Ask Sam | 04.02.10
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of e-mails from his readers.
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Do the bulls have any shot what so ever of beating the cavs in a series? This is assuming they make it. It is extremely wishful thinking but assuming everyone is healthy. If not, they wont get swept will they?
Sam: I am quite sure the Bulls won’t get swept by the Cavs as I expect them to be quite relaxed and confident at the time… that the Raptors will get swept by the Cavs. I know there’s always a chance, and this Bulls group hasn’t given up and has played some pretty enjoyable basketball. Having Noah back has been big. But that 10-game losing streak was a killer, and I can’t say I saw the same competitive attitude during that time. The Bulls probably have a one in ten chance to make the playoffs now. I’d love to have seen it, especially against the Cavs and James, who look like favorites to win the title this season with James on a similar career tract as Jordan. And it probably would have been fulfilling for the Cavs to knock put the Bulls early to start their run given the win over the Cavs in ’89 really started it all.
I remember in 2000 the bulls could have gone straight after Mcgrady. Yet they decided to give the other stars (duncan, hill) a try. If they would have focused on mcgrady maybe he would have come here. In the same way wouldn't be wise for the bulls not to focus on Lebron or Wade (unlikely they leave) and instead go straight after a guy like Joe Johnson?
Sam: It’s something I’ve been advocating for some time now. It is the sort of settle for the silver medal thing, but sometimes you have to be realistic. I tend to be more conservative and like a surer thing. If it were Jordan, he would be going for the top guy because he always had that mentality. He’d lose a lot, and the Bulls had that mentality in 2000. Their notion was they were an elite franchise coming off six titles in a world class city with management willing to spend (they had the league’s highest payroll and Jordan the largest salary in sports history). So how could the top guys not want to come to Chicago? So expectations may have been lowered some since then given the history. I’m not sure McGrady would have come, anyway, was we learned he was lazy and pretty much liked the idea of being back home in Florida and pretty much doing nothing when not playing and with less pressure. Still, I agree LeBron and Wade and even Bosh are long shots and I think Joe Johnson fits well for both and I’d be at his doorstep at 12:01 telling him even if LeBron wanted to come, We Want You! The point is to get better and get at least one top talent to start.
Here's a reason to go for Joe Johnson over D.Wade this summer: Luol Deng. I'm a huge Deng fan, I like his hustle and his desire, but like you said--he's probably just not an 82 game player. So we need either a 2 who can play 3, or our first guy off the bench has to be a 3. Someone to decrease Lu's minutes/load. If we get Johnson and keep Hinrich, we can easy run Rose/Kirk/JJ lineups without losing size. Lu's minutes can decrease, say 30 a game. He can even take games off. That way, he's more likely to be consistently healthy. Flip Murray just doesn't cut it at 3, neither does James Johnson. A Rose-Wade-Hinrich set, while being really potent, would risk giving up too much size.
Sam: It’s an interesting scenario and notion. As I’ve said, for whatever reason—and my latest theory is growing up in Africa I don’t believe Deng was exposed to the nutrition our kids have and might have issues with bone strength—Deng doesn’t have a body for 82 games. He is valuable when he plays, though not the star the Bulls thought he might be four years ago. The interesting question come June will be whether they try or even whether they can trade him to a team like the Timberwolves with cap room but unlikely to attract a free agent, and thus free up money for a second so called full boat free agent. Then you, say, maybe a play for Bosh and Wade or Bosh and Johnson or Lee and Johnson or some such combination.
Here's to hoping the Bulls do not get suckered into signing Boozer, Bosh, or Stoudemire this summer. Boozer is a 20 and 10 guy with a terrible attitude, a history of injuries, and almost zero interest on defense. What percentage of games do you think he'll miss on his next contract? Bosh is just like Boozer, but worse. His teams don't win, and this year he's openly quit on yet another crappy Raptors squad out of an apparent desire to "play for a winner." I'm no genius, but do people really think Bosh will come to Chicago and suddenly turn into an MVP? Am I the only one who sees him totally disappearing in big games? And by the way, he plays zero defense. Stoudemire is actually kind of interesting, given his terrific play these last few months despite two solid years of trade talk. He's come back from serious injuries, which raises a red flag, but also shows his ability to work hard and, frankly, his desire to play. Or, at least, score. But I still see him as a beneficiary playing uptempo with Nash -- meaning, he'll never be as good as he is right now. He also doesn't play defense, but I could see that changing with the right coach and a veteran team. Stay away, Gar-Pax.
