Ask Sam Mailbag 5.1.20

Sam opens his mailbag and answers questions on The Bulls / Pistons rivalry, the Triangle Offense, and The Last Dance
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later


Rashad Walker:

Do you think any of our young core will be traded?

Sam Smith:

Yes. Oh, you want me to continue? Maybe we need a prior question of who is that young core? LaVine? Dunn? Markkanen? Hutchison? Carter? White? Arch? That's the exciting part about this new era for the Bulls, but also the anxious part. Because this is an entire new management team that has no investment in any of those players and appears to have a blank check regarding all the so called assets. Denver's Karnisovas will be the final arbiter. And while he didn't have the last word in Denver, it seemed like the Nuggets operated with an ensemble approach. Though the buck always stops one place. The Nuggets essentially were riding the rocket down when Karnisovas was hired, turning a not-good-enough perennial 50-win team (not unlike the Bulls with Jimmy Butler) that was out in the first round four straight seasons into a lottery team. Their rebuild primarily was through the draft with some big hits (Nikola Jokic second round) and big misses (the rights to Donovan Mitchell for Trey Lyles). Though the emphasis was more on scouting, drafting and development than the free agent market. They'd eventually land an older Paul Millsap in a Thad Young type of addition to support their young core. But the Nuggets also were active traders, like the draft deal with the Bulls so the Bulls could select Doug McDermott and being part of a four-team trade this season. So they also were an innovative team. Now without the baggage of anyone on the roster being their choice, they get to decide who fits and their vision of a team. So I'd expect to see some trades. Grab some popcorn and watch.

Ron Harper #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers dunks against the Chicago Bulls during a game played circa 1989 at the Richfield Coliseum in Cleveland Ohio.

Joe Whatoff:

You picked the Cavs over Michael in '89? Wow!

Sam Smith:

Hey, I went five games. I figured Jordan steals two in Chicago. I know it's difficult to believe considering what we saw then and in the Last Dance documentary, but the 90s was supposed to be the Cavs decade. Magic Johnson crowned them the team of the future in 1989 and they basically won every matchup with the Bulls but shooting guard. And Ron Harper then was an athletic match for Jordan as he noted in the documentary with his desire to defend Jordan on that last shot. As Michael noted, the Cavs were 6-0 over the Bulls that season. What he left out was the final game of the season in Chicago with the playoff matchup set. The Cavs rested all their regulars. The Bulls played all their starters all game. The Cavs won easily. Their second team was dominating the Bulls that season. That Jordan winning shot not only started the Bulls rise, but it might have saved another rebuilding. The Bulls did fire coach Doug Collins, anyway, but both Grant and Pippen might not have survived that step back season and a first round elimination with Michael already lobbying Jerry Krause for more veterans.

Guard Isiah Thomas, left, forward Dennis Rodman, right, and forward Vinnie Johnson of the Detroit Pistons talk to each other during a game.

Richard Meagher :

Jerry Krause once said that the Bulls dynasty was the first one ever built around 2 guard. With Isiah, Dumars, and Vinnie Johnson it could be said that the Pistons were built around Isiah and his other back court teammates.

Sam Smith:

It's true the Pistons probably were the first guard dominated championship team in an era when centers still roamed. Jerry's point was that the Bulls were the first team dominated by a shooting guard. Isiah Thomas was the Pistons leader and a point guard with the ball as was Magic Johnson with the Lakers. The exceptions to the center rule were Rick Barry, a small forward, in 1975 and the Supersonics in 1979, who really had no main player, but some good guards. The only shooting guard comparison you probably could make was Jerry West, who also led the league in assists one season since guards then played both positions. West didn't win until he was joined by Chamberlain at the end of Wilt's career. Though West was good enough to lead a championship team in his era if not having to go through the greatest dynasty, the 60s Celtics. Though Michael did control the ball a lot, also.

Jill Chenault :

I've loved every minute of "The Last Dance" and not just because we've been living in a sports desert for two months. In Episode 4, some Pistons players say that in an interview before Game 4 of the ECF, Michael Jordan made disparaging remarks about the Pistons as individuals and the city of Detroit. I would like to see that interview for myself.

