Ask Sam | 03.19.10
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of e-mails from his readers.
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This losing streak is really taking its toll on me. I'm starting to have flashbacks of 2000 - 2004. Speaking of, in your honest opinion, who would win this game?
Sam: Yes, that’s the sad reality. The Bulls have had a 15 to 20-win team on the floor with all the injuries and the necessary deals to create cap flexibility for the summer. The season is the victim. It happens when you lose your best players. Compare the roster with the Nets, who remain on pace for the worst record ever. The Bulls lineup of late has no one even close to Devin Harris and Brook Lopez. That 2001-02 team should beat this Bulls team. Let’s go to the matchups. Yes, I’m frustrated and looking for some relief, too. Crawford/Mercer is a huge edge. Crawford was young and erratic, but way more talented. Mercer suffered mostly for not being Tracy McGrady. He still could score and was a veteran. It was like having the talent of a good late first rounder and being picked first overall. There was just too much disappointment. E-Rob probably was a bit ahead of Johnson as he’d played and had some moments and was a three. We’re still not sure just what Johnson is or does, though we can see he has talent. Of course, E-Rob had many issues, likely way more than Johnson, who already has been benched for violating team rules. So we don’t exactly have huge responsibility then or now. Call it a wash. Fizer could score way more, though Taj is a much better defender and fundamental player. Maybe Taj gets the slight edge, though could not have the big offensive games Fizer did, especially before he was hurt. We give pretty much anyone the edge over Dali. Miller has been pretty good, in my view, given he was never expected to play or do this much. Tim Floyd’s Bulls would have found a team they were favored to beat. Though I give the edge to Vinny in that one, which would make it at least competitive. I weep thinking about this.
I once thought our starting two guard Kirk Hinrich was the next John Stockton. His best statistical year was 06-07, with 16.6ppg and 6.3apg, without Karl Malone or any player on the roster vaguely similar to the Mailman. Fast forward to present day and Captain Kirk is having a disappointing year. I had hoped Hinrich could step up and help with the scoring load after losing Ben Gordon. Obviously that hasn't happened. We need the 06-07 Hinrich now more than ever with Deng & Rose both missing time and the trade of John Salmons! At times he passes up wide open shots.
Sam: I noticed that right away in Wednesday’s game when Kirk beat Jason Kidd on a fake, got near the rim and threw out to the three-point line. The Bulls scored, but he does pass up way too many shots at the rim. Kirk’s been a poor finisher during his career. I’ve thought he became more aggressive with taking his shot after he returned from injury, but has backed off some again. He’s never been a big scorer and probably is more the ideal third guard given his ability to play both guard positions and willingness to defend, even when overmatched. He does try, and we saw it well when he frustrated Dwyane Wade last week, though it was Hinrich eventually ejected. We know now he’s no Stockton, though a valuable piece. The Bulls considered dealing him, though were better with he than Salmons, so eventually traded Salmons. I assume they look to deal him again this summer as there was a lot of interest in him around the league at trade deadline. The notion of late with his play has been Acie Law could do the job, and it sure seems likely. But he may get more than the minimum from someone, which is all the Bulls will have once they exhaust their free agent money. I think they’d most like to deal Hinrich for more cap space around draft time, though that will be difficult with so many teams trying to do likewise. It’s quite possible this will be Hinrich’s last season with the Bulls since if they miss the playoffs it’s clear everything has to be on the table.
Why isn't Alexander playing? Is he not giving enough effort in practice? Speaking of practice, how often are they practicing this time of year? Alexander seems hungry...I'd rather see him play then some of the other players.
Sam: First, the team rarely has practiced for weeks with so many injuries and for a long time the starters playing so many minutes. As for Alexander, it won’t make a difference for wins and losses, though I would like a look at him to see just what everyone saw in that draft. He seems healthy now and has shown in limited time he’ll play hard and physically. But you can’t play everyone, and Vinny is trying to win games. So you’ve got to accept at this point he’ll play whom he believes helps him most.
Deng again has done nothing to shun his body of glass impression everyone has of him. All year long everyone said what a great job he has done playing the whole season, blah blah. He needs to man up, play with the pain, and help push for the playoffs come sat., or this season is over; your getting paid 11M, coming from the fans pockets, whether it be directly in ticket sales, merchandise sales, or from the products we by via the advertising dollars provided to the bulls from tv spots.
