Ask Sam Mailbag: 11.23.18
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to answer readers' questions.
Basketball is the toughest sport to referee. In college intramurals, I was a ref for many sports and basketball was easily the toughest, can't even imagine how tough it is in the NBA. With that said, it seems to be getting a little crazy some of these fouls called on Wendell Carter Jr. This rookie doesn't get the call thing seems to go too far with this seemingly mild-mannered kid. Besides just him, can they fix something with this "jump into the defender" when he's in the air, Dwayne Wade mastered, type of play. It is getting ridiculous! A defender jumps, and the offense literally jumps five feet toward the defender in a terrible shooting attempt and is barely touched by him and it is a foul? Is there some way to limit this absurd play that can end up ruining a game?
Sam: I know; it’s awful, but I have noticed they have stopped giving every foul call to James Harden when he throws himself at defenders, which more than Carmelo is the reason the Rockets got off to a slow start. I generally have the backs of the officials, though I recognize fewer and fewer of them every game. They get it as close as you can get it right as you understand having tried. They always say a foul is a foul, but we all know it isn’t certain times in the game, especially at the end of quarters, and for certain people versus other people. It’s not right, but life isn’t all a level playing field, either. Often Carter has been victimized by the officials who not only don’t know him, like Natalie Sago in the Suns game. I’ve noticed that some of the new ones when they haven’t made a foul call for awhile find a young player. Some would say the player has to defend himself more and complain. I commend Carter for not falling into that ugly trap, remaining professional and respectful, and I believe things will even out for him as they generally do in these situations. But it is another positive sign of his maturity and class the way he handles inequity and injustice. I’m also supporting him for Congress.
I think the Bulls are a little behind schedule in wins because of injuries. But, the talk about Jabari Parker being a failure seems pre-mature. One thing I noticed though that bothers me is his attitude with the media. He seems to be at war with the media with his short answers and blank stares. I have been a Chicago Bulls fan for 30 years. And he could be a valuable piece; however, he needs a real attitude adjustment. I wish Gar and Paxson could sit him down and tell him to relax and grow some thicker skin. What’s your prognosis for Parker and utilizing his talents? He could breakout with Dunn, Markkenen and Portis comeback.
Sam: Thanks for the support. I know in this era it’s fashion to widely and angrily condemn media, but it’s a sensitive subject for those of us who hope to connect fans with their favorites (and others). Really, that’s what we do. You think everyone loves standing around while Robin Lopez gets dressed? The misconception is we are in this to become friends with the subjects or gain fame trough their reflected glow. Some are; the great majority are not. They’re basically working people who are serious about their jobs, which are generally more fun than yours but often don’t pay as much, who seek the same respect at work as anyone. It’s where it’s sometimes been awful with Parker. I’ve been at just about all his media sessions, however short many are. Players don’t have to speak with media, in my view, even if it is a requirement in their NBA contracts. The issue with Parker is the way he’s shown a lack of respect for the reporters with his sharp, often one word answers and, as you note, disconcerting stares. No one asking fair, straight forward and basically inoffensive questions, which is their job and which the NBA encourages, deserves to be treated that way. Frankly, I’ve been surprised because I had no idea given he always said he was a community minded type person. Actually, I think the Bulls must have spoken with him because lately he has loosened up some, though he still holds the title of Bulls player you’d least like to spend a minute with. But you are right in that it’s a premature talent evaluation. He basically told us he’s not likely to contribute much on defense, so I’ll credit him, at least, for honesty as many NBA players say they will and don’t. Parker has some tremendous scoring abilities and talents, and he’s still less than a year removed from his second ACL return. So even as much as he doesn’t want to hear about having had surgeries, I think he has space to grow and get better. He showed a lot of that against the Suns earlier this week with nearly a triple double and some really impressive play that left us as speechless as he often is. OK, that’s laying it on too much, I admit. But I would love to see him smile some day. You need talent to do that. Parker has it. Though when Markkanen and Portis return, who knows. Parker doesn’t seem malicious, but I just wish he reciprocated to the polite treatment he’s universally received from the Chicago media. Maybe he’s been asking Tyrus Thomas for advice.
