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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 10.31.2014
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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Once again I’m excited about the promise of the 2014-15 season. I love the way Rose has looked, but I still watch him with nervous excitement and fear. As always standing in our way is LeBron and now the Cavs but this is still the best team Thibs has had assuming Rose can be himself for an entire season. I think the SF position (Dunleavy, McDermott) can be the ultimate hurdle for us against teams like OKC, Spurs, Cavs. I like both players but ideally coming off the bench would best suit them. I know Butler is interchangeable but Hinrich has to come in and play the 2 guard for Butler to play SF. I think Batum, Wes Matthews, Deng (lol), Afflalo—do you see a guy like that being available at the trade deadline to help the Bulls?
Sam: No team is perfect; not even the Bulls. Turns out perhaps not even the Cavs. Who knew it was Bosh propping up LeBron all these years? LeBron maybe ought to get back on sugar and dairy. Doesn’t look so tough anymore as a 240-pound weakling. Yes, the Bulls’ so-called wing position is not manned by someone with elite athleticism, though both Dunleavy and McDermott are capable players. And as the Bulls demonstrated with Carmelo Anthony Wednesday, defense is not a one-player responsibility. The way LeBron played against the Knicks Thursday, it seems obvious he’s trying even harder to be a facilitator and like with the Heat start in 2010 remains unsure who should shoot and when. Miami figured it out after a 9-8 start. Butler will return and there will be lineups with Hinrich at shooting guard and Hinrich can defend any of the top shooting guards. And the Bulls are holding open a roster spot in case Ray Allen decides he likes shopping on Michigan Avenue. The Bulls really don’t have anyone to trade who’d draw a high value player and you take a step back trying to work someone in at times. The Bulls depth is good. It’s fairly likely without some major disruption the team you see now you’ll see in April. Then it’s up to them. Many believe they have enough. There are never any guarantees, and fewer when you don’t have Michael Jordan.
It looks like from the preseason games and this first game that the Bulls should have one of those regular seasons where there is someone different each game leading in scoring or having the most impact. It is nice to see, and I know Rose will still be the main scorer when all said and done, but this is the depth Thibs needed to show that he can manage the minutes the best way for the team and it doesn't have to be Gasol or Rose leading every game. By the way, I know it's extremely early to say this, but I think most fans can agree how much we really like how McDermott plays both ends of the court, what a great draft day trade.
Sam: Yes, McDermott is who we thought he was. He’s shown every sign from the first day he could shoot, rebound, play the open floor and defend certainly well enough. It was a heck of a draft move. No one is perfect in the draft, and the Bulls have missed like every other team. But the Bulls may have done more with less—Taj 26th, Butler 30th, Mirotic 23rd—than any franchise in acquiring rotation and starting level players with low first round picks. But that doesn’t win you titles. Stars do, and even with the depth, the Bulls still will have to rely on Rose and his scoring the most, I’d say. But the roster certainly gives Thibodeau more options than he’s had since 2010 and he showed in Game 1 a willingness to dig deep into his rotation.
So apparently Aaron Brooks is awesome. Any chance Thibs makes him the first guard off the bench even when Butler is back? Brooks and Gibson as first subs in is pretty lethal. Then bring Kirk in for butler later on. What would you do?
Sam: And Hinrich had one of his better games, led the team in threes, had a four-point play and was crucial in the game breaking third quarter run when he had 10 points in the quarter. Thibs is a huge fan of Hinrich’s and is not about to make any changes, and although Brooks did well defensively, the Bulls suffer without Hinrich’s defense. So Kirk thanks you for seeking his demotion after one of his more impactful games.
How different would the Bulls' lineup look this year if Luol Deng had accepted the Bulls' offer last December? Would there have been enough money for Gasol? Mirotic? Would we still have Boozer?
Sam: I doubt Boozer would have returned, though one of the dozens of potential possibilities was with resigning Deng it might not have made sense any longer to amnesty Boozer because of an inability to get far enough below the salary cap. Pau still could have come, but being able to give him the $7.3 million average salary probably knocked out the Spurs and Thunder, who could only offer an exception. And if the Bulls only had the exception then maybe the Knicks offer would have looked better. But there were other options the Bulls had to reduce salaries, like moving Dunleavy and Snell. There was a good chance the Bulls would have had Deng and Gasol but no Mirotic until next summer. And though we know Carmelo Anthony didn’t come, by having Deng on the books the Bulls would not have been able to make an offer and then the story line would have been if not for this Deng contract Anthony would surely be a Bull. After all, how could he say no to that team? It’s surely all hypotheticals now and not appropriate in my view to say the Bulls are better off without Deng. He was a good, loyal, committed player for almost a decade with the Bulls and contributed to some very good teams and will be missed.
