Ask Sam Mailbag: 04.28.17
SAM SMITH OPENS HIS MAILBAG TO ANSWER READERS' QUESTIONS
I’ve seen exactly what Fred was complaining about… But I didn’t realize quite how bad it is until I saw a guy break it down in slo-mo.
It's much worse than Iverson! It’s really blatant and clearly illegal. At times, he’s running with the ball in both hands. Fred has a very good point!
Sam: The Bulls didn’t get a call in Game 5, but the officials really couldn’t because they hadn’t called it before. But Fred did everyone a basketball public service. All of a sudden everyone was, “Oh yeah, we knew he was palming. How else can a 5-5 guy get that open that often?” I suspect it will be a famous point of emphasis in meetings this summer and we’ll see some calls, at least to start next season. It does put the NBA in an awkward position because it is so obvious and blatant. What makes it worse is it’s been so little policed that players like Thomas have gotten to literally carrying the ball and interrupting their dribble, basically violating several rules, including traveling, carrying, palming. He’s hardly the only one. The NBA didn’t fine Hoiberg because, I suspect, they know how bad they’ve let this become. It was like the Pistons Bad Boys thing that basically led to the non combat of this era. Not that guys won’t be able to put their hands under the ball and crossover. The NBA loves that. But this interrupting/hesitation thing that Thomas does isn’t going to be allowed. Maybe that’s why Boston has held onto the Brooklyn pick. Get a point guard before the NBA legislates Thomas out of existence.
What is wrong with everybody!? Fred gets knocked for being passive. He's not passive, he's cerebral. He's also nice. Big deal! Now that he took a stand, made a comment, (By the way, yes Isaiah travels alot!) he is getting blasted by the media. What the heck, give the guy a break!
He's been dealt some poorly built teams the last 2 seasons, I still think he is doing a good job.
Sam: Though Fred doesn’t like it, I’m sure, I think he’s come to accept as coach you are going to be second guessed no matter what you do unless your team wins. The other oddity is since most media cannot basically differentiate good coaching from bad since most don’t understand the plays and the technical aspects, coaches get a first impression judgment. It’s like with Vinny Del Negro; he was viewed as a bad coach. So he got made fun of. But his teams—two with the Bulls—and a few with the Clippers stayed the same or got better. Fred’s Bulls improved this season and won more games than almost everyone predicted and the Vegas gamblers said he couldn’t win. So how come he gets no credit and say, Thibodeau, gets more credit even after his team comes up as one of the biggest underachievers this season with the guy who I’d say probably is all-NBA first team center? Can you explain the difference in their “systems.” Coaching analysis often comes down to reputation.
I remember when Scott Brooks was awful and now he’s better winning fewer games. I see Erik Spoelstra became a genius and he couldn’t make the playoffs with I’d say more talent than the Bulls have. After all, his team didn’t want Wade. It’s a sliding, varying and arbitrary scale based more on emotion and reputation. I’d say Fred has done a good job in this series, made good moves, took chances, tried things, put his players in position to succeed. Without Rondo and maybe with Butler hurt and Wade still looking for his man on defense, being where they are and playing as they did on the road is awfully good. And that was pretty smart to pick out that Thomas carry that I never heard one of the TV genius former coaches mention even once. I’ve had my differences with every coach; remember, Jordan told Phil the triangle wouldn’t work, that it was for college kids. I’d like to see more of Phil’s sort of system of play, but what Fred does is in line with basically every other coach in the league, running pro style pick and roll sets. I haven’t seen Boston do basically anything else on offense. But, yes, Fred doesn’t scream and rant and stalk the sideline; what coaching perhaps is supposed to look like. No, it’s not really a job for a responsible, sane, secure and considerate human beings.
I don't really care what the stats say, I know Wade almost a triple-double and Jimmy scoring in the 20s, I just think this 3 game losing streak is on them as it should be, besides of course the terrible luck with Rondo. I see Wade not boxing out and not getting back on defense. I don't think you question his intentions but looks like he is ready for vacation these days. I see both Butler and Wade taking silly shots, even earlier in the shot clock when they have time to share the ball. When the series gets tight, you got to depend on your best and Butler is the all-star and Wade was brought here for the playoffs as much as anything. I know Niko is cold, Grant and MCW did nothing and Felicio is getting abused on defense, but it ultimately comes down to your 2 alphas and how they run the team. They need to figure it out quick as they can still get it together for 1 game at home and we all know how game 7's work, anyone's game. Really just wish we could have seen a healthy Rondo the entire series though.
