Ask Sam Mailbag: 02.09.18
Sam opens his mailbag and answers readers' questions
A trade centered around Isaiah Thomas for John Wall, without the Cavs giving up the Brooklyn pick. Seems IT hates Cleveland and I've heard a lot of random sources claim Washington players hate John Wall and some have even said they're better since he's gone down. Both teams get all-star point guards, Lebron gets a new running mate and a hail mary that the chemistry will work, and if it does and Lebron walks, they haven't given up the pick.
Sam: Obviously, we know what happened with Thomas off to the Lakers for the salary dump, though with good players who made the Cavs Trade Deadline Day the winner. You never fully know how guys will fit and how it will work, but the Cavs moves seem masterful, getting young, athletic players who can get up and defend, do all the things the Cavs veterans weren't doing. I was tinkering the last few weeks—I know, I don't get to write these much anymore, but I try them out on friends—with a Wall trade to the Knicks. There's obviously some issues with the Wizards, but what his absence showed was less they are better without him than he's one of those guys who is good, but not good enough that everyone else can stand around and watch. Unleash Otto Porter! Guys like Kobe can monopolize the ball, but they make so many plays to offset it. Guys like Wall cannot. New York might have jumped on Wall for their pick, chance to get a star and all that. But that went away once Porzingis got hurt (you have to have the pick then) and they settled for Mudiay. Worth a shot. I always thought the Nuggets mishandled him. The problem in Cleveland was less Isaiah, at least on the floor, than Jae Crowder, who was supposed to be this defensive stopper, three-point threat, all the stuff that fit with LeBron that Crowder basically never did. As for Thomas, not a fan. He's Nate Robinson lefty. I never felt Brad Stevens was all that special as a coach for his strategy or tactics. Heck, Rondo stays healthy and he blows a whole season in the first round. But Stevens was special the way he tailored a team around the flawed Thomas, getting guys to defend and rebound and let him volume shoot, sort of a mini version of Allen Iverson. Iverson was way better. Thomas is a lot like Nate with the annoying know-it-all stuff, selfish play, indifference to defense and teamwork. It's why the Kings and Suns were right to get rid of him; not that Boston was so brilliant. Just Stevens was, but my guess is even he realized he could not do that twice. Robinson's dangerous to have on your team the way he monopolizes the ball and basically never shuts up; you could see the Cavs guys, even guys who were a problem, wondering how this guy here 10 minutes suddenly was a spokesman. It does show that personality gets you somewhere. Media love him because he's available and big mouthed and fans love him for the size, the overcoming obstacles thing, the he's like us sort of view. He's not. You had to love his agent already demanding he start. Lonzo Ball's dad and this guy. Luke Walton, you have no idea. At least Thomas is just for the end of the year. Did he say back up the truck for a payday last season? What sort of truck will that be?
Read up on Vonleh. He seems physically to be in a Elton Brand package. Don't know if he jumps better. Sounds like a nice kid, read in a couple of places he's got a confidence problem. Very much like the fact that he's got a stout lower body capable of low post stuff. Hope he's not JR Reid - too much of a Clydesdale. If he gets a little attitude he could be the rim protector Dunn's looking for. Haven't seen him play much, no idea how are his hands/feet. Apparently once upon a time, folks thought he moved around pretty good. Hope he likes to run. He apparently can shoot. If he's got a confidence problem, Hoiberg has done miracles with Dunn. Let's see what he can do with this kid.
Sam: So you're the one who's seen him. The problem is I watched a lot of Trailblazers games the last two years and can't recall what he does. That's worrisome. But the Bulls basically got him for nothing, a former top 10 pick. I actually like that way of proceeding; I guess as long as it's not Anthony Bennett. Sort of the Chauncey Billups thing. There's always talent in the top 10; pros don't miss that. But guys often don't fit or take time to make the adjustment and are working on their third team. I like not only using picks, but taking a look at guys who didn't make it with other teams who were lottery picks. Yeah, Doug McDermott is kicking around, too. Vonleh seems to have a mid range shot and decent but not super athletic ability. The Bulls had to spend some money under the salary floor and it's worth taking a look at a guy who seems more athletic than Portis.
8 teams within reach of the bottom spot. 4-5 huge rewards
You know GS wins it all Race for the bottom is really intriguing and it's kinda fun box score watching
What a comeback into the contention for the Bulls!
Sam: You know I'm not a fan of teams losing games for draft picks and seeking out a decade of lottery picks; even a half decade worth, like the 76ers. I don't believe the Bulls are going to lose like they have been with Markkanen back and Dunn maybe back later in the week or right after the All-Star break. Plus, LaVine is coming on with his scoring impressively. The coaching staff has been great with this group and management hasn't taken steps to lose dumping veterans for nothing. But this maybe couldn't have come out better if planned. And it certainly didn't seem like it was. The Bulls started 3-20 with LaVine out and all sorts of mess with the fight involving Portis and Mirotic and rotation changes. Then Mirotic came back and played the best of his career, enhancing his value and getting the Bulls likely the best first round pick of the trading deadline. But more than that with that run of 10 wins in 12 games, the play of Markkanen thrust into the starting lineup and Dunn winning the starting job and looking like a closer, the Butler trade gained the credibility it needed. Now the team has been losing, falling toward the bottom and likely keeping in view of that with plans to play guys like Payne, Felicio, Vonleh and no backup point guard enhancement. So the Bulls now have established a potential core while their draft position is falling into the top five, which is the neighborhood for the greatest theoretical strength in the draft. If that occurs it would be almost a perfect season with that available salary cap space as well. Though I don't believe they'll say that was the way they planned it.
