Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 11.30.2012
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of emails from his readers
Is the current Bulls roster (minus Rose) better than the Bulls teams of the mid-2000s coached by Scott Skiles and anchored by Hinrich, Gordon, Deng, and Nocioni that always seemed to end the season 41-41? Going into the season, I sure thought so, and that's why I thought the people who felt the Bulls were no better than a .500 team without Rose were nuts. Deng's better now than he was back then, which offsets Hinrich being a bit slower. But even with the changes to the bench mob, Noah, Boozer, Hamilton, and Gibson looked to be an upgrade over Gordon, Nocioni, a pre-All-Star Tyson Chandler, and the Antonio Davises and P.J. Browns that anchored those teams. A 48 to 50 win season seemed attainable. But so far, I'm not seeing it. It's early, but it seems the Bulls' pattern is pretty much the definition of .500 — better than the worst teams, unable to beat the good teams. Is their current averageness just a matter of getting used to playing without Derrick, and they'll improve in the weeks ahead, or is this Rose-less roster just as average as the mid-2000s team was?
Sam: Those teams are an interesting comparison. They were better than you remember as before Skiles’ meltdown in 2007 they were averaging about 45 wins the previous threes season with 47 wins and 49 wins and the 41-win season in trying to recoup over the Eddy Curry fiasco. Though the Ben Wallace addition — see, the Bulls did get a big free agent — didn’t work out as hoped, that team with P.J. Brown was pretty good as was the earlier one with Antonio Davis. They probably were better than this Bulls team without Rose because of Ben Gordon. Ben made a bad career, if not financial, decision, and his game has faltered as a result But he was a legitimate finisher, the last shot, go to guy this Bulls group lacks and a streak player who could run off 10 straight points when no one is doing anything, which also is missing now. They had rugged, defensive fours and veteran depth who’d played together. As we know from lasts season, it makes a difference.
I was reading some of the past comments about how people are losing faith in Thibs as a coach, and I thought it was ridiculous until the joke of a game Monday night. How can a team, coach included, take themselves seriously after a pathetic performance like that? I seriously questioned Thibs' line-ups, as well as his play calling, especially in the fourth quarter. For him to not have Gibson and Butler in the game for those crucial missed free throw rebounds was astonishing. I am beginning to wonder just how much the bench bailed him out the last two seasons. He is absolutely becoming very predictable, and you can give all of the excuses you want, but he is not consistent enough with using the new players to even judge how he is dealing with them.
Sam: I always find it curious how much credit and blame coaches get. Thibs and every other coach wants to win the game. They try things they believe in and generally have experience with. So I guess you can say it’s predictable. When it’s a system, is it predictable? If Hamilton had made that last shot would Thibs be a better coach? Though as they say, the better they play the better I coach. It would be a tough case to make after the last two years to suggest Thibodeau isn’t a good coach. You don’t become a bad coach doing things basically the same way because you don’t have as much talent, though that generally costs coaches jobs. Not Thibs, and I love to add this one: OK, don’t like him? Who are you hiring? When you’ve got a good coach you hold onto him because there are so few. When Boozer is making that shot is Thibs a good coach. You often hear people around the game say a good coach is the difference in five wins. In the NBA I’d say maybe more. It seems to matter least in baseball. Many were down on Del Negro here, but then he got Chris Paul to go with Blake Griffin and he didn’t seem that bad. That was a bad loss to the Bucks, and an aberration. But you look for character with teams. The Bulls players don’t give up, play hard, care and are committed. There aren’t distractions, and they don’t embarrass the team or city. Part of that is management as well given the people they bring in. But it’s also a discipline established by the coach. Players know when they have a real coach. They take it seriously, and it’s obvious the Bulls players do. We all quibble and second guess decisions because no one knows the correct ones until after the game is over.
I know you are getting a ton of emails about the loss to the Bucks. Who's there to blame — the players, the coach, Rose's injury? Yeah I know, you can use all of those excuses but there is one thing to blame — Thibs' stubbornness. Why didn't he make any changes when we were going down? When we had Taj and Jimmy on the floor the Bucks coulnd't score at all. I know we had hard times finding the bucket also but at least they didn't knock off any points. Thibs always benches players who are going cold but he didn't in the 4th quarter this time. It took him over a month to finally give up and start using Jimmy like Brewer (2) and Marco like Korver (4).
