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Ask Sam | Sam Smith Opens His Mailbag | 6.5.2015

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

By Sam Smith | 6.5.2015 | 9:10 a.m.

Your Cleveland Cavaliers Game 1: Thompson 2 points; JR 9 points; Shump 6 points; James Jones 0 points; Delly 0 points. I am a Steve Kerr believer.
I loved the way they guarded James, and this adjustment in OT. Wow. That's coaching right there.

--Mike Sutera

Sam: Yes, the Bulls lost to those guys! That’s the part that will sting for a long time. It’s been a very beatable Cavs team despite truly extraordinary play from LeBron James, as good as you’ll see in big games. Kyrie Irving was much better than anyone expected until hurt late in Game 1 and that could determine much of the rest of the series. James cannot do it alone even with his best ever playoff scoring game. But you have to love the way Kerr is handling this: He’s playing 10 guys and maybe that wore down the Cavs some. Maybe not. But the Warriors did pull out Game 1 despite being outplayed and as good a game from James as you probably can see. Kerr learned from Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, who were famous for trusting their benches. Remember how many big shots were made by reserves from those teams, like Kerr in the ’97 Finals, Brian Shaw to get to the Finals in 2000, Bobby Hansen in the ’92 Finals. And from guys like Patty Mills, Boris Diaw and Marco Belinelli.

Plus, the Warriors played James exactly the right way. Even if he did get 44, so not exactly a shutout. But you don’t double and you make him extend himself, especially because it’s about winning four of seven and not four of four. And you show him different guys. Of course, the Cavaliers have multiple defenders who you can put on James. Jimmy Butler did as well as he could, but you can’t show James just one guy. You have to show him different bodies who play differently and keep rotating. James is truly unstoppable, and the Warriors could easily have lost that game any number of times, including an amazing Shumpert throw at the end. But it had to hurt the Cavs the way the Warriors played James as players like Smith and Shumpert had almost no shots in the second half. That’s no rhythm. Plus, you had to love the way Kerr after the game discussed how the staff constantly talked about adjustments on the bench during the game and different ways to deal with what James and the Cavs did instead of waiting until the next game. Win or lose this series, Kerr is for real as a top coach.

Is there any chance that Fred Hoiberg keeps Adrian Griffin as an assistant coach? Seems like if he stays some of the defensive philosophies that Thibs put in place could stick around. Who do you think will be on his coaching staff?

--Raj Desai

Sam: Hoiberg said at his introductory press conference he knows Adrian Griffin, Ed Pinckney and Mike Wilhelm and would consider all for the staff. But a coach basically needs to select his own staff. To his credit, Hoiberg also said he needs a strong defensive assistant, sort of like Tom Thibodeau was for Doc Rivers in Boston. Thibodeau is available, but, yeah that won’t work. That was one area where Thibodeau really hurt himself. It’s been no secret to even his close friends his specialty was defense and it was the Bulls’ Thibodeau defense that was their identity. But Thibodeau repeatedly declined Bulls requests he add an assistant to help with offensive principles and variety and said he preferred to do both sides of the ball himself, which is rare in the NBA. Consider Phil Jackson had former head coaches in Tex Winter and Johnny Bach running offense and defense for him with the head coach, as CEO, making the major decisions and providing the direction.

You see that with both teams in the Finals, especially Steve Kerr’s Warriors with Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams, regarded as two of the top assistants in the NBA, Gentry now to coach the Pelicans. Tom just spread himself too thin; it was a credit to his work ethic, but it could not have been productive for all that time for one man to try to do all that with so much offensive evolution going on in the NBA. I suspect in his next job Thibodeau will have a more varied staff. You can say Thibodeau had an assistant like that in Adams, whom I felt was one of the best in the NBA and was a mistake to let him go. His bosses decided otherwise, which is the prerogative of any organization. I discovered that at The Tribune as well. But Thibodeau was advised to add one or two assistants of his choice after Adams’ contract was not renewed. Thibodeau declined.

Thibodeau's exit kept reminding me of when Bill Musselman got fired after coaching the expansion Timberwolves. I remembered that Musselman coached the expansion team to a decent record but got fired for placing too much emphasis on winning and not enough on developing players. So I did a google search to refresh my memory (article below). In the course of my search I found out that the expansion Timberwolves was Thibodeau's first NBA job:

On Feb. 26, Bill Musselman coached the Minnesota Timberwolves to a victory over the Dallas Mavericks. He also apparently coached himself out of a job.

