Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook

Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 05.09.2014

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

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You've been gunning down every "go for Melo fan" and I'm with you in that, just want to ask you who you think the Bulls will go for in the free agency?

Bruce Dela Cruz

Sam: Not that I’m opposed to Anthony; I’m a fan and believe he’d be a terrific addition and has demonstrated he’ll play as much of a team game as he’s asked. He was in the conference finals when Denver had Billups and on the Olympic team he often was the best player because he could defer. I just don’t see it as realistic given the huge amount of money Anthony would have to give up, the fact his family prefers not to move and that the Knicks have bottomed out and can do much better over the next two years. But the Bulls will certainly be among several teams talking with Anthony this summer and you never say never in sports. My sense is the Bulls are more likely to survey the market and see who comes available and be ready to move rather than being locked into anyone as they were in 2010 with LeBron.

While I doubt the Bulls will get Carmelo Anthony this summer, there is one possibility I can think of him coming over without the Bulls losing much. Melo signing a 2 year deal at a lesser rate with the idea that the players opt out of the labor agreement after the 2016 NBA season. I think the players will opt out because the league will have a new TV deal probably worth $2 billion+ which also means bigger contracts for players. It would take a lot of convincing (which the Knicks will do too) and a lot of long term thinking by Melo for it to work. Would Melo sign a 2 year $30 million deal (assuming Bulls clear enough cap space) with the hope that the next labor deal allows him to sign a 4-5 year deal that nets him $100-$120 million, more money than a current 6 year $129 million deal? I don't think a player would leave money on the table like that, but I wouldn't rule it out. After all, Lebron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade all signed short 3 year deals before the 2007 season in the hopes they'd be able to obtain a bigger contract after a new labor agreement.

Belal Tiba

Sam: Let’s get it straight that James, Bosh and Wade signed for barely less than maximum given the Florida tax advantages. You’re asking Anthony to take maybe $100 million less guaranteed. If he did you’d maybe have to wonder what’s wrong with him. Players all want to win; but they also want to be compensated to match. After all, and they’re not wrong about this, why should they be the ones to sacrifice when management isn’t and collecting the profits and other teammates are getting their top dollar? Every worker in every job feels that way. How do you feel knowing you do more than the person next to you but they make more because it was you who sacrificed to make the company more profitable? Anthony can opt in with the Knicks next season and make $23.3 million. He may just do that to follow a form of your model and see where Phil Jackson is taking the Knicks. Given he can make at least $23 million next season, I don’t see him taking less than $20 million to start anywhere. The Bulls can get there, but it would be tough to do and keep Gibson. And that’s assuming no Boozer and Mirotic as well. There are combinations to move the draft picks and maybe Butler and Dunleavy, none of which are great options as you’d have stars but not much of a roster. But it’s less what the Bulls can do than what Anthony decides. And no one really has any idea at this point.

Oklahoma City? They have no offense. Ball into Westbrook, shoot. Ball into Durant, shoot. Zero movement with that PG. They have Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka. They should play better than that.

Rui Dias

Sam: The Thunder remain perhaps the most confounding team. They can make a case of having the two best players at their positions, sort of a Jordan/Pippen. But it’s so obvious the way they make themselves easier to defend with a lack of movement. Triangle offense, anyone? But their talent is so terrific they are able to overcome. We’ll see if they can against the Clippers, who took back that home court with the Game 1 win in Oklahoma City. Despite the negative Durant headline that got all the attention in the Memphis series, the pressure is on coach Scott Brooks, and as we’ve seen with the Mark Jackson dismissal—and Lionel Hollins and George Karl last season—there’s little patience for continuing or defeat in this era.

What is the situation with Thibs? Why are there so many rumors about Golden State reaching out to him, the Lakers, the Knicks, and any other opening? Is the divide between Thibs and "GarPax" really that great? Is there some level of dissatisfaction on one side or the other that has not been reported? During the Bull Run in the 90's there was never news about teams reaching out to Phil Jackson (not until we knew his run was done). You never heard rumors about teams reaching out to Pat Riley in the 80's, or Bill Fitch. Even on teams that were not winning championships coaches like Doug Moe, Jerry Sloan, etc... were never rumored to be contacted by other teams. I hope this not a stealth courtship of Fred Hoiberg (although I like him). Where's the fire from all of this smoke?