Is Mike Dunleavy poised to be the most unlikely DPoY ever?
Sam: No. Though I will run it by him to see if it’s one of his goals for this season. Perhaps we should wait until after Friday’s game against LeBron James.
Whew that was close! The Bulls caught a real break there, while I like Carmelo's ability to score, he stops the ball and I believe by the time he figures out how to play in the triangle, he will need lots of help. Perhaps he's this generations Adrian Dantley or Mark Aguirre, and will have to come to grips with being moved to a contender late in his career.
Sam: The comparisons are not inappropriate as the history of the league is those kinds of players cannot carry a team, but you can win with them. That’s been Phil Jackson’s point: Let’s not isolate this guy all the time and involve others. He just needs better others. After all, it was a 30-some win team last season. Though I don’t think they’ll look like eighth graders trying to remember dance steps for long like they did against the Bulls Wednesday. And they didn’t Thursday in Cleveland. Since most media and TV announcers don’t understand the offense, it’s depicted as some Eastern mystery. It provides all sorts of options including isolations and individual play. Plus Jackson never ran it all the time. But don’t discount Anthony. While I was a big fan of the Gasol signing from the start and consider him one of the best centers in the league and perhaps No. 1 in the East, Anthony would have been devastating playing with Rose, Noah and Gibson. The Bulls recovered well, but they hardly got lucky.
I'm wondering what your insight is about Tony Snell. I thought this was a kid with a really high upside coming out as a shooter who is long and athletic. That shot hasn't translated yet, but by all accounts it seems like he would be a prototypical Thibs type guy. I seem to recall some rumblings about Snell being in the dog house with Thibs earlier on in the pre-season, but then I never heard much follow up on that. Was there anything to that? Looks like Tony spent the summer in the gym and doesn't have much to show for it.
Sam: We’re going with young, inexperienced and a bit uncertain for now. Yes, he does show some amazing abilities with his build and size. And at least through one game Thibodeau is playing rookies. But Snell is one of the quietest, unruffled players to come through the Bulls. Who does Thibs like? Noah, Hinrich, Gibson, all emotional competitors who’ll fight you every moment. Snell too often seems to give in. Remember when Noah yelled at him last season for not returning a body bump? Of course, the ritual is silly. But the point was Snell was deferring because he didn’t know if Noah wanted him to do it and whether it would be appropriate for a rookie. You have to be a bit different to play professional sports, have that edge. Perhaps Snell relates better in general society than those guys. But those types appeal to coaches. Snell still needs some attitude work.
This is just a thought, but what if Thibs were to experiment with Gasol and Gibson starting and have Noah come off the bench? I understand the point about the best players deserving to start, but I do think that in the end, it depends more about the number of minutes played versus who starts and who doesn't. Not to mention that I think that Noah would be okay with it since he wants to win more than anything. The rationale is that with Gasol at center and Gibson at PF, the offense would probably be a little more fluid with Rose/Gasol running a lot of pick and roll since I find that Gasol seems to get most of his points at the elbow for jumpers rather than your traditional back-to-the-basket moves. That would leave Gibson more at the low post to do what he seems to be excelling at as of late, and give us that option too. If we add in McDermott at the three, I think that would give us good spacing and a lot of options to score to push the tempo early in the game. And since one of our problems with the bench as been distributing and rebounding, Noah would be there to facilitate offense and get second-chance points as I don't think any backup center would be able to match up with him.
Sam: I’ve discussed this conundrum quite a bit the last month and it’s not going to happen. There are certain formalities in the work place and you don’t bench the all-NBA first team center. Everyone has noted the minutes will be relatively evenly divided and with Noah’s limitations after his surgery Gibson may play more, anyway. Everyone wants to succeed, but in the workplace no one wants to be demoted to see the company improve. Not starting in the NBA is viewed as a demotion and you don’t do that to the Defensive Player of the Year and soul of your team. There’s no reason with various offensive situations, like double high post, why Noah and Gasol can’t work well together. It’s a question that will be debated all season, but nothing is changing in the starting lineup other than perhaps with Dunleavy and McDermott at some point, though that also is probably unlikely. Thibodeau doesn’t like to move down veterans.