Co-owner Marv Wolfenson fired Musselman Monday, saying the beginning of the end was that 100-94 victory over Dallas. The Timberwolves had lost nine of 10 games, including three in a row at home, and Musselman felt the only way they could beat the Mavericks was by using a six-man rotation.

"We had a meeting just that morning and all we talked about was, 'Winning wasn't paramount, developing younger players and please, communicate with the players more,' " Wolfenson said. "Well, we were sort of defied."

--Mark Schweihs

Sam: This isn’t an attempt to beat up Thibodeau. After all, I was a big time advocate of his hiring, writing many times he was the ideal choice and still believing Thibodeau was the right coach at the right time and left the organization better than the way he found it, which anyone in any job should be proud about. I didn’t recall that situation with Musselman, who did give Thibs his start in the NBA and whom Thibs mentioned many times as his first pro mentor and inspiration. I guess even more than we all thought. Of course, in Thibs’ defense he wasn’t in an expansion situation like Musselman but was with a team basically expected to compete from when he started. So you can understand the sense of more urgency. But I guess their personalities were somewhat similar.

I am loving what I'm hearing about Hoiberg's uptempo free flowing pace and space offense but that doesn't really seem to fit our starting lineup from last year. If you had to guess which is more likely to come off the bench next year - Noah or Gasol?

--Billy Habibi

Sam: I think that will be part of the fun and excitement about the coming season. Given the salary cap restraints and the certain—in my view—signing of Jimmy Butler to an extension there’s probably not going to be much of any change in the roster. Probably just a backup point guard to replace Aaron Brooks. But now there’s a guessing game about the lineup, the rotations, the style of play, the depth. I can see a circumstance like Steve Kerr—here we go again—did with the Warriors and Andre Iguodala, whom I thought was the MVP of Game 1 with his defense and key baskets off the bench. Iguodala was disappointed, but he bought in and coming off the bench basically enabled the Warriors to have two units and wear teams out. I see the Bulls with their depth being able to do that with Noah coming off the bench. I doubt it’s been discussed, so it’s strictly a guess on my part.

But you generally don’t make an older player like Gasol a reserve that way because they cool down after warmups and it is harder for them to get into the game. Noah is an energy guy and hitting the ground running should be easier for him. It’s obvious with the Bulls the Gasol/Noah combination didn’t work, and the way Hoiberg talked about playing and coached at Iowa State he’s not using Noah as a stretch four. So who starts there? Thibodeau didn’t like pairing Mirotic with Gasol for defensive reasons and I could understand that. I can see Gibson, who has nice shooting form, to be able to develop a three-point shot like Atlanta’s Paul Millsap. Plus, Gibson is taller. Though Mirotic is obviously the better shooter and seems to fit better what Hoiberg has referred to. Plus, I have no idea if Gibson sees himself that way. And he and Noah are used to playing together. Obviously, you are not locked in because I expect a 10 or 11-player rotation much of the season with Doug McDermott and Tony Snell and a lot of small ball with even guys like Butler or Snell at power forward at times given the success Golden State has had going that way. OK, I went on a bit again. It’s what I do. Noah.

Will you miss Thibs? I will miss him because I liked his passion for the game and thought his comments were funny but I didn't have to work with him all the time. I do agree with the change, this team needed a new voice.

--Jim Harlan

Sam: Like I wrote, Thibs was the right choice at the right time. But five years is a natural lifetime as an NBA coach, especially a demanding one in the model of guys like Scott Skiles, Doug Collins, Larry Brown, the best coaches in the business, though better as temporary live ins than longtime marriages. If you trace the timelines of other Thibs mentors, like Jeff Van Gundy and Stan Van Gundy you’ll discover they were in the four to six year range with jobs. Stan probably is the smartest of them all and I didn’t find it surprising he said when he got the Pistons job he saw a five-year run. Smart guy. Steve Clifford is one of those guys and I don’t see him with more than that five year run in Charlotte. Despite everything that occurred and what was going on, it was time. Except, of course, if the Bulls beat the Cavs. That would have been fun and I’d have been at the Finals Thursday instead of writing this. But, wow, next season was then going to be ugly.

