Ask Sam -- Sam Smith opens his mailbag -- 10.16.09

Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of e-mails from his readers.
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Ask Sam | 10.16.09

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All this talk about the Bulls just having enough money for one of the big free agents in 2010, wouldn't they be able to sign two of them if we can trade Hinrich before the deadline and clear about another $10 mil for next year?

Ninab P.

Sam: It is theoretically possible. Teams generally are not going to be anxious this season to get rid of expiring deals both for the ability to sign free agents next summer and for financial reasons with talk of a lockout after the 2010-11 season. With league revenues in decline and the luxury tax and salary cap shrinking, more and more teams are going to be trying to dump long term deals in case there is a lockout. You’ll find very few teams willing to take on players with long contracts unless they truly are stars. Plus, if you get rid of Hinrich without taking back a reasonably high level player, you have virtually nothing at backup point. And what if Derrick Rose misses a few games? You need someone to run things and you can’t just be giving away a player of Hinrich’s ability for the hope of adding an extra player at a time it may be difficult to add even one high level free agent.

How about these trades?
Hinrich for Kaman
Tyrus for Raja Bell

Gabriel Antunez

Sam: Ah, Chris Kaman. I think that ship has sailed. The Bulls were in serious talks regarding Kaman last year in a multi-team deal involving Larry Hughes. The notion was you needed a center. The Bulls seem to have one now in Joakim Noah, who has been the best player on the team in the preseason with Rose out. Kaman hasn’t demonstrated an ability to remain healthy, and with three years $34 million left on his deal, he looks like a Clipper for some time to come. I like Raja Bell and his defense, but the Bulls need inside players. Not more guards.

I'm a Bulls fan from the UK, and I was at the game in London, I just wanted to say how ridiculously embarrassed I was that with 3 minutes to go in a very tight game, that the fans were doing the wave .... I mean honestly, there was plenty of time to do it, why do it with 3 minutes to go in the 4th! Makes no sense, i think UK fans need to learn a bit more about the game if they get sidetracked into doing this. Also I was watching a Lakers/Warriors preseason game, and there was a play where Vujacic stopped the ball going out of play and the commentators were raving about his hustle, and then said how few players are willing to do this. Yet nearly every other NBA game i watch, the commentators will mention the hustle of a player that is so lost in the game! ... Let’s be honest all these players work hard and hustle, otherwise they wouldn't be playing in this league, do you think it’s about time commentators stopped banging on about this?

Geraint Jones

Sam: Good observation from afar on that fake hustle. There are many commentators who know the game, like the Bulls Neil Funk and Stacey King. But too many miss on the nuances and get carried away with that I call the Rodman hustle. Dennis was the best at stretching himself out after the ball was out of bounds. You are right. Players generally work harder than people think because they are so good they can make it look easy. But if you are not working at it you can get embarrassed easily in the NBA. As for the wave in London, well, we’re saying that was Jazz fans in disguise waving goodbye to Carlos Boozer.

I was at the game in Green Bay and was close enough to the Bulls bench to notice that John Salmons never really seemed to talk. Is that normal for Salmons or was he just bored up in Green Bay?

Chris Behens

Sam: I know. Hard to believe he could be bored in Green Bay. Salmons doesn’t talk much. He’s actually a more thoughtful guy than most when you get him talking, but like a lot of Bulls on this team and teams the last few years, he’s quiet and stays to himself a lot. There really hasn’t been a leader on the team since Oakley in the Tim Floyd debacle, and that didn’t work out too well. My personal theory is guys in the northern climates tend to be quieter because they are trying to warm up so much and anxious about going outside. This tends not to be scientifically proven, but it’s something.

I do hope that Vinny ends up putting together a good year of coaching because he appears to be a stand up guy. However, if the Bulls ultimately struggle I would think that management would want to put a better quality coach in place, especially with the emphasis that is being poured on to the 2010 free agent class. If the scenario occurs where Vinny moves on, who do you see as potential coaching hires that would (1) blend well with Rose/Deng/Noah core and increase their talents and (2) attract a high quality free agent or two that would round out the roster (i.e. Joe Johnson, as I realistically don't see the Bulls getting a tier 1 Free Agent like Wade). I know that Avery Johnson was talked about in the past before Vinny was hired. He seemed to be a pretty good coach and posted fantastic records during his time with the Mavs. He would be about the only re-tread that I would be happy with (can't stand all the retreads out there).