Here's what I think the Bulls should do: Lure Wade to Chicago. He's the only free agent other than LeBron who will impact his team beyond his actual skill or statistics. In this NBA, I think that's more important than anything else. Rose and Wade in the backcourt is not the second coming of Jordan and Pippen, but it's probably the closest you can get Joe Johnson also could work, although he won't have the same kind of impact as Wade. Ditto Monta Ellis. Up front, I think the Bulls are better of staying away from David Lee and his matador defense.
Sam: Good you’re not GM, or there would go free agency, or at least the fans’ enthusiasm. I don’t disagree about Wade as the only true “impact” players I see in free agency are LeBron and Wade, and I think the chances of either leaving are negligible. As I’ve written, I believe Joe Johnson’s No. 1 priority is Chicago and I’d make him mine. I’ve long lobbied for Ellis and believe he’ll be available, which would be a fallback. But I also expect the Bulls to make a big run at Bosh as they’ve eyed him for years and he’s probably the most likely free agent to leave his team. I’ve mentioned many times his flaws—and Taj already is a far better defender—but he gets 24 and 12 and that’s tough to find. If I had a chance and was more sure I could get him I wouldn’t hesitate despite his issues. I would be wary of Boozer and I would Stoudemire as well, but given he has a low max and you can see he’s a blue collar type competitor, I’d probably go for Lee before either of them. He may not be as talented, but you’ll get effort from him you don’t always get from those other guys.
There are two things I want to bring up before free agency, and I was wrong about both of them. During the offseason I was incredibly critical of letting Ben Gordon go and drafting Taj Gibson over the likes of a Dejuan Blair. Well, it's time for me to eat crow. I thought that by re-signing Gordon we would be more likely to either get Hinrich's contract off the books during the season, or use Gordon in a sign-and-trade after the season get a guy like Bosh or Joe Johnson in an attempt to end up with two max guys (and I still think that second idea was a good one); or at worst, we keep Gordon because he's really just a younger, shorter and less versatile version of Joe Johnson (for less money I might add).
Which brings me to my main point: is going after Chris Bosh this summer even a good idea? I'm more of the mind that we would be better off seeing what we have with Gibson for another season, and trying to fill our glaring hole at shooting guard this offseason. To me, if you look at our starting front-court, Luol Deng would be the odd-man out. I'm not so sure that I wouldn't be for going for someone like a Joe Johnson this offseason (although I wish there were a cheaper option) and trying to deal Luol next season for expirings with the plan of getting Carmelo in 2011. A starting line-up of Rose, Johnson, Melo, Gibson and Noah with Hinrich, (a more developed) James Johnson and future draft picks coming off the bench would look pretty good to me. I don't know how much better we get by signing Bosh, Boozer or Amare and we sacrifice the future of Gibson in doing so. If it comes down to it, I think you still have to sign somebody this summer, but I'd look at wing players like Johnson, Gay or even Ginobli (and of course the obvious selections of LBJ and Wade) before I look at the crop of PFs.
Sam: Yes, it would have ended up quite a risk to have paid Ben with the idea of a sign and trade or a deal. The Detroit situation has been bad for him with so many guards, and there have been the injuries, which set him way back and he’s never been able to recover. He’s a worker and I believe he will get back to his Bulls form. It is an interesting dilemma as no one expected Taj to come this fast and you’d hate to see him as a spot player. I think they can get away with Taj being the starting four in the Horace Grant mold if they cannot get Bosh, which is another reason I’ve lobbied for Johnson and Ellis. That said, if the Bulls can get, I’d guess in this order, Bosh, Lee, Boozer I see them going that way.
People have been suggesting that Deng is expendable now that Johnson has shown some signs. I love Deng’s game and think he fits well with Rose and Noah because we work better with speed and hustle and Noah and Deng get up and down the court with Rose well. I said, if there was a great option to get a better player in a deal then go for it. But, JJ needs at least another year with more playing time to even figure out the fundamentals of the game. He has skills but no basketball I.Q. yet. Just the same with Tyrus. I get upset with the fans of today because they get so caught up in the glam of the game that they forget about the game itself. Deng has played great this year through injury and after all the critisizim this past year. He has great humility and character, something that is very much lacking in today’s NBA. I’m a 27 year old African-American and Puerto Rican male, but the acts of Lebron, JR Smith and Mello makes me sick. Play the game to win with integrity and stop looking for the cameras. I hated Kobe because he came off as arrogant early in his career but now I respect his work ethic and will to win. Almost reminds me of MJ, almost. But Deng, takes me back to the earlier Bulls days when they played to win, wore suits, weren’t blasting terrible music in the locker room and knowing how to speak. He is a good player and a even better person, why doesn’t people like him like I do?