I'm sure many have thought of this but I haven't seen or heard it discussed anywhere yet. The fact that the salary cap is likely to increase significantly after next season due to new national TV deals is often discussed. The amount of a max contract under the salary cap is determined, among other factors, as a certain percentage of the cap. If the cap goes up, does the amount of money Derrick Rose is getting go up? The reason I'm wondering is with regards to Jimmy Butler and other free agents who will potentially receive max contract offers this offseason. When the salary cap goes up, will their max deals seem like a better deal for the team than they were previously, thus making them less of a risk? Do you think Butler would consider playing out this season without an extension in order to reach UFA, as Ben Gordon did some years ago, and thus not only have his options open for which team to play for but also be able to sign his new deal under the new, larger salary cap?

--Cameron Watkins

Sam:No, Rose’s contract won’t change. You can get a percentage of the cap when you sign. Then your numbers are guaranteed. It is an interesting question about Jimmy and players who might sign this summer, like Marc Gasol. Wait for the salary cap increase? LeBron likely will do that with his player option and not sign a long term deal. I wrote above I think the Bulls and Jimmy will agree to a deal. Just my opinion. Jimmy elected to take the risk of not signing before this season and he’ll make more money as a result. They weren’t that far apart, maybe $1 million, but who thought Butler would have this kind of jump? He had not only a career year but a year no one ever imagined. Sports executives aren’t fortune tellers.

It seems a heck of a risk for Jimmy to pass on a major deal once again, effectively risking injury for two years and leaving some $100 million laying around. I don’t know who could appropriately advise him to do that? It’s possible, sure, but then you could get to free agency after a lesser season or an injury or a big free agency with top stars who will eat up the bigger money and leave you looking at maybe a big contract from a team that is awful. The grass is brown in many places, as Ben Gordon found out. Do you think Ben would give up that extra money now if he had a chance to instead have a career instead of the way his went? Jimmy doesn’t strike me as that motivated by the last dollar. Anyone thinking that way might consider Ben Gordon’s example.

How much trouble are the Cavs in this summer? How much can they afford to pay Tristan Thompson? I don' think he's really worth a max deal, but if I'm the Knicks or someone with the money to spend I would offer Thompson the max on day one and force the Cavs to match it. It would force the Cavs into a situation where they may have to decide between Love or Thompson. I'm sure they wouldn't be excited to pay big money for one of them to be a reserve. Even though I don't think Thompson is a max player, if I'm the Knicks I don't mind over paying with the cap going up. The Knicks would still have money to spend elsewhere. Love could opt in with Cleveland, but I feel like (even though Love is the better player) Thompson is the better fit.

--Steve Schnakenberg

Sam: It will be one of the more intriguing questions of the summer, and you may be right. Look, the Cavs do miss Love, though by making the Finals without him his value does take a hit. Plus, Thompson has excelled defensively and in rebounding, giving the Cavs a look they didn’t have with Love and seemingly a much tougher team. Plus, they don’t have to listen to Love’s whining about not getting the ball in the post, which they probably hate. I do think he opts in to take advantage of the salary cap increase after next season and then leaves. Though I don’t fault them for trading Andrew Wiggins. When you have LeBron you have to go for it every moment. And because LeBron likes Thompson’s defense and toughness, the Cavs have no choice but to match any offer or pay him a big contract and then transition him in with Love leaving. At least then they also don’t have to worry about replacing Love after next season.

Why is everyone looking & Comparing the Fred Hoiberg Signing to that of Tim Floyd ? I understand that the similarities of the hiring’s is that Gar (GM) and Hoiberg are Friends the same as Jerry & Floyd were. The situations are totally different:

Tim Floyd (A) No NBA coaching Experience, (B) Never Played in the NBA(C) Came in with an Average winning percentage as a college coach. (D) Took over a Bulls team In Phase 1 of Rebuilding.

Fred Hoiberg (A) an NBA Veteran of 10 years (Formal Bulls Player (a.k.a. Steve Kerr ), (B) Although he’s never coached in the NBA, He has NBA Management level experience(C) Better than Average Winning percentage In college.(D) Taking over a Bulls team that’s still capable of Competing for an NBA Title.

I’m not saying Hoiberg is the missing piece we need to take us to the next level But, the Bulls could do worse.

--Randy Sanders

Sam:I sure hope people weren’t really making that comparison. As you appropriately note, there is no comparison. One thing stuck out to me during Fred’s press conference when he talked about finishing up his work at Iowa State each day and then always watching NBA games. The players used to say when Floyd was coach they didn’t think he ever watched NBA games. They said they’d hear he and his coaches mornings at practice always discussing college games from the night before and rarely NBA games. Tim was a college guy who was lured by the siren song and money—certainly understandable—of the NBA. He was in it for the glamour more than the game. Fred’s an NBA guy who was lured by a personal obligation of loyalty to his hometown, his old coach in Johnny Orr, but who was always an NBA guy at heart. His heart took him back to the NBA, not his ambition. It makes for the right fit.

