Ask Sam Mailbag: 06.02.17
SAM SMITH OPENS HIS MAILBAG TO ANSWER READERS' QUESTIONS
Kevin Durant going to the Warriors ruined the season. The Warriors would be tough to handle even for Team USA.
Sam: It’s just one game, guys. See, I can coach the Cavs, too. There have been Finals Game 1 blowouts before, though it sure was discouraging not watching another fourth quarter the way these playoffs have gone. I did get to see the Daily Show without recording it, however. In 1977, the 76ers blew out Bill Walton’s Portland team in Game 2 for a 2-0 lead and then lost four straight. And, of course, the great 1985 Finals when the Lakers lost Game 1 by 34 and won the series in six games. But let’s not confuse these Cavs for Magic, Kareem, Worthy, Cooper and McAdoo. This is a very poor defensive Cavs team. Did I mention very. Yes, very, very poor. That’s why we didn’t even see Channing Frye with the likes of Kyle Kover and Deron Williams out there. Hello, even the Warriors take straight on drives for dunks on the fast break instead of threes.
There also was the usual a lot of finger pointing on defense by the Cavs. You guys practice much? Yes, Korver, Williams and Tristan Thompson scored the same number of points as a I did. It’s never over until it’s over. But the reason the Warriors were favored by most everyone was they won way more games, played in a more difficult conference and added a former MVP in his prime to a team coming off consecutive Finals. So, yes, you are correct. They are really good. And much more attuned this time after their 3-1 meltdown last year. They’re not likely to relax and play And1, as they often do to amuse themselves during games. But the Cavs flaws were obvious. If Kevin Love cannot get 20-25 points they have no chance because Love and Kyrie are poor defenders. So they have to score a lot to make up for what they’ll give up. Time to begin walking it up.
You can’t run with the Warriors. You saw the Cavs constantly trying to exploit Curry on defense, but the Cavs’ defensive is porous, and LeBron isn’t the defender he once was, though still their best. But he spends an awful lot of time after drives complaining to the officials and not getting back. The Warriors don’t wait. They’re not invincible. And they have been amazingly healthy these last few years. So they’ve had some luck. But to play them you do need some more defense, a younger, more athletic bench and some size. Though that is a lot of stuff. I’m sure Team USA has that.
Klay Thompson MIA? What’s up?
Sam: And they still blew them out. Uh oh. Thompson hasn’t been the same since Durant came aboard. Of course, he did set a career high in scoring average this season. OK, what I mean by that is he’s moved back to third option and you get the feeling watching him he’s really trying hard to be one of the (shooting) guys. Too hard as he’s averaging a career low in the playoffs this year and across the board in shooting, too. Watching him after he shoots reminds me of me after I hit a golf shot. A lot of “Damn it!” muttering. He seems less relaxed, almost aiming the ball. Reminds me a little of Doug McDermott. On offense. That’s important, though. The Warriors with Thompson and Draymond make you work for shots on the perimeter. The Warriors don’t seem to have to work as hard. This is really not good news for the Cavs as you get the sense Thompson has a better chance to break out than any of the Cavs’ many Williams.
Is this true? Larry Bird has better stats than Lebron? Maybe just for one season? I'd have to watch Larry's games again to know who was better.I think Bird today would still stand out as an MVP candidate: I have Bird in my top 5 all time. Lebron probably is top 5: Between Jordan, Magic, Bird, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Lebron... I'm not sure who I'd leave out of the top 5. Does Oscar Robertson belong up there?
Sam: It’s all about rating the best, top five, top 10 these days, it seems. My all-time starting five would be Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Wilt Chamberlain. That’s by position, which is different from making up an actual team. On talent, there’s been no one as talented or dominant as Wilt. He averaged like 35 and 25 per game when there were Hall of Fame centers against him like Nate Thurmond, Walt Bellamy, Willis Reed. Oh, Bill Russell, also. If I were making the ideal actual team, Russell would be my center. Wilt never had the teammates or coaching stability, but no one fit in and filled out what you had better than Russell. Bird was a far better shooter than LeBron and much better clutch player. LeBron makes some great winners, but nothing compared with Bird. But LeBron is just so dominant and has carried teams with so little talent—against much lesser opponents, however—to the Finals. But that’s the point of all this. There are no answers and no one is right. Those who know Magic would never put him behind Oscar, who, to me, was the most perfect all around player in the ability to do everything at the highest level. LeBron’s scoring ability is nowhere near Elgin Baylor’s, who doesn’t make the lists anymore. It’s entertaining stuff, and you should have seen Rick Barry in his prime. Unstoppable scorer. Quicker than he even talks.
