Ask Sam | 04.16.10
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of e-mails from his readers.
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"Anyone who sees the Chitown Bulls, I want them to say, 'They play their (butts) off.' " Chitown? ...ahhh, jeez. :-) Noah - ponytail, seersucker suit, whirlyball free throws, broken grin and all - is going to hang red&black #13 in the rafters if he can keep this up. He's a big game player. Players with attitude minus this feature produce like Eddie Robinson or even Chris Webber or so, so many guys I could name. I admit that I've got a certain admiration for people who are at all times at peace with who they are. Gosh, this feature jumps through the television screen at you. It's something that likely isn't going away any time soon. Right now, it's a nice story and we'll see how Noah does. They haven't stopped playing yet and literally anything is possible. It is true that Noah has never been, is not today, and will never be Bill Walton, but….
Sam: Yes, the Bulls have a piece. We thought they had one with Rose; now we know they have another with Noah. I think the Cavs have just one, though a very good one. The point is when you have two pieces like the Bulls have and the way Noah, now healthy enough that in the postgame interviews Wednesday he did not sit with his foot in a bucket of ice for the last several months, came on so hard to basically with Rose carry the team to the playoffs demonstrates the Bulls have a legitimate chance, finally, after all these years to do something. They have a point guard who is an All-Star and a center who can be one. Doc Rivers likened him to Dennis Rodman before the Celtics game the other night. He plays with the same spunk and attitude as a taller version of Charles Oakley, who is close with Noah and a big fan, as he told me after the game with Charlotte Wednesday. Yes, if you are a Bulls fan after watching these last few games, I think for the first time in more than a decade you can start to dream again. I’m not saying there’s any guarantee, but, finally, there are two real pieces in place. Now on to the other story…
A quick point about John Paxson and VDN fighting. When I read
the headline on a blog I read I thought it was a joke. When I found
out it was true I actually wasn't surprised. I read somewhere a while
back, possibly when Gar Forman took over as GM, that the strain of the
job was often telling on Pax, so much so that he often wouldn't watch
games because he got too frustrated and passionate. The circumstances
around his incident obviously caused things to spill over, and while I
don't know exactly what went on, I don't think Pax deserves too much
trouble for basically being passionate about his job. I like the way
the team and players have stuck together on this issue, and hopefully
the spotlight dies down soon.
Sam: I think that’s a fair take on the thing, not that Paxson was right. Physical contact in the work place, if that is what actually occurred as I wasn’t there, is never the right thing to do. I know Paxson regrets the confrontation and feels terrible. Yes, he did pull back some last season because he can care too much. I wish he hadn’t gotten into a dispute with Vinny, but I know Paxson and know where this comes from. He’s been a Bull since 1986 and sees the organization like his own kids. I believe he honestly felt the future of the franchise was being endangered by Del Negro’s disregard for specific instructions from top medical people. You just cannot do that. I’d rather any GM doesn’t talk to his coach after the game as these coaches tend to be a bit nuts themselves after games. I wrote some about Mike D’Antoni launching into a diatribe against Steve Kerr a few weeks onto the job when Kerr came in after the game and ask innocently why he didn’t post up Amar’e Stoudemire against Tyrus Thomas. I was wondering as well. I’ve heard loads of post game screaming matches coming from the locker room and coach’s office. I’m not sure what happened as it seemed there were limited witnesses to the encounter, whatever it was. Sports is not exactly like real life and while we expect appropriate behavior, it also is an unusual place where passion is demanded and expected and it’s sometimes difficult to turn it off.
What do you think of this Charles Barkley's theory: the Bull's organization doesn't like Vinny Del Negro? If true, do you know why they do not like him?