Sam: To be technically accurate, which I know is annoying when you are emotional, Thibs went to Butler and Gibson when the Bulls were up 25 and the Bucks got within 17 in two minutes. Then he went to Nate, and in another three minutes it was a six-point game with nine minutes left. I haven’t talked with him about it. But what would you do then? Go with the reserves who have had trouble scoring? Or Hamilton and Boozer who were having big scoring games, and we know he always plays Deng. Sure, he could have used bench guys earlier, and maybe you say guys were tired and missed shots late as a result. But guys also missed shots early. At that point with the game slipping away, he had to go with his best scorers. The problem was the Bucks took out Jennings and Ellis, who were passing to no one and not even eachother.
I've followed the nba for 25 years and I'm also a Chicago Bulls season ticket holder. I can accept the fact that the Bulls are a .500 team as I used to love to watch them when Hinrich, Deng, and BG7 played for Skiles but Thibs needs to understand what the NFL figured out. Offense sells tickets and is fun to watch. Defense is great and important but the last two games (out West) have been horrible to watch. We scored more points with Jalen Rose and Brad Miller. I've never seen an NBA team close games with three starters on the bench consistently. I would rather see Boozer and Rip out there and take my chances win or lose.
Sam: Me too, though Thibs did against the Bucks and then everyone got mad at him.
I'm with you in that I see Thibodeau working frantically. He's doing a spectacular job, best Bulls coach since Phil Jackson and so far he's one of the best Bulls coaches ever. There's a ways to go on that one, but so far is so far. It all makes for a great story. Watch for the second unit to get better defensively at the same time you see Gibson mature as a pillar of this group. When Hinrich gets to return to the second team it may bring them into focus. At that point they will be able to scramble play in the back court. Unfortunately Noah has to play big minutes for this to really work, but so far so good with him and big minutes too, though you don't like to play motor guys huge minutes. He's still less than 30, so for this season he can probably do it. Assuming Noah and Gibson with Hinrich and Robinson, that can be a tough group to get traction on given the usual NBA offense you see. Belinelli has to play better on defense, and that's where Gibson helps a lot in practice. I can see where Butler might just gobble Belinelli's minutes. I can see Rose's return helping the second unit a lot, because then Hinrich rejoins them which I bet stabilizes the substitution rotation and improves by a great deal ball movement. As a fan, which I am, I'm liking this bunch okay. Monday night: yuck. On the other hand if Monday night sharpens the practices and gets the attention of certain of the players, it's only one of 82. Just don't want to see that on Saturday nights, as the family is watching and doesn't so much favor tragedy for entertainment.
Sam: The point about Hinrich has often been overlooked, but he was brought in to be the emergency starter, not the eventual starter. We’d seen enough to know Watson wasn’t a guard to run the offense, though he tried and was somewhat better the second season. The notion was to have Hinrich eventually as a third guard who could come in for Rose, which would be ideal, and play some with him, this allowing Rose to play off the ball. Everything isn’t about each game, though I don’t mention that when Thibodeau isn’t around. He got beaten up after that Bucks loss, which is always the coach’s fault. Sure, you can second guess his rotations and substitutions. Compared with which coach actually that you won’t. I noticed Joe Johnson and Deron Williams each playing at least 40 minutes Wednesday with Rondo out most of the game, and that after both played more than 40 against the Knicks Monday. People can get nuts with these minutes. These are the world’s best athletes and I want to see them play. In that Bucks game in which Thibs got beaten up, only Deng played at least 40 minutes. So what was the big deal? Thibs got caught in an avalanche and rode guys and it didn’t work. It happens, though generally not quite that dramatically. The bigger issue really, as we knew all season, was there was no closer, no run stopper. But he’s made more changes and adjustments than anytime in the previous two seasons, which is coaching.
Can we all agree now that the Bulls bench is not as good as last year’s despite all of the writers’ attempts to convince fans otherwise? Trying to sell this bench as an improvement was Cubs-type stuff. I understand that management thinks it was in a bind cap-wise, but they could have done some more things to free up cap flexibility, not get hard-capped, etc. I think they should keep Rose out the whole year, play Teague and Butler a lot more, and accept what this year’s team is: a stopgap. Get the best pick you can and start rebuilding.