Sam: Deng has suffered the sin of not being Kobe. There were those rumors at one time—completely false—that the Bulls didn’t get close to making a deal for Kobe because they wouldn’t give up Deng. There were talks and the Lakers were basically trying to stall everyone figuring Kobe would come to his senses eventually, but in the exchange of various names Kobe said he didn’t want to go to a Bulls team that was stripped down and wanted Deng to stay. So that’s how that came out and got misinterpreted to be the Bulls wouldn’t give up Deng. But, remember, Deng was on a terrific upward arc then before injuries and most around the NBA had him penciled in for being an All Star. The GM’s that year listed him the most likely to break out in their annual poll. There was a chance the Bulls could have gotten Pau in a deal involving Deng, and then maybe Kobe would have gone somewhere. As I recall it, the Bulls saw Deng as an 18-20 point scorer like Pau, so figured it was close to a wash and didn’t want to give up more pieces in addition. Could Pau have carried the Bulls more than Deng? I doubt it. Plus, Lu also gets blamed for not being a so called $70 million player, which is his cap number. Actually, his real salary is considerably less since his contract had a huge amount of deferred money. But people see the number and expect more. It’s like being the No. 1 draft pick. If you were picked 15, people would accept less. They don’t, and that’s the way it works. Should Deng have accepted less? No one in his place would have. So he’s penalized for his employer overvaluing him. It is the twisted world of sports. But he remains, when healthy, a solid contributor if not transcendent star and a player you can feel good having on your team.
Is there a chance the Bulls save some cap space for the future? Obviously they will make a play for James and Wade. After that, will the money burn a hole in their pocket or can they possibly hold off? I see about a $17 million increase in payroll by 2012/13 after paying Derrick and Jo. And with Lou on the books for 4 more years, you are looking at approximately 75% of the cap tied up on those 3 guys. It seems to me that rather then force a move now, it might be a better idea to let your core group grow which would give the Bulls a better idea of what they need to compete for a championship in Derrick's prime. If they make a wrong move this summer (which seems quite likely to me considering the players the Bulls are targeting) then they are looking at Derricks first 7 years in the league being lost. And knowing the average career of a guard is shorter (especially one who attacks the rim like Derrick) one FA signing mistake is all it would take to make the Bulls a perennial 45-50 win team. Not bad, but not the ultimate goal. Patience is not practiced too often in sports, but with a player like Derrick, you need to let the wine breathe before gulping it down.
Sam: But doesn’t wine turn to vinegar if left too long. The Bulls are going to drink now. With the need to pay Noah and Rose in the near future, I see them going all in this summer. Plus, there have been so much expectations raised with the fans about getting a free agent—way too high expectations, I feel—I think the community would revolt if the Bulls sat on money. There’s a core that believes the team won’t spend, anyway, and you cannot ask people to pay for another season of future hope. Plus, I don’t know who you are saving the money for then.
I am probably getting ahead of myself here, but I've been thinking about the situation with Carmelo. From what I've heard, he wants to come to the East when his contracts expires after next season. So don't you think the Nuggets will try to make a move to try and get something for him? I was thinking something like Deng and Hinrich, some fillers and a pick.
Sam: I’ve long believed Carmelo will end up with the Knicks in the summer of 2011 and you already can see that developing. That’s what I hear around Anthony and the Knicks already are talking about this being a process and not being just about this summer. Anthony, I believe, prefers New York. He played at Syracuse and is from Baltimore. Chicago is Denver to him, and he’s been upset that even Durant, whom I see resigning with the Thunder, has passed him by in recognition because he is playing in Denver. And now you can see the Nuggets beginning a decline with Kenyon Martin hurt again and Chauncey Billups again slowing some as the season concludes. Carmelo knows their window is short and he’s gone. It would be a huge risk for a team like the Bulls given Anthony could—and likely would—leave in a year. Plus, most teams ride it out, especially the way the Pistons were burned letting go Billups for fear of him declining or eventually losing him.
You have to choose beetwen: a) David Lee, 60 million per 5 year contract. b) Taj Gibson with 10 pounds of muscles more than now. (Maybe watching only boxscore and highlights makes me overstimate Taj...)
Sam: I go with Taj if Lee is the only free agent. If you can get a guard and Lee, I’d be OK with that, as Lee can play some center as a pick and pop guy, and I believe if asked of him he will defend, though there are few who do it less than him now.
