Ask Sam: 3.3.17
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to answer reader questions
I have read quotes from guys like Cameron Payne and Bobby Portis about not really knowing when they will play or how they can gain minutes. There have been other things like "knowing your role" or the Rondo benching and then back in the rotation, that seems to be confusing for this team also. Is it part of Hoiberg's job to do a better job letting these guys know his plan better, or do we just say "they are pros" and gotta figure it out themselves? Is this the job of the veterans on the team to communicate better or is this just not a big deal for an NBA team? I would think I would want to know if I am going to get minutes, especially when I just got traded to the team, but I understand you got to be ready to play whenever someone goes down.
Sam: This is why the NBA is a meritocracy. Mostly, anyway. You perform, you play. That’s been the difficulty for Hoiberg this season, and it’s understandable the way he’s handled it and I think has been as reasonable as could be and good at it. He’s had two guys who basically play whether they are good (most of the time) or bad (as they have been occasionally, Wade a bit more times than Butler). For everyone else it’s been sort of a tryout, audition season and Hoiberg has made it pretty clear and followed through: You play well, you play more. Bad game? Go practice for a while. Yes, I’m sure Portis and Payne and anyone else would like to be told they’ll be playing 35 minutes no matter what. “Relax, find your game. We’re fine if you don’t hit a shot for a week. Just relax!” It’s Ok if you are Aaron Rodgers. No one but Butler and Wade really have earned that. Perhaps Rondo can make the case, but he’s sort of on a tryout, too, as a one-year guy on his third team in less than three years.
This is not exactly a roster of Hall of Famers. It’s a transition roster in more the theoretical sense of going from the run of the last six years to trying to build something going forward, and thus finding out who is worth moving forward with. Doug McDermott had a good look and so has Nikola Mirotic. So they’ve moved on from McDermott and are giving someone else a chance. That’s the way things work in every business organization; it’s just most don’t receive the public scrutiny. Hoiberg’s had a pretty difficult balancing act in being held to the scrutiny of daily production and playoff desires for veterans like Butler, Wade and Rondo with the development of players like Denzel Valentine, Portis, Cristiano Felicio, Michael Carter-Williams, Paul Zipser, Jerian Grant and now Payne. So Hoiberg seems to have settled onto a reasonable compromise. He’s playing every game to win in deference to the veterans and he’s also giving all the kids a chance. The ones who perform have a role. When they don’t, they can roll with the bench for awhile. It’s actually not a bad message. Maybe not as fair as we’d all like, but it’s a good life lesson given life isn’t always fair. OK, let’s see who can stand up to the pressure of performing in a game. After all, if you can’t, why should you have a guaranteed role? You don’t like it? OK, play better. Nothing wrong with that.
Do you expect the Bulls to run with 5 point guards for the rest of the year or do you think we will release one and bring in a big man? Eg. Terrance Jones.
Sam: Obviously no since the March 1 deadline passed for having a player eligible for the playoffs. Though if the player wasn’t in the NBA this season you still could sign him and have him for the playoffs. The Bulls have so many players yearning for more time that it hardly makes sense to add more, especially guys who haven’t been with the team since we’ve seen they usually don’t use those guys because they don’t know the “system.”
I've been really impressed with Rondo over the last few weeks. Seems to be displaying everything the Bulls were looking for from him when they signed him. In particular against Golden State he was so aggressive.
If he truly accepts this back up role I'd love him to hang around next year.
Sam: Now, hold on a little. It was a business deal for both, a season to help the Bulls through a transition as everyone forgets they had no point guard on the roster and basically still are doing auditions, and for Rondo to be paid well while trying to preserve his reputation for a future location. That didn’t start out well for Rondo, and the voices demanding he be waived proved unnecessary as well. Rondo has emerged as contrary as possible to his reputation, a great teammate, one of the better leaders on the team, willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team and to help younger players. I would heartily recommend him to anyone as less a disruption as advertised than as a unifying force. I think it was he more than anyone who kept the team together during that call out/team meeting week in January. He’s played much more aggressively on offense of late. Not that you could ever tell with his circumspect manner, but I think the trade deadline bothered him as well with the uncertainty. Now with that all past, he’s been back looking to score as well as his usual pushing the ball and bonding with the young players. His contract is potentially valuable in trade with the large amount and small buyout for next season, and it is time for the Bulls to begin to settle on a future at point guard, which still seems uncertain.
People expect sensational deals from Ainge, as in 2007 & 2014, so they're disappointed when he holds his cards, but he has quietly built a team that is almost there, but not quite. Red taught him how to deal so he's always lurking, and other GMs know that. Boston is one good draft choice & one good FA away. Cleveland - Love is a bit fragile, LBJ is getting old, Irving believes the earth is flat - they're not built to last. Carmelo is stuck in NY and NY is stuck with him, meaning that their streak will reach 44 this year. Is that PG from Washington as good as they say he is?
