Ask Sam Mailbag: 09.29.17
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to answer readers' questions.
Wade is gone. The entire family cheered at the dinner table. Seriously. Enough speaking ill of the departed. Hoping that LaVine gets better, but ACLs.....? Sam, Sam, Sam. Bad history in this town with knee injuries. Sayers was just the beginning. There was Joe Moore, of course Dick Butkus, Wilbur Wood...that one hurt. Sloan. The infamous Ronnie Lester. Andre Dawson. Got Ron Harper when he was half of what he was. Jay Williams. Capped off by Rose, and this is one trip down Memory Lane I'll leave. I hope the best for LaVine. It'll take a year for him to adjust to his new body. The good news: he's really young and not really an NBA player yet. So he was still learning anyway. I'd also point out that an entire generation of pitchers has passed by that throw harder, more pitches per game, and with more movement after Ulnar Collateral tendon replacement. Remember when it was common knowledge that a blown out elbow was the end? Therapy really sucks though. It sucks for anyone, but it's particularly bad for athletes. Other players often don't know what to do with the injured guy. The other players have to keep their eye on the ball themselves, and when they look at the injured player (it can be worse with seriously injured players), it creates toxic doubt. So, rehab is a lonely, cut-off business. Rehabbing player not only has physical pain (there's plenty of that), but has some really good stuff taken away while getting more of the stuff no one likes (training), and gets it in spades. Tough. LaVine will find out how badly he really wants to do all this. I really do hope that kid has a sense of humor and some good non-basketball friends.
Sam: He looks good, but so did Derrick in February, March and April of that comeback year, and he wasn’t ready. I think they’ll give this kid the chance. No one will admit they were wrong, but I think the public and media this time will be more patient and understanding. Derrick deserved it more as a local kid, but you know with that life is not fair thing. I really do think LaVine can be special. If you’ve been able to see him in interviews, he’s really bright, communicative, interesting. People around the Bulls have been positive about everyone this season, but they just rave about this kid. Of course, he hasn’t played a game yet, but even the most skeptical seem won over. I haven’t seen that often. As I’ve written, there was no chance you get him if he wasn’t hurt. He’d have been as untouchable as any of the top young players, a two-time dunk champion, good shooter, great personality and teammate. Not exactly a used car, but you can do great with many. Still, there’s more risk than when it’s brand new without any previous accidents. Everything has been positive around LaVine, and as you note, joint repairs have come a long, long way. I’m excited to see this kid play.
Horace Grant's 91-92 season was ranked the 5th greatest season all-time from a power forward by Bleacher Report. Behind only Malone, Barkley, Duncan and Garnett. Not bad for a guy who isn't in the HOF, doesn't have his number retired, and didn't even make the All Star team that year. Sadly Bulls fans likely remember him most for being carried off the court as a Magic player, or as the Bulls PF not named Dennis Rodman. Personally I always thought he was the 2nd coolest Bull on those teams after MJ. Thoughts on why he gets so little love from Bulls nation?
Sam: Well, he was carried off the court as a Magic player...I think Horace has been forgiven. Certainly the Bulls have as he’s one of five team ambassadors with Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc, Sidney Green and Bob Love. It was an uncomfortable parting with a salary disagreement with management and then Horace’s Magic—remember, they were going to be the Next Bulls then—beating Jordan in his return. Horace was much underrated. He was a much better player for the Bulls than Rodman in the second threepeat, though, obviously, not as comic and outrageous. The 1996-98 Bulls were the most dominant, but the 1991-93 Bulls were more talented with Jordan, Pippen and Grant in their athletic primes, Cartwright better than Longley, Paxson and Armstrong more reliable than Harper. No team in NBA history ever matched the athletic defense of Jordan, Pippen and Grant, which was the secret sauce of that team. Grant was an equal part of that defense. It may have been more memorable for fans meeting Jordan or Pippen, but I guarantee you their personal experience was greater and they were treated better meeting Horace.
1) Kris Dunn
2) Cameron Payne( non-NBA ready, yet the Bulls won't waive him)
3) Jerian Grant
4) Ryan Arcidiacono
5) Antonio Blakeney
6) David Nwaba
Do the Bulls really need 6 point guards?
Sam: I think they brought in another, Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig. Not all those guys are point guards, and who knows if and when Payne will play. The Bulls really, really want Dunn to win that job and show he’s the player everyone was drooling over in the 2016 draft. But other players smell insecurity. Jerian Grant supposedly has been having a good camp and Nwaba’s shooting supposedly has been better (media doesn’t see any practices; I’ll let you know after a game). LaVine will move in at shooting guard once he’s ready, which makes for an intriguing competition for now. Maybe Grant, maybe Blakeney, maybe Denzel Valentine, maybe Justin Holiday. Plus, Arcidiacono—our Antetokounmpo, in consonant only—really knows how to play point guard.
