Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls
Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 3.18.2016
Sam Smith of Bulls.com opens his Ask Sam mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers
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By Sam Smith | 3.18.2016 | 3:30 p.m.
Ben Simmons is a talented player but couldn't even get his team into the top 68 in college. As you would say: "C'mon". I hope the team that drafts him number one isn't trying to win anytime soon.
Sam: I think it’s less the point of not making the tournament, which is pretty bad, too. After all, could you see an NBA star’s college team not making the tournament? Pete Maravich’s didn’t, but back then you had to win the conference tournament to make the NCAA and the NIT had the better teams sometimes. As someone growing up in New York who didn’t know where Kansas was or if it deserved to be a state, it was great to see Maravich when he as averaging 44.
I rarely watch college ball because I watch so much NBA and the college game is truly awful with the combination of the best players staying a year or two at most and then because they will the coach is unable to coach them and they don’t learn the difference between a back pick and toothpick. But hearing so much about Simmons, I decided to watch a few games and noticed he plays casually, more selfishly. When the offense goes through him, he can be impressive taking the ball up court, though he doesn’t have much shooting range. But when he’s not involved, he’s often walking about and seemingly indifferent.
It’s what’s unfair to the player and teams about the way the draft is promoted these days. These kids are set up as stars and don’t have a chance to become one unless they're a generational player like LeBron James. Then the team that gets them is supposed to make a move immediately in the standings. Karl-Anthony Towns is much better than Simmons and his team is just barely winning 20 games. I’ve lately seen some media reports questioning Simmons for similar reasons. He’ll be a top two or three pick for sure on talent. He’s clearly very talented with plenty of potential. Any team would love to have him. But he likely won’t change anyone’s immediate future.
My perspective from watching this team is that Fred is definitely not a great coach, and probably not a decent one either. Two things stand out. 1.) How many turnovers or botched plays the team has coming out of a time out. Again, maybe I'm missing something, but it seems like most times bad things happen on those ATO plays. 2.) How often Fred says something like "we talked about it in the pre-game meeting and then it didn't happen." Your thoughts on Fred? (You'll probably say: "He's fine," but I'm hoping you do an unexpected rant on him).
Sam: I think he’s fine, but you’re an….No, I think you may be OK as well.
I know we judge from moment to moment in sports, and I know it’s fashionable to make comparisons, so let’s get this out of the way as I try to every other week: Thibodeau inherited a team that had underperformed and had basically its entire roster on the way up. Like the next Timberwolves coach, which won’t mean Sam Mitchell is horrible. But that’s a roster ready to break through, as was the Bulls with a young Rose, Noah, Deng (just 25), an All-Star free agent (Boozer) being added to your roster (no matter what you may have thought about him overall - he’d just come off making an Olympic team) and a reserve breaking through in Kyle Korver.
Now after five years, Rose has had three surgeries, Noah has one or two with serious plantar fasciitis issues, Gibson had surgery, Deng is gone and the addition is a 34-year-old who also came off knee procedures in 2013. Gasol has played remarkably well, but still. I’ve always believed Hoiberg came in to usher this team to what it has left, which is after the 2016-17 team and then see what he can do with the next team. So he’s no miracle worker like - well, who exactly?
Billy Donovan, much sought by NBA teams, has done little different with Oklahoma City. What do you think of Rick Carlisle with a .500 team that has four All-Star or near level players in the starting lineup, but older and after surgeries? I feel as a rookie NBA coach Fred has done pretty well given the circumstances of losing his main All-Star level players for weeks at a time, Butler out a month and still not right, Rose out, Gasol out, Noah for almost all season, Gibson not right.
C’mon, he’s running bad plays out of timeouts for Aaron Brooks, Justin Holiday and E’Twaun Moore? The schedule and the season are equalizers, so you are, as the saying goes, your record. But he is prepared, works at it, is serious and knowledgeable. The players generally don’t give up and compete. Many coaches in that position will point fingers, quit on their players, shift blame, blast media. He’s done not of that. He’s been respectful and respectable. I feel the Bulls are fortunate to have him to get through a difficult time.
