Ask Sam | 04.23.10
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of e-mails from his readers.
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Did you hear what LeBron said? I believe it was, "Noah's one of those guys that likes attention. I would never, for the most part, say anything like that. But that's just our team." No LeBron, we know you hate the spotlight. That's why you wear Yankees hats to Indians games, dance around the court like a fool during blowouts, make grandiose poses during every pregame, flex your muscles after every dunk, host Saturday Night Live, skip the world championships to shoot movies about yourself and keep an entire town that worships the ground you walk on in suspense just so you can be recruited by a few teams this summer. Geez, you must hate attention even more Chad Ochocinco.
Sam: You get email of the week. I shall think of a prize. Maybe a LeBron poster. I know much of the media in Cleveland is not permitted to criticize James. If they do, they have to apologize afterward. I think they also have to avoid eye contact and back away from him when they leave. He is the King, you know. Just kidding as the Plain Dealer’s Brian Windhorst is one of the best beat journalists. But it was head shaking stuff to read that—I wasn’t there—and then hear people around the arena talking about how classy James is and different from other players like Noah because James is so humble. It’s like Alice in Wonderland where most everything is nonsensical. James is a magnificent player and any team would like to have him, but he is about himself commercial wise as much or more than anyone in the league. I’ve heard even the officials have become annoyed with those bizarre choreographed pregame rituals to feature James that they have complained to the league about it holding up game starts. But it’s become a “Hey, look at me” society, and perhaps James understands it better than most. Noah is just learning.
It's likely nitpicking as he's the best individual talent in the game, but LeBron kills his team's flow with is ball stopping isolations. More than his preening, LeBron makes sure that everyone knows that he's responsible for any successful play by holding the ball until the shot clock is in the red. As it is, he is devastating, but I can only imagine what havoc he could cause if he committed to developing a post up game or consistently worked weakside cuts like Skiles drew up for Deng three years ago. Do you think his approach reflects a hole in his game or truly the best way to play with the talent around him?
Sam: It actually was the issue the Bulls had with Jordan much of his first six or seven years. He didn’t trust his teammates much and held onto the ball. They’d ask him to run out to take the defense down with him and he’d always come back for the ball, much like you see James do. It’s tough, in a way, when you are so much better than the players you play with. The Cavs don’t much allow Mo Williams to be a point guard, and James pretty much takes over the offense much of the game. That said, he’s still doing pretty good. He has been a more willing passer than Jordan, but you still don’t get the sense he totally trusts the talent around him.
I know he tries hard and am pretty certain that he practices hard too but why isn't Hinrich's shooting improving? Does he work with anyone for his shooting? He's a shooting guard although by default but doesn't he realize that he has to shoot better?
Sam: I think you got an answer Thursday. That was a heck of a shooting for Kirk. Still, he is a not a great shooter. He practices and he tries, but he’s never shot a high percentage. His best was 44.8 in 2006-07 and his career mark is 41.5 percent. He only shot 47.5 percent as a senior in college. He doesn’t finish strong and doesn’t dunk, so he doesn’t get many easy points. So his percentage is a bit lower because of that. He’s streaky and you can be sure he’s trying. But as a small shooting guard he’s generally guarded by bigger, stronger players. But he looked good Thursday.
With the salary cap being set a little higher than expected the Bulls will have around 5 million, I've read if they sign a big 3 guy and a bunch of minimums. How would you feel about getting a Bosh/Ray Allen combo? Bosh is a no brainer and although Allen is old/declining he is one of the best shooters of all time, and we all know how desperately the Bulls could use some outside shooting.
Sam: The Bulls will have to be plenty creative as the 800-pound elephant hanging over all of this is the sign-and-trade. I talked to a retired player the other day who once was a top free agent. I asked him would he rather stay with a .500 team and get the full, six-year $126 million or go to a take that is a little better now with the hope of being better and take five years at $95 million. He said given the potential changes in the collective bargaining agreement after next summer and the possibility of drastic cuts in future earnings, he said he’d stay with his .500 type team for the extra year. As for Ray, with Noah and Rose so young I’d go for younger players if I wanted a shooter, like an Anthony Morrow.
Ellis and David Lee, what are the chances Bulls can get both of them ? cause I would honestly take them over Johnson and possible even Bosh. Also next year is there any chance bulls can get enough money together for Anthony by dumping Deng and Hinrich ?