Very impressed with Lauri Markkanen at Eurobasket,can shoot off the dribble, nice pick and pop and his stroke from 3 is impressive
Sam: But can he do it in New Orleans? That’s next Tuesday for the preseason opener. Markkanen had some big moments and games in that tournament, which is somewhere between the G-league and the NBA. We’ll see which the next few months. I don’t think the Bulls will rush him; probably have him off the bench behind Portis or Mirotic, but trying to get him 18-20 minutes depending on how many shots he’s making. As for somewhere, he’s also looking like somewhere between Dirk Nowitzki and Channing Frye.
I like the idea of signing Mirotic to that two year deal. You never know -- he may in fact have a breakout season. And if he doesn't - there really isn't much to lose. If you think about it, he and Lopez expire at the same time in two years time. Both of them make $13/14 million dollars a season. They are both in my opinion very solid starting pieces to have on any playoff roster. Both of them, however, make excellent trading blocks.
Sam: Those offseason negotiations can produce discomfort for one side or the other or both and you never know what either side feels despite what they may say publicly. But Mirotic is still just 26, just in his fourth NBA season, and still 6-10 and can shoot. We saw pump fake Niko, and flopping and sprawling Niko. Maybe this extra weight with a summer being serious about the NBA brings him back a different guy. It will be very interesting to watch. He still projects to be really good. Even if he hasn’t been, except in stretches. But what if he isn’t being pushed around anymore and is getting position and shooting over people? Heck, he’s not a poorer defender than Steph Curry. Few are. That second year team option thing looks like a good deal, and he certainly should be motivated. Teams always have an idea of what they want to do and who they want to start. And then they start playing and things change. Niko was basically handed the starting job for two years and gave it up. Now he’s got to earn it. That changes people.
I am excited about this season and even the bold management moves in general. Still don't understand current strategy on the 3 unless SF means Bulls going 3 guard! I might even follow the Timberwolves just for fun while they have this lineup there.
Sam: Most teams play three guards, or whatever you call them now, wings. Valentine? Holiday? Zipser? If you can make a three, you’re playing three. Maybe Blakeney or Grant. With Jimmy, Taj, Jamal and Thibs, look even if you are angry about what happened, they’re going to be a fun team to watch. I think they could be really good and I have them top four in the West even with as few games as they won last year. I actually think the Jimmy experiment will be the biggest. Thibodeau needs Jimmy to defend since Towns doesn’t much and prefers to be outside and Wiggins isn’t nearly as good at it. But will Jimmy accept that after having carte blanche—excuse my French—on offense with the Bulls the last few years and those 50-point spectaculars? But it’s like with Chris Sale with the Red Sox. You can root for Jimmy as a Bulls fan. I hope Sale wins Cy Young. You can still be happy when your neighbor succeeds, as much as that’s not the American way.
Too bad for Phil. In NY, all they understand is winning…now. And indeed, they now did exactly what he wanted to all along. And he was right; I don’t think you can win with ‘Melo as your top guy. In fact, I think you’d have a better chance with Butler than ‘Melo. At least he plays D. OKC now has “three Alphas” who all want the ball.
Sam: That’s conveniently overlooked in New York because it contradicts the poor Carmelo narrative and if only Phil was nicer. All Phil asked—for more than year privately, and it wasn’t his but the owner’s idea of a no trade—was for Anthony to give up his no trade so they could have a chance to do something. Phil told him he’d get him anywhere he wanted to go. So Anthony does it as soon as Jackson is out. So Phil’s the bad guy? OK, I know Phil and not Carmelo. But Phil also wasn’t leaking team meetings to the media like Carmelo was. But, yes, it does earn you more sympathetic media coverage. The other big issue with Phil seemed to be that he dared mention Porzingis in trade talks. Isn’t that his job? Anyway, I don’t see how in this NBA you can build a team around a 7-3 stork who plays outside. And has been injured every season. I think Phil was truly disappointed he didn’t get a chance to finish his contract. I know he really does have an affection for New York and the Knicks. Though I’ve never been a fan of Anthony’s and always saw him as a clever internal disrupter when his selfish interests weren’t appeased, like with running out Jeremy Lin and Mike D’Antoni, I do think the Thunder look like the second best in the West. I don’t see Anthony messing with Westbrook on his turf.
Do you believe Kyrie can be comparable to the original Zeke Isiah Thomas of the Pistons? Similar scoring ability? Even though some are saying he's not a franchise player, if you put him on a team the way Zeke had a team, Kyrie can win titles it seems. Danny Ainge played against those Pistons so he should know....