What is Jerry Krause up to? Isn't he scouting somewhere? I'm actually a fan of his.
Sam: I’m sure Jerry is grateful. He did some baseball scouting for the Mets and Yankees, but isn’t with them any longer. He spends a lot of the winter now in Arizona and has talked to some other teams in baseball about scouting and may come up with something for this season. I think he’d be an asset to a basketball organization as a trainer for scouts and I think he’d be good scouting international ball because he’s more an old school guy and they play more of a classic NBA game overseas with less dunking and more passing.
What is the likelihood that Brad Miller gets resigned next year? Would he accept a minimum contract and play the "Lindsey Hunter role", or would the Bulls be able to afford the veteran's exception on Miller? Personally, I think that Brad has been a great influence on Taj, and I think that much of Taj's progress can be attributed to having Brad on the team.
Sam: It’s obviously up to Brad. I think he was leaning toward retirement when the season started because of various injuries. But I think a s the season has gone on he’s come to enjoy the team and his teammates and I can see him wanting to return. By being under the cap, the Bulls have no exceptions, so he’d have to take a minimum deal, which for veterans is about $1 million, which isn’t bad. He might get a better offer somewhere else as he’s a good 20-minute backup center. I know the Cavs were trying to get him before they made the Jamison deal as a fallback. I’d guess short of a huge offer he returns to the Bulls for a minimum for one more season assuming the core of the team returns.
Do you think there is something wrong in the mechanics of the bulls front court players. With 3 players all young dealing with the same plantar facilitis injury, I feel like they must be coming down wrong of the personnel for conditioning is not teaching them something?
Sam: I don’t know whether there is an issue or what it may be or whether it is a weird coincidence. But I feel confident the Bulls this summer will review their staff and training methods to determine whether they could have done anything differently to prevent the problems.
I know this is ancient history now but why do you think Tyrus Thomas never developed into a good attack the basket finisher? Was he afraid to put on weight or did someone tell him to model his game after Shawn Marion and not Amare Stoudemire as he should have done?
Sam: The whispered secret about Tyrus is he didn’t like contact. It’s why he primarily blocked the ball from the weak side. He didn’t like to play face up defense and doesn’t like to defend in the post straight on. He also never liked to force contact at the rim. Why? I never knew. But it was an ongoing frustration for every coach and the running joke around the team. It’s just what you don’t know about players until you have them. That said, Tyrus still can be a productive player, if not the Stoudemire type star. But you have the point right. The Bulls thought they were getting Stoudemire, and they, in the end, would have been happy with Marion instead of Russell Cross.
As an Aussie I can appreciate you're a sarcastic guy and all, but thought you were too dismissive off Talbert Houle's question. Have you heard of the book "Born to Run"? A really good read, gives a lot of info about Barefoot Running, and I think is written by the same guy that wrote the article in Men's Health that Talbert was referring to.
I run now in these things: Vibram 5 Fingers. Look weird I know but it is the future for pain-free running. I've tried them for basketball, not a game but worked out in them and they're fantastic. I've had knee pain for years and now mostly gone with the Barefoot revolution. Vibram's are not cheap, nor are these "Barefoot" shoes:
Sam: I’ve gotten several of these emails after my creative, Aussieesque comments last week regarding the barefoot suggestions for Noah. I hear a lot of theories and I know Bill Wennington always mentions a problem with Noah’s French brand sneakers. This is going to be a big summer for Noah is a lot of ways as he’ll have to find a better answer to the plantar fasciitis as it basically killed the Bulls season and the Bulls need to know if they can rely upon him or not. Also, I’d think it would be a mistake for him to play for the French national team given how much time he’s missed in his paying job this year. I know the teams are not allowed to tell players not to play, but it tells you something about the player and his priorities when he chooses to risk those injuries. It will be interesting to see how the Spurs deal with Ginobili and Parker, who seem to have broken down because of their summer play and left the Spurs a shorter window than they might normally have had.
I've read a lot of speculation in your column in regard to Joe Alexander. Do you think the Bulls are purposely sitting him to as to now allow other teams to get a glimpse of his potential, thereby lowering his value and allowing the Bulls to re-sign him after this season at a bargain rate, as opposed to a slightly higher -- yet potentially out of the Bulls' price range -- salary?
Sam: No, but I think Joe would appreciate it if he felt the Bulls felt that strongly about him. The Bulls would like to take a longer look at him this summer and there’s no doubt he’ll be a minimum guy. His playing time has more to do with the coach. As far as I can tell, management doesn’t much communicate with Vinny regarding whom to play.
