Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 04.11.2014
Every Friday, Sam Smith of Bulls.com opens his Ask Sam mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers
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I greatly admire how this current team wins through unselfish play, determination, and team chemistry. I sort of believe them when they say they play for each other, for the team and not for selfish agendas. It's very satisfying for many fans to root for a team and a coach that overcomes adversity and plays with such purpose. I don't know if I really want to see this team blown up and become "hollywood as hell" if they decide to accumulate stars to "win championships." I might enjoy being able to tell my kids these Bulls play the right way a little more even if I have to endure the occasional 28 turnovers and 2/13 from the 3 pt. line night.
Sam: And, to think, a few months ago I spent most of these columns defending why the Bulls shouldn’t throw the season for a draft pick. Obviously, the Bulls like every other team will try to add talent to make a run for a championship. And there’s no reason why star players cannot get together and get along and play like these Bulls, though it doesn’t always happen. Still, talent generally wins and overcomes those obstacles, and even if the players may not quite bond like this group of Bulls players, if you have high character people, like the Heat seem to, then you can endure the egos and the occasional outside agenda because high character people generally love the game and will put competing first. But this has been a good group to watch and to me much more fun than watching the lottery drawing.
I was wondering, exactly what do you think is the ceiling for this Bulls team? We are seeing a team right now which is clearly better and healthier than last year's team. We are seeing Noah slowly transform into a superstar and Taj has been great all year. The Heat (and people can say all they want about how they aren't turning it on until the playoffs but I'm not buying it) just don't seem to be all there this year and Wade is resting too much for a superstar player that is only in his early 30s. They, as well as the Pacers, seem to be stumbling across the finish line in very poor form. Can this Bulls team, assuming we get past the first round which is no easy task, pull off a shocker in the second round or the Conference Finals? I wouldn't be surprised. They seem very motivated.
Sam: Many of my questions are versions of this, which always are disappointing in some sense. It’s a variation of last fall’s Derrick is gone so forget the season stuff. I recall pleading that you play it out and never know what will happen, which is the great part about the regular season. I frankly didn’t expect this, and the way the Bulls are playing with vulnerable Miami and Pacers teams, yes, a “miracle” season is possible. But then you miss the fun by not embracing each game and each moment, as Thibodeau clearly has the players doing. That’s the fun no matter how far they go. We’ll know their ceiling when they are done.
Realistically D.J. will be starting somewhere else for at least four million a year, if not more. However Jimmer does not have four million a year coming to him this offseason. Plus, is there a better defensive teacher than Thibs? What are the chances that Jimmer resigns with the Bulls? Jimmer would be valuable, especially if we let Kirk and others go, to go after Anthony or another star. Then again Jimmer wants to play, but why not get a full season under Thibs before he takes his talents elsewhere. We could use him, he could use us.
Sam: D.J.’s not gone yet. He’s certainly made a wonderful case for himself to again run a team, and you have to be happy for him even if he were to leave given how he’s endured and what a first class person he is. Still, there’s no certainty he’ll get that sort of offer as most teams have point guards they are paying. Plus, the Bulls could have money or a substantial exception and there are scenarios where both he and Hinrich return. As we all know, much will be uncertain this summer depending on what other players become available. Jimmer isn’t a point guard, which is the main issue vis a vis Augustin. I like Jimmer and think he can help a team. He just came when the Bulls happened to be their healthiest in years and have their most set rotation since Thibodeau became coach. I suspect he’ll want to be where he gets more opportunity to play and will look for a situation that better suits him. Of course, the playoffs are to come and things change once there.
With the Bobcats first rounder going to Chicago this year, the Bulls should have two mid-first round picks. The mock drafts that I've seen have Doug McDermott going between the sixth and thirteenth pick or so. I think that it would be a fair trade on both sides for the Bulls to package both first rounders for someone picking McDermott. What is the chance that it will happen?
Sam: How that’s go, slim and none and slim just left town. It isn’t the NFL; lower first round picks are not as valuable. You’d rather have one top 10 than four in the 20’s. The NBA is about high level talent. The Bulls have done remarkably well without that thanks to some clever scouting and drafting. But you can’t always hit. And that still doesn’t produce stars. I’ve been asked about all these players as they leave school, like the Michigan shooting guard Nik Stauskas of late and Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier. The Bulls need a shooting guard, though coming out of college they are far from ready. The two shooting guard lottery picks last year went to bad teams and still couldn’t get in the rotation. I’d say the first priority would be a big man, which you should get with the better pick, which would be Charlotte’s at 16 or 17. I’d hope they package the other one in a trade for a veteran.
