Ask Sam | 01.15.10
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of e-mails from his readers.
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What are your thoughts on this and do you believe it is going to happen (Bosh for Bynum)? If this rumor proves to be true we need to counter with Noah and anything else other than Rose with some assurances from Bosh's Chicago based agent that he intends to re-sign with the Bulls in the off-season. If Chris Bosh ends up a Laker I may quit watching NBA basketball altogether. They are becoming the Yankees of Baseball. This is out of control! Stern needs to step in or this type of one team dominance will get out of control. Would Buss really pay him the max next year? The Lakers already have a payroll well over $90 million dollars as it is.
Sam: It is wacky rumor season and you’ll see many more like this. It basically cannot be done without tearing the Lakers apart now (which they won’t do for obvious reasons) because Bynum is a base year player. OK, then assume a sign and trade. I’d seriously doubt that for several reasons. Namely, Bynum is the favorite of Jim Buss, who mostly runs the team now, and Pau Gasol is out again and tends to be a player who if not exactly soft doesn’t come back from injuries quickly. And he has his share. Plus Bynum is a legitimate seven footer playing in the post whereas Bosh is more a forward who faces up and a notoriously poor defender. The Lakers seem committed to keeping Bynum and I think only an offer of LeBron in a sign and trade would change that. As for moving Noah, it isn’t going to happen. Anyone who thinks it will or suggests that it should might not bother to write me anymore because he is as untouchable with this Bulls management as Rose and wouldn’t change for anything less than LeBron and maybe Wade. And then only maybe.
What do you think of the Timberwolves shopping Al Jefferson? If the Bulls were willing to part with Thomas and Salmons/Hinrich, then I believe that this would solve the problems that the Bulls have with inside scoring and rebounding. He has 3 years 42 million left on his deal, and he seems to be on his way back to form after the knee injury.
Sam: Well, they’re not exactly shopping as there was a report of a deal with the Pacers for Danny Granger that was denied by both sides. But they are looking in windows. First, it should be clear the Timberwolves having traded Garnett for Jefferson consider Jefferson an All-Star level player. They’ve felt out teams about their interest in Jefferson and let it be known the kind of players they might be interested in. With the Bulls it’s been the likes of Rose and Noah and that’s basically it. They aren’t convinced Jefferson fits with Kevin Love and are doing what they should be doing in assessing the worth of their players. Right now, Jefferson is damaged goods as he hasn’t completely recovered from surgery. He did have a huge rebounding game against Houston, though they play a 6-5 center. I’ve never been much of a fan because he basically plays like Zach Randolph with a good post presence, but an isolation player who stops the ball, never passes and doesn’t defend. I know he can put up big numbers, but I’ve only seen him do it on 20-win teams. I wouldn’t trade him for Noah and Minnesota likely wouldn’t trade him for anyone else as they’ve got a surfeit of perimeter players.
Like many of your readers, I wondered during his first two years whether Joakim Noah really had what it takes to justify his draft position. Season one, he was a rookie with much to learn. Off court, he got busted for possession of marijuana. Season two was hurt by his offseason conditioning, but he showed improvement during the latter half of the season and was great in the playoff against the Celtics. Off court, he hits the beaches with topless models. Season three reflects his offseason commitment to strength training and conditioning, and he has shown HUGE improvements in every facet of his game. His shooting form is still highly orthodox, but he's practiced effectively enough to hit 15 foot jumpers and free throws.
[Note: If I were Noah, I'd smoke dope and chase women, too (assuming his consumption of either is under control). Hell, with his name and fortune, I'd probably build Noah's Arc - women could come in two by two.]
Noah has earned my respect for his on court performance and his off season commitment to becoming a more effective player. The skinny, draft day goofball in the seersucker suit has been transformed into a more focused, hardworking, energetic player with leadership potential. The Bulls got a steal with the ninth pick of the 2007 draft. He'd probably go third if that draft were held again today, behind only Durant and Horford.
Especially with his father's world class tennis and pop star status, it would be easy for Joakim to "coast", "live the dream", and get by as a typical NBA player. Instead, whatever drove him to lead the Gators to two NCAA championships now appears to be driving him to better himself and the Bulls. We are lucky to have him, and the future is bright.
Sam: Well said and it is why people can forget all these trade scenarios for Bosh or Jefferson involving Noah. The Bulls are thrilled with Noah and teams also love to have guys around whom they drafted and who have improved. When you hear the national commentators rave about him like they did on TNT Thursday, you know he’s not going anywhere. It, meanwhile, also lends credibility to the team’s scouting operation and teams are reluctant to give up their own finds in the NBA. Getting it right on a guy like Noah can make a guy’s career in an organization. Plus, you need guys who will get tough rebounds in traffic on the defensive boards and the Bulls have had few of those, if any, in the last decade. You don’t find guys like Noah and if you trade him you’ll spend the next decade looking for him again. The idea is to build around Noah and Rose and I’m fully in agreement.
As the public are clearly incapable of voting in a decent starting line-up for the All-Star game, I was wondering, do you think it would be better if all the players voted for the All-Star line up instead?
