Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 12.13.2013
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of emails from his readers
Sing with me. "Tank the season to be jolly, fa la la la la la la la la" With Rose being done, other key players banged up and their pathetic season thus far, it makes no sense to try to be competitive this year. East may be weak but this team just doesn't have it to compete with the Pacers or the Heat this season. Let the young guys like Teague and Snell play more and get them ready for the long haul!
Sam: This “Let the young guys play” mantra, which often is a Cubs’ fan’s philosophy, is for losers. You let the young guys play if they are Jordan or Pippen or Rose. Your future isn’t Teague or Snell. Perhaps one could be a piece. But you are hardly building around those players. I can’t seem to make this point effectively enough of how difficult it is without potentially ruining your future to trade players making eight figure salaries. And not take back a player with a long term contract, which I’m fairly sure the Bulls would not do. You trade for a player like Deng, say, given he is a free agent if he is your last piece to win a title. So which team would that be? Maybe you make a case for one or two teams. But they have to be teams on the verge of winning a title. So are they willing to break up chemistry and then give you someone making $12 million to $14 million to match salary? And you didn’t see any 2014 draft picks changing hands in any of these few trades so far. I was talking to a general manager with a potential lottery pick recently. He said he was looking to trade it. I asked for whom. He mentioned the name of a second team all-NBA guy. Yes, a top 10 player in the NBA for a teenager. That’s how crazy teams are in looking at this draft. Teams aren’t giving those picks up very quickly, if at all. It substantially narrows the field for what you can do given so few teams are in the position to have a player to trade you with an expiring contract and who also are that close to winning a title. Whether the Bulls would want to or not, I don’t see major moves during this regular season. The concept of quitting on the season and doing little more than point shaving seems to be the choice of many of my correspondents this season. Yes, it’s possible with the injuries the Bulls could miss the playoffs, anyway. But, to me, it’s morally and ethically reprehensible to consider not trying your best at anything you do. The Bulls put together this great group of players, greater than the sum of their parts because of the competitiveness and will to win and fight and commitment. And the fans loved the team for doing that. And now things aren’t going well so you want them to lose. It doesn’t work that way.
I think we need not to give up on Teague. True, his game is a mess right now. But he’s an under-coached kid – a prime example of leaving school too soon. At the same time, he has athleticism and blinding speed. He is a long-term project, no doubt. But if the coaching staff has the patience to teach him, it may pay off big-time in 2-3 years. Too bad he’s not more help right now. But we expected to have Rose back, and plenty of time for Teague to develop.
Sam: I’m for having patience with Teague as well. Even though summer league is not against NBA players, if you are fast with the dribble it’s against everyone. I agree he’s a mess now, in part, being thrown in, albeit for short periods and yanked, and for trying hard to impress and being too concerned with the coach. I’d normally say that’s a good thing. But Teague plays more a free form game. Thibodeau calls a controlled game with constant plays and specific sets. So Teague appears to have slowed to a crawl to try to appease Thibs to stay on the court. You could see in the summer how much better he played when he was relaxed. He’s actually a kid who should ignore the coach. I’m not for mutiny. But he’s not getting to play much playing this way, anyway. If I were him, I wouldn’t look over for a play and basically not run anything the coach called. The point is if you can produce, do so the way you can. Thibodeau for all his micromanaging is a results oriented coach. If you produce, he’ll go with you and keep you on the floor. He didn’t want to play Asik or Butler, but then they produced and he played them. To the point he never even took Jimmy out of games. Teague needs to be that guy. The Bulls players tell me he’s exceptionally quick and beats everyone off the dribble in practice. So do it in games and what’s Thibs going to do? Take him out? Discipline is important; but sometimes the coach has to adjust as well. There is something there.
I'm kind of wondering at this point, as a life long/die-hard Bulls fan, this has to be the most depressed I've been about the team in a long time. I'm still watching every game, yelling at the TV, and supporting them like crazy, but I've lost some motivation. Last year, I understood that Derrick was going to come back and be more of a beast and we would the hope of winning a championship. This year, everything with Derrick's injury happened so quickly, and suddenly we lost all hope of a great season and our future is very uncertain. With that being said, what can we Bulls fans use as motivation for this season to support the Bulls?