Greg Mendel

Sam: I assume I’ll be answering this one for months. As far as I know, which I guess can change any time or that no one told me, no one has asked for permission to talk with Thibodeau about their coaching opening. The larger issue may be the journalism, or lack of it. Most of these stories seem to be some team, according to someone always unnamed and who exactly in management is telling reporters this stuff, is thinking about asking for Thibs as their coach. So you say no one ever thought about Phil Jackson as their coach or Pat Riley? But if no one sought permission it wasn’t a story because nothing could be done and no editor was going to let you write that in a newspaper. But now because there seem to admittedly be no editors controlling what gets on the web because, well, it’s a blog or tweet or something, and no one ever seems to have to publish a retraction if they are wrong you can note something and then if there’s nothing to it who cares as then you can mention something else. That’s why teams don’t say anything. You can’t get in the business of responding to rumors because if something comes up and then you don’t respond the assumption is that must be true because you responded before and didn’t now. I also happen to recall a pretty uncomfortable relationship between Phil Jackson and Jerry Krause that had at times saw Jackson locking Krause out of the team locker room and Krause banging on the door trying to get in. Because there’s so little supervision of what gets out in media in this era what you often find is agents making up stories to enhance the reputations of their clients. I don’t know that happened here. But it does happen.

I know the Bulls are not going to let Thibodeau go if they have any chance to get Carmelo, but if Golden State is serious about his services, what do you think they would have to give up for the Bulls to even consider something? Do you think Klay Thompson and at least 1 first would be enough?

Dan Mallen

Sam: I assume the Bulls would throw in the assistants and I just called someone in management and they said they would add me as well. Of course, if they did that you’d also assume they were too stupid to work for.

Thibodeau has proven to be a great regular season coach but do you think his relentlessness and stubbornness, traits that have helped the Bulls achieve success during an 82 game season, become weaknesses in the Playoffs? I get that the Bulls do not scrimmage a lot during the season and have a lot of off days, but they are held to a very high standard, especially defensively, during the regular season which I believe eventually wears them down. I'm aware the team made the Conference Finals the one year Rose was healthy but remember Thibodeau didn't do himself or the team any favors that season by keeping Kurt Thomas and by not isolating Rose enough against the Heat, and this year he waited until they were down two games to change his fourth quarter lineup.

Daniel Brecher

Sam: I think Thibodeau is a terrific coach and the Bulls are better because he has been their coach. Despite what you may think, Phil Jackson did some things that weren’t perfect. He was fortunate to have a player named Michael Jordan to make up for issues. Thibs team did pretty well with a young Derrick Rose. I don’t see how you can judge Thibodeau in the playoffs the last two seasons without Derrick Rose. Phil Jackson never went farther in the playoffs with the Bulls without Michael Jordan than the second round, the same as Thibodeau. I’m not comparing the two, though they both did sit in the dark a lot, Thibs watching game film and Phil meditating with his players.

Because I have too much time on my hands, I follow a half-dozen mock drafts. It's as pointless as pulling dandelions, but you don't get your hands dirty and you can do it sitting on your butt. I find myself snickering when mock drafters project the Bulls drafting high scoring college players who have a reputation for low motor and bad defense. I especially laugh when the mock drafter points out the Bulls have a scoring problem. They do, but no #16 pick in history has ever solved a contender's offensive woes as a rookie. I'm interested in knowing what you think the team's strategy will be in this year's draft?

Might they trade one or both first-round picks so they can invest that money in veterans? Do you think they would expect a #16 or #19 pick to be a rotation player as a rookie? I understand that happened with Taj and to a lesser extent with Tony Snell, but would they expect that? What is it with the #16 pick? In the last 10 years it has been one of the worst draft slots, producing Vucovic, Babbitt, Speights and Nick Young as the four best. Most of the 17-30 slots have been at least as productive and many have been better. #21, for example, has produced Gorgui Deng, Jared Sullinger, Dareen Collison, Ryan Anderson, Dequan Cook, Rajon Rondo, and Nate Robinson... plus Boris Diaw in 2003.

Kirk Landers

Sam: Because I also have too much time on my hands I am answering you. I don’t personally think No. 16 is unlucky. John Stockton was No. 16 and so was Whitey Ford. I once had my picture in the New York newspapers with Whitey Ford when I was 10. But that would demonstrate I had even more time to waste than you if I told you that story. Good management is about good decisions, and you can make them anywhere in the draft. The Bulls have been pretty good out of the lottery, so we’ll give them the benefit of the unlucky 16 for now. I don’t see them using both picks. Perhaps they use one on a future player like Mirotic. I think the general plan is more to see whether you can put the picks in play for a veteran. Named Anthony or not. You’re right. This Bulls team isn’t putting multiple rookies in the game, and Snell will essentially be a rookie again and perhaps Mirotic. But you didn’t see any rookies playing much or at all on the Bulls in the 90’s Not to say next season’s Bulls are a title team, but with Derrick Rose back and the East not so great I believe the view is why not us? And us don’t get there playing rookies. I think they’ll go through the exercise of the picks, but there’s always a good chance they’ll be for someone else.