Justin G.

Sam: Like a lot of players, this is an important season for Vinny. I think the Bulls are hoping he succeeds, which would not necessarily mean a better record, but an improvement in defensive and team play. As for Avery, though he is considered a defensive guy, he’s proven a problem with creative guards. You saw what Devin Harris did when he left Dallas. Avery tends to be overcontrolling with guards, and that’s the last thing you need with Rose. The problem is where these coaches come from. Check the latest hires: John Kuester, Kurt Rambis, Jay Triano, Paul Westphal, Alvin Gentry, Lionel Hollins. A lot of guys with no experience or losing records. And then there was Flip Saunders and Eddie Jordan. They hardly guarantee success, though are competent. I’ve always liked Tom Thibodeau, but that’s another guy who’s never been a head coach, and maybe you need a learning curve again. It’s difficult to find the right guy in this era, so I think the Bulls are hoping they don’t have to make that search again. Frankly, I don’t have any great answers myself. Yes, hard to believe.

All the good coaches have an identity as a coach. Phil Jackson is the psychologist-star manager, Larry Brown/Scott Skiles the hardliners who make the team buy into the system, etc. What is Vinny's identity? What is his philosophy on offense, on defense? Does he not have one because he's inexperienced and so defers to the players? Is that actually better for Derrick Rose maybe?

Mike Choi

Sam: The mullet? Vinny has been mostly an offensive minded coach, which squares with his identity and inclinations as a player. He’s being asked to concentrate more on defense this season, so that remains a work in progress. That’s how Vinny is going be judged. Remember, he’s a second year coach who never was an assistant. Phil coached in the CBA and Puerto Rico for at least five years before being an NBA assistant. Larry Brown was coaching in the ABA at 26. One issue Vinny has yet to figure out is relationships with players. You see that a lot with former players who become coaches. They want to treat players like they wanted to be treated and generally feel they want to have a friendly relationship with the coach. But a coach has to coach and that takes awhile to learn. In many respects, that’s the toughest job for a young coach since he has to learn were the line is and develop the expertise and leadership to earn respect. Everyone can draw plays and scout. The major element is dealing with the players and finding your voice and being able to hold players accountable while also earning their respect. That can take time. It’s the secret. It’s also why teams change coaches so often. It’s difficult to find.

For preseason games in Europe, is it an
 agreement between the NBA and the teams?
(I mean : who pays for the flights, hotels, etc...? The NBA? The NBA teams? The European cities?) 

Mat Ramseyer

Sam: It’s obviously a lot more expensive to go to London than, say, Indianapolis, when the Bulls went down the day of the game and didn’t stay overnight. Visiting teams get a payment for a game, which is why teams often play home and home in the preseason to offset that. The NBA subsidizes airfare and accommodations for international preseason games for the team’s regular traveling party. The Bulls made it a big trip in taking sponsors and families, which the team paid for.

Do you think giving Deng the money and Gordon not was right?

Jeremy Steininger

Sam: Fans continue to debate this as people have soured some on Deng the last few years with his injuries. The fact is both were offered eight figure annual contracts. Deng took his offer and Gordon rejected his. I’m not sure what else the team should have done. Gordon made out fine with a larger deal from the Pistons, though it probably would have evened out had he took the Bulls deal two years ago and began his new deal sooner. The Bulls feared losing both without compensation and felt they couldn’t afford to. Deng accepted his offer and Ben rejected his. Had they passed on Deng, Gordon could have walked as well and that would have been too big a loss to take for the roster.

It's clear that John Salmons will opt out of his final year but I am hoping you can clarify a salary cap issue. If John declines the option, does his cap hold become 150% of 09-10 salary? Or is the cap hold his option value until he signs a new contract?

Tom Kot

Sam: His cap hold is 150 percent of his salary. The Bulls could have wrapped him up with a good extension now, but that would have endangered their 2010 flexibility. They’ll make a strong bid to resign him and have him at a relative bargain now of $5.5 million. But with a lot of teams with money next summer, if he has a good season, he should be in demand and could leave as well. It will be a delicate balancing act for the team next summer with Tyrus also a potential free agent, though restricted and potentially on the cap with a qualifying offer.

