Ask Sam -- Sam Smith opens his mailbag -- 09.25.09
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of e-mails from his readers.
Ask Sam | 09.25.09
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If you had to put odds, which one of these six is more likely to be a Bull after next summer: Wade, Bosh, Amare, Boozer, Joe Johnson or David Lee?
Sam: David Lee. I don’t believe Chicago is anywhere on LeBron’s radar. I have my doubts about paying Bosh because I don’t see him as a game changer. Wade is. I’d do everything to get him. If they can’t, I’d probably take a run at two next echelon guys because I believe Rose can be the main star.
I just watched the replay on Comcast of the Bulls-Lakers Game 5 [from 1991] and noticed something I didn't remember. Magic Johnson after the game was relentless in making sure he congratulated as many people in the Bulls organization as possible. Not just the players but coaches and assistant coaches as well. Perhaps I didn't remember that because I didn't care at the time or perhaps it was because I was eight years old (probably the latter). Regardless, I thought that was very classy behavior from another player who was so passionate about winning. I know Magic already had his championships by that point but I still think it's something we could show.
Sam: Magic always has been one of the special and classy people of sports. He got on the wrong side of Jordan from that All-Star game thing, but Magic always was regarded as the ideal sportsman. I had the honor of four times being president of the basketball writers association. At one point we wanted to come up with a sort of perfect player award, an award which recognizes All Pro caliber play with Hall of Fame relations with fans and media. I’d gotten to know or at least be around almost all the top players since the late 1950s. To me, Magic was the obvious choice and the award is named for him.
Sofoklis Schortsiantis? He really looked impressive in the European tournament over there. How is this guy not in the NBA? Looks impressive I think would be a nice center to have complementing Noah and Thomas.
Sam: He’s played for Greece and does look good at times. He’s one of the recent Baby Shaqs, but I think he came off the bench when he had a big game in the last game and was drafted in the second round by the Clippers in 2003. I assume he stays in Europe, where he’d make much more money since he was a second rounder so long ago. The bigger thing, though, is the pedigree. We get carried away with these overweight, skilled big guys, imagining how much they can do in running the court, scoring, with footwork and speed. Eddy Curry fooled the Bulls once. Think about Tractor Traylor, Oliver Miller, Mike Sweetney, John Williams. There have been a load of these guys. There’s more wrong with them than meets the eye. Which is why it’s so vital the Bulls stay on James Johnson. He’s got the size and skills, as we can see, but if he gains a lot of weight he’ll bust out. I saw him in a pickup game recently and he looked good, weight down, quicker. I would have taken him as well. He’s worth the risk at No. 16. It’s why it was good to get Taj Gibson. I saw him in the same game and he was chasing everything and everyone. I think he’ll be reliable. As for that tournament, the Bulls are excited about Omer Asik, who had a big game against Marcin Gortat, and we know no one on the Bulls could last season. Asik is young and coming off injury and will be in Europe for at least another year.
Thanks for the great Jerry Sloan piece. As a basketball player, I produced no great results, yet played with confidence that really grated on certain people who I doubt ever understood. I always knew no matter what I could get the next step upcourt out of my legs. Wherever it's played for whoever plays it, basketball furnishes this particular gut check: for all the time that you're out there, you can give in or not give in. My family had everything to do with formation of values and so forth. But, Jerry Sloan showed me what was possible within the game of basketball. Jordan doesn't get near enough credit for being a tough guy. It's not his fault - he just tried his best and it turned out like it did. It's just that Jerry Sloan got there first. Pretty boys? HAH. That dumb orange ball is the truth, and this is right now. Okay. Try this one out for an over/under. 25 year old Jordan vs. 25 year old Sloan in a thumb wrestling match. A day or so later, you'd probably have two bloody stumps at the wrist and two guys who still haven't blinked yet.
