Ask Sam | 10.30.09
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of e-mails from his readers.
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It was a great opening night win for the Bulls. It seemed like they had great chemistry on the floor. However, one thing that stood out as a great concern was John Salmon's shooting. He was only 3 of 15 shooting not to mention only 1 of 9 behind the arc. Do you think this was just opening night jitters, or a real concern for the rest of the season?
Sam: No big deal. He got good shots and worked hard. He's never been a great three point shooter and seems more comfortable playing midrange with his drive and spin back move. I'd tell him to stay off the line more unless he's more comfortable there. Luol Deng had his best season when Scott Skiles told him to do that. Yes, it leaves the Bulls without a lot of great three point shooting threats, though Salmons will be a better defender and should shoot at least 30 percent on threes. Hinrich will make some and Pargo at some point. The Spurs, you may have noticed, were four of 21 on threes. As we knew, the Bulls would lose something without Gordon shooting threes. But it looks like they're gaining something on diversifying the scoring.
I was watching the NBA finals of '93 between the Suns and Bulls (game 6). I realized that Bulls team had three good to great shooters Trent Tucker, B.J. and Paxson. This years Bulls team doens't have a shooter that would enter a contest. Is there anyone out there that the Bulls can acquire? I think Rose would be better with guys who can shoot.
Sam: Perimeter shooting will be a question because of the loss of Ben Gordon. It's not like Tucker and Paxson, who'd been replaced by Armstrong, played big roles that season. Paxson made just 19 threes all season. Thus far Hinrich has shot the ball well from three and Salmons also has range. Pargo may make some in spurts, but it will remain a question with this team because the perimeter shooters won't get as open because with Noah and Thomas inside there won't be much double teaming the post. They'll have to do it will ball movement, drive and kick stuff, and we even saw Brad Miller hit a few. The notion being promulgated is they won't need as much scoring with improved defense. So we'll see if that works.
Looking at your preview, I realized this should be a very interesting season. What's nice about it is that it's not just the teams at the top—Celtics/Magic/Cavs and Lakers/Spurs—fighting it out with all revamping their lineups despite their success—but the teams at the bottom who will provide intrigue as well. It's nice to see Phoenix going back to their running ways. Seeing them try to play traditional basketball made me sad, like seeing Nicholson after the lobotomy in "Cuckoo's Nest". It took away what made them so fun to watch. My favorite, though, is the Grizzlies. They remind me of when I was a kid and I used to play Strat-o-Matic basketball and I'd put together teams with World Free at point guard just to see if it worked in fake basketball any better than it would with the real deal. I'm guessing Thabeet and Conley will wind up with about 3 shots a game each since they'll never be able to wrestle the ball away from Mayo, Iverson, and Randolph. Even that would be 2 shots too many for Thabeet.
Sam: Strat-o-matic basketball? Now that's early dedication. Looks like Thabeet already has everyone's vote for bust of the year, though as you say, how would we know in that nest.
What is your take on the Rose ankle injury? Do you think this will be a lingering problem for the whole season?
Sam: That's the private fear, though Rose is what you'd call a gamer in the Kobe mold. I think he'll do everything to play and unless it's something that needs surgery he'll be out there.
I believe you said at some point that the 1991 Bulls were the best of the six Chicago Championship teams. I would argue the 1996 team was slightly better with Harper and Kukoc. I believe the three best NBA teams ever are: (my criteria is if there was a time machine built and these teams could play against each other on the same court.)
1. 1996 Bulls
2. 1986 Celtics
3. 1987 Lakers
Sam: The unanswerable question. The '96 Bulls won the most games and were the most dominant team in having the best record, best two year record and best three year record. Harper and Kukoc were reserve type role players at the time, and the talent of that team, at least to me, didn't match Jordan and Pippen closer to their primes. I've seen where Pippen now says this year's Lakers team could beat out the '96 Bulls. Scottie isn't very connected anymore, so you can't pay that much attention to him. But he has a point with the Lakers' size. The Bulls never had that kind of talented size. There are many standards, like Hall of Famers. The Bulls had two with Pippen to come. The '86 Celtics had four and Dennis Johnson could be a fifth some time. The Celtics of the early 60's had eight one season. So on historical accomplishment no one could compete with that team. And that Celtics team was facing teams with Wilt, Oscar, West, Baylor and Pettit—the best players in the game's history—up to a dozen times a season. You best case is saying the '96 Bulls won more games than any team.
