Ask Sam | 04.09.10
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of e-mails from his readers.
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I like the Bulls to get Joe Johnson this summer, especially when I saw he denied the entry pass twice in a row to D Rose in the last seconds of a game earlier this year in the UC. My question is how much better or at all the future Bulls with Joe in the next 2 to 3 years than the current Atlanta Hawks. The best Hawks can do this year with Joe is the 3rd best team in the East. Do you think current Bulls nucleus is much better than Hawks without Joe? If not, then what?
Sam: I also like Johnson and think he’s a higher priority than someone like Chris Bosh because of the presence of Gibson, if necessary. Though it would be nice to have another front court guy who can score. Still, spreading the court with a shooter who requires a double team is obvious. But the point is this isn’t about championships. Yes, hopefully it is. But this summer is not about adding a player or players and then playing for a title. It’s about getting better. The Bulls had Jordan, Pippen and Grant and it was four years together before they won a championships. It’s about getting incrementally better, and being like the Hawks I think would be a huge step for the Bulls and one they would be thrilled about. The big problem with Joe is he’s 29 this summer. That means he’ll want the full six-year deal because after five years and at 34 no one is likely to give him big money. So would the Hawks take Hinrich in a sign-and-trade? Deng? You’d likely gave to give up something. And assuming the Hawks don’t want to spend the money, which most assume, the Nets, for example, might make a better offer with Devin Harris considering they could get John Wall. I’ve heard Johnson likes the idea of the Bulls, but you have the remember they all like the idea of money more.
You mentioned in your column about Joe Johnson looking for a sign-and-trade. How about to San Antonio for Tony Parker? George Hill has played well filling in for Parker; they can re-sign Manu Ginobili and Johnson can be what Richard Jefferson was supposed to be but way better. Bring over Tiago Splitter to go with DeJuan Blair to help Tim Duncan. Plus Jefferson would be one big expiring contract that could be traded for pieces or maybe take a risk on Elton Brand (though as you point out often, Spurs don’t like to spend in luxury tax land). Atlanta gets some scoring punch to replace Johnson and gets a real point guard as Mike Bibby seems pretty far past his prime and Jeff Teague is a rookie; plus Parker is way better than both.
Sam: Yes, there’s another possibility, though the Spurs have re-signed Ginobili and they are not big on spending into the luxury tax. Perhaps they’d do so for another season and then let Jefferson go as you want to run it out as long as you can when you have Tim Duncan. No point rebuilding until he says he’s building a retirement home. But the point is salient. The Bulls will have plenty of competition as there are many teams plotting for the decreasing free agency class if LeBron and Wade decide to stay home.
I was wondering which current Bulls players you think are the best assets to build the team around in the future?
Thor Kristian Skottene
Sam: Derrick Rose. That’s the core. I can live with Noah and Gibson because they work well together, but if you were to get a good offer for one I think you’d have to consider it. I’d want to keep Noah if I could because it’s hard to find a center, but the mistake the Bulls made in the mid-2000s was falling in love with players who never would become All-Stars, overvaluing them and then paying them like stars. You cannot make the same mistake again. Once you overpay someone, then the guys fall in line behind and you end up ruining your payroll. You have to have stars and then pay them. Rose is one. Now, you need another this summer as the top priority to be your No. 2 guy and then go from there.
Ok – the playoff run is over. The loss to the Bucks made it finish yesterday. I really do not understand what’s wrong with VDN and our guys. Yesterday’s game was probably the most important of the season: the players knew the Raptors had lost to the Cavs so they didn’t even need any special motivation to try their best and get that stupid win. I start thinking that this team does not deserve the playoff. Even if Toronto is a mediocre franchise, they anyway deserve a chance more then these Bulls.
