Ask Sam Mailbag: 04.7.17
SAM SMITH OPENS HIS MAILBAG TO ANSWER READERS' QUESTIONS
Unbelievably, with 5 games left we are in the 7 seed. We are playing 4 of the worst teams in the league. It is entirely possible that we win out. A week ago I was analyzing next year's roster. This team has really impressed me recently. I love the fight! 43-39 could get us a 6 or 5 seed. A first round matchup against Toronto or Washington is a much more hopeful prospect.
Rondo, Butler, Zipser, Mirotic, Lopez, MCW, Valentine, Portis, and Lauvergne have really clicked. The roles are clearly defined and have filled them very well. Can we make it to the 2nd round? If so, do we not "blow-up" this unit?
Sam: And then came the Knicks and whoever those guys were. You see, that’s the difficult part with this Bulls roster and this post season. You wrote this after the great week, four straight wins, Jimmy Player of the Week, suddenly looking at maybe fifth in the East. A day later it’s possibly ninth again. You can pick over decisions, playing Canaan or Payne, Lauvergne or Portis or Felicio. But that is esoteric compared to what you do for the long term. Do you have the pieces to begin to be a title contender? Obviously not enough, but is there a core? If not, how do you get one? If there is one, how do you add to it? Are you just playing to make the playoffs? But, after all, how good are Boston, Toronto and Washington, the East beyond Cleveland? A tweak here, a tweak there? And then what if you miss the playoffs? This week may just define the future of the franchise for the next five years.
It seems to me that one of the hallmarks of the Bulls' resurgence has been better ball movement and better shots for everyone. Opposing teams are helping this by doubling Jimmy Butler, and he's making it work by passing out of the double teams. Because everyone is involved in the offense, the defense has improved--better coverage of the three-point line, fewer easy drives to the hoop, a lot more energy on switches and recovery. I worry that when Dwayne Wade comes back the team will regress to one-on-one play again, especially when guys start feeling tired later in the game. What are the chances D. Wade can blend in when he returns (or come off the bench)?
Sam: Well, as noted above they had turned around--for four games. But it does look like Wade is coming back, perhaps Saturday. I guess some of that depends on the Rondo situation, whether Wade starts, though given he’ll be playing limited minutes and just returning from missing a month, it might make sense to play him off the bench. The problem is it’s not like you have this great core of starters. Play him off the bench so Zipser can start? Morrow? Valentine? The question had come up with Wade out and the team winning six of nine and scoring and shooting like it hadn’t all season that perhaps Wade was getting in the way. I don’t think that was the case as the record with and without him overall have been pretty much the same, that the Bulls have had huge wins and huge losses without him. But I do think a transition makes sense.
There is some precedent this season for coming off the bench after an injury since Pau Gasol has done that with the Spurs and he’s probably a higher level player overall. Of course, the Spurs were working on a 50-plus win season and the Bulls were trying for 40, so it’s not like Wade would break up vital chemistry. But it does begin to make some sense the way Rondo played with Butler to have Wade in sort of that Manu Ginobili role, which is substantial, but lends a stability and vital scoring option to the second unit where Wade could be more in control and more of a leader. It’s kept Ginobili as an elite star. Same with Andre Iguodala, whose reputation was enhanced coming off the bench.
I don’t see why it would be an insult to Wade and, frankly, Wade has had a career of making sacrifices for the team. He probably was most instrumental in recruiting LeBron James to Miami when he had to know he’d then have to begin deferring to James despite Wade having been the face of the franchise. Very few players ever have done that. He might need to start depending on personnel and injuries, but I could see him saying it was better for the team for now to come off the bench.
Considering the Cavs were playing pathetic against us all season, I'll rather take my chances of us taking on them, then to be facing Isaiah Thomas and the Celtic squad. Cleveland might try all the stops to get redemption yes, but Boston's a whole different team all over, Al Horford now plays for them, and so they're no longer the same team they were last season...They're somewhat better.