Sam: Yes, that’s the voice of the angry fan. I’ve seen no evidence Deng is dogging it. Also, I’m reluctant to say what someone’s pain is. If he says he can’t play and is hurt that’s good enough for me. It does seem Deng has a body which may not be equipped to play an 82-game schedule. Shaq didn’t, either. There are guys like that all over the NBA. It’s rare these days for whatever reason when guys play 75 or 80 games. Deng played big minutes into mid-March and played hurt and didn’t talk about it much. He did what he could, which is what he owes the team and the fans. I’ve got no issue with him.
I love to play NBA 2k and I´m already in the big free Agent offseason, here is what I did and do you think this could also come to reality? First the Big 3 are not available they all stayed on their teams, so I offered Joe Johnson a contract, he accepted for 10 million, next Amar'e Stoudemire stayed and took his one year player option, so I offered Kirk and Deng and the 2011 first round pick and they accepted. Why not, Grant Hill does not get younger and they need someone for him, Nash also and an additional draft pick is always nice to have. If not, you may can add a sign and trade with Warrick and add him to the offer in the reality. So here is my starting lineup for the season 2010-2011 is Rose, Johnson, James Johnson, Stoudemire and Noah with Law, Murray, Gibson and Miller on a minimum deal.
Sam: Didn’t that video game have the Bulls in the playoffs? Johnson already has turned down way more than that from the Hawks. All indications are he wants to leave and his history leaving a 60-win Suns team for the worst team in the league suggests he’ll take the money and chase the large market, be it Chicago or New York. So I assume you’d have to use most of your money for him. I see Stoudemire opting out given the NBA’s CBA in 2011 could cut the amount of max deals and if the big three stay, there will be plenty of money out there for him, and he, too, will follow the money no matter the team.
Bulls are in trouble. Either they gotta step it up and start winning every game to grab the 7th or 8th seed or just lose every game so their draft pick is in the top 10 so they dont lose it to Milwaukee.
Sam: It is what it is, as they like to say around the NBA these days. Few thought the Bulls could unload Salmons the way he was playing and owed about $6 million for next season, and it was a very unique situation with the Bucks, who wanted a guy with a deal expiring after next season. There weren’t many teams like that. So they had to throw in something. So it was the flip, but they protected themselves through 10 for a real player. They’re basically stuck at 11 with the teams below them too bad to win many games. So they’ll end up with the Bucks’ pick, which should be around 16 or 17. I don’t see it as a big deal as you can see from the past draft more good players below 15 than between 10 and 15. At that point, it’s more luck. Plus, the Bulls already have three very young players in Rose, Johnson and Gibson, so it’s not like they need more rookies. I’d rather see veterans fill out the roster if you aren’t getting top 10 picks.
I know you say the Bulls should forget about the lottery and I am definitely not counting on it but they have gotten lucky 5 times in 10 drafts since the Bulls last championship (Elton Brand #1, Jay Williams #2, Ben Gordon #3, Lamarcus Aldridge #2, Derrick Rose #1). So if they fail to make the playoffs but get lucky, how will having to pay a top three pick salary affect the Bulls free agent budget? Can they afford both or will they have to trade the pick, possibly for a sign and trade of a big free agent?
Sam: They are counting a No., 1 pick in their payroll, though not one that high. I believe they can squeeze a No. 1 overall pick in and then have close to enough for a max salary, but maybe not a full max. I’d worry about that later if I got that pick. How would Rose and Wall look going forward? Then you could give away someone like Gibson or Johnson if you had to and some team likely would take him for nothing. It’s also why the trades last month in giving the Bulls some extra money was vital and why it was good they didn’t spend it on some veteran contract. But if the Bulls do get No. 1 or No. 2 overall for Wall or Turner, I assume the rest of the NBA would demand an investigation.
My favorite play of Stacey King's career with the Bulls was when he committed a hard foul on Karl Malone who had a reputation for getting rough with smaller players. In this particular game Malone was getting rough with Paxson. It was a high bouncing easy defensive rebound for Malone who had good position along the baseline. Everyone else was running to the other end of the floor but just as Malone was about to catch the ball King went for it hard and in the process knocked Malone hard to the floor into the photographers. Stacey did it with a smile and Malone got the message. There was no rough stuff by either team the rest of the game that I remember. Aaron Gray might have been useful after all.
