Ask Sam Mailbag: 11.03.17
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to answer readers' questions
I read somewhere that the Memphis Grizzlies organization is retiring Tony Allen's number. I thought that Tony Allen was a standout defender, had ability to score the basketball, and was a well-respected team, but never averaged more than 10 points a game in a Grizzlies uniform. How does that justify the Grizzlies to retire this basketball player's number? Speaking of retired jerseys on the Bulls. We've got MJ, Pippen, Love, and Sloan. With teams retiring jerseys what seems like on a consistent basis don't you think the Bulls should think about Dennis Rodman (first and foremost) or Kukoc and Grant? The Bulls wouldn't have won three titles without Rodman. He was the league leading rebounder for seven seasons, and three of them with the Bulls. He won 5 NBA Championships. It doesn't make any sense not to retire his number because he only played three seasons with the team. Michael Jordan never played for the Miami Heat and they retired his number. Do you think Chicago symbolically retires Jordan's 45? I think they should. It symbolizes an end to one era and a start to another, going from one chapter in MJ's career to another. It represents his comeback in which he achieved some success by scoring 55 against the Knicks.
Sam: The Bulls have been unusually judicious about jersey number retirements, which I support on some level given how many awards we tend to give out these days for often so little. Though I do believe the Bulls also intend to retire Tony Allen’s number (remember, he’s from Chicago) for some of his many scoreless games against them. Kidding, you know. Some of the newer franchises without much history like to create some, though I’d wager the Heat aren’t still thrilled about that Jordan jersey retirement. But I do believe the Bulls wouldn’t be inflating the honor by adding a few more numbers. Plus, these days players are permitted to take higher numbers. It once was recommended you shouldn’t go above five/five if using double digits because the officials could not then signal your number for a foul without using multiple signals. So there are plenty of numbers left, even for the Celtics. The two most obvious omissions for the Bulls are Chet Walker and Artis Gilmore, who both meet the standard of members of the Basketball Hall of Fame and both having played more than five seasons with the Bulls with multiple All-Star appearances. Walker was probably the most important player in the 1970s turnaround for the Bulls from expansion joke to contender; Gilmore helped rejuvenate the Bulls after that first group with Walker ran its course. Both had runs in other places—Walker with Wilt and the champion 76ers and Gilmore in the ABA with the championship Colonels—that assured their Hall of Fame credentials. But the Bulls played integral roles in their entry to the Hall of Fame.
I’d object vociferously to Rodman for his short stay, missing almost a full season in games in the three with injury and suspension, and his bizarre, carnival sideshow antics on too many occasions. Plus, he rarely identifies himself with the Bulls. Bill Cartwright, in fact, had more effect on the first threepeat than Rodman had on the second threepeat. So I’d go for Cartwright before Rodman, and I’m uncertain if Markkanen would give up the number. The more current jersey number retirement should be for Horace Grant, who was along with Scottie Pippen the main additions that added to Jordan to make the Bulls a champion. Grant’s all-league defense along with Pippen and Jordan defined the Bulls in that era. Grant spent seven seasons with the Bulls, made an All-Star team and returned to the team as an ambassador as well. I’d also support Toni Kukoc, who I believe should be in the Basketball Hall of Fame for his European accomplishments, before Rodman given Toni’s involvements in three titles, often filling in for Rodman when Rodman let the team down with one suspension after another, and Kukoc putting in seven solid seasons with the Bulls. I’m still uncertain about Scalabrine except perhaps as a representative for the blowout loss games. As for the 45, well, Michael was no big fan of it as a pro, though he did wear it in high school. And as Nick Anderson said, 45 is no 23. You’d say 12 for the time Jordan’s jersey was stolen in Orlando, but they lost that game in overtime. And to Scott Skiles. Geez.
If Okafor gets a buyout do you think the Bulls go for him; I think he's somebody that we could do with he can add low post scoring for the second unit and it's much rejuvenating playing for his hometown team what do you think?
