Ask Sam | 01.01.10

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

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As a displaced Bulls fan out here in Phoenix we don't get to much positive news on the Bulls front, however I have a suggestion that could make this season salvageable, and create a lot of good national press heading into the Summer of 2010 free agency super-fest!
Since its obvious we are not challenging for the NBA Championship this year (or in the next few years for that matter) why not prepare for the fastest way to improve dramatically, the free agent class of 2010. I propose the Bulls cut their losses now and trade Deng, Salmons and the expiring contract of Jerome James to Houston for TMac and his 23 Million that comes off the books next summer. Deng and Salmons would be a good fit with Houston, James isn't doing anything for anybody anytime soon and TMac might be able to provide a little excitement during the season, and a lot of excitement over the summer with the extra money available. How about Rose, DWade and Bosh or Amare with the money already coming off the books and then the extra 17.5 Million we will free up! Even if we kept Deng, can't see him having a higher trade value than at the moment as the players just mentioned would take his shots and spacing on the floor.
Wouldn't that present an attractive option for the coach they bring in, one they want, not one they settle for, and make them the dominant player in a once in a generation reshuffling of NBA power?

Robert King

Sam: I have gotten dozens of these in various versions basically suggesting deals involving Hinrich or Salmons with Miller and James. As I’ve long believed and don’t see anything to change that, McGrady probably isn’t ready to help anyone now after being out so long. So assuming it’s for cap room then, and I’ll address this more in my Monday NBA column, if you give up too many productive players you become a 28-win team and who’s joining that? Good luck to the Nets with that plan. Plus, Houston doesn’t want long term deals like Deng’s, at least now as they are not desperate and can just save the McGrady money themselves as they are over the luxury tax, also without a chance to win a championship with Yao. And you have to match players as they have a full roster and cannot take on more players than they send out. It’s a tough deal to make, especially for a team like the Bulls.

First let me say that I am not under any false illusions that the McGrady we would be getting is anywhere close to the McGrady from the early part of the decade... However, I would think that he still possesses more offensive skill at the 2 guard position than John Salmons... Also, his expiring salary is beyond attractive, as I am one of the Bulls fans whom would like to see them set sail this offseason with TWO FULL BOATS to offer free agents. My trade suggestion is:

Hinrich, Salmons, Ty Thomas, and Jerome James TO HOUSTON
'10 1st Round pick, McGrady, Lowry, and either Joey Dorsey, or preferably Chuck Hayes.

Andrew Hosseini

Sam: The Rockets love Hayes and I’d doubt you’d get him, but that is the other scenario where you give up half your team and win maybe 25 games and get blown out about every other game as McGrady Cannot Play At A High Level. C’mon, get serious. Now he won’t play until a trade is made, which could be six more weeks. Which free agents, even two of them, are coming to a depleted roster like that? And then you are done for years to come.

I think right now, McGrady would be a great fit for Chicago. He has an expiring contract, and he needs a fresh start. I say we trade Salmons and Kirk and a 2nd rounder to Houston and get T-Mac and Lowry. Salmons needs a fresh start and plays well under fresh starts (just like in Sacramento and 1st year in Chicago). This trade benefits both teams and I say we should do this. Houston won't get many offers for T-Mac anyways, so they will have to settle with the best offer, this one.

Steve Smith

Sam: Houston will get lots of offers and this one isn’t close to what they’ll want. I’d say they’d keep McGrady before taking on all that money with Hinrich and Salmons.

-- Ok, so the guy called out my practice of watching basketball on Christmas Day since sometime in the 70s. I went to all four lousy Maverick holiday home games and would have been there on Christmas if they played at 11:00AM or 9:00PM. Meanwhile, forget about my ego: Can we assume a solider came in from risking their life and was glad the NBA was on TV/Broadband to watch to take their mind off being in a war zone thousands of miles away from their families? Was there a little kid who has no cable, and few presents that could enjoy a couple of NBA games? Before I interviewed for positions, I looked at the job description. You mean Van Grundy did not think a slight chance existed he may have a game on December 25th? Maybe that is why he "quit" in 2005 to avoid being in LA on Christmas. Looks like Pat Riley made the right move for the Heat, because Van Grundy is missing something. They fine guys for comments about the refs and not this guy who disrespected a members of his teams' fanbase, some who paid how much for a luxury suite?

Lawrence Bentley

Sam: No one listens to half of what the Van Gundys say. That’s why they are so much fun. They just say stuff that hits them, but do it with passion. Then they apologize. They’re like the Larry David show. I enjoy both guys, though Jeff less when he coaches. I think Stan’s one of the best coaches in the game and would hire him in a second, though perhaps not to run my p.r. department. They’re both good guys, though their players had to roll their eyes a lot.