While there has been some talk about most improved for Gibson, and rightly so, I haven’t heard Noah mentioned for this award. I know he was already an all-star, but doesn’t the jump to MVP vote winner at this stage of his career makes him worthy of consideration?
Sam: Yes, Noah is much improved, one of the most in recent years. But the Bulls can’t win all the awards, can they? I’ve got some votes and will be voting this weekend and revealing my votes in my Monday NBA column. I know I’m not voting for Noah for Most Improved. I’m quite sure he has no chance to get it. After all, he was an All-Star last year. He’ll likely be a strong contender for Defensive Player and All-NBA. One problem watching the Bulls more than other teams is you see their positives and negatives more than players from other teams. That’s a tough award as you can pick a dozen good candidates from stars to be who improved, like Anthony Davis, to ones who never were who did like Gerald Green. And, after all, this Bulls team is only going to win a few more games than it won last season also without Derrick Rose.
Do you think D.J. Augustin have a chance to be in the running for Sixth Man of the Year along with Taj Gibson? With Jamal Crawford missing numerous games, I can only see one of the Morris' twins winning that award.
Sam: Well, that wouldn’t do much for Gibson’s chances. I think Gibson has a good chance to win the award. But if Augustin were considered a top contender that probably would split the vote and give it to Crawford, who does lead all bench players in scoring. Manu Ginobili also is having a great reserve season with the league’s best team. Shush, keep it quiet. It’s just Taj.
Is there a better candidate for “Most Improved” than D J Augustine? Gibson should certainly be in the running, but D J has come from further behind.
Sam: Well, three of his four seasons in Charlotte he averaged double figures, as he’s pointed out, and 14 and 6 one season, which is about what he’s averaging for the Bulls. Yes, he has been better, and much better of late with a better team. But not that much improved from what he’s been when given the playing time he gets now. As Augustin also points out often when reporters say they are shocked at what he’s doing, that he’s been a pretty good player. He has been.
Why do coaches shorten their rotations in the playoffs? If a team has a deep bench then why not exploited this advantage in the postseason just as in the regular season? I would think that many starters would appreciate their regular minutes of rest especially around the conference finals.
Sam: Pat Riley has an old saying, which he basically borrowed from renowned Phoenix basketball writer Joe Gilmartin, who will receive the Gowdy award from the Basketball Hall of Fame this summer. It’s: "You play nine, use eight, rotate seven, like six and trust five." It’s the basic coaching view. If they could get away with playing their five best all the time they all would. So they play as many of their best as they can since they know the other team is using its best. There’s generally a reason why you are ninth man.
I would actually prefer to see Bulls easing minutes on their starters and Gibson in the final week of regular season, or even give an off to Noah, Gibson and Hinrich for the final match of the playoff. Because if they are going to face the Nets, It is going to be a very tough and grinding series that will end with 6 games at least. We need our Power houses fully charged.
Sam: I’m glad unlike many around the NBA that Thibodeau respects the game and the paying fans. Plus, I think you improve by playing and not by sitting around. I think the Bulls are playing their best of the season, especially on offense, because of their familiarity with one another and playing together in so many tough situations. It’s an easy second guess if they lose, but they’ll lose if they are not talented enough. They’re the greatest athletes in the world. Plus they’ll be in a first round series that everyone generally complains has too many off days because TV stretches it out to televise all the games. Let ‘em play.
Do you think trading Granger had that big of an effect on the Pacers? Could losing a guy like that who played such few minutes have that big of an effect on the team?
Sam: I’ve heard this theory as well and if they were that weak and unstable then it would have been inevitable. Shouldn’t the Bulls then have folded after the Deng trade as he was actually playing? It’s seemed to me more a team that got caught up in believing what they were saying about themselves and listening to others rather than doing the work. The truth is they are just a good team, and Larry Bird understood, which is why he tried to add players because he could see they weren’t good enough. Though perhaps that made them face reality. They’re good, and good has to work at it all the time and relentlessly. They haven’t.
I'll put it down plain and simple: how in the world do the Pacers manage to have a 55 to 60 wins season? Please help me because I've been watching them quite a bit this season and I can't figure it out. I get they play terrific defense because they have athletes who give their all but they are terrible on offense: it's all one-on-ones with the only reliable scorers being George and West. The bulls shoot terrible and have droughts but at least they share the ball and try to run stuff though Noah or from the pick'n'roll situations and are all very smart players.