Sam: I give Stacey credit that way. It took him awhile as he came in as a finesse type who wanted to score, but he couldn’t beat out Horace Grant for the way Grant played. So Stacey adjusted and there was a memorable confrontation as well with Danny Ferry in the playoffs after Ferry took a shot at Jordan. You’re obviously referring to the Bulls lack of reaction when no one did anything when Dwight Howard with his skin tight, three sizes too small jersey to highlight his muscle took down Rose. This Bulls group has been with injuries and feeling sorry for themselves of late putting their toes in the water of giving up but not quite sure whether to jump. They got the message in a spirited game the next night in Miami. It was important for teammates to let Rose know they had his back as players remember those types of things. It was awhile after Oakley was traded that Jordan felt comfortable with that. As for Aaron, I doubt he’d be much help in that regard as he wasn’t much the enforcer and it’s fairly obvious when you bring in a goon. The guys who are in the game regularly have to handle that stuff. Stacey got to understand well. I didn’t see the TV broadcast as I was there, but I assume Stacey was livid in Orlando with the lack of reaction. And it wasn’t one of those Barkley things talking about players out of control and irresponsible in his revisionist history when he was as irresponsible as any. Funny and fun to be around, though as Jordan always said, he’d never want him as a teammate.
Let me ask you a question on the Bobcats, you don't really see a bright future ahead for them do you? Their two main guys are 31 and 33 years old, Felton and Tyrus are RFA and if they get one team to pay them big money I don't see the bobcats matching. They have a lot of underachieving centers still under contract. They don't draft well (their best draft pick over the years has been Felton which isn't saying much), does MJ know what he is getting himself into? I know Bob Johnson lost a lot of money but at least he found a sucker to take this dead weight franchise off his hands. They are a team like the Clippers of a few years ago, make the playoffs one year, get swept and never see the playoffs again.
Sam: I assume you weren’t Jordan’s advisor on the sale. It’s a tough one for Jordan as he’s always been opposed to being around for the benefit of others to be near greatness. Charlotte sort of demands that. I see Mike better off as an owner than as a GM since he sort of acted like an owner when he was GM in being around only occasionally and advising once the deals were ready to be closed. He always said as a minority owner he could only do so much, so now we’ll see. He did say all the right stuff at a press conference Thursday. He says he’ll be around, and so far he has been. It’s a huge risk with his money and though he is trying to add investors, it’s the biggest financial risk he’s ever taken other than marriage. The Bobcats have done some good short term things, and it was important for the credibility of the franchise to make the playoffs, which they will. He recognized his mistake with Sam Vincent and got a great coach. He’s got size at the basket and athleticism and a closer in Stephen Jackson, no matter the risk. He’s made much better basketball moves this time and the Bobcats will be a tough first round out unless they fall to seventh or eighth. For now, what he can’t control, the economy, may be a bigger obstacle.
I don't know if you've watched the Cleveland/Boston game. A strange game from my point of view between a Boston "Kings of cheap shots" team which looked like the finishing Pistons of Billups/Wallace and co. and the Cavaliers which looked like anything but a team. Is there any coach in this team? What is the plan? Plan A, give the ball to Lebron. Plan A', Lebron attacks the basket, and it makes two, three of four points. Plan A'', Lebron gets the ball, the defense focus on him, and he makes the good pass. Plan B, get Lebron out of the game and this is helter skelter time. Cleveland has one big strentgh: LBJ. And he is their biggest weakness: everything is about one/one. I dont think there is a real team out there. There is Lebron, plus one guy, plus one guy, plus one guy .... Maybe they are a different team without Shaq.
Sam: Yes, and that’s what they said about the Bulls with Jordan a lot. It changed a lot in the 1991 playoffs when Jordan invested the “my supporting cast” thing when he was out of Game 1 of the conference finals against Detroit and the reserves won the game. The Cavs offense is predictable and much criticized, for good reason, over the years for its lack of imagination and LeBron’s dominance. Come playoff time it’s easier to prepare for in a series and we saw the result last season. They have to work in Z and Shaq again, and that’s not an easy thing to do once the playoffs begin. The players clearly would prefer to play without them given they like to spread the court and run and shoot and LeBron is a willing passer. Plus, he’s playing a lot like Jordan now in saving his best to the end. But they’ll need the big guys as the games slow and they’re all in this time. They know if they don’t get to the Finals they could lose LeBron.