Sam: I know, not Emeka. The 76ers seem to have made clear they want to get something and there will be no buyout. But now with the 76ers having not picked up his option he’ll become an unrestricted free agent after this season. So the market probably got a lot more competitive. I’d heard before the 76ers continued to ask for a lottery pick since Okafor was No. 3 overall in the 2015 draft. The Bulls, by the way, now have three firsts from that draft in Cameron Payne (14), Jerian Grant (19) and Bobby Portis (22). But with declining his option, it seems like the 76ers decided, and I don’t disagree all that much, to move on with Embiid and get something now and save the $6.3 million you’d have paid Okafor for free agency. I always agree it’s better to move on and take the public relations hit than hang onto a guy who you know doesn’t fit with your future plans. I presume several teams will be interested now since it likely won’t cost much since how much can you give knowing the guy can be a free agent this summer and has barely played for two years? It’s more just a peek now. I get the sense Okafor has tried to get in better shape and understands he’s running out of chances. Yes, the NBA has changed with fewer classic low post centers, but if you have one who can score—and Okafor has shown he can do that—why not? I was dubious before given it might cost a lottery pick. But I’d be in now. I think Chicago could be an excellent place for a rejuvenation since this season for the Bulls is about tryouts, in effect, and Okafor is a talent. Okafor has gotten little chance in Philadelphia because they are so understandably enamored with Embiid. Okafor has had some early embarrassments, but he’s acted professionally these last two years—perhaps more so than the 76ers, in some sense, burying him like they have—in never making all this a public issue and team distraction. I’d like to see the Bulls being able to give him a shot. But, again, you can’t give up too much given he can walk on you in a few months, and you still don’t know what the 76ers would take. The Bulls have alternatives, but the 76ers obviously don’t want to take on contracts for little used reserves as if they did they’d have kept Okafor. I’d assume the Bulls are interested because why wouldn’t you be? Though I assume they are hardly alone in that interest given the current circumstances.
It is now fairly obvious the Finninsher was a great pick and should stay in the starting lineup (and it is interesting how the national media which crucified garpax for the trade does not seem to want acknowledge this). I also agree that they should not mess up this rebuild they have going and trade for bledsoe, okafor or some other malcontent. I say keep Robin Lopez he provides stability for the young guys, a good mentor for Lauri Markkanen, and gives us hope that we can at least compete up front every night.
Sam: Well, I just did add Okafor, though it’s not for much and maybe not for long. Yes, the Lopez factor. I really like Robin for this team. He’s only 29 and I don’t see him losing his athleticism the next few years. Oh, right. I hear plenty of get a second round pick for him, but I’d rather keep him if only because he never minds giving up his uniform number. He’s such a stable influence, a true pro you want to have around. I don’t see that giving Okafor a look would impact that. Felicio is on a relatively modest deal for this era, and if Okafor breaks through you worry about that then, so it’s worth the look, for sure. Bledsoe’s a different case with a big contract and ball dominant and not looking at a tryout situation to regain his status. I don’t see Okafor as a malcontent at all, though I have to give Bledsoe some credit for his cockamamie excuse that he was really saying he wanted out of the hair salon and for enabling me once again to use the word cockamamie.
I'm surprised how good Lauri Markkanen is, too, but I shouldn't be. I've been to Finland. It's the 8th largest country in Europe and has a population similar to Cook County, maybe throwing in one or the other collars for taste. It has more acres of ice than the US has of soybeans, corn and grass. Walking around the harbor area in Helsinki, even in the spring, you feel like you've reached the end of human existence because it's cold and windy and you're the only crazy s-o-b out walking around. And the native language, Finnish, is unrelated to any other language on Earth. A kid from Finland has to have grit, and that's what so many of us doubters doubted. How would a 20-year-old with an outside shot have any other qualities on a basketball court. But lo and behold, the kid moves his feet pretty well on defense and he rebounds with energy and passion. And he can shoot, like they said. I hope he stays healthy and reaches his full potential. His presence makes the Bulls even more interesting to watch, though I confess, I have high hopes for Dunn, Grant, and Lavine, and I love watching Nwaba play defense and rebound, and I've always liked Justin Holiday's game. So I'm entertained and still worried about the team achieving mediocrity too soon (because you can get there in the East without ever beating a good team).
Sam: That mediocrity thing seems safe in the early going, at least. Perhaps now more NBA scouts will be spending time in Finland, though I’ve always felt they’re in Spain, Italy and France more because of the restaurants. I don’t hear the gms much talk about having more reindeer and herring anymore.