My response to the McGrady trade proposed to you in the last mailbag:

Bulls get: Tracy McGrady; Rockets get: Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich

If the Bulls are out of contention come February, a move could make sense. The Rockets get a young wing to pair with Ariza. Hinrich expires next year along with Yao, plus Kirk adds much needed depth. If the Rockets wanted to sweeten the deal with picks or a guy like Kyle Lowry I wouldn't object. (Salaries may be an issue because this trade pushes the Bulls into the luxury tax but that can be remedied by adding Jerome James and Brian Cook.) The Bulls go into the summer with cap room for two max contracts, Rose, Noah, Salmons. and RFA rights to Tyrus Thomas who could be moved for a draft pick much the way Thabo Sefolosha was (hopefully something closer to the lottery)

This all could lead to my pipe dream: Rose/Salmons/LeBron/Bosh/Noah or Rose/Wade (in a sign-and-trade, doesn't Wade get his 6th year?) or Salmons/Bosh/Amare/Boozer/Noah.

Does keeping Hinrich and Deng make us more attractive to one big free agent vs my scenario attracting two max players?


Sam: I actually get a lot of these get McGrady suggestions and to get rid of contracts, and I think they are ridiculous. LeBron and Bosh. Get over it. The chances are going to be slim of getting any of the elite free agent guys, and you can certainly forget about LeBron. As I’ve said, he wants no part of the Jordan legacy. Only Kobe would embrace that challenge, and Kobe’s in L.A. for the duration now. McGrady’s career is about done. The Bulls aren’t going to be out of it in February. It would be difficult for anyone in the East to be. The other major issue is competitiveness. Part of being attractive to free agents—a big part---is being competitive and on the upswing. You dump some key pieces for guys who cannot play like McGrady and you are done, and it’s Bulls 2000 free agency all over again where top players don’t want to go to bad teams. I’d want to be as good as I could be this season, which is why I’d take a hard look at Carlos Boozer. A good record and perhaps some playoff success will be perhaps more important than a lot of money. Remember, a lot of teams will have money. And there aren’t that many difference makers who will be leaving their teams.

It's my opinion that the Bulls need to strike first if they want to make a
splash in the free agent market of 2010. I've read a lot of your articles
and mailbag responses and it seems that with the recession a lot of these
All Star free agents might stay put. I think they should go after Amare
Stoudemire, or another great power forward/center. This way if the Bulls
can't match the exact pay of their present team, at least they would be
enticing, because they would be closest to competing for a championship.

David Naber

Sam: It’s a possibility the Bulls are certainly considering, as are others. If you can get a top free agent, which seems unlikely during the season, then why wait until next summer? It would take a trade, but if you can you take the shot. Stoudemire is the guy most mentioned, but the Suns previously have made clear they want a lot. We’ll have a better idea around midseason depending on how teams are doing and how their attendance and finances are.

I still think Kirk, Thomas and a first round pick could get Amare. Wouldn't
Rose Deng, Noah and Stoudemire look really good to DWade? I don't see the
huge risk with Amare, because you'd could always not sign him. Wouldn't the
Sun's rather get something for him rather than lose him to free agency? I
also think it would be devastating to the city of Chicago if the Knicks won
in free agency and we ended up with Mercer again.

What is your opinion on Chris Bosh? I hear people hoping the Bulls trade for him but I think I'd prefer Amare or Boozer. Speaking of which of the 2 which one would most likely to get traded before the deadline and do the Bulls have a legit shot to get either?

Jonpaul Gauthier

Sam: The Suns, I hear, were close to dealing Stoudemire if the package was Biedrins, Randolph, Bellinelli and a No. 1 pick. When it became Curry, the Warriors backed away. Which means the Suns were getting a starting center, top young forward and shooting guard plus lottery pick. Stoudemire wasn’t enamored of going to Golden State, so the deal may have fell apart anyway as he may have told them he wouldn’t sign with them. So Kirk, Thomas and a first isn’t near enough. If you threw in Noah there would be a chance. But the Bulls wouldn’t do that and shouldn’t. The Suns look at it like they are giving up a star and have to get back an All Star or a big package of players. Plus the Bulls first wasn’t a lottery pick, so you’d need a much better pick than the Bulls have. In other words, not even close. As for the Knicks, don’t worry. They’re a mess and LeBron isn’t going there.

I see that Tyrus Thomas was left off your
bust out and bust lists. What do expect from him this year and will he be
upgraded next season for a proven talent at power forward?

