Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 01.28.11
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of e-mails from his readers.
I seem to be in the minority when it comes to that Bobcats draft pick. Every week I read the same suggestions about trading that pick for a guy that can't start for the cellar-dwelling Houston Rockets (Courtney Lee) or the sharp-shooter on the Trailblazers who is, incidentally, hitting a pedestrian 33% from 3 pt land (Rudy Fernandez). That Bobcats pick has a lot of potential, not only because it can turn into a gold-mine when it is unprotected in 2016, but every year it becomes more valuable given all of the Bobcats' struggles. And the absolute most ironic thing about the whole situation is, Michael Jordan might be so grossly incompetent in basketball ownership/operations but yet narcissistically stubborn to his ideals that he has the real potential to bury that franchise for the next five years all the while he plays golf and smokes cigars all day. How do you trade that pick?
Sam: Easily. I get an equal number of fans breaking down the odds of that pick actually turning into something, figuring the Bulls should get something when it matters. And now is generally more important than then. I'm among those who would trade that pick. Perhaps not for Rudy, which I was considering seriously early in the season, but if I can get a young, starting level shooting guard, whom I believe Lee is, I'd seriously consider it. I wouldn't be devastated if the Bulls didn't trade it given some around the NBA have said the Bulls' No. 1 pick—not the Charlotte No, 1—is enough to get you someone like Lee or Marcus Thornton, just a few of the names mentioned. Though one more name got dismissed from the list Thursday, when Memphis' O.J. Mayo was suspended for 10 games for violating the league drug policy. This is a three strikes thing, so this has gone on before and that would certainly end any Bulls interest in Mayo, assuming it was serious at one time. Though I still am at least now a bit more inclined to move now given the landscape has changed some. The Bulls look much more like they have a chance to be a contender than they did when the season started and when I didn't much see a tweak meaning that much. You're also making big time assumptions that players like Boozer and Deng, who have had injuries, will be as healthy as they are now in two or three years. But it's nice to show Derrick Rose before he can become a free agent that I am doing everything to win, as much as he is and more if I could.
I am getting a little tired of everyone trying to trade for a shooting guard such as Lee, Mayo etc. I would much rather wait it out because, as much as we have improved, idont think we are quite up there with San Antonio, Lakers and Miami (when at full strength). I would rather us wait till free agency and not lose Taj, DEng or Brewer in a trade. Even better could we not go to the draft with a first round pick and get a Klay Thompson or William Buford. We dont need an instant fix now, we need a long term option which we can probably get in the offseason this year.
Sam: First, let’s forget the draft, at least if Thibodeau is going to be coach. He should have made clear to everyone by now he’s not playing young players unless they are named “Rose.” Omer Asik has played well, yet Thibodeau rides Kurt Thomas for 42 minutes. He never uses James Johnson, who is off to the D-league. He is not going to play a rookie, and even if he did for a limited amount of time it would take a rookie two or three years to make an impact. Sure, it depends on the deal. I wouldn’t give up Taj easily, but if I could get Carmelo, sure. Plus, I don’t think Miami, Boston and Orlando are as unbeatable as they looked. The Bulls are ahead of the Magic with Noah still out, the Heat has no size and you saw when Kevin Garnett was out the Celtics were average. Not great. And Garnett has played a lot and has had surgeries. Forget the Lakers and Spurs, etc. The idea is to get to the Finals and then see what you can do. Boston looks the toughest, but you ad a shooting guard who can offset Ray Allen some and everything changes.
You don't seem to give the Bulls a chance to win a championship this year, a very good team when intact but admittedly not the best in the league. Can you think of an NBA team in recent history that won a championship that wasn't the best team in the league? Does a very good team like the Bulls even have a shot?
Sam: Yes, stuff happens. As I’ve mentioned and we all mostly agree the Bulls have a hole at starting shooting guard. But I think it was 1989 when the Lakers were 11-0 in the playoffs. Then Magic got hurt and they were swept in the Finals by the Pistons. Then there was the supposedly unbeatable Lakers of 2004 with Malone and Payton with Shaq and Kobe and the Pistons took them out in five. The Bulls with another move might have a shot, something that seemed a ridiculous notion a few months ago because the opposition appeared better than it has been. Still, the conventional wisdom suggests any serious contention is a few years out.