Sam: So how do you really feel? I got a load of emails after Tuesday’s loss to the Bucks expressing similar frustration. It was a horrible effort given the circumstances and a situation where they didn’t necessarily play like a team facing a desperate situation. Though not completely. Part of the problem is the flawed nature of the roster with their two best three point shooters in Ben Gordon and John Salmons gone to be an investor in this free agency summer. That had to have an effect and you saw it Tuesday. You can’t say guys like Noah and Rose and Gibson didn’t or don’t compete. But Vinny also is feeling the pressure of his job on the line and tightening the rotation, so he was reluctant to go with Flip Murray, even, when Murray had some stuff going and was hitting shots. So he stayed with guys he trusts too long, like Miller and Deng, and Miller isn’t fit for big minutes and watching Deng it was clear he wasn’t either given the time he spent out. So the starters coasted a little and you can’t against a Skiles team, which guys like Hinrich and Deng, who were there, should know. That said, they then got a break Thursday and hung on without LeBron playing and all of a sudden the Bulls have the chance to win out and control their own destiny. Somehow you know they are not good enough to make it that simple.
Last week, you noted the dearth of head coaching material currently existing in the pro ranks as perhaps giving the Bulls pause in making a decision on VDN's last year. For the past two years, we've noted his in game coaching deficiencies, but many have attempted to excuse that in part given his inexperience, seeming ability to motivate players and being a generally stand up guy. After the Milwaukee debacle, his fate should be sealed:
Screaming for a foul in the closing seconds of the 1st quarter even though Rose was the guy nearest to the ballhandler. Though Rose should have been smarter than fouling, you can understand why he would just do what his coach asks. Continually condoning the team's defenders to either go under pick and rolls or simply switch. It wasn't even that the Bucks were setting good screens - the Bulls individual defenders were content to switch, causing immediate mismatches on the perimeter and post which compromised the entire team defense. Failure to identify the other team's hot hand and adjust accordingly. Even though Salmons took Kirk to the post a couple of times, he's our best perimeter defender. He does the best job on Wade, Pierce, etc. There's no reason why Deng should have been matched up with him down the stretch. He couldn't keep him in front, again compromising the team defense. The inexplicable need to go small with Brad Miller as the only big. I hate when he executes this strategy - instead of punishing the other team's lack of height on the glass, he submits to their strategy and throws in our worst big rebounder for good measure. After the Bulls rally to take the lead in the fourth, he takes Noah out and brings back Miller. If Noah's on a minute limit, that needs to be addressed earlier in the game. Running the same sideline inbounds play over and over. How many times are we going to see the Bulls guard fan to the opposite side of the court to try and get a three. It worked once (BG against Boston) and never again. We end up with players trying to execute secondary stuff in inopportune positions on the floor. Failure to recognize our talents. Deng didn't have one weak side cut to the basket all game, but he sure had a lot of wing iso's, not exactly his forte. Several possessions in the fourth quarter had Kirk or Murray initiate offense, which is helpful only if Rose is working off ball to get in position to do something. These possessions often ended up without Rose touching the ball at all.
The Bulls were also doomed by their inability to make wide open jump shots at points in the game, but the larger problem is their unpreparedness and inability to make in game adjustments. I don't know where Paxson goes after this hire, but I'd like to think he's smart enough to come up with a better coach than this.
Sam: So, let me get this straight, you don’t think Vinny should continue as Bulls coach? As you also note, it would help to make some wide open jumpers. And some free throws. Was Vinny to blame for all those free throws being missed against the Cavs and trying only 11 against the Bucks and making seven? Look, Skiles is a better coach and should be. He’s been doing this for more than a decade and because he wasn’t considered a pro prospect as a kid he was studying coaches when he was a teenager. No one expected Vinny to be Skiles, so the Bulls were at a disadvantage Tuesday coaching. As you noted with that Derrick foul, which we all wince about but knew it wouldn’t affect the outcome, the players have to know to make some decisions as well. As I noted in my post game column, the switching wasn’t a great, aggressive strategy, but the Bucks shot well under 40 percent. Looking at the numbers we’d have to call that at least decent defense. Someone was competing. Plus, Miller was the one who made some big shots in the fourth quarter—though I agree that last play wasn’t so great as Vinny basically ran the set he always ran for Ben Gordon with Kirk on the opposite side and Kirk wasn’t shooting well and Skiles clearly saw it coming—and Noah was on a limit and it’s tough to take him out when you are collapsing earlier. It’s always easy to second guess the coach because there are so many occasions when the ball just doesn’t go in. It’s also the great fun of watching basketball. Whatever the Bulls decide, I assume we’ll know in about a week or so.