Sam: So perhaps you understand a bit how the players feel. Yes, I know everyone says they make millions of dollars, which then I guess eliminates emotion. Though I do read about a lot of depressed Wall Street guys. There are stories to every season and every game and you don’t have to look that far. A season, every season, is in some respects like a mystery novel with an unclear ending. Yes, we know the Bulls are not the same and not going to play for a title. But there are chapters: How does Deng respond as a free agent? How does Noah continue given his level of emotions? Can they be All-Stars again? They can beat Miami as comprised. So they can beat anyone? And lose to anyone? Which though unpleasant from a total win standpoint should provide some mystery. Who’ll improve and lead like Gibson? Who’ll lay down? Will anyone? Will there be a big trade? I’m sure we’ll hear plenty of rumors in February. It’s a great study of the character of people when things are not going well. Who’ll be the players you want to continue with? They’ll show you this season as well. Can Butler be a shooting guard? Can Deng or Noah or Butler outplay someone they are not supposed to? Will they be dominated? I know there’s something great to watch in every NBA game. Hey, I just watched a Kings game.
What do you think it will take for the Nets to fire Jason Kidd this year, or do you think he is untouchable?
Sam: I actually think he’s pretty solid for this season. And not just because of that Thursday big win over the Clippers. I do think the Nets will get a lot better (yes, can’t be much worse), and will be a playoff team. Deron Williams is crucial for them, and I think this all plays well for Williams. Williams is kind of a diva, fond of pointing fingers at teammates and coaches when things go badly. That figured to be over with Kevin Garnett in the locker room. But Garnett has shown up a shadow of what he was and hardly a major voice anymore. So Williams can go back to being the major figure and the fact they did so badly without him and won as soon as he returned enhances his position. While Kidd is not prepared to be a coach yet, he’ll get better as they go along and remains a high profile figure, which is important in New York. I suspect he has better job security than Mike Woodson, which probably isn’t that much of a relief to him.
The issue is that I cannot understand why a team that the one day performs as a contender team, the next day is defeated by an average or below average team. We have defeated the Heat, the Knicks (3 times), the Celtics, Brooklyn, the Hawks (by 39 points)... all of them Eastern Conference contenders, and then we got beaten by the Hornets, the Bobcats!!!, the Suns, the Bucks. Why do you think this happens? Is it that the margin/difference between top and bottom teams is not that great at the moment or is it something else? I have seen Noah mentioning in a few occasions about lack of concentration in some games, and I believe this might be the issue. Furthermore, most of these defeats came in the United Center and makes me wonder if homecourt advantage is not that important in NBA as it is in Europe.
Sam: It’s tough dealing with human beings, isn’t it?. Basketball, perhaps, more than any other team sport, is driven by the individual, meaning the star. You have a player like LeBron or Durant and he can carry you through the inevitable quarter or five minutes when everyone is tired and no one can make a shot or even try one and instead of being outscored 10-0 you play even and then you are there to win the game at the end or pull away. When you don’t have a player like that, and the Bulls don’t without Rose, the margin for error disappears and when you have a drought it becomes fatal for that game. You can win games because you have overall talent, and given these are competitive people they tend to increase their energy and passion with a greater challenge. You’d like to say everyone owes that every day, and they try, as do most workers. But some days as difficult as the work is not as good as the previous day. How come a novelist doesn’t write a great one every time? Sometimes you just aren’t as good. And in sports you have the odds. Some days the shots don’t go in as good as the plays are run and as good as your form is. That’s also what makes sports so great: You do not know what will happen. So in some respects this may be the greatest of all Bulls seasons as we don’t know what will happen from minute to minute.
What kind of draft pick can the Bulls expect to get if they keep losing? How much better would it be if they finished towards the bottom as opposed to middle of the league?
