Ask Sam Mailbag: 12.16.16
Sam Smith answers reader questions about the Bulls and around the NBA
Do you think it would be foolish not to explore trades for players like D-Wade, Rondo, and Gibson if the front office doesn't they will be long term success of this team. I just think if we're just going to barely get by I would rather see Mirotic and McDermott get big minutes to see if they are going to be apart of the future. Gibson and DWade have value and could definitely return a few first round picks. I don't see them improving much. I was nice to think they could mesh, but they have zero consistent three point shooting in the starting lineup. Hoiberg has no consistent rotation. We're 25 games into the season. How about bringing wade off the bench and starting McDermott at the 3 and possibly starting Mirotic at the 4.
Sam: They were disappointing losses, but let’s not get too carried away. Oh, right. That’s what this feature is for. Wade made an impressive commitment to the Bulls, and it would be anything but a betrayal to move him. I don’t know if he has a no-trade, but to me that contract is as good as no trade. There couldn’t be a more perfect player to have in the situation the Bulls are in, trying to transition to a new era from the Rose/Noah/Deng/Hinrich guys to being back in contention without bottoming out than someone like Wade, who is the one stabilizing force amidst the winds of uncertainty. He’s going to compete while being the model of discipline and professionalism. My greatest nightmare remains the fear of watching this team the next two seasons without him. OK, I have some others, but for basketball. Mirotic, McDermott, Portis, et al, are getting time and chances in the rotation to show who they are and where and whether they fit. That’s on them. Hoiberg is giving everyone opportunities.
This is not training school; this is the NBA. It’s about winning more than development, unless you have gone the 76ers route or the Bulls 2001, and we didn’t much like that. Players like Rondo and Gibson given they are at the end of deals have much more value to the Bulls than anyone else. The Bulls don’t have the sort of roster now other than Butler that has trade possibilities other than another 20-40 first round pick, and there are enough of those on the roster already. The new labor deal is potentially interesting. No one’s seen the exact terms, but from the leaks it’s sounding like obtaining free agents is going to be more difficult and at some point teams are going to have to make tough decisions about the draft. Which we know can be painful. You’d love to have the Minnesota core, but it’s been a full decade of missed playoffs. Though with the way most teams have been spending their cap space on marginal players the last year, the money tree is going to go bare again soon and the Bulls could be in a good place regarding free agents moving forward after 2018. Wade was right in what he said after Thursday’s game; I know patience is difficult in large doses. But his Miami team which wasn’t supposed to lose a game that season was 9-8, and then went to the NBA Finals. This Bulls team didn’t have such expectations or prognostications. But I still think there’s enough there to be competitive in that three through 12 spot in the East, just like last season. And that’s a first round home court. Yes, it’s also out of the playoffs, but that’s why you stick with guys like Wade, Rondo and Gibson because they know how to and have won.
Atlanta has shaken up their roster. Jeff Teague has gone to the Pacers. Are the Pacers better? George is healthy and yet the Pacers are at .500. The Hawks now have Howard, but they're a half game back of the Pacers. Korver's numbers are about the same as last year, a significant drop off from previous years. Teague's numbers are about the same. Two questions. Do you think these teams will improve throughout the year? Can Howard make a winner out of anybody?
Sam: In the broader sense that’s what I’m talking about (see above). When you watch anything almost exclusively you are going to see its flaw more clearly. It’s why you generally are more upset with your marriage or your kids than someone else’s. The Bulls weren’t generally picked as a top four team because of the flaws we have begun to see, like the shooting and isolation play, though the merits of the Carter-Williams trade should begin to pay off soon if he gets a good medical report today (Friday). But the Bulls are right there with teams like Boston, Indiana, Atlanta and Detroit, whom many believed one could slide into second and challenge the Cavs on some level. Change generally sounds better than it looks in real life. I know, the Warriors. Really good players may be the answer. None of those East teams really have them. I know it’s fashion always to pick on Howard, but physically he’s declined. It’s somewhat like the Rose situation. Howard’s had back surgeries. Yes, he often acted like a clown when he was healthy, but don’t blame him for not being who he was because of operations. Same with Tiger Woods. We want to see them as they were; that’s gone. The Pacers have tried a makeover, which sounded good with the talent additions. But they could be the most disappointing with a roster that seems one of the best in the East. So many new guys and a new coach is tough. And Hoiberg is basically starting with his second different team in two seasons. Some of those East teams will improve. No one can tell you which now. As for the second place Raptors, they may have the biggest issue. They’ve separated themselves, but they have Lowry going on 31 in March as an unrestricted free agent wanting to match DeMar DeRozan’s $135 million. Are they paying a six-foot guard into his 30s with a poor playoff history that sort of contract? It’s still a wide open East.