Sam: Well, Cleveland just made a bit of a statement against them. I’ve seen enough of this Bulls team to know the minute they look ahead someone catches them from behind. Plus, Miami is playing well and now so are the Pacers. Lance Stephenson for most improved for the last two weeks? That Pacers/Cavs overtime game last week was one of the best games of the season and the reason LeBron was mad was not what any of his teammates did. Paul George was kicking his butt. LeBron got into his toughest defensive positions and George kept scoring. Best I’ve seen George play since before his broken leg.
It’s tough to see anyone in that top four a good opponent for the Bulls other than the Raptors. Toronto is likely still so stunned by the Bulls winning streak they recently stopped in overtime that the Bulls might actually have an edge. But with almost an entire roster not having played in the playoffs and Wade probably just returning, just getting there will likely have been enough for the season, give the young guys a taste and see who stands up. That also could make some of the off season decisions clearer.
What happened to the Bulls? I’ve watched the Atlanta Game & against New Orleans. Rondo has been playing like his old Days with Boston. Jimmy has been Jimmy. Mirotic is playing like he wants to be the #2 guy on the Bulls moving forward. Valentine showing promise. What really is surprising is the up-tempo style and moving the Ball the Bulls have been doing. That’s what Hoiberg wanted all season? Are they finally listening to him and giving him a little respect? What if the Bulls even win a Playoff series? Would the Bulls trade Butler & blow the team up then? Problem moving forward now is what do you do? I would rather keep Rondo another year than Wade but I don’t think he will opt out. You think the Bulls would match any offer Mirotic gets on the market & keep him? And let’s hope Gar & Pax don’t have their eye on the 7-1 stiff from Gonzaga. Man, did he miss a few right under the basket lay-in’s in the championship game last night.
Sam: That’s a lot of stuff and a lot of their questions to answer, so it should be a compelling off season, perhaps more so than the season. Though a word about Hoiberg. Enough, already. Let’s look at Miami, which is basically tied with the Bulls going for that last playoff spot. I hear all this stuff about how Spoelstra should be the coach of the year and Fred was rated last in a recent ESPN poll, though I recently rated ESPN last in a poll of TV sports networks. See there. How’s it feel? OK, I know it means nothing, like their poll. Anyway, let’s match rosters. Miami has more All-Stars than the Bulls, for one thing. OK, say Jimmy is the best as he was an All-Star starter. But Dragic also was a league Most Improved Player and an all-NBA player, which Jimmy hasn’t been yet.
Whiteside hasn’t yet been an All-Star, but he could and should be, leading the NBA in rebounding, third in blocks, an all-defensive team player. And those are the two most important positions. Plus, James Johnson has turned himself with training and weight loss, finally, into the player the Bulls saw with a high draft pick and though injured now, Miami got a great season from a top five pick, Dion Waiters. Wayne Ellington is a nice shooter to have around. They’re not great, but they look like a .500 team, or a bit more. So have the Bulls been. Preseason Las Vegas had the Bulls 38 on over/under wins and Miami 36.
So Miami is a few above; the Bulls are a few above as well. So, yes, Miami had a great run, but they’ve had essentially the same season as the Bulls. And with what many regard as a higher level roster with stars in Dragic and Whiteside. The Bulls don’t have that second high level support player, and remember, Miami let Wade go to play the guys they had. Wade’s done some good things for the Bulls, but you’d be hard pressed to suggest he’d made the mark of someone like Whiteside as a supporting guy to your main star. Plus, Miami has had much less disruption on its roster. Sure, they’ve had injuries like Winslow and, of course, Bosh, though they never counted on him this season. While the Bulls with the breakup of the roster last season now have 10 new players on the roster and a priority, at least until recently, to see some of those players in extended minutes to make decisions. Plus, the team traded two of its top six players in midseason. I’m not voting Hoiberg coach of the year. But I don’t see how his coaching season has been substantially different from Spoelstra’s, for example.