Sam: I know to many fans this season has become the draft. But I think you can pretty much forget being worse than Utah, Sacramento, Orlando, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and maybe two or three more. Maybe things don’t go well and the Bulls miss the playoffs. It seems unlikely given players like Noah, Deng, Boozer and Butler as starters and that they’ll be back from injury soon. But I’ve seen good teams come apart for lesser reasons and miss the playoffs. In some respects, this looks at times a bit like 2007-08 when the Bulls suddenly won 16 fewer games the previous season and missed the playoffs, their one time out in the last nine years. Then there were no major injuries; just a team coming apart from internal discord and disharmony. That’s when the Bulls lucked into Derrick Rose with the ninth best odds for the top pick. So, yes, there’s always a chance for a top three pick if you miss the playoffs. But the other teams have scouts and TV as well and no one is trading a potential lottery pick in this draft for anyone. And you haven’t heard of even a single top team willing to trade a No. 1 in this draft. So you have to do it on your own. Give up? We all know Thibodeau never would and neither would players whose careers depend on how well they do. It’s been a bad week with Deng and Butler out and Noah out against the Bucks. But even if there’s no title to play for, stuff does happen. I recall a conference finals in the early 80’s when there were late injuries and two 40-42 teams played to go to the Finals. The Rockets beat the 40-42 Kansas City Kings and then lost a competitive six-game series to the Celtics. I’m not suggesting that’s any likelihood. But you play it out with high level players and you never know what can happen. Get lucky or get in the lottery, which some are saying would be the same.
How many wins do you see the 8th seed in the East getting?
Sam: I recall the season Jordan missed with that foot injury the Bulls made the playoffs at 30-52. I’d say it would be better than that as the East teams eventually will only be playing one another and someone presumably would win.
If the Bulls do amnesty Boozer this next offseason and are able to bring over Mirotic, do you see him coming off the bench with Taj starting or the other way around? Or if they let Deng walk as well, do you see him and Taj starting with Mirotic playing the 3?
Sam: Lineups are awfully far away, but there is hardly any certainty Mirotic would come for next season. He still has a buyout, so it may be better for him to wait until his contract expires so he doesn’t lose so much money, as some in Europe believe. At this point, I don’t think the Bulls are completely counting on him being in the NBA next season. I assume they’d love for him to be, but the really good European players sometimes take awhile before they make the move to the NBA. And he hasn’t said yet.
I hate to say it, but the Bulls have more to gain by losing now. It will be hard to miss the playoffs in the pathetic East, but the Bulls are doing a great job competing for the #1 pick. They’ve only won 8 games and 6 of them were with Rose. The Bulls are 3 wins better than Milwaukee and Utah, the worst teams in the entire league. Both Milwaukee and Utah have beaten the Bulls this season. Getting healthy will help, but Deng and Noah have played for most of these recent losses. Butler back only helps, but it’s clear that this Bulls team is one Deng-Boozer-Noah trade away from being amongst the worst 3 teams in the league – guaranteed.
Sam: Can’t we declare a moratorium on these questions and declarations? I get it. Get a potentially great or at least starting level young player. I’m not opposed. I love watching young stars. One of my greatest NBA disappointments was when Greg Oden was hurt. I so looked forward to seeing a player likened to Bill Russell. And, yes, the way the Bulls have played of late and with a history of injuries they may not need to trade anyone to lose enough games. But my advice is not to write me anymore with those suggestions because other teams may read the site and find out and they may think to do the same thing as well.
Who says no: Joakim Noah to Portland for Robin Lopez, CJ McCullum, and a future No 1 unprotected.
Sam: So Noah for two No. 1’s and the center who has been a crucial role playing addition for Portland getting off to its best start in decades? I know we think highly of Noah, though I’m not sure he’s worth the equivalent of three top 15 picks, two potentially from the lottery. Did you make that Hershel Walker trade?
Do you think the D.J. Augustin signing means Kirk or Teague gets traded? He was god awful last year for the Pacers so [I'm] not really sure what the point of picking up a 4th below average poing guard is.