I was debating with someone about what, in my opinion, could be a dominant big man tandem when the Bulls have a healthy Boozer and Noah starting in the same frontcourt. My "opponent" in this debate said Noah is not enough to cover Boozer's defensive flaws. With the Bulls near the top in several defensive categories, I hardly felt the need to argue against that point but still added that Boozer's rebounding is vastly underrated in the regard that he still helps end an opponent's possession after a miss (Cleveland may not agree). I also had to defend Noah as an offensive player, which made me realize that a lot of people have probably forgotten just how much he can help the offense since we haven't seen him in awhile. His passing and ability to start (or finish) the break are a big advantage at the center position. Also, his offensive rebounding and tip-ins are usually worth more than just the two points as they can be momentum changers in close games, especially on the road when the field-goal percentage typically falls. I am probably just biased, so just how good can those two be together?
Sam: I believe they are potentially a very good fit given the points you make. No, hardly perfect as neither is a great help defender, though Noah is better. Asik actually has better help instincts than either, though with some obvious deficiencies. But given Boozer can step out and shoot to create space and finish on the pick and roll complements Noah. And that Noah will be a rim runner, meaning run all the way to the rim, which Boozer doesn’t on offense, they offer alternatives, and you see in the scoring even with Boozer back how much Noah actually helps on offense with his passing and that he can make a move and that crazy shot from the elbow actually goes more than anyone could expect.
Everyone is pretty much (and for good reason) jumping on the Rose bandwagon, but here are two things not much commented on: 1) Over his last 100 FTs, he's almost 90% (how much improvement is allowed for one guy so quickly?) 2) Modern basketball is about 50-55 years old so it's hard for anyone to chart new ground in anything at this point. Derek is now blocking routine perimeter jump shots, almost once a game lately. I remember Michael Cooper getting Dale Ellis in the corner to win a playoff game, mid 80s. That was considered a remarkable play that helped cement the Cooper defensive legacy. Hakeem got a finger-tip on Starks, also in the corner, to basically win a title; again remarkable, but one-of-a-kind (that far out) for Hakeem. I can not remember anyone else besides Rose--not Jordan, Bryant, James, Pippen, Cooper, not anyone--who ever blocked perimeter Js on more than a once-in-a-blue-moon basis.
Sam: He has improved, though like with his shooting, commentators and media for at least two more years will say he cannot defend. But he obviously is a willing learner and has the athletic ability to be a good defender. Plus, more than anything, he has that amazing desire like the great ones to make up for a mistake or make a saving play, like the way he’ll run out after a turnover to stop a break or get a key rebound between big guys. He’s starting to get steals with his quickness, four against Cleveland last week and three earlier this month in Philadelphia. And he’s also working on a streak of having at least one block in the last nine straight games. So that’s hardly a guy who doesn’t defend, as you still read in uninformed national reports. I cannot recall specifics, but a lot of the great athletes who could jump have blocked shots like that, from David Thompson on down. The Bulls have something of the old six million man TV show in creating (perhaps refining) the perfect player.
I’ve been reading a lot lately about this new CBA and the possibility of something similar to the nfl style franchise tag being used in the nba to allow teams to keep their top players.. i think that'd be a terrible idea. i dont think it's fair at all to players, if their teams are lousy and the management is doing a poor job of building a contending team, why should an All-Star type player be forced to stay on a team that stinks? I think a good alternative would be to do something similar to what the MLB has, in that if you sign a free agent away from a team you have to give up a draft pick. I agree it's not fair to have these teams in small markets keep losing their star players to teams in LA, Miami, NY, etc. but it's also unfair to force players to stay on a certain team.
Sam: There’ll be a lot of labor talk later this season, and I generally stay away from it as I hate sports labor stories, millionaires arguing with billionaires. I have no idea what will occur, only that there will be radical changes. NBA free agency used to be that way with compensation, the teams having to agree or the commissioner would decide. Draft picks often were involved and it inhibited movement. That said, the league is somewhat concerned about the concentration of top talent in just a few places and the ability to maintain smaller market franchises. So the owners have their own internal issues to work out as well, like revenue sharing. The greatest fear probably is the guys who made up base year compensation still are working on this.