Sam: Not even close. More so here because Thomas was such a rival of the Bulls and Michael Jordan, there’s not enough appreciation for how truly great he was and how much he sacrificed to get those championships, which was one very close foul call away from being a threepeat and a dynasty. And maybe four if not for his own worst inbounds pass in NBA history. Amazingly tough, a little dirty when it was no big deal; OK, a little dirtier than that, but a guy who could average 30 if he needed to while also making everyone better. I heard some of these comparisons with Cleveland’s, nee Boston’s, Isaiah Thomas last season, which was ludicrous. Original Isiah is probably in the second 10 alltime in NBA history, the best point guard after Oscar and Magic, a scorer, defender, playmaker, winner. Though I am intrigued, like everyone else, about Kyrie with the Celtics. I think with the Celtics giving up Crowder and Bradley, Ainge is, effectively, saying he’s going for the post-LeBron East. We all assume that’s 2018-19. But surprise, surprise. With Wade now going there and probably not ready to retire, maybe LeBron stays in Cleveland rather than fighting through that amazingly talented West. Much easier to make the Finals from East of Eden (South Dakota). It’s a lot more offense and less defense in Boston now, a lot more guys who want to play with the ball, a lot, lot of new guys. And two kids in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum who will have to play and do a lot. It makes Cleveland, at least this season, look as dominant in the East as Golden State is in the West. And if Dan Gilbert decides to sell to LeBron, then Boston better hope Kyrie gets closer in ability to the real Isiah.
Sixers brought Kris Humpries and Emeka Okafor to camp deals. Emeka is back. Guessing Jahils days numbered. And Knicks didnt get much for Melo. I see them flipping Kanter later on. As for Doug his NBA career is coming towards the end.
Sam: So you can say you can’t tell if Okafor is coming or going, eh? I’m not giving up on Doug. I can see a Korver-esque rebirth somewhere. Probably not New York; he just needs to have someone leave him out there. The Knicks did OK; Kanter can score and allow Porzingis to play outside. It’s something. Phil would have done better.
I have heard a lot of sportswriters talk about players as assets especially during trade season. I am just worried that sometimes they go overboard and become a bit insensitive about it. Do you think editors should be more concerned about it. Especially that most of these players are african american. I know that this is business but I think writers cannot just carelessly refer to players as assets. My suggestion is to put more focus on teams not really trading players but player contracts. Something like that.
Sam: It’s a really good point, and one I have been sensitive about. The larger problem is that is what teams call their players in a blanket description with draft picks, trade exceptions and other vig, as Jerry Krause would have put it. Actually, Jerry’s way was probably better, though vigorish is a Yiddish word, and Yiddish isn’t used in the NBA these days as much as it once was. Though there’s still plenty of kvetching and meshuggenahs. Plus, the vig basically means usury or, at least the cut the house gets with gambling. But I always have been uncomfortable hearing gms—and basically all of them—talk about players as their assets. Media people don’t actually come up with as much as you think, though we appreciate the faith. It hasn’t produced the often politically correct outrage common these days. Uh oh, did I start that?
I imagine you've been deluged with opinions about athletes and coaches taking a stand against President Trump's remarks about NFL players kneeling for the national anthem. If you're collecting opinions, I'd like to share mine. I've been asked to demonstrate my patriotism in two ways during my 71 years on the planet: I served in Vietnam, and I've paid taxes for more than an half century, mostly without whining and crying. There was nothing about the kneeling, arm-linking, or clenched-fist salutes that offended me or should have offended anyone who has ever served this country in a uniform. Indeed, those demonstrations were quite the opposite of offensive--they were serious,respectful, well-thought-out, and at least as dignified as someone else standing with a hand over heart. Similarly, the remarks of Stephan Curry, Greg Popovich and many other NBA people were far more thoughtful and diplomatic than the oral flatulence of our incompetent president. Lebron James' tweet calling Trump a bum fell somewhat short of the diplomatic finesse of the others, but I thought it remarkably elegant for managing to state the obvious without using obscenities. Did you ever think there'd be a day when professional jocks would be more articulate and diplomatic than a sitting president? Well, the payoff for me is, it won't be so hard watching those stars and teams win while we're taking our lumps in Chicago because they've shown themselves to be something a lot more than just athletes.
