Ask Sam Mailbag 4.24.20

Sam opens his mailbag and answers questions on The Last Dance, Jerry Krause, Anthony Davis and more
Michael Jordan attempts a layup
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

Mike Rybak

Since I don't have ESPN, I won't be able to view "The Last Dance". Does the truth come out as you see and does either Phil or Michael actually speak it?

Sam Smith

Sorry to learn you won't get to see the show; it's a great memory lane nostalgia journey. They seem to be doing a good job and raising the salient points and asking the appropriate questions. But like with all made for TV dramas, there's also some point of view story stuff. As I've written, there may have been some dramatic license or various interpretations taken to mold the story. No problem with that since there's never one "truth" when it's not about a fact, but about a supposition. That the Bulls could have continued and won at least another championship or even stayed together if left to their own desires. Which probably makes it even better because you also get to make up an ending if you don't like the one they're heading toward.


Yousuf Shamsie

I just watched the first 2 episodes. Not exactly like what was touted, which was an all access behind the scenes look at the team. More like a conventional documentary. Still entertaining though.

Sam Smith

I also thought it would include more of the footage from the 1997-98 season, of which we saw some, because the camera crew was around pretty much all season. But let's not get carried away and think this was going to be an expose. This was not going to be news but entertainment, which it has been to start. It's auld lang syne and not oh my god. But neither is HBO's Hard Knocks or any of those embedded microphone revelations we hear from sideline players. Of course, there's also 80 percent of the show to go. But they did show several interviews from that season. Actually, a lot less than you think goes on in locker rooms. It's not that interesting. They get taped, chat and get dressed. Michael is somewhat superstitious and made it a practice to always go to the toilet right before the game. I'm personally grateful they are not showing that.


Gorav Raheja

MJ mentioned in the documentary that Scottie was being selfish by delaying surgery in the 1998 season, and insinuated that the team was upset with him. Steve Kerr came out and said that Scottie holding out was understandable and no one was upset about it. Who is telling the truth?

Sam Smith

Everyone, of course. I think Michael was probably a bit more upset because that meant Dennis was his sidekick, and that's not necessarily someone you wanted to depend on regularly. I believe Michael, although he played along with the breakup for dramatic effect, understood how close the end was. And there was Scottie lost for at least the first half of the season. How would you feel no matter the circumstances? But players generally hold little animosity toward teammates pursuing their financial interests because next time it might be them, and a rising tide raises all boats. Hey, if Scottie gets a new deal then maybe I do, also. Similarly like when Scottie didn't go into that game in the 1994 playoffs, some teammates were upset, notably Bill Cartwright who scolded Pippen after the game. But within a day they were rallying behind him. Especially that 1997-98 season with the antagonist Jerry Krause and management for the supposed premature end of the dynasty, the arrows always were pointed in that direction. I don't believe Michael's pique lasted long, and he welcomed Scottie back in January more enthusiastically than anyone. Dennis; well he was not as thrilled.


Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to a play against the Dallas Mavericks on November 1, 2019 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.

Melbert Tizon

If LA wins this year, I think we can not be sure if AD will still look at his career with the same pair of eyes. I think winning the championship will change him. Do you think that can give us a better chance of signing him? With Karnisovas and The Last Dance intrigue, I hope a miracle happens.

Sam Smith

Of course, that wasn't going to take long. New executives. Open the doors. The free agents are going to be falling over themselves as they scramble into the Bulls locker room. We've lunged for that brass ring around the carrot too often. Karnisovas seemed to state it correctly when he spoke with media a few weeks back. He's concentrating on the draft, development and likely trades after seeing how the players fit together. He'll be aware of the free market since that's what Paxson and Forman were doing with the 2021 payroll, which seems to have ample room to add free agents. We don't know how much that will change with the declining revenue due to the league shutdown. But Paxson and Forman had the Bulls in great position for 2021, which is why the Bulls job was considered very attractive. Even if there is a playoffs and the Lakers were to win, who knows how that would be viewed going forward. If the 1999 lockout season was an asterisk, what will this title be? Davis was reported to have sold his LA mansion, which suggests to me he's looking for a larger LA mansion with a better view. Plus Davis's career arc has been clear. He's not a No. 1 guy. He's a great supporting No. 2. Get him someone at LeBron's level and perhaps he moves on. We saw in New Orleans when he was No. 1 they were barely No. 8 as great as he was.


