Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls
Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 1.09.2015
Sam Smith of Bulls.com opens his Ask Sam mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers
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.
By Sam Smith | 1.09.2015 | 8:42 a.m. CT
Every year there seem to be certain ownership groups who ensure their fans that they will never win and if I lived in those cities I would never pay for ticket to go there. Denver and Minnesota are great examples. The Minnesota moves are obvious. They continually selloff or trade off assets, acquire new ones while undermining other position groups and dissipate the team. Denver is really another example. More low first-round picks via The Cleveland Titanic that will amount to nothing, while every team in the league wants rim protection help. If Denver thought they would make the playoffs in the next few years, it wouldn't make such a God awful move. It would be really funny to see if the fans in Minnesota and Denver retaliate even more aggressively than they already have.
Sam: I see someone’s mad about the Cavs’ acquisitions. C’mon, it will make the playoffs more entertaining. I know fans prefer the ultimate goal of success, but I like the attitude Jordan had: Bring it on! He relished in beating you at your best. Anyone could have made those deals. The Cavs did; good for them. They identified needs with defense on the perimeter and with size. J.R.? That should make Love wonder about leaving Minnesota. Though how did Mozgov suddenly become like the 70s Lakers getting Wilt? They added some players who will help, but they obviously are all about right now. Otherwise they wouldn’t have taken the risk of Kevin Love who may—I think he will—opt out and giving up Andrew Wiggins. It will look bad, but I don’t disagree with the move for them. Getting LeBron at 30 meant going for it now despite all of LeBron’s talk about a process. He doesn’t have time for a process and the Cavs knew that the day he agreed to return. It meant no more draft picks and a Bulls like view of the 90s of going for it every year, getting rid of your draft picks and constantly stocking veterans to ride it out for as long as you have LeBron. They had to figure a way to keep LeBron in an annually competitive title position and were going to do that somehow. Don’t blame those teams. Wait until you see the Celtics and some others moving veterans as the trading deadline approaches and teams drop out of contention like the Bulls did last January with Luol Deng. That move set up some of the things the Bulls were able to do last summer to get where they are now.
Well this season has seen some interesting developments in the East. The narrative of a cold war between the Cavs and Bulls seems to have been demolished by the competitiveness of Washington and Toronto. But Atlanta is the one team I do not know about. No one talked of the Hawks over the offseason and they find a way to keep winning games. They have Al Horford, but I am hesitant to call him a star in this league. Do you expect teams like the Wizards, Raptors, and Hawks to continue their play or for time to position these teams where we expected them to be? Should the Bulls worry about any of these teams come playoff time?
Sam: The Bulls should worry about all those teams; and not necessarily because they are so great. The Bulls are a good team with a lot of the necessary parts to be a champion. But a lot of those parts with Derrick Rose’s return from two years out, Joakim Noah’s return from his knee surgery and the longevity of Pau Gasol hardly put them in a favorite position. I have my playoff doubts about the Hawks with their lack of interior size, but these playoffs are going to be a lot about matchups. And you can end up getting through with someone else knocking off someone who proves a problem for you. The Cavs with LeBron are going to be a tough out no matter how they look now. The Hawks have given the Bulls trouble the way they move the ball and shoot and the Bulls games with the Raptors have mostly come down to one possession or two. And the Wizards did take out the Bulls in five games in last year’s playoffs, although that was not this Bulls team. So I do think you want to push a bit like Thibodeau does to avoid that four/five matchup and a first round team that is good enough to take you out. There are five teams in the East now that look like they can get to the Finals.
Regarding Jerry Krause, I enjoyed the bits about him in your book, "There Is No Next." I've never been a huge fan of his, but over the years, I've started to see his much maligned remark, "Organizations win championships," ring more and more true. Look at the Cavs, for example. They do not seem to have the top-to-bottom organizational climate in place that Miami has with Pat Riley and perhaps as a result, the Cavs players are not producing on the court. And they are more talented than last year's Miami team! LeBron should just be playing ball, not being the spokesperson for the entire organization. That looks to be Reinsdorf and Krause's real genius in navigating the Jordan era, they made sure Jordan was just playing basketball not making trades or hiring coaches. As for other examples the Kobe and Shaq Lakers before the arrival of Phil Jackson were a huge mess, I remember. Phil brought organizational stability, and then the championships followed. The current Bulls, from the owner on down, have great leadership, and they have won more with less talent over the last 10 years than any other team outside of the Spurs. Oakland Raiders: terrible organization, can't produce a winner. Same with the Washington football team. Having a great organization never guarantees a championship, of course, but I think terrible organizations have a very difficult time winning even with great talent on the field/court. With that in mind, can you think of any past NBA champions overcoming organizational dysfunction to win it all?