With all the talk about trying to upgrade at shooting guard wouldn’t it be more feasible to try and find a more competent backup point guard and move CJ to shooting guard?
Sam: No, because Watson is not a shooting guard, at least not starting variety, and though Thibodeau plays he and Rose together at times, he doesn’t like the small size of the backcourt and the inability of that backcourt to guard the players they’d have to in the playoffs, like Ray Allen, Dwyane Wade and Jason Richardson. The Bulls record is nice, but playoff series come down to matchups, and the Bulls aren’t well set for that with the gap at shooting guard.
I was recently thinking back to the Bulls' dreadful rebuilding process, and how Jerry Krause nearly traded Scottie Pippen in the summer of 1997 to Boston for the #3 and #6 overall picks in that year's draft (likely would have used them on Tracey McGrady and either Ron Mercer or Chauncey Billups). Of course, Krause kept (an angry) Pippen, the Bulls went on to win Championship #6, and in the following off-season (post-lockout), Krause finally dealt Pippen in a sign-and-trade to Houston for a future 2nd-round pick and Roy Rodgers (almost immediately waived). So my question is: why couldn't Krause get nearly as much value for Pip only one season later? Granted, Pippen had to agree on which team he'd be sent to this time, thus limiting Krause's options, but wouldn't Houston's first-round pick in '99 (a likely mid-to-late 1st rounder, figuring the Rockets would make the playoffs) have been a little more fair? Even better, how about a future unprotected first round pick, much like the Bulls later pulled off with the Knicks and Charlotte? It seems as if the Bulls benefited from this in no way other than to better its reputation, so Scottie wouldn't publicly denounce the franchise
Sam: Yes, you have to give management credit for getting past all the feuds with Pippen. Krause was obsessed with salary cap room then, and, really, it was a pretty good plan, just bad scouting and bad luck. Krause did see ahead and saw that if you had the most money you could get the best player and once you had a star you could build around him. But first the NBA changed the rules in the 1999 lockout and put a ceiling on salaries. Now, the Bulls couldn’t overpay for the best and given the turmoil of the end and that it was a rebuilding situation, the top guys opted for better teams at the same money. That’s why Krause went with plan B, the big kids, which was right as well. The big guys were disappearing from the Eastern Conference, like Ewing, and with two seven footers, a post and perimeter guy, the Bulls could dominate for a decade. But being they were high schoolers, the Bulls misjudged the talent and desire of Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler, and that is the rest of the story.
With the recent release of point guard Jason Williams from the Orlando Magic, Do you think he is worth a look from the Bulls? I think he could provide better scoring punch playing with the second unit than C.J Watson. Could Williams do a better job? I think he'd come cheap and probably would make better decisions with the ball in his hands than Watson.
Sam: Every time someone gets released I get these, and I assume you haven’t been watching Jason Williams. He’s awful, a problem guy who is unreliable and a locker room issue. He jumped he team this week because he wasn’t playing enough. The guy is disruptive, uncommunicative, broken down and makes Ron Artest’s shot selection look brilliant. So let me give this some more thought.
In watching the Bulls step up their effort on the defensive end of the floor this year, through Thibs' philosophy, it makes you realize how important defense is. I ended up getting league pass this year and in watching so many other teams (being a huge Bulls fan) it makes you realize how many "good" players are so lazy on defense. I guess my question is, why is it that more coaches in the NBA do not preach this defense stuff to their players? To me it seems if you just looked at our roster on paper (especially with the injuries) you kind of wonder how we are at 31 wins before All-Star break. Do you think that all these wins could be contributed to this "defensive mindset" for the most part?