Sam: Then it would be a popularity contest of a different sort. It would be best if only I voted, of course. You refer to Tracy McGrady, who’s played a few minutes all season, and Allen Iverson, possible starters unless the NBA manipulates the final totals, which we hope they will. Hint, hint. No one’s going to ask for a recount, after all. I’m actually for the fan voting. The fans usually get it mostly right and fans basically are saying whom they want to see in the All-Star game. It’s an exhibition and should be treated as such, which is why you never want to see guys like Dennis Rodman in those games no matter how well he may have played during the season. It’s a show and offensive exhibition, which is why Joakim Noah will have a tough time making it even if you can make a case for him now. Though with his personality and assuming he still has that suit from the draft, he could be quite the show All-Star weekend. You’d want to party with that guy. I can see him even being voted a starter someday. Assuming Dwight Howard is traded to the west, I guess.
The Clippers curse lives on. I would say it’s the perfect landing spot for LeBron, cap space, plethora of young talent, and LA but if he goes there he is for sure going to have a career ending injury within two weeks!
Sam: Poor Clips. Now you can’t blame this on them, but it does take another LeBron spot off the table. There was some speculation LeBron would look at the Clippers lineup and see a chance to go with talent and in a big market. Given who knows whether Griffin will ever be a player now after missing his entire rookie season, you know there’s no chance LeBron takes a risk like that. Coming into the season before Griffin got hurt, I predicted the Clippers would make the playoffs. And they looked good with Griffin initially expected back in a week or so. Now you can see the whole thing coming apart and you wonder what that means in trade as the Clippers have an appealing expiring contract in Marcus Camby. You figure they have to keep Chris Kaman now given Griffin’s uncertain status.
I am a Tyrus fan because of what he can do, but this kid is his own enemy. If he could just put it all together he could be a force in this league. He can pass, when he wants to, he can play great defense, when he wants to. He is probably one of the most gifted players athletically in the league but he doesn’t have it between the ears. My thought was, with the right coach he could have a great career. But what coach could get the best out of Tyrus without losing their patience?
Sam: That’s why this is the last chance for Tyrus. He had the tough guy coach, the demanding, accountability guy in Scott Skiles, your Jerry Sloan type, and Tyrus drove Scott to publicly rip Tyrus like no other player on the roster. Now you’ve got the player friendly coach in Vinny who never criticizes a player and gives them all the rope and excuses possible and Vinny’s yanking Tyrus from games after two minutes. You think it may be Tyrus? He’s run out of coaches and is running out of chances around the NBA. Coaches talk to one another all the time. Both Vinny and Scott are popular in the coaching fraternity and you can bet they’ve told their buddies about Tyrus. Which is why Tyrus has to have a huge finish if he’s ever going to get more than a minimum contract anywhere, much less the Bulls.
Would I love to be a fly on the wall to hear a candid answer to this one.... Ask Noah what he really thinks of Tyrus. Don't know if you have that kind of relationship with Noah, but I sorta think he'd make you turn the tape recorder off and put down the pen before he'd really say. Checking Noah's body language during the games, ... I just bet there's a guy with lots to say about... stuff.
Sam: Noah has hinted at that at times. No, I don’t have that kind of relationship with him and he generally is wary of media He felt burned by the media attention when the can’t play police, like Ben Wallace and Adrian Griffin, demanded him suspended that extra game in his rookie season. Noah also was furious with the media attention and I think it will be years before you find him taking many media people into his confidence. But he’s not that hard to read and does take the losses harder than anyone. Just from afar he clearly isn’t thrilled with Tyrus’ occasional clock ins, but he’s hardly the only one, and hardly only wondering about Tyrus. But he also knows he’s not exactly Kareem or Bill Walton, which Skiles taught him well. I suspect he’ll remain quiet for some time, as he probably should. But we also don’t need much help to see the issues.
I was very impressed by the passion in your column on Arenas. I agree he should be suspended for his actions. However, if the version of events in the Washington Post is substantially true, isn't Arenas a little bit of a scapegoat? Maybe "scapegoat" is the wrong term, because he's definitely in the wrong in both deeds and words, but if he's suspended for the rest of the year shouldn't Javaris Crittendon be kicked out of the league for life? While Arenas was being an instigator and a goof, the other guy chambered a round in an NBA locker room. If he's not kicked out of the league, he should at least be locked in a sweatbox with an insurance salesman like Woody Allen in "Take the Money and Run".
Sam: That would be the perfect punishment. I am quite sure most of my readers have never seen that classic. Yes, it’s a classic! Forget Citizen Kane. Woody Allen makes me think. And if you don’t care I’ll get a gun and maybe rob a bank. It’s one thing to go out and steal veal cutlets. But then you have to find a place where you can steal the breading. I guess the issue is no one even knew Crittenton was in the NBA and it’s pretty likely now if he did do that he’s out of the league. If he didn’t, he probably still was out of the league because he’d officially become one of those players traded only to make salaries match working on his third team in two seasons. I assume Gilbert is out for the season with his apparently pending felony plea. The Wizards will try to void or buy out his contract and he becomes a free agent and Clippers here he comes.
As I was frantically trying to change the channel before I had to see John Calipari's nauseating face during the Kentucky-Florida game last night, I saw this news about Lane Kiffin jumping from Tennessee to USC. Apparently TN is under NCAA investigation as well. I know it's football, but Kiffin, Calipari, Tim Floyd...it's just filthy what these college coaches do, recruiting players to come play for them for no money and then jumping ship for the better job. With all the success of Brandon Jennings, do you think we'll see more hoops players telling the NCAA to shove off and go to Europe for a few years? I saw an interview with Jennings and he said his time over there was invaluable because basketball was his job. Maybe he didn't play a lot of minutes, but he didn't have to worry about classes and grades and could go work out with the coaches all day. If I were high school player, I know what I'd be doing before the League.