Sam: Ellis and Lee are a plan B or C I’ve mentioned before, though it would take Hinrich to get Ellis if the Warriors wanted to deal with the Bulls. I’d go for Johnson, as I have long said, but would Atlanta take Hinrich in a sign and trade? And then you lose a good third guard. What if the Nets offer Devin Harris in a sign-and-trade? There will be plenty of competition if the top guys stay home. Which is what Lee is hoping for, to be overpaid because so many teams have money. If you cannot get a top guy, I’d hand onto the money and look to deal later or wait. Still, I believe the Bulls are committed to making a major move this summer given the expectations of the community. You don’t want to make a mistake because you are in the mindset, which the Bulls were in 2000 and ended with Ron Mercer. But it will take patience and dealing with plenty of criticism if the Bulls go that way, and that’s hard to deal with. Plus Noah and Rose will be coming up for extensions and you want to make sure they have an appealing team to want to stay with.
If the Bulls do sign Bosh (and, by the way, a sign-and-trade for Noah is crazy considering Noah's great value and low salary), what happens to Taj's minutes? Could Gibson (or Bosh) back up Deng at the 3 slot defensively against some small forwards? Or could Gibson (or Bosh) switch to center when resting Noah? Having Bosh, Noah, and Gibson fill all the minutes at 4 & 5 would make for one of the best starter/reserve frontcourts in the league, if they could handle the big men.
Sam: I’d worry about that if I could sign Bosh. I think Gibson works best as a rotation backup forward given, at least for now, his lack of weight and for all the time his lack of great size. No, they aren’t including Noah in any sign and trade, but they’ll be asked in every one and they have to consider if they have a chance to get Wade, say, would it be worth it to give up Noah. Same with Bosh. I probably wouldn’t, and I don’t believe the Bulls would, but Noah’s the guy every sign and trade will seek and, then, you face the possibility of no free agent other than a third tier David Lee type. And maybe you don’t think you can succeed that way. These are tough questions and choices and the unenviable part will be the Bulls will be judged in hindsight, primarily.
In hindsight, what do you think of the Bulls getting rid of Thabo Sefolosha and J. R. Smith. Wouldn't Thabo's defensive prowess add alot to the team. Also couldn't we use Smith's scoring ability or would he be incompatible with Derrick.
Sam: Thabo was a nice player to have, but this far in the playoff series you can see the Bulls decision was justified. You cannot have him on the court that much not only because he cannot shoot but because he doesn’t want to. He still seem afraid to shoot and you can’t have that at a position with “shooting” in the name. Taj Gibson for Thabo was a great deal for the Bulls. As for J.R., he’d have been long gone and never have survived playing for Skiles to start with. He remains a knucklehead who can be destructive for a team and has been a constant source of frustration for the Nuggets. If he were a normal human being and shot like that, sure. As he’s J.R. Smith, the Bulls are fortunate to have let him go as soon as they did.
Since it's playoff season, some buddies and I were having an argument about our prospective dream squads. I decided to put the question to you. Which of the following team would win a seven game series (minus Jordan.) Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, and Hakeem Olajuwon or Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tim Duncan, and Shaquille O'Neal.
Sam: That’s a good once since in Chicago we have to say any team with Jordan would win. I know the last time I didn’t I got my property taxes raised. I’d probably go with the team that doesn’t have Barkley. He was a great talent and as everyone can see now one of the greatest personalities in league history. But he was always a bad teammate, lazy, refusing to help on defense and selfish. He wouldn’t cover for Bird, who wasn’t a great defender. Magic and West is a much better backcourt, especially because you never had to guard Kidd much and he’s only now becoming a decent three point shooter but still with no mid range game. But that latter team with Duncan, Bryant and James would be too good defensively in the long run, and in his prime and when he was in shape in the playoffs you’d end up with just a jump shooting team that would get pounded inside. Though Magic, Bird and Barkley would have prettier fast breaks.
If the Bulls were to sign a premier Small Forward, how about trading Deng to New Orleans for Emeka Okafor?
Sam: I’m quite sure you could even get the Hornets to drive him to Chicago. That stands as the worst deal of the year for a GM in Jeff Bower who generally does a very good job. It never made sense giving up Tyson Chandler’s shorter contract and Chandler fit better. Okafor has four more years averaging some $13 million a year. He’s a mechanical player who has little impact on games. I’d prefer Deng on his worst day as guys like Okafor ruin your team for years to come with their salary and lack of impact and athleticism. Forget Deng, you could get him for a draft pick if you have the cap room to take him on.
I am impressed w/ luol deng's driving game and toughness in Game 2. Why can't he do it in a consistent basis? Can he be a an all-star some day?