Sam: He was pretty bad last season, agreed. But he’s a veteran and can make a shot, or has, and it’s not like Mike James is playing much. I still don’t think it means a trade of Hinrich or a big demotion of Teague. But the Bulls obviously need to sit down Hinrich more. He wasn’t supposed to be playing this much and you can see in his shooting, thus in his legs, that’s it’s too much. He is holding up, which is good. But he’ll be much more effective with more rest, which was supposed to be his role. With Rose out and Teague more expected to get limited but regular minutes this season, the Bulls obviously can use another point guard who may make a shot and run some offense. Seems like a reasonable addition for now.
Does Kobe still want to play with Deng? And Kobe still doesn't really care for Gasol either, right? And is Nash done Deng and Boozer for Gasol and Nash. Or Gasol and Kaman/Meeks package if not.
I just wanted to write in and show my support for the team. They're extremely depleted right now and understandably struggling missing Derrick, Luol and Jimmy. I'm sure they're pretty upset at how they're performing, but I'm not. They'll still be a tough team when they get healthy. It's just not our year.
Sam: This must be how it is in Congress. One day you hear someone who is not hysterical and doesn’t want to destroy the entire government and you are not sure whether you are imagining it and you begin pinching yourself to see if you are awake. And that does hurt.
What is all this talking about Thibs going to the Knicks? Even if his contract was ending this season, wouldn't it be dumb to leave Rose and Noah to coach a Melo, JR and what remains of Stoudemire?
Sam: Funny how that happened to come up the day the Bulls were in New York and Jeff Van Gundy passed on the game because the New York media was saying he might become Knicks coach. New York media with bad teams could start the Spanish-American war again. But you never say never in the NBA. Phil Jackson came back to coach Kobe after being fired and burying Kobe in a book. Doc Rivers was traded to the Clippers with several years left on his Boston contract. But there’s probably too many ifs in this one. This is the first year of a four-year extension for Thibodeau at a reported $4.5 million per year. He’s hardly being fired with all that money left and as good a job as he does, especially with Rose out. And who are all these great coaches waiting to be hired? Does someone want to try to get him, pay him more money than he makes to get him to leave, and then ask the Bulls to let him out, which obviously would require compensation of at least a first round pick like the Clippers gave up? The Knicks were speculated and they are just about out of first round picks for the next several years on trades. Is Thibs going to Memphis, Utah, Washington or Toronto instead of Chicago? Plus, Thibs loves Chicago and knows Rose will return. And he loves Rose. Do you really want to work for the Knicks owner, who fires coaches about every 18 months and is an influence in your coaching while you have autonomy in Chicago? The stories, to be clear, were all labeled pure speculation based on no “league sources,” which often are reporters talking to the mirror, anyway. It’s not something that makes much sense.
I feel the Bulls injuries have more to do with player usage than random chance. Has the topic of player minutes been discussed recently concerning Coach Tibs and Bulls management? Before Deng went down to injury he was averaging more than 38 minutes a game, over 40 minutes after Rose’s injury. This was well above his career average. Hinrich has been averaging over 36 minutes a game since Rose’s injury. The Bulls are only 20 games into the season and already look run down or broken.
Sam: I’m sympathetic with Thibs when someone asked the other day about players playing too much. He said he still has to play five guys. Noah, Rose, Deng, Butler and James were out. He’s been putting in Erik Murphy first or second off the bench when I’m fairly sure he hadn’t planned to play Murphy this season. I don’t exactly see who isn’t playing who should be playing at this point. Then I get mail asking why Teague or Mohammed was in during the second half when they lose. In total minutes played this season, the Bulls don’t have one guy in the league’s top 20.
Wow the fans are really irrational. For me from Portugal the only way for the Bulls to not be on the playoff is if Deng is sitting the entire season along side Rose. And even then, with this so bad East, they might pull an 8th spot. I would love to have Jabari next season but let's not tank a season for a possible luck in the draft.
Sam: It is why they do consider Europe more civilized.
Given the horrific states of injuries on Bulls roster how long before we see Tyrus Thomas back in a Bulls uniform? This may or may not be a joke.
Sam: I am fairly sure we’ll never live to see that, but in this sort of season I’m not eliminating any possibility at this point.