It makes for the right fit. But because of the Iowa State connection with first Floyd with Forman and now Hoiberg, there’ll be accusations Hoiberg is a puppet. There is always some bitterness in the wake of these things given people take sides and there are hard feelings with some fans and media. I know when Bill Cartwright was fired I was cool with Scott Skiles at first because I was close with Cartwright. But I came to regard Skiles as one of the league’s best coaches and very much enjoyed being around him. I’m sure I’ll have issues with Hoiberg and second guess what he does because we do that with all coaches. That’s the fun of the game. Being correct is only determined by the final outcome. I’m sure Hoiberg will be his own man because he didn’t need this job; he could have had many others and will have other opportunities after this one as these things are not lifetime jobs.

My brother just texted me to say that he looked up Hoiberg's stats as a player and his best ones were with the Bulls. Wow. I have to be honest, I don't remember that much about his days here in Chicago. What kind of guy is he?

--Ateeq Ahmed

Sam: As you can probably sense by now after watching his press conference and reading what people say about him he’s extremely likeable, easygoing and popular. We’ve all done our best to forget about Fred’s four seasons (1999-2003) as it was the poorest played, most mismanaged, worst coached era in the history of NBA basketball, at least for an established franchise. My only issue with Fred likely is going to be since we transcribe the coaching press conferences I’m going to have to skip some meals and maybe vacations as Fred gives really long answers whereas Tom pretty much had been grumbling his answers the last year or so with a lot of “We’ll see” answers to questions like which sweat suit he would be wearing to practice the next day and if he intended to run as an independent for president.

Like it or not, it’s trade talk time! Trade Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to Sacramento, and if necessary, give them their pick back that is still owed to us. In return we would get Jason Thompson and the # 6 pick.

Gibson would instantly provide excellent defense, if not rim protection, and Dougie would provide the three-point shooting, thereby satisfying two of Sacramento’s needs. Both of these players would fit in well with the Kings’ style of play.With the 6th pick the Bulls could get Willie Cauley-Stein (backup/replacement for Noah) or SG/SF Justise Winslow (to strengthen the wing positions). I included Taj Gibson in these trade proposals because: With Gasol & Mirotic he is a luxury to have and he takes away minutes from Mirotic.

If he works on his jumper this summer, he would be a great fit next to either DeMarcus Cousins or Andre Drummond, he deserves to be a starter and his window of opportunity is closing. The other is Brandon Jennings and the eighth pick for Taj Gibson and McDermott. It'd give the Bulls an insurance policy for Derrick Rose, who hasn't had a healthy season in five years now, and another young prospect. The Pistons would turn pieces they don't expect to get much out of next year into immediately productive assets.

--Taiji Practit

Sam:I don’t expect the Bulls to make any significant moves this summer and if Gibson works on his jumper he’d fit better with the Bulls. Plus, it would be a big risk for the Bulls with Noah’s health, Mirotic’s defense and Gasol’s age to trade Gibson. Yes, I know everyone sees Cauley-Stein as the new Noah, but losing Doug is a heck of a sacrifice with three-point shooting a priority under Hoiberg. Jennings? Coming off Achilles, worst shooting point in the NBA? No way. But I’ve mentioned your proposals not because I think they have legs but because I believe there will be many Gibson rumor and speculation trade stories around draft time for the reasons you state as “league sources” will see Gibson as expendable for those reasons. I don’t believe he is. But get ready. It is trade talk time.

Two and a half decades ago, a very good, intense coach brought the Bulls to the brink of prosperity. Then, after a reasonably successful year, that coach, highly respected, was let go and in came a guy who almost immediately took them to six championships.

Granted, Jackson was an assistant, but seemed destined for the job of the Bulls' head coach as was Hoiberg. Is it possible that this scenario has a chance to repeat itself?

--William Kochneff

Sam: That’s certainly the Bulls’ hope. I’d give it a better chance if Jordan decides to return.

Tom Thibodeau was unable to win a championship in Chicago, unlike the rest of the mustacheod counterparts, Phil Jackson, Mike Ditka, and Joel Quenneville. Will Fred Hoiberg make the same mistake as Thibs and not grow a mustache?

--Mike Habs

Sam: I’m not sure he can yet.