Ask Sam | 05.21.10

Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of e-mails from his readers.
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I must admit, I am a little caught up in all of this LeBron James and the rest of the 2010 FA speculation; it's kind of exciting to imagine what could be next year for our Bulls. One thing that has bothered me, though, is all of this talk about LeBron playing in Mike's shadow in the "House that Michael Built" and always being compared to MJ day in and day out. Granted, MJ is arguably one of the best players ever and was playing for the Bulls until not too long ago, so those questions may not be too unwarranted, but come on now, when will it end? It's LeBron now, but what if the next superstar comes knocking five, ten, twenty years from now? Will it be the same thing? Is MJ too big of a figure to ever move on from?

Will his statue outside the stadium forever intimidate anyone willing to challenge his former glory? Is the problem more about Bulls fans not having anyone else to look back to in Bulls history besides Jordan (and Pippen) to make comparisons to?

This "MJ complex" has to go.

Sam Barghi

Sam: Yes, there is a Jordan complex here to the extent fans almost cry if someone suggests anyone is better than Jordan, as if it’s a personal insult. It’s like the ‘85 Bears. But it’s among fans and some media and I don’t think players care a bit. I have heard this toward James. He may not come to the Bulls, but that won’t be a reason. Did Bird not want to go to Boston because of Russell and 11 titles? Did Kobe not want to go to the Lakers because of Kareem and Magic? Did O.J. Mayo not want to go to the Grizzlies… OK, that’s too far. I don’t think LeBron would look at it for a second that Michael had six titles so his would mean nothing. He’s already been on ESPN more than Jordan in six titles and he hasn’t won a Finals game. He’s the biggest thing in basketball and he knows it and his view is it’s big because he’s there. Plus, he likes Jordan and I think he’d consider it an honor to chase Jordan. It’s one thing I think the Bulls have going for them.

If he comes to the Bulls, is he necessarily a better fit for us instead of a Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson combo?

I know your answer will most likely be if you can get the best player take it, but what about Rose's development as a point guard? This could hurt him; I would rather win with Rose heading a team rather than James.

Mario Persico

Sam: I actually have gotten a lot of questions like this, almost assuming James is coming to the Bulls and then wondering whether the Bulls should even want him because it would mess up that perfect chemistry that currently exists with the team on destiny’s track to a certain championship. As I’ve written before, Chicago basketball fans have an issue because of Michael Jordan and the 90s. They see only moves that guarantee a championship, or why bother. It’s not how things work. Anywhere. You compile the most talent you can get and hope they don’t get hurt, get lucky, work relatively well together and get the right bounces. As I’ve said, I think the Bulls remain a long shot choice for James because I’ve never seen winning his main desire like Jordan and Magic and Bird and Kobe, for example. I believe he does want badly to succeed, but he also is driven in other directions. And while they have the best nucleus of the free agency teams, it’s still hardly a certainty of winning a championship given the Bulls general lack of size with Brad Miller a free agent and the team hoping the oft injured Omer Asik can make the roster. But if you can get the best player in the league you say thank you and count it your luckiest day ever and figure out later how it will work.

What do you make of the report by a WGN reporter that LeBron James was in Highland Park yesterday looking at houses? I've also read this from other people in various spots on the internet. When you combine that with reports of members of LeBron's entourage wearing Bulls stuff at a party and James himself calling Derrick Rose after the playoffs, all these rumors are really starting to pile up. Do you think they have any meaning?

Sam: I remember when WGN was a responsible organization. Yes, this is just the beginning. Get ready for much, much more of this. It’s a little like the Kobe mania a few years back, though Kobe clearly said he wanted to be in Chicago. LeBron is pretty much making nothing clear, which he loves as he’s left Cleveland guessing for two years. He wears a New York hat. He likes to vacation in warm places. He respects Michael Jordan. But so does Pat Riley. He wants to be with a fellow former Olympian teammate. The joy and the horror of the internet is it’s open to anyone. Newspapers and organizations have been irresponsible. Heck, Hearst helped start the Spanish-American war in 1898 to sell newspapers. And as much as people say they don’t trust media, they seem to believe what they read or watch or hear. Like we used to say at the Tribune, “95 percent of what you read is true, except the 5 percent you have personal knowledge about.” None of this means anything, though my son says everyone is mad at me for ruining their Christmases by belittling their fantasies and fairy tales. OK, enjoy, and take from it what you please because I truly have no idea what James will do and where he will go.