Sam: You make me ready for the season. Jerry would appreciate your understanding of the game the way he lived it. The NBA has at times gone for a marketing, glamorous frenzy of lights and dunking and showmanship and trash talking and highlight shows and who are we to argue as the game succeeded best since Sloan’s era. It’s why no matter the surroundings, you can always play the game the way it demands and get satisfaction out of it. That’s part of getting the right people. It’s been made fun of in Chicago, but there is a reason. It doesn’t always mean a championship because you need to be lucky and have a transcendent star. The Jazz never won and I’d take them anytime. The Bulls feel they have hope this season because they believe they can get more players to perform that way. It will be worth it if they can and what they should be striving for.
There were a lot of critical articles about Jordan’s HOF speech, But the one thing I think (they kept) getting wrong, and has been written about all over leading up to the HOF induction, is Jordan wanting Joe Wolf instead of Pippen. I remember there being some discussion of Wolf vs Horace. (in fact as I remember it was Krause who wanted Wolf and Collins wanted Horace) . But I just don’t remember ever hearing Jordan wanted Wolf instead of Pip. Since you were my main source of Bulls info in 1987, can you confirm or deny this happened?
Sam: I’m going to reprint several Jordan e-mails I received below which were representative of many more like that and then comment after the last one. As for Joe Wolf, Jordan never wanted him despite the North Carolina connection. Dean Smith was furious with Krause for not taking him and heavily swaying Krause. I think he’s still mad at Krause for that. The coaching staff led by Doug Collins was desperately pushing for Grant. In the end Krause had his choice and chose Grant.
I know you've probably heard everything there is to hear about Jordan's HOF speech, but I'm writing to you nonetheless. I wrote a lengthy, heartfelt comment on many blogs discussing my disappointment with MJ's speech. You can read it below if you wish. But ever since I posted my thoughts, I have been called everything from an "ignorant fool" to a "soccer mom" because I didn't realize that Jordan was like this all along. While I can surely appreciate the fact that so many others were able to see the difference between Jordan (TM) and Jordan the man, I can't quite understand why those of us who were sorely upset and offended by Jordan's speech are getting chastised for our beliefs. I grew up in the "Be Like Mike" generation where Mike was Superman without a cape; he could, in fact, fly. He stood for all that was good in my childhood, and he taught me through hard work, determination, and giving back that I could truly achieve anything. If I really wanted it badly enough, I could be like him. And I, like so, so many others, tried. We truly wanted to be like him because we didn't know any better. Everyone, especially the more "mature" people, put MJ on a pedestal, so we followed suit as completely impressionable kids. We didn't see the vindictive, cold-blooded Jordan. All we saw was the somewhat regular / somewhat extraordinary person, with his bald, smiling face playing ball with cartoon characters and against real bullies; the guy who ate Big Macs like my dad; the guy who did the moonwalk with Michael Jackson; the guy who ate hot dogs at the ball park; the guy who inspired others to fly, both literally and metaphorically. I'll never forget "Michael Jordan Day" at my elementary school following his first retirement in the early 90s, which was a school wide celebration of Jordan's career where everyone at the school wore Bulls gear and danced to "Be Like Mike" in the hallways at the end of the day. And no, I am not kidding. That's what he meant to us growing up in the "Be Like Mike" generation. My entire childhood, Mike was portrayed as a real life hero, a real life Superman, a real life role model. Finding out this is not necessarily true is kind of like finding out that Santa Claus isn't real. So call me naive, call me innocent, call me inexperienced, but don't call me an ignorant fool or a soccer mom for buying into Jordan (TM) as the real Jordan, because up until now, those of us in generation "Be Like Mike" thought they were one and the same.
The HOF speech was one cheap shot. What's with this guy? I've lost respect.
Jordan was interesting. But where was a little humility? He was a talented basketball player but there seems to be something missing as a person. He seems to say that he did it all. Little help from anyone. In that regard he is unique among the sports stars.