Sam: Well, it was supposed to be three Alphas, and Boston has all their letters. And are in a battle with the eighth seed down to the end. I know we don’t celebrate a lack of success, but the Bulls are right there. I agree the best players are most responsible, and they’ll tell you the same thing. But you still need the occasional Kelly Olynyk, like the Celtics got in Game 5.
The Bulls got Portis and Zipser and a Niko sighting earlier in the series, but essentially few since Game 2. Sure, Wade’s defense is poor, but it’s never been very good, mostly late getting back, arguing with the officials, acting out. But his offense and leadership offset that. He hasn’t been on multiple championship teams, one he virtually carried on his own, not understanding the game and going beyond others for winning. He’s 35 now and not the main player. He doesn’t have that many games in hism anymore. Yes, Hoiberg put him in good position to do more by playing him at point guard, though with the play of the team’s other point guards, Hoiberg has been running out of options. I’m fine with another game like that from Wade. He came up big enough. He understands a lot is on him because of being Dwyane Wade. He can’t do it every game anymore, but you can see he’s intent on trying as much as he can now.
Considering Butler is supposed to be the franchise player -- and he wanted this --I believe his performance without Rondo has been poor. He averaged 14 pts in last 2 games in Boston and went to the free throw line once -- and missed. In game 4 he made 19 free throws, which, basically, was what allowed him to score more than 14 pts. He needs to be aggressive from the beginning and work harder in trying to carry this team. He is behaving like he is just another regular guy and is being owned by Bradley. He lacks bad that killer instinct. Maybe I'm being too demanding, but he was supposed to take over at least 1 game in this series. He is a great all-around player and all, but the way I see it, he is far from ready to be the main man.
Or maybe I'm just expecting him to be what he is not.
Sam: That’s a little harsh, but the playoffs are about harsh. I think Jimmy would accept that. There sometimes is a problem playing in Chicago. You do get compared with Jordan a bit much. The standard is too high. Jimmy is a truly excellent player. But also remember he was a 30th pick in the draft. Yes, he can be an All-Star and the team’s best player, but you need more to be a championship team. Not unlike with the Celtics’ Thomas. They’re good with him, but hardly championship contenders. There’s always a reason when you are not a top tier draft pick. Try to find a champion led by someone who was not at the top or near their draft class. The closest you’d get is some of those one-hit wonders, like the ’79 Sonics, the ‘04 Pistons. It’s sort of that know it when you see it thing.
Jimmy built himself up to be one of the elite players in the game, but he’s not going to do for you what Jordan did. Or a Kobe or Magic or Bird, who, by the way, played with Kareem, Worthy, McHale, Shaq. So no one does it alone. When Michael was with Mike Smrek, Gene Banks, Sedale Threat, Granville Waiters and Steve Colter he was being blown out of playoff series. You need the other guys, and the Bulls clearly don’t have enough of them now. But as we’ve discussed all season, this was a season more to see what they had than to analyze why what they had could not win a title. I don’t know this because Jimmy, for one, denied it after Game 5 and the team doesn’t say much. Though Hoiberg did acknowledge Thursday some soreness. But I expect we’ll be hearing after the playoffs what was wrong with Butler physically. I’m sure it’s something because he’s not moving like I’ve seen him this season. He’s never great beating guys off the dribble as he’s more a power player, but Avery Bradley wouldn’t be getting away with this stuff if Butler were right. I don’t believe he is. He may not be what you expect or hope or wish for, but he’s pretty darned good.
Rondo also has been missed on defense - we think about his offense - but Rondo is very aggressive and alert in stealing and denying lanes for Isaiah Thomas, Bradley etc. And I think I said this the other day: Rondo has a good case for the Hall of Fame if he can win another championship. He's just as important as someone like Ray Allen - even though Ray has the gaudy shooting numbers. Rondo would have more titles like Allen if Rondo played with Lebron and Wade in his prime.