I waited until we had a reasonable amount of games played before getting excited by the early shooting success. It appears that the Bulls may be who they have been individually in the past. Shooting has returned to normal, ball movement has decreased, assists are down. I think D Wade is correct in thinking this might be an average team. More fun to watch than last year but average. My question is that it appeared McDermott was waving his arms in the corner frequently. He did not get a shot attempt until late in the forth quarter. It seems that at least looking for him would help. I don’t understand a team shooting poorly not trying to get their best outside shooter going. I don’t think he is a huge difference maker but they need to find out what he can do this year.
Sam: I can’t disagree, and though Fred never singles anyone out, he came as close to it as he does by wondering why McDermott passed up an open three with about four minutes left Thursday in Milwaukee to drive and lost the ball. He wasn’t upset about the turnover as much as they got him the shot and he wouldn’t take it. I know the preference is always to blame the coach, but with the so called “three Alphas,” to me that’s out the window. These are All-Stars, champions, leaders, veterans, some of the game’s smartest players. If they need coaching motivation they’re not who they think they are. Doug doesn’t always have the quickest release against closeouts, and remember he missed more than half the season walking around dizzy. So I give him a pass. I agree you need to look for him more, but it’s not like the other team doesn’t know that. Their scouting reports, I’m fairly certain, read something like, “That guy can shoot. Don’t guard the other guys.” We’re seeing zones like Milwaukee did Thursday to dare them to shoot (they are 30th overall on threes). Hoiberg was doing the right thing trying to pair Mirotic and McDermott to have a shooter on each side to open things up, but then McDermott misses three weeks and Mirotic can’t make shots and ends up now benched for Portis.
So Hoiberg continues to try. All a coach can do is put a guy in position to get a good shot; it’s up to the guy after that. Doug has to take more of those shots. He’s an unselfish, team guy, but sometimes you have to be more selfish and force some stuff up to get the defense to look at you more. So what also seems to be happening is when those guys aren’t making much, Jimmy, understandably so, decides he needs to do something. He really is a competitor. So he attacks the basket. You see him get great defensive rebounds when everyone is standing around stunned. But the way he knows to score is a lot of isolation, which slows things. Lately, the rebounding hasn’t been great, so transition is difficult and the Bulls have been playing into more set defenses, which then are harder to separate McDermott. I agree he needs more shots, but he also needs to take more when he’s out there. He’s too good a shooter to pass too much. Like Jordan used to say, I have a better chance against a triple team than Steve Colter open. McDermott covered may be better than someone else open.
Is Portis showing he is a bigger flop than Snell? Snell made progress in his second year where now Portis seems to have hit a huge sophomore slump. Does Butler make enough of impact to be voted in All Star game starter?
Sam: He’s back. Looks like Bobby has worked his way back into the rotation, at least for now, with Mirotic out. Portis made a good point after the Thursday game about playing center instead of power forward. He’s more natural and comfortable at power forward, but to get time he had to play center, which was why Felicio was out of the rotation for awhile. Look, Hoiberg plays way more guys than Thibodeau ever did, and that’s all fans complained about with Thibodeau. Let’s see the other guys! Fred’s showing them to you. Like with Mirotic last season, they needed him at small forward, but he wasn’t quick enough and didn’t do well. He needed to be back at power forward. Coming into this season with Gibson and Mirotic at power forward there was no time there for Portis. So they tried him at center, but guys were too big and strong and he suffered on offense too in whether to step outside, shoot inside? After all, he was now the center. There were no minutes at all if he didn’t play center. Now Hoiberg is giving him a look at his position, which had to mean someone being out. Obviously Gibson is playing too well, so Mirotic steps back. Now let’s see what Portis has. There has been no fair way to judge him previously. The All-Star vote? I don’t know the dates, but the first voting results should be soon and I think Jimmy will be a big vote getter. He’s done commercials and has elevated his game. But I doubt voted in as a starter. He’ll make the team. The bigger question for the Bulls is whether Wade is voted in because he’s no lock as a coach pick. Wade is so popular that there is a fairly good chance he gets voted in. But DeMar DeRozan averaging close to 30 should get a boost, though I’m still unsure if the Canada votes get thawed out in time to count. Plus the Cavs could get LeBron and Kyrie to start as defending champs. Jimmy should be right there close. The Bulls fade in record lately will hurt, however.
Is Jimmy Butler now better on offense than Pippen ever was?
I think the answer is yes. Pippen was probably still better on defense - more flexible perhaps, greater reach. Maybe a little quicker than Jimmy (which is hard to do).
Butler 1) looks like he is stronger than Pippen and can manufacture his own shot off the dribble better than Scottie, 2) is significantly better at free throws. Especially in the clutch - and knowing how to get to the foul line to exploit this skill he has for the betterment of the team.
Sam: I’m with you. Pippen never was much of an offensive player. His defense was extraordinary and turned into offense the way with his Pterodactyl reach he could deflect balls and get out and finish. He had a decent pull up three in transition, which I often felt was his best offensive weapon. But he didn’t know how to score inside like Jimmy, get to the line and use his body. Though Jimmy has several titles to go to pass him as a player.