What do you think about Jannero Pargo? I mean, he isn't a great player, and the last year he had problems playing in Europe, so what do you think he can do in the NBA? Overmore, I'd like to ask you about Danilo Gallinari. He's a very good player, he demonstraded it with Milano in Italy, and if he'll feel healthy this year I think he could be the best Knicks' player.
So why Chicago doesn't try a shot at him? He's a 6' 9" who can shoot the three better than most guards, he does pass the ball well, he understands the game and he's smart. Overmore, he can handle the ball, and he's good with the pull up, that's a lost art in the NBA. This guy is a superstar waiting to explode, and if we can take him now, we'll be repayed in the upcoming years.
Sam: It's always nice to know those in Italy are reading. Pargo will be fine. He was brought in as a fourth guard, which means he'll get limited minutes and more situational. He was not brought in to replace Ben Gordon as he's not that kind of player. As for Gallinari, he's a project with the Knicks. With a small contract they aren't about to trade him and have made him a proposed future building block. No one has seen it yet as he's hardly played, and I doubt he'll develop much in what looks to be an awful Knicks season in what also looks to be a failed free agency plan for the future given the decline in the salary cap.
No one is writing about the Deng situation. He looks slow and out of shape, he can't jump, and he's had more layups blocked than he's made. London game aside he has looked terrible throughout the preseason, and yet it seems a forgone conclusion that he's our starter at the 3. Do you see him coming off the bench some time soon? What is the status of his injury/conditioning?
Sam: Actually, everybody is writing about the Deng "situation." He's coming off injury and missing great parts of the last two seasons. He seems determined to get back to where he was a few years ago and he certainly deserves a chance to do so. I don't really see the Bulls having any real options that would make him a reserve given that would require a Rose/Hinrich backcourt, which again would be smaller than the team would like. I thought he made a good point in the opener Thursday that he is headed back in the right direction.
Now that the Bulls have finished the preseason 6-2, the best preseason record they've had since MJ left to my knowledge, have the Bulls finally rebuilt their dynasty? After nearly knocking off Boston in the playoffs and now a 6-2 preseason, are the Bulls "back in town?" Do you see them making it farther than the first round this year?
Sam: Well, that's optimistic. Let's say when someone looks like Michael Jordan they'll be close. Now the Bulls seem to be a team that could be in the running for a spot as high as fourth or fifth in the East. I picked fifth in my preseason prediction. That gives you a decent chance to advance to the second round. That would be terrific progress if they could do that. I'd forget the preseason as quickly as I could.
What's the story behind the feud that Norm Van Lier had with the Bulls Organization? I understand that it may not be something appropriate for public knowledge, but it's one of those things that's difficult to accept. I always looked forward to watching NVL's Bulls analysis, and like Red Kerr and many other Bulls faithful, he never publicly had anything bad to say about the team and always was very constructive with his analysis. It was difficult to watch all the public honoring of Johnny Red without much tribute to Van Lier and it's very disheartening. I was exited to see him inquire about the coaching vacancy because he always seemed genuinely concerned for the success of the team; although in hindsight, perhaps his passion may have been too much to be head coach. Like many others, I was shocked to learn that Mr. Van Lier had been mentally tormented by his relationship with the organization. All the while, no details as to why there were bad feelings were made public.
Sam: There was no great feud. Perhaps on Norm's side, though that was who Norm was. His passions drove him, and like Jordan, to an extent, he'd manufacture issues that fueled his drive. If the Bulls had an issue with Norm he never would have worked for Comcast since they are partners with the Bulls. Norm always thought he could be a coach, which was a part of his competitiveness to be able to do things people said he couldn't, which is what made him a star player. But he didn't have the discipline and mentality to be a coach in the NBA. He was ideal in his role and had a long career in Chicago sports broadcasting. We all wish it could have been longer. From everything I heard, it sounded like the Bulls were very fair with Norm. There are a lot of former Bulls who would have loved to have the jobs around the team Norm did.
I was just thinking about 2010. A lot of the experts, yourself included, are predicting we probably aren't getting Bosh, Wade or Stoudemire when/if they become free agents for 2010. What now do you think the Bulls will do with the cap space? Do they trade their expiring contracts for a player now or target a second tier free agent like Joe Johnson come 2010 free agency? If they trade for a player in-season, who do you think they trade for?