Sam: There have always been some as talent makes a big difference. Probably the old Oakland A's in baseball with Charlie Finley. There were Marge Schott’s Reds who had some good teams. I used to say about Jerry Krause that he was his own worst enemy the way he presented things; not how he looked. Not everyone is pretty. Really, hardly anyone is. But with an anger and an edge. I was there when Jerry said that and it was fairly innocent in one of his rambling discourses he did on Red Auerbach or some old scout. But that may have been the worst day in the best era of the Bulls. Jerry had become so anxious to see Phil Jackson leave he issued a press release essentially saying if Jackson went 82-0 he was out. Jerry had a tough time with grudges. So Phil tweaked him when media ran to him with Jerry’s comments, and Jordan was upset with a season starting like that so he jumped in. And you don’t win battles against Michael Jordan. Krause’s points always made sense if you could get through the anger and controversy. Of course, stability in an organization is vital, though Jerry as he liked to do was recognizing the support people of the organization, the staffers and secretaries and behind the scenes personal who help make everything run smoothly. Of course, the talent determines court success and Jerry knew that and was hardly rejecting that. He was trying to spread a little credit around, and to himself as well as he didn’t get enough in his view, which was a flaw. Though it is not uncommon. But you’ll never hear winning organizations like the Spurs say it’s just the players. They’ll say it a bit better, though.
You wrote, "Jerry Krause did appreciate the worth of big guys." I think evidence of this can be seen in his decision to attempt to rebuild the team around Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler. I remember, perhaps inaccurately, that the thinking at the time was that Curry would be like a mini-Shaq and Chandler would be like Garnett. Sounded pretty appealing back then. But wasn't it a huge gamble to believe Chandler would ever develop enough of a mid-range or outside game for the two of them to successfully play together? It's pretty rare for 7-footers to be above average from the outside and Curry was obviously not going to play away from the hoop. Chandler dominated in high school as a great athlete but I don't remember reading about him as a shooter or ball handler back then. What was Krause's vision for the two of them?
It's a little hard to know if this would have been possible based on how and when players were acquired, but I believe starting in the '01-'02 season the Bulls could have had a starting lineup of:
C - Brad Miller
PF - Elton Brand
SF - Ron Artest
SG - Some combination of Ron Mercer/Bruce Bowen/Fred Hoiberg/Kevin Ollie
PG - Jamal Crawford
Not that I think this roster would've won championships, but if they'd stuck with that group couldn't they have won 40 something games and been back in the playoffs a lot sooner?
Sam: It’s Krause week. I’ve long believed Krause’s plan was right, but the flaw which we have all come to see beyond those horrible Bulls seasons of the early 2000s was the immaturity of kids at that age coming into the NBA, which remains an issue now even with a year of college. An industry should have the right to protect its workplace against people not ready to perform, like accounting does with the CPA exam and law does with the bar exam. And bars do with the mixologist exam. The NBA game has not been nearly as good since it lowered its standards by employing so many teenagers not prepared for a professional workplace. And I believe it hurts their pro potential in many cases. But Krause was right in the sense that big men were disappearing in the East with the decline of the great centers like Ewing, and if you had two big men like that, a post guy and a perimeter guy, and we were told Chandler was a shooter—can’t imagine who scouted him as it was clear once he showed up he wasn’t—then you could go on a dominant run. Look who ended up going to the Finals those years in the East, average Pistons and Nets teams. The point was not to try to end up as a team good enough to make the playoffs and maybe top out as a second round team, which that roster would have been. And that’s assuming Artest wouldn’t have destroyed the franchise as he did in Indiana, and as he certainly would have. It’s why once the Bulls had the two young big guys I lobbied for a veteran scorer like Jalen Rose to take the pressure off the kids. I had the right theory but also the wrong guy as once Jalen showed up he looked around and decided these kids were too young to be serious and he pretty much gave up as well. This personnel thing is only easy if you can do it as a fan or media and make your decisions after teams have been successful.
My early season prediction: Bulls allow Gasol to be MVP.
Sam: Just took Jimmy Butler to miss one game last week and there went his MVP.
It seems to me there is no question that Butler will get a max offer (Knicks?). Will the Bulls match? What are the cap consequences?
Sam: There’s a lot of concern about Butler, which I assume is because of the failure to match on Asik, which is a completely different situation because of the back loaded option because he was a second round pick and that the Bulls already had $12 million a year invested in Asik’s position. There was talk then of playing Noah at power forward, but you can’t have two non scorers up front like that. Noah can play that position with Gasol; not with Asik. So that was understandable. I have no doubt the Bulls will match any offer to Butler and probably work out a deal before then. Yes, the Bulls probably will have to lose some bench guys, but they have been adept at adding veterans from year to year and will have some small exceptions to work with. There really are not great consequences since they were going to be into the luxury tax anyway. Relax!