Sam: It would be my recommendation. The NBA will find you. What I cannot fully understand is why fans support this hypocrisy and media in all those places blindly accept these ravenous, ethics bare coaches jumping all over the place for the next dollar and leaving kids behind and not caring in the least. Though the big time kids going to the NBA will do fine as they aren’t staying long, anyway. What I also don’t understand is why colleges don’t enforce contracts and why they give these guys license to leave. Why isn’t a contract a contract, especially at a university, of all places? How could anyone teach there when the university administration puts up with these mercenaries? How do you teach a student ethics when you barely have any of your own? How do you teach contract law when you don’t believe in a contract? College sports today makes a mockery of the learning and university process, which only reflects badly on the people who work for major universities. I would recommend to any high level prep player to skip college and go overseas. The problem with going to the D-league is these universities, from stories I have heard from players over the years, pay so much in bribes and under the table deals to players,--generally you hear six figures to many of the top players through boosters and supporters in the community--it’s too costly for the player not to get paid big money and ignore the U.S. college system. That’s the perverse rationalization from so many of these coaches. They figure they can move around because they are not hurting the kids because they get paid so much under the table, though not all do. Really, only the big pro prospects. What a cesspool the U.S. university system has become because of big time sports. I feel sorry for the good men and women who have to work there.
Following BasketB & NBA news since 2 or 3 years only, my background is not deep about it and I’d like to know if a special focus is made during the season on the psychological approach of the competition. Is there a specific work which is done on trust, confidence, way to manage pressure… ? (specific coaches ?) Maybe I’m wrong but it seems to me that the Bulls lost sometimes for that reason, for a weak mental approach at some key-moments of the games. Secondly, and as a French (nobody’s perfect..) I’d like to know your opinion about that my trade-idea: keep Noah, and get Boris Diaw, Pietrus, Turiaf and Manhimi.
Sam: I’m guessing there’s a parochial bias to that trade. Actually, many teams have psychiatrists or psychologists on staff, as the Bulls do, like medical, dental and eye experts. Players talk at times about such an approach and are watched by such experts with feedback to the coaching staff. But there is only so much you can do with certain players. You learn to trust more through playing and being together and having success, and the Bulls with personnel changes and constantly bringing in young players in major roles are not there yet.
Who would say no first to this:
Lakers Get: Hinrich; Bulls Get: Derek Fisher and Adam Morrison
Clear some space with expiring contracts...
Sam: I actually think the Lakers would because taking on long term deals adds to their luxury tax and, in effect, doubles the salary. My guess is the Bulls sometime in February make a deal to try to assure they have one full maximum deal to offer a free agent next summer, which they don’t have now. Hinrich could be part of that, though if the team continues to play well with the way he and Rose have worked better in the backcourt, it might be a tough thing to do. I don’t expect we’ll see any moves until close to the Feb. 18 trading deadline.
What do you think about Ryan Anderson from Orlando? I saw him play a few times now, and I feel he's an excellent talent! He's 6-10 with great wingspan and pretty strong. He has a great postgame for a sophomore, as he demonstrated yesterday against the Hawes, plus: he has range (2 of 5 from three last night), so he can do some damage on the pick-and-roll. This guy is only 21 years old (1988) and shows great maturity and potential. Maybe as insurance if Tyrus has to go?
Sam: I like him as well and though Orlando says it has no plans to trade Gortat or Brandon Bass, I have to believe the only reason they’ve been playing Bass lately instead of Anderson, and losing four straight, was to try to get Bass’ value up for a deal. I expect to see Bass traded in February. Anderson fits too well with Howard by stretching the court to be traded.
Knowing what we know now, do you think the Bulls would have drafted Ty Lawson or some shooting guard with the 16th pick last April? What is wrong with Johnson, he impressed me in the pre-season with his play on the court and interviews. Has he just lost his confidence? I think Ty Lawson would be a solid rotation player and still pushes the ball while Rose gets a breather.
Sam: I had heard there was a chance they were going to trade the pick if one of their guys wasn’t there, but Johnson was one of their guys. He’s come on some of late, though clearly needs a summer of work and getting in better shape and to better develop some aspect of his game like his shot. He was a guy to take a chance on, the classic high risk/high reward guy, so the Bulls took a shot. I’m OK with that, and they did well with Taj, which saved the first round. They had zero interest in Lawson and probably would have gone for Jeff Teague or Eric Maynor is they wanted another point guard there.
Just read your piece on the Nets and Wizards banning gambling on team flights. You discussed how the gambling can help the team because it gets them talking to each other and cited a Bulls player who said, “There are going to be an awful lot of quiet flights." I've often read that NBA players don't interact with each other much other than in practice and during games and I find that confusing. I know they’re all rich and can afford to pay to keep their older friends around them. However, they must spend an awful lot of time together. It seems strange to me that friendships don't form between them more often. I don't like all of my co-workers but I've inevitably become close with some as a result of spending time together every day. And I imagine the players must spend more time together when traveling than I do with my colleagues. What gives?
