Ask Sam | 12.18.09

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

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I emailed you about two weeks ago about Tracy McGrady and his $23 million expiring contract and you kinda shot me down. But with the Bulls poor play it seems like something the Bulls should look into and they have been rumored to be interested along with the Knicks and the Heat. If the Bulls don't improve their play wouldn't it make sense the see if Houston would be interested in Deng and maybe an expiring contract? Or Deng and Hinrich? Their contracts are handcuffing the team and they don't really fit well with Rose.

Personally I don't think either should be on this team because they are both too inconsistent and while Deng has had a decent year statistically I don't believe he's a winner. He's dependence on shooting the 20 foot jumper (the worst shot in basketball) I think is a problem for this team.

Your argument was who would be left on the roster? My reply is who cares. Next season you would have cap room for 2 max players. You'd have Taj, Johnson, 1st pick, 2nd rounder, and the MLE for your bench. That sounds great to me.

Steve Frederick

Sam: I still don’t think you give up so much for cap room that might lead to nothing substantial. You don’t get a mid level exception, by the way, if you are under the cap. Though I have generally pooh poohed this McGrady stuff because I wasn’t sure he could even walk, there does seem to be a growing market. I’m not one for giving up a season on a hunch and bet as the Bulls still could make the playoffs. I know. Big deal, and it’s a first round out. But I do believe in the sanctity of competition and you owe your fans and your players the ability to compete. I might give up Salmons or Hinrich and an expiring deal, which would put me in position for one max free agent since if Salmons doesn’t opt out the Bulls aren’t far enough under. But I get the sense Houston sees McGrady’s contract as a prize to get something substantial because teams are both looking for cap space or just trying to save money at a bad economic time. I can see Houston making a pitch for someone like Bosh with the big expiring deal. Maybe Stoudemire or one of those young Golden State prospects. At least in the short term, I believe they’re thinking big. If they can’t do that, I see them keeping McGrady to save the money themselves.

I guess I'm being overly judgmental by deciding that VD isn’t (ready) just
because he comes off as kind of a meat head when interviewed, but I
listened for a while (Thursday) and he sounds like someone learning how to
coach. I don't care what anyone says, this team is fun to watch when they play
hard, even when they lose (Lakers). The blow outs are ridiculous, but
when they get it together, I like this team. Salmons remembered how to
play basketball tonight

John Liechenko

Sam: Yes, wins feel a lot better. It seems the Vinny storm has passed for now and since D’Antoni was a rival for the Bulls job that Vinny got, I guess it was a good night for Vinny to see the Knicks looking less organized and efficient.

I’m from Glasgow, Scotland and I've never liked Vinnie del Negro. I think my dislike
for him stemmed from playing NBA in the Zone 2 on the Playstation back
in 96, when he killed me playing for the Spurs leaving me with an 81-1
record for the season. His appointment as head coach, therefore, made
me incredibly unhappy. However, the results he produced last season
made me warm to him a little. After the disaster of the year before, I
didn't have much hope last year, so making the playoffs was a pleasant
This season, I think he has been left out to dry by the Bulls front
office. He's getting the brunt of the fans displeasure at the recent
losses (which have been woeful, don't get me wrong). But the Bulls
management knew what to expect this season- they deliberately weakened
the team to leave enough cap space (in theory) to get one of the big
guns in 2010. This year was always going to be hard. Add to the fact
that the bottom end of the roster they constructed is pretty much
useless. We
were a disaster waiting to happen. Forman or Pax should come out and
publicly defend VDN, and try to make a small roster tweak that can
help us become more competitive.