Another monster game for Gasol, he must be thinking "Wow, this Eastern Conference stuff sure is easy."
Sam: Well, he was a four-time All-Star and two-time champion in the Western Conference. He does tell me the East is a lot less pleasant in winter.
Can you recall a team that has looked so elite on the road and then played some truly pathetic games at home like the Bulls this season? I actually think their home struggles have been under-reported. Do you have any theories? Is it possible the fan pressure and expectations on D Rose affect the team and hang heavily over their games there?
Sam: It happens at times with the schedule being unbalanced early in the season. What it shows to me is what too many are ignoring, that they are a good and not great team. They are fortunate to be in a time when there are no great teams in the NBA; so they have a chance to win along with maybe 10 other teams. A not great team will win this season’s NBA title, and then we’ll change our minds and call them great.
Bulls are having a fantastic year. However, they are giving up almost 8 more points than they did in the last 4 seasons on an average. Have we been grossly underappreciating Carlos Boozer's defense prowess?
Sam: Yes, you’ve got it. Finally, a little respect for Booz. The Bulls defense still ranks high, as I’m sure you know, and scoring more you give up more. I saw the stat recently that the Bulls lead the league in both scoring increase from last year and points given up increase. There are a lot of factors like adding a half dozen new players, minutes limitations for major players, injuries and adding key players who are more offensive specialists. But the Bulls have shown both they can lock down when necessary, like against Houston in the fourth quarter this week, they still have high level individual defenders like Butler, Noah and Gibson, and Booz deserves a bit more respect. Holdat!
When Dunleavy returns from injury, I assume that Thibs will keep him as a starter. Because, as you've argued, Thibs can be loyal to veterans (e.g., Bogans, Boozer). But, will Mirotic be more likely to finish games?
Sam: Dunleavy will and should remain a starter because he is having a good season and is for now more prepared to do so than Mirotic. Though Mirotic can have some big games, he’s still an NBA rookie learning, is well out of position on defense often and when a team shadows him like Utah did he can put up some clunkers. Remember, it was Dunleavy with 30-some when the Bulls won their one playoff games last season in addition to a terrific ability to make plays for others that is vital for that group. Thibodeau has made it clear he’ll be flexible about fourth quarters this season depending on how groups are playing and matchups.
What's up with Bulls shooting at the other basket in the first half against Boston?
Sam: Just about all teams like to play defense in front of their baskets in the second half so the coaches can yell defensive instructions louder. It’s tougher to yell offensive instructions. Like the coin toss in football, in the NBA the visiting team chooses which basket to defend first. Generally teams opt for defense the second half in front of their bench. A few teams don’t, like Boston and the Pacers. Not sure why except perhaps the Celtics may not think their guys will play defense and the Pacers know their guys will.
The Bulls obviously need more wing depth but are usually very reluctant on giving up their first round picks. Which is very easy to understand given the success they've had with some of their picks for the last few years. But at the same time they’ve ad some horrible misses. This team is loaded now and can compete for a championship but they still need one wing contributor. Corey Brewer would have made a lot of sense but that ship has sailed. Do you see the Bulls trading a first round pick to improve the team before the deadline? Also there is a slight chance they get that Kings pick this year and I don't see them adding two rookies to an already loaded roster next summer. This very roster won't be able to compete for a very long time with Pau and Noah getting older and it will also be hard to add much more to it because of the Butler's huge deal coming up. If you can add a cheap, rotational wing not giving up any of the players I think you do it even if it meant overpaying for it with a first round pick.
Sam: The Bulls highly value first round picks and I’m fairly certain there is basically no chance (that’s about a .01 percent hedge) they’ll trade a first rounder. Also, I don’t see the need, anyway. They’re already having trouble playing everyone in the rotation with Mirotic’s minutes about to decline with the return of Dunleavy and Doug McDermott due back soon from surgery. The Bulls’ strength among perhaps everyone in the East is depth already. So why add more? Yes, there is a window, which is why you keep your first round picks and begin to put more players in place for the future. Plus, as you’ve seen picks are valuable to certain teams and you hang onto them and then perhaps can make a major move with a player if you need to seriously upgrade your roster. You don’t give up first round picks for someone like Brewer. I’m a believer in doing what you can to win now as this is the only title you are playing for. But I don’t see a position on the team now where a role player addition would make a difference.