I've seen many negative comments and articles calling (Jordan) out as arrogant, petty and bitter (ironically, probably most from Jazz and Laker fans), and I think most of us would agree that the (HOF) speech was more self-absorbed than gracious. But, as he said to Tex Winter, "There's 'I' in win.' So whichever way you want it." I, personally, prefer the 6 championships that resulted from that "selfish" attitude instead of the more "classy" Hall of Famers who could not beat Jordan, but were very gracious in defeat. As I see it from your articles, the attitude/arrogance/selfishness, whatever anyone wants to call it, is what made MJ the player he was - and not the other way around. Like he showed with his comeback with the Wizards, he'll continue to do things on his own terms and isn't concerned about creating a more refined public image for himself. I'd rather see that side of the story than just think it was the physical gifts alone that set him apart from the rest. Although, it really couldn't have hurt if he also more publicly acknowledged the people in the organization that he did appreciate, like Tim Grover or the guys he flew out to Springfield to attend the ceremony. I think thanking the little guys would have better punctuated the speech and made people less concerned about slighting the guys who competed against him while making a fortune in the NBA.
The HOF speech was classic Michael, and I have seen him display many of those aspects of his personality when watching him from the gallery at golf tournaments and interacting with him. When I recount having talked to him several times, people ask me, "What's he like?" And I always say, he's too full of himself; he's funny; he is down to earth; he is caring and he is very fan friendly. I am glad he pulled out the hit list and the thank you list last night; I appreciated his tears and I believe that set the tone for how he really felt. I was happy to see Dennis there, in one piece and all the other Bulls; that was nice, as was the tribute to Scottie. His turn will be next year. He should pick Mike as his presenter as he owes him a bit too. That line about limits, being like fears, can be illusions is a great line. I can't tell you how many times I conversed with students about their fear of test taking...test anxiety is very common in students with learning disabilities and ADD or ADHD, and we would talk about what they were really fearful about. I would start the conversation with Fear is an illusion (which is a chapter in one of his little books); of course, they looked at me like I was nuts, but then we went on to define what were they actually fearful of taking the test and then discussing what they could do about it. That line gave me an opportunity to work with them on relieving their anxiety and generally, the kid became a better test taker. I always have thanked MJ for that one. My heart tugged a bit for Juanita not being there and understandably so, but I have always said that she carried quite a load in more ways than we knew at the time. He is not perfect, and I do think he realizes that, and I would bet, in his quiet moments, he is disappointed in himself for not doing a better job in his marriage; he did not apply the same sense of desire and teamwork that he did in his sport and to me that is his most glaring fault. That might come out later in another Jordan autobiography.
Sam: Michael always left everyone with a lot of emotions and did again. If you saw my commentary on Bulls.com, I probably was kinder than most, in part, because of the occasion and also because I’ve been around him and seen every sort of this behavior. Likely the critical media deserves some blame. I read some of the same people angry who would not accept when he played he was so perfect and would tell everyone so. Though it’s somewhat afield, it reminds me of what I listened to during the mortgage crises and bailouts. Yes, people got loans they could not repay. Didn’t they share the blame equally for taking them? And those flipping house shows on cable. Geez. Prosecute those guys. Too many always wanted Michael to be what they wanted him to be. They did not want to let him be. It comes down to what I always told friends and family when asking me about the great players I’ve been around. I’d say admire them for their skill and enjoy it because it is amazing, even more than you imagine. That should be enough. Of course, the companies who want to sell you products under false pretenses don’t want you to do that. Michael seemed to be enjoying himself that day. He was having fun with his friends and going his own way. He doesn’t exactly owe anyone anymore. He just wasn’t who many wanted him to be. And never really was.
Is there any chance the Bulls think of signing Rashad McCants to a FA contract this year. He has big time potential and could be a valuable swing man for the team from an athletic standpoint. Plus he has a lot to prove and could be very helpful in guarding players like Dwayne Wade and Arenas.
Sam: Didn’t we have enough of Larry Hughes? I don’t see the Bulls making moves like this, and certainly not for a misfit like McCants.
