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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 12.19.2014
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 | 12.19.2014 | 11:00 a.m. CT
It’s understandable that Rose still has rust and is inconsistent. What I don’t understand are some of his post game comments. Rose sounds like a rookie with the I should or shouldn’t have. The guy was the MVP and has well over 300 games in the league. The repeated statement of his adjustment to his time away are reasonable but he certainly should not have forgotten how to read and properly react to various game situations. It’s starting to sound like a mental as well as a physical challenge which is reinforced by his self convincing statements of how good he feels. Should we reasonably expect to see a “normal” Rose (whatever that might be) at the All-Star break?
Sam: I actually think Rose’s post game comments and media sessions have been very good. Think about having to explain to media how your work day went 10 minutes after you finish each day. Yes, I know it’s part of the job. But it’s hardly normal. What I like about how Rose handles it—and we are not all great public speakers; try it sometime even in a mirror—is he remains gracious and cooperative even in the face of name calling, insults and all sorts of questions about his commitment and courage. He’s the same with everyone, makes direct eye contact, tries to give a compete answer, is generally more forthcoming about how he feels in his soul than anyone on the team. He must know many of these things said and written about him, but you never can tell as he’s the same, very professional, with every media member. It shows a high level of sophistication and attitude you’d want players coming into the NBA to adopt. Not everyone sounds like maybe Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan, but it seems to me more how you treat others, and Rose does it with a high level of respect for the work of others and his profession. There is no “normal” in whatever that means. Rose will be what he can be, and that’s all anyone can ask of any player.
Well maybe Aldridge had the very hot hands in the Bulls and Blazers game. I mean, how do you stop that guy? But I think what's more interesting is Derrick Rose and Damian Lillard. Whatcha think of both of these guys? Both are great inside-outside players. Although Derrick is better at driving to the basket and Damian is better at shooting three pointers. Given that Rose inspired Lillard and both their games are pretty much similar, personally, I think this is a match-up worth watching more than any other point guard Rose is going up against.
Sam: It was a great show last week with Rose having his best game in almost three years and Lillard almost shooting Portland back in during the fourth. It’s one of the great things going in the NBA these days with all the terrific point guards, though we see more of it in the Western Conference. Although there are few great rivalries anymore with so few games between teams and even in those invariably someone sitting out, we do see some great point guard matchups. Rose and Lillard was terrific last week and Derrick had to agree Lillard was the better shooter. But that’s another thing I like about Rose this season. He’s so relaxed and confident again he can accept the excellence of others without having to believe he has to show someone all the time. But it’s also why next week should be fun with Rose going against Kyle Lowry and John Wall. It’s not quite Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul, though Wall is having a terrific season, but it should be a nice lead in to Kobe’s one appearance in Chicago this season Christmas night.
I understand Kirk was hot last night (Atlanta), I believe he was 0-7 from the floor to be exact, but why not go with Dunleavy down the stretch? We were trailing and needed points. Didn't make much sense to me.
Sam: I think we should know Thibs by now. Given the alternatives, he’s closing with defense. He’d rather win 2-0 than 200-198. Though losses are without debate, a shot or two here or there—and plenty were open—changes the outcome. Kirk was aiming a bit after a slow start and it was untypically a donut for him. But what Thibs especially likes about Kirk was a game like Miami when he played 31 minutes and didn’t even attempt a shot. But he was second on the team in assists and bothered Dwyane Wade so much he called in sick the next day. The Bulls were right there and they get the Butler jump with 24 seconds left and maybe things change there. Thibs looked like he was about to close with Rose and Brooks for offense, but Brooks took those two wild threes with six minutes left and the Bulls down five and Thibs yanked him there. Against the Hawks you needed quickness; Thibs was right. Sometimes it doesn’t work.
I must say Mirotic has given this team much more than I thought he would this season. Yes, he still has a lot to learn. But I'd love to see him on the floor more with Rose. A true stretch 4 Rose has never had. I know Thibs could never pull Noah or Pau from the starting line up. But as great as Noah is in so many aspects, he can really clog the lane sometimes. And we have all noticed the slow starts in the 1st Q. Niko screening for Rose would create a lot of easy baskets. Hopefully in the future. Thibs has a lot of different options and line ups to close out games now.