Has the NBA ever considering doing like baseball and having the all-star game determine home court advantage in the finals so the players would actually play with some motivation?
Sam: Like much that goes on in baseball, the World Series location was curiously odd for years because it alternated from year to year by league. Then Fox, the network with stations you cannot find, told baseball to change the All-Star format. I never thought it was a big deal because it wasn’t fair before. The thinking was the National and American leagues were different so you could not go by record. Now you can with interleague play. The NBA would never come up with such a ridiculous idea since the All-Star game is a fun exhibition to see the best players in a sort of a basketball fashion show. It’s not a contested game. It’s an exhibition. Though the players toward the end generally make it a contest as last year coach Frank Vogel kept out Roy Hibbert to use Joakim Noah for defense to win the game. It seems competitive enough.
Just read Craig Hodges is back. He'll be assistant coaching the Westchester Knicks. Amazing three-point shooter. Do you have any context on if/why he was 'blacklisted?'
Sam: Sports leagues don’t have blacklists; that was for Congress in the 1950s. Though Craig did file suit claiming he was blackballed, I’d guess he wasn’t in any coordinated way as I’ve never seen where the NBA owners were organized enough to agree on anything like that. Heck, they can’t even figure out what to do about one of those franchises purposely losing games. I’m pleased for Craig as he’s a good guy and very good shooting coach. Expressing your beliefs is a strong American tradition, though you can find yourself ostracized as well. Not everyone appreciates opinion. Especially yours. Craig often has spoken up for the poor, the disenfranchised and the unfortunate, against wars that he probably would have proven a better spokesman than many in Congress. But it’s a risk being vocal. If George Washington had worse luck, Jefferson and Adams would have been hanged. Craig always was a good teammate and popular with the coaches. And Phil Jackson always remembered. Craig has expressed his views as an American Muslim, which even years ago some found unacceptable, unfortunately. It can be even worse now. But sports is a private business and private business owners make their own rules about personality and personal likes and dislikes. And we know how politically correct the world has become. With social media there’s always someone who’ll find something to hate about you. There is no sports league in the world as inclusive as the NBA thanks to David Stern. So good for Phil Jackson for not forgetting that great tradition and good luck to Craig.
Can the Bulls play Noah at the 3 in games against the Cavs?
Sam: He wants to play 5. Not farther out; he’s having enough trouble already chasing power forwards, and Thibodeau has been pretty clear Gibson, Gasol and Noah won’t play together. Though Thibodeau against the Knicks went a fair amount of time with McDermott at shooting guard and it seemed to work fine.
First Take had a poll about the best PGs now and all-time. They argued for CP3 and Tony Parker. I always thought Parker was overlooked. All time, Zeke will always be my headliner because of his ability to do so many things well. Your thoughts?
Sam: This is why so many educators advise young people not to watch television. Chris Paul? OK, maybe I can find a spot in the top 10 for Tony Parker, but Chris Paul? Let’s try a list: Magic Johnson, who isn’t even my No. 1. That’s Oscar Robertson. Then maybe Jerry West, who inspired the NBA logo and led the league in assists one season. Isiah, of course as the best of the so called “small” point guards ever. No one really even close. John Stockton, who holds just about every major point guard record in assists and steals. Ever seen Pete Maravich play? See if you can find film and see if you’ve ever seen anything like that in anyone playing in the last 20 years. Walt Frazier? Earl Monroe. He took your breath away watching him. Bob Cousy, who sort of invented the position. Lenny Wilkens, Guy Rodgers, Nate Archibald. Really, someone actually said Chris Paul?
Heat looked good last night, especially Wade & Bosh. A couple of the young guys are surprisingly good, especially at putting the ball in the basket from just about anywhere. Miami might just surprise people. It will be interesting to see. They haven’t even gotten to play with Josh McRoberts yet, and that guy can play. If it was a pick between him and Kevin Love, I might lean towards McRoberts. Tough call.
Sam: Not so tough a call, really. As for the Heat, the Wizards were without Nene, which is often no surprise, as well as Bradley Beal. Wade had a big game, though he’s a season long health question as well, and they sure seem to have a lot of small guards who dribble around a lot. I still think the Bulls and Cavs are safe. Well, maybe Bulls and Raptors.