Do you think players who don't play there first year because of injury should be considered rookies? I've never thought that players like Embiid, Simmons, or Blake Griffen should of been considered rookies, because they were still getting paid, still under the tutelage of nba coaches learning the system, still training with elite trainers because they could afford them now. They have year to develop their bodies and mind as opposed to rookies coming out of college. They should be in the running for comeback player of the year, but I don't think they should be eligible for rookie of the year.
Sam: That would clear the way for Markkanen to be Rookie of the Year because first impressions in these awards things often are difficult to change, and Simmons is the unanimous early favorite. Markkanen’s not going to get as much attention as he should because fewer voting media members are going to watch the Bulls this season as they won’t be on TV much and there’s always this notion that on a bad team someone has to score. But those of us watching this kid on a regular basis know there’s way more to him than the box score and his scoring. But, no, a rookie is a rookie. Blake Griffin won the award that way a few years ago, and yes you have an advantage being able to mature being around an NBA team. But then how do you distinguish players who were in college four years versus players in college one year? You’re a rookie if you have not played in the NBA. It’s even been the same for guys who have played professionally overseas, which, to me, would be more of an advantage having actually been in professional games.
Fred was absolutely livid after the OKC game, and had two days of practice to prepare for the Heat. Results? 27-17 first quarter. The Bulls could not run any offense at all. Lopez had to keep reminding Grant that he’s the point guard. At least the Bulls played solid D, as they did vs. Cleveland. That kept them in both games, but so far, the offense is a mess. The good news is the defense, which at time is much better than I expected. Somebody is teaching them how to do it. I also have to commend their energy & effort. They may be confused at times, but they are playing hard.
Sam: Well, that is what they promised, so that is something. I felt offense would be the issue, especially to open without LaVine and Dunn, and now Dunn is being eased back off the bench. We all know it’s inevitable he’ll be starting, so we’ll see when. He and LaVine and Markkanen, without anyone really saying so, is the core for now. Which also should be the message to everyone else: There are opportunities on this team more than any. Attack! Get to the line! Show aggression! There, disappointingly, hasn’t been nearly enough of that. You shouldn’t need a coach to tell you that. You mean you don’t look at the roster and the box score and say, ‘Heck, I can be a star here!’ It’s on you if you do not take that opportunity. Fred’s been giving everyone a chance. I won’t fault him. Grab the ring. It’s coming by every few turns. The problem for the Bulls is they’re not doing this 20 years ago when you could compete with defense and no one much complained about all those 80-point games, even if we didn’t like to watch them. Everyone played them; no one does anymore. Well, almost no one. The NBA with all the factors has morphed into such an offensive, athletic game. The Bulls promised they’d compete and defend and play hard, and they are doing that. So credit them. They could use a few guys to say they’re going to get aggressive and forceful on offense and take things into their own hands and make plays. Maybe fewer threes in transition when you are two of your last 20 on threes? What’s the worse that can happen? Make a lot of turnovers and lose scoring 90 points?
Amazing the impact 1 punch can have losing a starter, top reserve, and most pre-season progress.
Of course losing 2 PF means there is no height coming from the bench just a bunch of SG's.
In today's age of cameras and everyone talks the Bulls are pulling off the impossible so far.
No one talks of how intense this 1 punch must have been to witness. And no recording?
Why so little medical information being identified regarding Niko's injuries?
Knee injuries reveal every detail and identify which CL in which condition. How about any indication of how Bobby is doing in practice so far?
Sam: Remember when you go to the doctor and they make you sign all this stuff and half the time won’t even tell you what’s wrong with you? Hip, hip, hippa; it’s the law. Knees are work related; this wasn’t necessarily, and no one knows what comes next. So better not to say too much. Plus, it’s against the law. I suspect we’ll hear a little more next week when Portis becomes eligible to play again after Saturday’s game with the end of his suspension. The players have obviously not wanted to take sides, so no one says too much other than Bobby looks fine. But who knows physically and mentally whether he is ready to play or the team is ready. In the mean time, it’s obvious Markkanen is the starting power forward going forward and that would not have been the situation without the punch. No one is pleased about that, and I suspect not Markkanen as well. It’s a burden they’ll all carry for awhile. But you take advantage of your opportunities, which not enough Bulls have done so far beyond Markkanen. I don’t anticipate Portis playing much for awhile given how long he’s been out and how much he’s missed. And how he’ll be given the circumstances. Teammates appear ready to embrace both, but we all have no idea how each has progressed mentally and internally with the incident.