Can you make any sense out of the Bulls' moves (Thursday)?
Of the players we got for Niko, I thought only Jameer Nelson would be helpful. We really need a backup point-guard (or a starter, until Dunn is back) and his contract is perfect. He only makes $2.6MM this year and is an FA after that. Also, at 35, he won't be getting big $$ offers, so we could keep him ‘on the cheap' for another year if we wanted to. My understanding is that Vonleh was projected as an athletic big who could develop 3-pt. range, but has been a disappointment. Is this kid ready to break out, and therefore a steal?
Sam: Have I mentioned the Mirotic trade was about the draft pick? As for everything else, did I mention that draft pick from the Mirotic trade?
Will these moves keep him in Cleveland or does he still want far away from Dan
Sam: Is this going to be a great NBA summer, or what? Last week, the speculation was LeBron to Philly, stay in the East, join talent and become an Eagles fan. With the moves the Cavs made, at least they can make an interesting case for him to stay. Los Angeles still doesn't make a lot of sense with the rosters the Lakers and Clippers have compared with the Warriors and Rockets and even Timberwolves, though I can see Jimmy being a default in L.A. if LeBron doesn't go. LeBron likes veterans; remember, he ordered Wiggins out for Kevin Love. I'm not sure how they could do it, but my guess is he'd like to be with Paul and Harden in Houston. He's not winning that many more titles, but taking down the Warriors may count like three or four.
The Pelicans pick is sitting at #16 and out of the lottery. The Clippers are just a half game out of the 8th spot. The Jazz, winners of seven straight ball games, are 2.5 games behind the Clippers. I'm not sure Mirotic improves the Pelicans that much as many think. The Pelicans are sorely lacking in depth and in height. The Pelicans just brought in Emeka Okafor of all people who has been out of the league for a few years.Do you think the Pelicans make the playoffs and rob the Bulls out of a lottery selection?
Sam: I've felt with the deal the Pelicans would make the playoffs, basically eighth. I didn't expect the Jazz to make a move, and Crowder could be an interesting addition with the sort of tough game they play and in which he prospered in Boston. I think Portland and Denver hang in there and I don't see the Clippers making it, though they did keep Jordan and Lou Williams. It all rests on Anthony Davis for the Pelicans and with expanded play without Cousins he has had trouble staying on the court from injuries. So the Bulls might prosper and get a pick just inside the end of the lottery. Of course, if the Pelicans miss the playoffs and jump up, then the pick would move to top eight protection for next season. So overall, it's looking like a pretty good deal for the Bulls for now assuming you didn't believe he could fit in the long run with Markkanen. The finances probably made it too unlikely without eliminating potential free agency.
Looks like Rose will be released. Any reason the Bulls should consider bringing him back on a trial basis if he still wants to play? What a coup it would be if he were able to revive his career in Chicago. (Please, don't wake me. Oh, look! There are Noah and Rose entering the locker room! Jimmy is grabbing a towel while Taj is lacing up his shoes. You can hear the crowd cheering in the background! The ref blows his whistle to begin the second quarter. Asik grabs the rebound.. Is that Kyle setting up for a three?)
Sam: Ah, the sweet memories. I still believe it was a title in 2012 if not for the, well... Everyone knows I've been a Rose backer, but, no not even me. I do think Rose has some stuff left if he wants to play, though I don't know if he does. The Cavs thing was a mess, though he never seemed to be a problem and seemed fine with the near zero, limited role. But they needed defense, shooting, size. Not Rose's arsenal. Same with Wade. LeBron got him sent home; good for him. Wonder if he regrets the buyout. I don't see the fit in Miami on the court at all; everything that Miami team does is with hustle, athleticism, shooting; Wade doesn't do that anymore. And he's coming off the bench for LeBron. Maybe not for Josh Richardson.
What happened to Felicio? It appears that he forgot how to play ball. I hesitate to denigrate any of these guys but I am confused by him. He seemed pretty active last year but now lost. I wonder if he might be a Holberg ball casualty as he doesn't appear to be able to shoot from distance, although Portis seems unfazed by that. Do you see a future for Felicio or is he lost money? By the way, it's not my money so I don't begrudge him his cash. The race to the lottery is back on, let's get Dunn and Markkanen back and see what happens.