This season was hard to watch as a Bulls fan but how do you explain them playing better and more consistent now. To me it's more about the fact that Hoiberg finally seems to have found a rotation, so players know better what their role is and how many minutes they gonna get than the fact that Wade is missing. Either way the Bulls will not get deep into the playoffs, they will only get as far as Butler takes them. Which gets me to the next topic - Jimmy Butler. I admit I don't like this management and recent moves they made (besides Rose/Noah trade) but if they trade Butler after the season I’m speechless. Jimmy as your draft pick made his way, adding to his game each season, to reach the highest levels this season as a top 10 player. You will not get a better player in the draft, you build around this guy in my mind without question.
Sam: Thus far none of the rumors regarding Butler have had much substance. Remember, Paul George has been in rumors and so was Dragic. When your team isn’t doing well, the names of your best players come up. It’s part of the game. But as all these teams tell you, they have to listen. If the Celtics get the No. 1 pick with the Brooklyn pick and select the point guard from Washington they like, then Isaiah Thomas will be mentioned in trade talk. You get mentioned in trade talk because you are valuable. Paul Zipser doesn’t come up much. All indications now continue to remain that Butler is the core of what the Bulls are doing. Eventually if things don’t work, like the White Sox baseball team with Chris Sale, you might do something. Because he was great; not because they didn’t like him. It’s also up to Jimmy to try to elevate the team more. He’s not getting faulted, but you can only have so many seasons within a few games of .500 and the organization continue to stay the course with that core.
Well the Bulls missed on a Kings first round pick from the Deng trade. Apparently they now get two second round picks. What year are the picks and are they from Sacramento or other teams?
Sam: Alas, there went a nice chance. The Bulls this season assuming the Kings don’t make a miracle last week jump will get the Kings second round pick this June and that’s the end of that Luol Deng trade.
What do you think of the foul call against Butler at the end of the game against Atlanta? Refs are always swallowing the whistle, but here you get a call that is not only late, but has the result (intended?) of Butler having to earn the Bull's two points. Not only that, it puts time back on the clock for Atlanta to get off a possible winning shot.
Sam: Well, he was fouled. And since we’re on officials here, that NCAA final game should have finally ended two debates: About NBA officials (the best in the world) and college basketball being more interesting than pro ball? Yes, any one game can be badly officiated. Though this was the one they presumably saved their best people for. Plus, how awful was the quality of play in that tournament, and especially that last game? It sounds more exciting when the announcers go nuts for any basket actually made, but the game is slow, boring, poorly coached, badly officiated and if you weren’t betting on it you’d have to have insomnia to watch it. And no other TV stations working. There hasn’t been as bad an NBA game since before the shot clock in 1954. As it happened, I was able to turn on the postponed Minnesota/Portland game at the same time that had more exciting, athletic, intelligent, compelling plays in five minutes than that NCAA one did in several hours of repeated stoppages.
Point guards the Bulls have acquired via trade & current status:
1. Cameron Payne (inactive) traded for 2nd rounder + McD
2. MCW (2nd unit) traded for Snell
3. Jerian Grant (inactive) traded for Justin Holiday
Holiday & Snell are performing well for their teams. McD is still really bad, but he's at least ok enough to get some PT. GarPax has pretty much lost every single PG-orientated trade this year. Even if the rest of the trade turned out ok; the PG portion did not.
Sam: Not sure I can agree with any of that. True, no one has turned out able to knock out Rondo as a starter. But you wouldn’t want any of those guys back, and no offense to any. All good guys and hard workers. Tony Snell’s numbers are basically the same as with the Bulls; just a bit higher averaging 30 minutes, but still not 10 points. His impact is limited and you are the first person all year who has suggested he is missed. He’s had virtually no impact in Milwaukee and the Bulls didn’t want to be in position to have to negotiate a new contract. It was worth a shot to look at Carter-Williams and they would have been nuts not to take it.