Sam: Again, not good for those fans paying for the rest of the season. Rose, indeed, may not return, but that won’t be decided until maybe February or March, and, as I’ve said, I hope he can and start getting accustomed to playing. No one ever said these reserves are better. The point was on paper they were somewhat comparable, though with the loss of Asik clearly couldn’t be as good. No one tried to disguise that. The point was not to invest heavily with Rose out as that could have inhibited what you did when Rose returned. No one’s getting fired with a bad season. That’s one reason why they extended Thibodeau. So there wouldn’t be an issue about winning and losing now. But not every team is considered a championship contender. Actually, about five are. So should the other 25 dump the season for draft picks, which, by the way, in this era with so many young kids in the draft you rarely get great talent beyond the first few picks. And even then how many top fives from the last few seasons do you want on your team and who’ll be playing for titles in the next five years? Of course, if the Bulls blow another big lead like against the Bucks, you could cut everyone.
Can you explain the collective yearning fellow Bulls fans have for last year’s reserves? First off they were reserve players, none individually good enough to start and make a big difference. Second, that combination of players was unique in that their whole was greater then the sum of the parts, but not one Bulls fan would have advocated bringing all of them back. That would have been fiscally impossible and tied their hands for years to come. And third, the big problem with this years team is their star is missing! They are not losing games because the bench is not producing, it is because the player who would and will take over down the stretch is injured. I understand blaming the loss of Derrick for everything is too easy, but isn't that the main difference between the winning ways of the past 2 years and this year? I promise if Derrick had this same team at 10-3 instead of 6-7, no one would care about the "bench mob".
Sam: True, but then we’d have to complain about the weather. Which curiously isn’t too bad. For Chicago, anyway. Hey, maybe Dwight Howard will now change his mind: Global warming saves Bulls!
Are the rumors about the Lakers shopping Gasol true? Would they go for a Boozer + Hamilton + first round pick (not the bobcats one) and/or Jimmy Butler for Gasol? Hamilton would give the Lakers some much needed scoring off the bench and Boozer can still produce about 60 or 70% of what Gasol does. Butler and the pick would give them some assets for the future.
Sam: The Lakers, for now, anyway, say no. Anytime a rumor comes up regarding a trade for a top player (or somewhat less) I get a dozen Boozer trade scenarios. I’m just throwing this one in as a public service announcement: Stop! Boozer basically cannot be traded. Maybe you could get a robot like Emeka Okafor, Tyrus Thomas or Kendrick Perkins and his eight points per week. But you’re not getting someone more productive. And the Bulls would be far worse off with a less productive player. Boozer already has helped win games. Imagine adding someone who scores 10 fewer points, and we’ve seen Gibson is hardly a scoring machine. As for the Lakers, I personally do believe they’ll look to deal Gasol. But Boozer is as bad a fit as you can find for the D’Antoni system, which requires long distance shooting from the bigs and running the floor aggressively. Boozer would just clog things up for Howard, who has to be their post threat. They’re much better off now with Gasol, who can shoot threes but shouldn’t, compared with Boozer who doesn’t. And if they’re adding guys it’s three point shooters, and the team that’s mostly been at the bottom of the league in threes all season doesn’t seem to have many to offer. Deal? No deal! And the Lakers are less about the future than any franchise in the league with Bryant and Nash nearing retirement. It’s all about now for them.
Does it sound like I'm raining on the Joakim Noah parade when I say that all this buzz about him having his best season yet doesn't seem to be taking into account that he plays more minutes with the loss of Asik? I thought that he came out the gate this year a little slower than he's been, and dare I say it, not in the best physical shape. He doesn't seem to have that Dennis Rodman-like rebounding prowess this year. Am I hallucinating?
Sam: Yes. And as Jo wears a stocking cap virtually all the time I don’t think rain is that much of an issue for him.
Why don't/didn't the Bulls go for a scoring combo guard like Gilbert Arenas? I know he's a little left of center (ok, way left of center), but the guy can play on both ends of the court and is not a total locker room tumor.
Sam: Are we talking about the guy who pulled loaded guns on his teammates in the locker room? Though the Bulls and the rest of the NBA basically passed only because he can’t score or guard.