In looking ahead to June’s draft the Bulls will have two picks. If the season ended today, we’d have the 11th pick (Sacramento’s via the Deng trade) and the 22nd or 23rd (swapping with the Cavs via the Deng trade). Is there any real chance the Bulls would add another two rookies to this roster? If you were the GM, what option would be the most appealing? Use the two picks to trade up a few spots (like last year with McDermott)? Use the picks to trade for a veteran? Use the picks to add to the incredible depth that already exists? What say you? I am a big picture guy… like Gar/Pax. I am thinking about moving 11 and 22 and trading up for #7 and taking Winslow (the sweet shooting, left-handed small forward from Duke). Perfect Thibs guy because he plays great defense and can handle the ball. They have a need.
Sam: Sigh. Can’t we get in at least half the season? I know the Bulls have this title clinched already, but what about 2019’s. The Bulls could get that Kings pick, which remains a long way off given there’s considerable dysfunction with that roster again and a new coach. And the Cavs figure once LeBron returns to get going, especially with their additions. There always are changes depending on how the season goes, and I doubt the Bulls want to add more young players. But how quickly they forget about McDermott. He’ll return soon and is still a heck of a shooter and prospect. And though I’ve never seen the guy you mention play as I don’t watch college basketball because it’s such a poor quality game and little better as team ball than what you’ll see most Saturday morning at local gyms with overbearing coaches who squeeze the life out of the game, I’m quite sure McDermott is far better and the Bulls are anxious to see him develop with the team.
Has there been any word on what Ray Allen will do or when he will do it? I thought all offseason that he was waiting to go to Cleveland, but with the team looking shaky I'm starting to think the Bulls have a shot. It feels like the Bulls need something and Allen would be a much better addition than anyone I've seen in free agency.
Sam: I’ve always felt the Bulls are the ideal location for him and perhaps even more so now with the changes the Cavs have made. The latest rumor is he’s retired and won’t play, but I’ve always felt he’ll reassess things around All-Star break and maybe join a team in March.
Last night's 18 blocked shots got me thinking. I remember my basketball coach yelling at us about jumping while we played defense that, "Blocked shots are killing us!" because we ended up out of position. Isn't a block far more valuable if it leads to a turnover? Shouldn't there be a different statistic for that?
Sam: I think there’s a ratio statistic for total feet a blocked shot goes after it’s hit by the defender compared with the miles per hour the offensive player is running. The block has become an ego maneuver much like the fast break dunk. It wasn’t with Bill Russell, who blocked shots to teammates to create a fast break. Now guys think knocking a shot into the 10th row sends some sort of macho message. Dikembe Mutombo was big for that with his finger wagging antics. Yes, blocks can be valuable to an extent in disrupting a shot and making a team start over with less time on the clock. But if you are not trying to deflect it toward your teammates you are mostly being selfish and doing it for yourself. I know, you can’t always. But there are so few guys who ever try. It’s not only why Russell was so great but why he was the epitome of the ideal teammate.
Stephen A. Smith said Kawhi Leonard is still upset that Spurs didn't offer him the max. Man if there is a guy in this league that doesn't deserve the max Leonard is that guy. Without the Spurs on another roster he's a disaster.
Sam: I don’t know anything about Leonard’s alleged angst, though I’ve read similar stories regarding Jimmy and negotiations and know it isn’t true. Leonard is an interesting case because he’s a good player, sort of a Chauncey Billups type in a way who has a hot series in front of the world, wins Finals MVP and suddenly is a “max” player. But I think the Spurs have a problem as they also know he’s not the type to carry a team, that he’s a more star role player. Sure, they miss him and its affected their game, but you have to draw the line in a salary cap/luxury tax league in deciding anyone who had a big season is suddenly a “max” player. It’s where the Bulls were with Butler. I thought their offer was exceptionally fair. Jimmy has outplayed it I suspect to everyone’s surprise including his. But you start paying too many max deals and you get like the Lakers and cannot bring in much more talent. So the guys who get those contracts better be true stars capable of carrying a team.
I was reading an article on nba.com about the fact the Bulls must find a backup for Jimmy. And I was thinking... in 1997-1998 how many stories about backups for Michael or Scottie? And this year season, how many stories about backups for Irving, Love and LeBron? They have the 3 stars on the top-12 for most minutes per game played. Bulls only have one in the top-20. Jordan average 38.8 min per game at 34. Scottie average 37.5 at 32. I'm pretty sure they manage to win the tittle that year. And the year before... and.... well you get the point. Heck. Michael averaged 37 min per game with 39 when he was in the Washington. And he still average 20 points per game. Are we saying that a guy 25 can't average 40 min per game for a whole season? He needs a backup for what? How can we replace the value of a guy that does basically everything on the court?
Sam: Thibs, I told you to stop writing me under assumed names, though the uncertain English was a nice touch.