I was reading a basketball preview on ESPN and they were ranking teams based on how fun they are to watch. One of the qualifications was the commentators of the team. They had good things to say about our Neil Funk and Stacey King. Then I started wondering... where would you have them ranked among the best team commentators in the NBA. Personally, I love the enthusiasm that Stacey brings along with the old school feel of Neil Funk.
Sam: Like we joke with Stacey, if he were this good as a player he’d have been in the Hall of Fame. I’m fairly sure they don’t read this because Neil is a voracious reader and has loads of books stacked up on every trip on his electric reader and sometimes asks me why I’m at the games. Stacey is the hardest working man in show business as he co-hosts a Sirius NBA radio show a few mornings a week and also has opened a business and is involved in all aspects including the sales and marketing. There are several very good announcing teams I enjoy, though what makes Neil and Stacey among the best is Stacey is excellent in the technical aspects of breaking down the game and teaching you something combined with his exceptional enthusiasm while Neil has a comfortable approach that makes you feel like you are sitting with a friend watching a game, which is the goal for the broadcasts. Though I keep telling them it’s Sam Smith, not Stan Smith.
All these preseason rankings for individual players as a whole look to be largely swayed by potential rather than current and projected level of talent throughout the season. there is one exception and that seems to be Derrick Rose. I have seen rankings putting Rose behind point guards who he almost always beats matchup-wise, point guards who didn't even make Team USA, point guards who are at most 3 years younger than he, and point guards who have less of an NBA career than the only MVP point guard in the league (sorry Steve Nash). It seems as if they forgot Rose is the youngest .Since player potential was considered, do you still see Rose as not yet reached his ceiling? I feel like he can still reach Allen Iverson talent and ability on top of his NBA frame that AI didn't have.
Sam: I’ve always felt Rose is a better player than Iverson, but Iverson played more than a decade mostly healthy. Rose could score 25 a game like Iverson did if he didn’t care about who else was on the court and a team was constructed like it was in Philadelphia for Iverson with four guys to retrieve the ball every time Iverson missed so he could shoot again. They’ll still tell you in Milwaukee if Scott Williams doesn’t get a very questionable suspension in 2001, Iverson is not in his only Finals. It’s always an instant society, seemingly even more so now. Once Derrick plays through an entire season, his reputation will return to where it was nationally.
Jimmy get his contract signed before Friday?
Sam: If he finds a pen. And if he decides to. This is just a business negotiation. It’s OK if he doesn’t. He wants to remain with the Bulls and the Bulls want him long term. So each side is betting on the economy, like any business decision. Jimmy may feel he can get more as a free agent, though the Bulls can match his offer. The Bulls may feel they cannot afford to pay him as much as he wants because of the salaries of other players and future commitments. Like any household, a basketball team has to have a budget, especially in a salary cap league. The more you pay one guy the less you can pay others and add if you are not yet a complete team, which the Bulls do not seem to be quite yet. So you negotiate. That’s what they are doing. I gather no hard feelings but a difference in value. Not that Jimmy isn’t valued, but the last time you asked for a raise to $1 million did you get it? The issue now and why several player are not signing is the uncertainty about the new TV money coming in. It will be a lot, so the cap will rise. But it hasn’t been decided when it will come in and how much. So suddenly a player who was “worth” $5 million a year ago now says he’s “worth” $10 million and hasn’t done anything different. The rules say the teams must pass on half the money to players, and it’s divided in salary. Because no one knows what’s coming, it’s tough now to make a deal. Players for years have been upset about not getting what they are worth, that being in their definition if a guy playing your position averaging 14 points makes $8 million then so should you. Not understanding that market value is what someone will pay you and not what a supposedly equal colleague is paid. Now players’ agents are saying that’s not relevant because the money is going up. So you should be making $6 million more than a guy playing your position making $8 million. I do not know the figures involved between the Bulls and Jimmy, but I’d guess they’ve had some conversations like that. What would you do if you were the Bulls?
I've watched nearly every game of the Tom Thibodeau era on TV but never in person, and as such have one burning question. Precisely what words do I hear Thibodeau bellowing incessantly throughout every game? It sounds like "DOOO IT!" but I'm not certain. If he's not barking "do it" then what words are he saying? And if he is wailing "do it," what exactly are the players supposed to do and why haven't they done it yet?
Sam: He’s mostly screaming, “Get up,” a defensive demand, though he has taken the name of various deities in vain at times, I believe.
You failed to mention what would happen if Coach Ditka joins the Bulls.
Sam: I assume they’d turn three or four titles into one like his Bears did.