Ask Sam | 12.04.09

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

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I just read Al Harrington for Tyrus and Jerome? Could it be?

Mike Q

Sam: That was from Yahoo, which is usually pretty good with NBA inside stuff. I haven’t heard this around the Bulls and would be a bit surprised. I know there have been talks with teams and names exchanged, which is common and universal. But I haven’t heard there’s anything to something like that. The Bulls actually pursued Harrington in 2004 when they drafted Deng. They traded for the pick to send to the Pacers for Harrington. At the last minute, the Pacers changed their mind and asked for the No. 3 pick, which the Bulls used for Gordon. So the Bulls kept the pick and selected Deng. Afterward, the Bulls began to cool on Harrington and had chances to get him when he was at Golden State but passed. He does have an expiring contract, which is the kind of trade I could see the Bulls pursuing, and he can score, which the Bulls need. He shoots threes, though hasn’t been very accurate this season thus far even with a 41-point game last week. He isn’t noted as a very smart player with his shot selection and not much of a defender. When I checked late Thursday night I heard there wasn’t anything to it.

What's this rumor about the Knicks wanting Tyrus for Al Harrington? Talk about leaving Joakim high and dry under the basket by himself. I can't think of worse idea. Please tell me this is just a rumor started by NYers.

Ken Willis

Sam: The Bulls probably are somewhat anxious for scoring and have not always been all that enamored with Tyrus, whom they could renounce after the season to have cap room for a free agent. Though you’d think they’d want to take a look at what Tyrus can bring playing with Noah with Noah at this level, especially defensively. Tyrus probably is out another two or three weeks, so I’m not exactly sure what would be up with the Knicks since Harrington has been productive off the bench and the Knicks don’t exactly look for defenders. Two issues, and one you mention about Joakim. He’d be alone under the basket with Harrington and Deng more perimeter guys, though Luol has played some four and done well at it. It would make Lu a four and I don’t see him being able to hold up that way. Harrington doesn’t rebound much and is more a three than a four and takes some pretty wild shots while shooting less than 30 percent on threes these days.

Use your contacts, send a note, physically force Vinny, do whatever you have to do: Get James Johnson on the court. That or send him to the D-League so he can at least get some run. That is 2 games in a row now where he got as much PT as I did. The way he is being used, or rather not used, is one of the most mind-boggling things I’ve ever seen. Right behind watching the Bulls select Dalibor Bagaric to help rebuild the post-MJ franchise. Seeing Lindsay Hunter and Jannero Pargo getting extended minutes while Johnson toils away on the bench…I swear it is eating away at my soul. What does the guy have to do? Vinny claims he’s a hard worker and good practice guy, he never pouts on the bench and is supportive of teammates, he hasn’t openly complained to the media, and when he has gotten in lately (like against Toronto) he has tried to make things happen (like grab a defensive board, bring the ball up, then drive the lane – who else on the Bulls can do that?). I don’t buy the “Vinny doesn’t trust him” angle either. How can you even evaluate trust if the guy has never played more than 5 minutes in a row? The worst part for Johnson is, pretty soon Hinrich and Tyrus will be back. And if Johnson isn’t getting any PT now, he’ll never get it once the roster is healthy again. Someone has to do something. Since Vinny isn’t, Gar is staying quiet, and Pax has disappeared, it’s on you Mr. Former Monday Morning GM. Save this kid’s career before Vinny buries him and completely destroys his confidence.

Dan Frystak

Sam: This is my most popular question of the week along with trying to trade for Chris Bosh, which I’ll deal with next. First, we all understand Johnson, or most rookies, isn’t exactly the answer to the scoring issues. But you are exactly right that he needs to get some playing time, especially given the roster lack of depth and injuries at this time. It’s somewhat inexplicable as you are right. Reporters don’t see practice, but I’ve yet to hear anyone say he’s been a problem. I heard Johnson was a bit lax in the summer with attendance, but haven’t heard of issues of late. He’s no Larry Hughes and didn’t go crying to the media. He seems to have an engaging personality and has seemed to maintain a good attitude. He should be playing or, you are correct, go to the D-league if the Bulls don’t think he can play yet. I don’t see a need for that. The one complicating part of all this is another of those unwritten rules. This one involves general managers and coaches. The way it generally works in the NBA is the GM acquires the talent and the coach coaches. The coaches don’t like to be told whom to play. Some react badly to it and bury a guy. I don’t know if that’s been the case as Paxson and Forman have generally made it a point not to instruct coaches whom to play. Actually, I see little reason for this so called rule. The coach works for the GM and the team. The GM hires the coach. The GM should have some say if he wants someone playing. He doesn’t necessarily have to draw up the play. I haven’t been told by Paxson or Forman that Johnson has to play, but I’d tell Vinny to give him some time. See what he can do. Vinny has never struck me as the villainous type who’d purposely bench a guy to get back at management. I think it’s just Vinny feels with the injuries and lack of depth he has such little margin for error that he fears putting in an untrained guy. And it’s not like Vinny is Phil Jackson. Young coaches on first contracts generally feel they have to win, and if they don’t they’ll be fired, and if they are they better get as many wins as they can so they can get another job. So how do you get training if no one will train you? I assume Johnson keeps wondering. He needs to read Catch-22. Once Tyrus and Kirk return he may not deserve to play much. But with guys playing so many minutes now, he probably should play some. He is supposed to be talented, but how do we know. I think management needs to tell Vinny he’s got to play him. Not where or when or with what plays or with whom. But he’s got to get on the court and see if he can help, and not for four or five minutes in a blowout. That shows nothing. We know every game is important for a team like the Bulls with no playoff guarantees. But this is a relatively high first round draft pick. He’s got to play under these circumstances.