Sam: A lot of experts—OK, all of them—don't know. What we do know is things change quickly in the NBA and on things you'd never predict. So I am not ruling out anything for next summer. I think the guys who are going to come up this season are Boozer, then Stoudemire unless the Suns are in serious contention, which most doubt, and perhaps even Joe Johnson if the Hawks slip and the organization decides it won't be able to pay Johnson. The Bulls could make a move for Boozer, who has an expiring deal, though you can't give up too much for a potential rental. Perhaps Johnson, though their priority isn't a guard unless it's Wade while Stoudemire can always choose not to opt out and then the Bulls would be out of the 2010 bidding and be stuck with Stoudemire for one season. So I don't see them pursuing him if he became available.
Did I read somewhere that the Bulls players named Noah's free throw "The Tornado" because of the sideways action on the ball? My wife and I always slap high fives for Tornado Time! Can you say something about the Bull's killer schedule? Even if they had had a full strength training camp, they could play well and still easily be 5 -18 or so after playing the Lakers on December 15. But then the schedule changes sharply! Yes, I know it's impossible to predict the mid-range powers in advance, but I don't see the Bulls breaking .500 until March 1 or so, 30 - 30. And after that it looks like a 42-win season or so, and a probable playoff spot, but it's going to be soul-crushing early on... Maybe you can remind us of the good times ahead, back-to-backs against the Knicks, etc...
Sam: I congratulate you on a strong, if strange, marriage. There is that possibility, and I'll tell you the Bulls are privately worried about it. They know public opinion doesn't take long to change or sour. If the Bulls were hanging around .500 or below into February, I believe there would be hysteria for the team to do something by the trade deadline, and I believe they want to be patient and get into the summer and do something. It's difficult for any management to hold to a plan under public pressure, so the Bulls are looking to steal some wins early and take the pressure off and it was a good start toward that against the Spurs.
I heard the Jazz will have an unprotected pick from the Knicks in the 2010 NBA Draft? Is it true? If yes, where does the pick come from?
Sam: That was, I believe, from the Marbury deal in some convoluted old transaction involving the Tom Gugliotta deal in 2004. Just another reason free agents aren't about to be flocking to New York.
The Grizzlies recently had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar meet with the Grizzlies centers which include potential heavy guys Hasheem Thabeet, Marc Gasol, & Hamed Haddadi. Kareem is a legend, but given his notorious attitude & his reputation for a lack of defensive effort as a player, is he the guy the Grizz want to teach "The Presence" Hasheem Thabeet? If the Grizz are willing to invest money to teach the young centers, are there some better guys out there? Wouldn't Dikembe Mutumbo, Hakeem Olajuwon, or Alonzo Mourning be better consultants to tutor the Grizz centers? Can you think of a better guy than a Frosty Kareem to help these centers? Won't Grizzlies fans be livid when The Presence is missing sky hooks?
Sam: Actually, that was the old Kareem. Old age and being rejected can change your perspective on life and people. Kareem seems to have mellowed quite a bit in recent years and I thought he did a very good job with Andrew Bynum. I'm not sure why the Lakers let him go, but I think he could help Thabeet, who surely needs it.
I'm very pessimistic about the Bulls chances of landing a top free agent next summer. Lebron and Wade will, in my view, re-sign. I'm not banking on Chris Bosh coming to us although he might be a good fit and I'm not crazy on Amare Stoudemire either. He's had some injuries in the last few years, has a bad attitude, doesn't play much defense and who knows how much of his success his based off of Phoenix's system and Steve Nash feeding him. With that, what are your thoughts on the Bulls pursuing Nick Young? They could probably get him cheap, especially if he can't find minutes in the Wizards crowded frontcourt this year, and he might have some potential as a scorer off the bench for them.
Sam: I think the Bulls are going to shoot higher than that. Much higher. I actually like Young and noticed he didn't play in the Wizards opener with their excess of guards and Randy Foye playing so well. Arenas is going to eat up minutes and there just isn't going to be enough as Flip Saunders obviously likes Mike Miller. I think Young would be a nice pickup for someone, but the Wizards don't give up their young players cheaply. Or a Young player.
What's your take on Hinrich this year. Is he gonna be here all year or can is a trade of Hinrich more likely. If a trade does happen involving Hinrich, what would be the situation? Is it because the Bulls are having a losing season, or is it because the Bulls are one piece away, or is it simply a salary dump is available. I suppose I should ask the same for Luol Deng although it is pretty premature at the time. However, if Luol isn't producing by February or meshing with the Bulls do you see him being traded (to pull one out of your playbook, a trade for Ferald Wallace works finanicially and makes sense for both teams, especially if the Bulls are looking to let tyrus go at the end of the season).
