Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 04.04.2014

Every Friday, Sam Smith of opens his Ask Sam mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers

Chicago's Joakim Noah defended by Brooklyn's Paul Pierce

In comparing the schedules of the Bulls, Nets, and Raptors, it seems the Bulls degree of difficulty is somewhat higher. The Bulls play the Knicks (surging), Minnesota, and Washington in the final seven games. Both the Raptors and Brooklyn have a heavy dose of patsies with the Knicks being the exception. It appears more and more like we will finish in the four spot because of the Raptors tie breaker advantage and I believe that's a good thing. Yes, we would potentially meet Miami in the second round but the Wizards scare me more in the first round than do the Nets. What are your thoughts on potential first round matchups? I believe we can beat the Nets because if nothing else, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson seem to go into "long funks" when they play the Bulls. The Wizards seem to have more of a controlled recklessness about them and athleticism that gives the Bulls trouble.

Greg Mendel

Sam: Well, the Bulls will get their April playoff preview with the Wizards Friday. Two things: Strength of schedule doesn’t much matter the last few weeks as teams often tighten up and squeeze that shot a little more and losing teams if they get something going will get into a game, especially at home. So you see more of what’s considered “upsets” the last few weeks. Like Noah, I don’t much look at matchups and winning possibilities as I recall the Bulls were not supposed to beat the Nets last season. I think the Nets are the more difficult potential matchup with the Bulls because of their backcourt size and being able to play three big guards who can score. The Wizards have an athletic advantage, but they seem much more fragile and likely to get tight and uncertain down the stretch in playoff games. With Pierce and Garnett, assuming his back improves, the Nets have seen it all in the playoffs and have veterans like Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. I think they’ll be a tough out for anyone and if I were the Bulls I certainly would not pay any attention to the second round as with their limited rotation without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng they are vulnerable with just one injury as they’re in one of their longest stretches in four years of being injury free the last month.

Call me crazy, but the way the Bulls are meshing together, healthy and playing such fundamentally sound Basketball, it got me thinking chances of NBA Championship - ala Detroit 2004. Realistically, how do you like this Bulls team to go all the way? Bacause, like Thibs always says and like the players already believe, I think the Bulls do have just enough to win it all.

Jay Ernani

Sam: I’ll accept that you called yourself a name and I’ll defer. It’s been a wonderful season to watch with the early season despair and the united commitment that’s followed and may produce perhaps a third seed and home court first round advantage. What once was supposed to be a lost season to be thrown away by some short sighted critics has become one to be savored and enjoyed for every moment. But it’s still a flawed Bulls team. That Pistons’ team, the ultimate aberration in title teams, did have five players who either were All-Stars or Olympians or went on to be. Plus, they’d won their division the previous two seasons and went to the conference finals the season before. And while the Bulls have been playing extremely well of late, they are 3-6 since the beginning of March against teams going to the playoffs. I’m not counting the Knicks or Hawks. A first round playoff win would be a nice season, though I do believe the Pacers are vulnerable and the East is as weak as it's ever been. So you have a half dozen teams actually thinking, "Hey, why not us now? Have you seen these other guys?"

What are the chances that the Bulls can hold on to D.J.? If I was D.J. I would stay with the Bulls because with me backing up Derrick I have a real opportunity to win a championship. Also if I'm D.J. I've been on good teams (Pacers, Raptors) and didn't have the success that I am having with the Bulls. So it all can't be all about money. Right? Ha ha. But seriously? Please tell me that we can hold on to him, my Bears already lost a good backup I can't stand for my Bulls to lose another one.