Sam: I don’t think it’s much different than any office atmosphere, except for the shrimp and lobster as soon as they get on the charter aircraft. Actually, around the team in practices and in the locker room you see a fair amount of joking around and give and take, though it is not a loud team because there are so many basically quiet guys, like Salmons, Hinrich and Deng. You do see them out in small groups together on the road at times, going to dinner or something, but they do have friends and families back home. Some of the guys used to socialize more off the court, it seemed, when Nocioni and Sefolosha were around. But that’s all a function of pro sports life with guys coming and going each year. And I’d say Bulls management is basically happy that not many guys hang around with Noah. He seems to have the capacity for fun that might be harmful to some others.
Too often teams draft late lottery and late first rounders trying to land a diamond in the rough, not realizing the gamble they're taking instead of doing what the Bulls did with Taj Gibson and drafting a guy with no upside, but you know will bring something to the table. I've seen Taj more mentally composed on the court this season than I've ever seen Tyrus these past four years. That speaks dividends and I believe is a heavily underrated factor during the draft. I see Taj as our PF for the next 8-10 years. I'd like to get your take on my theory: I believe this is because Taj came into the NBA knowing exactly what he can and can't do and just sticking to his guns. Tyrus has undoubtedly more raw talent but he has yet to find his game. Is he a slasher? Jump shooter? Energy player? Countless 'upside' picks are brought in because of their athleticism only to flounder because they haven't found they're game. Dejuan Blair is another example of underrated talent considering how he's in the rotation for a contending team and he's actually producing. I feel that it's no coincidence that he's vastly outperformed Thabeet seeing as Blair shut him down last year in their only head to head matchup. Sure, he's not super talented and he shows little upside, but he's a guy that you know will push the other players at practice and will always give 110% when put out on the floor. Having witnessed as many draft surprises and draft busts as you have, how important do you rate maturity and killer instinct in a draft selection compared to upside? Tyrus has as much upside as anybody, but I would give an arm and a leg to see him playing like Taj. Do you think NBA teams should put more emphasis on low-potential but steady picks in the mold of Taj?
Sam: It is the secret to drafting, or at least the conundrum. The Bulls after the Curry/Chandler debacle of going for high level talent of the future changed direction and went for your Taj types, guys from big problems who weren’t big all league potential guys but knew how to play and were smart and committed. And they ended up with a nice hard working team without an All-Star, and you can’t win championships without All-Stars. So they took a chance on Tyrus, who projects in talent better than anyone on the roster but doesn’t know how to play or often even feels like he wants to play. But when he does you can’t catch your breath. So you watch college players playing against low level talent and try to project who is smart and committed and will work hard and has the natural talent to be a star. You know what? There are hardly any guys like that. I tend to prefer the guys who can play and hope you can get lucky and steal a star down the road, sort of the Pistons model of getting good players and then lucking into a toxic Rasheed Wallace to finish off the puzzle, something like the Bulls getting Rodman as well, though they had higher level talent. But when you do that, as has happened here, your fans beat you up all the time for not having that star as all we hear from Bulls fans now is to get a star and forget the Hinrich and Ben Gordon and Deng types. It’s why scouting and building a team is so hard without being stupidly lucky. The Cavs got the No. 1 pick and got Lebron. The next year the Magic got Dwight Howard. They are playing for championships with some incredibly stupid moves otherwise, like the Magic blowing lottery picks on J.J. Redick and Fran Vazquez. You can make major mistakes if you have a star. How many did Jordan cover over for the Bulls? Then the next two No. 1 overall picks were Andrew Bogut and Andrea Bargnani and those teams are trying to make the playoffs and won fewer than 40 games last season.
Tracy McGrady is not the first former superstar coming off microfiber surgery that Houston Rockets coach Rick Adelman has had to deal with. In the winter of 2004, the Sacramento Kings star Chris Webber was well enough to play so Adelman put him in the starting line-up (replacing Brad Miller) even though the Kings were playing well before Webber came of IR and it was clear to anyone watching that Webber was not even close to being the player he was. Adelman's theory at the time was that the Kings would be more successful in the playoffs if they could somehow get Webber back up to his past level in the 23 regular season games they had left. Well, they got 12 of their 27 losses with C-Web in the line up and they ended up losing in the 2nd round to the T-Wolves. Webber had one excellent game that series with 28 points. He had 21 in another and teens in the rest. I'm sure Adelman wonders to this day if he did the right thing by giving C-Web all that time versus keeping the line-up intact and making him a reserve. It is no wonder Adelman is so adamant against McGrady rejoining the Rockets this year. He learned his lesson. The Bulls shouldn't touch him unless it is for the veterans minimum in a year and a half.
Sam: That’s a good point and I remember that season well and thought at the time it was a huge mistake to play to Webber’s ego. But Adelman always has been known as a players’ coach and probably was most comfortable that way at the time. It will be interesting to see what happens beyond this season. McGrady is convinced he’ll get another good deal, if not a crazy one like he has now. I think some team will be very disappointed and it won’t be the Bulls. For now the Rockets are shooting high for that expiring deal and think they’ll find a team desperate to dump a star come February, someone like the 76ers Andre Iguodala as a team decides to rebuild. So if you are looking for a McGrady deal, I’d start for now with players of that level.
