Ask Sam | 01.22.10
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of e-mails from his readers.
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Here we go again, they will be 0-7 on this trip, playoffs probably out of the question, how do you attract a free agent that way? Even though Wade got beat by 39 yesterday, why come to another losing situation. They needed to make the playoffs this year and prove they are that one big piece away. Who are we going to get stuck with Manu G, for a max deal? I don’t see Joe J leaving that situation, people don’t realize the Heat can offer Wade more than anyone else plus the tax benefits to living/working in FL add to that take home comp, LeBron is not going anywhere, and Bosh will probably sign in Miami. Things don’t look great.
Sam: And then depression set in. It now is looking an awful lot like 0-7, but shouldn’t be as you are not playing the Lakers or in Denver. The Western teams aren’t that unbeatable. The Bulls seem now to be falling a bit into this mode of expecting to lose on the road, which takes some edge off, and they eventually do. You should never complain about being shorthanded after seeing what Golden State put on the floor. I am one who agrees it’s important to make the playoffs, but I also don’t think it puts you out of free agency, since, after all, the big players are teams like the Knicks and Nets and Miami, which without Dwyane Wade doesn’t have close to the talent the Bulls do. That 40-point loss shows that as without a great Wade they cannot compete. He’d do better right now being with the Bulls, though, I, too, believe he’ll remain in Florida. But there are quite a few guys who will move and the Bulls, even missing the playoffs, will be an attractive place assuming they have money for at least one max deal. Which is why the next month is the most crucial. The Bulls likely will have to take even a further step back by dealing Salmons or Hinrich to assure that max amount under the cap. That likely would set the team back with its thin roster, and make the playoffs questionable. But what’s the point of making the playoffs and being a first round out if you can’t get a max guy? You’ve got to take a shot at being better and this is the summer to do so. If it costs the playoffs, you probably have to do it, anyway.
I hate to even say/write this but if the Bulls come out of this trip 0-7, does that spell the end of Vinny run as coach? We just lost two of the games we had the best chance of winning and there just doesn't seem to be a sense of urgency. Changing coaches mid-season are rarely ever season saving moves but losing confidence and moral for a young team brings back nightmares of the early post championship seasons.
Sam: I’d say no, but they still aren’t consulting me on this stuff, as they should. I don’t see the point of bringing in an interim coach as you see Kiki Vandeweghe in New Jersey and the Boylan fiasco after Skiles. It seems to me Vinny’s doing fine. The team mostly plays hard, has won some good games against quality teams, and I cannot see that the Bulls have any permanent replacement in mind. If they don’t, what point are you making? I don’t see where you’ll lose the drive of players like Rose and Noah no matter what you do or what happens. If you think that could happen, you are underestimating them. Plus, take a look at the standings. Once the Bulls get back East they’ll be back competing with teams at their level and still in the running for a playoff spot. Think Miami can win 10 games the rest of the season if Wade were hurt? There’s still plenty of time, and I’m virtually sure the Bulls will make a deal by the trading deadline, and that made a huge difference last season at a time the team’s priority also was to drop salaries. There’s still plenty to happen this season.
I have to somewhat disagree with your assessment of last night’s game. Yeah, the Bulls could of done any of your suggested tactics to take advantage of the shorthanded Warriors but that doesn't mean Vinny had no game plan. To me it looked like he wanted to the Bulls to be aggressive and attack the basket and get the Warriors into foul trouble. They just didn't do a very good job of it. Several times a Bulls player drove hard to the basket only to come up empty and no foul. How else did Biedrins get so many blocks? He wasn't exactly blocking outside shots. For all the things the Bulls didn't do that you pointed out the blame falls on Vinny. The coach needs to make those calls and this was a particularly bad game for Vinny. Having said that, I believe Vinny is learning and improving as a coach. The players are generally playing hard and haven't given up on him but I don't think he has exactly won them over either. He seems to have a very even keel which is a good thing but it would be nice to see him try to fire up his team occasionally so they don't play so flat at times. His biggest weakness is obviously game strategy. He doesn't adopt quickly to how the game is flowing.