Sam: Ainge thinks he is. I think this is what it’s been all about with Boston: Ainge doesn’t think the team can beat Cleveland this season, especially with the Cavs’ waiver additions, no matter whom they add. So my sense is he wants one of the top young point guards to build around and develop. Go this summer for a free agent like Gordon Hayward, who played for Brad Stevens and reminds them of John Havlicek, and then trade Isaiah Thomas, whose value he’s built and doesn’t want to pay crazy money to. So get something good for Thomas and then maybe throw in the 2018 Nets pick and be ready to make a long run. Not a bad plan if that’s it. We’ll find out.
The number of severe injuries happening in the NBA is becoming ridiculous. Best training, diet and facilities ever! The problem: Scheduling. Teams have 2-4 just ridiculous road trips. Back to backs across the country not uncommon. It’s depleting the value of following the NBA!
Sam: No one knows the answer, and injuries always have occurred, though my theory is the excess training the players do in this era that’s unnatural combined with the size of their bodies and force coming together, like in football. And not playing in the summer but lifting weights and just working out, instead. Players from eras as recent as the 80s played more back to back sets, had more difficult travel with no charters, so less sleep, didn’t have all the appropriate diets and special trainers and workout coaches and never took games off to rest like they do now. I think LeBron James is a serious MVP candidate given the way his key teammates have been injured and that his play is the major reason for the team’s success. He’s been spectacular, though it’s going to be difficult to support him for MVP the way his team gives players off games compared with Westbrook and Harden. Taking the regular season seriously does matter, and the Cavs have not been a great example of representing the NBA the right way because of the excused absences they take compared with the rest of the top teams. I have not been a fan of the Spurs way of doing those things as well, though they seem to have tempered it some this season with Tim Duncan gone. But we never vote their guys MVP, anyway.
The Clippers need to rebuild instead of signing CP3 and Blake to monster deals.
Sam: The Clippers do have some big decisions to make if this season ends badly in the playoffs again with a team that does look like its tired of one another. Though let’s remember, Chris Paul is just back and Blake Griffin was out a long time. But it does spell doom for any team that consider itself seriously and starts Luc Mbah a Moute. That rebuilding thing sounds easy and it is easy for media and fans to say, as they have at times with the Bulls. Yeah, blow it up! Hey, what’s the Cubs’ score, by the way. We’ll check with you in five years. No, you don’t want to be stuck, but you’re always stuck if you don’t have a superstar. Now let’s look at the NBA champion of rebuilding, the 76ers, the “process.” It’s a disaster, if not totally their fault. Embiid is lost again for the season injured, though this time just two thirds of it. Noel is gone, traded. Okafor suddenly is the man a week after they couldn’t give him away. Their 2016 No. 1 pick is out for the season injured. They’ve had a half dozen top five picks and they’re right back where they were five years ago having suffered nothing but horrible seasons.
Yes, it’s bad luck, but that’s the risk of getting rid of all your good players to gamble on better (hopefully) young players. Sometimes it works; mostly it’s years of pain and disappointment. This Cubs thing that everyone in Chicago holds over every franchise now as the standard is the exception. Perhaps it’s because of social media, which my generation blames everything on, but in recent years there’s been this notion in sports among especially the media that championship contender and irrelevancy are the only two choices. Team building is a process for everyone, and it’s always at different stages. Does Toronto “blow it up” because now they have faded some behind Boston and perhaps Washington? Should Washington have blown it up last season as much of their fan and media base demanded because they missed the playoffs? Yes, you need some plan, but getting rid of all your top players for kids is generally doomed to fail. The Jazz of the 90s is a good model. They had several early playoff exits with Stockton and Malone and some off seasons where they regressed badly. But they stuck with it, poked around the edges and made two Finals and were a miracle or two Jordan plays away from a title. There’s a balance and sometimes you have to cash in your best player and build and you can do what the Cubs did, maybe the White Sox will. If the 76ers were luckier, maybe it would have worked better. With the Clippers I wouldn’t be dumping my core too quickly, but they certainly need some change.
What about Jimmer Fredette? He'd be at least as good of a project as Grant or Payne or Rondo or MCW or Canaan...Give him the green light? At least I'm not asking you about a Dajuan Wagner comeback...
Sam: It’s that time of year; yes, desperation. Been there done that. The Bulls had a look at Jimmer in 2014 and as much fun as it would be to say his name—perhaps instead of three-kola—and though he averaged 37 points in China, their currency translates to only a few points per hundred for the NBA. He’s now 28 and probably a poorer defender than he was. And he never scored 100 points in a game like Wagner.