Jackie Lane

Sam: D.J.’s a good guy and is grateful to have the opportunity to resurrect his career and play a vital role with a playoff team. The Bulls certainly are pleased with his play and would love to have him back. But given the hardships Augustin has endured in trying to get his career going again, you could hardly blame him for taking the best contract — he more than anyone knows the vagaries of NBA life and lack of guarantees — and the best position. If he gets a chance to start somewhere, I’m sure even the Bulls would advise him to take it. You have to grab the opportunity when you can. The Bulls expect Rose to return and be a big minutes player. And no matter the chances of winning, it’s not that much fun if you are not playing. If you are not playing, your chances of making much money are limited and D.J. is going into his prime at 27 next season. But for the Bulls it also depends on what other developments occur regarding potential free agents and the roster, which all remain uncertain and will until July. Until then, both D.J. and the Bulls hope he continues to enhance his value.

It seems that the 'Melo rumors are now taking a back-seat to the Kevin Love rumors. I'm hearing pipe-dreams about Boozer, rights to Mirotic & draft picks for Love. That's supposed to work because the T-Wolves know he's leaving & are desperate to get something for him. Yeah, right... The NBA rumor mill is hilarious. Ric Bucher (ESPN?) writes... that (unnamed) GMs say... that the Bulls have "big plans for the summer". Another guy quotes that as fact, and suggests the "big plans" are to trade for Love. Then the Bleacher Report guys start working out the details of this supposed trade, with no regard to cap restrictions, matching salaries, or whether it makes sense for both teams. Now, I'd love to have Love on the team (unlike 'Melo). And I'd love to be able to trade Boozer for value instead of using amnesty. I think the Bulls would be willing to pass on Mirotic for a known star like Love. But I'm sure the T-Wolves can get a better deal, and I'm sure they know that.

Art Alenik

Sam: So let me see if I have this right: The Timberwolves with now one of the top guys in the NBA running the team in Flip Saunders are going to trade the second best player in franchise history for a going on 33 year old Boozer next season on the end of his deal, a European prospect who may not even come to the NBA, and perhaps less so if it’s Minnesota, and two non lottery first round picks in a draft that experts are saying now is only average? Have I got that right? If there’s one big mistake the Thunder made — and they are regarded as a top management team — it was trading James Harden too soon when they felt he might leave as a free agent. They are much second guessed for not playing it out and then doing a sign and trade or knowing you always can get a good deal for a star. So play the season and get to free agency as you know you always have the edge in being able to pay the most. Minnesota still is good enough to make the playoffs next season and if they do and have a run maybe they can get Love to stay on. How do you explain to your fans giving up on a star for spare parts? After all, Love was right when he said last month that the Lakers are way worse than Minnesota. And they don’t seem to have that much chance of getting better with Kobe’s big contract. And if the Knicks were to be able to sign LeBron, then there goes Love’s max offer. The Timberwolves had a tough start losing so many close games. That balances off and they are a playoff team. So you go back to ground zero with mid level draft picks? No one who seriously understands the NBA could believe that. Short of an offer for an All-Star like Noah, I expect the Timberwolves will hold onto Love well into next season. Writers get a lot of mail from that organization and it basically is all about Love. I hardly see them making any move with him that doesn’t look like a better deal for them at this point.

Do you have any ideas why Thibs isn't giving Jimmer Fredette much playing time since the team signed him? Wouldn't it make sense to at least give him a look and some reps before the playoffs? It seems like he could provide a spark off the bench, so I don't understand why he's not getting a chance to do that now. Has the Jimmer experiment failed?

Gabe Licht

Sam: Fredette isn’t playing because they don’t need him. It was made fairly clear when he was signed that it mostly was for insurance. Since he signed, the team has played exceptionally well, the rotation is solid and stable and no one has been hurt. So why should he be playing? I’ve always felt he’ll be valuable at some time in a playoff game coming in for someone in foul trouble or hurt and making some big shots. He’s a natural shooter and a smart player and can find his space on the floor with what the Bulls run. I don’t think he’ll have much trouble fitting in when he plays, but they don’t need him now.