A Bulls team with seven new teammates struggles as it learns to play together and awaits Rose's return, but one thing we can be thankful for is the terrific player Joakim Noah has become. In retrospect, Noah was the "steal" of the 2007 draft as the ninth overall pick. The only player more valuable from that draft class is #2 pick Kevin Durant. It could be argued that #3 pick Al Horford has equivalent value, but others from that draft have had medical problems (Greg Oden, Jeff Green) or just aren't as good. In the course of a game, no NBA player works harder. He rebounds, defends, dribbles, and passes at an elite level from the center position. His offensive game is unorthodox, but he continues to become increasingly effective. The evidence indicates that he seeks to improve during every offseason — he's put on 25 pounds of muscle, learned to hit the 15-17 footer, and most recently worked on his post moves with Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Initial concerns that he might well be a hard-partying airhead have been replaced by respect for his value as a teammate and the leadership he exhibits. He probably won't make the All-Star team because the ballot no longer includes the center position, but Noah is the best center in the Eastern Conference.
Sam: Can you give Marcus above a call?
Would you consider Joakim Noah an All-Star lock?
Sam: No, but he has a shot. It would be better if the team had a better record as the coaches like to vote for players from winning teams. The East front court voted by fans probably will be LeBron, Carmelo and maybe Bosh. Maybe Josh Smith if the Hawks keep winning. But the field in the East isn’t too deep with stars. Varejao is putting up amazing numbers, but for a really bad team. My guess is if the Bulls are .500 or better at the end of January, Noah will make it.
Why does it seem like a lot of the players the Bulls lost have magically gotten better? For example, Omer actually can score and is a beast on the glass and Kyle Korver hit that clutch three?
Sam: Yes, Omer has been terrific with the extra playing time, which, as we know, would have taken giving away Noah. Korver is out with a bad back. Brewer is getting beaten up at small forward defensively and below his career averages in every major category, C.J. is below his career averages in every major category and Lucas is one of the worst shooters in the league at 25 percent overall. You mean those guys? Oh, and Scalabrine is sitting next to Tommy Heinsohn yelling, "Foul!?"
Since it looks like the Bulls are going to have to retool the roster, with two potential lottery picks, the kid I really like is Indiana's Cody Zeller. He's a seven footer with a lot of great skills. The Bulls should try to make a run at him in next Spring's draft. He's considered a 4 by NBA scouts. He's already better than Carlos Boozer. What have you heard from NBA Scouts about Zeller?
Sam: I don’t do much draft stuff until after the NCAA tournament, but I’ve heard it isn’t a great draft and Zeller is a lock to be a top five pick. The Bulls would have to get real bad and then real lucky again. Which hardly seems likely.
Are the Bulls regretting not re-signing Asik for what would have been a very similar contract to what Taj Gibson is getting (outside the 3rd season)? Regardless, Omer Asik is averaging the same amount of rebounds as Noah and Gibson combined. Asik is a true 7 footer, and true Bulls fans knew that had he gotten time, or even consistent minutes, Asik could have been more of a force off the bench than Gibson since he's a true 7-footer who could have played the 5 and the 4. Taj is pretty much stuck at the 4, and let's be honest, hasn't showed much progress throughout his career.
Sam: I know I will write this many more times, but Omer makes about $15 million in year three, just about double what Taj makes. So that is a big difference and cuts deeply into signing other players with Omer a backup as long as you have Noah. The Bulls simply got caught in a bad rule that favored players leaving, which is contrary to every other NBA free agency rule. Again, you could have traded him last season to get something, but the Bulls believed they could have beaten Miami until Rose got hurt, and then it would have looked like they were dumping the season. And Courtney Lee, the guy everyone wanted, is averaging five points for Boston and not playing very well.
I have not always been the biggest fan of Boozer while he has been a Bull. But I will say this he could not have handled how things have been any better. If he were to try and defend himself from scrutiny it would make things worse, which has to be tough. I think most people are inclined to stand up for themselves and say something. I am glad he is starting to have a little more success now. I think we just have to find a way to make Boozer fit in as he is, not what we wish he was.
Sam: In some respects it’s been a great week for Carlos as the fans have mostly been blaming Thibs recently.