You've mentioned that if Salmons doesn't opt out the Bulls may not have cap room to sign a max player...how much is a max contract and what is the 1st yr #? Tyrus, Miller, James and Tim Thomas all come off the books...about $30mm?
Sam: I think the max is being figured at about $16.5 million. You need to be that much under the cap of about $54 million (estimate) to offer a max contract. So that’s about $37.5 million in commitments. With Hinrich, if Salmons doesn’t opt out and if the Bulls make a tender offer to retain rights to Tyrus they are committed next season to about $43 million, leaving them maybe $10 to $12 million under. There’s been a load of erroneous information out lately (and more to come) of trade talk and what teams are doing. I read one the other day the Bulls can have two max deals to offer if they move Salmons and Hinrich for expiring deals, which is unlikely in itself. That also isn’t true as they’d also have to renounce Tyrus and still wouldn’t have the approximately $32 million to $33 million under to make offers to two potential max free agents, like Wade and Bosh. But there’s plenty of time to go for different things to occur, so no one can say conclusively yet.
Where is Luol at these days? I know he still puts up some stats but the guy just disappears for 10-12 minutes at a time and cannot hit an open jump shot any more. He had a nice November (19.5ppg on 46%), a so-so December (17.2 on 47%) but has been getting worse and worse. He’s just standing around on offense and not playing great D either. I thought I heard something about him with a broken finger. Is that affecting his play?
Sam: He does have an injury on a finger on his left hand, and I think, to the contrary, Luol is having an excellent season, even before the back to back 25 point games against the Pistons and Celtics. He’s coming off surgery and has played every game and is among the league leaders in minutes played. He doesn’t have plays called for him on offense, so he can disappear at times when guys gets selfish. Sometimes he does throw up a shot because you know he’s frustrated about being ignored for so long. But he’s the most active player moving without the ball and gets an awful lot of tough rebounds in traffic. He’s not an All-Star, but he’s having a terrific comeback season.
Since Derrick Rose ankle has healed and he's gotten back into shape, is it safe to say he's the best point guard in the Eastern Confernce? I think the only guy would could argue is Rondo, but if you were to put Rose on the Celtics, I would think they would be even better with him and the Bulls would be worst if they had Rondo instead of Rose.
Sam: It’s difficult for us here to be that objective or considered so because we see Rose so much. Rose is more talented and does more, but Rondo plays in big games more often because his team is competing for a title. As we saw from last season’s playoffs, Rose will do fine in those games as well. I think it will come down to Rose and Rondo for the last guard spot on the East All-Stars. I think Rose is the best point guard in the East. But it hurts your standing when you are not with a winning team. I believe he should be an East All-Star this season. If Iverson is picked as a starter and plays, Rose won’t be. It should be both Rose and Rondo with Ray Allen left off and certainly Iverson.
Which would be more satisfying: a Bulls player getting recognized as an All-Star or the Bulls making the playoffs? Keeping in mind this year is basically a pre-cursor for next season.
Sam: I’m for playoffs. I personally think All-Star status means nothing, though the larger question for the Bulls is to risk not being able to have a max salary available for a free agent or make a trade or two and lose, say Hinrich, for nothing much, and then miss the playoffs. I hate to see a team taking a step backward and I think it means something just to make the playoffs. Though having that max available is essential, I do think free agents will think twice about going to a team that is taking a step back and not even in the league’s top 16 for making the playoffs. It’s why also on a related issue I think the league should punish teams, like the Colts in football, for sitting down players to save them for the playoffs. You should be trying to win every game and as many as you can. You owe that to the paying customers.
You have mentioned the Bulls as a running team with Rose, Noah and Thomas. While they definitely are the kind of athletes you want for a running team the Bulls rarely look like a proficient team running a fast break. When ever a Bulls big man rebounds the ball in a potential fast break situation everyone instantly turns, puts their head down and blindly runs up court. No one fills a lane or tries to get spacing between each other or from defenders. The big man usually finds no one to pass to and either starts dribbling up court and stops before he turns over the ball and the bulls go into their half court offense or he just waits for a guard to come back for the ball and they run the half court offense. It seems like most of the Bulls fast breaks consist of Rose rebounding the ball and running a one man break by himself.
If the Bulls want to run with Rose then he and the other "runners" needs to better position themselves for an outlet pass and fill lanes. Rose in general needs to do a better job of getting the ball from the rebounder. Too often the rebounder starts bringing the ball up court after not initially finding an open guard. These are basic fundamentals that have nothing to do with talent or athletic ability.
Sam: I’ve said from the beginning because they don’t have a great three-point threat or low post presence, their best offense is a faster game. Are they great at it? Not yet. One issue I see too much is the lack of great outlet passing, which isn’t all that uncommon as for years the Bulls would beg Jordan to run out, but he liked to come back for the ball and then bring it up. Which is why even the champion Bulls weren’t a great fast breaking team other than off turnovers. You see this with a lot of stars players as LeBron does it a lot as well. Ideally you’d like to pitch to the wing to Rose and then have him attack, and the Bulls do it some. Sometimes they throw a short pass out of the backcourt and dribble up, which gives the defense too much time to set. Tyrus has been a key, but as we’ve seen sometimes he decides to walk and sometimes he runs. As they develop a consistent group they’ll get better at it because of Rose.
Although I like D-Wade I think he would probably be too expensive and I'm afraid that he would hold Derrick back (which would be a major setback with how much that kid has been growing). Do you think focusing on someone like Joe Johnson would be best? Would he actually be any cheaper than Wade?