Sam: Yes, I can agree with that. There are divorces. I’ve read it on the internet. Sometimes you get married and live together and find out the person you married isn’t exactly who you thought they were. You find out in life few people are what they seem and you never fully know that until you live with them. The Bulls hiring of Vinny was sort of a shotgun marriage as it came way at the end of the interview process after it had dragged for about two months amidst disagreement over candidates. So Vinny sort of became the one you go home with at the end of the night. In the light of day, it didn’t look as good. A coach and his team and management spend an inordinate amount of time together during a season, and it quickly became clear Vinny wasn’t who the Bulls thought he was. That wasn’t Vinny’s fault, but it leads to discomfort. Coaches often lose their job in this era after one or two seasons. It’s no surprise. And though there are many good things about Vinny’s tenure, the Bulls are about to be out in the playoffs in the first round two straight years. It’s not exactly a dynasty. People grow apart and the Bulls and Vinny did and it happens all the time. Many divorces, from what I read, are worse, though fortunately in this case the Bulls will get custody of the kids.
Nice to see the Internet made another story that is "much to do about nothing." I am impressed with Vinnie and how professional he has handled the many distractions. The problem I have with Vinnie is the simplistic offense that they run. I can see this offense in high school basketball. What do you think about Jim Clemons as a potential new head coach?
Sam: In the end, it’s a lot of what it came down to as well with Vinny. The Bulls and Vinny grew apart on how to run the team and there’s this unwritten rule in basketball that management hires the players and the coach coaches them. The Bulls began to feel they could do more with what they had; Vinny began to feel they didn’t give him enough talent. That’s a common difference, and management always wins that one as they pay the bills. I’ve gotten two seasons of complaints about Vinny’s offense, and now following the incident with Paxson it seems Vinny’s offense is OK. I’ve mostly defended Vinny as he’s a young coach and trying and learning and getting better. But we are at A to B to C here. Like Doug Collins, the Bulls felt he could only get the Bulls to a point and they turned out right then, though I think an older Doug could have done it as well. Vinny has gotten the Bulls to a point, but you would be hard pressed to feel he is the guy to take them to that next level. That’s no reflection on Vinny. He’s coached a grand total of two seasons.
Having been involved in the NBA as long as you have, In your opinion do you think this whole episode with Pax and VDN is bit overblown? Both guys were fiery players who had to push themselves since they weren't uber athletes, so they got by with skill, grit and hard work. I'm sure things could've been handled a little more level headed but they just lost, were fresh off the 10 game losing streak and were still in contention for the playoffs. In my lifetime, I've fought with teammates, friends, siblings and even my parents (not physically) but most of the time you came out closer or better than before. Unless there's more to their history, isn't it possible that this EVP and coach relationship could come out better than before? Being passionate about winning is a good problem to have as an organization, don't you think!! Regardless, I'm very happy our boys gutted it out the past week and make the playoffs!
Sam: That’s a reasonable take, which immediately eliminates you from a job in the media, especially these days. One issue in the media is there are no columnists in Chicago who understand or care much about basketball. So they are lost when they come to games. Something like this allows them to flex their moral compass, which we know basically points directly to them. No question, it is inappropriate for physical intimidation in the workplace, even one like sports where our rules do not exist. After all, consider this: You disagree with an independent arbiter’s decision at work, so you run at him and start screaming in his face, sometimes kicking dirt on him or slamming down your clipboard in disgust in front of a crowd. Yet, it happens every day in sports with coaches and managers. And about someone bumping into someone or holding someone. Again, I don’t condone physical intimidation of any sort, but from everything I can gather I know this wasn’t a fist fight of any sort like it’s been made to sound like. It certainly was a severe disagreement, but I saw Vinny’s hair right afterward—he came right from that to the post game press conference and did anyone notice one thing out of place or wrong?—and it looked perfect to me. I love conspiracies, as all good Americans do. And while I’m not saying anything, it certainly seemed curious timing for the story to come out. And as a 30-plus year journalist I know deadlines and when stories break and 6 p.m. before a 7 p.m. game after the locker rooms have closed and no one can be asked about it is not a usual time or timing for a non breaking type story. That being a story in what was looking like the Bulls last national TV appearance of the year just before there could have been a coaching change. Now, I’m not saying. I’m just saying.