Mark my words - if Miami trades Beasley (or whatever), picks and fillers for Bosh so as to appease Wade Chicago fans will absolutely freak out and look at this as another missed opportunity. Not only are you passing up on an all-star power forward, but you also are giving Wade what he wants in order for Miami to re-sign him. It is a win-win for Miami and a lose-lose for the Bulls. A least that will be the perception. As you and I know, in this society perception is reality. I know that you think Bosh is soft but look at Gasol - he could not carry a team and never took his teams to the playoffs and even Garnett could not do it on his own in Minnesota. Both of these guys were labeled soft and look what they have done. I know that Gasol is second fiddle to Kobe but Garnett is undoudtedly the leader of that Boston team. The only thing that would derail the negative press from this happening would be to go get Lebron which is highly unlikely. By letting Miami get Bosh, you essentially lose out on two of the three top tier free agents.

Dan Abdo

Sam: I don’t know that critical reviews are the issue as much as wins and losses. The way things are going now in Toronto, you would guess that anything is possible. They’ve been the major disappointment of the season after signing big free agent Hedo Turkoglu. Their defensive play after yielding an unimaginable 146 points is amazingly pathetic. It would suggest first a team that’s tuned out its coach, and though Jay Triano is in his first full season after replacing Sam Mitchell a year ago, it would seem possible he could be fired with Marc Iavaroni, who is close with general manager Bryan Colangelo, on the staff. Though the larger question is what to do with Bosh. The Raptors have long held that Bosh, if he is leaving, would be better off with a sign and trade deal from Toronto. But those kinds of deals are done with something of the gun-to-your-head mentality and a team could be forced to accept players it doesn’t want from a team the free agent wants to go to. It would seem given Toronto’s decline and Bosh’s continuing frustration he would be the most likely of the big free agents to leave. That would be a heck of a coup for the Heat to trade Beasley plus pieces for Bosh and then even have some money available next summer to sign another free agent, though not a major one. Say Beasley, Udonis Haslem and something would make some sense, though I don’t see the Heat going for a guy like Beasley given not only his off the court issues, but his game being more from the perimeter like Andrea Bargnani. Still, he has some value. I really don’t see much the Bulls would have that would make sense for Toronto without including either Rose or Noah. Obviously, Rose isn’t available, and if you trade Noah for Bosh, assuming Toronto were even interested, you still have to replace a center and some toughness as Bosh isn’t a defensive player. Deng doesn’t seem to make sense for Toronto as they have Turkoglu at that position and Colangelo traded the pick that enabled the Bulls to select Deng. It’s some risk to trade for Bosh given he can become a free agent, but if it’s a team he wants to go to, he’d get that extra year and it would make sense for him to resign. I’ve mentioned it before and I believe it even was talked about some by the teams. One deal that makes a lot of sense for Toronto is with Golden State for Andris Biedrins, who’d fit with Bargnani, and perhaps Monta Ellis, though who knows now after his good play of late. But with Don Nelson returning, it seems unlikely that relationship will recover and Ellis could be available. Perhaps Golden State sees obtaining Bosh as a coup given his All Star and Olympian status. But the way things are going in Toronto, anything seems possible now.

With the Tiger Woods situation I was wondering your take from having been around young millionaire athletes so long. I was far (did I mention FAR?) from ever being in such a position, but I would think that if you're young, rich and famous you'd want to stay single and enjoy what life brings you. By the time these guys are 35 their careers are over or winding down and would seem to make a lot more sense to "settle down" as you open that chapter. Its more the norm these days to get married after 30 anyway. Tiger, Kobe, MJ -- to just think about the women that come at them, wave after wave, how do they or their wives really expect them not to stray? I am not justifying it just stating a fact. A dog is a dog and these are ultra-competitive guys who always are up for a new challenge and trying to top themselves, so to speak. And they're the types that feel they can have it all and get away with it I guess, so maybe that's the rub. And I am sure there are guys who stay faithful. But I almost feel like there should be some kind of seminar/intervention/brainwashing that shows them the likely road if they choose to get married while they are in their professional prime. There's no stopping love I guess, but Steve McNair died playing the game.

Kelly Barone

Sam: I hate to be portrayed as the anti-romantic, but I have long mentioned the same thing to some players. No wonder their wives are among the many women who didn’t want to date me. It’s why you admire Derek Jeter. He seemed to have gotten it right. Be a star in a big city, go out and have fun while you are young and famous and no matter what happens no one can blackmail you. At least about that. NBA orientation ought to show Glenn Close’s Fatal Attraction. Of course, there are many complications to all this that separate logic from reality and actuality and are too personal to get into. Even on the internet. Well, at least this part of it. What sometimes happens is guys are married or close to before they become famous and rich, and it becomes difficult to change that. Look, marriages are difficult under most circumstances and you can imagine when one side is rich and a public hero. Then there are the cases of the so called “trophy wife” syndrome, which you see at times. Sports stars get to be that, in part, with a manic competitiveness. You have that competition gene, and so it seems natural to compete for the prettiest girl. And then when you get her you win. What then? So you get married, right? Maybe it is love. I’d be the last to stand between lovers as most know. I don’t profess to know all the answers to this given my skimpy dating history before I got married. I have explained to my wife many times the perils of the road. Though she also figured it wouldn’t be a problem with me given I travel extensively with millionaire pro athletes, which made me the smallest, weakest, poorest and least famous of the group. I’d say ugliest, too, but I’ve traveled with Dennis Rodman. I told my wife I tried to have affairs constantly, but no one knew I was there. They just look right through you when you’re with a sports star. And operating on logic isn’t a good method for pro athletes, or rarely any of us, I guess. I’ve often talked about why guys take the extra money and end up somewhere they hate and they always take the extra dollar. It’s more complicated to try to stay single in a pro sports atmosphere. I willingly admit I have no idea what they face never having faced that myself, even after the time I pitched a shutout over Lehman College. This I do know: Admire great athletes for what they do and not who they are. They have great skills and abilities worth watching and supporting, but don’t hold them to you own moral standard. It’s yours, not theirs. It’s your right, I guess, but you’ll almost always be disappointed. As Charles Barkley said so eloquently, “I ain’t no role model.”

It seems like having Salmons at small forward and Deng at power forward is a combination that works. Is there a 2 guard out there we can trade for to fill out the starting 5?

Peter Karazeris

Sam: It’s something of the problem without a classic shooting guard. Salmons probably isn’t since he prefers to put the ball down and dribble before shooting and likes to play more toward the basket, though he has been expanding his shooting range some of late. Deng also has rebounded very well and you can get away with him in some lineups, and Vinny uses that lineup at times of Deng at four and Salmons at three with two guards, though it helps when Hinrich is healthy. But it would be too much pounding on Deng to play him there all season. You just don’t pick up big time shooters and I suspect it will take the offseason and perhaps an offer to someone like Joe Johnson in the offseason. The hope is Jannero Pargo is OK since he can fill that role some. One of the reasons people close to the Hornets say they’ve declined the last two seasons was the absence of Pargo, who was a favorite of Chris Paul and blended well. With Rose getting healthier, if Pargo is OK he should be able to provide some of that perimeter shooting. There are guys I believe would be available, like Michael Redd in Milwaukee and Kevin Martin in Sacramento, but if the Bulls make a trade, I don’t see them taking on anyone who doesn’t have an expiring contract unless it’s someone like Bosh.

What's the deal with Vinny del Negro? Does he have incentives in his
contract that pay him for every minute a player plays over 40 minutes?
 At this rate, the wheels are going to fall off around January.

Matt Becker

Sam: It is a concern. Right now the Bulls are caught among three forces, a short 13 player roster to start the season because of the need to keep spending down to avoid the luxury tax, injuries and rookies. Del Negro demonstrated last season when the Bulls played well down the stretch and in the playoffs he’s most comfortable with a short rotation and less substituting. With young coaches in uncertain situations, they tend to coach for each game as if their job is at stake. The circumstances should change some once Tyrus and Kirk, or Kurt, returns. The advantage the Bulls have for now is Noah and Rose are young and Deng didn’t play much in recent seasons. So they’re going to have to suck it up for awhile.

Not that I am a fan of this idea, but with current Bulls scoring so low and the thumb issue Kirk has shouldn't management consider signing AI?

Kevin Franzen

Sam: I received a lot of suggestions to sign Iverson and I’m quite sure like the rest of the NBA the Bulls had no interest. Philly was a unique situation with Lou Williams out and Iverson having starred there and attendance at the bottom of the league. They still made him agree to a non guaranteed deal with a sword over his head every hour. That should tell you something. The Bulls have to feature Derrick Rose and when Iverson plays he has yet to allow partners. As wonderful a talent as Iverson has been, only the truly desperate had interest, and even then the Knicks passed. As one NBA guy told me, “Life is too short to have to deal with everything that goes along with having Iverson on your team.” Good luck, Eddie Jordan.

I saw that Del Harris has now been named the new top assistant in New Jersey. I thought that Del announced he was retiring after last year with the Bulls. Do you read anything into the fact that he decided to come back with a worse team, like he didn't like coaching with Vinny?

Sean Carey

Sam: I wouldn’t fault Vinny. I think Vinny thought the right way in loading up with veteran assistants, so he asked for Del and Bernie Bickerstaff. But you need some young guys on your staff who go out and scout and if you have two veteran sages sometimes that’s one too many because they may have different ideas and both are strong personalities and have a lot to offer. Del understood that and so did the Bulls and I think they came to a mutual agreement, though I never believed for a second Del was retiring. Basketball is his life and he loves it too much and still feels he has a lot to offer.

Is there any way the Bulls broker a deal w/ Washington for Mike Miller? It can't hurt to have a tall shooter w/ an expiring contract, can it? It seems to me that a lack of consistency on jumpers is still the biggest problem; they attempted what, like 3 shots from beyond the arc vs. the Bucks? The lack of deep range will never clear the lane for Rose or give Noah breathing room to work his shaggy magic.

Bob Fore

Sam: Miller’s a guy I mentioned in potential trades a lot a few years ago. He’s broken down quite a bit in recent years and probably is a risk to take on. He’s on the final year of his deal, so that’s appealing and he could be moved. With the Bulls roster so thin, it’s difficult to see how they can come up with $10 million worth of players to interest a team like Washington which likes Miller and had him starting before he was hurt again.

I love all this talk about Ben Gordon getting booed tonight at the UC. The only Ben that gets booed tonight will be The Corpse. I will never forgive him for how he helped eviscerate that team.

Daniel Hodgman

Sam: Well, it was a surprise to us all, especially the intensity of the booing for Gordon. The Bulls players mentioned their surprise afterward, but Chicago is a parochial sports city and I’ve noticed a feeling of desertion when someone leaves. As Ben said, he never won anything in Chicago, so the reaction probably wasn’t a major shock. He did reject a few deals which seemed reasonable for his skill level. This time it didn’t look like a guy the team had run out. As for Wallace, there wasn’t as much booing because the sense was more relief he was gone.

Do you think the Bulls would be interested in Rudy Gay, Ray Allen or Manu Ginobili to add to the guard rotation next year?

Reggie Hullon

Sam: I’d doubt Allen or Ginobili given their age and that you’d have to pay them big money while they’d be on the downside of their careers. Sort of a Ben Wallace type signing. Gay is an intriguing prospect and a great athlete, but with Deng at three I’d doubt the Bulls would pursue him.

I couldn't agree with you more about D-Rose and opening up the court for him and speeding the game (I'm sure you just breathed a sigh of relief getting my stamp of approval). I never quite understand why the Bulls, and they're not alone in this, have a jet-quick guard yet constantly set screens for him with guys like Noah who aren't a threat to score or do anything productive outside 10 feet. It seems to make it easy on teams, allowing teams to easily make the open man the guy they most want to make decisions with the ball. I would think you want teams having to bring the double from the Salmons or Deng defender, not the Noah or Gibson defender. BTW, when you asked the question, "Can you live differently on $15 million compared to $12 million?", I think Antoine Walker would tell you, "Yes.” Seriously, when you say that I totally understand what you mean, that for us we can't imagine our lives being much more different when you're talking about that kind of money, but maybe NBA guys see people like Walker and think, "Wow, it could all go away one day."

Craig Berry

Sam: Good point on Antoine as I always tell people. Don’t compare your lives and values to theirs. I keep making the same mistake being around the players, who seem so normal when you get to know them. Though I rarely see them anymore outside the arena. As for Rose and the screens, I asked Derrick about that and he said he rarely has had screens set for him anywhere he’s played and if you’ll recall Memphis stopped after doing it a bit early in his season there and they went to the final game. I think Rose is better than Tony Parker and needs to play that way more, streaking to the basket and breaking down teams. Derrick at his age is a way better shooter than Tony.

It's time to talk about the elephant in the room. The Bulls are two players away from competing for a championship. They need a PF and a SG. If they sign someone like Wade, Taj and Noah will be overpowered in the paint, If they sign Bosh, the lack of outside shooting will haunt them. To make matters worse, they will need to gut a .500 team to sign one max player. I'm also not sure coming to play with Rose will be much of a draw. So, three questions: 1. Do you see a star player taking less money to come to Chicago when they are not likely to play for a title? 2. Do the Bulls really believe they are just one star away from the Lakers, Celtics, and Magic? 3. Do the Bulls view Rose as a Franchise type player or closer to a Tim Hardaway (an impact player and an all-star -- but not the guy you build around)? P.S I have been reading your articles since the late 80s There are 3 people who got me into the NBA: you, Jordan, and Bernie Linicome (I loved his jokes at Cartwright and Perdue's expense. My personal favorite: "I predict we have not heard the first from Will Perdue").

Karl Meszaros

Sam: I, too, miss Bernie’s writing, which is the saddest part of the decline of the newspaper industry. It’s been dumbed down in large part to highlight tabloid material with the notion that you are an idiot and have little ability to read something of depth that might make you think. I always came away from a Bernie column with a laugh and with saying I wished I could have made a sentence like that. Thanks for including me in that group. I know even Will laughed at that one. The real elephant is the truth that the Bulls are trying just to improve. It’s not a championship or bust but a process. They hope Derrick can be a star, but don’t know for sure yet, obviously. They’d like to add multiple pieces, but will add what they can and go from there. Most forget, but as late as 1990—and you could look it up—there were Chicago columnists writing the Bulls would never win with Jordan. The Bulls will shoot high and hope they at least get a double and get some guys on base and…OK, make that they will think slam dunk and settle for a solid layup and moving ahead.

If the Bulls were to get lucky and got themselves Chris Bosh what jersey number would he be? He couldn't be 4 because that number has been retired by the bulls for Sloan.

Matthew Griswold

Sam: Maybe just several zeros for all the money he’d be making.

Why don't they try and package a deal to get Monta Ellis, I know there's the money situation with Ellis, but we need a scoring boost on this depleted Chicago offense. Him and rose in the backcourt, although it won't be the best defensive backcourt, would be one of the most exciting backcourts in the league. I think last year you wrote about this possible move to Chicago with Ellis, you still think it can work?

Mike Ribeiro

Sam: I wrote exactly that a year ago, that I’d take a shot at Ellis and have my free agent in the bag. Ellis has had a fabulous week without the ill Don Nelson. Who knows what happens from here. The Warriors always had interest in Hinrich, but you never know what Golden State is thinking and I’d guess it’s tough to do a deal with them.

Could I get your honest opinion on Vinny Del Negro as the Bulls’ head coach. Do you think his presence in that role helps or hurts our chances of attracting major free agents this summer? Vinny seems like a nice guy, but I wonder if our players, especially Derek Rose, would be better served by having a more experienced, more imaginative coach who could bring out their best play and institute a system that fits the current personnel. Also, do you think Rose’s game would be stronger and further along at this stage if he were being guided by a different kind of coach (e.g., Avery Johnson, Byron Scott, Mike D’Antoni, Doug Collins)?

Ed Gilbreath

Sam: I always get a bunch of coach-must-go-stuff during a losing streak and did when the Bulls dropped five straight last week. It’s a bit early for that kind of talk with Vinny given how far the team came late last season and with the injuries thus far with Rose then Tyrus then Hinrich. We’ll see what happens when they have a healthy roster. Though I would like to see Rose put in a better position to have the team run with the court open more. I agree there are complications, like weak three point shooting. Chris Paul loved Scott and Scott was just fired. Avery Johnson held back Devin Harris and plays a slow game. The Bulls couldn’t work out anything with Collins. D’Antoni didn’t want to wait to deal with the Bulls and went to New York. So it’s not like there were that many options. With Rose healthier now, let’s see how Rose comes on. The jury should still be out on evaluating Vinny given the circumstances and that last season with so many roster changes went about as well as could be expected.

It is impulsive and short sighted to turn on Vinny for a few road
losses to good teams (mostly). That being said, we should fire him right now.

John Leichenko

Sam: I’ll pass along your support.


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