Sam: A lot, and that Rose fella. But this is a big pet peeve of mine about NBA hiring and the lack of knowledge about it so many organizations have. Organizations often are run by former players who are most comfortable with former player. There’s this notion that if you played the game you know more about the game. Not necessarily true. You know how to play the game, which often has nothing to do with teaching the game. You know, those that can, do; those that can’t teach. It’s a joke in case my daughter’s teacher is reading this. The point is guys like Thibodeau aren’t given credit by former player running organizations because they didn’t play. But Thibodeau learned the game and developed a system of play, both on offense and defense. The greatest players generally cannot do that because everything comes so relatively easy to them. So Thibs gets to help others, but not take the job because, well, he never played the game. Credit the Bulls for understanding there is more to the game. It’s one reason why so many former players get recycled as coaches. Occasionally they’ll fall into talent and have a winning record, but too often they never took the time during their careers to learn and think the game and how to be a coach. Though there are guys like Skiles who are exceptions because he never thought he’d be a pro so even in college was studying plays to be a coach.
I don’t suppose you have a Bulls calendar, do you? The cover boy for the last two months has been Noah (Dec) and Boozer (Jan) and both guys got hurt in their respective months; of course, Joakim’s was much more serious, but Boozer still missed 3 games. Next month is Deng and we can’t afford to lose him. I flipped through the rest of the months and Bogans is nowhere to be found not that I would ever wish for an injury on any Bulls players.
Sam: Well, Rose was November and made it through, though perhaps the stress of carrying the team without Boozer led to his ulcers that were discovered this week. The Bulls are making this kid grow old fast.
I assume Boozer’s nickname for Thomas, OG, stands for Old Goat?
Sam: Someone told me the G is for gangster, though I prefer old goat as well. At least we’re not calling him Kirk.
About 6 weeks ago Comcast Sports Net had a story on James Johnson and just how much golf he plays in order to keep his golf game sharp. Since that story, I can swear I have not seen that young man play. Did the Bulls management also see this story and conclude this guy is more interested in golf then in basketball?
Sam: Well, he’s not playing much golf lately even though he clearly has a lot of time. The coach wasn’t comfortable with Johnson on the court and the tough part is he’s valueless in trade as a result and at some point could become discouraged. So the Bulls Thursday finally sent him to the D-League, where he could excel. He should be playing instead of sitting around as it’s hard to maintain a strong attitude when you never get a chance no matter what you do, and Johnson has tried. If he goes with a strong attitude and does well, it might interest another team, and that probably would be best for him and the Bulls now. He could have helped, but when a team does as well as the Bulls have there’s not much to say. You hope Deng doesn’t wear down when Johnson could have saved some minutes from him.
I read your answer on a question about Deng in the Defense All-Star Team...... And you said that he doesn't lead or is in the top of steals, blocks and rebounds... And I was wondering... what about the FG% of the guy he face every night? Defense it's not all about that stats.... I think Deng is one of the thoughtest guys out there to beat... he makes every guy he faces to shoot tough shots...
I know the votes will have to do with stats and not with watching games... but I really think he deserves it.
Sam: It is interesting when you win. The majority of my mail about Deng lately has been that I’m being unfair to him by not considering him first or second team all-defense and that his contract by league standards actually is pretty fair and reasonable. I have supported Deng for a long time, noting earlier this season he probably was top 10 at his position and a solid third or fourth option. I feel quite comfortable in that analysis. I know winning beings life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but let’s not get too carried away. Deng’s been good on defense because he cares about it and works at it. Actually, Rose because of his ability will one day be the team’s best defender unless Noah is, and we forget about him because he’s out. I’m sure that stat is available and it would be interesting to know, but I usually go by what I see. Deng is good, though not quite elite. Nothing wrong with that. I’d take that if I were the Bulls. That said, the all defense teams aren’t that well thought out. Does Deng go ahead of LeBron, Sefolosha, Gerald Wallace, Josh Smith, Artest and Kobe, who are some of the top perimeter defenders? And even Hinrich.
Any chance the Bulls could swing a deal for Ricky Rubio since he clearly has no interested in playing in Minnesota? The guy plays incredible defense im sure Thibs would fall in love with him fairly easily.
Sam: Was that sentence really something more like, It would be incredible if Rubio ever played defense? The Bulls have a fairly good point guard it would be hard to beat out at this point. At this point, Rubio seems more a hoax. He might be OK as he’s a nice passer, but he is far from being able to shoot. I know in Europe they play veterans first, but he rarely starts for the national or top teams and if he were that good and irreplaceable, I assume someone would get him in the starting lineup.