For a moment, let's forget about which free agent player the Bulls will be able to attract and concentrate on which free agent coach of any stature would be willing to submit to the control freaks in the Bulls' management office? While I like Pax and Gar, and respect their history with the franchise, I think that recent events, whatever the specific facts may be, will send up warning flags for any experienced coach. I think that Del Negro also poisoned the well for prospective replacements with the rather public discussion of communications between him and management, during a game no less, to get permission to play Noah a few minutes more than previously ordained. Name a potential coach who would willingly walk into such a straightjacket situation? Any self-respecting coach worth hiring would set ground rules regarding interference and demand flexibility as to playing time even when there are limits placed on a player's minutes for medical reasons. My vote would be to retain Del Negro for another season, as the players seem to respond to him and mostly communicate well with him and I can think of few replacements that are available who could have done much better with this team under the circumstances.
Sam: And perhaps the Bulls get to the Finals and things change. Things can always change in life and the NBA. But I will tell you the Bulls will have no trouble finding a new coach if they do decide to make a change. Look, I am not kidding. I never say never. Phil Jackson told me that and he is always right. Anyway, why do you think all of a sudden when Doc Rivers was in Chicago with the Celts a story comes out the next day he may be thinking of leaving. Yeah, just coincidence. Do you think with the Celts in decline he wouldn’t love to be in Chicago with two potential All-Stars young players? Nah, had to be a coincidence. I’ve had calls from several coaches already asking me about the job. I assume they then asked people who could actually do something about hiring them. The Bulls job if it does come open will be the best job available because of the presence of Noah and Rose, a major market, a franchise with championships and which has a reputation around the league for spending lavishly on its players with travel and amenities. The Bulls issue if they do decide to make a change will be getting the right guy because this is such a vital time considering free agency.
What are your thoughts on Kirk Hinrich? The way played last night vs. Boston is the way a lot of us expected him to play on a consistent basis years back when he signed his extension and was selected to try out for the Olympic team. Has it mostly been the inconsistency of his jumper or have other factors contributed to his somewhat disappointing career?
Sam: The problem with Kirk Hinrich is you, that you expected him to play like that. That isn’t who is he or ever was. He really wasn’t a point guard and wasn’t in college, though he had to play that initially for the Bulls. And is hardly a classic shooting guard given his size and that he’s never been a great shooter. He’s a terrific competitor whom coaches around the league admire, perhaps the ideal third guard. Because the Bulls had so little real talent fans imagined he was an All-Star level talent and then blamed him for messing up their fantasies. He’s a great player to have on your team, but don’t expect 30 from him more than once a season.
Why are most of the coaches in the NBA former point guards? I can’t remember a former center becoming a coach aside from Russell who coached and played simultaneously. Do centers just not have the basketball iq to become coaches?
Sam: I guess Phil might argue with that one. He was a big man, playing power forward in the pros, or whatever that was then, especially with Phil’s all-elbows game. Pat Riley was a small forward. Yes, there have been a lot of guards because the idea is they have been the play callers and court generals running the teams. There is something to that, though I think part of the reason is a guy like Skiles. He never felt he’d be a pro player given his lack of ability and size so he began studying the game early to try to be a high school coach. Great players often don’t put as much time in to learning the game because it comes so naturally. But I’d hire David Robinson if he wanted to coach, as well as Bill Walton, as they’re two of the brightest men I’ve known. Sometimes the problem is the big men really are too smart to spend their lives yelling at guys in not so short anymore pants. Really bright men don’t always want to spend their lives in locker rooms when there is so much more to do in life and so much more they can do and contribute.
I just wanted to see what you think of Scottie Pippen as a defensive coach for some of the Bulls players, especially Derrick.
Sam: Speaking of coaching… I think Scottie would be a good choice, as he’s always been one of the brighter guys in his knowledge and understanding of the game. But I think Scottie sees himself more as a leader and I’m not sure the job of an assistant appeals to him, as there’s way more work and drudgery than you think. I think Scottie still believes he could outplay some of these guys and I don’t see him yet shagging balls for them on the practice court. Plus, he lives in Florida in the winter, which seems like a nice idea.
You kept stating that after Bulls sign a max deal, they would need to fill 5 more roster spots with $4mil. Am I mistaken, or can't Bulls (and every team) resign their current players (Flip, Hakim, Law, etc.) and go over the 'soft-cap' (around $52-54mil next year).