I don’t want to get into the whole Michael vs. LeBron thing in terms of basketball - - for the record, I’m a Michael person - - but I wonder if you could comment on the two from a citizenship perspective. I have admired LeBron’s willingness to speak out on social and political issues and his community commitments as exemplified by his financing of a new school in Akron and his contribution to the African-American History museum in DC. I am sure that Michael has done some of these things privately, but the public impression, exemplified by his famous “Republicans also buy sneakers” comment, is that he has little to any concern with these issues. Is that accurate, and, in your view, is it fair to have such expectations of professional athletes?
Sam: Untrue, and I get part of the blame for that for using that quote in one of my books, though it was said more in jest in Jordan’s way of deflecting and winning the argument, last good line and all. Not that Mike Royko wasn’t a wonderful columnist and a model for many of us in journalism. And I think he may have been kidding when he told me one time, “Don’t let the facts screw up a good column, kid.” I think I was 35 at the time. Anyway, that’s been a good story to hang on Jordan to distinguish him from James. But everyone—and you—make the mistake of taking people out of their time period. It would be like erasing Washington and Jefferson from the history books—to say nothing about Mt. Rushmore—because they owned slaves. And kept them their entire lives.
Both had misgivings and made efforts to change the laws, but there was no united states or country or Constitution or Declaration if the Southern states were made to give up slaves. It took another 80 years to get around to it. I can’t recall any player in basically any sport--yes, Jim Brown did and Ali years before in a protest time and Bill Russell and Kareem in the inflammatory 60s—doing any of that social activism in Jordan’s time. Actually, Jordan was one of the first to embrace Magic Johnson when he announced he had HIV and some players, like Karl Malone, said they wouldn’t play against him. The social issues were different then; not that we didn’t have racism. But Magic didn’t speak out; Kareem no longer did, Isiah, Ewing, Dominique. None took political positions other than Barkley. Barkley said he might run for governor of Alabama. As a Republican. The message then, made famous by Barkley, was athletes were not role models.
Raise your own kids. Don’t listen to what we say or follow what we do. Take your own responsibility. Times, they are a changin’. They always are. It’s accepted now and often encouraged for athletes to speak out. So good for James and I welcome his candor. But the test would have been for him in the 80s. Not being born yet was a setback in that social campaign. But also let’s remember you didn’t hear it from James in the 2000s when he was in the NBA five and six years. It’s not a criticism, and it’s welcome that he found his social voice. But to suggest somehow he is more valiant and more concerned than Jordan not only would be unfair, but inaccurate.
Jordan in the time James has been active politically has been also, contributing substantially to Barack Obama’s campaign and working for Obama’s election both publicly and privately with the campaign. The circumstances of that now infamous quote—which by the way I tried to explain to even the New York Times, but I was told they preferred the story the old way—were me lobbying Jordan about a U.S. Senate race in North Carolina and Jordan in his usual playful mood back then (pre championships) joking back to shut you down like a chase down block or game winner. I admit I didn’t have a quick retort. He enjoyed that. As for the expectations of professional athletes, it’s no different than with anyone else. However you feel comfortable. Not saying anything doesn’t make you less concerned. Not speaking up or speaking out doesn’t diminish you as a citizen any more than speaking out enhances you in comparison. Though I wish more people in Congress these days irrespective of party would speak up for the essentials of our democracy, the principles, transparency, equality and compassion that has enabled citizens to be proud of our country.
NBA Draft scuttle: Media reports are Detroit is open to discussing trades for its No. 12 overall pick in hopes of acquiring more of a win-now veteran.
Sam: Now that’s a team with some problems. My guess is they use the pick because they’ve gone nuts spending and have Caldwell-Pope most likely opting out. Just resigning him puts them way into the luxury tax, they appear to hate their expensive point guard who they benched for a minimum salary backup, their big money center seems at odds with the coach and general manager and, see, lots of teams have problems. They need some cheap players and hope, and the draft is the best place for that. But their situation does speak to what the Bulls have been speaking about. A lot of these teams have been on spending sprees since the cap exploded recently. Once you get to that cap and luxury tax figure, you’re done. So there are going to be a lot fewer teams with cap room for free agents, and you get the sense teams are understanding that now after a summer of paying Evan Turner, Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, Joakim Noah and Chandler Parsons.
I was at the Bulls playoffs game and saw Ben Gordon there not once but twice. Does he still live in Chicago? How is it that he still has not hook up with any NBA teams? Even though he's older he can still shoot the lights out especially on the 3s. Would the Bulls be interested in bringing him back or has that bridge has been burned beyond point of no return?
Sam: And still on fire? Not actually, though I saw Ben was arrested the other day for allegedly setting off a fire alarm when he was locked out of his L.A. apartment. I think being 34, not having played in the NBA in two years and likely being even slower on defense than before probably limits him on the Bulls wish list more than his off court alarms. He did play well in the D-league last season, and I do think he can help someone off the bench as a shooter. Though as you see with the Cavs in this series, it’s tough to get those great shooting poor defenders out there the way teams score these days. You better be able to score a lot like Curry to make it work. I always liked Ben and he gave us some great memories and games. I hope he makes it back at least for one more try somewhere, but it’s also never a good idea, like with Derrick Rose, to try again in the same place to create magic which is long gone. Can’t go back to those high school sweethearts and think it will work.
Boston was a #1 seed heading into the playoffs, while Chicago just about got in with a 41-41 record. This means each/every one of those players, should've been ready to step up to the plate so to speak, the moment Isaiah got injured and yet they only managed to do that once. Bulls never capitalized once Rondo got injured, and it cost us the rest of the series.
Sam: I know fans joke about the valuable Rondo who was out of the rotation at one point during the season. But I do believe the Bulls would have won that series. Not that they are better than Boston, but not that far behind. The Celtics are in better shape moving forward, but I believe they will use the No. 1 pick for Fultz and rookies aren’t making you a lot better. The point is with more stability and a more solid and consistent rotation—and some of those young guys having gotten some more experience—I don’t see why the Bulls next season even with essentially the same roster, which I expect, can’t be competitive with the likes of Boston, Washington, Toronto, etc. No, it’s not championship stuff with Cleveland still around, and that’s a concern, but I can see major changes with the Raptors and Pacers and a wide open 2-3-4. I know, they don’t sell those large foam fingers with a 2. But it’s a start.
The Celtics are taking Fultz, with Ball going to L.A. Philadelphia will take either Fox or Jackson. If they take Fox, then Phoenix will certainly look to select and keep Jackson. If Philadelphia takes Jackson, that's when Phoenix may look to trade the draft pick. Sacramento acquired a very promising shooting guard and they'll look to build around Hield with those two lottery picks. I doubt they trade them unless they are trying to move up in the draft by dealing those two draft picks. As much as I would like for Chicago to consider Orlando because of Elfrid Payton who I think is a quality point guard, I think they paid a lot of money to guys like Biyombo, Fournier who are all 23-24 and will look to build around that group along with Gordon, Henizoja, the pick, and Payton. I think the T-Wolves are in a similar position as Towns, LaVine, Wiggins, and Dunn are all under 23 years of age. They just extended Dieng to a major contract to be their starting power forward. In theory, they could look to improve by dealing for Butler and keeping LaVine and Rubio. The Mavericks are looking to rebuild, while the Hornets will likely not deal with the Bulls. Detroit has never been a trading partner for Chicago and doesn't have many pieces neither does Denver and Miami. Another team that is out there is Portland which features three first round picks, however with established young players in Lillard and McCollum they will likely want to add to that.
Sam: Yes, that’s one scenario. I agree that Boston takes Fultz and the Lakers take Ball, though it was interesting to hear the last few days talk that the Lakers may pass on Ball for a more complete player like Josh Jackson. Which supposedly is sending Ball rolling to other workouts. I still don’t believe Magic passes on a guy who—family not withstanding—is considered a good teammate and unselfish player. Magicesque, if you will, and wanted by the community. Though no one ever gives up their tickets to Lakers games. So they can do what they want. I know a lot of fans would love to see Ball end up in Sacramento and then try to sell those $500 sneakers. With all the speculation, I think because it’s supposedly a good draft that the top eight or nine teams all keep their picks. The only pressure I see is perhaps on the Suns at four with a restless owner and community and a gm seemingly at the end of his run if he doesn’t get something done. I don’t see the 76ers desperate yet and Orlando gets a new gm so can have patience again. The only other possible trade team I see is the Timberwolves with that great group of young players and seeming ambivalence about Rubio. It should be a fun draft to watch.