Since I killed GarPax for the Bell for cash move I must give them credit for the Lauri pick. Looks like they hit a home run; granted it's just (6) games in. But he looks promising.
I gotta be honest, I kind of don't want Portis and Niko to come back. I really don't want Lauri's minutes to dip and with both of them healthy they most definitely would.
My question is, who do you feel has more trade value right now- Portis or (healthy) Niko? (I understand Niko would have to waive his no trade clause). Niko has a reasonable, short contract while Portis is still on his rookie deal. Portis may have a higher upside but I think Niko is ready to contribute for a contender right now. Do you think a western conference team with eyes on the playoffs would give up a late first round pick for either? If the bulls took back a non-rotation player to make salaries work do you see something like that happening?
Sam: I’d doubt Markkanen gets set back much, but let’s also remember the kid is 20 with not much experience of one college year and having played all summer as his country’s go-to guy. His minutes really won’t be able to stay at the current level to match his contribution. He does seem like a hoops junkie as he seems to want to do nothing but play. But you have to monitor that, especially because this may not be the season the Bulls are playing for the title. There’s a rookie wall coming. More so for this kid given having played straight through the summer and suddenly one of the team leaders in minutes played and the offensive go to guy. Who saw that coming? So you’d like to get Portis and Mirotic back in there and be able to make your own decision on one or both. And hope Mirotic has a full recovery. Given the circumstances and that neither has played, there is no current value. You can see that with a player drafted and regarded much higher in Okafor; you don’t play you get forgotten around the NBA even if that really makes no sense. So you’ll want to root for both to come back and be able to perform well and then put at least the Bulls in position to decide how they see their futures in Bulls’ terms.
This will be a weird thing to say, but there is no more 'sexy' posting up in the NBA. It's already sad enough (to me) that the NBA has gone from a post dominant to a three point dominant league. But even the guys who do attempt a post up make it look so unnatural and ugly, it's no wonder why its been abandoned.
Surely there is someone out there (other than Hakeem) who can teach these kids how it's done.
Sam: Maybe Okafor. There are always complications to this sort of thing. It’s not just the copycat thing, which is prevalent. It begins before then. You see it yourself going to AAU games, if you ever do, or in the playground. There’s always this big kid, better than everyone, who once was told get by the basket because it’s easier to score the closer you are. But then school districts changed and you no longer had to go to school where you lived and AAU became prevalent and you could change teams until you found the coach who let you do what you want. So whereas Kareem and Walton and Wilt were told to get to the basket or take up baseball, Towns and Cousins and the like told the coaches if they couldn’t shoot threes they were changing schools/teams. So seven footers stepped away from the basket, where it’s much tougher to play. Then college coaches had them for one year and if they were going to get any more of them they better let them do what they want. I’ll often stop by parks to watch when I’m on the road and invariably see the best and biggest kid on the team firing up threes and yelling for the other guys to get the rebound. Those teams often lose a lot, but the kid still gets drafted No. 1. Not exactly, but winning in college hardly meant anything for the last two No. 1 overall picks. Just do your thing! The NBA has nursed this along as well by changing the rules to limit contact outside to where James Harden can mug you and then get free throws while you can wrestle a big man inside to the ground and if there’s no sucking chest wound there’s often no foul call. And then there’s the mimicking what works. Teams always have done this, trying to find Magic in the 80s, Michael in the 90s, the next “There is No Next,” as that wonderful book title explained. So now everyone tries to duplicate the Warriors, which only enhances them because you can never beat the best at what they do; that’s why the Lakers so dominated the West in the 80s, but didn’t win all the titles. The Celtics played it a different way. Which is why I think a player like Jahlil Okafor can help someone. You can’t beat the Warriors at their game because no one ever has played it better. You can only beat them the way they don’t play. There’s plenty of opportunity for post play to succeed, though, yes I have to counter the analytical guys who constantly remind me how much more three is than two. Of course, you have a point there as I’ve only seen about three NBA players who still know how to make a post pass.
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