Arturas Karnisovas, Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations

Jake Henry

I'm excited about Karnisovas from his background as a player, talent evaluator, and mostly that he seems "connected" with the league. I'm excited about most of the names thrown around as gm. But for all the talk of Paxsons truthfulness I don't buy the narrative of him suggesting to his bosses he needed someone to take his place. That has happened never in sports. Just months ago he was holding individual sessions with reporters to tame the flames.

Sam Smith

Of course, that was his job months ago. I always find it amusing that people prefer to believe the conspiracies that aren't true than the ones that are.


Adam Silver the NBA Commissioner talks to the media before the start of the Oklahoma City Thunder game against the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum on April 26, 2014 in Memphis, Tennessee.

Tom Plonowski

We are all in anticipation as the rest of the month plays out and into May hopefully Adam Silver will announce the upcoming future plans for the league. Are you in favor of the NBA attempting to play out the remainder of the season (17 games or so remaining) or should the NBA focus on setting up a playoff format at this point to crown an NBA champion and move on into the NBA off season?

Sam Smith

Do I need my not a doctor disclaimer first? There's been talk the NBA wants to get in some sort of end to the regular season to satisfy TV contract agreements and understandably give players training time to prepare. Considering his leadership during this period, I believe Adam Silver will have the right answers. In Adam We Trust. Plus my attempts to try to revive the frog in high school biology suggests I'm unlikely to add to scientific knowledge. But given the massive day to day uncertainty and our Illinois officials still talking about months of limitations, I'd gather the 16 teams in the playoffs now. They've played 65 games. Like soldiers going on assignment or executives off to an extended overseas trip, it's OK. People leave their families for work. Plus most NBA players are single, anyway, and really just need their video game consoles with them.

So get the 16 teams into a closed bubble-style place to start workouts. Anyone examined and ill or showing signs doesn't go. Check regularly. Then get the playoffs going and as teams lose those guys go home and the population shrinks. If anyone fears participating, that's understandable. There should be no shame or penalty. But if considerable precautions are taken as they are in many places where people are working now, the NBA also should be able to function and finish its season and we can enjoy some normalcy with the games. It seems a reasonable compromise between the opening of tattoo parlors and remaining in the basement until there is a vaccine that may never come.


Henry Jack

Several players have tested positive and recovered. Seems like an opportunity for them to raise some money for charity by playing some 3on3 on tv since they are now presumed to be immune.

Sam Smith

I think the NBA mostly is trying to figure out if they can get everyone on the court. Three on three remains contact, though from the little I've seen there's ample social distancing on defense in those games. I think that three on three summer league still is trying to find a remote island for the wonderful experience of seeing Charles Oakley coaching.


Dickey Simpkins #8 of the Chicago Bulls shoots a layup against the Indiana Pacers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 1998 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 27, 1998 in Chicago Illinois.

Mike Burgher

Prior to the 1997-98 season, the Bulls traded Dickey Simpkins to Golden State for forward Scott Burrell. A few months later at the trade deadline, the Bulls shipped Jason Caffey to Golden State for David Vaughn and...Dickey Simpkins! Considering the Bulls quickly waived Vaughn, I found this maneuver extremely odd. Was there some under-the-table agreement between the Bulls and Warriors, that if the Warriors weren't satisfied with Simpkins, the Bulls would restructure the deal, albeit months after the fact?

Sam Smith

More great names. The documentary not only has been nostalgic, but has provided a wonderful forum for some where are they nows and don't forget about me. I heard a local radio station this week promoting an interview with Rusty LaRue. What, they couldn't get Keith Booth? That was a mysterious transaction that wasn't that significant. The stated reason at the time, as I recall, was to keep Rodman and Kukoc in better rhythm with more time, though I think it had to do with some concern, real or not, about Caffey off the court. It seemed more a rumor than a reality, though Caffey did have some legal problems a few years later when he was in Milwaukee. Which came after he signed a huge free agent contract after being traded by the Bulls. Caffey was a popular teammate and you never got the sense Phil was all in on Vaughn. That he basically never played seemed an indication. The Bulls then claimed Simpkins on waivers after trading him and he finally made it into a playoff game after being inactive with the team in 1996 and 1997. I see Dickey around Chicago occasionally as he's been active with some broadcasting and corporate work. I'd guess that subject probably is not going to be one of the remaining segments of the documentary. Dickey's Last Stand?


Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls discusses strategy with head coach Phil Jackson in Game Six of the 1996 NBA Finals against the Seattle SuperSonics at the United Center on June 16, 1996 in Chicago Iillinois.

Vincent Lea

If Phil had stayed for one more, I think Jordan would've too. He always said that they deserved to defend the title until they lost it. In a perfect world. I think that's what he would've liked to do. That being said, I think 98-99 would've been that time. Pippen was done, physically & mentally. Rodman was going nuts. Phil & Jordan knew the odds were slim. They might've talked each other into giving it one more go, but they would only do it together. That's my guess, Supported only by the fact that they both came back.

Sam Smith

Like I wrote last week, I believed both Phil and Michael for different reasons knew it was their last seasons with the Bulls. But that each saw a way to use the circumstances as a motivation and message for getting through what they knew would be a long journey, as Phil would have said. Because they'd seen it before in 1992-93 and how it wore out Jordan. They returned to basketball for different reasons, Phil because he always knew he would but after a sabbatical and not in a rebuilding situation. And Michael because he believed he was going to be able to buy into the Wizards and to enhance the value of his investment. But the Wizards then pulled back the offer when Jordan finished playing, leaving him feeling he was double crossed whether he was or not.


Michael David

This storyline had always fascinated.

Crumbs brought him in from the CBA, gave him the opportunity "nobody else would" Phil's rise and success was amazing. Maybe too amazing for Krause? Was it as simple as Krause wanting, needing and demanding "credit" and Phil never gave him enough? Could he have ever given him enough? Were Krause's ego and insecurities so great that this was nothing Phil or anybody could have ever done to satiate him?

Sam Smith

There you go. You've got it. It's the John Kennedy line about victory with a thousand fathers and defeat an orphan. Success finds a lot of people trying to nudge their way into the spotlight. Like it or not, it's always going to be focused on Jordan as it probably should for what he meant to everything. Krause did excellent things as general manager and whether it was his idea or not—he bitterly fought the Rodman addition—the bucks stops there. He was GM and eventually agreed. So you sit back and enjoy the fruits, like watching your kids succeed. You don't try to take credit for that, too, as their father. Jerry never fully grasped that. Who knows what personal demons he fought from his youth and his appearance. But when he believed he did something for you, he believed you owed. It's true no one else was giving Phil a chance. But Phil also did the job Jerry needed for the Bulls. I'd say that makes them even. Jerry never thought so, and it was also why late in life his list was long of those who failed to pay the proper homage to him. Phil tried and tried, but eventually you give up and accept that if someone welcomes anger that easily, then let it become their partner. Not yours.


Jerry Krause, general manager of the Chicago Bulls, looks on during the game against the Dallas Mavericks on December 19, 1995 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.

Art Alenik

Watched the first two episodes and I can't say I'm disappointed. In fact, I think they've done a great job. I like how they ended the first hour on opening day of that season. Of course, we're getting as much of the Michael Jordan story as the Last Dance itself. I'm hoping that we'll get a little more background on some of the other players as well (since I know most every detail about MJ already). I think they were mostly fair to Jerry Krause, painting him as a guy whose personality got in the way of his genius. They used the clip of him explaining the "organizations win" quote and how the one word "alone" was left out and changed the whole meaning. I couldn't help thinking, "If he only had a sense of humor…" When Jordan was teasing him about "pills that keep you short" or lowering the net so he could shoot with them, if Krause had the presence of mind to have a comeback for him, or at least a smile, things may have gone just a little smoother. Who knows? In retrospect, trading Pippen for Mcgrady makes a lot of sense. They wouldn't have won in '98, but if Phil & MJ remained committed, they might've been back in a year or two. That's a big if, of course. They would've had to replace (or ‘tame') Rodman too.