I find the blames on Fred Hoiberg unfair. He is implementing a new system, one that is hard to do for a team that was trained to slow down on offense for 5 years. He is dealing with I tried injuries, and the Bulls bench are actually a new look. And most of them are new to the league. Offensively I think they're fine. They're good actually. Thanks to him. But you can't expect good defense when two of your best defenders(Noah and Butler) are out.
Sam: That’s what he says. You can find fault with Fred as you can with every coach whose team has not done as well as expected or hoped. But he expected to coach a team with so much depth he could play Noah, Gibson or Mirotic and McDermott off the bench. The starting five with Gibson, which is the right one with Gasol (Mirotic might have been better with Noah) has played one game together. Asking the coach to yell at the players to make them better sounds better than it works in practice.
Rose has played in 54 of the 66 games this season. 82%, which translates to about 67 games for the season. He hasn't missed more than 3 games in a row at any point. This is already the most games he's appeared in since 2010-2011. 5 long seasons ago.
Yet most of the comments I see from fans are very negative. He sits out games because he's apparently very selfish or because he's simply disinterested. It would seem to me that him avoiding any significant injuries is good for everybody, no? Instead people are insistent on bringing up his pre-season comments regarding his life after basketball. As if he's just going through the motions and collecting paychecks.
Put yourself in his shoes and imagine climbing to the level of league MVP at just age 22. Then just 1 year later the game is taken away. You play just 10 games total in 2 seasons and spend most of your days doing rehab instead of playing basketball. Gone is all the glowing praise and the fun of success. After 3 surgeries on your knees by Age 26, you put all of your focus on finding a way to avoid future surgeries and more rehab. The result? You don't push your body as hard as before. Be cautious and conservative and see if you can play 1 season without the need for more surgeries. How can we condemn him for this approach? Who's really being selfish here?
Sam: Who, indeed? But we know the answer. Right, Rose! I’m glad you mentioned the free agency thing, of which I’m still amazed drew such a ridiculous reaction. Kevin Durant just went into Boston and did everything but plant a wet kiss on Danny Ainge. He lauded the coach and the team, said the organization was great, loved the fans and the city, liked being there--by the way did I mention those great fans--how he got chills about being in the same place as all those legends with the banners. I heard basically nothing even as his team is proving to be a great underachiever with what many still believe is the most talent in the NBA with him and Russell Westbrook.
If you live with and embrace forms of bias and hatred, the facts can get in the way of building up a solid brace of anger that can actually make you feel better. A good vent will let in some cooling air. I’ve applauded Derrick’s approach because it seems obvious in the best interests of both himself and the team. If it leads to a little less this season, I believe it will lead to a lot more next season and is thus worth the sacrifice; certainly for him, which has to be his No. 1 priority, which it is for most everyone in sports and beyond. There are episodes of great individual bravery. And then there’s the other 299 million of us.
Is it possible that a Butler/Rose combination will never give the Bulls their best chance of winning moving forward? Neither appears willing to accept the role of "sidekick." Kind of sad when it also appears that neither is presently capable of taking on the role of "hero." You see flashes from both, but no consistency.
Sam: I think you have this all wrong, although it may seem otherwise based on the empirical evidence. They have no basic issue with one another and have pretty much come to laugh at this schoolyard notion about one is better than the other or it’s my team or your team. It’s true they may not ideally fit, but are Durant and Westbrook the ideal pair? Lowry and DeRozan? Who’s the sidekick there? Perhaps their talents, like Westbrook and Durant, aren’t an ideal match, but that’s tough to find. When you have that, you have the Warriors.
I’ve long believed the position the Bulls are missing is shooting guard. Because they don’t have one, Jimmy plays there. Jimmy is shooting 32 percent on threes, just about the lowest among shooting guards because his game is not set up for long catch and shoot, spread the court stuff of the typical shooting guard. So defenses can collapse on them more and makes the driving both like to do more difficult. Jimmy needs to move to the three and the Bulls need to get an athletic shooting guard with range. Good luck. Everyone wants them.
I really like Butler's take charge & leadership attitude on the floor. It seems as though he's a ball-Hog at times not involving his teammates in the offense. Is anything said about that ? Also, I still like Rose and thinks he's one of the top point guards in the league (When healthy & playing). I think with Butler taking over as team leader, I wonder if Rose is even interested in remaining with the Bulls past next season. I would like to think their games ( rose & butler) would be perfect together. Butler seems more the alpha-Dog?