Is Carmelo Anthony the new Dominque Wilkins? They can score like very few else can and can win a few games through shootouts; they are very strong small forwards; upon criticism of their overall game, they both stepped up their rebounding a bit but nothing else; and they can only carry a team so far as the true leader of the team. I didn't pay close attention to the basketball beat 20 years ago, but I believe Wilkins wasn't someone liked and respected enough as a superstar where a bunch of teams were clamoring for him. I think the Nique situation is applicable to Melo's. Melo is a great scorer and a small step up from Deng (when considering Deng's defense), but I wouldn't want to reshape the team for a guy whose attitude could turn to poison for a team, or at best, would harm team chemistry a bit.
Sam: That is one question that is more whispered about Anthony because the connotation is you cannot win with him as Nique never was past the second round, though he’s in the Hall of Fame. There is something similar to their games, though Anthony is a much better shooter. It might well be there isn’t much difference and the team that gets Anthony will be stuck. Which is why it was smart of the Bulls not to give up Noah for Anthony. You can have success with Anthony, but he cannot be your best player, and maybe not even your second. Can he accept that? The view in all sports if you take a shot at the best talent and then figure it out. That’s the philosophy regarding Melo.
Everyone keeps saying that if so and so really is about winning then he or they would come to Chicago with Rose and Noah (and now with Boozer as well), but these players aren’t coming to Chicago nor really have any intentions to. So what is so “bad” about coming to Chicago that some of these players just aren’t willing to come and play for us? I mean seriously, The Bulls have never been so close at being a finals contending team until this year and the great (and scary) thing is our two main stars are still incredibly young! (Which is why it’s scary just to think what will happen once we have our full healthy team playing together finally?) Although, it still seems we’re like one player short on being one of the greatest Bulls team since the Jordan era that you’d think a lot of the players that are about to or are becoming free agents would all be wanting to come to Chicago to be that final piece to finally winning a championship for themselves as well as for Chicago? Is everyone afraid of the Bulls because of what Jordan has done for the team or what? I’m sure money is an issue as well because Rose still has to get his extension and big pay, but if it were truly about winning then you’d think they would put all that aside like James, Wade, and Bosh did just so they could be a part of something truly special in Chicago and winning that championship they’ve been chasing since they’ve got in the NBA?
Sam: It is about winning, but different people have different views of what is winning. Winning to LeBron was getting with his buddies in a nice climate where he could hang out and have a lot of parties… and be with a good team. Winning to Anthony is getting to the New York market where his wife could further her career and he could get more publicity… and be with a good team. The definition of greatness is personal. The Bulls have been out of the first round once since 1998. With Noah and Rose they never have been out of the first round, so there’s hardly any notion like you are joining the Lakers or Celtics. Plus, there is a bit of the Jordan shadow and now that Jordan is an owner and in competition with the Bulls you never know what he is telling players who might want to go to Chicago and play in his huge shadow.
Having been a life-long fan (I seem to remember Reggie Theus signing his rookie Bulls contract on Johnnie Morris sportscast and Morris announcing a “new era” in Bulls basketball), I thought it might not be a bad idea to take a time out from all the Melo trade talk and the need to get a 2 guard, and give credit where it is due. John Paxson has done a hell of a job for the Bulls. He came to a team in total disarray. Even the worst teams today (Cleveland, Toronto) look like dynasties compared to the Bulls after the Tim Floyd experiment. Paxson instilled professionalism on and off the court. He did right by Jayson Williams and built through the draft. (nobody wanted Hinrick when he was with the Bulls, now everyone wants him back.) He came close with his first set of players, learned, got really lucky in the lottery, hired a coach that knows the game and the players respond to, all of which has put the Bulls in a position to be considered among the elite in the league. Pretty darn good if you ask me. Sometimes we forget just how hard it is to build a champion. And, no this is not Crumbs writing under an alias. Players and coaches win games. They win championships. My only point is Pax (and Gar) has done right by Chicago fans. If he got heaped with abuse when we were losing (hello Vinnie), he should get some thanks now.
