he didn't have the longevity or didn't do enough in stats?

Sam Smith:

I've evolved and matured from my one time view about Rodman's Hall of Fame candidacy, especially as there have been more admittances in recent years. I'd had a higher standard for the consideration of the all around game. I'll also admit I didn't believe his antics were worthy of immortality. Not because of the hair or the outfits, but the suspensions, acting out, the mockery of the game. But as I got to know Dennis better and watch him, I realized his personal conflicts along side the work ethic. Like with Laimbeer, I didn't believe his antics with the Pistons merited acclaim. And then sabotaging what could have been a Spurs championship team. And while I believed the Bulls would have been just as good in the regular season those years without Rodman because they were unable to count on him (missing 45 games those first two seasons), I don't believe they would have won championships without him because of his playoff play against Shaq, Karl Malone and Shawn Kemp.


Owner Michael Jordan.

Dee Teen:

Owner A:
Win Percentage: .416
Years in Lottery: 7
Seasons: 14
Playoffs: 3
Division Titles: 0

Owner B:
Win Percentage: .410
Years in Lottery: 14
Seasons: 21
Playoffs: 6
Division Titles: 1

A is Jordan, B is James Dolan. Why do we never hear anything about Jordan being an atrocious NBA owner, one of the worst in sports? Are NBA media members afraid to criticize him? For all the abuse he gave Krause, who knows more about building a winning team? Never drafts well, never gets big free agents, and is there a more irrelevant franchise in sports than the Charlotte Hornets?

Sam Smith:

Sam: Sounds like a promising documentary project. Maybe a good time to check with ESPN.

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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