Sam: Yes, it’s not fully or always the coach, and I agree and never said it was. In the end, frankly, it is the players’ fault. They get the ultimate credit and then share in the blame as well. It’s more difficult to make the case about whether if the players didn’t do it did it mean they didn’t respond to the coach or aren’t capable. A little of both? I know Vinny was tougher on the team after that game than he usually is. The team does have good game plans, for the most part, and it’s not like they don’t know what to do or don’t recognize the situations. Yes, sometimes it gets lost from the huddle to the floor, as with many teams. I just read about the end of the Wizards loss to Portland when they drew up a specific play in the huddle and Caron Butler took the ball and did something completely different. Stupid? Defiant? Who really knows? It happens in a lot of places. That was a particularly poor effort all around given the nature of the opponent and so many situations not taken advantage of. Even if Vinny didn’t tell them, and I doubt that, a player should be able to recognize stuff on his own. I was merely pointing it out in total without assessing specific blame.
Is it me or does these official crews doing the Bulls game seem new? I have never seen some of the officials before this year. Are we the test team? And why is it so hard for the Bulls to get the respect of the officials? It’s been twelve long years now. I don’t like to complain about refs because you should never leave a game up to a whistle but we never benefit from whistles, unlike the teams we play. I mean the Bobcats, Thunder, Warriors and Clippers have all benefited from the whistle over us. When Rose is complaining to the refs, then something is wrong.
Sam: Don’t tell me it’s you when it’s me. Actually, you are correct in that there are a bunch of new faces and there aren’t many rookie of the year candidates. With the referee imbroglio in the summer, the NBA quietly forced out a number of veteran referees and is in the process of moving new ones in. As a result, there are many new faces and many new foul calls. Though it’s hardly a Bulls issue alone as I hear all teams complain, which, actually, I did before. But they tell me they really are serious this time that it’s worse but cannot say because David Stern will sentence them to watch Geico commercials all day if they criticize the referees.
I'm done with Tyrus. Everyone has continually made excuses for him. People have been saying that he’s raw and that his athleticism will eventually translate onto the court. He has to have the lowest basketball i.q. of anyone out there. He hasn't developed one reliable offensive move since he came into the league. If he isn't producing consistently in what is a contract year, then he is never going to do it. Hopefully he can put together one of his three game teaser streaks and the bulls can package him and Kirk or Salmons for cap relief.
Sam: I was in favor of trading him after that first game back when he had a big game. Actually, I was hopeful that perhaps he’d finally gotten it at least a little. But there are flaws to him I don’t believe you can change, like his dislike for contact, refusal to hustle on any regular basis and inclination to think the world doesn’t realize just how great he is. I’m hopeful the Bulls have reached the same conclusion you have, but I have not heard that yet. I can see him going somewhere and having some big games because if engaged he could be a really good player whom I’d love to have. But given now four years of this you’d think he’s made his point to everyone.
How about Tyrus Thomas and expiring contracts for Kevin Martin? The Kings obviously want a young big.
Sam: Well, Tyrus is young and big. If you were to give up expiring deals for Martin, that’s the end of free agency and while Martin may be better than you have, adding him to this Bulls team would sentence the team forever to trying to just make the playoffs. Doesn’t it ever strike people funny when teams worse than the Bulls want to give up guys who supposedly are their best player.
As a Bulls fan I'm so disappointing that there are still people out there criticizing D-Rose, my favorite players in the NBA currently. I've been on chats on hoopsworld and ESPN lately and whenever they are asked about Rose, they always talk about how he's taken a "very big step back" or something along those lines. I just shake my head because Rose is doubted throughout ESPN and all these other media outlets. How has this season been a disappointment for Rose?? He was hurt the first 2-3 weeks of the season and the first month of November was basically him getting into shape and getting over the ankle injury. Since then, he's been a monster. He's averaging 21.4 ppg, 6.5 apg, 4.3 rpg the past 2 months. The thought of him regressing this year is definitely quite a joke, if they've been watching the games they'd know he's been a monster since healing from the ankle injury and back to his old self.
Sam: I wrote about this some in my post game column after the Clippers game. But you are right as there seems to be this perception that Rose isn’t the same player. Those of us who watch know he’s better, but because the team isn’t doing as well as predicted (all those analysts had the Bulls .500 or better from the Boston series and if they are wrong they’d rather blame someone else) and with all the stuff about Vinny being fired, this perception has gone around Rose hasn’t produced. We know he’s done more without Ben Gordon and if Hinrich or Salmons could hit some shots he’d be averaging 10 assists as well.