Sam: Mirotic has been a very good addition for the bench and as I’ve mentioned before the advantage, which you see more now, of drafting European guys and basically having them in the minors overseas. He’s more ready than most rookies and his Portland game last week was terrific for the second time against them. He does play with Rose some games, but that’s been the challenge for Thibodeau with an inability to set a rotation too much with guys in and out. I think Rose’s passing has been excellent this season and I’m sure they’ll pair up more.
With the departure of Deng I figured it was only natural that Jimmy would basically take his spot, with a similar focus on defense, size and all around game. But besides the fact that nobody could have anticipated Jimmy's rise to becoming a serious offensive threat, I think the guy is Dunleavy. I was never a fan of his (and still a bit stung that we let Marco go) but after his defense made Lebron and Carmelo work those first couple games, and how he always seems to impact the game in a lot of ways, he's clearly earned the right as a legit starter, even though he'll play with the bench guys a lot. I never thought I'd say he was as tough as Taj, Kirk or Jimmy.
Sam: As Dunleavy would probably note, quite the acclaim if not for all the negatives. Dunleavy’s proven a terrific pro and I would have been disappointed in the Bulls letting him go last summer to clear enough money for Anthony. Not that Anthony isn’t better, and by a lot, but Dunleavy took the lesser Bulls offer to join their “culture,” if you like the popular cliché. I asked him about that and he shrugged; growing up the son of a successful NBA player, coach and executive he knows the vagaries of pro sports. It’s another reason he’s so good and valuable. He understands the game and accepts the highs and lows with equanimity. He prepares the same and is ready. He’s capable of big games, like in Miami this week or the playoffs against the Wizards. He’ll have his poor games and know it’s a part of the imperfection of humanity and basketball. He fits wherever he’s needed; he came to be a reserve, so injuries made him a starter. At the position where the NBA has the greatest athletes. He just goes out and does his best. Not too high, not too low and with a wink at the absurdity of NBA life. I had lobbied earlier in the season for McDermott to get his starting spot, less about Dunleavy but to give McDermott a boost. That’s obviously changed as with the knee surgery McDermott’s rookie season is lost given by the time he returns and after having missed so much it would be difficult to claim a regular role. Which makes it even more important for Dunleavy’s presence. He’s proven an iron man amidst all the injuries as he’s never missed a game since he joined the Bulls, never complains, and really never even gets mentioned much. Those are the types of players who hold a team together.
Do I remember correctly that Tony Snell was really coming along at the beginning of the season? I almost want to say he was filling the role expected of McDermott, but with better defense and perhaps slightly less accuracy on the threes. I was really looking forward to seeing him continue to develop. Are there some aspects of his game I haven't noticed that have led to his lack of playing time?
Sam: He really never has played much. The home opener overtime loss to Cleveland was the most he’s played other than in the blowout loss in Portland. Since that Cleveland game he’s only played double figure minutes four times, so you can’t make much judgment on what he’s done and how he’s played. Thibodeau had made it clear early in the season his rotation was going to be about eight or nine players. Now with McDermott out perhaps things will change some. But not every player fits the coach’s thinking and Snell hasn’t gained enough confidence, obviously, with Thibodeau yet. But he is a young player and the coach is playing Mirotic. Contending teams don’t use a lot of young players.
I’ve never said a negative thing about Thibs since he’s been a Bulls coach. When talking to others, I’ve always defended him about the player minutes and about how he manages players. This year however, I think that he is doing a mediocre job. He can’t reign in Derrick Rose with his sporadic defense and lazy passes, as well as his three point barrage (averaging six attempts per game at 28%). That’s a horrendous percentage with so many attempts. And Thibs hasn’t found an effective or consistent method to getting some of his better players minutes (McDermott & Mitotic). Also, Taj Gibson doesn’t want to play off the bench anymore. These are the reasons the Bulls are a middle of the road team in the East. I love the way that Thibs praises his players, but he is slacking in other areas of coaching, such as player development and management of his veterans. It’s as if the players have gotten comfortable with Thibs and his rhetoric and are starting to do their own thing regardless of what he says. Do you think this is a Championship team? I say no way. Not unless they shake things up and make a few trades.