I've been reading up on and about Chicago being a great destination for LeBron James. I've also read in your columns how the Bulls have the most to offer him in Derrick Rose an All-Star point guard and Joakim Noah a Center on the verge of being an All-Star. Since LeBron is a small forward, would you think the Bulls would try to offer Luol Deng and maybe another player or some draft picks for LeBron? If Cleveland thought he was going to leave and not get anything in return, would they make the deal?

Adam Garcia

Sam: Yes, there’s a pattern. Maybe 90 percent of the mail I’ve gotten of late has been either about LeBron James coming to the Bulls or, please, please, please assure me LeBron James is coming to the Bulls. If LeBron were to leave he might want a sign-and-trade, though I only say might as I can see him going for a shorter deal to see if the team was to his liking and going through this again when he’s 28. If the Cavs are convinced he wants to leave, they’d try a sign-and-trade. It would have to be where James wanted to go, but if it were Chicago the Cavs likely would say they’d rather have the money and make their own deal rather than taking on someone else’s long contract, and you also don’t want to be known as the GM who traded LeBron James. Hard to keep your job that way.

I see LeBron signing a three year deal with an opt out after two years with either the Cavs or the Bulls. This will give him the freedom of free agency again in a few years where he can then join a improved Knicks or Nets squad if he hasn't won a championship with Chicago or Cleveland by then. He will also still be young enough to get a max contract at that point at the age of 27. LeBron doesn't seem to like to be tied down to a situation.

Barry Burman

Sam: I see we’re thinking somewhat alike. I think that’s a possibility and would be a heck of a thing for a franchise to consider. It would mean he could hold you hostage as he’s done the Cavs for two years. The Cavs had to clear every trade with him, had to consult him on where they stayed and when they traveled and he’s still mad at them. You’d have to take him, but I cannot see the Bulls agreeing to those kinds of conditions. It’s why I cannot get a good handle on what he may be up to—most of these guys don’t think out their futures but make emotional decisions. I do think the selling pitches will matter to him and you better be on your best behavior. Forget all the fan nonsense of rallies and parades. They don’t care about that. Guys like LeBron know they’ll be celebrated wherever they go. Could anyone do more than Cleveland with the 10-story mural outside the arena and building a new practice facility near his home so he wouldn’t have to drive far to practice? I guess if Miss Universe wants to marry you, you say yes and hope it works out no matter what the terms.

Am I one of the few that doesn't want LeBron in a Bulls uniform? If it happens...I can see many Chicago fans rolling there eyes when he throws the talcum powder into the air. He's not Jordan. Rose isn't Jordan but he's captured Chicago with his hard work and TEAM play. His humility is beautiful to see. Is there a bigger difference in personality than Rose vs. LeBron? LeBron's pregame antics and all the dancing wont impress Chicago fans. Dive for a loose ball, show some humility and stop acting as though you amaze even yourself! I don't think he's leaving Cleveland. If he does, wherever he goes he will be expected to bring that new team a championship. Anything less would be a failure. If he stays with the Cavs, the team has time to "improve". He said the Bulls weren't ready for the "different animal" they were about to face. He talked about the team being focused on winning a championship. Why talk about that before the first round? The Bulls were the eighth seed..say those things to the Celtics. I don't want to see the LeBron circus come to Chicago. I'd be much happier with David Lee, Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh or Rudy Gay. Even Morrow or Korver. Am I crazy?

Victor Devaldivielso

Sam: Certainly in a minority based on my mail. Again, I think the issue is less whether you’d want him or not than what conditions he’d put on you, how much it would cost if it were a sign-and-trade (do you give up Noah? Cleveland wouldn’t take anyone else and let him go in the division and help him get a max deal) and whether you could trust him or watch him pull one of those Turkoglus on you the way Turkoglu committed last summer to the Trail Blazers before he got a better deal with the Raptors and left.