The Bulls should go after Otto Porter. After all, he's a small forward (and the Bulls desperately need them in order to win). Parker's listed as a small forward, but we know he’s a power forward for now.
Sam: Porter was my most sought to-trade-for last week until later in the week rumors were that the 76ers’ Markelle Fultz wanted to be traded. His agent denied it, which I assume means it’s true. And it certainly should be with the situation he’s in now with Jimmy Butler added to the team and probably pretty soon to begin calling him Karl-Anthony. We know the story of Fultz leaving again for treatment and the 76ers being surprised. It’s clear to most everyone now that he needs a chance elsewhere. Also, remember being a No. 1 overall pick is an arbitrary number. Would it be much different if he were a No. 7 overall like Emmanuel Mudiay or Randy Foye? Or No. 5 overall like Ricky Rubio or Devin Harris? Or No. 6 overall like Johnny Flynn or Dajuan Wagner? Or No. 3 like O.J. Mayo or No. 2 like Jay Williams? When you are drafting kids who have to play complicated guard positions, you never truly know. If Fultz were selected No. 4 would he be as big a mistake? He clearly needs a chance elsewhere because he does seem talented. But given that the 76ers used a No. 1 pick for him and blew plenty of other top picks on the likes of Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, they’re not likely to settle for spare parts. At least for now. Though the hysteria last week was the Wizards had to do something! And right now! I think it may be the opposite. GM Ernie Grunfeld is cautious and veteran oriented. Rebuilds, as we mostly have seen, take years to bloom if they ever do again. Instead of trading off Porter—who makes about $27 million a year and is essentially a spot up three-point shooter whose salary would remove the Bulls from free agency possibilities—Wall or Beal, my guess is they add to them and take one more run. If they miss the playoffs, then I could see some changes next summer. Though with Wall’s $42 million annual salary for four years starting next season, it difficult to see who would take that on, especially for a player who cannot lead his team to the playoffs in the East, if that occurs. But you gotta love a dysfunctional team with Dwight Howard that doesn’t even mention his name.
How long before LeBron forces Magic to trade for John Wall. Well, as long as they make the playoffs. I would hate to see them win the lottery and get Zion Williamson.
Sam: Now that’s an interesting conspiracy; the latter part, anyway. Say the situation is to get the Lakers a college star and….OK, OK, I know it’s not true. Which never stops the discussion. Another frequent name I hear is among the Duke freshmen. They’re at least for now expected to be among the top five draft picks, and though they’re still playing mostly basically exhibition games and they are teenagers, I think this draft doesn’t look as good as last year’s. No one ever has a good idea how these kids will be in the NBA, but I don’t see generational talent for now. Sure, some pretty good pros. But it makes me wonder why the Duke coach rarely seems to put the ball in the hands of the big dunker to make plays. College ball does matter even when they don’t stay long. It did tell you something about Andrew Wiggins when you’d see him score six or eight points in big games. Big time players perform in big time games at all levels. When they don’t, you can question who and what they’ll become. I know it’s tough to watch NBA coverage on ESPN or listen on NBA radio without three quarters of the discussion being about LeBron and the Lakers. Bor-ing! LeBron can be annoying in making demands and getting what he wants, but I’m voting with Magic’s patience for now and his summer free agency plan. After all, he got Lonzo Ball’s father to drop from sight. That has to be the undercard to being able to hold off LeBron and his advisors. I think this season is about LeBron going for one more MVP and just trying to get into the top four and then taking their personnel shot next summer. But we’ll know more after Dec. 15 when most contracts are available to be traded. Heck, with all the former LeBron teammates with nothing to do and about to be released or bought out, he may be able to assemble one of his former teams before the end of this season. Is James Jones coming back?