Sam: I know fans have been down on Deng, but he has had some injury issues. He’s playing well through them and a few years ago there weren’t many in the league who didn’t think he could be an All-Star. Perhaps his body will eventually betray him, but after the 06-07 season the league GM’s voted him most likely to break out to All-Star level. I think he’s hurt some in the Bulls offense, which isn’t designed as much for his slashing game as was Skiles’. I don’t see him reaching All-Star status, but he certainly can be a highly productive player on a good team if he remains healthy.
How come people never mention the draft selection by the thunder on this one? Why take James when you have such better players available? Hell there are late first rounders that I feel will have better careers than him. Had they taken a guy like evans or jennings they could have let westbrook play the two. James to me is just a slow footed spot up jump shooter. Never understood the fascination with him.
Sam: It’s a good point because of all the praise the Thunder has been getting for this executive genius. They have done a very good job, have been patient and put together a good team. But they fell into Durant as Portland took all the risk and took Oden, which was the unanimous agreement among 30 gm’s, including the Thunder’s. Westbrook is a terrific player, but I agree not a point guard. Scott Brooks is a good guy and nice coach, but he might be the least skilled in the playoffs. His team’s offense is virtually nonexistent in the playoffs. If they had an offensive plan, I think they’d be up 2-0. The media misread his team’s talent, so it was assumed it must have been coaching as media voting assumes it cannot be wrong. Scott Skiles, Alvin Gentry, Nate McMillan and Jerry Sloan, to name four, had much better seasons. I would have taken Brook Lopez over Westbrook to go with Durant as it was a rare chance to get an all star level center, especially with a point guard draft coming up. Then you could have had Evans or Curry and how good would that team have been with, say, Evans Durant, Green and Lopez? And they could have had Camby at midseason but passed, and what if they had Camby with this group? Would the Lakers be up 2-0? Nice job, sure. Genius, c’mon.
What do you think about Scottie Pippen being given an opportunity to coach the Bulls? His background expertise is superlative; and, people think that Nate McMillian's hot?!? I think Pippen should be offered the head coaching position of the Bulls immeadiately!
Sam: I’d say if the Bulls were to make a move, they are not about to go for a coach who doesn’t have a day of coaching experience.
The Lakers and Celtics, and the Bulls to some extent, have a great history like the Yankees, Cardinals, Steelers and Packers do in the MLB and NFL. I don't understand the LeBron to the Knicks fascination by the media. If it's about winning and tradition, why not try to move to the Lakers, Celts, or Bulls or just stand pat in your hometown with a good Cavs team? If it's about lifestyle and money, why not play for Phoenix or Miami where the taxes are low and the women look good? Other than the good pizza parlors, why would anybody want to play for New York?
Sam: America generally is about who shouts loudest. New York has the most media, so it does. No one wants to live there. I did. I know. Didn’t everyone notice both Steve Nash and Grant Hill talk to the Knicks last summer and go to Phoenix. Jason Kidd, too. Basically, everyone in the country is smarter than the people in New York. We just don’t say so. But everyone uses New York to get better deals. It’s the open secret in the NBA. You pretend you want to be in the league’s oldest arena that smells from urine, which is the most inconvenient to get to and where it costs you the most to live. The media there is so full of itself it generally tends to believe all the things New Yorkers tell themselves. But no great players ever go there. Or hasn’t anyone noticed. And none is again.
How good is amar’e in reality and how much of his “oh my god” moments come because he plays with steve nash?
Sam: That’s the fear many teams have. If the Suns don’t advance, especially in the first round, there’s a good chance the Suns don’t pay Stoudemire. If they offer him a max, the belief is he’ll stay. But he’s a bit undersized and historically hasn’t defended or rebounded until the last two months of his contract season. When he was in Phoenix, Mike D’Antoni called him the worst defender in the league and maybe in league history. How sweet would that be to see him in New York? The consensus is he goes to Miami to join Dwyane Wade and gets Wade to stay. But Stoudemire seems to need a top point guard to work with. He’d probably work well with Derrick Rose, but I think the Bulls have too many doubts about his future given his previous serious knee surgery, his eye surgery and his general indifference to the game plan until he was up for a new contract. And once you pay him, he’s yours for at least five years and he better be highly motivated for you to have any chance.