If we were able to guarantee any of these scenarios, which would you 

Rose, Johnson, Deng, Bosh, Noah

Rose, Johnson, LeBron, Gibson, Noah

The reason I put it to you is to see whether it would be more valuable 
to the bulls to have a solid low post scorer over the SF position. Or 
is LeBron too valuable to any team to pass up?

Daniel George

Sam: I see you have two top free agents. Nice work. Shouldn’t be too hard, eh? That’s a dream, of course. It took three months for the Bulls to get a deal for Salmons for Hakim Warrick. These things aren’t very easy and it’s not like the Bulls are offering stars. Yes, they could trade Noah or Rose. Beyond that, the value is minimal for a variety of reasons. I talked the other day to a GM with a major free agent. He said unless he could get a star back he’d want the cap space, trade exceptions and draft picks. LeBron and Wade are the only true impact players among the free agents. You get better with guys like Johnson and Bosh. So do you gamble and take a shot at the big guys knowing the competition is fierce and among a half dozen or more teams.

If the Bulls cannot land LeBron, do you think New Orleans would be willing to deal David West? Maybe West & Peja for Deng & Hinrich (and maybe the Bulls’ 1st round pick in 2011)? Then if the Bulls could sign Joe Johnson they have Rose, Johnson, Noah, David West, James Johnson(?) with Gibson and Peja coming off the bench.

Chris Duignan

Sam: That’s the big question. Forget if you cannot get LeBron. What if you cannot get anyone? Maybe it makes sense to trade instead of overpaying one of the free agents, like David Lee. If the Bulls are interested in Golden State players it’s going to be tough to deal with a sale expected. Utah? I’m afraid with all the setup for a top free agent, making a trade will not look all that good unless the Bulls can pull off something big at the draft and then still be in the free agent hunt.

Why is everyone in the media and fans undermining Derrick Rose’s ability to be the MAN here in Chicago? I get that the big three (LeBron, Bosh, and Wade) are the cornerstones in free agency and I wouldn’t hesitate to have any one of them on the Bulls, but with all the scenarios in play I don’t really see us acquiring any one of them. What also is troubling is that Joe Johnson, Boozer, Stoudemire and other level 2 tier players are going to get paid max dollars b/c the NBA lacks talent and they’re going to be overpaid. I just believe that if we can get one of those 2nd tier guys, another mid level role player, the core we have, and our soon to be superstar in Derrick Rose; I can only see Orlando really being the biggest obstacle in the East for the next five years with an aging Boston, a disheveled Atl team, and the Cavs all in the decline.

Alex Mattucci

Sam: That, actually, is the question and perhaps the most salient point. Maybe the Bulls have the impact player already in Rose and just need to do some better filling around him. The fans and media are caught up in the new toy syndrome and want one, a great big one like that Christmas bicycle. What, no one rides bikes anymore? You mean a Christmas slingbox or iPad? Anyway, as much as fans and most talk shows have LeBron here and just trying to figure out how to get Wade and Bosh, there are a half dozen teams thinking the same way. And, yes, you probably overpay Johnson or Stoudemire and certainly Boozer or Lee. So, yes, perhaps the smart thing is to trade and build depth and overall talent and Detroit proved you can win a title that way. And Rose is on the way to being a top five NBA star. So if the Bulls do get shut out with the big free agents all is not lost like in 2000. That’s the essential difference between now and then. The Bulls have a playoff team now without doing anything. I think it’s too hard to get a high level player in trade and I’d probably overpay someone like Johnson and live with a bad contract at the end of his deal. I think you have to take a shot at someone, though I don’t see 2000 disaster if you have to deal. And I do believe the Bulls will be better prepared this time than they were then.

Many have commented that Noah and Rose are great players to ultimately build a championship nucleus around, with Rose obviously being the team's best player. However, as I think back over the past 20 years of NBA champions I cannot think of a team that won having a point guard as their best player (unless you consider Chauncey Billups the best player on the 03-04 Pistons). The last team to do so was probably the 89-90 Pistons with Isaiah Thomas, and the Lakers with Magic before that. With that in mind, do you think the Bulls need to get a player that's BETTER than Rose to ultimately win a championship?