Sam Smith:

Perhaps the documentary producers did, also. I don't know anyone who has it other than perhaps a few shocked Detroit TV stations. There was much made of the Pistons lack of sportsmanship, which everyone, of course, but Laimbeer has since regretted. What few remember about the end of that game was the Pistons scored a meaningless basket with 24 seconds left. Pistons players then started to get up and head to the locker room, which forced crossing in front of the Bulls bench. I think B.J. Armstrong was then dribbling out the clock as we see these days with players heading off the court. Instead, a timeout was called. Did the Bulls do it to rub it in? Did the officials because of the milling around? It was the timeout that highlighted the walkoff. More Jordan rubbing it in? He was, as we've seen, a ruthless competitor who doesn't forget. Ahead 3-0 and certain to win, the Pistons devastated and decimated, the Bulls had practice the day before. Jordan, of course, was the main attraction. Unprompted, he began eviscerating the Pistons, saying despite two titles they didn't deserve to be champions because of the way they played, a disgrace to the game, and so on. No social media then or late newspaper editions. So the news really didn't come out until the next morning, the Pistons players waking up to headlines in their media they were embarrassments to the game. Michael getting under their skin again in this most brutal of rivalries? Finish them off in embarrassment like they did so many times to the Bulls? Rub it in like they did making fun of Pippen's migraine? That's what I thought. It was like when Jordan would bribe the luggage handlers in the airport to send his bag down first while he was betting his teammates which bag would be first. Great sportsmanship? Not so much. Michael Jordan a manic competitor and making sure you feel some pain? Yes.

Head coach Phil Jackson of the Chicago Bulls talks with Michael Jordan and Tex Winter during the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Washington Bullets at United Center in Chicago, Illinois

Liza John:

If the ESPN documentary is to be believed, another great chess move by Jerry Krause was replacing Doug Collins with Phil Jackson, specifically with the intent of getting MJ to share the ball more. I had assumed that Jackson was acting mostly on his own in pushing the triangle. Was Krause's intent widely known at the time the coaching change occurred?

Sam Smith:

Jerry was ahead of the curve on that one. His first hire when he became Bulls general manager was Tex Winter, and his offense. Jerry was a devotee. He believed in Tex and his views about the game, and he had an eye for young coaching talent that wasn't always perfect. You never know someone until you live with them. And while Jerry saw Doug for his enthusiasm the team needed badly at the time, facile mind and excellence for game strategy, he couldn't get Doug to believe in Tex as much as he did. Phil was influenced most by Red Holzman, his Knicks coach, who played a simple and fundamental offensive game of ball and player movement. Those Knicks teams of the early 1970s were models of balance. Phil was not a triangle coach in the CBA, but those Knicks teams were his basketball holy grail. And Phil saw that with the Bulls when he was added to Doug's staff and began traveling with Tex and listening to his lectures. Phil believed he could adapt that system to play which mirrored Holzman's philosophy to the great individual talent of Jordan, a style he coached in the minor leagues. It appeared to work well.

Oscar Schmidt #14 of Brazil drives against the United States during the 1996 Summer Olympics at Morehouse College Gymnasium on July 30, 1996 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Carlos Ramos :

In your opinion, who is the best foreign player to play in the NBA and who is the best foreign player that never played in the NBA?

Sam Smith:

The best probably will be Giannis or Luka Doncic, though not yet. It had to be Dirk. The best player I saw who never played in the NBA was Oscar Schmidt. I remember covering the Pan Am Games in 1987 when Brazil beat the US for the gold medal and there was no one on the US team—still collegians—close to Schmidt's talent. He was a big scoring shooting guard, though in those days the NBA was so chauvinistic he likely never would have gotten a fair chance be the kind of team leader and scoring champion he was in Europe. I believe he has scored more points as professional than anyone who ever has played.

Pedro Cuesta:

I think with the perspective of time, Jordan and this team will come out reinforced of this documentary because personal relationships make them more human. We have not always behaved in the most correct way or we have made the best decision, but that is life and in an organization like that team everyone had their reasons for acting on their criteria, but, in the end, the ship managed to reach its destination although they never boarded together again.

Sam Smith:

We like to pretend sports is a fantasy since it is escapism. But when it's populated with actual human beings, the emotions and weaknesses follow with incidents of greed, envy and hubris. I think that's what Jordan also has been saying about himself without exactly articulating it that way. Not perfect and maybe you won't like some of the things that go on, but it's part of the human dynamic and perhaps made it more special because they were able to overcome so much.