Sam: Now that’s a discussion I haven’t heard much, but it is an interesting possibility. He started for a championship team, made multiple All-Star teams, led the league in assists and it does seem with the way Rondo has come on this season that he perhaps can revive his career and reputation. He’s just 31 and if he can find the right team with another run, who knows. After all, Dennis Rodman is in the Hall of Fame and it’s not a case many were going to make with his shoes off on the floor in ‘94, looking for Madonna and sabotaging some really good the Spurs teams in the mid-1990s.
Grant had some moments in regular season but he's clearly not a PG as his ball handling skills are not even that good and looks like a turnover prone. Why was the Bulls management so high on Jerian Grant?
Sam: We saw in summer league that ball handling would be an issue; I think that’s why he wasn’t in the rotation early, especially with the fall acquisition of Michael Carter-Williams. The Rose trade for the Bulls was more to move on and get something. Robin Lopez was the main feature, and then it was more worth taking a look at a guy who they had some interest about in the draft, but who they didn’t exactly chase to pick. Look, you don’t get a player in trade and then say we never liked him. You like everyone until you don’t. Grant still has a chance to be a good player. Remember, he didn’t play much as a rookie in a dysfunctional New York circumstance and then was in and out of the lineup this season, though more often having to play off Butler and Wade. He’s young and is a very good shooter with good offensive abilities. It’s always up to the players to improve, and that’s usually done offseason. While you have coaches, the NBA is about winning games. Now. Grant can work on his ballhandling if he wants to have a career. It’s really up to him, He’s still under contract and it’s not like the Bulls have filled the job. He also needs to commit himself to play tougher and harder on defense. It would seem a great opportunity with the Bulls anxious to find someone, anyone to be in that so important position. We should know after this summer how serious Grant is about his career.
I felt terrible for both Grant and Carter-Williams. It will be difficult for them to rise. They’ve look totally lost on the court, inefficient. It may be understandable for Jerian Grant who only has two years in the league. But Carter-Williams is in the NBA since 2013, just like Isaiah Canaan. I would give a look at Valentine.
Sam: I’ve been surprised by Carter-Williams. I thought it was a great trade last fall to get him for Tony Snell. Tony has done OK, though typically with two points in the Thursday closeout game. His time with the Bulls was done; just like with Doug McDermott. They had their chances. Carter-Williams did decline in his rookie year after a brilliant start when he looked like one of the best players in the league. Then he had that great playoff series against the Bulls and looked like the best guard on the court. And his defense still is pretty good and bothersome at time. But his shot, poor to start, seems to have gotten worse. More so, the obvious lack of the ability to finish makes him a 6-6 guy playing like a 5-8 guy. He’s not physically huge, but with his athletic ability he ought to be able to get to the basket better. But he often looks so awkward and out of control. I’m not exactly sure what’s happened, though he never seemed to fit well with Wade and Butler, which isn’t good the way this Bulls team is built. Still, he’s gotten his chances and Fred Hoiberg, as we saw with Isaiah Canaan, rewards results no matter who you are or what you have done. He, too, will need a strong summer to regain his standing as a future top point guard.
With the 16th pick: Do you select the best available player, the most athletic player left, or a PG?
Sam: I think they do that best player available thing, which is pretty subjective since it comes down to who you think is the best player available, which, as we have seen is a pretty open question. Obviously, point guard is the greatest need by position, but so was it when Derrick Rose got hurt and they went for Marquis Teague. Made sense at the time. But you also don’t want to get locked into a position. Though these next few days could have a huge bearing on all this. Lose and perhaps a lot of things are up for grabs regarding the roster and trades. Win and maybe you have to pick up veterans around the edges because you can get to the conference finals. And none of the others are beating LeBron, either. So then maybe try it again for another year waiting for a free agent class in 2018. I suspect no matter what occurs, there will be loads of rumors regarding the Bulls considering both Rondo and Wade could be gone. And as we have seen, you are not exactly building a championship core with non lottery draft picks.
As I read the story about Patrick Beverley's reaction to the $25k fine he got for confronting a heckler in OKC, I found myself agreeing with him.I know, the conventional wisdom is, jocks make all that money, so they should just suck it up and let the fans do whatever they want, as long as it doesn't involve physical violence. But I think that practice enables a particularly vicious kind of coward in our society, people who have the instincts of a bully but aren't big enough to be physically confrontational, and not smart enough to plant viruses in the computers of strangers. The gentleman harassing Beverley sounded a lot like that psychotic ass who used to sit behind the Bulls' bench in Washington during the Jordan years. He hurled insults at them for the entirety of the game, loud and nasty, non-stop. Yes, they learned to shake it off, but that doesn't excuse the man's behavior. In a just society, either security should have removed him or the players should have been free to take action. I'd enjoy hearing your perspective on this.
Sam: Beverley was exactly right. Where’s the NBA in this? It’s not something you see or hear go on in Chicago. You don’t want to indict areas, but you tend to hear more of this stuff in the more homogenous areas of the country where there’s less ethnic diversity:
Oklahoma, Utah, some Texas. You know, the places where you kind of hope they try to secede.
Though there it’s still the exception as well. Why they allow it to go on, like they did with Beverley, is the curiosity. I’ve also never quite understood why it’s acceptable in society in public at an entertainment event to scream and yell hysterically at performers; even if it’s not profane. What sort of people need to do that? I know alcohol has something to do with it, but they drink at Vegas shows and people aren’t cursing out the performers. It’s really moronic, and it’s sad for the people doing it. Actually sadder for us that we have to share the same air with them. What I would do if I were the NBA or arena operators is bar people caught doing that for life. At least from seeing the team since some of the arenas are public facilities.
Though I’m not a big fan of booing, either, as an expression of review, OK, that’s inherent in sports. Even if not the theater or music concerts in general. I’ve heard plenty of notes missed. Where were the boos? I loved the scene from the Jackie Robinson “42” movie where the kid was excited to see Robinson and then the dad is calling him racial epithets and the kid follows along. We have enough division and anger in society. Do we have to listen to it at a ball game? Boo, if you like, if a performer isn’t trying. But you rarely see that. Why subject someone to vitriol because they aren’t as skilled as someone else. Unless, of course, you are a loser in life, a total wreck of a human being and failure and the only way to express yourself is to demean the success of others. Fining Beverley seemed an overreaction by the NBA. They should have just kept the check of that guy sitting so close and barred him if they needed the $25,000 so badly.
What did you think of the Russ and (reporter Barry) Trammel post game stuff?
Sam: For those who missed it, Westbrook interrupted a question for Steven Adams about the bench playing poorly with Westbrook out. Obviously, Westbrook is sensitive to the criticism the team is lousy without him and tries to deflect that. He rejected a “my supporting cast” question earlier. I think he’d like to be a good teammate and probably is. He’s just probably not capable in the way he plays. I agree he should win the MVP and likely will. His will, as it were, is remarkable. Even as the Thunder appeared out of that closeout game at the end, he still was throwing himself at every play, every ball. He’s a player every fan would love to root for. But he is absolutely oblivious to what it takes to be successful; not that every player knows, either. But those crazy run up and shoot a three one after another in the fourth quarter of every game has to be hard to take.
While he may be a good guy with his teammates, he seems absolutely impossible to play with in the sense of enjoying the game the way he monopolizes everything. I think that explains his amazing competitive play, but the dark side of it came through in that fairly simple question that was easily answered by Adams that we all just have to do better. Westbrook seems to have to dominate everything. I’ve seen players step in for another when they could see their teammate was going to be sucked into a controversial answer. I always thought that’s what Isiah Thomas was doing in that infamous Larry Bird wouldn’t be as great if he weren’t white thing. It began with Dennis Rodman going off on Bird and Thomas coming in—badly—with support. This was Westbrook stepping in to control the narrative.
You hear coning out of Oklahoma City how Westbrook is a control freak about so much. They did have a fine season, winning almost 50 games without Durant and making it the best first round series to watch, even if it were just five games. You maybe want to watch Westbrook more than any player in the NBA today; though I’d sure hate to be on his team. And, by the way, several interesting first round games, the high seeds seem to be succeeding, Uh oh.
Also, I’d like to extend credit to the Oklahoma City media. The reporter, Trammel, didn’t let Westbrook intimidate him, and when Westbrook kept repeating next question, no one would ask another in what seemed like a nice support of not letting Westbrook silence the session. I ran into that once in Chicago when I’d written something critical of Anthony Mason during a Bulls playoff series with Charlotte. At his post game press conference, Mason said he wasn’t answering questions until I left. I said he couldn’t discriminate like that. I asked fellow reporters to back me. A TV guy said he needed a Mason comment and I should leave. Eventually I did as, after all, who really had to hear from Anthony Mason? And it wasn’t worth the disruption at the time. But in this era of media harassment with attempts at silence—after all, who are media members there for?--it was nice to see media standing up to back one of their own in what was hardly a harassing situation and just a fair attempt to answer a question fans were asking.
Isaiah Thomas picked up 4th foul in the early third quarter but played pretty much the entire quarter. With him being switched to guard Jimmy and Wade often, why wasn't getting posted up constantly to draw 5th foul?
Sam: I thought the Bulls handled that in Game 4 reasonably well; after all, Jimmy Butler did shoot 23 free throws. The Bulls plan they followed much of that game was to put Thomas in pick and roll situations to get a switch so he was on Butler. Butler did take advantage. After all, how many more free throws could he have gotten? What Boston did a few times was go into a zone and put Thomas in the corner. The Bulls weren’t great immediately given their point guard issues without Rondo. Rondo would immediately have recognized it and signaled someone into the middle of the zone for an easy jumper or the ball then spread out for a shot.
Butler and Wade don’t respond to those things as quickly because they are not natural point guards and tend to hold the ball and begin to survey the defense. Point guard is a very specialized position. You just can’t say I’m point guard now. The Bulls tried all season and no one could grab the job other than Rondo. Then Thomas went out after his late third quarter run, and by the time he was back with four fouls with maybe eight minutes to go and trailing by double digits, that was hardly a plan. Plus, when you seek out specific mismatches what can happen is other players get to standing around watching and waiting for it. That seemed to happen also and then after some ball holding you got some quick shots with the clock running down. The eighth seed cannot afford to lose its second most important player and dominate the No. 1 seed.
Jamal Crawford was the 1st player to play all 82 games for the first time in his 17th season or later. Guy is ageless. Clippers? And what of Paul George? Wants to go to Lakers? Clippers? No way he ends up there unless Lakers end up in top 3. Nothing really there for Bird. If they get a top 3 that pick, Ingram, Deng for George and Jefferson.
Sam: Jerry Krause’s last great pick. It wasn’t a very good overall Bulls draft with three firsts and three seconds, but getting Jamal with the eighth pick (flipping to seven with Cleveland for Chris Mihm) was a nice one from a very weak draft. As an aside, that may have been an interesting team with Elton Brand, Ron Artest and Crawford from the 1999 and 2000 drafts.
Anyway, the Bulls as they have been all season could be the story of the offseason. Keep Griffin, Paul and Jordan? Could Carmelo end up there? They do really need a second scoring option and it might be the ideal place for Anthony to close it out not having to have the ball and basically with his first real point guard other than Chauncey Billups, who was no Chris Paul. Would Griffin like New York? Lots of commercials there, also. He seems the odd man out. As for George, it sure sounds like he’s ready to go. Though there must be one or two teammates he hasn’t criticized yet. It might be smart for the Lakers to wait until next summer and not have to give up anything if George wants to go there. The Knicks not doing the same with Anthony from Denver was a problem. It’s not like even with George the Lakers are going anywhere next season, and even with the top three pick, assuming they still get it (they lose it if it falls to four). But you know Magic will be anxious to win the back page. Oh, that’s New York, sorry. But do something to let people know he’s there and being magical. I also can’t wait to see what Thibodeau does in Minnesota with a surfeit of point guards and also a desperation to make a move to the playoffs.
This is going to be a great offseason for rumors and speculation. Can’t we just get to Cleveland and Golden State so we can start the speculation.
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