Nate Sanderson

Sam: Well, you did name Isiah and Magic, which sort of undermined your argument. Thus, yes, you can win with a point guard, especially now as the rules have changed to favor perimeter players. And I keep hearing the announcers on TV saying Rondo is the best player on the Celts. With a center in Noah and another player or two, I’d take my chances with Rose.

As much as I'd love to see LeBron play for The Bulls next year, for his sake, I think he should stay in Cleveland. Even if his Bulls win the next 7 titles in a row, it will always haunt him that he left Cleveland without finishing the job. People have been saying that the Cavs need to win a title to keep LeBron but I've always felt it was more likely he'd stay if they didn't win. The Cavs, under LeBron's "leadership", looked like they gave up in both of those last two games. After that sort of performance he leaves his team, his city, his state? I just don't see it. He must go back to Cleveland and lead that team to a championship. It is what the truly great players do: Jordan, Bryant, Bird, Magic. People say Garnett had to leave Minnesota to win. Yes, but after how many years? Shaq left the Magic for the Lakers but they had Kobe and Phil to help him win it in 2000. If he wants to be considered an all time great - and I'm not sure that he does - he needs to stay in Cleveland at least another 3 years.

Matt Ahrens

Sam: This is Cleveland’s pitch, at least. But you make the point yourself. He may very well not be that much about winning, or at least not as fully committed as some. Yes, Jordan always used to say he wants to win, but he would do it in Chicago. I don’t know about LeBron, and as I wrote in the first round that team isn’t built for any sort of long run. Perhaps he is playing it out for the great drama of the grand “return” to Cleveland. Many around the league believe otherwise, but hardly can agree on where. But I do think Cleveland will be a more serious contender for his future services than many now believe.

Okay, it's July 1. LeBron has just committed to the Bulls. (Yes, I realize we are talking about no more than a 10% chance of this happening.) The Bulls have made no trades, so they now have Noah, Asik, Gibson, Deng, Johnson, Hinrich, Rose, James, and likely either a shooting guard or a power forward with the 17th pick. They're very close to the luxury tax. Do the Bulls go over to ensure a quality complement at the 4, to resign Miller, or to sign an ace three-point shooter to ensure driving lanes for Rose/James?

Andrew Hartnett

Sam: No one is really too clear on this. You cannot exceed the salary cap to sign free agents and you have to renounce all your free agents to get far enough under so they won’t have Bird rights to resign with you. So after signing a max free agent, the Bulls will have just a few million dollars to sign several players to fill out their roster.

Now lets say that LeBron chooses the Bulls. Does he sacrifice the extra money to keep a very good core of players intact and have a better shot at winning a title, or does he take the money and lessen his chance at a title and the chance of a sign-and-trade to get bosh.

Brandon Buerger

Sam: Money.

Will jon scheyer play in the nba?

Terry Ryan

Sam: Yes. His game is perfect for the triangle offense and I see him as a future Laker.

Do you see it as as possibility that the Lakers could offer Gasol for Bosh to Toronto in a sign-and-trade and Bynnum to the Cavs for LeBron? At least he would be out of the East. If that happened, it would be hard to see a team of Kobe, James and Bosh not winning multiple championships.


Sam: Well, it looks like the Lakers could win multiple championships as they are. Clearly, the Suns have made Pau look great without playing him with any physical presence. I thought Stoudemire and Frye might realize the stakes and play hard. Wrong! Yes, one thing often overlooked is if the Cavs cannot resign James I believe their first priority would be to get him out if the East, where he couldn’t haunt them. Yes, the Raptors would die to have Pau for Bosh. Bryan Colangelo might even get an extension if he pulled that off. I’ve toyed with the idea of LeBron going to the Lakers, but that’s mostly been based on the Lakers not winning a title, and they look awfully good now.

I'm a bit confused as far as the salary cap and all this talk about LeBron James and Wade playing together in Miami? As I understand, Wade is a free agent as well, and if I'm correct, the big 3, Wade, Bosh and James are all probably looking for max contracts. Miami is going to use their money to re-sign Wade. Where, all of a sudden, did Miami get enough money to possibly sign both James and Wade or Wade and Bosh?

