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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 1.30.2015
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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By Sam Smith | 1.30.2015 | 3:17 p.m. CT
Earlier this week I asked someone in an online chat at another basketball site what to make of this latest round of Thibs talk, and he replied with something very simple: From what he understood, there's tension between Thibs and the front office, but they're both motivated to make it work. If that's truly the case, why do so many drop the last part when reporting on the Bulls? They're making it work. That seems a lot less "crisis-level" than "Thibs is on the hot seat" or "relationship is beyond repair" or "breakup is imminent." So why does this story keep popping up? I'm just a dumb fan, but it seems to me if the Bulls wanted Thibs gone, he'd be fired. If Thibs found it so unbearable to work for the Bulls, he'd resign. What's so bad? Is it really so horrible for Thibs to earn $4 million a year coaching players who have almost unanimous buy-in to him and reward him with wins and accolades? Is the Bulls front office really frustrated with all those playoff games and winning seasons and having one of the highest respected coaches in the league in their organization? This has been going on for three years, and quite frankly after hearing last year about how Thibs had a handshake agreement in place to coach the Knicks (it must be a lot of work for Thibs fitting into that Derek Fisher costume and flying to New York to coach between Bulls games), it's hard to take anything written about the situation seriously. I tend to think that one sentence sums it up best: there's tension, but they're making it work. Or is there more?
Sam: OK, calm down! Oh, right, you are calm. Though I regret to inform you that you cannot have a career in media with that sort of rational, knowledgeable and incisive understanding of team and human dynamic. Let’s start from the beginning when… nothing happened! To digress, there was a story on a web site that said Thibs might be fired by All-Star break unless he was not. That, obviously, was incorrect and made up and everyone seems to agree with that now. So the narrative became, well, then, he’s quitting or being fired or both. This followed ABC-ESPN broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy going on a rant about Bulls management. That also would be new had Jeff not done so about a half dozen times over the last few years. By the way, that’s what Jeff does on any number of topics and it is, well, actually his job. You may not agree with his opinion and the Bulls certainly don’t, but that is his view. Jeff says a lot of goofy things that you just know Mike Breen is rolling his eyes about after a few years of saying, “C’mon, Jeff, you’re not serious.’ No Mike just gets quiet and then goes back to work. Jeff’s popular in a Charles Barkley way and is kind of a play by play version of Barkley, more informed, but equally outrageous in the whatever comes into my mind at the moment style of broadcasting in which you can say something different later. It’s OK; Jeff doesn’t influence anything. I’m around and I cannot recall Tom ever saying one thing attacking management and I have not heard one word of the Bulls not being supportive of Thibodeau. If anyone can find me that send it. Is there friction at times? Sure. Some fans have this fairy tale notion of teams that everyone is pulling for the same thing and in harmony and then go to work and spend lunch with all their co-workers bashing the boss. Anyone recall Phil Jackson and Jerry Krause? And six titles later... Yes, in San Antonio this pretty much doesn’t exist as the coach also is sort of the team president. But coaching and management are natural contrasts. Management puts together a team with an eye both toward this season and the next five. The coach has to win the first quarter. Few more so than Thibodeau. I like Tom and have known him since well before he came to the Bulls. I like him, but even Tom will tell you he’s not always the easiest guy to live with watching film 22 hours a day. It’s one reason why it took him 20 years to get a head job. Though he does have a good sense of humor. But he works and prepares and the team has been successful. Management, while having to work the cap for the future, has brought an upgraded roster every season with backup guards who have succeeded and low draft picks who have emerged. They went after every major free agent when they had cap room to give the coach the best chance to succeed. So, yes, while they may not dine together—and if you check around the NBA you’ll see basically none or very few coaches ever dining with their GMs—they both work hard for the same goal. Shouldn’t that be enough?
The Bulls-Thibs rift stories keep growing. Even part of Van Gundy's "Bulls's owned media outlets" is reporting on that. My take is that Thibs is already near the top of the NBA tenure list, and the only guys in front of him have won a championship, or in the case of Scott Brooks, at least made it to the Finals. So if you don't win a championship, it seems you're not staying more than five years or so, no matter how good you are. Is this going to be the case here?