Ally Meek

Sam: It appears the heat is off Vinny for now, though we know that can change any time. My sense is the Bulls are not happy with how the season has gone, but they know the interim route is, in effect, giving up the season and could be worse. Plus, you don’t want to overreact to the losses and hire someone to turn things around—though that doesn’t happen—at a time you should be thinking about the next several years and not a quick fix. And you are right, Vinny hasn’t had a full deck. There was more hope than confidence going into this season. Everyone knew it—every prediction I saw had the Bulls between fifth and 12th in the East—but it hurts to go through it. The team did decide on a plan, and that plan was directed toward 2010. So that complicates things for a coach. The Bulls made a corporate decision not to exceed the luxury tax because they were not championship contenders, which is not unusual around the NBA, and to not risk signing Ben Gordon and losing their cap space for a potential free agent in 2010. They could have gambled they’d be able to trade someone like Kirk Hinrich for an expiring deal, which looks doubtful the way things have gone. They gambled John Salmons would play like he did last season and thus opt out of his contract for a long term deal. That looked certain last season. It looks uncertain now. They believed Salmons could fit into shooting guard and it made some sense given he shot 42 percent on threes last season. He hasn’t been the same player. Tyrus Thomas, of course, was injured, and the Bulls missed Gordon more than they expected they would. Just because you own or run a team doesn’t mean you get everything right. I thought the key to this season was to be .500 and thus not lose momentum from last season and present a core of free agents for free agency. It still remains possible, though the team has to improve. After beating the Spurs and Cavs, I thought they might have something. Lately it’s looked miserable, and everyone in sports knows the coach pays for the mistakes of his players and bosses. I’m hoping the Bulls let it go some and see what they can put together once the team gets healthy. Perhaps Vinny tweaks some things, and I think there’s a chance the Bulls make a deal of some sort to shake things up a bit. I guess they could come out and give Vinny a vote of confidence, but we know how little that means. Usually it means firing is imminent. You would like to see someone in management address some of this at some point, but for now Vinny has to keep his head down, act professionally, which he has, and hope someone can make a three.

I find this "Fire VDN" movement that is currently brewing a little premature and ridiculous, given the roster lacks any inside scoring or three point shooting (please come back Ben). Tell me: if (when) the Bulls fail to land their prized star free-agent during this upcoming summer, will the heat finally (and rightfully) shift to "Gar Paxson"?

James Fleming

Sam: That’s the way it works. Paxson hasn’t run from responsibility in the past and if things don’t work out I expect those guys will be out front. The thing people don’t understand is they do care. Krause did, too. Even Jonathan Kovler. I’ve been with Paxson during games and he can’t watch half the time, even when things are going well. Put yourself in their place. I know it’s easy to say, “If I were making that money…” I know on a smaller scale, like when The Jordan Rules was published. Many of my colleagues were in a fury and whipped up a segment of the public and the media to condemn me. I’d do talk radio interviews and be yelled at by guys on the air. Mostly the hosts. No one likes reading or hearing about how evil they are. It’s part of the job and you deal with it. Though the notion they are indifferent doesn’t make sense. They mess up and you just have to switch to wait for baseball season. They lose their jobs. And when you mess up you do. Krause’s teams won six titles and when it fell apart he did, also. As far as I can tell, the heat is always on the GM and management.

Imagine the Bulls got the ninth pick in that draft as they were supposed to. What kind of team would they have?

PG: Hinrich
SG: Gordon
SF: Deng
PF: Noah
C: Brook Lopez (w/our 9th pick in 2008)
Bench: Tyrus, Miller, Salmons, Ty Lawson (w/our 16th pick this year)

With a front court featuring 2 7 footers, an extra 3 million in cap space for the difference between a #1's salary and a #9, and none of the Derrick Rose hype about how we could now attract a star free agent because they'd want to play with such a dynamic young PG, I think the Bulls would have looked past his spotty defense, the summer of 2010 & luxury tax concerns and signed Gordon whom they probably could have signed for 8.5-9M during the season. Even w/out resigning Ben, a lineup of Hinrich, Salmons, Deng, Noah and Lopez would beat one with Rose, Salmons, Deng, Tyrus and Noah. In the '09 draft, since we'd have Noah & Thomas and a weak PG situation, we'd probably have passed on Johnson and taken a PG like Ty Lawson or Jrue Holiday with the 16th and either have dealt the 26th (for FA cap space next summer) or picked a prospect who'd play in Europe for a few years.