Patrick Warner:

Did you notice a very important part of Rodman's coming to the Bulls was left out and it is documented. The year Jordan returned to the Bulls and they lost to Orlando in the playoffs was not taken lightly due to lack of rebounding. That hoisting of Horace Grant on top of the Orlando players shoulder and him voraciously waving that white towel while hoisted after the game was actually rubbing the Bulls face in the dirt and a demoralizing scene for Michael and company. They had to get a rebounder at all possible cost and the then hated Dennis Rodman was in the staff's Bulls Eye. Take note. Not the players. Michael and Scotty per se was adamant in regards to Dennis being a Bull. Needless to say they had to swallow their pride for the good of the team and to pursue their main goal.

Sam Smith:

Interesting how the way things go as Horace has come back to be a prime community figure for the Bulls. But there were very bitter feelings about that series. Phil, true, did declare afterward they lost because they were lacking a power forward, which eventually led to the trade for Rodman. But it was aimed at Horace, who was the veteran who took the Magic over the top. The game not only was against the Bulls, but in Chicago and Horace was hoisted by his teammates out of the arena and taking bows before a hostile audience. Phil in that series knowing Horace wasn't a clutch shooter doubled off Horace onto Shaq and Horace beat the Bulls with his shooting. Michael never forget that scene and it looks like Horace gets his time in Jordan's sights in the next segments of the documentary.

Michael Jordan #9 and Chuck Daley of the United States talk against Canada during the Basketball Tournament of Americas on June 29, 1992 at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon. The United States defeated Canada 105-61.

Thomas Plonowski:

The Olympic channel on Youtube is airing USMNT basketball games including those of the original Dream Team from Barcelona. I just watched the most entertaining basketball in years as the States put a whopping on Angola. I've always asked myself, but I've never asked anyone before how does Chuck Daly coach that Olympic team and Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars are no where to be found? I suppose I should also mentioned that Dennis Rodman led the NBA in rebounding that year at a whopping nineteen boards a game.

Sam Smith:

That basically was the end of Chuck's coaching career in Detroit, obviously. I can understand Dennis not being there with the concern about international relations. Joe wasn't quite at that level, but mostly it would have been even worse to invite him and not Isiah. It wasn't the greatest team. Bird with a bad back was basically retired. Magic hadn't played in a year with HIV. Christian Laettner was on the team. Karl Malone was on the team and had previously said publicly he didn't want to play with Magic for fear of contracting AIDS. The opposition was basically junior college level with the breakup of the Soviet Union and independence movements in eastern Europe. It's generally been suggested Jordan blocked Isiah's participation. Rod Thorn from the selection committee said in an interview this week Jordan never mentioned Thomas when he recruited a reluctant Jordan for the team. Thomas, sure, was no favorite of the Bulls players. But as he noted he was players association president then elected by the players. Jordan was worn out from the 1991 and 1992 titles and was telling everyone he wasn't playing. There's no Dream Team without Michael Jordan. I suspect the committee made a unilateral decision to exclude Thomas as a potential inducement to Jordan if it needed. It was an NBA beauty pageant of its greatest stars, and Isiah clearly was one of the top 10.

Mickey Johnson #43 of the New Jersey Nets dribbles the ball during a game circa 1986 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.

Pete Zievers:

If you include Boerwinkle at center from that list of best Bulls team you have to include Weiss. Those backdoors were my favorite. I have some great stories about playing younger guys in grad school and emulating Boerwinkle's no look over the shoulder flips to the baseline cutter.

Missing is Mickey Johnson, one very underappreciated player. I suppose he was maybe the second best player on some pretty nondescript teams but he had a lot of skill and could do a few things pretty well.

You want an All-Star/Hall of Fame team? how about this one consisting of Bulls that were over the hill

  • Robert Parish
  • Ice
  • John Salley
  • does Pippen the second time around count for this list? :-) I'd say Jack Marin but he was actually pretty productive that year
  • Nate Thurmond (though he did get the quadruple double in a Bulls uniform)

All time fun Bulls team to watch

  • Sloan
  • Dave Corzine
  • Brad Miller. Boerwinkle was the better passer and rebounder, but Miller could hurt you with the shot
  • Jordan particularly in space (from his first season)
  • Richard Hamilton is in there but he didn't play enough....Noah

Sam Smith:

Mickey, I apologize. So that's the definition of underrated. Mickey is one of the more underrated players in the game's history, basically the inventor of the point forward position, a from nowhere Aurora College and Lindblom High School student who was years ahead of his time but had the misfortune to play on some of the most anonymous Bulls teams of the mid and late 1970s. He was a 6-10 sprinter who could handle the ball like a point guard and who was one of the original mismatch players. But he only had four full seasons with the Bulls before moving around to four other teams and back now as a team ambassador.

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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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