Sam: It’s always a possibility as this season from the beginning everyone was saying everything depended on the playoffs. But every coach around the NBA except for a very few are judged on the playoffs and the team’s potential. My view is that nothing much matters now; Thibs isn’t getting fired or quitting; he’s working hard, the players are trying, management has been scouting for help like Ray Allen. After the playoffs with every team, everything gets reviewed. If there wasn’t a word all season about the coach, if the Bulls went out early in few games in the first round, there’d be an outcry in the community for change. If the Bulls were to have a great playoff run, there’d be an outcry to keep things together and move forward. It’s how it’s always been and how I think it is now. Let’s talk about this seriously in the spring.
It's interesting how the radio media in this town has no context. There are teams across the league who have been healthy and for several years have been mediocre or even underachieving (Clippers, Houston, maybe Washington, OKC). Their coaches remain with those teams. There are also teams who have lost one top player and have collapsed or lost horribly (OKC, Pacers) and their coaches remain. The Bulls have done neither. It just seems odd to me that there is not enough context in this town.
Sam: Good reason to get satellite
The same reason rose never got a lot of foul calls early in his career is because a lot don't look like fouls in full speed, not until you see it in slow mo can you see the contact most times. As you used to write about back then he's so good at avoiding contact and so strong that the contact doesn't really affect him. To me he reminds me of someone playing street ball. You know you're not going to get a foul call and free throws so you try to make the layup even through a lot of contact. But maybe you could tell Jimmy Butler to give Rose some lessons on throwing his head back when he receives any contact. Only James Harden has mastered that move even more than Butler if you ask me. So I don't blame officials for not calling some of the touch fouls that may occur when he drives. As long as it's just light body contact and not a hack across the arm that really affects the shot, I say let em play. I hate all the stoppages in pro sports; we already got enough.
Sam: It’s certainly frustrating Rose and I do think he’s back to not getting as many calls as the contact warrants. He is shooting more threes and not driving as often, but he does attack the basket enough. I think he still, by habit, avoids contact given he’s still as quick. But he takes a lot of hits with little official reaction. It’s too bad guys have to learn to dive, but I recall Michael Jordan having to teach that to Scottie Pippen and recall watching Jordan literally show Pippen how you react to contact even you don’t much feel. There is an art to it, which only makes the officials’ jobs harder. Is that cheating or gamesmanship? WWBBD: What Would Bill Belichick Do?
In your opinion, what's the issue with this Bulls team? I've seen every game this season and I can't seem to put my finger on it. Thibs says defense and intensity but our sputtering offense consistently turns into easy baskets for the opponent. This is the NBA and it's made up of the best athletes and competitors in the world. Even the worst teams can dominate when given enough confidence.
Sam: Injuries, 16 different starting lineups, varying rotations, new players, more offensive than defensive players now. But no one likes excuses. This Bulls team isn’t a championship style consistent team yet. Greatness is consistency, always being able to perform at a high level. They cannot for a variety of reasons, but that’s also what the regular season is for, to try to get there. That’s the journey. We’ll see if there is a reward at the end.
Do you think Rose should be shooting 9 three pointers a game ? I mean I think it's ok for him to shoot threes but unless you're Stephen Curry or Kyle Korver I don't believe you should have 9 and 10 attempts from behind the arc . Does the coach tell him that? I remember Rose had the prettiest game in the NBA. Now his game has to be the most frustrating game to watch. Every time he shoots a three I cringe.
Sam: We can quibble over some and some shot selection. Overall, I do believe he has to shoot them as teams are packing the paint against the Bulls and daring them to shoot and there are not enough shooters with Dunleavy out and Mirotic and McDermott with limited or basically no play. You’ve got to make shots to get them to open the court for those driving lanes and the Pau postups. Rose has shot better most of January. Someone’s got to make them.
Why didn't Kareem ever get a coaching gig? He is certainly more knowledgeable than many coaches now. How have your personal interactions with him been over the years?
Sam: I used to speak at the rookie orientation and the example I’d use was Kareem. Great, great, great player; in my top five. But so difficult to deal with. Not abusive like Rasheed Wallace, but just so condescending and standoffish. He made it uncomfortable to be around him. An athlete’s playing life is short, even Kareem playing longer than anyone. There’s a lot of life left and I always would tell those kids it doesn’t end when the games do. You see so many guys back in the game as assistant coaches or broadcasters or trying to be. It’s what they know best and love. Kareem just put so many people off when it came down to it guys just didn’t want to work with him. He’s changed a lot, but old reputations are tough to shake. I’d hire him.
I saw a clip of Draymond Green's tip-in to send the Bulls-Warriors into overtime. I watched it several times. Every time I watched, he went over the back of Noah with enough contact to push Noah to the end line. I know the league doesn't like to have games settled by officiating, but that seemed too egregious to miss. Combine that with the Warriors' "immaculate defense" of D Rose and you have to think that a Bulls win wasn't in the original script for that game.
Sam: You don’t get that call at the end, and maybe it was a bit. But you have to hold your position. I didn’t think it was a foul; that said I’ve thought Noah has been great lately. Green just made a better play.
I forgot to ask: What happens to the “protected 10” draft choice if the protection kicks in? It looks like the Kings may well finish among the bottom 10 teams. Does that mean the Bulls get nothing? Or does the choice roll over somehow into the future such as an unprotected no. 1 in 2016?
Sam: It’s not looking like this season with the Kings getting into full tank mode with DeMarcus Cousins looking like he’s had it for this season with the coaching change, no All-Star pick and four rebounds the other night. The pick carries over two more years and then becomes a second in 2018 if the Bulls haven’t gotten it. Thus it’s not particularly valuable at this point.
As aggressively as Derrick played against Golden State, the difference was the bigs. Noah 18 pts 15 rebs, Pau 18 pts 16 rebs. Is that how you beat GS in the playoffs? Their bigs are not that good with Bogut always injured. The playoffs are slowed down anyway, with more half court play. Can a team still win in the playoffs mostly shooting from the outside? Or, is this the new era of NBA?
Sam: We’re going to find out in some sense, though the Warriors always say they need Bogut to succeed, which is worrisome because between injuries and what’s always seemed some studied indifference about playing, it’s difficult to count on him. But you look around the Western Conference and it’s not like there are many big teams who are going to punish you inside. Not the Clippers or Thunder. So perhaps the Grizzlies finally have a true edge. Maybe Portland when their big guys return from injuries. Dallas won a title with jump shooting. It is a different NBA and you can thank Mike D’Antoni, who basically influenced so many of these teams with his stretch forward style of play.
I am so glad I was able to watch the entire Warriors game. Unfortunately, I had to watch the game with the Warriors crew announcing the game. They kept pointing out Derrick's weird stat line, 33 shots, 11 TO's, no assists (until the final Hinrich 3 in regulation). They, however, failed to mention he was playing without his soon-to-be All-Star backcourt mate so he needed to shoot a lot more than he wants, had 7 rebounds, was explosive getting to the rim, and was +10 (tied for the best on the team) in +/-. Seeing Derrick yesterday (along with Noah) gave me chills because I know we can be special if things fall into place. However, I am just going to enjoy the ride this year and love the team exactly the way they are. Are they flawed? Yes, but who isn't this year? I do wish they could go back to their defensive roots, but who am I to say anything as they just hung with and beat the best offensive team in the NBA. Can't wait til May!
Sam: It’s good advice. It is a flawed team and looks more so when it’s micromanaged like Bulls fans do, though all fans do that with their teams. The wins feel so good and the losses so bad. The teams have to balance that. It is a different team still coming together and working out style and priorities, personnel and health. But there are a lot more positives, like Rose’s health, Noah looking the best he has, Pau with his versatility, the depth, Jimmy Butler’s emergence as a legitimate All-Star and shooters who haven’t played much or enough yet. Maybe some fine tuning to the offense with more speed and more attention to the defense, maybe a team pacing itself some as it finds its place. They are not good enough to win now, but they have the pieces and talent that can get there. They haven’t the last few years. They may not get there, but they have the raw materials this time.