John Grim

Sam: I don’t know what to make of Thomas. I believe he has a lot to prove this season as even in the playoffs he wasn’t a go to rotation guy. I don’t see him as a bust as he hasn’t been projected that high. He could bust out, but he has yet to show that consistency in his career. He has great moments and even weeks when you think he’s got it, and then something happens. I believe he’s the key to this Bulls season. Assuming Deng is healthy, I see him at least close to where he was. If Tyrus is a force, especially with shot blocking and defense, the Bulls have a pretty impressive five. If not and Gibson is pushing him for that position, the team isn’t well rounded or explosive enough. I frankly don’t know what to expect, which is fun in a way as I’ll enjoy seeing what happens. He’s like a good who done it with a surprise ending. You just hope it comes out right.

So when the Wizards turn out to be very mediocre, any chance we bypass 2010 free agency and go get Antawn Jamison? A package of expiring contracts/young player and a future 1st rounder, (Jerome James, Ty Thomas and a future 1?) or a straight salary dump (Miller) for one of the most underrated power forwards in the league? A catch a shoot PF playing with Rose? I’ll take that over another summer of disappointment.

Matt Canada

Sam: That’s the Stoudemire theory I addressed above: Let’s get something so we don’t have our summer ruined. I like Jamison, but liked him more when Dallas was trading him when he was 28. Now at 33, he’s a nice piece, but too old and not enough impact for a team with so many young players like the Bulls.

While preseason is largely meaningless, Derrick Byars has shown well this preseason and brings some size and a nice shooting touch to the team. Without exception, however, almost every Bulls beat writer and broadcaster says that there's little chance that he will make the team due to the precarious luxury tax situation. While I don't want to get into the merits of signing an obviously out of shape Lindsay Hunter to take a roster spot or Aaron Gray as a 5th big man, is there ever a sense that the Bulls are held to a higher standard of fiscal responsibility than the White Sox? By all media accounts, Kenny Williams was able to vastly exceed budget to acquire Alex Rios and Jake Peavy. Despite being the one of the five most profitable franchises in the NBA (even in this decade where playoff games and wins are scarce), we are still being lectured about the evils of the luxury tax. Do you get the sense that the Bulls front office is held to a higher standard of fiscal responsibility than their baseball counterparts?

Jay Augustyn

Sam: I don’t know that comparisons are appropriate, though my sense was the reason the Sox did those deals was mainly because they were getting out from under the huge contracts of Thome, Dye, Dotel, Podsednik and perhaps Jenks. It think it pretty much balances off. Both teams operate with a consistent philosophy on the budget. I’ve been getting a lot of mail about Byars, who has done well. But money is the reality. Hunter and Gray have guaranteed deals. They have to be paid. It’s the so called numbers game that goes on with all teams. The Bulls are committed not to pay the luxury tax, as many teams are, unless they are in serious contention. You also have to remember, if the Bulls were to go into the luxury tax for a 12th man type player, it would cost them the payment from the luxury tax fund and then maybe they don’t feel they have enough money to make a max offer to a free agent. Is it then worth it? If there were a serious injury to a guard like Hinrich or Salmons, I could see them taking on someone like Byars. Right now, there isn’t much time for him once Rose returns. The Bulls made this decision: Pargo could be that instant offense guy not to replace Gordon but to provide some of that spark. Perhaps they could have said we need a defensive guy and that will make up for what Ben gave up and we don’t need to replace as much scoring. They went with the scoring, and Pargo did have some big three point shooting numbers with the Hornets. It’s too early to write him off. All businesses measure risk and reward. Byars has played well enough to make the roster. He isn’t good enough to replace one of the core rotation players. So is it enough reward for an occasional player to put yourself in potential financial jeopardy up the road? Perhaps if you were Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac the way they gave everyone mortgages, but we know now this leads to bad things. I can see the Bulls spending more next summer if major free agent possibilities present themselves. It doesn’t seem worth it now for a 10th or 12th man.

I was wondering what’s gonna happen to guys like Wally Szczerbiak and Gerald Green now that no teams are signing them.

Melvin Malanthara

Sam: I think Wally’s NBA career is over. His dad played overseas and I can see him giving that a try. Gerald Green might be worth a shot sometime for a minimum deal, but as rookies come in each year there are 25 to 30 jobs lost. Someone has to go and when you have kicked around and haven’t proven yourself after three or four years, your time could be past. There are plenty of jobs overseas for former NBA players, and many players take that route. It’s still a nice way to make a living.