I know this has been brought up a lot in the past few weeks; but what recourse do Paxson and Forman have against non calls, poor calls, and absolute wrong calls being by refs during Bulls games? I know that Pax and Forman can go to Stu Jackson about calls or no call; but in the end will it change anything? Can Forman and Pax talk to Stern? Do you know how refs are accountable for bad calls or no calls? And have you noticed that the Bulls haven't been getting calls since the Jordan era? Even last year….Ben would drive to the hole too…get contact, hit the floor and no call would be made…..will we get calls when we start pushing deeper into the playoffs?
Dennis L. Bonner
Sam: This is the lament of a fan for a losing team. If everyone else were getting calls why would they all be complaining all the time on all the teams. I felt the league needed to do something more about that, but you see the stars like LeBron and Wade and Kobe not getting back on defense to complain. They wouldn’t do it so much if it didn’t work. Refereeing is a judgment business and I’ve long felt the NBA guys do better than anywhere else and still believe so. The Bulls remain primarily a jump shooting team, so they don’t get as many calls. Rose goes to the basket the most and has yet to fully develop the art of creating contact. He’s so fast and strong he bounces off and doesn’t get as many calls, something like with Shaq and Howard. You just have to keep playing and it will come your way, and you’d hope the league doesn’t reward the whiners.
What’s your take on James Johnson? He has a couple of similarities to Marcus Fizer that are a little disturbing. Both were fine collegiate centers/power forwards, but the Bulls drafted them and decided for some odd reason to try and move them to a wing position. They aren’t given anything close to consistent minutes to carve out a niche as pros. What do you think? What is JJ supposed to be good at?
Sam: It’s clear Johnson is more the small forward, perhaps point forward, wing player. He’s more talented than Fizer, who was more undersized, strong post player. Johnson has shown some nice flashes of late with getting extra playing time. Though I’m still not fully sure what he is because he should be able to rebound better but doesn’t seem to seek out the contact. He’s also wild with the ball and fundamentally unsound. But has the talent. If he combines that with a work ethic this summer, the Bulls could have something. But he’s still far from that.
After seeing Rose take another nasty spill after getting flattened by Howard in the air, should the Bulls mandate that he take some Judo lessons or somesuch? Learning how to fall safely given how high he ends up off the ground would help his longevity. Or is that sort of generalized training a distant second to Rose developing skills that are more directly basketball-related (like D).
Sam: I’ll admit it’s nothing I’ve thought about, though it might be nice. Lots of players fall a lot, like Wade and before him Iverson and now Deron Williams as well. You are small and attack the basket it’s inevitable. Rose is strong and at some point the sad part is he’ll back off the high flying attacks and be more judicious as all the great leapers eventually learn. I will say this. I have no doubt Howard made a play without regard of Rose’s health and despite what Rose says I know people close to him were furious and saw ill intent. I was there after the game next to Howard and he was very smug about the whole thing until it dawned on him it might not be taken well. He was puffing about running into Superman and having to be careful and you get what you ask for at times like that. Someone the next day pointed out to me on his web site blog an apology/explanation the same as he offered afterward when it occurred to him he was being somewhat impolitic. But if you watched Thursday night’s game with Miami, Howard was much more deferential when Wade went to the basket and made no effort to take him out as he did with Rose. Friends like that you don’t need. It’s too bad the Bulls won’t get into the playoffs, or if they do, not high enough to play the Magic. Howard was trying to take out a little guy, but when Shaq is around practically goes in his pants.
With all the writing already on the wall concerning Vinny D's future with the Bulls, what do you think the chances are of the Bulls convincing Coach K to leave his comfortable basketball kingdom at Duke to come home and take over this Bulls team? His presence would most definitely attract one of those coveted FA to be that has the city all excited would it not.
Sam: Zero. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over, but regarding Krzyzewski you made the point. Comfortable basketball kingdom. NBA coaching is a much tougher job than college coaching, and he’s already has become something of a CEO in delegating more responsibilities to assistants after his break for health reasons a few years back. He had the chance to coach Kobe and the Lakers and rejected it. He’s gotten his NBA fix with the USA team, which he’ll continue to coach. I’m quite sure you’ll never see him as an NBA coach.