Having just watched Scott Skiles team without Bogut beat the Bulls by moving the ball, and playing tough defense, do you think the early season firing of Skiles by Paxton several years ago was a mistake? The Bulls have been through 2 coaches since, and from all reports will be looking at a new one next year. Isn't one of the questions Paxton should have asked himself before the firing, is who would replace Del Negro and would the Bulls be any better off in the long run?
Sam: Yes, that is the question. As for Skiles, he has had a definite shelf life and for whatever reason he was done with the Bulls like he was done with the Suns. Things had been going well in both places and then he came into seasons saying the teams couldn’t compete anymore. It’s why I often referred to him as Larry Brown Lite. Great coaching mind, great motivator and holds guys accountable. Demands the right way, but burns out. I see a different Skiles these days who seems comfortable with himself and his situation, so we’ll see. But the Bulls had to let him go. Just as Michael Jordan will have to let Brown go soon. When guys like that are ready to go you cannot keep them. So if the Bulls do decide to make a change, the big issue is whom because the so called “name” guys like Van Gundy and Avery Johnson seem bad fits for Rose as they are slow down, control coaches, and the talk is Byron Scott is waiting to eventually replace Phil in L.A. because he is close with Kobe. So the Bulls would have to answer whether the devil you don’t know is better than the one you do. By my count, there could be 10 franchises looking for new coaches this summer. You have any good ideas?
I am a huge fan of the Bulls. I was born and raised in Chicago. I give Vinny much room as a two year coach. But I have noticed in the recent close games, when it comes to the last play when the bulls may have time but are down by two or three they do not get the ball to Derrick. I know when they are down by three the thought is that he is not a three point shooter. But why not allow him to make a play or attack the bucket for a potential old fashioned three point play.
Sam: That play did stick out to everyone, though Derrick was not having a very good game. The Bucks had bottled him up and he didn’t get much help and then began to force things. At that point, I would not have gone for the three as Vinny said they were and would have gone to the basket with, I guess, Rose, which was part of the problem. Rose was being walled off as the Bucks clearly dared anyone else to beat them. Deng and Hinrich don’t drive much so don’t get many calls. I’d say Vinny thought Miller, a good free throw shooter, could beat his man, which wasn’t crazy since even the Bucks said afterward they were coming out to keep Brad from shooting a three and Brad had gotten to the basket and was the team’s leading scorer in the fourth quarter, so Vinny had thought it out. But the Bucks had sniffed it out pretty well and had Kirk covered on the other side, so give them credit, too. But to see Miller flopping around and falling wasn’t great. They needed someone to spread the court and open some lanes, but the Bucks were convinced no one could beat them with a three and they were right.
What do you think of the job Skiles has done with the Bucks less Redd for most of the year? Without Bogut, they'll have a tough time beating the C's, but who would have thought he could take that team to the #5 or #6 seed as he has? Too bad OKC is having such an unbelievable year or he'd have to be up for Coach of the Year, don't you think? He's a bit of an ego maniac from my perspective with a definite short man's disease, but the guy definitely knows what he's doing and he gets as much out of his players as any coach around and isn't THAT what it's all about? Deng, Gordon, and Hinrich ALL played better and had their best years under Skiles too.
Sam: I think Brooks will win as the voting for that award usually goes by the newest, hottest thing, which is why five of the last six coach of the year guys have lost their jobs soon after. I like to give the tiebreaker to the guy with the experience, like Skiles, who’ll get my vote. To me he’s done by far the best coaching job this season. I think this is why I got so many emails after Tuesday’s game. There wasn’t one position on the floor Tuesday where the Bulls weren’t better. Certainly Rose over Jennings, Noah over Thomas, Gibson over Mbah a Moute and Deng over Delfino. Salmons and Hinrich? Well, we know the one the Bulls wanted to keep, whether right or not. So at least a draw, though Salmons clearly outplayed Hinrich. But it clearly was a dominant Bulls lineup and at home. But the Bucks players competed much harder and the Bucks were well prepared for the Bulls and the Bulls could not respond in talent or strategy.
Do you think that if the Bulls have a little money left after hopefully signing a top guy they should go after Anthony Morrow? Tons of potential, good shooter/defender, seems like good value, and for the argument that why isn't he doing anything now, well he's in Golden State. In case they do, will his price be too high?
Sam: Morrow is one of those potential jewels as he was one of the league’s best three point shooters until Don Nelson buried him. One issue is the Warriors probably will be sold and if they are they’ll reassess their personnel. A lot of teams will see Morrow as a steal. There’s no telling how much money the Bulls will have because there are so many options. What if they don’t get one main guy? Then maybe they go for three or four lesser guys and maybe get lucky. Maybe they go for a guy with a lower max, like David Lee, and then they’ll have maybe $6 million. I believe their plan is to get a top player and fill their roster out with minimum players, but they’ll have to adjust on the fly as it goes.
In football, steroids are understood and accepted; in baseball, they are understood and vilified. Do they have a presence in the nba? I know that LeBron has always been a monster, but that combination of speed and power just does not seem human.
Sam: That’s why people still pause on what he can be. He was big when he was small.
With the draft before the start of free agency, what direction will the Bulls go? Will they have an idea of whom they may sign? Since they will be picking in that 16-18 range, will they pick the best available or is there a position you would back up?
Sam: Well, assuming they miss the playoffs and assuming they don’t get a top three pick—and now the Bulls have the edge on making the playoffs if they win in Toronto Sunday--they’ll do their scouting and you saw they did come up with a gem at 26 in Gibson. They’ll go through that again, but there are loads of options. They’ll consider pairing their first with the one they got from Charlotte and maybe moving a player to get a second free agent opening for signing. Or do something similar in a trade if they can get a high level player. At this point, given the odds of getting LeBron or Wade are slim, I think they are open to numerous options come June and then in July.
I know we talked about his earlier this year, but isn't now the time for John Paxson and Jerry Reinsdorf to reach out to Coach K and offer him a deal he just can't refuse?
He just won his 4th National Championship, so what else is there for him to accomplish at Duke? He is losing 4 starters and their depth is not all that great or experienced. In fact, I believe his bench produced 0 points last night, if I'm not mistaken, and UNC stole some recruits. If he came to the Bulls as the Head Coach and possibly GM (sorry Gar Forman), he could definitely win. I'm willing to bet he would land two of the big three free-agents, somehow. I'm guessing Wade and Bosh. That would give him multiple NBA championships for his resume. Shouldn't the Bulls' brass give Coach K the hard sell?
Sam: I’ve answered this question many times before and always said he isn’t coaching in the NBA not only because he always says so, but so do his friends and doctors. If you’ll remember, he had some health issues a few years back that required a leave that was brought on by basketball stress. At his age, going to the NBA could be dangerous. There were rumors already of some preposterous $15 million contract with the Nets, which no coach is worth. He’s quite happy with the NBA experience of coaching the best for the Olympic team, which he’ll do again, and the way this one and done college thing works, Duke has a better chance than ever because the one and done kids go to places like Kentucky and Kansas where they don’t have to go to school, so places like Duke and those so-called mid-majors where kids will stay because they are coming for an education have a better chance because they can build teams. He’s carved out a great life for himself and is not about to ruin it having to answer our stupid questions every day.
The more I think about it, the more I am coming around to the idea of building a good all around team while maintaining fiscal responsibility. I see the bulls have two major offensive flaws: a lack of a consistent post presence and a lack of shooting range. I want to focus on the latter. There is little talk about going after lesser known free agents who have good range that could be quite affordable. I am not advocating spending a ton of money on role players, but having good shooters and depth is a great way to build a good team (i.e. Orlando). We have more than just 1 or 2 players to sign. Do you see the Bulls signing someone like (in addition to going after some big name guys): Mike Miller: still has an excellent 3 point shot and good size. kyle korver, Channing Frye.. J.J. Redick.