Sam: It's been a curiosity for all of us. Like you, I'm fine with the money as it's not mine—media likes to spend teams' money; I don't do that, but don't begrudge the players who get it since they can't force it to be paid—but he has regressed. He's done some better stuff lately, mostly on defense, but he's gotten even more timid about shooting. I agree since Hoiberg demands players shoot the ball and he refuses and the league still has rules requiring points for wins, he may be feeling somewhat out of place. HIs deal could be a mistake. It happens. Though while it's long, it's not for huge money and I don't see him as a lost cause. He seems like he cares, works at it and wants to do well. Maybe he was closer to Niko than we thought.
Since Asik just got dealt, it got me thinking about Noah, Rose, & Deng. Clearly they're all (way) passed their prime. Basically useless nowadays. But could you see Thibs making any effort to scoop up one or more of them, teaming them up with Taj and Buckets? At least they know his system. Noah as a 5th string big man to help Towns. Rose to help Crawford as a cheap scorer in that second unit. Plus the lakers might be willing to throw in some draft stuff for someone to take on Deng's contract.
Sam: Nice going as you wrote this a week ago. The rumors have been that Rose on a buyout or release would be headed to Minnesota. Again, I'm not sure if Rose is up to the deep bench again in a new place, but why not. I don't like this buyout phase of the trading deadline that enables teams to, in essence, circumvent the salary cap. That's OK and Magic Johnson praising Antetokounmpo isn't? What? I don't see Deng or Noah giving up that much money to get a buyout yet to sit somewhere. I think Deng is closer to helping a team given he can shoot the three and hasn't had the injury issues Noah did. Of course, it would be fitting if some or all joined Thibodeau, whom many fault for shortening their careers with his playing time demands. Though as Thibs appropriately pointed out, they might not have been All-Stars if he didn't inflate their stats with all the extra playing time. He had a point there.
I'm not a big fan of Boogie Cousin's attitude in the NBA but you can't deny his talent. I can only recall a couple of Achilles tears in the NBA and those involved older players on their way out of the league. How do you think Cousin's will fair in his return from that injury at a relatively young age? Is there a quiet fear around the league of this jeopardizing his career or is this an injury a younger man can bounce back from?
Sam: It's too bad because he did look like he'd finally lead a team to a first round sweep. He wasn't a super athlete high jumper, but he did have a great first step and the Achilles is a tough injury for a big man with that ability. Guys like Kobe and Dominique were older when they had those injuries, and the first step was the first to go. But Cousins can shoot and he's physical. He should return OK, though I doubt he'll be worth the price the Pelicans appear interested in paying.
Every time people talk about the "modern" NBA player, they're talking about tall guys (forwards and centers) that can stretch the floor and shoot threes. How modern is this really? I remember a guy named Larry Bird that did pretty well. Just curious if you think modern NBA players research and watch his game to add to their own? I know most of these guys know more about bball history than I've forgotten, but I'm curious.
Sam: Actually, they know almost nothing about NBA history. Spoiler alert: I'm about to plug my NBA history book, Hard Labor. It's the definitive story of the 60s and 70s and in there you'll find some references to Bob McAdoo, who averaged more than 30 points three straight seasons for Buffalo (subsequently Clippers) shooting most of his shots from that short corner, which is now a three and wasn't then and probably would have averaged 40 if it were. Guys could shoot just as well then, but it seemed to make sense to everyone that the closer you were to the basket the easier it would be. Plus, the first pass of every game, except the Celtics who had Russell throwing it ahead for a fast break, was inside to the big man. This was basically going on through Duncan and Robinson. Golden State plays a beautiful brand of basketball with its quick passing and movement that makes it appear more like they are the three-point shooting team. Mike D'Antoni really popularized it with the Suns a decade ago, though if Shaq came along I believe he'd win a title without shooting threes. It's just now all the seven footers like Durant who are the best players on their high school and AAU teams tell the coach if they can't shoot threes, they're changing teams. That's more the modern NBA.
I'm having a hard time understanding the reason why Robin Lopez is being shopped around. He's only 29, a very serviceable big man who's durable which every team needs, his salary is pretty low in today's standards plus we'd receive no one notable in return. His teammates seem to enjoy his presence and he does exactly what's asked without ever complaining. I also think he's more well rounded than Brook who's one dimensional.
Sam: He wasn't. You're reading Facebook again.
How many years of life did Tom Thibodeau lose after his TWolves gave up 140 to the Cavs?
Sam: At least a bit of that defensive genius thing. Look, Thibs is a good coach; he just never was the wizard he often was made out to be. For one thing, he had probably the deepest roster of top defensive players at one time with Noah, Deng, Butler and Gibson and role players like Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik, Kurt Thomas. He's still got some good defenders with Butler and Gibson, and it's not like Wiggins and Towns are horrible. But I think this stretch four, open shootings game and movement has caught his defensive principles by surprise. I think he's having trouble adjusting to the speed and shooting teams play with now the way his defense historically was geared to icing that pick and roll, as we so often heard shouted (pushing to the baseline). He's a stubborn guy, but I believe they'll have better defensive games in the playoffs when it presumably is slower. Though it may not be that much slower. You have to say he's done a nice job in personnel in putting that much talent together. Maybe he should be the gm.
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