Sam: First Deng. He's not being traded and I seriously doubt the Bulls even are interested in trading him. Assuming they were, with his long contract and coming off injury, there's no chance there'd be any interest. And if he were not playing well, there'd be less interest. That said, I believe the Bulls feel he'll have a good season. Kirk's situation is more interesting. There's a chance, like in a deal for Carlos Boozer with the Jazz short on guards, the Bulls could offload a salary and then perhaps have money for two free agents next summer. But with Rose's ankle problems in the preseason and no other backup point (Pargo isn't), it would be a big risk to lose Hinrich. Plus, the backcourt rotation looks pretty strong with Hinrich. I expect he'll remain with the team.
This is a criticism I've had of the Cavs for a long time, and it popped up during the game tonight. Why, when you have a speedy top backcourt of Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, and Delonte West, do you run half-court sets with your best player at the point forward? What good is it if Lebron brings the ball up slowly (or someone else brings it up slowly and passes to him, Bambi-eyes pleading, 'work your magic, LBJ')? What about a fast-paced, open-court offense? Lebron can make it up and down the court in about three steps. I don't see him going to NY next season at all, but I see him begging for a system like D'Antoni's. Or at least something that lets them play like most of the team's under 30. Halfcourt sets are for teams like the Celtics, with good defense and older players. Not if you have three fast ballhandlers on the floor at all times. So glad the NBA's starting back up. Baseball is so boring and football only happens once a week.
Sam: I agree. On a lot of that stuff. As for the Cavs, why aren't you coaching them? Someone else may be before this season ends. They certainly don't seem to have anyone doing it. It's been obvious for years that LeBron is so much better and the team so much better when they play fast and open. But no one runs a one on four offense better than the Cavs. Ssshhhhhh. Maybe we shouldn't mention it to them, at least until after the Bulls play them four times. Already we can see, especially with Shaq, the Cavs are going to have some issues figuring this out as they played well only when they went small and were quicker.
I was listening to Reggie Miller talk about how you had to hold down the superstars to 7-8 free throws max per game and how you'd be "in trouble" if you let the likes of Kobe, Paul Pierce, LeBron, Wade, etc. get more than that. That got me thinking about our very own budding superstar. Derrick Rose. Can we expect to see Rose at the free throw line a little more often this season? I looked up some stats from Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade from their rookie seasons and they shot WAY, WAY more FTs than our Rookie of the Year. Wade averaged 5.1 FTs per game as a rookie and Carmelo averaged a staggering 6.4 FTs per game. Rose averaged a mere 3.1. Wade was more like Rose in my opinion doing a lot of driving to the basket to draw contact so those are the numbers I was expecting for Rose last year. What I don't get is Carmelo's FTs. He's more of a jump shooter on the perimeter so how does he get so many calls? Carmelo was 5th in the NBA in FTAs as a rookie so why no love for Rose?
Marc A. Brauer
Sam: I know there's that "he's a rookie thing," though I thought more with Rose was the way he drove and then was so quick he could avoid the contact. I think with him he was more accustomed to having just come out of playing in the Chicago playgrounds where you aren't going to get calls going to the basket. I remember watching Jordan not long after Pippen joined the Bulls showing Pippen how to drive and go into a defender and then finish your shot. Wade was a more mature player having gone to college several years, and Anthony played in the post and inside a lot. That's one area for Rose for improve. He's a quick study and I think you'll see him taking the hit since he's strong and can do it and drawing more calls this season.
I am a bit puzzled why the Bulls didn't do any major additions in the offseason? I look around at all these other teams that were already good last year, and now they are even better... like the Lakers and Celtics... why didn't the Bulls pull some strings to get some major big name talent to support Deng and Rose? I mean they lost Gordon in the off season, who else is going to score for them? I really fear this is going to be another long season for the Bulls.
Sam: They have a plan. We'll see if it succeeds. It was to be in position after this season to make major acquisitions. I know you are supposed to believe you can compete and win all the time, but it also was unrealistic to think the Bulls are better than the Celtics and Magic. I would have added the Cavs, but Shaq seems to be upsetting his third team in a row. Had they paid Gordon, they would have put themselves out of the 2010 free agent market, and while there's no certainty you'll get anyone major, you cannot be in the situation where a guy wanted to come and you can't pay him. Perhaps it looks like giving up this season, but I don't fully see it that way. The acquisitions of Miller and Salmons were geared a lot toward this season, so you may say the Bulls just moved earlier. The Bulls, from what I understand, were involved in talks for some major players. But teams wanted Noah or Rose or players like that, so the talks didn't go anywhere.