Do you think Jimmy Butler has the tools to become a better overall player than Luol in the future? In analyzing the two players side by side, Butler is certainly superior as an athlete. Without a doubt, Luol is a better scorer and overall offensive player than Jimmy now, but I think Butler can develop a very nice jumper and use his supreme athleticism to attack the basket with ease. On defense, Jimmy is just as naturally gifted as Luol, if not better. What is Jimmy Butler's ceiling? Will he be a role player his whole career, a solid contributing starter, or an All-Star?
Sam: You don’t expect a guy like that drafted so low to be a starting All-Star. I don’t see him that way, but he does have some very good skills, works hard and seems like he can get much better. Lu’s size is an advantage, and Jimmy if he develops a better and deeper shot could make it as a shooting guard. I get fans now who say as he’s gotten better to trade him for a potential scorer like MarShon Brooks, one of the fan favorites for trades I get. I’d say Jimmy is valuable and will improve. I don’t see him as a top two or three player on your team, but if he becomes an energy sixth man with a shot that would be a huge coup for the Bulls.
I'm already imagining the fans' commentaries... "Thank God we didnt trade Taj for Mayo, do you see how bad he is?!"
Sam: It turns out he’s probably not the guy to be that second star. But as the Grizzlies suggested by not asking him to return and not exactly a lot of offers around the league to the point Mayo settled for less than a full exception, he’s a nice role player. But, yes, the Bulls have those. Though I understand fans’ frustration, which is often like kids’. Yes, it’s great to have toys. But isn’t it more fun to have the ones the other kids have, also.
Granting the Bulls can chase after free agents this summer, would you sign Tyreke Evans to a luxurious offer sheet? Is he worth the money basing on his play so far this season and can he be that secondary offensive option behind D-Rose?
Sam: His is the other name that comes up most frequently. The Bulls will have some exceptions, but if they amnesty Boozer they’d need a power forward who can score as playing Noah with Taj could be tough. Evans is having maybe his best season, and Sacramento isn’t very good and he’s restricted, which usually means overpaying. In the end, I’d suspect the Kings would match. Now if you’d also take John Salmons’ almost $8 million for next season they might listen to a deal. No, sorry, they have plenty of power forwards.
I wanted to know if the Bulls are or would consider trading Taj as his value is still high. I know that they just signed him to an extension, but I think we could get a lot more for him now.
Sam: Probably not since he’s actually off to the worst start in his career.
Do you think Marquis Teague should be getting more minutes? Based on his play so far he looks like he could be an effective PG. His speed gives him the ability to get by most defenders and either finish, get to the line, or find a teammate for an easy bucket.
Sam: We know Thibs doesn’t play raw rookies much. I do think he’s gotten much better since summer league, when it occurred to him he wasn’t as good as he thought and to his credit began to take it seriously. If there’s an injury, we’ll see him more.
Bulls expectations and aspirations edition #2326. Rose is great and let’s hope he returns at 110% but he is NOT LeBron. Three years forward let’s project the Bulls have added a solid/creating shooting guard, a very good power forward and depth. Let’s project/hope Mirotic is the forward and the Bulls through the Thomas pick, a trade or incredible drafting luck are able to get a very good (but not All-Star) shooting guard. With Rose, Noah, Deng and the above, can the Bulls be a serious title threat? Bryant, Nash, Anthony, Wade, Bosh and that group is done or hanging on and yes Durant, LeBron, Westbrook, Griffin are about. Do you think a championship is a realistic Bulls possibility with one healthy Rose with four very good/alternate all stars and a great bench? I ask because to me this is the most probable result and the rational “B” plan. I don’t see/expect the signing of a second super star unless there is dramatic climate change in Chicago.
Sam: Is this a plea for help on the ledge? Yes, yes, they are going to be very good and you will be happy and order extra pizzas on May evenings. Now, watch your step. That was the formula before, and there was a chance. But just that. Now, the ground rules are different with the new labor agreement. But if you presume the Bulls never will have anyone capable next to Rose of being an All-Star, then that would be a legitimate option. Of course, if the Bulls don’t, then in 2017 Rose could opt to move on. I doubt given his Chicago connections he’d do that, but they seemed pretty smug in Cleveland about LeBron given Akron and all that. The point is things change too rapidly as Derrick’s injury should have shown. All you can do is compete and hope things break your way. I don’t see many grand, longterm plans anywhere around the NBA. It seems even the Lakers’ changes weekly. Try to enjoy the next game.