September 17, 2009. President Barack Obama decides to scrap the United States missile defense shield plan in Poland/Czech Republic, much to the delight of Russia. No less than 24 hours later, it is reported by ESPN that Russia's richest man, Mikhail Prokhorov, is planning on helping the New Jersey Nets finish construction on their new basketball stadium which has been delayed due to the economic downturn. The owner of the Nets is rapper Jay Z, who also happens to be good pals with President Obama -- a self-proclaimed basketball junkie himself. Next summer, it is a well-known fact that the NBA's marquee player, LeBron James, will be a free agent. It is also well-known that the goal of Jay Z and the Nets is to get LeBron -- their new state-of-the-art stadium in Brooklyn was supposed to be their biggest selling point. That was, however, until construction got halted. So... Truth? Lie? Or Conspiracy? The reason President Obama scrapped the U.S. missile defense shield plan was to please Russia and in return have a Russian billionaire help his friend, Jay Z, finish building a stadium so that his team could get LeBron James and begin a new NBA dynasty in New York?
Sam: I will say if LeBron goes to the Nets (and the Russian now bought most of the team as Jay-Z has about five percent), you were the first one I heard it from. And who says my readers spend too much time on flaws in the pick and roll. Although if Obama resigns and signs with the Nets next season, send me membership papers.
I was wondering if you know what the Bulls plan on doing with Jerome James. Will they buy him out at some point or try to use him in a trade? I don't believe he is healthy enough to play this season, right?
Sam: They seem to have no idea coming into camp. The NBA refused to rule him unhealthy enough to play, so he either plays or sits around all season. I assume he spends most of the season on the inactive list. The Bulls will try to get him in shape to get something out of him. I don’t see them using his cap room unless it’s in a deal for a star type player, which seems remote. Can’t see anyone giving an expiring deal for him. He was brought in to get flexibility for the summer of 2010, so just wait for that.
One crazy ask Sam question. If the issues in the front office were not there so Jackson was signed to a one year deal and Pippen was signed, including the shorten season who wins the Bulls or Spurs? Jordan still not retired I forget Rodmans status I think Harper would be there and Tony was there in 99. Plus all the rest because of the strike I say the Bulls in 5 over the Spurs.
Sam: Ah, our fantasies. Six is Enough. MJ also cut his finger that lockout season and may not have been able to shoot if he returned. The Bulls were burned out and Phil knew there was no way he could hold that bunch together anymore. I’d say Spurs if it came to that. I got another question like this but lost the senders name. He said would I have traded Jordan for the rights to Duncan going into the 1997 season. Given what transpired, it would have been the right, cold hearted logical thing to do, the only way to extend the dynasty. I wrote many times during the decline of the Celtics era they should trade McHale as they weren’t winning again. The Bulls did, plus you draw the line at the best. Knowing what I know now and what Duncan has meant, I still would not have done it if I were the Bulls.
I was wondering what you thought about the Ricky Rubio deal. Everyone knew that he had to wait a couple of years because of his contract. Almost every European player that had the same contract situation would not get picked until the late 1st round/2nd round.
Sam: I knew they could not play two point guards. So I thought it was OK as an asset deal, especially if Rubio came in a year and was a hot item. But I had my doubts about him and think he’s a bit hyped. It was a risk that went bad and will make for a long season, but they at least seem to be trying something. Let’s say they won’t be a threat for many years.
In one Jordan piece you mentioned Reggie Theus being an All-Star in 1981. That reminded me of a question that I've been meaning to ask for some time now. Who do you think was a better NBA player Theus or Gordon. Who would you prefer as your starting 2 guard. Could be the same answer, maybe not? I prefer Theus, kind of a combo of the best of Gordon and the best of Thabo.
Sam: I don’t think Reggie defended quite as well as Thabo at his best. But Reggie was much better than Ben, taller, a better defender and also an unafraid player. That takes nothing away from Ben, whom I think is good. Reggie was better and would be an intriguing two guard with Rose, though not quite the defender I’d rather see.