One last thing - what is with all the Bulls doubters? They win 4 straight and I barely hear anything about that. Then they lose 2 and everyone is up in arms crying "if only we had Ben Gordon back". I know that's a little melodramatic but I consider myself a Chicago Bulls fan - I look at what we have and support my team [win or lose].
Sam: I think most feel that way but express it differently. I wouldn’t pass on Wade, though as I’ve written before I don’t see much chance he leaves Miami. I would focus on Johnson exclusively. I thought that was one of the big mistakes the Bulls made in 2000. They were after McGrady but then started thinking they could get Duncan or Hill and ended with nothing much. I say somehow make it clear to Johnson he is your heart’s desire, that you don’t even want LeBron and want to make him the focus of your future. Players like to hear that. Determine who you can realistically get and go hard after him. I think Johnson would be a great addition.
I understand that the NBA has and always will be a business, but personally as a fan, I am tired of hearing everyone bash Kirk Hinrich. While trade talks are also a part of the business I have to say that as a fan I could not be more proud to have a guy who goes out and plays hard on both ends of the court. Kirk has a very similar game to John Paxons, why get rid of a player like that unless you can get Kobe or LeBron?
Sam: Kirk has some residue of being an old shoe. He’s been around a long time and there’s been a back peddling since and he becomes an easy target. He’s one of the players who probably has played—with the exception of some poor early season shooting—as well as he’s capable, especially since he’s been starting. It’s not his fault he’s not as talented as some people want him to be. But he gives a good effort all the time and cares and someone will be getting a good player if the Bulls move him, though they really don’t want to.
I like Hinrich, and get tired of Bulls fans constantly trading him away. Earlier today, I ran some stats from the past 8 games (i.e. since Hinrich has been starting). I think you'll find them interesting:
Kirk Hinrich: FG%: 41% 3PT%: 46% Asst: 5.9 TO: 1.25 STL: 1.4 PTS/SHOT: 1.14 Asst/TO Ratio: 4.72
Derrick Rose: FG%: 45% 3PT%: 00% Asst: 7.25 TO: 3.13 STL: 0.875 PTS/SHOT: 1.12 Asst/TO Ratio: 2.32
The last two stats are the telling ones: Points per Shot & Assist/TO Ratio. I think 'Pts/Shot' is a great and usually overlooked stat. It's a better offensive indicator than FG%, because it factors in 3-point shooting and FTs. I don't think I need to sell you on 'Assts/TO'. How many people would guess that Hinrich has been scoring more points per shot than Rose? Even I was a little surprised by that. Now take a moment to compare them defensively... You see, that didn't take long. No comparison! Maybe you want to mention this in the 'mailbag', the next time someone mentions how we have to trade Hinrich and get out from under his 'huge' contract (you know, the one that shrinks every year from here on). I'm not suggesting that Hinrich is better than Rose, or even anywhere near him in talent. But he's a great player to have on your team. I think many NBA coaches & GMs know that, even if many Bulls fans don't.
Sam: Trade Rose? Now you can really get something. I understand, and I wanted to add this because it is interesting, if also further rendering meaningless some NBA stats. Hinrich is what you might call a diminishing returns guy. If you leave him out too long the stats don’t get better. But your point is well taken. He may make some questionable decisions on the break, but all around he’s an asset and the Bulls will not be as good a team without him. And since he’s started and moving the ball so well it’s been a much better team. That’s no coincidence.
Hinrich's name has come up in some trade rumors recently because if the Bulls want a chance at free agency, they'll need to move him or Salmons. I'm not saying the Bulls should or shouldn't trade him. I'm more upset that he doesn’t appear to be getting a fair shake by the media. I think he's a solid player who can help many teams, including the Bulls. It's just really annoying to me that, twice in the same day, I've seen two so called ESPN NBA "experts" say that Hinrich has been playing poorly lately and can't be traded. Do they watch any of the games? I'm not saying he's an All-star by any means, but still.. As soon as he was moved into the starting lineup seems really started to turn around. Also, his last five games (which I would consider "lately") he's shooting 43% from the field and 41% from behind the arc, averaging 13 pts, 6 asst and almost 2 steals a game...in about 32 minutes...pretty much matching his career avg. I know he missed that 15ft jumper last week, but I wouldn't put him in the playing poorly category -- would you ?
Sam: No, and people who watch the Bulls games don’t. The so called “experts” you refer to don’t watch the games like you do and don’t know how he is playing. It’s true Hinrich’s name has come in trade talk because of free agency for a year now. So whatever rumor written now is, oh, maybe a year old. There almost was a deal with Minnesota last February, but—and I know many fans don’t like to believe this—ownership didn’t want to give up Hinrich to save money and wanted to make a run for the playoffs. So the plug was pulled on the talks, and then when Minnesota changed management it died because new management wanted to draft point guards, and as we saw they drafted a bunch. So, yes, Kirk could be traded, as I’ve discussed because at some point the Bulls believe they need to have the money for a max contract by the trading deadline. It would set the team back, I believe, and be risky for making the playoffs. You always have to not take very seriously a lot of stuff thrown out by some of these sites. Like the erroneous speculation the other day of a Bulls deal to the Rockets, which never was considered and laughed at by Bulls management because it included Noah, and further wrong because it said the Bulls would then have cap space for two max free agents, which also wasn’t true. Other than that it was a good report. You do have to be a more astute fan these days because there is so much more misinformation than ever before. If you have watched the Bulls of late and if you’ve only looked up Hinrich’s stats you’d see more positives on ball movement and assists and shooting percentage and know he’s a big part of that. But sometimes facts can get in the way of a good story.