Adrian Wojnarowski (Yahoo column) says the "saga has become an embarrassment, an amateur hour and for all the
discussion of Del Negro’s fitness for the job, there’s been too little
about Forman’s." Do you think Forman should've expressed support regardless of whether it was true, or is the embarrassment really the 24-7 prodding for anything regarding a development? I've never seen this much hoopla for a possible coach firing before.

Sherwin Tam

Sam: That is a better point. I’ve never seen this hysteria over a coach who was routinely condemned by national reporters last year, the same ones now splitting between he should be fired still or has been treated unfairly because he wasn’t fired. Let me figure that one awhile. The Bulls should have said something sooner when all this stuff bubbled and bubbled. But the vote of confidence is a sham. Everyone knows once a coach gets one to start the firing watch, so most teams won’t do it. And then if you do it and end up firing the guy everyone says you are a liar and we can’t believe what you say. So what do you do? I’m not sure what else the Bulls should have done but basically said much of the same stuff sooner. Actually, it wasn’t the Bulls questioning Vinny but national and local media (and, yes, even reporting that Vinny is in danger weeks ago) with various reports he should be fired, was about to be fired and couldn’t coach. Vinny is working at it and has from Day 1. He’s demonstrated class from the beginning and one interesting sign is you never hear players complaining about him publicly as happens with coaches supposedly in trouble. Everyone around Vinny seems to feel he’s a good guy. But the team is playing below expectations, even with injuries, and coaches (and players) pay for that. Players get traded or benched, as some Bulls players have already. If the team is being blown out often, losing to one-win teams and losing by 30 at home or losing 35-point leads, it’s only natural questions would be raised about the coach. Everyone gets held accountable. Management presumably gets its chance come 2010 free agency. And if there are questions about the coach and season, shouldn’t the organization begin to prepare if they have to do something? It doesn’t mean they have to. But be prepared. The Bulls were roundly criticized when Scott Skiles was fired for not having a replacement in mind and waiting until the end of the season to begin to look because the Bulls then felt it would be inappropriate to look for a coach during a season. Everyone said they had to be better prepared next time. The truth is most teams build dossiers on coaches all the time to be prepared should something have to be done. OK, likely not the Spurs or Lakers or Jazz. But if you don’t, people wonder what the heck you are doing and why you aren’t prepared. After all, if your team is being blown out every other game how could you not be checking around? You check around on trades all the time. Why isn’t that an insult to a current player? The larger question is why is Vinny being scrutinized and maligned nationally like this? Why is his status a story every week? What about Nellie or Dunleavy or O’Brien. What about Flip Saunders or Eddie Jordan? Sure, they are in their first seasons, but their teams are even worse with seemingly more talent. What about Mike Woodson? If he isn’t at least in the second round he’s not expected to return. Even if he is, some say. So how come we never hear anything about that? What has Vinny done to anyone to deserve this? Life, as we know like coaching an NBA team, is not fair.

Everybody needs to stop the madness with the crusade against Vinny.
NBA coaching is extremely overrated. The NBA is about talent. This Bulls
team has 40 win talent give or take a few games either direction. Phil
Jackson or Greg Popovich wouldn't magically have this team at or above
.500 right now. Coaching has nothing to do with John Salmons inability
to knock down shots when he has a clean look on the perimeter. It's no
secret this team has no deep threats from the perimeter and that is
impacting Derrick Rose's ability to penetrate. There are no coaching
maneuvers to make the opponent feel the need to extend their defense. It
requires guys to make perimeter shots and they aren't doing that. The
idea of making a coaching change as it relates to the free agent
scramble next summer might make sense but to suggest Vinny is solely
responsible for the results this year is off base. The talent just isn't
there. The front office is responsible for this and the reality is that
the current state of the roster is designed to give them the best chance
next summer at acquiring 55-60 win talent. As with any business,
sometimes there has to be some sacrifice in the present to have a big
payoff in the future. Not great news for season ticket holders for this
season but it's the best shot at taking a dramatic leap forward in the
coming seasons. If the talent isn't significantly stronger next fall
then the entire organization has failed. 