Use your divine influence to suggest to Gar and Pax that they look into a Kirk for Stephen Jackson/Acie Law trade. Cap'n Jack wants out of GS, Nellie loves guards so Kirk should fit right in and having Jack gives us some really nice size options at the 2 and 3. At any time you could have two of the three in Lu, Salmons and Jackson on the floor! That sounds like a more talented lineup than having Kirk out there. Don't get me wrong, I love Kirk and I haven't had a desire to get rid of him, but it seems like a steal to me. Jackson is just as good a defender as Kirk is and although older, is also taller. We all know Kirk won’t accept the role of backup forever and it seems likely that he will again be coming off the bench behind Salmons this year if he stays. And Jacksons "behavior" problems are greatly exaggerated. He is a terrific teammate and fills whatever role his team asks of him. Though I'm by no means a whiz when it comes to all the Cap space stuff for next year, I'd like to think we'd still be in a good position to go out and attract a big name (Wade) financially and may be in a better position to attract said big name competitively!
Sam: I’m not much a Jackson fan. I think his shot selection is too wild and he’s too unpredictable. The Warriors gave him this ridiculous deal he didn’t deserve and wants to quit on them. I’d actually prefer Salmons, and he’s not really a two.
Why does Dwyane Wade dislike Shaq? In their last meet wade stared him down.
Sam: It’s not dislike, but great so-called second bananas—Kobe, Penny, Wade—get tired of Shaq’s not caring lazy act at times since they work so much harder. But Shaq has more reporters on his side because he invites them to parties. He is more fun to be with than those guys.
Thabo? Does he start? Or is Harden the better player/fit right now? I think it's gonna be a battle in training camp. If Thabo can establish his outside shot, I think he starts. Harden is a great gel guy but i'm not too sure on his defense.
Sam: I think they open with Thabo, but don’t expect him to last long since Harden also is a good ball handler. With the personnel they have, they aren’t playing much defense yet. Thabo will undermine himself with his hesitancy to shoot and a young coach will not stay with him, I believe.
Do you see Joakim Noah developing an offensive game? I notice that he bulk up over the summer and do you see him averaging maybe 14 points and 10 rebounds? which can give the bulls a little inside scoring.
Sam: No. But how this? I think he has a shot at the Most Improved Award. I’ve heard he’s really taken it seriously this summer (yes, despite the beach pictures). He was in a pickup game recently in Chicago and the players said he was running all over Jermaine O’Neal, driving him crazy and beating him down court. That’s where he’ll score. And that’s fine with me. If he does that and defends, he’ll be who we thought (and hoped) he would be.
Let's say that it is the summer of 2010 and, against all odds, LeBron decides he would like a statue of his own outside the United Center. Before the ink is dry on his new max contract, though, a strange problem presents itself: the King's number is already in the rafters. Obviously MJ is MJ and that number is his. LeBron also doesn't seem like the sort of guy who would get totally wrapped up in this sort of thing. But still, would you foresee any scenario in which the number would be un-retired, either by Mike offering it or the insistence of James? I cannot foresee another Bull (even the Global Icon) ever wearing 23 (in the same way I can't envision James ever being on the Bulls), but guys have gone to extreme lengths for a number. God, I miss basketball.
Sam: Won’t happen in part because I believe LeBron isn’t the kind who wants to compete against the Jordan legend. Kobe would love to. It’s why Kobe is called selfish. LeBron makes that pass at the end because, yes, it’s the right thing to do, but I don’t think he cares to have to be the guy all the time. Those guys embrace it even when it’s wrong. It’s what makes them great. Forget Mike, the Bulls would never go along. Great players have gone elsewhere and not taken retired numbers that were theirs, like Shaq. Though you have the best answer why LeBron will not be a Bull. He’s going (or staying) where the team doesn’t have 23 retired. Thanks for the last sentiment. Me, too.