Sam: Yes, John has taken a more subsidiary role these days, and he was shaken by the incident with Vinny last season. But he still is involved in the decision making and while the team endured some tough times with the firing of Skiles, the organization has generally been on an upward path, if not quite there. Knowing Paxson, I know he’s hardly satisfied where the team is and he takes no credit in falling into Rose. He’s not one to assume he’s smart because he got lucky, as we see too often around sports. He’s probably harder on himself than anyone is on him, but the scars of the last few years have been difficult for him even though he likely won’t concede that. He is devoted to the Bulls and has been remarkably loyal and dutiful for 25 years, a rare run in sports these days. He’s been a great asset to the organization for a long time and though he may not always have been right, he always tried as hard as he could. Which is the most you can ask of your top people. You want to keep those guys around.
I recently saw that the Warriors owner said that he would trade Steph Curry. he believes that Monta Ellis is the untouchable player on their roster. I say the Bulls have to make a run at him as he is the perfect compliment for Derrick Rose. Curry may not be the best defender in the world, but he can shoot lights out and play some point for the team. what he would bring to the Bulls would fill their greatest needs. I'm not sure what it would take to get him, but a package of Taj, JJ, and a pick might pry him away.
Sam: I’ll give you a little insight on how trades work. The Bulls call the Warriors about Curry. Heard he might be available. Maybe, but we need a center and a point guard. Got any of those? And since Curry is a top 10 pick and a highly regarded player who’s played for the USA team, do you have a top 10 pick who’s highly regarded and played for the USA team. Noah? Rose? We might make an exchange for one of those players. If you throw in a pick, by the way.
Wouldn't a deal involving Boozer for Carmelo make a lot of sense.
Sam: To whom? This is clear in the Nuggets dealing of Anthony if they do. They want to save a lot of money and they don’t want any long term contracts. They want young players they can begin to sell their fans on the future, draft picks and salary cap space.
Knicks assistant general manager Allan Houston won the vote for Player of the Decade for 2000-09 and will be honored Feb. 23 at halftime. By the way, I'd give it to Jamaal Crawford. But do you think the fact that they'd give the award to one of the most injured, worst non-performing contracts and most indiscreet players (his comments about Jews, etc" ) ever, is as telling as the award itself? So much for the vaunted New York media.
Sam: I was always surprised Houston was able to get past that one, in New York of all places. As you recall, Houston was close with Charlie Ward. They were called the “God Squad” by their teammates for their Christian proselytizing among teammates. They were in a bible study session with a teammate and a New York Times reporter doing a story on the group. Ward said Jews were stubborn and persecuted Christians and Houston agreed the Jews killed Christ. Houston later apologized, which is the way these things go. The fact that the Knicks have a player of the decade seems as insulting.
Where do you think Blake Griffin's rookie season ranks among all-time great rookie seasons? I remember Magic Johnson leading the Lakers to an nba title his first year, (and playing center in the deciding game, to boot), I vaguely recall Kareem having a dominating rookie campaign, and of coure there's Lebron, but what Griffin is doing for the Clippers this year has to rank at least among the top 10 rookie seasons of all time, don't you think?
Sam: Yes, it is truly a fabulous first season and you’d have to look at it in historical terms, though, give me a second here… There was Wilt, not bad at 37.6 points and 27 rebounds and a 17-win improvement as a rookie. And Oscar at 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 9.7 assists, missing averaging a triple-double as a rookie by a few assists; then there was Bird averaging 21.3 and 10.4 and the team going from 29 to 61 wins, and then there’s Elgin who averaged 24.9 points and 15 rebounds. Then I was thinking about Walt Bellamy with the old Chicago Packers, who averaged 31.6 points and 19 rebounds as a rookie and Rick Barry who was 25.7 points and 10.6 rebounds, and, yes, Magic did have 42 points in the Finals clinching game playing center for an injured Kareem, and Maurice Stokes wasn’t bad at 16.8 points and 16.3 rebounds and don’t let me forget Bill Russell, who averaged 14.7 points and 19.6 rebounds and the Celtics won their first title ever, and Shaq wasn’t bad averaging 23.4 points and second in the league in blocks and rebounds. Uh, do you want me to go on?