Any truth to the stories that Wilt and the Bruins would scrimmage with Magic and the Lakers at Pauley pavilion in the early 1980's? I've heard Larry Brown allude to this in an interview, but never Magic- though he has told several Wilt stories in interviews. According to Brown, Wilt would be dominating these games in his late 40's.
Sam: Wilt was the most amazing physical and skilled player perhaps in the history of the game. I know, bad free throw shooter, but he was literally so good he got bored with scoring and developed a fadeaway bank shot to test himself more. No, he wasn’t as driven as Russell, who had to do way more and harder to come close to matching Wilt. If not for Jordan’s mental dominance, I’d rate Wilt the best ever and then maybe Kareem or Oscar. That’s talking ability as a basketball player. The Bulls tried many times into the late 70s after he retired to sign Wilt, who was playing beach volleyball and still could get way up in the air. He’d had enough of the politics of the game, which wasn’t as lucrative then comparatively. Wilt made his money, but didn’t care for the discipline. Into his 50’s, he probably could start at center for most NBA teams.
This season has been much more fun to watch than the past two, even though it has been a little up and down. Seems to be a likeable team with likeable guys again. You have sold me on that the 'everybody needs to shoot threes to stretch the floor' is a little bit of contemporary NBA dogma (though spacing is still important). For example, I've noticed that Niko plays more effectively for the Bulls when he uses his length and tries to score inside. He is then also more useful as a rebounder (which is perhaps his single best tool) on the offensive glass than when he spots up for threes. It seems as though one of the differences between the hot start of the Bulls and the inconsistent play for awhile has been Butler's outside shot efficiency - it seems he has been more off balance of late, thinking about his shot more than shooting in rhythm. Perhaps MCW is the only non-Butler player currently on the Bulls' roster who has the potential to be an all-star in the future? His court awareness seems pretty terrific, he is a long defender, and jump shots can develop. What does he have to do other than shoot more consistently to emerge as a star in the league? Is it possible and/or likely?
Sam: For Carter-Williams, he had that great rookie of the year start and then got on the wrong side of Jason Kidd in Milwaukee, which I’m told becomes more whim than anything you’ve done. So we’re anxious to see him return. Not that he’s “the difference.” But he was to be the only true backup point and able to close games instead of Rondo for defense against big athletes, like the Bucks have. If things go well from his Friday review he said he could play in a week or so. I hear many say if you can’t have offense at the end of games have defense. Sure, but that’s still just Jimmy, at least on the perimeter. The Bulls had Jimmy jumping from one guy to the next against Milwaukee Thursday and as good as Taj is, he was no match for Jabari Parker on the perimeter. The Bulls tried him there and it didn’t work. But then you take Jimmy off Antetokounmpo and, well, you saw. Carter-Williams would help a lot on that level. Everyone would like more three-point shooting for the Bulls, but my point was and continues to be you can overcome that with fundamental play, running the court, moving the ball, things the Bulls haven’t done as well lately with the assists way down. Milwaukee had 10 more; even Minnesota with all those kids looking for their shots had more. It is a good group and a group that cares and with Wade isn’t about to give up. So worth sticking with.
Will Horace Grant ever be in the hall of fame? Judging his career vs others already in there, it's 4 championships, 1 all star game, 4 x 2nd team all defensive team. Not bad. I guess on these types of players you could say 'well what about Robert horry?'. Still scratching my head as to how a mutumbo got in. After looking at wikipedia to find info on Horace I saw that Doc Rivers booted Grant from
Orlando in saying he was cancer for the team. Was Horace a prickly character? I remember MJ writing in one of his books that Horace was blowing up in their 3 peat year that he had to attend all sessions of training camp. Thought he deserved special treatment as MJ and Scottie had. But they were coming off the back of a long season and then the Barcelona Olympics.
I used to love Horace. Going back over the old games, he did so many little things. He always seemed to make huge blocks at critical points of big games.
Sam: Horace is not a Hall of Famer, but he should have his jersey retired by the Bulls. He was the third most important player on three straight champions and a third of the reason the Bulls were so good defensively the way he pressured full court so much. It’s frankly something missing from the Bulls these days and so many NBA teams. Like Jimmy said, they work an hour and a half a day. Most guys plays 15 or 20 minutes. You can’t pick up 94 feet if you are playing 15 minutes? Anyway, back to Horace. He really made himself into a player coming to the NBA at about 190 pounds to be a power forward to play Karl Malone, Barkley and maybe the toughest era of players at that position. The Bulls brought him back as an ambassador and spokesman and he’s becoming the team’s most popular and effective in that position; so good for him and good for them. As for the Orlando stuff, the coach has the megaphone, but as much as I like Doc that was on him. He still was a young coach and becoming a good one, but then was caught up in some ugly internal politics with his bosses. Some players got caught in the middle. The champion Lakers on Shaq’s request then went out and got Horace, so I doubt prickly character would ever define Horace. He’s been a global ambassador for the NBA for years, one of the players the league most turns to in order to be their face overseas. He’s certainly become a Hall of Fame person and one of the most important players in Bulls franchise history.
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