My attitude towards tanking is I think the same as yours...but man, have you seen this Zion kid play? With Valentine's injury it’s gotta be tempting to shut Lauri down till February and go for broke.
Sam: No more tanking. I know it seems like it sometimes is what’s going on with the Bulls now with all the injuries and the hole they’ll inevitably dig. But with the first step smoothing out of the odds, the three teams with the poorest records have exactly the same odds of the top pick, and just 14 percent. Then it’s 12.5 and 10, 8.3 and 8.2. So you essentially have almost seven teams with similar odds of the top picks. And is 14 percent—one in seven—worth blowing off your whole season? Especially because this season was to begin to find out if the Bulls had a team with LaVine, Markkanen, Carter Jr. and Dunn. They still haven’t seen that. So you are going to postpone that for another year to take a one in seven shot at a top pick? Which means more than an 85 percent chance you won’t get it. What sort of a bettor would that make them? I know fans love the draft, the next thing, as it were, but really, enough with the draft picks. The Bulls are going to get another unless they make a trade, but they already have too many young players who have proven little given their lack of playoff experience and still are apprenticing on the roster. The Bulls seem set with Carter, LaVine and Markkanen. They’re still trying to find out about Dunn. Even if Dunn doesn’t prove out, they don’t need to continue teenage tryouts. The Bulls certainly hope he does. But it’s about time to begin surrounding them with veteran NBA talent. Assuming we ever do see them playing together.
Rookie of the year is one of two people right now. Doncic as you said or jaren jackson jr who you didn’t even mention. Jackson is probably the third best player on a team with an 11-5 record in the west. He has been really really good but memphis so no one remebers anyone there. Conley and gasol both playing like allstars again and neither is likely to make it. Doncic the best player on a 5-8 or 6-8 team.
Sam: I agree with Doncic. It looks like he’s running away with Rookie of the Year. It was fun to see Carter Jr. go against No 1 pick Ayton Wednesday. Ayton is bigger with more athletic talent, but you could see Carter keep up with better defense and more hustle even as he had some bad luck with foul calls. He’ll be a good one for the Bulls, though not rookie of the year. I mentioned five guys when I wrote about rookies a week or so ago and had Jackson on the edge of that. Not because he’s not talented, and I’m pretty sure the Bulls had him as high or higher on their board than Carter Jr., though the Bulls seem fine with their selection. Jackson has a big edge over the others given who he plays with. Gasol and Conley get so much attention, he’s often not defended as much and often plays off the ball on the weak side. The other rookies have to be too involved and get more defensive attention because their teams aren’t nearly as good or with as many veterans. Which is also another thing about that tanking. A lot of those teams that were aren’t anymore and the race to the bottom isn’t going to be as repulsive. It will be more organic, like for a team trying but with a lot of injuries. Trae Young is inconsistent because of the pressure he sees and Marvin Bagley hasn’t gotten the playing time, but has been impressive in spots. Jackson, though, should rebound better for his size. It’s a terrific class, but for now Doncic stands above.
This Bulls team reminds me of the 2008 Bulls team a little bit. Neither team is a world beater, but they have their similarities: a core of promising young players, underperforming roster, and a coach on the fritz. What if we land the #1 pick again? From which angle will you crush my dreams?
Sam: The No. 1 pick, as I explained. It is an interesting comparison, though, as the first team John Paxson was building with his kinds of players. You can see why he’d be interested in Kris Dunn as a Kirk Hinrich defensive type with more athletic ability, Zach LaVine the scorer like Ben Gordon but bigger and more athletic and Lauri Markkanen the forward but a better shooter than Luol Deng. Ryan Arcidiacono isn’t quite Andres Nocioni. But you can see some similarities. Now just how do you find the Derrick Rose?
I noticed yahoo had a piece on teams with the most cap primed to be players in free agency. The list includes Lakers, Mavs, Brooklyn and a few others. My understanding was the Bulls had huge cap space post likely waving Jabari and getting rid of a few contracts.