Michael Brown

Sam: They resign Wade as their own free agent, which allows them to exceed the cap. They’ll do that after they sign one free agent and have money for another high level players, perhaps around $8 million The Knicks are currently the only team once they renounce David Lee who can sign two maximum salaried free agents, but without sign-and-trade deals as the Knicks generally don’t have much to offer but Lee.

My friends in Toronto want to know if this sign-and-trade could work:

Chris Bosh for Jeff Green, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and 1st Round Pick

Edward Fung

Sam: You’d have to up the money some with other players, but I’m sure Toronto would jump at something like that for the players and getting Bosh out of the East. The question is whether Bosh would want to play in Oklahoma City. He’s given no indication that he would. That’s the main issue with a sign-and-trade. You have to deal with the team the player wants to go to. And Bosh has been perhaps the most circumspect of all.

Washington gets the first pick and will probably take Wall, but I

see a lot of reason for the sixers to really want Wall and the Wizards to

really want Turner. Heres why

-Sixers already have igoudala and young at the 2 and 3. would they have

enough room for Turner.

-Jrue Holiday is below average so the sixers need a legit point guard.

-Wizards already have Gilbert Arenas, and have asaid that they are gonna

give him another chance. they dont need need another point guard

-However, the only good small forwards and 2 guards that they have are Mike

Miller, and Nick Young.

What do you think the wisest decision should be for the Wizards, who are

pretty much indirectly picking the sixers player for them?

Melvin Mulanthara

Sam: Washington is taking Wall. Case closed. No matter what you read or hear, they do not want Arenas. Sure, he destroyed the franchise and cost them millions and they’d love to have him back to try again. Plus, Iguodala is a three and Young a four, and they’ll have success that way with Doug Collins. Collins is going to be coaching the 76ers, and I see them as a playoff team. Holiday actually is a good defensive point guard and Turner will be a terrific fit there. They will take him and have a nice, athletic starting five. Washington will start over with Wall, which gives them a chance again. I’d be surprised if Arenas isn’t traded this summer to some team with cap room that strikes out.

Do you believe the Bulls will go with shooting or size or just go for best available in the draft?

Mike Kinneman

Sam: I don’t know what they are thinking, but I’d go with size given the uncertainty of resigning Brad Miller and the question marks with Omer Asik. Actually, I don’t see how they could not go with the best center on the board at that time, and this is a pretty good draft for big men.

There are no perfect coaching candidates. I am just really against Cheeks I think mainly. I mean, he seems like a great guy and all, it's just that he runs the same simplistic offense that VDN ran and I'd like to see something a little more innovative or at least something that has more facets to it than "iso Rose" and pick and roll.

Blake Mitcham

Sam: As I’ve written, I like Cheeks as a candidate, and I agree there are no truly great candidates. But this rap of Vinny having no plays was nonsense. He wasn’t Pat Riley, but I never understood why this got hung on Vinny when Mike Woodson had what looked like one play in Atlanta (iso) and what the heck do the Cavs do? I had to laugh about all these media “experts” talking about Vinny’s simplistic offense and five plays, which got mentioned often. I’ve seen the Bulls play calls and a scout friend of mine says there are 90 different calls. So which media members and fans know floppy or fist 2 or horns out 13 or zipper 2 hold or pinch 3 or fist out or horseshoe 2? They all are Bulls play calls. No, Vinny wasn’t the most experienced candidate. And there are coaches who have more options in their offense. And run better offenses. But Vinny hardly had the least. He wasn’t hired for his brilliant basketball expertise, I don’t think, anyway. As the Bulls said when he was let go he did some good things, but not enough. He made mistakes and personalities didn’t mesh and coaches get fired all the time, especially coaches with much better records. I think one of the best traits for a coach in this era is to relate well with the players, be respected for having accomplished something and being willing to work. I see all of that in Cheeks, and like Larry Bird when he coached the Pacers I think you put a couple of strong assistants with him whom he’ll let work and I think he’s fine. The coach of the year was Scott Brooks. Basketball genius? I think there are some other good candidates as well, perhaps not Hall of Famers, but experienced basketball guys who’ll do well. I’m not worried about the hire.

What do you think? Leave a comment below: