Ask Sam Mailbag: 04.14.17

Sam Smith opens his mailbag to answer readers' questions.

By Sam Smith

I don't remember such parity in an 8 team playoff seeding. Only 12 wins separate #1 versus # 8. In the west it's 26 wins!

It seems as if the Bulls might have a chance as the Celtics are not a truly dominant #1 seed and the Bulls big 3 all have deep playoff experience. How do you see this series playing out?

Jeff Lichtenstein

Sam: I’ll save my pick until I do my Sunday matchups. But I will say I cannot recall a worse No. 1 seed in the history of the NBA. I think their differential of plus-2.7 is the worst ever for a No. 1 seed and third in the East. It would be sixth in the West and is one of the most reliable indicators of team strength. The Bulls’ is sixth in the East, so it’s really more like a 4/6 matchup; not so much 1/8. The Celtics are not so much a terrible team as the Celtics do play hard and are enviable for that reason, defend, make timely shots.

But a, what, 5-7 guard, Isaiah Thomas as your anchor best play, star? Allen Iverson didn’t have much around him and got to the Finals in 2001 and were No. 1 seed. But, c’mon, Allen Iverson vs. Thomas? There were some weak top seeds in the 70s, like Atlanta, but they had several All-Stars like Lou Hudson, Joe Caldwell, Walt Bellamy, Hall of Famers. Isaiah Thomas, Hall of Famer? The playoffs are about great players doing great things. The best player in the series plays for the Bulls; the most accomplished plays for the Bulls. Golden State was a top seed with 48 wins in 1975, but they had Rick Barry, maybe a top 15 all-time player. Seattle in the late 70s, but with Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma (who should be a Hall of Famer), Gus Williams, playmakers.

The Cavs clearly are the best team in the conference, but they’ve pretty much blown off the regular season. You know David Blatt never would have let them do that. So credit to the Celtics for taking the regular season seriously and playing it out, which is what you are supposed to do, what should be celebrated. I root for them much more so than for the Cavs as a result. And you can tell their management didn’t even much care since they held onto their draft picks this February when they apparently had a chance to add a high level player or even a star to go with Thomas. Pretty smart for the long term, really, but what also makes them vulnerable now.

Bulls vs Celtics!! For two reasons: first...If the Bulls end up wanting to trade Butler, what better way to raise his value than to beat the Celtics in the playoffs. Ainge would feel the heat in the off season. Second...I think the Bulls can beat them in a series. Am I a delusional Bulls fan?

Victor Devaldivielso

Sam: Well, if the Bulls win the series I hardly see any major changes. Look, who really is scared of this No. 1 seed?

So, there seems to be this perception the Bulls are stealing the playoff spot that rightfully belongs to the Miami Heat because the Nets rested their main players. I'm sorry, didn't the Hawks and Wizards, who the Pacers and Heat were playing, rest their main stars, too? Would it not be an unfair advantage if the Bulls played someone's top roster and the other two played their benches? Why isn't that mentioned?

Also, why did the Bulls have the tie-breaker over the Heat? Oh, yeah--because they beat the Heat more than the Heat beat the Bulls. And since the Heat are so deserving of that playoff spot, let's do a little comparing on quality wins: Heat are 1-1 against the Warriors. So are the Bulls. Heat are 0-2 against the Spurs. Bulls are 1-1. Heat are 3-1 against the Cavs. Bulls are 4-0. Heat are 1-2 against the Raptors. Bulls are 3-1. Heat are 0-4 against the Celtics. Bulls are 2-2. So, aside from the warmer weather and the fact that the same coach who oversaw an 11-30 Heat record managed to get them back to .500, what exactly makes the Heat more worthy of a playoff spot than the Bulls? And why is it the Nets aren't allowed to rest their players when other teams are? Ask the Bulls about the Philly series when Derrick went down--you really want to risk your top players to injury in what is literally a meaningless game?

Chris Feldman

Sam: That answers it all, and you are exactly right. It’s why the games are 48 minutes and if you play badly the first 24 you don’t get to say you deserved to win because you played well the last 24. You add up both and that’s how it works. If the Miami coach was a coach of the year for the second half, then with that roster he should have been fired at mid season. How do you get 20 games under with a former all-league player in Dragic again playing that way and a potential all-league center this season in Whiteside? And James Johnson, who finally went on a diet. You are what your record is and deserve what you get.

Over 82 games, you have plenty of time to make up a win or loss, and if you are depending on the team with the worst record in the league to beat someone on the last day to get into the playoffs, then you are thinking like a loser. I know Pat Riley. Trying to whine their way into eighth place cannot be what he stands for. The Heat did not play well enough this season to make the playoffs. And, really, it’s not like the Bulls are taking bows for being eighth. Maybe set you standards a little higher if you are Miami than bemoaning being beaten out for eighth.

I think the Coach needs to figure out a nine man rotation and stick to it unless injuries and just horrible play dictate otherwise. I say Wade-Rondo-Butler-Lopez-Mirotic-Portis-Felicio-Valentine-Grant.

Randall Sanders

Sam: He’s pretty much gotten down to that the last few weeks and the Bulls are playing basically the same roster/rotation as everyone else in the playoffs, except unlike most playoff teams they’ve been trying to win all their games. OK, they had to, but. It looks like Felicio is back in behind Lopez and that makes sense with his ability to play outside. Boston’s bigs shoot from outside. Grant probably is behind Rondo as he’s potentially better against Thomas since Carter-Williams has some problems with tiny guards on defense. Portis has hustled his way in and then likely Zipser, who has a bit more professional experience overseas than Valentine here. But Hoiberg has taken looks at guys and if they get rolling he’ll stay with them. Nothing wrong with that. Phil Jackson did that, like with Brian (Bison Dele) Williams, for example. But the rotation likely will be pretty reasonable and stable for the playoffs. And it’s with all the debate a pretty young roster with Zipser, Felicio, Portis and Grant regulars. It’s the youngest overall in the playoffs even with Wade and Rondo.

Harden and Morey already are crying about the MVP. Both saying MVP should be considered by wins.

Bob Ding

Sam: Which should tell you who is going to win. These things have a momentum and even though it’s about the whole season, most voters are influenced—as most people and, frankly, gms also—by what they saw last. All this record breaking stuff and another game winning shot wraps MVP up for Westbrook. Harden and Morey can see that and that’s the sense you get hearing voters. They changed the voting this year and eliminated everyone associated with teams, so I’m out, also. Though in the curious reasoning they left the voters for the NBA web site, which is sort of run by Turner, wink, wink, but doesn’t include a lot of uncomplimentary stuff about the commissioner. Not that it should. But I’m sure they’ll assemble a reasonable panel of voters and the result will be good, as it’s always been.

Despite the moaning of players from time to time, I don’t think there’s ever been a truly ridiculous MVP winner. There is no actual criterion, but it basically comes down to a mixture of the player having the best individual season matched with the quality of his teammates and the success of his team. The Thunder finishing sixth makes it a bit of an aberration, though the race is generally with Harden and the Rockets are third, and a distant third. The Thunder is closer to the Rockets than the Rockets to the Warriors. If the race would have been against a member of the Warriors, Westbrook would have lost even with the record of triple doubles and truly impressive winning shots. He would have been my choice. In 1962, when Oscar had his triple double season (if you combine stats he did it for five straight seasons), he was third in MVP voting as Bill Russell won with the champion Celtics, who had the best record. That usually means a lot, but not if your team is third place in comparison.

I’ve talked to a number of coaches about the award and the consensus actually would be they’d vote for Kawhi Leonard. It is the combination of his defensive play with being the go to guy on a 60-win type team, especially with the retirement of Duncan, the injuries to Gasol and Aldridge’s limited mid range play. But the Spurs never campaign much individually, and few have ever sold themselves less than the Laconic Leonard. Westbrook probably has it locked up with Harden second. LeBron probably slips to fourth with his various vacation days during the season and then probably Isaiah Thomas, who if Leonard had that personality would probably be MVP.

Free Agency: Derrick Rose signs with the San Antonio Spurs.

Bill Junaid

Sam: Well, they do need a point guard. Fans and media here often got the wrong message about Rose. He’s not about his points and stats. Remember the stories from high school, scoring two points in his championship game, in college averaging about 14 points so two or three guys who never deserved to be would be drafted, standing up for Keith Bogans as his backcourt running mate. Rose always has been about winning the game, but got hijacked by his need to score with an offensively challenged Bulls roster. So he began to morph into that player. Which besides the injuries—which is no real besides—has proved his greatest frustration in going to the Knicks. Despite what you may have heard from the media there, he has no issues with the triangle offense and began to spend time discussing it with Phil Jackson. You’d initially say the Spurs wouldn’t go his way given Rose’s lack of defensive intensity. But they won 60 games with Pau Gasol, and we knew about his defense. Rose likely will be on a short term deal with his injury history, and I think there will be a lot of teams willing to take a shot.

Does Niko have any trade value given his status as a restricted free agent? While he has performed better the past thirty days he is very inconsistent/unreliable, and a gangly non athlete who lacks a fundamental understanding of the game. With his defensive limitations and age/experience, it’s difficult to project beyond what you see is what you get. Apparently he was shopped before the trade deadline but has his “improvement” changed his value?

John Petersen

Sam: Again, the last thing teams see usually are big. If I agree with some of your scouting assessment, I still don’t see all the guys behind him playing better. He’s been one of the league’s best three-point shooters the last month, and remember this is a guy who hadn’t played a full season his first two years. While he may not be what some hoped or wished for, it seems to me he’s a pretty useful player. Perhaps not a star, but I like Bogdanovic, whom the Wizards picked up, and I see Niko as good as that level. He’s a player who needs more tender care than a kick in the rear. It sometimes takes teams a while to realize. I’d hang onto him to see his market. Certainly at least until they can find the next Klay Thompson.

I like Joffrey Lauvergne. Any chance of him joining us next year?

Rex Doty

Sam: There’s no way now of having any picture of a Bulls roster for next season. All I am sure about is they are going to be in the middle of a lot of rumors. Lauvergne has a player option for about $2 million for next season. Does he have a market? Felicio has a smaller player option and is expected to be a free agent. I can see Lauvergne if he picks up his option being insurance for Felicio.

Where is Judge Landis when you need him? Do the players have a hotly contested secret shuffle board tournament imminent in Palm Springs? The Nets resting? Why, to prepare them for really good rest?

It's the single most cynical thing I've seen in this trend. What exactly do they think they're getting for Jeremy Lin (among rumors the Nets held he, Booker and Lopez out to trade them so they wouldn’t get hurt)? That stale box of cracker jacks and a sideline dancer to be named later? Lopez I might buy, but I take it from the other angle. Let him show that he can play against tough teams that have to win. It'd up his value, even if just a little. It's as close to throwing an NBA game as I can remember seeing. It looks like someone in the Nets organization had it in for Riley or something equally as goofy. A facet of this that's exceptionally disjointed is that this particular issue blew up pretty big a little more than a month ago. So now Brooklyn gets out a real sharp stick and pokes everyone in the eye?

Pete Zievers

Sam: I’ve been on this issue for a long time as an embarrassment to the integrity of not only the game but yourself as players, and it’s obviously getting worse even as the commissioner said it was now the league’s biggest issue. I’ve heard various explanations; few of which justified throwing that game. The league better watch out before some district attorney gets the idea to investigate for consumer fraud. The league can fix this easily. You’re resting guys and it makes the league look bad? $1 million fine each time to be decided by the commissioner. Explain that to your owner.

Then you say a guy is injured? OK, like drug tests, have surprise doctor visits. He’s not injured? That’s five days on the injured list like they used to do it in the 80s and 90s. The explanations I heard were the Nets plan to trade Lopez, Lin and Booker and didn’t want them hurt, as if Lopez ever moves fast enough to do so; they would get a second round pick if the Pacers missed the playoffs, so wanted the Bulls to win; were mad at Miami for matching on Tyler Johnson last summer. Are the Nets and asked themselves what would Derrick Coleman do.

The dad (UCLA’s Ball dad) says white guys can’t play. Now the kid said he doesnt care if he goes #1 as he just wants to play for the Lakers. I told you weeks ago that teams will want no part of him because of his father. I heard now he's trying to get his youngest son's high school coach fired. Guy is a lunatic.

Mike Sutera

Sam: I have begun to hear teams having doubts about dealing with Ball’s family, though it does seem more his family’s planned strategy to get him to the Lakers, the big market; and also knowing Russell isn’t a point guard and imagining him as the next Magic as he is regarded as a Magic/Kidd sort of point guard. Better shot than Kidd; not nearly as fast. Of course the Lakers with a nice little run late in the season may have played themselves out of the draft. If they aren’t top three, the pick goes to the 76ers. So if someone jumps up top three, the Lakers fall out and Ball’s dad is someone else’s nightmare. He will be a problem as there still are free speech rights, at least in public places. And teams are deathly afraid of offending family members on rookie deals. But the kid is too good a player for now. You’d be surprised how much NBA teams put up with for a talented point guard. Plus, the owners don’t have to be around and the gms can go out scouting. “You take care of it, coach.”

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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