If OKC gets sent home packing after round 2 do you think they would make a big trade to shake it up? If so, who says no to this one... Westbrook to Boston for Rondo, their #1 pick this year plus one of Brooklyn's unprotected picks? (Of course Boston would have to throw in another player to make salaries match)

Billy Habibi

Sam: I’ve speculated on that Westbrook/Rondo for a few years and even had Scalabrine promoting it to his friends in Boston when he was still with the Bulls. I guess they stopped talking to him and he went to Golden State. And then the coach stopped talking to him, which also is another story. The way Durant’s MVP speech sounded they’re all buying places in senior citizen homes together and learning the lyrics to I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing. It was a really terrific acceptance speech and the talk of the NBA this week. Durant’s always been a classy guy, professional and great teammate. He basically pledged fealty to the community, the organization and his teammates for years to come. It was terrific stuff. The cynic asks what he does in 2016 when he is a free agent if the team has troubles. But there are some guys who just want to be one place and accept the grass isn’t greener. I actually like that about guys who’ll say it’s better to take less given everyone is rich and richer doesn’t mean anything more and stay where they are comfortable. I never understand why anyone goes to New York and subjects themselves to the inconveniences of life there and the relentless drumbeat of second guessing. So what if he doesn’t win a title. He likes his life, enjoys what he does and makes a terrific contribution to the local community and makes a lifetime mark there. That could mean more to him than a name on a list. Given Durant’s character you could see him staying no matter the circumstances. Given Westbrook’s injuries this season, even if they were to lose in this round I assume they’d still want to give it another run with the two of them. If they do lose it’s going to be close, anyway.

I wonder how folks around the NBA are responding to Houstong going out of the playofffs. Proud is positive, pompous encourages backlash. Houston has playmakers, the Bulls have a system. No disrespect directed at McHale who seemed to do what he could nor really at the players who are the players they are. Does Howard need a bossy point guard to keep him in line? Glowering Kobe didn't work, or was that just LA? Harden doesn't seem to overflow with a need to ride herd on his team.

Pete Zievers

Sam: Maybe you saw the executive of the year voting after the Houston guy Daryl Morey got Howard as the offseason coup and he was ninth in the voting. It tells you a bit of how he’s viewed by his colleagues, who vote the award; the media doesn’t vote executive of the year. There’s this struggle going on to save the soul of basketball from the Morey analytics crowd, which reminds me of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers movie in which the people are replaced by aliens with bodies devoid of emotion or individuality, which somewhat describes what’s going on around a lot of the NBA where movement and screening and passing is being replaced by running to certain spots to shoot threes. It’s being accepted more because so many of the new owners are these hedge fund billionaires who got rich in 10 minutes by using math formulas and figure, well, it worked for me there. So there’s this battle going on pitting traditionalists who, hello, always scouted and knew three points was worth more than two, and the pack of the guys who decided they’re smarter and everyone else hasn’t figured out to take the bottom out of the peach basket. There’s a lot of those nerd conferences now where they stand around and admire flow charts and tell each other how smart they are by using addition and subtraction so creatively, and the first analytics guy who gets LeBron James probably will add his face to Mt. Rushmore.

I'm an Arizona guy and Steve Kerr is god here. Who wins the Steve Kerr sweepstakes?

John Rallis

Sam: Pretty amazing it’s a sweeps. But good for Steve. I think the Knicks can be a great situation because of Phil and tens of millions of dollars in cap space in 2015, but if I were Kerr and had an offer in Golden State with that roster, that city and his family on the West Coast, it would seem a pretty easy choice: Wine and cheese over pizza. Even as much as I love the pizza.

Does Anthony Morrow ever come up as a possible acquisition? He certainly would fill a need as an excellent shooter.

Matthew Mikulice

Sam: Morrow has a player option for the 2014-15 season and can opt out. Given his salary is about $1.1 million and so many teams are looking for shooting, now that he’s healthy again I assume he will become a free agent and likely would be of interest to several teams.

I'm hearing that the Bulls could go after Zach Randolph. That would mean Noah can slide to 4 and Taj plays the 3, Butler the 2?

LongGiang Le

Sam: I hadn’t heard that. Zach going on 33 likely will seek a long term deal if he decides to opt out of his approximately $17 million for next season. He’s said he prefers to stay in Memphis, so I assume you’d have to pay him quite a bit to get him and at his age is it a risk with a long term deal?

