Ask Sam Mailbag 6.5.20

Sam opens his mailbag and answers questions on the NBA's return to play, Jerry Sloan, and Michael Jordan
Adam Silver at a press conference at the NBA All Star Game
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

Greg Young:

If I was czar, I would've called the season done and moved to the playoffs. Either all or season ending standing. This mishmash is so blatantly aimed at a couple of teams/people as to be absurd, especially coming from Silver.

Sam Smith:

I made my views clear earlier this week about the inequity and damage I believe this could do to the seven or eight teams and the league's reputation for fairness. I know these are extraordinary times with the virus and concerns about safety. But is 22 safer than 30? Why not 16 then? Some family members? But no Trae Young or Steph Curry? The Bulls, I understand, are good partners and issued a statement to the effect of being in this together despite their disappointment. But consider this a case of potential massive precedent. So I want to offer my Supreme Court-like Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissenting opinion. Ruth usually has to write them with this court. And I identify with her some because we graduated the same high school in Brooklyn, James Madison. Though supposedly having dated our school's namesake, Ruth is likely more versed in these matters. Still, it seems to me really the first time in American sports history a league has formally subjugated a quarter of its teams and assigned them to secondary status. It seems the one main job a league has is to do as much as it can to create a level playing field for all its teams. Instead of merely choosing favorites. As Ruth supposedly said when clerking at the time of the (Stephon) Marbury v Madison famous judicial review decision. "Enough with the schvitzing. Just a schmear on that bagel and be done with it."


David Drejas:

Why not the top 11 from each conference. Why 13 and 9. I call bull.

Sam Smith:

Sadly they did not call Bulls. The NBA came up with this cockamamie justification that the history of the league says no one ever made the playoffs farther than six games out at this time of the season. Which, of course, who cares who's seventh or eighth? None of those teams are advancing, anyway. It should have been about giving everyone a chance to get back in some game shape without the historic nine-month hiatus that likely will doom most of those players for next season. You need to play to be ready to play. But the conference bias also seems unfair. If you were doing one through 16 or 22 and then one plays 22 and two plays 21 and so on, then OK that makes some sense. But since it stays by conference what's the point? The NBA has argued for years about keeping the East and West format. And now it arbitrarily favors one conference?


Art Alenik:

Just read your plea to Adam Silver. Thanks for trying to get us a few more Bulls games, but I'm not holding my breath. The 22 team format is clearly designed to get Zion (and maybe Lillard) on TV. What other explanation makes sense? My call? Go with all 30, or with only 16. I would love to see a few more Bulls games – or at least one - before Xmas, but I see no way that they could play their way into the playoffs. So if they decided to go straight to the playoffs, I'd understand. But 22 teams seems arbitrary (or more likely, mercenary) and should upset fans of the 8 teams left out. But they'll be back next season. I was interested by the comments following your column. None of them seems anxious to see the Bulls play again until changes have been made.

Sam Smith:

I understand the fan reaction. It was a disappointing and frustrating season most would soon forget. Who likes remembering a nightmare? I don't disagree. But I was excited about the possibility of seeing these players healthy for the first time, perhaps more motivated in trying to impress new management and with Coby White finally starting and a pretty powerful offensive potential with LaVine. I could see them making a run. OK, maybe not, but a win or two. I remember a Phillies baseball team losing a six and a half game lead with 10 to play. Similar with various Angels baseball teams and the White Sox came awfully close to losing a 10-game lead in a month in 2005. Things happen when you have to close. But besides that just to see some basketball this summer we cared more about. Really, are you that excited to watch more of the Bucks? It's short-term, simplistic thinking to just want to run away from what you just saw. This elimination stigma could be with the franchise for years. And then how are you going to blame Gar Forman for the lack of free agents?


Cee Dee :

Reading a story on Tom Chambers, I had forgotten the NBA had free agent compensation years ago. Seems like an interesting concept, wonder if you can shed some light on it and what you remember. And how would the league be if they had it today: maybe LeBron never goes to Miami if the compensation would've been Wade or someone else almost as good. Wouldn't that be the end of stars aligning together to create super teams?

Sam Smith:

Yes, it would be the end and some fans—and certainly teams—would favor it. But I like the free agency currently that gives players rights that were denied for so long. Remember, there were plenty of super teams years ago. Just be smart, like Red Auerbach was. Free agent compensation was the NBA's dodge to try to prevent the players from having the free agency they won in court. The famous 1976 Oscar Robertson suit settlement (detailed brilliantly in Sam Smith's book, Hard Labor) established NBA free agency for the first time. But with the subsequent merger with the ABA, the union wasn't as strong and out of money after fighting the league for so long. So the NBA succeeded cleverly (with fan support) of getting a clause for offsetting compensation if a team lost a free agent; sort of making it whole again. It turned out more so when All-Star and soon to be injured Gail Goodrich was signed by New Orleans to support the new team. The commissioner awarded the Lakers multiple first round draft picks, one of which the Lakers eventually used to draft Magic Johnson. Ooops. Finally, the players won concessions and in the late 80s a more open free agency with conditions was accepted, but without the compensation. I believe Chambers was the first under that new rule going to Phoenix. By the way, he was a heck of a scorer and the model with Bob McAdoo in the 1970s for the so called stretch forwards of this era. That's right, it's not new.


The Chicago Bulls huddle up prior to a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 10, 2020 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.

Mansur Dincel:

Do you think can Arturas Karnisovas consider to trade WCJ because of his problems of being healthy during regular season? I think the new front office should try Dan Gafford for the C position. I can see he has a future which is brighter than the WCJ's. If they would trade him, who can we add to the roster for return?

Sam Smith:

Well, if a player can't show much he's obviously not in much demand. Which is another reason the end of the Bulls season is fatal. Yes, I'm back to that! Say Carter came back and had five 20/10 games. It's possible. His first month in the NBA he had 25 and 28-point scoring games. How is his value compared to the last time anyone saw him limping around again? Did I mention how bad this was for the Bulls? I haven't spoken to Karnisovas, but I have heard from what he's seen on tape he likes the roster and intends (for now, of course) to see them play together without many changes. Which would have been great thus summer. Have I mentioned that yet?


Jerry Sloan #4 of the Chicago Bulls drives the ball up court during a game played in 1975 at Chicago Stadium in Chicago, Illinois.

Joseph Austin:

With the passing of Jerry Sloan, I have been wondering about something. If Jerry Sloan had been coaching the Bulls in 1984-‘85, would Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause have retained him. I know that Jerry Krause had great respect for Jerry Sloan. Would it be fair say or speculate that had Jerry Sloan been retained, maybe Stan Albeck, Doug Collins, & Phil Jackson, may have never had the opportunity to coach those Jordan-led Bulls teams?

Sam Smith:

Life is always about that crossroads, that what if and could be, the luck more than the skill, right place at the right time, Tippecanoe and Tyler, too. I doubt Jerry mentally could have survived four more years to wait with a roster with Quintin Dailey, Mitchell Wiggins, Orlando Woolridge, Ennis Whatley and Juwann Odham. But if he had, I doubt Krause—and you are right, he had great admiration for Jerry—would have wanted Jerry as coach because Jerry believed in more the pro style play as opposed to Tex's theories. It was one reason Doug Collins didn't last more than the three years. I'm sure the Bulls would have won another way, but because they did six times that way we can't say it should have been another way.


Bill Zollinger:

Very sad to hear about Jerry Sloan. In reading some of the stories, it made me think that the the 1974-75 Bulls were their own "Last Dance" - why was there so much acrimony between Sloan, Love, Chet, Norm etc. that season? Money? Was Motta that year's Krause? Did the players know that 1975 would be the end of their era?

Sam Smith:

It's a great point that few remember. It was a feudin' team like few others. Stormin' Norman wasn't just about his play. Mad Jerry! The end of that 1975 season with the disappointing loss to the eventual champion Warriors when the Bulls lost the last two games produced one of the most amazing post game scenes in league history that reflected acrimony that those 90s Bulls never imagined. It was an era in which holdouts over contracts were common. Norm and Bob Love held out into the start of that season. So after the Bulls lost Game 7 on the road in California, Motta, who also was GM, blamed the loss on Love and Van Lier because they held out. He said the Bulls would have had home court advantage if those two hadn't (one game difference). So Motta in the post game locker room sort of dispensed with the thanks for the great journey guys thing. Instead, he asked the players to deny playoff shares to Love and Van Lier. Of course they didn't, but it became the beginning of the end for that great group as Motta also favored a creative tension atmosphere in which is frequently crated divisions among players to try to motivate them. He was a much disliked coach by most of the players. But a good coach, nevertheless. Had a lot of emotional Thibodeau in him other than the anti-player factor, which was more common in that era.


Abram Bachtiar:

It reminded us how fortunate we are as an organization to be blessed with great players, coaches, and leaders throughout our history - with Sloan being one who embodies all three. While we love celebrating the six rings, two of them came at the expense of Sloan and Malone - another person known for his work ethic and discipline. As a Bulls fan, I wish Sloan had won at least one ring - ideally not by beating the Bulls, but had he won those two, that would have been ok. Looking back now had Sloan and Malone won those two finals I wonder how different the NBA landscape would be today. Had the Pacers beaten us in 98, do you think Sloan and the Jazz would have won the Finals? Maybe that's how it should have happened huh - sure MJ may not be "the greatest" and LeBron may have surpassed him by now - but at least Sloan and Malone would have gotten the recognition they deserve for their hard work.

Sam Smith:

It always haunted Jerry as unlikely as he ever was to admit it. That Pacers series, by the way, was another sign how done that Bulls team was. To this day, those Pacers believed they were better. And you never heard that from other Bulls opponents. And the Jazz still cannot believe what Jordan did those last two 1998 Finals games almost on his own to win that series. Could Michael do that again a year later with those teams younger and getting stronger? Sure, debates would change. But we judge, fair or not, on what occurred and not what could or should have. There's winners and everyone else tied for last in our sports society. Ask the Buffalo Bills.


Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks handles the ball against the Denver Nuggets on March 11, 2020 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas

Broc Power:

Watching "The Last Dance" and me being a fan of older NBA games and players had me wondering if the midrange game, post game, and things like the hook shots and George Gervin finger rolls could really help a modern NBA player break the mold and force adjustments by other teams. It could also make the league a bit more fun to watch in my opinion. Seems like European players often have a bigger "bag of tricks" than modern American players.

Is this a foolish hope of mine? Are we in for many years of "3 and D" players and more predictable basketball? At least until the next great game changing big like a Shaq or Kareem come in to force teams to react to them?

Sam Smith:

It's not foolish; it's just not happening. I recently learned every team's analytics department is holding hostage the pet dogs of all the coaches in the league. I look to baseball, the great sport that once was worth watching, to see its mechanization with no one allowed to move anywhere anymore unless it's signaled in by an MBA or the ball is flying out in center field. Similarly in basketball, it would be amazing if you actually drove to the basket and drew fouls and maybe the opponent's best player was in foul trouble and had to sit longer or curtail his aggressiveness. That does affect the final score. Though since it cannot be calculated it's not allowed to be discussed. Maybe you got to the line and scored with the clock stopped. There are many ways to score that are interesting to watch, which also is why Luka Doncic is perhaps the most interesting to watch lately. Which may work out well for the Bulls with a guy who seems to have always believed more in international ball than the NBA.


Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls posts up against Vernon Maxwell #10 of the Houston Rockets during a game circa 1992 played at Chicago Stadium in Chicago, Illinois.

Gorav Raheja:

Do you think any NBA team (both teams at full strength and skill) could have beat the 90's Bulls, playing by rules in the 90's, in a 7 game series?

Sam Smith:

The Houston Rockets of the early 90s used to beat the Bulls pretty regularly. Not that they could stop Jordan, but Vernon Maxwell was so erratic he delighted in challenging Jordan all the time. Jordan would get his points, but it often would take more shots while Hakeem and Otis Thorpe dominated Cartwright and Grant. Cartwright put Hakeem out one season with an elbow. But he couldn't do that every season or it would begin to look suspicious.


Christopher Billingsley:

In these last episodes, we had an opportunity to see Michael and his quest as a baseball player. To my memory, he struggled mightily in the beginning but seemed to enjoy some success as the year progressed and possibly become a call up to the majors before the strike ended the '94 baseball season and lasted into spring training of the next year. In an alternate universe, if the MLB strike does not occur, does Michael stay in baseball? Or would he have eventually come back to the Bulls but in a different timeline? Fate works in mysterious ways.

Sam Smith:

The lure of what he was best at would have been too much as it was through 2003. He wanted to just show he could get there, and he was getting better as the documentary suggested. Whether publicity stunt or not, he did have a legitimate chance to be a late season callup. Just to have a few major league at bats and become Archie Graham probably would have been enough for Michael. Like with golf. He often talked about playing on the senior tour, which was laughable as well. Michael was good, but amateur good. Maybe shoot 80 on a real course. But as we all know he believed. So he did get himself into a big time event one time, the Western Amateur, and shot a few 80s, which showed his separation from even great amateurs. But give him credit. He tried and wasn't afraid to fail. I don't think you ever could say that about LeBron, for example.


John Leichenko:

Funk! Bummer way for him to end his career, he will be missed

Sam Smith:

KaKaKa Bye, old friend.

Got a question for Sam?

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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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