Sam: Once you are under the salary cap you don’t get to use Bird exceptions to re-sign players. Technically you can, but you have to keep the players on your roster in cap holds, which eats into your free agent room under the cap so you then wouldn’t have enough left to sign a top free agent. The Bulls have to renounce all these guys, so everyone should just have fun now as this group is going to be broken up soon.
Is everybody sleeping or is it because i'm a Bulls fan?I have been reading the columns at NBA.com and no one has Noah as MIP...I mean, he has to win it! Hands down! If Noah had played all games this season, he would be "fighting" with Howard for lead rebounder in the league.
Sam: There was the question of injury and it looked like he would miss almost half the season as there was some concern in February whether he would even come back. So I was leaning then to Aaron Brooks, but the way Noah came back I voted him Most Improved and as I’ve often told the NBA I don’t understand why they let anyone else vote as I have all the answers. They are just so stubborn.
In 2008 NBA Finals when Lakers played Celtics on the final game 6 Boston played a tough zone D that pretty much shut down Kobe. Do you think had that been Michael Jordan instead he would have broken thru that zone and still able to score at will? I seriously think that Jordan would have sliced and diced that zone and still found ways to score. This is game proved to me that Kobe is not and never will be Jordan.
Sam: I know how much fans of Chicago love Michael Jordan, but he’s never leaped one tall building in a single bound. Do you remember the conference finals game in Detroit when he scored eight points? You could say Michael is no Kobe because Kobe would never have a conference finals game like that. You can make subjective judgments about great players, but Jordan had plenty of bad games, was stopped by various defenses, often by Detroit, and as he said in his own books and recordings he learned success from his failures. Kobe is a great player in his era and I’m comfortable to leave it at that.
These days in the NBA you see a lot of the big name star players getting rest or taking games off to be healthy come playoff time and I understand this but I wanted to know if Michael Jordan, or Scottie Pippen took off games to ensure they were 100% healthy come playoff time even when they were already guaranteed a spot in the playoffs... I know Jordan was competitive, but I'm not sure if he did it, and do you know of any all-time greats that did the same?
Sam: Pippen would. I cannot recall Jordan doing that. It’s an issue of discussion now with LeBron missing so many games to end the season and the commissioner saying it’s an issue the Board of Governors will consider. I’d like to see players play, and it’s what Larry Brown talked about before the Bulls game Wednesday. Then Tyson Chandler got hurt. I’d say you definitely don’t play the fragile guys. It’s done in sports all the time and isn’t great for the game, but a team has to be best prepared for the post season. Guys like LeBron, the best, should play, because they are the leaders of the league and Michael always understood that.
I noticed mention in your "blog" about Larry Brown saying he'd play his starters for the "good of the game". I think that's a bunch of hooey- malarkey, I say!- to play your regulars "for the good of the game".
My take, in all sports, is you do what's good for your team. I heard Doc Rivers say how he hurt himself in the last regular season game one year b/c the NBA told both the Bulls and Knicks to play their guys b/c it was an NBC game, and that's what I mean. To me, if you're teams like the Bulls or Raptors, paragons of mediocrity, you've got no place griping if some team that already did their job and got in the playoffs rests their guys.
That's why I had no problem with James sitting the last week, besides the "fans pay good money just to see you" question you raise. These mid-level teams put their playoff chances in the hands of others. If you don't like it, don't blow a 35 point lead to the Kings early in the year, don't lose to the Bulls at home with 4 days to go in the season, if you don't want to worry about some other team playing their scrubs in game 82.
Sam: I can tell when you want to get back at me by calling me a blogger. Yes, there is that argument: Take care of your own business. And it’s true. The Bulls and Raptors had plenty of chances to make the playoffs if they weren’t so pathetic. And Larry likes to be dramatic as the defender of all of what is good and right in the game. You dismiss that. To me it’s about you. If you are a player, you play. You get plenty of time off. It’s about being a competitor and great ones who love the game cannot sit there and watch, be it a playground or the NBA. You want to be in the action and being a part and proving yourself every day. That’s basically been my point. I’m sad to see LeBron use the excuse of resting for the team. You know if he wanted to play they’d condemn anyone who didn’t. It was more my point why no matter what he accomplishes he’s not the competitor of a Jordan or Bryant.
Everybody seems to think Joe Johnson might be the top free agent the Bulls will target this summer (since LeBron and Wade are not likely to leave). So if the Bulls sign Johnson, the Bulls would have effectively swaped Salmons and Gordon for Johnson. Am I the only one that thinks this is a terrible swap? How can this possibly make the team better? For the same money I would trade Johnson for Salmons and Gordon in a heartbeat (and don't forget you would have been able to undo the likely swap of first round picks with Milwaukee for the Salmons trade).
Sam: I asked around and you are the only one. The NBA more than any league is about stars. OK, maybe football with quarterbacks. Johnson is close to being a star. Gordon and Salmons never will be. You don’t ultimately win with good players. You need great players and All-Stars. Johnson may not be Kobe or Wade, but Salmons and Gordon are no Johnson. Or as the old, rejected slogan for the NBA went: Come see our Johnsons.
What do you think of Darko Mililics play over the past 8 weeks? Please do not give me the one line draft bust story. I want to know what you think of his play? (keep in mind he is still younger then Taj Gibson in age). For me I think the bulls should try and sign him to a nice little 3 year deal some where at the $3 million a season.
Sam: Gordon and Salmons and now Darko. And they’re mad at Paxson?
There are a lot of great rewards from making the playoffs. One of the many reasons I was wanting the Bulls to make the playoffs is the result of the Salmons trade. We don't want the Bucks getting too much from the 1st round draft pick swap. I heard if the Bulls did not make the playoffs the Bucks would get our 11th overall pick. Now what?
Sam: Yes, it’s little noticed but key. The Bulls by making the playoffs go to No. 15 in the draft and with the swap get Milwaukee’s No. 17, a move of two places of what was looking like six or seven a few weeks ago. The other side of it is Toronto by missing the playoffs gets its draft pick. Had they made the playoffs they would have surrendered it. So maybe they get lucky, move up to No. 1, get John Wall and Bosh decides to stay because, after all, he does want the full maximum, which is $125 million in Toronto versus about $95 million if he goes without a sign and trade and the Raptor are hinting they may not want one, challenging Bosh to see if he’d leave for so much less future guarantee.
With Andrew Bynum being injured again and Kobe signing his extension what do you think the chances are that the Lakers look to move him this summer? I think a trade of Kirk and Gibson for Bynum would be a great deal for both teams. Kirk would give them a starting PG who is better than Fisher, Farmer, etc and Gibson could step in as the starting PF with Gasol playing center like he does when Bynum is injured. The Lakers would be trading the potential of Bynum for the consistency of Hinrich and Gibson. The Bulls would be taking a pretty big risk here with his injury history, but this move would allow Noah to slide over to PF which I think is his natural position. This coupled with Bynums potential would be worth the risk because it is more likely to work out in the long run than signing a guy like Boozer, Stoudemire or even Bosh because those guys will leave them too small when paired with Noah. This is important because the goal is to eventually win a championship and to do that they are going to have to go through Orlando and Howard who has dominated against Noah and the Bulls. Look at the Cavs even with Lebron they couldn’t compete in the playoffs against his size which is why they had to go out and get Shaq.
Sam: It’s an intriguing idea, though I seriously doubt the Lakers would consider it. Bynum is the favorite of owner Jerry Buss’ son, who now runs the basketball side. They see Bynum as a future all-NBA player and have so overvalued him I’d be surprised if they let him go for anything short or say, Wade, and maybe not even Bosh.
I keep hearing them say Cleveland would rather play Chicago. Who do the Cavs want to play.
Sam: I don’t think they care that much. When you are a great team, and they believe they are, you don’t much care about the first round. If they had a sense of history it would be the Bulls for the way the Bulls basically broke up a great Cavs team of the late 80s and early 90s. My guess is since they’re a defensive team and the Raptors play no defense and Bosh has been hurt, Toronto would have been the far easier series. Now we see if the Bulls can make it more difficult.