Let's sign Ben Gordon; he's hungry. And he had 34 against Sioux Falls last week. And why didn’t we sign Seth Curry?
Sam: Sigh. That’s the Gordon part. Good for Dallas and Curry. Four teams had let him go in three seasons; he couldn’t guard an oak tree; he was small and not so quick. And how could anyone know if he was good when he wasn’t chewing on his mouthpiece? Yeah, his brother is cool, but so is J.R. Smith’s and his brother couldn’t make it after J.R. got him a tryout. Seth obviously worked, got better, and found a spot where he could fit. I’ve also noted you’re a guy who keeps asking about guys like Ben Gordon and Nate Robinson and never mentioned Curry. How did you miss him, too?
I hope you didn’t vote for Embiid for ROY.
Sam: He created the most attention and I had him as my preseason choice, but I agree he cannot win playing less than half the season. Voting begins in April. I’ve heard voters say they will vote for him, and actually Saric has the highest scoring average among rookies, but he’s mostly been overshadowed with the 76ers other tall men and their dysfunction. I think it comes down to Milwaukee’s Brogdon and Denver’s Murray. Brogdon may be the better story as a second round pick, though he’s also four years older than Murray. I think it also comes down to personal preferences, or who you’ve seen play better. For me thus far it’s been Murray, who I saw have several big games earlier in the season when Brogdon wasn’t playing much. Then Denver made changes to push Mudiay into the lineup and Murray played less. Now he’s back to a larger role with Mudiay having been limited and the Nuggets making a lot of changes to play through Jokic. I’m picking Simmons as my preseason pick for next season. Uh oh. I think I had Okafor a few years back.
How did the Celtics draft Bird when he wasn't leaving college for another year? I'd like for that to be the procedure in the NFL: Where a team like the Bears could draft a guy who may leave college next year even while he's playing for another year in the NCAA still. Fans and teams are a bit impatient nowadays in comparison - Red Auerbach basically had tenure by then right? Over 8 championships can do that for you huh?
Now teams wouldn't wait for someone's class to graduate. Just scoop them up out of high school.
It's nuts. The children need time to become men & women instead of molding them into pro athletes who wind up less well-developed all around.
Sam: Yes, Larry Bird was the sixth pick in the 1978 draft. Mychal Thompson was a reasonable No. 1 overall, and if not for drugs, Michael Ray Richardson could have been really amazing. Teams were into the instant help thing then, which rebuilt the Lakers with draft picks and led to the NBA Stepien Rule, named for the Cavaliers owner who kept trading his No. 1 draft picks for players. Yes, the Indiana Pacers passed on Larry Bird to take the help of Rick Robey right away. You know, Kentucky program vs Indiana State. How good could that kid be if he left Indiana for Terre Haute? Bird wasn’t exactly super highly regarded back then. The reason Boston could draft him—yes, Auerbach was the best executive ever—was he’d left Indiana U. to transfer to a quieter, easier place at Indiana State, and his four-year college eligibility expired and he was staying for a fifth year. Scout note to self: Bird guy doesn’t have the leadership confidence to test himself against the best. How about that Purvis Short. Wow!
By the way, the Bulls did pretty good in that draft at No. 9 with Reggie Theus. Sure, Bird was putting up amazing numbers, but against lesser competition. With the transfer the notion was he wasn’t tough enough (yes, one of the toughest guys ever to play in the NBA), not mentally strong and looking for an easy way out. In this NBA draft era of the youngest and most athletic, we may never have heard of Larry Bird. Larry likely wasn’t ready for the NBA when he was 21 in his first of three playing seasons at Indiana State. He didn’t come to the NBA until he was just short of his 23rd birthday, which would be considered too old in this era. He’d have probably gotten a look, but maybe off the bench as a specialist shooter. Of course, knowing Larry he probably would have been just as content back in Indiana working the fields or some physical job. We’re lucky this era of executives wasn’t around then. Bird? Not tough enough, transferred to a smaller school, shoots a lot but doesn’t say much. Slow; what’s his position? Too small for power forward, too slow for small forward. Second rounder who should play well overseas. Hey, did you see the way that kid at Kentucky jumped!
So the way I see it, as long as the Bulls can avoid the nuggets, twolves, Knicks, bucks, hornets, suns, lakers, heat and mavericks in the playoffs they should be fine, right?
Sam: If the 76ers someone how get in, yes, the Bulls are in trouble. Though the amazing thing about this season with all that is we still have to say “if” about getting into the playoffs for the Bulls with six of nine on the road starting Monday that includes potential Eastern playoff teams like Washington, Toronto, Boston, Detroit and Charlotte.
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