With all the rumors surrounding a trade for Kirk Hinrich to free up cap room next summer, would a deal with Portland involving Andre Miller and Travis Outlaw work?
Sam: I’m not sure a lot of fans understand, and why I’m not thrilled with the plans. But if the Bulls deal Hinrich it would be for an expiring contract and perhaps not a very useable player, someone like Brian Cardinal. I’d hope they’d get a better player than that if they move Kirk and someone who can be useful at least the rest of the season. But I’d doubt whomever would be as good as Kirk.
(A national sports site) says today that if the Bulls can trade Kirk they have "a good chance" at landing both LeBron and Bosh. He then goes on to imagine a lineup of LeBron, Bosh, Rose, Luol, and Noah. What????? Is this in any way a realistic scenario?
Sam: No. So that’s where all this is coming from. If you did the math, which obviously they didn’t, the Bulls wouldn’t be able to land two max free agents if they traded not only Kirk but Salmons for an expiring deal and renounced Tyrus. And they still wouldn’t be far enough under the cap. I know the reputation of the media isn’t good and the internet even worse, except on Bulls.com, of course, but you’d think they’d at least add up the numbers. The Bulls have $22.85 million in commitments for next season for Deng, Gibson, Noah, Johnson and Rose. Max deals are expected to be about $16 million to $16.5 million each and the cap maybe $53 million to $54 million. So two max deals with those salaries would just about be there. But that’s, as I said, if the Bulls get rid of Hinrich, Salmons and Tyrus. Plus their No. 1 draft pick, which goes on the cap. And then you cannot have a seven player roster. So you have to add cap holds for five more minimum players which goes on the cap. They are about $475,000 each and come off as you add free agents. So if the Bulls let go Tyrus, Salmons, Kirk and their No. 1 pick, they still have a cap figure of more than $25 million, which without all those players and the picks isn’t enough for two max free agents. That kind of writing not only displays ignorance of the cap but of how the NBA works. No wonder GM’s get tired of talking to some reporters.
Assuming Arenas pleas it down to a misdemeanor and his contract is not voided and is cleared to play again, do you think the Knicks would take Arenas' contract in exchange for Curry's and Jeffries' contracts?
Sam: It sounds like he’s accepted a felony charge and a plea agreement to avoid prison. I also assume that means the Wizards void his contract. It would seem he’d then be suspended for the rest of the season and then become a free agent available to anyone next season. Juts my guess, mind you. This also could change the Wizards’ thinking about deals since they might be able to salvage their group if Arenas and his salary are out of the picture. It would depend on new ownership and whether they want to start over and trade Jamison and Butler for expiring deals. Or add a bigtime free agent, which they’d be able to do without Gilbert’s contract. And assuming they can void Crittenton’s contract as well. Suddenly the future wouldn’t look bad at all.
You’re right about most fans not understanding that if Salmons doesn’t opt out we have no shot at a max free agent this summer (even if we renounce Tyrus). So, my question is this – why on earth did we not resign Ben Gordon last summer? What they implied at the time was that it hurt our chances at a free agent in 2010 too much and this team wasn’t worth paying the luxury tax for… BUT we wouldn’t have to pay said luxury tax unless the team was over the tax level at the END of the season. My point is that we probably would be doing one of two things during the season had we been smart and re-upped BG: 1.) We move Hinrich for an expiring contract before the trade deadline so that we’re under the tax at the end of the season and therefore have enough cap room free to go after a guy like Boozer or Stoudamire 2.) We do a sign and trade immediately after the season (or July 1st) for a big name star like Bosh or Joe Johnson so that we have enough cap room to go after a second-tier guy as well (Gay and D. Lee come to mind as 2nd tier guys). Gordon was one of the few guys we have (that aren’t name Rose or Noah) that other teams would have interest in – he was our best trading chip and we let him walk for nothing! For some reason the Bulls are run on the level of the Clippers, Bobcats and Warriors. I just don’t get what our “plan” is, exactly.
Sam: There are a lot of wells, and errs, and uuuhs in there. And perhaps everything wasn’t done, or, at least, said perfectly. The Bulls made bids for Gordon which he didn’t like and refused to sign. He took a gamble and bet on himself not getting hurt or having a poor season. He won and was able to make his own choice. Very few players of his level do that. You can’t just pay a player what he wants because he wants it. The Bulls felt he was worth $10 million and he rejected that. He got $12 million in his total deal from the Pistons. I heard the Bulls were trying to trade Hinrich into a salary slot to resign Gordon, but couldn’t get it done. Portland was interested as there are few teams with money below the cap to use their cap space for a player like Hinrich. When Portland failed to sign Turkoglu they came back looking for Hinrich. But Ben already has signed with the Pistons. At that point why give away Hinrich for nothing? And now Ben isn’t having a very good season, hurt and perhaps not that easy in a deal or sign and trade. It was a risk the Bulls weren’t willing to take. There’s no guarantee in a year so many teams are trying to dump contracts for expiring deals you could get someone to take on Ben, who was looking for $12 million. Is he worth that? Perhaps the Bulls would have been better with him. Or maybe not as the defense has been the best it’s been in the last few seasons without him. It’s an easy season guess, but what if you couldn’t move Ben or Kirk for an expiring deal? And then you are out of a chance for free agency? Where are you then? The Bulls apparently didn’t want to take the chance. Plus, the luxury tax was their Maginot Line. They were not going to go into the tax in a season they weren’t competing for a title. I can’t debate that. It’s easy to tell someone else to spend an extra $10 million when it’s not yours. It also seems unlikely these guys like Boozer or Stoudemire are being traded. And then you’d only end up moving Gordon for a bad expiring deal like McGrady’s, so how much better off is that?