I was wondering what your thoughts are on who the best college coaches are in terms of developing players for the NBA (as opposed to a college coach who is a great recruiter but can't coach a lick). Are there certain coaches that general managers like drafting players from because they will be more prepared than other teams' players?
Sam: I don’t think there are any coaches in college who can coach in the NBA. Primarily because the game is different and the players are different and you have to study the players for years. College coaches basically pay no attention to the NBA because they have fulltime jobs. I’ve asked NBA guys about a college coach they’d take a shot at and the only one I’ve heard on occasion who makes sense given he might try it at this stage of his life and it might work is Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. Still, I don’t see anyone going that way as the adjustment has continually proven too daunting, especially because they never get good teams because they are inexperienced. Sort of a self fulfilling prophesy of doom. There are plenty of great basketball guys in college, strategists and teachers. But the NBA is a different game and different life and requires a different mentality I’ve yet to see a college coach able to handle.
Besides retreads, assistants and college coaches, how much do GMs consider 'minor' league coaches for head coaching jobs? It seems that with alumni such as Phil Jackson, George Karl, Bill Musselman and Flip Saunders, the CBA (IBL, UBL, WeBL or whatever it's called now) or NBADL might contain a breakout candidate worth hiring. I suppose figuring out who that breakout candidate is the rub. Do you think there are any working today that are worth considering for the head coaching job or do the successful ones simply move up to the NBA as assistants or go the college route? If hired in the near future, would a half-season 'try out' be enough time to evaluate whether or not to sign one of these coaches to a longer term deal?
Sam: I don’t keep up with the minor leagues, but there must be some qualified guys. I felt when I met Phil when he was in Albany and watched him for several games he was an NBA quality coach. But it was a higher level of basketball then in the CBA. Now, it’s more lower level teaching and mercenaries who come and go. I’ve heard good things about guys like Michael Ray Richardson, Jan Van Breda Kolf, Steve Tucker in the ABA, Bob MacKinnon and Derrick Rowland. But I don’t know enough about them. But with likely more than a half dozen openings this summer and teams becoming unwilling to pay the big bucks seeing that big money doesn’t mean anything without players, witness Flip Saunders and Eddie Jordan, so I can see teams looking for out of the box candidates who are basketball guys. If you think you are going to be better throwing a lot of money at guys like Avery Johnson or Byron Scott just because people have heard of him you’re in for a disappointment. The time may have come to expand the search as the familiar names haven’t meant much as we see from the last few years of hirings.
How close were the Pippen for Kemp in 1995 deal happening or the Pippen for T-mac and Van Horn deal in 1998? I still believe we 3 peat from 1996-1998 with Kemp over Pippen. Regarding 1998 I believe we still can win with both Van Horn and T-mac (although he wasn't great at the time).
Larry A. Barron
Sam: Never know, eh. The Pippen deal in 1994 was done for Kemp. The Bulls were convinced Jordan wasn’t coming back and relations with Horace Grant had gone bad. Kemp was a huge star at the time. But the Supersonics fans were so upset—it’s hard to believe this happened—that when word leaked of the deal they so flooded the team with objections because Pippen from his playoff walkout in 1994 was viewed as such a bad guy, way worse than Kemp, they didn’t want him on the team. Seattle had agreed and backed out. Kemp, of course, went downhill eventually with paternity cases and huge weight issues. The Bulls got Rodman as the final piece. I’m not sure what would have occurred, but Kemp still was great when the Bulls played Seattle in the 1996 Finals. And there was some hook in there that would have enabled the Bulls to get Eddie Jones in the draft. That should have been enough to replace Pippen and keep winning. As for Pippen and McGrady, Reinsdorf killed that deal. Krause wanted to begin the makeover, and if he had maybe the Bulls wouldn’t have fallen so far and so quickly after 1998. He was set on drafting McGrady, who was quickly great in Toronto as in that era he also was a great defender. I don’t recall all the details, but Van Horn was a pretty good player and that would have been the time to deal Pippen in retrospect, especially the way he sat out the first half of the 1997-98 season because he had surgery late because he was mad at the team and wanted a few months off. But Reinsdorf wanted to keep the team together to go for the championship and overruled the proposal. In 1998, I’m certain, he would have again. And did. I know all the stuff Krause said, but I also know Jordan was told if he returned for the 1998-99 season the franchise would bring back all the players and Jordan could have the coach he wanted. Jordan did not want to play anymore then no matter what revisionist history you hear.