Doug hardly has played, averaging about six points since the trade, though it is tough to work in new guys with an established team. It was worth it to take a look at Payne, and you really can’t get a fair look at a point guard halfway through the season. He was a lottery pick who wasn’t playing behind a guy who never goes out of the game. Again, worth a look. And Taj wasn’t being resigned. Like last season, the Bulls were criticized for not getting something for Gasol when they knew he wasn’t coming back. You don’t get much for rentals. Holiday averages five points and shoots 34 percent on threes. Again, Grant as a college guy we all liked was worth the look and has shown some positive flashes, like against the 76ers Thursday.
Too many of these guys haven’t played that much, or actually been allowed to play on the court with much of the season was overloaded with guys who hold the ball more for their shots. Grant looks better to me that Holiday as far as upside. Actually, even if deals don’t work, I like them. Fans often say the Bulls aren’t aggressive enough. The point is if you are aggressive you are going to have flops; everyone does. Jerry West many times. But when you do the point is you try to move on and do something else. The Bulls moved on with players who weren’t going to be with them or make a difference. The market isn’t great for those guys, so you have to take a risk and hope you come up with a big catch. Often it takes a lot of patience and false alarms. But the point is to do something.
The Knicks will be fine. They can get a top 6-7 pick. They have KP now just need to deal Melo even if its for garbage. They have young guys with promise.
Sam: Phil for executive of the year? It takes the patience of a village. The Knicks do have some interesting role players, but those guys late in the season tend to play hard to keep their careers alive. The Bulls are finding out. Seeing the New York media this week traveling East with the Bulls, the local media seems to feel Carmelo is ready to give up his no-trade. His situation will be one of the best of the offseason to watch. It’s clear Jackson doesn’t want any part of him and is starting to put some young players in place, has their lottery pick—finally after his predecessors gave away some—has a potential star in Porzingis and likely letting go Derrick Rose and gaining lot of salary cap money. I know, no one goes there, but you can always hope. The interesting part may be there’s not too many teams who may want Anthony. He’s old now, breaking down, selfish, hard to play with as a result, an awful defender. If the Clippers are out in the first round, perhaps a desperate type move to sell tickets for another season. But not too many are likely to be that interested at that money at that age. I’m not convinced Anthony will waive that no trade. Sorry, Phil.
So if GarPax was offered a 1st rounder for Niko would they still take it?
Sam: That’s the problem when a guy gets better and raises his trade value. Then you might want to have him, also. It seemed in mid-season, yes, Mirotic was not likely to be back. But he’s been the most reliable second option to Butler the last few weeks when the Bulls have played their best of the season. Not to say he is a second option, but he’s been the best three-point shooter, biggest threat from the outside and the guy other than Jimmy the opposing defense has most been chasing. Not like you get those guys with the 20th pick in the draft. Again, it will be an intriguing offseason of decisions, rumors, debates, recriminations (OK, every offseason) and explanations. And that’s better than college basketball, too.
I heard about Rose yesterday. Man, he's built for hoops, except he has the knees of an accountant. I'd feel worse for him if he wasn't worth about $100MM, but still...
I guess we got the best of that trade.
Sam: Actually, I was once an accountant and those guys have sturdy legs from lifting those adding machines. It’s the thinning hair, skinny arms and marks on the bridge of the nose from the glasses and stains on their shirt from the pocket protectors that hurt. I heard this was the least serious of all the Rose knee operations, but when you are plural it’s not encouraging. Rose actually had a pretty good season. He played 64 games, averaged 18 points and showed explosive moves to the basket. His three-point shooting actually got worse, but he reestablished himself as at least a serviceable guard in the top half of the league. The injury issue makes him likely a short term guy or a guy with contract incentives. But it looks like he’ll still have a basketball career, and that’s really all he’s wanted at this point. That’s what Chicago never forgave him. Certainly that elite level player is long gone, but Rose, as he says, just wants to be a hooper, and he should be that. Good for him.
Could Lebron and Phil team up? If Cleveland faulters this year, I could see Lebron say I want to finish my career in NY and I could see Phil say I'll come back back down to the bench if it means coaching Lebron.
This team could even beat Uncle Drew's team.
Sam: That would be a heck of a posse.
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