Sam: The Bulls should have a lot, if not the huge amount you expected. Part of the issue is this summer several could have more money, like the Mavericks, Clippers and Nets. The Lakers and Knicks have a lot, but the Bulls can be up there with them. Obviously, like you mentioned, if they keep Jabari Parker they probably don’t have all that much given they have to pay Bobby Portis to keep him. It will depend on whether he gets an offer and how quickly they have to move. With Omer Asik’s buyout and Portis’ cap hold, the Bulls could have around $40 million to $50 million, which would pay one full contract and part of another if they were to pass on Parker. The salary cap is expected to be around $110 million next summer. The presumption is they move on from free agents Holiday and Lopez, but nothing has been stated for now. There are other free agents they’ll have to make decisions on like Ryan Arcidiacono, and they are close to having to make a financial decision on Dunn. So this summer will be crucial and the Bulls can be a major player. Which is another reason why it’s so important to play the season out seriously and see what they have and where they fit.
Too bad about Valentine, I’m not a big fan but I am a human being and that’s got to be tough.
Sam: Oh yeah, Valentine also. Another guy closing in on restricted free agency and we know we won’t see him again this season. Certainly his market has changed with all the injuries, but he says he’s been told this time it will be right. Grant Hill had serious ankle issues for years and came back and became an All-Star. Decisions, decisions. It’s a side factor of when you fill your roster with high draft picks. You also have to start making some decisions about who to keep, who to pay and who to move. You can’t pay them all.
I’ve got a friend who passionately argues that Lebron James is the greatest of all time. I don’t actually have a strong opinion about who’s the greatest. But I’m a contrarian and I grew up watching Jordan so he’ll always be my favorite horse in this particular race. Well my friend, the Lebron apologist, is always locked and loaded for the MJ vs LbJ debate. So I decided to throw him a curveball last time we had the discussion. I argued that it’s neither Lebron nor Mike, but Wilt, who was in fact the greatest. His otherworldly stats speak for themselves but neither of us ever saw him play so it’s kind of hard for us to fully compare Wilt and Lebron. As an observer who’s seen both play, could you craft a convincing argument for why Wilt is greater than Lebron?
Sam: Here goes, though I still go with Jordan, also. Wilt is unquestionably the greatest scorer the game ever has seen; averaging 50 in a season, 100 points in a game, the most games above 60, 70, 80. And this notion that he was playing against basketball midgets is erroneous. He played against most of the greatest centers in NBA history, Russell, Thurmond, Unseld, Reed, Kareem, Bellamy, all Hall of Famers. He is criticized for winning titles just twice, but he played against the greatest dynasty ever in the 60s Celtics and beat them face up when they were in their prime when he was with the 76ers. And with a team with half as many future Hall of Famers as the Celtics. When he finally got away from the dominant Celtics dynasty and went to the Lakers, he was in the Finals four of five seasons consecutively. Wilt played in an era when virtual assault was legal and he was the target in every game. They changed the rules of the game multiple times to limit his dominance, from widening the lane to changing goal tending rules. Wilt was so good they talked about eliminating dunking at one time, and the game was so easy at times that Wilt became bored and often shot a fadeaway bank shot to amuse himself. And still won the scoring title. Plus as he wrote in his infamous autobiography, he certainly didn’t get a lot of sleep. At one time or another, he led the league in every major statistical category, including scoring, rebounding and assists and was often all-NBA and all-defense first team. His Lakers team was among those who have held the record in their time for most wins in history. Wilt led two of the top five all-time teams with the best records ever. Wilt won championships just with those teams, showing what he had to do to win given the competition in his era. No team LeBron played on ever ranked in the top 10 of those teams with the greatest records. I guess my question might be in what way would LeBron be better than Wilt at almost anything but free throw shooting? And Wilt may have made more in the last minute of games.
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