Tim Payne

Sam: So why was everyone so upset with Vinny? I tend to agree that coaching can be overrated at times and that this isn’t a team that anyone was picking to be a contender or even win a first round series without Ben Gordon. Though you can talk of the quality of the losses, which weren’t that good a few weeks ago. It didn’t seem like the team was competing and players were regressing. That is an issue with a coach. That seems to have reversed itself, so I assume nothing will change. Frankly, I’m hoping nothing will change. I don’t know the Bulls plans involving Vinny and doubt anyone else does. These stories about Vinny getting fired at some time were interesting because you never say never in the NBA. So what if the Bulls, winning three straight after the win in Detroit Thursday, get hot and win 50 games and Joe Johnson gets hurt and all of a sudden they’re in the second round of the playoffs? I don’t expect it. But then does Vinny get fired then? I’d assume not. So how can there be certainty now that Vinny won’t last past this season or next week? But if the bottom collapses, the coach is the first one through and everyone knows that.

On the whole, when you look at the season so far the biggest negatives are not Del Negro's fault. Injuries happen and there's not much a coach can do about that. The tough early schedule also didn't help. The rest of the negatives are the kinds of things that a better coach can do something about. It's the coach's job to prepare the players and put them in situations where they can succeed. It's not that they have lost a lot of games, it's how they lost many of them. Teams with better talent or good veterans are going to beat you but getting consistently blown out, blowing a 35 point lead or just plain losing to a lesser team in NJ is just not good.

Conversely, of all the positives of this season how many can be attributed to Del Negro? Players recovering from injuries speaks to the value of those players. Noah's growth seems to be more a result of his internal drive and maturation. I read recently where Taj Gibson credited Tim Floyd for preparing him for the NBA. Can it be true? Can Tim Floyd have more of a positive impact on this current Bulls team than Del Negro?

At the moment, I don't think Del Negro is really hurting the Bulls but don't think he really helps them very much either. Any success this team has I attribute more to the players than any coaching and that includes last season's exciting if short run. I can't see Del Negro leading the Bulls any further than Scott Skiles. Not with the way he is currently coaching.

David Yuen

Sam: No for the Tim Floyd part. Chicken or the egg? Players caring or coach motivating? Phil Jackson motivates? With Joakim Noah it’s personal pride? Vinny can make a case for developing young talent like Noah, though we’ve seen him play at a high level in college. Is Rose developing? Developing enough? Vinny’s advocates say with a short roster and injuries he’s done what he’s supposed to do as Noah, Rose and Gibson have improved and Deng is back about where he was a few years back. His critics point to limited offensive options and adjustments, coaching oversights in crucial times, failure to utilize the talent enough and not demand improvements with some, like Rose on defense. The point is so much of this stuff is subjective and comes with the amount and quality of wins and losses. Management hires, so management can fire. If it doesn't work, then they are held accountable. But I also don't see where they owe everyone an explanation every time someone writes a story and speculates. You generally know when change is necessary. Actually, if the fans I get emails from were making the decision, there would have been a coaching change long ago. Fortunately, they are not.

Why haven't the Bulls ever thought of bringing the hometown product Corey Maggette back home? He can play the 2 or 3, seems to get less selfish with age, yet is a lethal scorer via the jumpshot or going to the cup. He's so strong that defenders cant just step in front of him. He seems as if he's been around forever, yet i watch him play and he plays like he's still 21.He looks like the perfect remedy for the Bulls' woes, and would attract D-Wade this summer don't you think?(with them being friends and all) Hinrich and James for Maggette?

Ryan Grace

Sam: I actually got a question like this recently from an acquaintance of Maggette’s. I know. Everyone wants to get away from Nellie. The issue with Maggette is he has a huge deal for three years after this and is a poor three point shooter, which is now one of the Bulls biggest needs.

Do you think Taj will make the rookie team and Rose in the sophomore team in the rookie vs sophomore challenge at the all star break?

Yesmany Rangel

Sam: I am quite certain they will. Rose is a no brainer, of course, and Taj has impressed every coach I’ve talked to around the league and it would be a huge disservice if he’s not on the rookie team. I’d be shocked.

Would this be a far-fetched idea? If Tyrus Thomas keeps up with this type of stats, would a trade for lamarcus aldridge be a "fair" and "logical" trade theoretically?

Alex Fung

Sam: I’d say you were joking, but you don’t appear to be. For now I’m going to assume you are.

With Omer Asik breaking his collarbone (clavicle) in turkey would you consider bringing him out now to Chicago instead of this summer and have him start working with our trainers on improving his body and fitness levels effectively giving him a 10 month development training program (including a long stint in the Dleague when healed)?

Daniel Lehnen

Sam: I’m not sure what he does, but I guess you have to be concerned given the frequency of injuries. I believe he is with a team and not under Bulls contract, so wouldn’t be with the Bulls yet.