I am looking forward to the draft but am not at all sure what the Bulls should do. I like keeping Butler, Rondo, and Lopez (who is a steal) and seeing what else they can add. They do need to fix the 2 guard but have no one on the roster that appears to be starter material. I would take a flyer on a 2 guard and see what happens.
Sam: The problem may be that by their turn the guards are gone. From my mock draft, I liked Donovan Mitchell from Louisville, a bit small at two but athletic. The NBA draftnet site has him in the 20s, but reports have him moving up. Perhaps the high school kid who played in Australia, Ferguson, though where the Bulls pick it seems now like the top talents will be the project big men like Jarrett Allen, Justin Patton and John Collins. Also T.J. Leaf and Ivan Rabb. But the Bulls could use a backup center and some bigs with both Nikola Mirotic and Cristiano Felicio free agents the Bulls won’t know about until after the draft. Like we’ve said, they have more than one need.
I like the roster okay, little short of tall guys with talent, though. No offense, Lopez. Hope Rondo is the guy we saw this year. Really great to see him working out the youngsters before games. In game love the push. So easy way to trash Butler; I like/appreciate him. I just don't confuse him with someone he's not. He's a really nice finisher you want running the lanes. He also creates turnovers and a lot of bad shots (might as well be turnovers). You don't find guys like that easy.
With this mix what do you draft? I always like long-limbed guys that have decent feet and can catch a less than perfect pass (in traffic?). I have to tell you, the second unit far more intriguing than the starters (despite Rondo moving to the first unit), particularly if Payne contributes. He's a low-to-the-ground slithery/slinky type. If he can deliver off the bounce that's a nice way to initiate with these other fellows. If second unit gets an active big they have some really interesting defensive possibilities. Not expecting anyone to understand s/r defense; just looking for a guy that's got decent body control, good hand/eye, some timing, and runs with his hands/eyes up. I hate to say this (yes, I do) but honestly I don't want Wade on the second unit. There'd be more ups and downs, but he monkey-wrenches their various games/potentially seriously cramps the second unit's style. Plus I don't know if he'd practice enough with the second unit. These guys are still pretty young and aren't exactly plug'n'play at this stage. They need to practice together.
Sam: That’s an interesting one, Wade to upset the second unit chemistry. But I see the point. The Wade Where in the World Will he Play will be the story of the early season. I’m assuming, of course, one more year. Though LeBron can use some bench help. Though Payne lived more up to his surname after the trade, there was something there with his ability to score so easily. But, again, you still have too many guys and cannot keep running that audition camp. The biggest problem was guys didn’t separate themselves and instead spent too much time making excuses about playing time and rotation. The late season play made it obvious Butler functioned best, as you note, running the lanes and finishing with Rondo in control. I saw Butler on the Jimmy Kimmel show after I turned back to see if the Cavs had reached 100 points yet and he declared himself again committed to the Bulls. He is always sincere about that. One other thing about that appearance. I know I get the senior citizen discount now without asking, but did he have to wear those jeans with holes in both knees? Really, you buy them that way? I know sweater vests and saddle shoes no longer are high fashion, but I still don’t get the holes in the pants when you once couldn’t afford to have them patched up and wished you could. It may be an L.A. thing. In comparison, the cowboy boots looked right.
Will be the 20th anniversary of the last dance next season. How time flies. I am hoping the Bulls do something special like they did in 2011 for the 91 team. Would be cool to get the gang all back.
Sam: I don’t think Dennis has anything to do. That wasn’t the most merry of seasons with Phil’s last dance theme, Krause’s decree it was the end for Phil, Michael saying it was the end for him if it was the end for Phil, Pippen declaring himself a free agent in the first month and Scott Burrell wondering what he got himself into. And still it was 62 wins and the greatest closing career shot ever. Why not? What a loaded team. Longley, Wennington and Joe Kleine. And they said the big man was antiquated in the NBA. You don’t win titles without them.
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