The two players I would target are PG/SG Austin Rivers and SG/SF Harrison Barnes. Austin Rivers seemed to take a step forward the last two months of the season. He's athletic and can definitely create his own shot. He can be the backup point guard and get minutes at shooting guard as well playing with Rose. As for Harrison Barnes, AI is blocking his way and there is not enough shots to go around in Golden State while there are plenty of shots to go around on the Bulls. He's big and strong and a good defender. He averaged nearly 10 points in taking only eight shots per game. I think using our mid 1st round picks to bring in these two players would be better than bringing in rookies.

Rocky Rosado

Sam: Given Rivers’ contract is reasonable and he began to come on last season I assume they keep him. Barnes is the intriguing name because, yes, you pay some $50 million for a free agent in Iguodala, he’s going to play. With their guards there’s little room for Barnes, who should be a starter. But as a talented player and lottery pick if they would consider moving him they would have to look where they are weakest, which is a big man given the injuries to Bogut and the poor defense of Lee. They’d certainly look for a relatively high level big man who is a strong defender, and the Bulls don’t exactly have those guys in reserve. You keep hearing stuff with Memphis and Randolph, who has that opt out. Zach inside and those shooters outside could be something. The 76ers have loads of money and have to spend some or donate it to the players’ association (not doing that), so like Charlotte they may take a shot at a scoring free agent after seeing the Bobcats/Hornets could make the playoffs that way.

How about a shooter in Jason Terry? He's not young and had a rough two years but he was injured. The guy is a proven shot maker and champion who could be that vocal leader we need. Terry/Dunleavy/Snell may be enough shooting off the bench for us. Now Terry will have to agree to come cheap. We can tell him to come for a chance at a ring and a chance for payback against the Nets/Celts/Heat.

Mike Queensworst

Sam: No one’s heard much from him since the mid season trade and he went out injured in Sacramento. He’s got a year left at some $5.8 million. I guess he could go for some buyout, though the Kings despite what it seems like probably are under pressure to be a playoff team with all the talk the new owner has done about being competitive and ready. So I can see them keeping him.

What’s up with Roy Hibbert? The guy is 7'2" and doesn't grab rebounds, nor does he score a 3rd time in a playoff game? What's up with this guy? How do you not even score on your home court?

Kieron Smith

Sam: The talk in Indiana is he has had troublesome personal problems that have distracted him. Perhaps they were named Andrew Bynum. Though he seemed to shake them in the Pacers Game 2 win in which he scored 28 points, which I think was his total the last two months. But that sort of thing (personal issues at home or in your life) is not often mentioned, and nobody wants to make excuses. But these pro players are not machines, and money doesn’t buy you a quiescent life. You can’t block everything out, and we’ve seen Hibbert is somewhat more emotional than most. I suspect if the Pacers lose we’ll be hearing about internal team issues. Reporters sitting near the scorers’ table say Lance Stephenson, for example, has frequently during these games been complaining about the lack of a rebound or some statistic. As someone put it, Stephenson makes Nate Robinson look mature.

John Wall looked like Washington’s weakest link in that Game 2 loss in Indiana.

Mike Sutera

Sam: The Bulls never could shoot well enough or score enough—or even defend enough in a bad triple—to get the Wizards to that spot where they’d dumb up the game at the end like they did so often during the regular season. That’s how they lost so many of those close games and were barely above .500 until the end. You saw that in the wild threes at the end that gave them no chance to beat the Pacers. They have more talent than the Bulls and Pacers in youth and athletic ability. But you beat them by making them make decisions in close games, which Wall still doesn’t do well. Actually, which he’s still lousy at as he remains more track star than point guard. He’ll get better as he got better in everything and he does work at it, but they were vulnerable in their first playoff series. The Bulls couldn’t put them in that position; we’ll see if the Pacers can.

Up 24 with 4 minutes to go, Tony Parker still in the game. This is what the great coaches do, it's why complaining about how the coaches play their stars too many minutes at the ends of games, with big leads, is for talk radio, etc. Note that Parker had two drives where he went down to the court and Pop still kept him in. So much for the silly criticism of Thibs via Rose, starter minutes.

Matt Adler

Sam: It has become something of the hobby of this era’s fans to count minutes played as much as points. It’s easy. In the playoffs, especially, you play your best players for as long as you can because there can be a short amount of games. You try to make sure your players are at their best or as good as they can be when you get there. Coaches have all sorts of theories about that. There’s no number that’s correct. We can better judge Thibodeau with a full and deep roster.

I am going to disagree with you and predict that the agency that represents both Melo and Thibs will somehow work out a deal that sends Thibs to L.A. with assurance Melo joins up with Kobe and and then Love next season. Bulls will then take the 6th pick and trade that along with the 16th and 19th picks to move up to select Parker. Then the Bulls hire Jerry Sloan.

Mike Kay

Sam: I’m more hearing the Bulls use the picks and maybe Noah to get back Aaron Gray.


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