Onto a more serious topic. What are your views on what is going on in the sports world and the protest of the flag? I can only tell you from my perspective as a 15 year military veteran I understand the narrative and reasoning behind the protest was to bring awareness to some inequalities that still exist in this country. I also understand that the flag is a symbol and it is not a symbol of freedom for all groups in this country whether it is African Americans who are still alive that had to experience segregation or the ingenious people of this land that were nearly wiped out. Another thought on the subject matter is that it was never an obligation for NFL players to stand for the flag to begin with. All major sports fines players for everything. If it were an obligation that players stand for the pledge then why wasn't the NFL fining Colin for kneeling. I think the media should be ashamed of themselves for trying to change the narrative of the protest and make up this "he's disrespecting veterans" narrative when he outwardly expressed that it had nothing to do with veterans. Myself and a vast number of my fellow comrades do not consider this to be disrespectful. How can we find it disrespectful when they are using their constitutional right to protest peacefully. This is what we do. We fight to protect our citizens and the constitution against enemies both foreign and domestic. I support peaceful protest that are conducted in the United States that bring awareness to legit issues of inequalities. I wish more athletes, musicians, and artist would use their platforms to be a voice for the communities they came from. Are you embarrassed by what you see in the media? I think many in the media have lost their moral compass.
Sam: I generally try to avoid imposing other than my sports views on readers, though regulars probably know. Oh, by the way, I’m back! And then I received a lot more of these than I expected, many from veterans like you guys. Since I respond to all my emails (not sure how the rest of that social media works), I was avoiding offering my opinion, deferring to those with more notoriety. But they kept coming. These emails sum it up pretty well. Protest, no matter how offensive it may be to you personally, is the greatest of all American traditions, and probably gifts. The disrespecting veterans/flag debate is hijacking Kaepernick’s initial grievance against racial and cultural inequality. Though it is pretty clever on Trump’s part, in one sense, another of those emotional misdirections, like getting middle class people to accept losing health care or supporting reduced taxes for the wealthy as the tradeoff for piling on media, Muslims or immigrants. These are great American traditions like the Boston tea party, (there was one in Yorktown, also), abolitionists, civil rights, Vietnam, women’s suffrage, and, oh yeah, the American Revolution.
By the way, do we really need the national anthem at ball games? Why not at movies, plays, parades; even government meetings?. In a wonderful local angle for us, the custom traces back to a Cubs World Series game in 1918 (were they ever not in the World Series?) when the Star Spangled Banner, originally a poem, was struck up impromptu by a band in the seventh inning stretch. Coming off the terror and depression of World War I it was a salve. It wasn’t really even the national anthem until the 1930s. The irony here is so many who do not want politics with their sports have forced many who accepted that to reluctantly get involved in the debate/discussion. Not many players really were. Though what I love about this it is the mature, professional, respectful way the NFL and NBA players, often condemned for their excesses, have responded and behaved more in line with America’s history and values, peacefully, without rancor and thoughtful. Let’s make America America again. I’d rather these protests and actions not occur in the workplace. It’s much confused, but there is not freedom of speech at work. We all have heard the example of not yelling “fire” in a movie theater, except maybe with the Rock in Baywatch. The Bill of Rights was added to overcome opposition to approving the Constitution. Protections of speech and religious freedom were to prevent government overreach. Not business or private. It’s basically become accepted for sports, entertainment and media figures because of their larger platform. Of course, like America’s revolutionists, you risk your career.
To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, we hang together or we hang separately. I recall Chris Jackson, who changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, and his refusing to stand for the national anthem when he was with the Denver Nuggets in the 90s. It basically cost him his NBA career, and perhaps it will for Kaepernick in the NFL. Personal sacrifice is also part of American protest tradition. It’s also been what’s missing in my view. I served six years in the Army reserves during Vietnam. I pretty much realized early on that war was a very bad idea. But I did believe in government service. In coming from an unconnected family in which both parents worked, my father two jobs, I had no clout like most politicians to be. So I signed onto a waiting list early in college when I still had my deferment. The only branch you could get on a list was for an Army infantry unit, which would be activated first if they didn’t have enough draftees. You know, target practice. I decided to try the odds. We were activated once, but domestically. I never was overseas. My turn came up after three years on the list just before being reclassified for active duty. Yes, I was relieved to go to basic training. Well, until those 10-mile runs before breakfast. Be nice to get back some of that hair they shaved off, also. Anyway, what’s mostly been missing in the U.S., in my view, is public service. It binds people to their nation much more than lapel pins. Everyone should have a two-year commitment. No exceptions. There’s something everyone can do. Not necessarily in the military, but to do something for your country. Standing and cheering for military personnel at ball games is not the same. What brings us together is common service, common sacrifice, common pride.
I don’t expect the Bulls are going to kneel down for the anthem. They said this week they spoke about it and will do something in unison. A few, like Kris Dunn with friends fighting in Afghanistan, say they will stand for the anthem. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday it is a league rule and he expects players to be standing for the national anthem. Perhaps this one time this sort of non sports discussion was OK since none of us really intended to bring it up. Plus, I still don’t have that much yet to say about this Bulls team. But I will. I have a lot of questions. And I am interested.
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.