Sam Smith

Verbal retaliation was as effective with Michael as physically standing up, as Steve Kerr famously did that he often reflects was a principal reason Jordan would trust him to make that winning shot in the 1997 Finals. Jerry, unfortunately like many people, wasn't quick on his feet. Likely not on the dance floor, either. I'd be with him on that one watching the cool kids in high school from the sideline. Like Jerry probably did, I stayed home, also. Like Kerr also was quoted about Krause, he couldn't get out of his own way. I was standing with Jerry that media day in 1997 shaking my head and rolling my eyes, as we often did with Jerry, when he muttered about the organizations. He never really said only, but it was clear what he meant, as he bumbled along mentioning the training staff he was proud of, his assistants, and others in the basketball office. It didn't help we all were reading the unnecessary press release of Phil being done no matter what. By then Phil finally felt the freedom to pile on as well, saying that's typical of Jerry. Michael always skipped media day. So he had time to consider the commentary and slam dunk the rest of it the next day. Phil handed off and Michael landed from the top rope. So the aborted Pippen trade gets overlooked. But it probably would have made sense. Pippen turned out not particularly essential that season. He famously missed that first half after the late surgery. And then his back went out in the Finals and he was a liability the last two games, scoring in single digits, shooting poorly and unable to finish in Game 6. With McGrady, another lottery pick and a player off the Celtics roster, I don't believe Michael or Phil would have returned, anyway. But the Bulls wouldn't have had to endure the worst four years in NBA history. And who knows what free agents might have come in 2000 with McGrady in board. But we wouldn't have had the title for the documentary and theme of that season. So maybe it is better this way. Did you consider that without the shared nemesis to motivate and guide them maybe the Bulls don't won in 1998?


Sven Ruppert

Some people think this documentary was approved by Jordan to manifest his status in the GOAT debate. You think this might be true? Not that it would matter but my opinion is LeBron might be the better player, taller, stronger, better court vision, but MJ would find a way to beat him. He is the ultimate competitor and I do not see LeBron that way.

Sam Smith

Maybe they can settle it in that ESPN HORSE game for the final episode. Though one reason I always favored Jordan was the way he put himself on the line for every challenge, which LeBron never has. Kobe did. LeBron's never gotten into a dunk or three-point contest. Michael never was a good three-point shooter, but he got into the contest one year. That he finished last wasn't the point. It's why Jordan was different. Part of being the top guy is walking into and taking every challenge. Michael did; most don't. It's true two of the chief executives of Michael's company are the executive producers of the documentary. But it seems to me ESPN isn't being kept from asking all the questions of Michael. Does he need this to be the greatest of all time? I believe he still was winning that debate. And this new virus NBA, unfortunately, is going to change the arc of many careers and records, including those of LeBron.


Stephen Fulton

Totally missing basketball! I watched the first two episodes of Last Dance and now I'm reliving my anger that the organization wouldn't let the team play it out and go out on their terms. I remember the arguments of not wanting them to become the Pistons or Celtics, and yet I feel Chicago was cheated of never knowing. Chicago has never had a team like this dynasty. The Blackhawks strung together a few wins over several years, but otherwise we are grasping for one hit wonders. I think they left one championship perhaps two on the table, we will never know. Maybe we could have seen the Bulls vs San Antonio? That would have been a test for sure!

Sam Smith

My view is they left nothing on the table. Could they have gotten to the 1999 Finals? It was an aberrant season with the lockout and the season not starting until February. Jordan certainly would have been out of shape, at least. He sustained a serious finger injury to his right hand that offseason on a cigar cutter and couldn't grip the ball and would have had trouble shooting. Pippen as we saw was leaving as a free agent. The Bulls actually helped him with a sign and trade they didn't have to do and which cost them so he could make $30 million more. Rodman went to the Lakers and was a destructive force, able to start just 11 of the 50 games. Longley also was a free agent and was taking his talents to Phoenix. The Bulls actually did present Jordan with the possibility of naming his own coach and getting a one-year deal with raise and comparable deals for everyone else. He wasn't interested. And Phil had long made his travel reservations as he spend much of the lockout in Australia and traveling the world. I believe they understood all along exactly what was going on and that it was working best for them. Save the last dance for them.

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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.

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