I was doing some reading about potential free agents the Bulls could possibly acquire this summer and I stumbled across the name Rudy Gay. He has an early termination option and I could see him opting out to get out of Sacramento. How do you feel about a potential fit with the Bulls? I think its worth a look since he can score and create his own shot from the perimeter. And since he's not Melo, he won't cost as much. Rose, Butler, Gay, Gibson, and Noah. Sounds like a good starting 5 to me.

Quentin Cartwright

Sam: Since Rudy makes $19.3 million next season, I’d advise him not to opt out to take the maybe $5 million to $8 million the Bulls could offer. Because if he did I’d assume he wasn’t sharp enough to remember the plays.

Has the league ever thought about switching up the teams in each conference? It has to bother teams that are 3 or 4 games above .500 and miss the playoffs in the western conference when teams in the eastern conference are making playoffs at 3 or 4 games below .500. Speaking of which, why is it that it the western conference is always stronger than the eastern side?

Eric Capiz

Sam: This is the whiny Western Conference issue for this season. Yes, some team that’s had a very good season and certainly with a better record than maybe half the teams in the Eastern Conference playoffs will miss the playoffs. Tough, but, after all, you’re still ninth. All you have to be is in the top eight and you couldn’t do it. So no one is denying you a title. The Eastern Conference was by far dominant basically for 40 years from the early 1960’s through the 1990’s. The East and Boston dominated in the 1960’s when Philadelphia was second best. The 70’s were fairly even with New York, Boston and a Milwaukee team that later went to the East winning. The 80’s were dominated by Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta and the Bulls with only the Lakers much of a threat. The 1990’s were the Bulls. So, yes, the last few years the West has been deeper. But this is cyclical and no real pattern. There have been a few who have suggested eliminating divisions and conferences and then putting the best 16 teams in the playoffs. New commissioner Adam Silver has been nice enough to listen and say he’ll be open minded. But it’s a ridiculous idea and certainly never will happen. First of all, teams like winning something, even divisions. No one wants one league winner and 29 losers. Teams like to hang up pennants, so you’ll never even lose the divisions. Owners never will go along. Then people complain there are no rivalries now. Well, you do that and you have no rivalries as with 30 teams and no leagues you basically play everyone two or three times with less head to head play. There needs to be more regular season games between teams that will meet in the conference playoffs. Not fewer. You want to be in the playoffs? Get in the top eight. It’s hardly an achievement to say we’re No. 8. That’s the least those teams can do. So they should stop complaining. As for switching, well, how do you decide which will be the bad ones?

I've noticed that in 13 of his last 21 games, Carlos Boozer has played exactly 24 minutes and 0 seconds. This has to be more than a coincidence given that substitutions are not always made when the clock is stopped evenly on a minute. Do the Bulls have someone tracking his minutes with the belief that he is less effective when he exceeds 24 minutes in a game? Or, does Boozer have some sort of contract incentive that the Bulls are trying to avoid by not allowing him to exceed 24 minutes in a certain number of games?

Wes Peters

Sam: I heard he did like the number 24 as it’s my birthday number and just four off his. The Bulls with all the injuries the last four years have basically never had a set rotation. Now they do. Boozer plays the entire first quarter and entire third quarter, both of which have 12 minutes.

With Charlotte making the playoffs we get their draft pick, but at what position in the draft? Lottery? Our other 1st round draft pick will be outside the lottery, correct?

Matthew Mikulice

Sam: There seems to be some confusion on the Charlotte situation. The 14 teams that don’t make the playoffs no matter their record are in the lottery. Then come teams that make the playoffs by record. It looks like the Bobcats will make the playoffs as seventh in the Eastern Conference, and thus pick No. 16 going to the Bulls from the Tyrus Thomas trade . Based on current records, the Bulls own pick would be around 20.

Should, could the Bulls persuade Brad Miller to come out of retirement to help this year?

Don Knapp

Sam: Did someone forget to order the chewing tobacco? I suppose he could come in and drive the pool car.