Chris Brown

Sam: Of course, not believing Hinrich was the point guard for the future, they might have done what Charlotte did at No. 9 and draft D. J. Augustin. I know I wrote that last week about if the Bulls hadn’t lucked into Rose. I’m not sure what everyone expects of Rose, but I think he’s been coming along fine and doing what he can. I notice Lopez playing with an All-Star point guard is on the worst team in the NBA. Nothing against Lopez and I’d like to have him, but I’ll still take Rose and the Bulls are fortunate to have him. Instead of probably Augustin. Or maybe trying to trade up to go for Joe Alexander.

Before free agency next year and I have a strong feeling we will land a top player. Why not just blow this season out and hope to get a top pick next year, although I don't see next year’s class with amazing players like this year. But there are still a lot of talented players apart from Wall who can’t be touched. You have guys like Ed Davis, Derrick Favors and Xavier Henry, all three would make the Bulls stronger, then add someone.

Hayyan Mansoor

Sam: Although the consensus lately in the emails I get is more depression and that no free agent is going to come to a team playing like the Bulls are this season, the other theme I am hearing is this, to throw away the rest of the season, tank the games for a draft pick—as if the way the team has played the last month they have to worry about trying to lose—and get another high draft pick. I know fans love the draft and the possibilities of a young star and I’m always amazed the way fans build up the draft as the answer to the future. I agree building through the draft has been the most successful, but when you get Jordan or James or Duncan. Not, say, when you get Bogut or Bargnani. If I were a free agent the last place I’d be looking to go is to a losing team of that magnitude because losing too often breeds losers, and then you have to blow up your team again to get rid of the bad attitudes. The East remains wide open and it would seem to me the best interests of the Bulls’ future to try to make the playoffs and perhaps pull off a deal to help in that quest.

Trade Hinrich to the Lakers for expiring contracts (Morrison, Farmar, and Powell) and a 2011 first rounder. Then find a taker for James Johnson and our 2010 1st rounder for 2011 draft picks. Then let Salmons and Thomas walk, which I think is the plan anyway That leaves the Bulls with the following roster:

Rose 5.546 million
Deng 11.355 million
Noah 3.128 million
Gibson 1.117 million
TOTAL 21.146 million

If the cap comes in at 53 million, a max contract would start at 15.9 million (30% of the cap). This would give the Bulls enough to sign two max free agents. I know I've seen you write that mortgaging everything to clear cap space is risky, but this plan keeps the core players together. I'm one of Hinrich's biggest fans, but at 8-9 million a year, he's a luxury we can't afford. A sales pitch to LeBron or Wade and Bosh would be very strong based on the fact they can compete for a championship for the next decade playing with Rose, a PG who would like nothing more to pass you the ball for the sake of winning, Noah who would like nothing more than to rebound your misses and give you the ball back, and Deng who would like nothing more than to move without the ball and cut to the basket when the ball is in your hands. This lineup would challenge the Lakers for the championship for the next 5 years, and still have another 5 years to compete for the championship after that.

Thomas Reedy

Sam: That’s a plan, too, though one flaw is Salmons probably is leaning against opting out, though we won’t know until next off season. Takers for underperforming draft picks aren’t particularly available (it’s easier to play GM than be one) and good luck convincing someone who is talking championship to join a 26-win team. The other part about these plans is if they don’t work you go, “Ooops” and go to work and the team has to deal with the community demanding everyone be fired while fans say trade guys for more draft picks. Plus it really isn’t about championships. It’s about building a contender and then hoping you get lucky and win a championship.