Does it make sense that half the teams in the NBA make the playoffs? Trust me, I think the NBA playoffs are the height of all sports and the best basketball in the world, so I love every minute of it. This surely isn’t the case in all the other major sports. As much as I love those first round series, the 8 seed rarely moves beyond that first series, and if they do, they’re done the next round.It’s ridiculous to think that the NBA would roll it back to the top 4 teams in each conference, but I was curious what you though. On a related note, with certain teams with serious financial difficulties, what would it take for a team to go ‘out of business’? And I’d argue that wiping out a couple teams would make for a much stronger league by weeding out much of the inferior talent, but realize that that’s a long shot.
Elijah D. Humble
Sam: No one is going out of business because there’s too much equity in the teams, even the ones at the bottom. That threat led to the salary cap in 1983 when the teams weren’t worth as much and the operating losses were too big to keep some going. It would be a better league with fewer teams and thus better rivalries with more regular season games between some teams and more depth. But that, too, never will happen as it means jobs and would be a fight to the death among players. Plus, the TV contract extends for all the markets. I know some owners would love to shut down some teams to get their share of that TV pie, but the league won’t ever allow that. As for the number of teams in the playoffs, I think the other leagues have it wrong. Baseball needs more playoff teams and probably would have it if not for the length of the season. The question is who needs 162 games. Who the heck watches that? Make it a 130-game season and put four or even six more teams in the playoffs and you’d really have something. You make the regular season more interesting and give fans, especially in places like Kansas City or Pittsburgh where they can’t compete, a chance. I hate the way baseball so much more than any sport favors the rich over the poor. Bud Selig has done a great job expanding the playoffs and making baseball more interesting and may be the best commissioner in pro sports given baseball’s innovations. If he didn’t have such a truculent and obstructionist labor union to deal with the game would be much better with some salary cap controls and teams could compete solely on the field like in other sports instead of spending through your mistakes as happens with teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, who so pervert the game with their spending their championships seem worthless. And who doesn’t say the NCAA basketball tournament isn’t the best tournament in sports and it takes in 65 teams. The more the better. You need a decent regular season, and then more games that matter as the NBA playoffs are the greatest of times in the game.
I am watching the Rockets Wolves right now in triple overtime and it got me thinking about the Rockets two titles in 94 and 95. Had MJ not retired do you think we would have won those years? Could we have defeated those Rocket teams?
Sam: You’d think off the top of your head, yes, because that was one of the worst champions ever, especially that first group with Kenny Smith and Vernon Maxwell in the backcourt. But that Rockets team with Hakeem and Otis Thorpe gave the Bulls more problems than any Western Conference team. Few teams had an answer for Hakeem, and he just killed the Bulls and Thorpe ran the court better than even the Bulls guys in Grant and Pippen. Jordan’s Bulls teams were 1-8 in Houston before Jordan’s 1993 retirement. They were 5-4 in Chicago. So in Jordan’s career, his teams were 6-12 against Hakeem’s teams. I know the Rockets staff guys actually wanted a matchup with the Bulls as they felt they’d have the edge with front court quickness, and Maxwell used to have huge games against Jordan. Maxwell was pretty nuts and he’d get into Jordan’s face and trash talk him like no one I ever saw. It also seemed to inspire Maxwell and he’d have some big games and defend Jordan pretty well. Given the mental state the Bulls were in coming out of 1993 and not having the best record in the East, I don’t think the Bulls would have beaten the Rockets in 1994 if they’d have gotten that far, at least based on the pressures on that Bulls team, how they played the Rockets and the likelihood they wouldn’t have home court advantage. No one in the West in Jordan’s era played the Bulls better than Hakeem’s Rockets.
Was it you that played for the Bulls in 1979 or was that a different Sam Smith?
Sam: You mean the guy who made the first four point play in Bulls history? There’s not even much of a resemblance.
I bet my boss 100$ that Joakim was guna make the All-Star team this year. Derrick Rose should be a no brainer and if he doesn’t make it and Vince Carter or Allen Iverson make it ahead of him I will never watch another All-Star game again. But what do think my chances are that Noah gets in the All-Star game, he continues to be a beast on the boards and 20 points tonight he dropped? I think if they take 2 centers this year Joakem's gotta make it. You think he gets in?
Sam: I’d say pay the boss now, which isn’t a bad idea since it is the boss and you don’t want to be collecting, anyway. Actually, I think it’s a terrific bet as you get to pay off and make the boss feel better about how smart he is. Clever to make a bet you know you had no chance of winning. Sort of like Todd Gack used to do.