How does one explain Rose at #4 in NBA jersey sales trailing only perennial all stars Bryant, James, & Howard, while his all star votes remain so much lower?
Sam: It’s a good question without an answer other than perhaps people who buy jerseys have to be relatively wealthy, and maybe they don’t care to vote and being wealthy have someone do it for them. Maybe they ask homeless guys to vote for them while they’re busy buying the jerseys and we know how much the homeless probably have in common with Tracy McGrady.
Well it's early in the morning here in Australia and I've done my regular morning thing which is checking NBA news and looking in to see what my Bulls are doing to improve their team only to find more outrageous speculation! Please oh please oh please tell me that we aren't considering trading Tyrus Thomas for Nocioni!? Hey Noc plays hard and is a good teammate but I used to hate him on our roster in his last season with us. The guy has forgotten how to play tough and scrap around inside for easy baskets resorting to standing around the perimeter and did nothing but jack up 3's and hey he isn't a great shooter. There is a lot of talk that the Celtics might trade Ray Allen and get players back to win it all now and have these players for their future. What about the Bulls dealing Hinrich, Ty Thomas and Jerome James for Allen?
Sam: No, the Bulls have zero interest in Noce. They traded him to get rid of his contract. There is considerable uninformed speculation these days and makes little sense and frankly is another reason people around the world think so little of Americans, I assume. As for the Celts, I think they could be closing in on something like that, but given Ray has an expiring deal and actually can help a lot for the short term I’d assume they’d be wanting way more than the Bulls can offer. I know I would.
Here's a Bulls/Spurs Trade Proposal: John Salmons for the expiring contracts of Michael Finley and Matt Bonner.
Sam: I’d do that, though I doubt the Spurs would given they don’t appear to be a title contender and operate on one of the more limited budgets. I’d assume they’d prefer the expiring deals as they probably want to bring back Manu at some reasonable price next summer and need the room. I heard someone suggest Pargo for the Nets’ Jarvis Hayes to go for a better shooter, though Hayes is hurt a lot. He was almost as Bull as they were considering him when they took Hinrich as an outside threat to go with Eddy Curry. The Nets might do it if you threw in a second, but the Bulls seem committed for now to want to see if Pargo can help if he ever gets regular minutes.
Was ever speculation on if Karl Malone took steroids at any time in his career?
Sam: There never was discussion of steroids in that era in basically any sports. The NBA did have testing before baseball since the NBA union was not obstructionist like in baseball, which is the reason it took so long in baseball. I’ve always laughed at the way the fans and media supported the union over the owners and then blamed the owners when the union clearly was on record opposing testing from the beginning until they were hauled into Congress at a time the league was trying to get a testing policy. I think the California governor took steroids, and that didn’t seem to disqualify him.
Do the Bulls have what it takes to pry away Ellis from the Warriors?
Sam: Not anymore. You have to jump on a good stock when it’s low, not high. Last year was the time with the Warriors and Ellis in a fight over a possible suspension. If you threw a big package at the Warriors then, they would have gone for it. Now, Ellis is the team. No one in the league really was smart enough.
What are your thoughts on the bulls maybe making a trade for Brandon Bass? The Magic seem to be sure about Ryan Anderson.
Sam: With three years after this at $4 mil per year I’m not sure anyone is much interested and the Bulls are at a stage to move salary and contracts and not take them on. What people may be missing or not willing to accept is the Bulls are not as much focused on this season. I believe they’d like the make the playoffs, but don’t see it as crucial to their future. We’ll see if they were right about that. I know I’d love to see them make the playoffs to get just one more weekend in Cleveland in April.
I've generally gone along with your reasoning that the better the Bulls do this season, the better their chances of landing a big time free agent. But isn't it possible that the opposite is actually true? If they only win about 37 games, they could sell LeBron on being the hero and turning them into a 55 win team next year. Either way, couldn't he Bulls sell him on Rose, Noah and Deng being a much better supporting cast then he's ever had? If Rose continues to improve, might that actually be a better supporting cast than Jordan ever had? Also, I want to make a prediction. I think about a year from now there will be a bunch of bad jokes about John Wall "hitting the wall".