Sam: It appears to have caught up with the Pacers, which is why the regular season is important.
What you think is the reason that the Pacers and the Heat aren't playing their best game right now? I was watching some of their last games and both teams seems very inconsistent. Do you think they started the season at max level and while other teams improved they were already at the max and many teams now know how to counter them?
Sam: The Heat have coasted some, though more because of the way they’ve slowly brought along Dwyane Wade. I do think it’s a danger sign as if he could play he would have been playing more. They’re vulnerable without Wade, though they are the one team in the East who can raise their level of play for the playoffs. It’s often said as a criticism of the Bulls that they play so hard in the regular season they cannot get better in the playoffs. But the way the East is this season I see only Miami who can do that and that all the others basically played as hard as they were capable to get where they are.
While you and I disagree on the Constitutionality of the NBA’s restraint-of-trade on age limitations, the fact is the NBA rule isn’t going to change until it’s challenged in court. In the meantime, what do you think of this? The NBA sets a 2-year waiting period for entering the league. Meanwhile, allow NBA teams to draft players coming out of high school. Create a set pay scale and put their salaries into an escrow account while the players develop for 2 years in college, with some allowance for a stipend. Then, when the players become eligible, they collect the escrow money. This solves several problems: 1) It makes the NBA responsible for taking some of the risk of young player development; 2) It removes risk from being placed completely on the shoulders of young athletes; 3) It gets college players a stipend without requiring universities to pay them; and 4) players enter the NBA with better skills and the overall game is improved.
Sam: Yes, we have had this debate previously and I appreciate your point of view and your strict constructionist view. I do believe the NBA needs more qualified players because the quality of play has diminished in recent years because of so many one and done and previously high school players coming into the NBA. It’s only natural that would result, and the game as good as it is remains not nearly as good as it could be and has been. I understand your argument of restraint of trade, though I don’t believe it wins in court, and certainly no one has challenged it since it has been collectively bargained. My principal points remain the same: Every business has the right to protect itself and require work rules, like law degrees for lawyers and CPA tests for accountants. It’s hardly unique. It’s no constitutional right to play in the NBA. There’s an active debate now because of the union ruling with the Northwestern students. That’s more understandable as the NCAA today is like the Robber Barons of the late 19th century who so abused workers’ rights that they effectively created the unions. The NCAA is doing this today because of its selfish, one sided view of the college sports business. They’re forced players into the open with the greed of the NCAA masters. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in an interview this week the NBA might be involved in some way in helping kids headed for the NBA. I do think a minor league system of some sort is inevitable as many teams now have their own D-league affiliates. But if you don’t want to go to college to get training—and I also think a two-year minimum is coming in the next labor agreement now that Billy Hunter and his obstructionism is out—you can get another job. You can go play in the D-league. There are other minor leagues. It’s no guaranteed right to have multi-million dollar contracts in the NBA. They don’t let you in grad school without an undergraduate degree. There are basketball jobs overseas, though many fewer with the European economy poor. The NBA owes it to its players and fans to enhance its product, and the best way to do that is keep out teenagers not ready for the NBA. Plus, history also has shown teams no matter how many resources and scouts they have cannot make adequate talent judgments on high school seniors; nor should they have to and thus pay for it. Though, again, the larger issue is in the colleges, which are making literally billions of dollars--as the recent NCAA tournament showed—on the backs of these players. That’s who should be compensating them for their work as it directly profits the colleges. When they come to the NBA when they are more prepared to do so, then they’ll be compensated if they deserve to be. The NBA product has declined in having to become a babysitting service for too many of these teenagers. They need to stay in school longer. Life is full of risks. Sure, you can get hurt, perhaps because your body is not mature. So why does the NBA team have to endure that, which precludes a team from improving itself because it is carrying the salary of that injured kid. The league has to protect itself and its product from unprepared workers. It’s hardly creating a hardship to ask someone to wait until he’s 20 to get into such a high level work force.
Let's say gambling is legal. And that you wager from time to time. What odds would you have to be given to wager $100 on the bulls to win the title? Currently it's 75 to
Sam: I assume this involves merely paper mache because we know gambling is wrong as anyone who follows the NFL or the NCAA tournament will tell you. But I think the odds may be dropping at least a little. Still, I wouldn’t use rent money.
What kind of role will Ronnie Brewer have with the Bulls?