I've just been watching an old Michael Jordan documentary and in it
there's a clip of Phil Jackson explaining that Michael Jordan's main
weakness on the offensive end was his shooting, so he mastered something
everybody said he couldn't, when he came out of college. He also said
that Michael wasn't really a good defensive player at that time. Both of
these weaknesses also apply to Derrick Rose.
How long did it take MJ to develop that consistent jumper and
when did he become such a great defender?
I also had a quick look at his stats and noticed that he didn't begin to
shoot 3 pointers consistently until 1989-1990.. the sixth season of his
NBA career. With that in mind it seems unfair to criticize the pass
first Derrick for not having a 3 point shot in only his second year in
the NBA.
If that information on Michael is correct, maybe we should have a little
patience for Derrick.

Andrew Blunt

Sam: I think Derrick already has become a good shooter from 15 to 18 feet range at a time when a year ago people said he was a bad shooter. I think he will work at it and become a good shooter from three point range as he’s strong. I don’t think he worked that hard this past summer given he was doing so much endorsement work, but he’s generally committed and I can see him improving his shot. And I should add since his ankle healed and he’s committed to being more of a scorer he’s been nothing short of great on offense and at times carrying the team. To me he’s already one of the best players in the league and I wouldn’t give him up for any point guard in the NBA. Michael was a good defender when he came to the NBA. Perhaps you misunderstood Phil, which is not all that uncommon. It’s one area Vinny and the staff does get some deserved questioning as Derrick should be a better defender but hasn’t improved much.

I got a question about Rose and his free throw attempts. For an athletic slasher like him, it worries me how rarely he gets to the line. Considering he doesnt have 3 pt range, this really kills his offensive efficiency. I know the refs miss some calls but it cant be just them, there are a lot of other young guards, some even less athletic that draw fouls at a much better rate than Rose. My question is, are him and the coaching staff aware of this and do they work on it?

Seyram Nkani

Sam: They say they do. Rose is so quick he does seem to move away from the contact. But he seems to be trying and did get to the line for eight shots against the Pacers and also against Detroit. It’s obvious now he learns and adjusts and now you can see him going for the contact and fouls. I think previously he was so used to playing in the playgrounds where there are no calls, so he was so good and quick he learned to get out of the way of contact. Now he’s learning to get back into it and finish. It’s amazing how tough and strong he is.

At the 27:40 mark of the latest ESPN NBA podcast, Ryen Russillo of ESPN states that the Bulls called and inquired with Sacramento about Kevin Martin for Luol Deng.

The implication is, of course, that the Kings said no. But it's good to know that the Bulls would at least be willing to trade Deng. I would make that deal in a heartbeat. Would you?

Fred Pfeiffer

Sam: I asked around about that and the Bulls insist there is nothing to it and haven’t done that, nor have the Kings asked about Deng. I thought they might given the agent who negotiated his contract is now Kings assistant GM. But the Bulls insist there is nothing to it. I might consider it given Salmons clearly is not a shooting guard and the Bulls need one. But I’d doubt the Kings would have any interest at all given they are looking to cut long term deals and have a nice young player at three who they like in Casspi.

I know its a petty task I want accomplished but I do want the bulls to place better than the pistons because of gordon One reason I dont like Gordon is because he lied. He said it wasn't about money but he wanted a championship organization!

Darrell Driver

Sam: Don’t take it out on Ben. He’s a good guy and a heck of an offensive player and I wish the Bulls could have kept him. But Ben is also a good object lesson in not listening to what players say. Follow the money, as the old Watergate line went. No matter what you hear from players and what you think, it’s always about money first. And so it was for Ben. He got way more than the Bulls could offer and retain flexibility for free agents in 2010. So he took the Pistons offer and may never make the playoffs again with that roster they have and how far they are over the cap for years to come. They seem lottery bound, so it probably comes down to them getting lucky and Darko-less in the draft.

Am I following some Bizarro NBA? I'm reading your column and in one paragraph Elton Brand is griping about playing time, calling out his replacement, and generally being a pain in the behind. Then, a few paragraphs later, I'm reading about the professionalism Tim Thomas is bringing to the table. I can't wait for next week's column when you recount how Allen Iverson stayed late after practice to pump air in the basketballs and that Paxson hired Eddie Robinson to mentor James Johnson.

Was Brand like this before, or is it just frustration and a realization that the squeaky AI/'Sheed wheel gets the grease? I recall him being on some horrific Bulls teams coached by a chain-smoking neophyte and I didn't hear a peep out of him. Now it seems every week you have a note about him ripping somebody in SixerLand.

Craig Berry

Sam: This could be a reaction to a bad cheesesteak, though I think Elton has decided this is the best way to get his backside run out of town without demanding a trade, which is now somehow a finable offense in the NBA.