Sam: That’s likely a fallback, though not a great one. The Bulls have had those kinds of players. They need stars. Maybe Noah becomes one in the star role player sort. Maybe Gibson becomes a Buck Williams type. Rose should be one star. But I believe the Bulls are committed to going after a high level high salaried player as they had the overachiever team and it only gets you so far: Second round.
I was reading the article on Scottie Pippen was just about the least likely person to become a hall of fame player. When reading his story and his affect on the Bulls team as he came in, I couldn't help but think of Taj Gibson. I know comparisons were made as to the possibility of Taj Gibson and James Johnson possibly helping the Bulls like Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant did. With the season coming to an end and having seen Taj play, the similarities seem to increase too. Taj also gained his starter role by outplaying the current starter and earning his keep. Taj is also a pretty good defensive presence and someone that gives his all for the team, like Pippen. I'm not saying Taj's defensive skills are comparable to Pippen's, but it is still an aspect in which he helps. Do you think Taj can ever be the all star role player for the Bulls that Pippen was?
Sam: Yes, there do seem to be some similarities, though Scottie shot up to the No. 5 pick in the draft and was a super athlete even though we were unsure what kind of basketball player he was. Taj’s edge has been maturity, being almost 25 and knowing how to play and with a great work ethic. The training staff believes he can put on 15 to 20 pounds this summer, which was what Horace Grant did. I’ve long seen Taj becoming that kind of player and Horace did make one All-Star team.
I’ve been reading a lot lately that the Utah are going to try and figure a way to resign Carlos Boozer. With that said, do you think this makes Paul Milsap available and if so, what do you think it would take to acquire him via trade (maybe sending Hinrich and draft picks for Milsap)?
Sam: The talk in Utah is that of trading Millsap, and he’d be a nice pickup as a backup four, though he is small and has trouble against taller players. The issue I see with the Jazz more is whether they want to take on equal salary as they are a luxury tax payer in a small market. They’d might say take Kirilenko off their hands, too. They’ve always liked Hinrich, but have some decent guards at low salaries and have been doing well.
On the topic of a sign-and-trade for Bosh with Noah as the bait -- is that really a good idea? I mean think about it, how many players like Noah are there in the NBA? Not many. How many players come around like Bosh (i.e. offensive-minded power forwards with a face-up game, don't rebound or play much defense)? I can think of Carlos Boozer, Amare Stoudamire, Kevin Garnett (old, but still), David Lee and Pau Gasol just off the top of my head. Not to mention guys like Dirk and LaMarcus Aldridge. Guys like Bosh are a dime a dozen, even if he is the cream of that crop. Joakim Noah's are hard to find. I wouldn't do that sign-and-trade, as I think the Bulls have a pretty promising young PF of their own right now.
Sam: It’s one thing I threw out there basically for discussion because that’s the kind of thing the Bulls are going to be asked about this summer. Want Bosh? How about Noah? Want Al Jefferson? How about Noah? I know fans want to give up Hinrich or someone like that, but if you are bidding for quality teams are going to be asking for your best and you’ll have to make some tough decisions. I’d like to keep Noah as well. But you better be sure he’ll be a star if you keep him over the chance of adding a star and then having to settle for less.
What if by some great miracle, the Bulls make it to that eighth spot and they make it to the playoffs. How many games do you think they could win against Cleveland?
Sam: It would be the Bulls and some of their first round victims. Remember the 90s. Likely a sweep unless the Cavs let Shaq play too much. Then the Bulls could get a couple. I’d think they could get one somewhere as they do compete and you know Noah and Rose would be up for the playoffs, but the Cavs played without LeBron and it was an even game. So you add in LeBron’s 30. I know, Mo Williams doesn’t get to play as much when LeBron plays and Mo had a great game handling the ball. Heck, he may be a point guard, though he isn’t one when LeBron plays, as we know. Still, the Cavs seem on a mission and have depth and the Bulls are playing like heck just to get in. If they do, they might not have much left. But it would be fun to watch even if it just went four.