I really get a sense that the Bulls are poised to take a forward step as a team, as their main ball handler and decision maker will be Rose instead of Gordon. It seems that the team had a bit of the Iverson syndrome when Ben was here. Ben dominated the ball and the rest of the players on the court pretty much knew he was going to jack the ball up regardless of who was open on a given play, so maybe they weren't locked in on the offensive side. Some of this probably carried over on the defensive side as well for a player like Thomas who is either emotionally involved in the game, or busy making scowling faces and feeling hurt. The rest of the players on the team seem to take their roles in stride now with Kirk and Miller coming off the bench, and Luol seeing how important Rose is to his productivity, or lack of, in the preseason. Do you think the Bulls could realistically grab the 4 seed and get to the 2nd round of the playoffs? What they were missing in the Skiles playoff era, it seems to me, was athleticism to match up with the best teams and to overpower the weaker teams. It seemed like with every win they had to grind it out. Now they have the quick athletes in Rose, Thomas, and Noah to some degree, along with some savvy veterans in Miller and Salmons, to go with their intelligent, "skilled" players such as Hinrich and Deng. Is this a perfect mix or a beautiful disaster in the waiting?
Sam: The Ben/Iverson analogy is an interesting one. It's sort of that 800-pound elephant thing. There always was a lot of eyeball rolling about some of Ben's shots and his monopolizing the ball. But great players always do that. Michael had the ball and dribbled all over the place. Was Ben good enough to do that? Some on the Bulls felt no. Some believed he did. There was a group who felt they'd be better off with more ball movement, but then you needed Ben, who could make big shots and get on a roll better than anyone. We'll see how it goes, though Ben got off to a nice start with the Pistons, who seem like they'll play mostly guard rotations and he'll get plenty of time and shots. I think the Bulls now are bigger and quicker, but perhaps without the perimeter shooting threats and the hard drive and kick game Skiles pushed. I think it will be tough to get to four, though I think the East is pretty open four through 10, and perhaps three if the Cavs don't figure things out. Though we assume they will as James is really, really good.
Do you do Cavs trades too? Here's an idea: Big Z and Delonte West to the Bucks for Michael Redd and maybe Francisco Elson. It'd save the Bucks about $12 to $13 million next year and gives the Cavs a reliable outside shooter who played well with Mo Williams in Milwaukee a couple of years ago. Redd is an Ohio guy and would welcome the trade. Z might retire on the spot but Milwaukee would be OK with that I think.
Sam: You should know I try to help everyone. The talk of a shooting guard mostly has been about Stephen Jackson for Z. After seeing Z and Shaq play together as Mike Brown says he wants to do, it seems obvious you've got to get rid of one. The Cavs have had interest for some time in Redd, which helped him get his big deal from the Bucks. I think his time is done there as I don't see him fitting with Skiles' game. But the Bucks have offloaded so much talent, and free agents don't exactly flock there it would look bad to give him up for basically nothing as they did about that with Richard Jefferson. But I like the concepts.
Put this in your mailbag... Dejuan Blair will be rookie of the year! You and all the other doubters around the NBA wrote this guy off. The Bulls were crazy to not draft this guy and now look what has happened. The guy is an absolute stud! Sure it's early days but the guy has been a monster on the boards in the pre season and now in his first season game. He can score inside so easily (something the Bulls haven't really had since Elton Brand). Now we have to pray on Thomas to develop (which I doubt will ever happen) and if that fails our two new rookies will never be what Blair is doing ALREADY. If Pop doesn't cut the guy's minutes back then watch this guy push for a starting spot within 6 weeks on that already awesome lineup. Remember this post R.O.Y.!
Sam: I don't think rookie of the year because, as you say, I don't see the minutes. Look, everyone passed him in the first round. The surprise was he got as far as he did in the second round. As I've written before, he'll be a second guess for everyone. I think the Bulls did fine with Taj Gibson, but we know Blair will be a fan favorite because he's a bruiser. No one wrote him off but the NBA physicians, who said he had no ACL's. Perhaps health care reform will stop this kind of thing in the future. And if you had to measure Blair against Gibson Thursday, Gibson clearly outplayed him and had more impact for the team. As I said, I'd hold off that rookie of the year bet.