So I’m sitting here watching the Bulls playing the second of back-to-back against a couple bad teams in the Bucks and T-Wolves. First, I guess I don’t totally understand why the Wolves are this bad as Kevin Love seems pretty good and Al Jefferson is an All-Star. Johnny Flynn seems to have similar quickness although not the intangibles of basketball IQ of D-Rose. But to watch Richard dominate them tonight (I saw him last night and he was AWFUL!), it may be a while for them to turn things around.

Marc A. Brauer

Sam: Yes, they looked awful. It looks like a mistake for Rambis to be trying the triangle offense like Jim Cleamons did when he went to Dallas. Jefferson clearly isn’t back yet as he had almost no lift. He needs to be in an uptempo offense. They don’t have shooters, which you need in that offense. Flynn is good, fast, but doesn’t seem to have much shot yet. He wants to be in pick and roll more. Their spacing was awful and it figures to be a long, long season for them. But they don’t seem to have made any pretences about being a contender.

I know the preseason isn't the best gauge of teams but it can reveal some encouraging/troubling signs. I think we look great, chemistry on the court and locker room has been well documented, although having two starters miss time isn't good, especially when it's your # 1. Teams like the Heat, Raptors, Pistons and even Orlando - not so good. Am I jumping the gun by saying we could not only a be playoff team but a top 4-5 in the East? I really like what the vets have brought to this team (calm, experience, teamwork) and the young guns look ready (Rose, Noah, Tyrus look bigger, stronger). When are you going to release your rankings?

Bill Kanda

Sam: I think the Bulls will appreciate your optimism. I have to see some of Tyrus first. You know what you will get from Rose, but you also have two rookies heavily in the mix now and you never know how they react once the season starts, though I think Gibson will prove reliable. Orlando looks loaded to me. Miami still has Wade, the second best player in the East, and the Raptors added Turkoglu to Bosh. So now we get to see how much impact Bosh makes. If the Raptors aren’t very good, that would have to raise questions on how much you can afford to pay Bosh or would even want to. If he is good, then they could be a solid playoff team like they were predicted to be last season. Also, don’t sleep on the 76ers, who have a lot of players. Plus, the Wizards get a lot of guys back, but I have my doubts on playing with Arenas. Though the Bulls are 4-1, they are a step back playing without Rose and Thomas. They’ll need to have both playing the last two games, at least, given how difficult the first few weeks are. It’s actually the Free Agent Tour with games the first few weeks against LeBron, Wade and Bosh. I have the Bulls now in that 6-7-8-9 spot, though if you want to go anywhere in the payoffs, you really need to be fifth. I think Atlanta is deep enough to have onto four given how many key injuries they had last season and still stayed at four. The East will be very competitive .

I always wonder why Memphis would trade Pau Gasol for close to nothing. Do you remember when the Bulls was trying to get him and Memphis wanted the house? This trade to the Lakers was always very suspicious to me, seeing how Jerry West (Mr. Laker) was the general manager for Memphis for a few years there. Also Kobe Bryant was practically demanding a trade a year before and basically saying the general manager was incapable of improving the team and had lied to him to get him to resign with them. Then just when it looked liked Kobe would be traded, miraculously this trade happens out of now here. I don't like conspiracy theories, but do you think the fact that the Lakers are the league's darling franchise and as I mentioned above about Jerry West factored into pressuring a small market team to give up its franchise player? For what I consider the worst trade in sports.

Carl Reynolds

Sam: I love a good conspiracy theory, though Memphis owner Mike Heisley insists he needed the cash infusion then and that’s what the deal was about. It did do amazing things for the Lakers, changed Kobe’s thinking and put the franchise in position to win multiple championships. League coaches and GM’s still revile Memphis for the deal, though the Grizzlies say with Marc Gasol and the firsts and the money that enabled them to make some moves and get them in position now where they say they can compete for the playoffs. Yes, it’s preseason. The Bulls didn’t have enough in expiring deals to suit the Grizzlies then, and had they made the deal Pau would have been their best player, and with the Lakers he’s in the ideal spot as a No. 2 guy. And perhaps Pau is enough to at least get the Bulls into the playoffs and they don’t get a shot at Rose. You never know what could have happened. What we do know is it was like the Celtics stealing Bill Russell or Kevin McHale. It set them up for championships, which is what makes great management. But yes, West and Lakers GM Kupchak are very close and Heisley loved West. I’m not ruling anything out as well. A great Lakers team is good for NBA revenues. But so was a great Bulls team.


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