Seeing what the 76ers have become with a low post scorer like Brand, i am wary about the Bulls getting an inside presence. Will it really make the team better or just clog up the middle and slow down the team's uptempo style of play? What we need inside is just a strong finisher i.e. someone Stoudemire-esque to get the rythm going and stop the others from shooting those oh-so-lousy jumpers. Tyrus is a good finisher but his inability to back down other bigs make him inadequate for the big man position. Do you really think the Bulls are missing a low post scorer?

Edward Fung

Sam: Actually my preference would be for a guy like Joe Johnson who can spread the floor with his shooting to open things up for Rose and draw a double team and also with the ability to post up. And maybe defend a bit. I’d be happy with him in free agency as I think you can live with Noah, Tyrus and Taj.

Everyone talks about david lee for next year. but is he really that much better than omer asik??

Josh Levin

Sam: Yes. Let me clarify that: YES!

How would the salary cap work with a player/coach. If the Bulls hired LeBron as a player/coach could they pay him $1 million to play and $20 million to coach thus leaving plenty of room under the cap to sign a supporting cast and avoid paying the luxury tax?

Peter Hopson

Sam: Players don’t coach anymore. But everything a player makes no matter the source from his team has to be included in his cap figure. The Bulls once tried that with Jordan to give him a piece of one of the businesses of the owner and the league made them put it on the salary cap.

So the bulls losing to some of the leagues' worst two such as the nets and knicks what do you think that puts the bulls at? would you say they are the worst team in the league? especially when they can't even beat the nets or knicks.

Sean Culp

Sam: I’d say they are the fifth best in the NBA for having beaten the Spurs, Cavs and Hawks.

How tall is Tyrus Thomas? I read in his pre-draft combine results that he was only a little over 6’7” without shoes. Previously he has always been listed as 6’9”, but I notice they have him down at 6’10” now. I know Tyrus was young entering the league, but has he really grown that much? Can you tell an appreciable difference in his height?

Jon DeClerck

Sam: He always flinches when I try to measure him. Last I was told it’s 6-9. Though they always say he’s long. As opposed to short, I guess.

I am a big fan of Tyrus, and admit to being smitten over his athleticism and flashes of brilliance. I really see him as the x-factor for this 2009-2010 season. If he can match the intensity of Noah, create havoc defensively, run the floor, and provide a little offense, I think this Bulls team can compete for as high as the 5th seed. When he's at his best, they are quite the dynamic duo.

I know you were critical of him (at least in the way he handled himself as as young professional) when he first joined the Bulls, and I'm just wondering if you have noticed any maturation process with him? Do you think he is starting to turn the corner? It seems like (at least according to the media) that he is the most active Bull in the community. Not sure if this just public relations illusion, or truly a good hearted player trying to give back to the less fortunate. Hard to tell from the outside.

I personally think (or hope that) he is ready to take the next step, fill the spot next to Noah, and provide us with 13-15 pts, 8-10 boards, 2-3 blocks a game.

Kevin Carroll

Sam: I think the charity work is for real and we always list him as that X-factor. He can change a game with his energy and athleticism. And they say big men mature in year five. Playing the way he has with Joakim and Taj, the Bulls have a pretty formidable front line and if I were them might even rethink free agency some and try to get someone now rather than wait until the summer. But it’s always the same with Tyrus. Can he sustain? He never has. Plus he’s always come up with mysterious absences. He remains a bit oblique, and I never quite know what to make of him. But he’s polite and accessible now, if not warm and cuddly. Which is fine. If he can be consistent, I’d love to see the Bulls keep him.

Why not Trade Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich for Andrew Bynum. If appears Gasol and Bynum don't work well together and the Lakers really don't need another post scorer. They would do better with Noah at Center than Bynum. Also getting Kirk for PG would be the icing on the cake.

With Bynum in the mix for, we essentially can keep Tyrus at PF and have Deng at SF. All we would need is to get Wade next offseason or Joe Johnson or Lebron and then we would be set for the next 6-8 years.

Larry Barron

Sam: That’s all, eh? Besides Bynum making more and taking away from your free agent money and not having enough for even one max player assuming they even wanted to come, the Bulls have pretty much made Rose and Noah their core and I don’t think anyone less than Dwight Howard would get you Noah, reasonable to not.

Here's an interesting thought. How about Coach K? He is from Chicago and he did coach the Olympic (pro) basketball team to a Gold Medal in Beijing, China. I bet he could lure in some of those top free-agents, maybe all of them. I know he loves Duke University, but if you were John Paxson, wouldn't you give him a call?

Chris Wolff

Sam: I would, and I’d say, “Mike, if you are thinking about coming to coach my team and leaving Duke you are too crazy to hire.”


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