I wrote you earlier this season about why you thought Rose would become a better point guard than Williams or Paul, and you replied that Rose was much more explosive. After watching the season play out, I see that the question was a bit off. It should be obvious by now, that part of the reason Rose took off later in the season was Hinrich was given the job as Roses backcourt mate. The truth is, Rose (like Hinrich) is not a "true" point guard. They are both "combo" guards. Or, more accurately, Rose is a play-making scoring guard. A better comparison is to compare Rose to players like Wade, Roy, and Evans. So Could Rose and Wade co-exist? (Honestly, I don't think so.) I think the three best pure point guards in the NBA are easily Nash, Williams and Paul, with only an aging Billups even coming close. Could Rose co-exist with one of those players?
Sam: Rose is a point guard. Rose is a point guard. Rose is a point guard. He can be an explosive scoring guard and he has to be. So he is. Right now, he’s the best point guard in the East. Williams probably has had a slightly better season, but he is so much more experienced and has a Hall of Fame coach. Rose will pass him soon. Nash has been terrific this season, but he is nearing the end. Chris Paul missed most of the season and probably still is the best overall when he plays. Rose can play with anyone because he will be and is becoming a great player. He and Wade even with Wade liking to handle the ball would be a dream backcourt. If Rose had one guy you could count on to make a three, just one, you’d see his assists go way up. He was a remarkable 11th in the league in assists with one of the lowest scoring, worst shooting and poorest three point shooting teams in the league. The Bulls were 29th in three pointers attempted and the Magic made almost as many threes as the Bulls took.
How much do the Bulls like James Johnson? I ask this because just before the trade deadline I started hearing rumors about a potential deal with Minnesota for Al Jefferson from various Executives that I know through my years as a season ticket holder. Kurt Rambis has been very vocal about his distaste for Jefferson & his absolute love for Kevin Love. In addition he's been very vocal about the fact that neither of them are centers in this league. The general thinking is that Love is "the future" of NBA power forwards which means Jefferson would be the odd man out. The reason I am told that this deal didn't happen is because the Bulls would have had to give up a draft pick, or two, & since they're about to gut their team they wanted to have this year's pick to replace some of what they're about to lose.
Sam: You have some of it right. The Timberwolves would deal Jefferson and it’s become pretty clear as the season ended they aren’t going to keep Jefferson and Love. But they want Noah. If you trade Noah, you can have Jefferson. If you trade Deng, you can have Ramon Sessions, who they have also been trying to deal.
I quote from your last article: "...trust me, there’s not much to do in this city I rank 30th among my favorite NBA destinations..." Just out of curiosity, what are your top five and bottom three? Additionally, what goes into determining your favorite destination? Surely as a well-to-do fellow, I'd imagine it's not the nightclubs, so what exactly is it that attracts Sam Smith? Restaurants? Broadway shows? Casinos? Bars? Hotels? Fast-food joints? What? (Everyone is obviously different in this regard, but right now I'm interested in finding out where a journalist vet such as yourself likes to hang out).
Sam: Mostly in my room, as it turns out. Not as glamorous as you’d think. But, yes, it’s also best to quote myself. But it is a reasonable question regarding free agency. Guys rarely make decisions that way, and I understand since they usually rank money Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. So you can never fully make the lifestyle argument because the way the players are told to think is their money earnings years end at about 35, so they have to maximize it now. I’ve always thought that to be an agent scam as most agents don’t care for the players but their next client and their commission, so they sell them on a big payday. After all, how many millions do you need to live the rest of your life, even having, say, two homes and three cars. But that argument never works. Anyway, my favorite places are the good weather places. I most enjoy Miami, Phoenix and L.A. It’s not like you do that much with one game in a city and changing cities regularly. But just to sit outside and have a meal and walk around or work out outside, ride a bike along the beach, is priceless. I’m not a drinker, so I don’t do bars. When I have some time off, I ride a bike along the Pacific when I’m in L.A., hit golf balls at the driving range when I’m in Phoenix and eat stone crabs, my favorite meal, and walk along South Beach in Miami because many of the women are topless. I’m not sure this is legal, but this may give you an idea why Dwyane Wade isn’t leaving Miami. Other cities I most like are San Antonio for the weather and Riverwalk downtown. Plus, I love the Alamo and always go there. I like Washington and Boston as great walking cities as well. Among smaller places, I like Salt Lake City because of such a spectacular setting and would have liked Golden State if the arena were in San Francisco. I leave Chicago out as I live here, though players like Chicago, New York, Toronto, Atlanta, Miami and Houston for the clubs. I am not admitted. I don’t include Milwaukee as we never stay there, but most don’t like it. The worst are Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, Memphis and New Jersey, unless you have an extra day or two and can go into New York City, where you will be ripped off trying to eat or getting a cab and then, at least, understand better why no free agents are going there.