I’ve read you mention several times that you think the Bulls should abandon the screen-and-roll for Rose and let him isolate his man at the top. Ronald Stacey King, during one of the broadcasts, mentioned the same thing. When someone raised this point with David Thorpe during a chat, the usually laconic Thorpe responded: “That’s funny. I thought it was the dumbest thing I heard on tv all week. Ballscreens create 4 on 3 advantages for teams.” He later suggested it would be too exhausting for Rose to have to try and break his man down off the dribble that often. Is the problem just that Rose and/or the screener don’t know how to run a proper screen-and-roll?

Bradley D. Hergott

Sam: I forgot. How many championships did Thorpe’s pro teams win. Oh right, his college teams? Oh, right, his high school teams? Oh right, his….You get the point. He’s actually a smart guy and I like him. You don’t have to play the game to talk or write about it, but you have to watch the games to know what’s up. I doubt he sees as many games as Stacey does and Stacey knows the game. Anyone who has watched the Bulls can understand-and we saw it in the fourth quarter against the Lakers and I dealt with it extensively in my post game column (blog, though I don’t call it that)—that the offense stops with that high screen roll given the talent. Defenses stay with Rose and wall him off when the big man comes up to defend the screen. Anyone being beaten by Noah or Miller shooting pop out jumpers or rolling in? Who’s making those threes. The Bulls do best when they spread the court and let Rose work and then have him find shooters, which he will. He’s not going to score 30 points. It’s not who he is. He’s a point guard and could be a great one. Doing it just the way he’s doing it. No one’s saying to do it exclusively, but you can see defenses expect that high screen/roll. Lately the Bulls have begun to use that high screen less.

I hate how everyone is writing how the bulls seem to be lacking effort. Do these people even watch the games? The Bulls are losing because of their effort: They have to try so much harder than the other team to score, while trying harder on defense too, that eventually they tire themselves out and end up getting blown out. Injuries are partly to blame for this, Vinny sticking to his 7 man rotation is partly to blame for this, and our lack of a go-to scorer or big man down low is partly to blame for this. I don't like Vinny, but I think he gets a lot of unfair criticism. I can only imagine what D'Antoni would be doing with Rose, Deng, Tyrus, and Noah.

Peter Latz

Sam: I think he calls them Duhon, Chandler, Hughes, Jeffries and Lee. Though I think he’d trade teams in a second. If D’Antoni had any idea the Bulls were going to get the No. 1 pick that season and Rose, I’m sure he would have held out and practically begged the Bulls to hire him. Rose would be great in his system.

Two NBA sources said the Chicago Bulls are emerging as one of the leading candidates to land Joe Johnson when the Atlanta Hawks guard becomes a free agent after the season. Johnson, sources say, is intrigued about teaming up with Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. Johnson’s agent, Arn Tellem, also is close to Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and the Bulls would love an elite perimeter shooting threat to make up for the loss of Ben Gordon.

Sergio Fierro

Sam: I seem to recall reading the same thing about Tracy McGrady 10 years ago.

The Bulls chances of landing an All-Star free agent, were already slim and seem to be getting worse by the game. I think they need to do something bold and trade Derrick Rose. He is the only player on the team that could possibly bring an established All-Star in return and packaged with some other players and picks, the Bulls could finally get an All-Star. I think the Bulls should at least dangle him and see what they might get back. It would be a huge risk with most of these players able to opt out next year, but I think we’d be in better shape than playing the waiting for 2010 game. I’d have to think that Miami or Cleveland would have to at least take a look at a deal like this considering they could lose everything, like we did with Ben Gordan. Could either of those teams pass on Rose, Thomas, Salmons and a 1st round pick? Then you could make a serious run at Bosh in 10 and you’d have Hinrich, Wade, Deng, Bosh and Noah. I already know your response…not a chance, never will happen, however if they end up with no one next year, it might not have been such a crazy idea.

David Naber

Sam: Yeah, see if you can get Bosh, whose team won 33 games last season is on pace to do that again without any serious injuries. And get rid of the rookie who led a team with less talent to a .500 record and the playoffs. The amazing part to me is this isn’t the only email like this I’ve gotten. People, people! Are you nuts!

What happened to Derrick Rose working all summer on his 3 point shooting? I don’t think he’s even attempted more than a handful the entire season. If he is not a threat from 3 point range then teams will continue to pack it in and stop his drives. Plus he needs to start shooting from deep just to prove to himself he can make them. The great point guards can shoot the 3.

Jeff Tiechner

Sam: He’s worked on his mid range shooting and it’s been pretty good. Remember, this was a player whose only weakness was he wasn’t supposed to be able to shoot. He doesn’t shoot many threes because he penetrates and passes to guys to shoot threes. That’s his job. I recall a shooting guard named Michael Jordan who in his first four NBA seasons shot threes at about the same percentage as Rose shoots them now. And that was a shooting guard. Hard to believe the Bulls didn’t cut him. Good there were no reader question columns then.

The broken arm while weightlifting. How does one do that? As a physician and a weightlifter I know this: short of some mind-boggling thing like someone drops a 50 pound plate on his arm, either he has an underlying bone disease (what we would call a pathologic fracture) or, more likely, someone is walking around Chicago talking about how he beat up Tyrus in a weight room (or some other more pernicious place). It's a fishy story. Here's what I suggest to improve the D and get better 3 pt shooting/spacing on the O: trade Salmons for Noce. It would really work for the Bulls if you could make it Noce and Kevin Martin for Salmons and Miller!

Sheldon Hirsch

Sam: We all wondered about that Tyrus injury like Rose’s apple cutting. But everyone I know and trust around the team says, really, that’s the way it happened. But I fear it will be something to watch with Tyrus. As for the trade, I’ll mention it to management. I’m sure they’ll enjoy the irony.

With all the criticism that Rose and Deng have been getting for the team's terrible offense, how come Bulls fans are so willing to give Noah a free pass?

He obviously has troubling defending and boxing out the top centers in the league, plus his offense can easily be shut down. Many experts believe that Noah is more of a PF/Center then pure "big man."

Kris Marinescu

Sam: It’s like the answer I give when people ask me about NBA players vis a vis Tiger Woods. Why don’t some of them get condemned for their behavior? It’s all about expectations. Tiger established a set of expectations for who he was and what he stood for. Say what you will about Jordan or Pippen or Barkley or Magic, but you rarely if ever heard anything about their families. You never saw Jordan’s kids on TV or in newspapers or following him around. Tiger created this family portrait to match his image. And so we go back to Noah. We didn’t expect much, if any, offense from him ever. We weren’t sure he could stand up to the NBA rigors. Remember, it was between him and an injured Spencer Hawes and it was close. So he’s done more than expected, or at least what we expected, so we say he’s overachieved because we didn’t know he could do this. We’re never wrong. We just say a player did better or worse than he was supposed to. And as bad an attitude as Noah had when he came to the charmer and class guy he is now makes it even more so that he’ll get the benefit of the doubt.

Can’t be upset with tonight’s game, we put forth a great effort. Had we made maybe 5 of those 3's instead of going 2 for 11 we would have been the talk of ESPN tonight. John Salmons is without a doubt not opting out because of his putrid play. James Johnson looks completely lost on both ends of the floor. Now I understand why Vinny didn't not play him during that circus trip when we were without Kirk. Anyway, Andre Miller for Samuel Dalembert and Willie Green. Sixers get to correct the mistake they made in the offseason by not valuing the job Miller did in his 2 years in Philly and the Blazers get another big to help out.

Mike Sutera

Sam: Teams generally are too stubborn to admit mistakes of that sort, especially with the 76ers suffering with the signing mistake of having Elton Brand and hiring a coach who doesn’t believe in Brand. The 76ers appear to have moved on with Holiday and Iverson, however the latter lasts, which I assume is through the rest of the season. Or maybe the 2009 calendar year. But you never know the appeal of being able to get rid of Dalembert. Still, I can’t see it.

In my opinion, a player like Deng is more valuable than the go-to guy that gets points and can create his own shots. There an overabundance of such players in the NBA (just none on the Bulls). Even Jamal Crawford could get his points. There are few in the NBA that are willing to defer to others but will make a difference by playing off of others. It would seem to me that supporting/role players that are willing to play a role and are good at it are the rarest commodity in the NBA other than superstars. Wouldn’t a superstar (i.e., Wade or LeBron), all other things being equal, rather play on a team that has a good core of good supporting players than on a team where he would have to share the limelight (and the ball)? It seems to me that this is what the Lakers have done. Although Rose could be a star, he’s unlikely to be a ball-hogging star and is much more likely to play the Pippen role and open up the court for a true scorer. Is there any merit to any of this or am I just so disappointed in this year’s Bulls that I’m grasping for any thread of hope in the Bulls turning this around next year?

Jeremy Boeder

Sam: I’d go for the grasping part. But don’t let me discourage you. Everyone needs something to hold onto, and, who knows, maybe. You never fully know what drives free agents in the end. Turkoglu wanted to go to Portland, but his wife liked the shopping better in Toronto. The Bulls will have something to sell: Great city, solid NBA pros, unselfish point guard who looks like an All-Star, great facilities, tradition, a chance to get a Jordan autograph. But there are two big things. The first is money and without some moves if Salmons doesn’t opt out the Bulls may not be able to make a max offer, and perception. If your team looks like a loser, like the Bulls did in 2000, guys get cold feet and come up with excuses not to come.

What would it take to get Anthony Randolph or Brandon Wright from Golden State? This team needs size.

Jim Harlan

Sam: So now the talk is you can get anyone and everyone from Golden State. I’ve long thrown out suggestions for Ellis (I called that one a year ago to the outrage of hundreds of emails from the Bay Area saying the Warriors would never consider that) to mentions of Randolph plenty of times earlier this season as Nelson was benching him. I’d be offering Hinrich and Thomas for Randolph and others and assume the Bulls have, though I don’t know for sure. My guess then is the Warriors probably are not interested and are looking for star level players since there were talks with the Raptors for Chris Bosh. I don’t see how the Bulls can match that. And the way the Raptors have been losing again by big margins, you have to assume Bosh has one foot out the door and they are making plans to trade him.

A couple of weeks ago I was reading an article in Dime magazine about O.J. Mayo, and it said that he'd eat at Subway or Quiznos before or after training. This got me wondering as to whether or not NBA teams have their own chef. As we all know eating the right food makes a big difference and certain foods can provide you with long spurts of energy. Providing the right food can help maximize a players potential and they could form a stronger team chemistry eating meals together.

Dusan Birtasevic

Sam: My guess is it makes a big difference unless it’s Michael Jordan, who ate a lot of McDonald’s. Actually, the Bulls have a chef and healthy food made up daily at the Berto Center for players and to take home as well. No offense to the chef, but let’s not blame him (or her) for what’s transpired.

I've discovered the real cause of all this: is neither Vinny's inexperience, nor Rose's apparent slump or whatever other lame excuse. It's Sam Smith. This is all Karma, I remember you being grateful in the wake of thanksgiving for the New York Area having the worst teams in the league, now we're all paying for it!

Sergio Gonzalez

Sam: Guilty! I did revel in New York’s misery, as all right thinking people should. I remember the famous headline when the Ford administration refused aid to New York City and the tabloid screamed: Ford to NY: Drop Dead! I knew I liked the guy. But I should have known. There’s always payback. It got this bad: The Larry Hughes deal was looking like a mistake. Geez. That was a huge win for me Thursday. Though I missed Hughes. If he were there I’m sure the Knicks would have taken a dozen more threes and broken the all-time league record and I would have witnessed history. And the official end of basketball as we know it.


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