I was at the game in detroit sitting right near the bulls tunnel. It was a great experience. The bulls have many players that were happy to sign autographs and give high fives. James Johnson was the most personable one of all. He signed my program and when I asked him how the foot was feeling and he looked me in the eye, smiled and said, "Imma be alright". After the game he threw me his towel he had around his neck. I'm sort of a Bulls junky and to be able to interact with james and the others was one of the greatest experiences of my life. At the end of the game while the refs were reviewing a play D rose, Joakim and Murray were all joking around at one end of the court while the pistons barely speaking to eachother at the other end. I dont see other teams do this, the players seem like the genuinly like eachother and it's truly a pleasure to watch. I hope they can add a guy that would fit in with the team.
Sam: I am pleased to hear that. It is interesting because the champion Bulls were not so nice. They were more popular, but you wouldn’t get much out of many of the main ones as a fan. Johnson has an endearing personality. He needs his game to match now. I know the staff who do a great job with Bulls-TV love to talk with him, but you can only have so much on a guy who doesn’t contribute as much. I mentioned this in the answer about Brad Miller. This team seems genuinely to like one another and get along better than most teams in the recent past. I don’t blame Ben Gordon because I liked him and always found him a stand up guy for the media, but he was a loner and you had several players like that. With the addition of guys like Rose, Noah and Gibson and Tyrus moving off, it’s a comfortable group that seems to get along well. Now only if they can win more games.
How come Devin Brown never plays anymore? Even with the rash of injuries the last couple of weeks he is buried on Vinnie's bench. I know he isn't the greatest player, but he can contribute, what gives?
Sam: Sometimes first impressions count too much. I had hopes for Brown when we saw him blitz the Bulls when he was with the Hornets with six first half threes. And some good defense. But then he played poorly when he first came and Vinny pretty much have up on him and once you haven’t played for so long coaches don’t trust putting you back in for kind of a Catch-22. You can’t get back in so they won’t play you because you haven’t gotten back in. Life and basketball remain unfair, at times.
I've been arguing with a friend about who the best player in the NBA of all time was. He says Michael Jordan (who is my favorite player) but I say you can argue that Wilt and Kareem were both better. The rules were changed because of Wilt, lane size and even how to inbound a ball. Kareem has the record for most points ever scored in a career and Wilt has his 100 point game. The argument my friend always falls back on though is Wilt and Kareem dwarfed their opponents and that is why they were so dominant. I say that there were taller players Nate Thurmond, Bill Russell Willis Reed etc. The argument is now at a stand still and we need an arbitrator.
Sam: There’s an old answer to this: I think it’s… wrong! It’s an opinion, so no one is wrong. My alltime five probably is Jordan and Oscar in the backcourt, Bird and Duncan at forward and Wilt at center. You can make the case for Wilt or Kareem because of dominance, Wilt more so than Kareem because Wilt was like Babe Ruth when he hit more home runs than all the teams combined. No one ever has dominated basketball like Wilt. I’ve sat on several Hall of Fame committees over the years with Hall of Famers and the one thing that comes through is the way they value titles. I remember Chuck Daly telling me he wouldn’t have deserved a place in the Hall without those championships. So because of that Jordan gets the tiebreaker. You say Kareem had as many and Russell more. True, but Michael had to dominate so much more because when they got their additional titles they had so much better teams. Ten years from now my guess is more will be saying LeBron was the greatest ever, assuming, of course, he gets those titles and he seems on the way now.
Long time follower of the NBA (actually fell away for a few season during the Jailblazers era and all the off court dramas around the league) from way down under and still don't understand the MVP voting being performed by the media. They don't necessarily have all the facts with them .I don't understand why the voting is not done by the officals of the game. After each game the referees should deliberate and mark down their best three players of that game (eg 3 points for best player on court, 1 point for 3rd best player).
At the end of the season these votes can be tallied to determine the league's best player (even if David Stern would prefer his internationally known superstars to win). It certainly would seem the more acurate and approriate way of handling the MVP. Any player suspended during the year would become ineligible.
Sam: I wrote back to Brenton, who is from Perth, to note this was an argument that might make sense from the Southern hemisphere because most Americans believe people stand on their heads there because it is so far down. I noted that the least regarded arbiters of the game here are the referees. Brenton wrote me back to say in Australia fans consider the least regarded arbiters of the game to be the media. Touche.
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