The Jazz need players under contract for next season. They have the young tandem of Favors / Kanter to develop, and can resign Millsap to play off the bench. Do you think the Jazz would consider Al Jefferson for Luol Deng? Or is Kanter too far from being ready? Maybe the Bulls have to throw in our own #1 pick for next year to seal the deal? I am a Luol fan, but Mirotic is going to be best as a 3 in my opinion, and we're paying Taj good money. With Al Jeff, we can still amnesty Boozer or at least move him to the bench for scoring.
Sam: I’m not trading Deng for now. Thibs would then force Gar’s children to play 48 minutes. Jefferson is an unrestricted free agent, which means you’d have to be sure of signing him to retain him. And there’s hardly any guarantee. Plus, the Jazz need a point guard. Badly. They just traded for Marvin Williams, so they are spending a lot of money at three, if not wisely as Deng is far better. But as for Jefferson, I don’t see how he’s any more effective than Boozer. Led by him, the Jazz barely made the playoffs and were swept and probably will miss the playoffs this season. After major knee surgery, he’s not particularly explosive or mobile. Plus his defense isn’t very good. That’s the problem the Bulls have now if they want to trade. Deng and Joakim Noah are their most attractive players, but it hardly seems they’d get back enough to even replace them.
I know how you love hypotheticals and 'what ifs' so here's a juicy one. What if 2 years ago the Bulls had agreed to trade Noah, Taj and Lu for Carmelo and whoever else was involved from Denver. Bulls wouldn't have let Omer go so we'd be looking at a starting 5 of Rose (once healthy), Rip, Melo, Boozer and Omer (who is absolutely dominating on the glass in a starting role). Would you prefer that to Rose (once healthy), Rip, Lu, Booze and Noah? It's hard for me to decide which line-up would be better. Though, we would of then had our 'second star' to go with Rose. It's interesting to think about what could have been.
Sam: It is interesting since, yes, Anthony is that star talent. And he is as good a scorer as there is in the NBA. He’s been the so called ball stopper, though better this season, and you assume Thibodeau would have made him a better team player. Don’t think the Bulls weren’t thinking hard about it. But at that point most would have revolted under the notion that Asik, just coming to the NBA and off major injuries, would be the high level center he is becoming. It would have been a small, poor rebounding team that probably would have been overmatched and with Anthony demanding to be traded. Though, yes, that would have been entertaining.
What is the logic behind the NBA removing the center position from the All-Star ballot? With Kareem Abdul Jabbar receiving his statue in L.A., it reminded me of the glory days of the center. I know with big men like Nowitzki being more of a long distance threat it has changed the NBA landscape. But is it not a disrespect to the position to have it removed? Looking at the list of “frontcourt” players, it’s fair to say Joakim Noah is the best center in the East.
Sam: And Noah can make the All-Star team. It’s just front court and back court now. The point was more than the NBA was by the positioning forcing coaches to vote players All-Stars because of their position. So Roy Hibbert becomes an All-Star because they voted a center. The game has evolved with not only rules changes but the way kids play. Big kids who are dominant when they are young now dictate to coaches in AAU and high school. If the coach says play in the post, they change schools or teams. They generally are poorly coached. They liked to shoot threes. I’ll occasionally go down to watch playground games, like at the famous Venice Beach courts when I’m in Los Angeles. I was there recently watching a game in which the biggest guy was shooting 30 footers. His team could have won easily, but he wanted to dribble and shoot. But because he was the biggest no one dared say anything to him. So big kids come into the NBA not even knowing how to play inside or with outside skills. Years ago Kevin Durant certainly would have been a center. Now he’s almost a guard. He was defending James Harden when they played the other night. And teams in the NBA as a result often play small with athletic forwards at center. Tim Duncan’s basically been a center most of his career. So to get the best players and avoid having James Donaldson in the record books as an All-Star, the NBA opened the positioning up in facing reality. I agree with the change.
Do you think the Bulls should trade to get Amare Stoudemaire since there really is no point in keeping him there in New York?
Sam: Since he’s still owed almost $65 million on a contract that cannot be insured since he has had so many knee surgeries and that his knees may not be able to hold up in NBA games anymore, you really wonder why more teams aren’t chasing him.