Sam: I don’t foresee the Bulls making any significant moves. There are a lot of new players and the chemistry is good. It would be a mistake to mess with that other than adding someone who is such a pro like Ray Allen. I never said this is a title team. There are way too many unknowns given the return of Rose, the additions of Gasol and Mirotic and the recovery of Noah. Which is why I think Thibs really has done a good job. With Rose out before, at least you knew and could play. Now it’s an ever changing landscape of players with Rose developing, Noah in and out, Pau learning to play with Noah, which has been stunted with Noah out, now McDermott hurt and Mirotic learning the NBA. The schedule is unbalanced to start and, frankly with an 11-4 road record, the Bulls are doing better than I thought they would. Butler is having a career year; Gasol is having a career renaissance. That speaks very well of Thibodeau, who has had to rely on them more with the uncertainties surrounding Rose and Noah. And Gibson out a few weeks as well. So the Bulls need them and they both come up big. You think that’s just serendipity? The Bulls are good; they have a chance to become great. They are not yet and given the circumstances, who expected them to be at this point? Certainly not me. I had them fortunate to be .500 through November.
A really interesting story is to see if Phil Jackson can do the front office thing. He was a good player and for sure a superb coach, but front office is different. I'm not automatically buying the idea that just because someone is good at one thing that same person is good at something entirely different. Maybe he is, but it's not the same job. There's real risk there for Jackson. Good for him that he didn't back down. Agreed that is a woeful roster if what you want is to play the basketball that Jackson has in mind.
Sam: I think we learned that or should have with Michael Jordan. Actually, it’s a well practiced principle I saw followed with great failure many times in the newspaper business. It’s the Peter Principle, you know, where Maravich… not that Peter? It’s that great management tool where you find someone great at their job and promote them to something else having little to do with what they did. I saw it for years with great reporters becoming incompetent managers in order to get a raise. Just because you were a great player hardly means you know how to coach or manage. This rush to judgment of Phil after six weeks is classic New York. He knew what this year would be. He’s got to clear the roster. How exactly are you going to get players who know they are on their way out to play unselfishly and commit themselves to teammates? He hoped to be better, but inherited a roster not for the future. I think he can do the job not because of the triangle offense but that he knows the elements that make up a good team. All he needs is to be exceedingly lucky, like basically every general manager whose teams won titles like the Spurs lucking into Tim Duncan, the Bulls into Jordan, the Lakers into Magic. Take a look at the Warriors, whom everyone wants to be now. This is Stephen Curry’s sixth year. They missed the playoffs his first three and have won one series in five years. Does anyone get that chance in New York?
It was great to see Derrick smiling during the game in Miami. It looked like they were giving Lu the business. Hopefully he can go back to having a little fun, take some of the weight off of his shoulders.
Sam: It’s a nice thought and I think he really is. His expression doesn’t give up much, but this is as relaxed and happy as I’ve seen him since the ACL even with all the outside noise and criticism. It seems for the first time since 2012 he feels really good and confident about his body. It has to be a relief for him. I’ve heard him around the team in more animated conversations than I can remember the last few years, for obvious reasons. For his sake, I hope it continues.
Two steps forward, I take two steps back... was that classic song by Paula Abdul written towards the 2014-15 Chicago Bulls? Man give me a break. This has been the most frustrating team to watch this season. We are meant to be contending yet are not far off .500. Don't give me this 'the bulls are working in new players' rubbish either too please. Gasol has arrived and been our best player, Brooks very solid off the bench. My boy Jimmy outstanding! As for the others, wow inconsistent to say the least. When is this team going to wake up and start playing to it's potential?
Sam: I completely understand your confusion. Paula Abdul had a classic song?