Sam: Perhaps if Wall gets into a fight, I can see that. You may be more in tune with the Bulls than I am because I do believe they think that way to an extent. Actually, rather—and they probably are right—money talks and is No. 1. If they get enough money they get a guy because guys follow the money first. I don’t think that tack works with anyone as they don’t generally see themselves as saviors, or, at least, want that responsibility and pressure. But the Bulls will be selling that idea that they have two potential All Stars in Rose and Noah, so we’ll see if someone buys. And, though it’s not much mentioned, the Bulls may be better off for trade opportunities to have a lottery pick this season rather than being swept in the first round of the playoffs.
Let's say that the Raptors decide to trade Bosh at the deadline, would the Bulls take a chance at trading assets like Tyrus, Hinrich, 1st round pick, etc. (assuming raptors would be interested in what we have) without a guarantee Bosh would stay? I mean the Bulls have a worse record than the Raptors I'm sure Bosh wouldn't sign an extension before testing out the team he is traded to. I do think they would have to go all-in in that situation and hope the level of play is that much better after the trade to convince Bosh to stay.
Sam: Well, obviously you do a bit of research and talk to the agent and get word to the player (unofficially, of course, as it’s illegal) to see what he wants to do. It’s even a risk then as the Cavs found out when Carlos Boozer lied to them and then left. So it can happen. But the player makes $30 million more with his Bird rights, which transfer, and I think the Bulls would do it in a second and take their chances. And even if he leaves if you offload some contracts you still are in the free agent market and where you were before. I’d offer that package plus Salmons if I could.
Read the Pippen article? Haven't seen/heard the word "I" used so much, since I saw my last Larry King show! :-) Interesting how he used Bird as an example of All Star 'shoe ins' and not Michael or Magic? Very good player, but not a top 50.
Sam: Yes, Scottie seems lately to be screaming for attention. Again. You note the Pippen feature we’ve had on Bulls.com. I’ve heard that top 50 debate a long time, and probably if he went to the Kings or Clippers, as he could have, things may have been different. But he didn’t and made big plays and shots in big games. He’s long been jealous of Michael and they have little relationship. Michael had a lot of ambivalence toward Scottie and often doubted him and I know Michael believed—and I think he was wrong—Scottie was faking a back injury when he missed much of the final game in the 1998 championship in a season Scottie took off half the season and demanded a trade for a change. He’d be fined daily in this NBA era for his often anti-organization and league behavior. Sometimes Scottie is best appreciated from afar. That’s just a tip abut No Tippin’. But I’m OK with top 50 and I assume he makes the Hall of Fame this year. He is deserving.
A friend and I have been arguing over who had the more talented team, Michael Jordan or LeBron James this year. I said that LeBron James had the more talented team considering the facts that a) Big Z/Shaq are far more talented on offense than Bill Cartwright, who if I remember correctly MJ had a rule to not pass it to Bill within the last minutes of the game, b) Anderson Varejao and Horace Grant were both hustle players c) My friend argues LBJ is better than The Air so that only helps my argument and d) Cleveland's bench is better, so my question to you is, who did have the better team, Michael for his first championship or LeBron this year? The only arguement that stands legit is Scottie was a better overall player than Mo Williams, because scoring wise they both average roughly 17 points per game.
Sam: The easy answer if you assume Jordan and James are close (which Jordan has shown to be much better so far) is that the Bulls won six titles and the Cavs haven’t won a Finals game. But, yes, LeBron is still a kid. There’s no comparison. Cartwright at his stage was far better than Shaq or Z, especially as a defender. Grant was way better than Varejao. Not even close. There’s not a player on the Cavs roster who could start for those Bulls and very few who even could make the roster. It’s actually why LeBron has been so great playing with that mess of a team. Yes, it’s not nearly as strong a league as it was. Tell your friend he knows more about the NBA than you do.
Do you think Brad Miller will stick around next year for a smaller contract? Or do you think he'll call it quits and retire so he can go hunting?
Sam: I’ve talked with him casually about that and though he hasn’t given me any hints, my guess is he leaves unless he’s offered a decent contract and more than a minimum deal. I’ve heard him say it takes two or three months into the offseason before he feels well enough to walk right again after all the treatment during the season. He’s had a great career for a guy not drafted and he’s made a lot of money. From the way he dresses and his hobbies, I’d expect he hasn’t spent much of it, and he has a family now. I always say play until they won’t let you anymore because you will never find anything to do that’s as much enjoyment. But Brad’s body may be talking to him. And with all that tobacco chewing, it could be an ugly conversation.
Do you find this a more interesting year than others? Also, I still struggle to figure out what the Bulls need to do to insure they can get a maximum free agent this summer. I clearly am not smart enough to figure this out. The area I am confused over is Tyrus Thomas’s role in this. If Salmons does not opt out I figure the Bulls, excluding Tyrus, are obligated for about $31.4 million for 7 players. With a $55 million cap and a 16.5 million maximum free agent this leave us the challenge of using $7 million to hire 5 players necessary for the 13 player league minimum. Please correct me if I am off base. Will we have enough time to see if we get let’s say a Joe Johnson for $16.5 million whom I really like before offering Tyrus the qualifying offer? If we can, then that would allow us time to offer Tyrus the qualifying offer after the few weeks it takes to learn we cannot get a free agent we want.
Sam: I really find them all compelling. Really. I am not exactly a fan as I see the games differently because I know so many of the participants. I watch it like an ongoing soap opera or drama to see how guys respond under pressure and circumstances and that every season is a story running to a conclusion. It’s why you can see guys like Phil Jackson in it for now more than 40 years. Yes, there’s the money, at least for them, but perhaps more the unknown and what will transpire along the way. Each season is its own mystery of who will prevail, rise and fall. As for Tyrus’ situation, they could renounce him and he’d be off the cap. I assume they give him a qualifying offer, and if they can sign someone then pull it or make a deal related to whom they could sign. There is no one answer because there are many ways they can go. All anyone needs to understand now is they have to move another salary for an expiring deal to be in the game and they will.
Do you think Iguodala would fare well with Rose in the backcourt?
Sam: No. Iguodala’s a three and that was one Philly problem when Elton came. They had to move Iguodala to the backcourt, where he isn’t a shooting guard, the Salmons issue. There’s been rumors of his availability and while he’s a good talent, he doesn’t fit with Deng that well, isn’t a great enough player to carry you and the 76ers would have you take a bad contract to get him, which would put a team like the Bulls out of free agency.
I noticed that Kirk Hinrich often takes out his mouth guard after committing a foul. I have also seen Bulls players take their mouth guards out of their shorts while checking in to play. Can they talk on defense with these mouth guards? I know Kirk is a good one on one defensive player but is he a good team defensive player? The Bulls often appear to be surprised on defense. Is talking on defense overrated or should Lindsay Hunter be starting?
Sam: Is there another option to that last question. Talking on defense is not exactly overrated, but is not done that often. I asked a coach and he had trouble thinking of who does it. I’ve talked to some guys and they admit it’s difficult to talk with the mouth guard. Only a few players use them, though I’d think more should given the dental work of late you see necessary. I wince thinking about Carl Landry’s six hours in the dental chair.
Don't know if you saw the clip of Michael Jordan on Jay Leno's show (https://www.hulu.com/watch/121679/the-jay-leno-show-1010-michael-jordan). Jordan claims he's never wanted the autograph of a single person, but hey, that's typical MJ. When Leno asked Jordan if he could still dunk, Jordan says, "Can I still dunk? Are you stupid?" He says he's still got the ability to dunk even if he's getting old. I don't buy it, especially after the awful missed dunk in the 2003 All-Star Game. And that was seven years ago. So here's my two-part question: First, how many 47-year-old former NBA players can still dunk? And second, do you have any inside info on whether Air Jordan can still take off?
Sam: No one keeps those records. I checked on 37-year-old Lindsey Hunter and he seems to have trouble dunking a donut. But that’s Jordan. And what made him what he was. And what annoyed the heck out of teammates. I think he grew up committed to living his life through the Ethel Merman song, “Anything you can do I can do better.” Actually, I’m claiming this to be the first ever Ethel Merman reference in an NBA story or column. Look it up! Even guys who weren’t pros go to the park and watch games and are convinced they can do it as well and it only leads to more Achilles surgeries. Mike likely can’t do any of that stuff anymore, but I’m sure he’d bet you he can. Greatness in sports develops in a lot of ways, and for Jordan it was refusing to believe he could not do everything he tried. It’s a tough life to keep up with. It’s why he got hustled in golf so much. He couldn’t believe guys could beat him even though he was just an average player. In basketball, he was skilled, and with that mindset and drive, that enabled him to become the best.