Sam: I’m of a view there’s only one actual leader on this Bulls team. Most teams don’t have one per se. It’s unusual when you have a Michael Jordan type, who is the obvious “leader.” Jimmy has talked about that, but he doesn’t quite have that personality as he stays to himself a lot, as Rose does. Noah always was more than anyone, but once he was coming off the bench it reduced the voice he could have. While Pau is more vocal than many believe, it’s more in a determined way behind the scenes. The last few seasons, Thibodeau acted a lot in that role for the team, though his voice began to be ignored the more the injuries mounted. He would no longer have had that voice had he returned.
Who’s the leader on the Kings? The 76ers? The Timberwolves? Can you have a leader when the team loses? We usually associate leadership with success. What if you have a lively voice and teammates respond to you, but they are not as talented? Does that mean you don’t have leadership? Butler and Rose are the two best guards. Despite Rose’s misinterpreted comments on free agency, I think he remains a long way from even thinking about his geographical future. I believe he’s all about his physical future. I still believe the Bulls’ best chance moving forward involves Rose and Butler on the same team, if not necessarily in the same backcourt. If all you watch in the game is them, I don’t see any rivalry as they both pass to one another regularly, though both tend to be at their best taking the offense on their own.
Oh, the Bulls' leader? Taj Gibson. He’s as close as there is on this Bulls team even though his talent level is not near the top. But he plays through about everything, talks the most to the young guys, meets the media bad game or good when others might be too cranky or too busy. His talent is not highlight worthy, for the most part, and he doesn’t score much. But he seems to me the most likely heir to Noah. It just doesn’t fit the fan and media profile of leadership, which is basically known inside the locker room and less so outside.
Where is Noah? Also, personal opinion. I think breaking the Bulls 72 win record is better than winning a championship. You’re talking about a better season than any team in history! Many championships have been won, but only 1 team has the record for most wins! OK unless they tie the Bulls 72.
Sam: Often in a very interesting world, but now physically back with the team. He’s been working out at the Advocate Center and back on the bench with the team, though not traveling. He’s probably wondering as much as the rest of us. Though he is in Chicago rehabilitating from his shoulder surgery, the team said he will not play again this season. Then he becomes a free agent and no one has any idea whether he wants to return or if the Bulls want him. They’ve said they do, but so much can still change with so many variables there is no way of knowing. It’s got to be a somewhat awkward and definitely frustrating situation for Noah.
Meanwhile, as Ron Harper famously said, “Don’t mean a thing without the ring.” It was the fear of that ’96 Bulls team, having that season and losing in the playoffs. I’m sure it haunts the Warriors now. Ever hear of the ’73 Celtics? They won 68 games, the second most ever to that point, and lost in Game 7 at home in the conference finals to the Knicks. You never hear them mentioned among the 50 greatest teams ever. Because they are in the losers’ Hall of Fame. They had major injuries, but the season includes the playoffs and that record without a title is a season they’d never mention again and only with regret and embarrassment. It’s why this finish and the record will be interesting. It’s hard to see the Warriors not getting it, but how much do they push?
Terrence Ross is talented but he needs a change of scenery.
Sam: He’s an intriguing figure. I haven’t watched enough of the Raptors to know completely his issue, but one of the problems they have and why the Bulls have had the success against them is they are too predictable with their guard play. They’ll go to the three-guard lineup most of the close of games and it’s small guards. Though DeRozan is very good, he doesn’t spread the court with threes. And the guards monopolize the ball, so I suspect Ross never gets enough chance to make a few mistakes. He’s an intriguing athlete whom teams will be interested in.
This is shaping up to be a fun end of the season. A few things to watch closely for me. First, love the way D-Rose is playing and he doesn't get enough credit for it, this guy looks great and pacing himself well, I think if he stays healthy next year he will be back to high all-star level. Would be great to see everyone (minus Noah) for the last couple of weeks and if they get that 6 or 7 seed then a Conference Finals is not out of the question. Who's afraid of Toronto or Boston or even Miami with an unhealthy Bosh.
Sam: And down the stretch we come. It’s not what the fans or team hoped for, but it does make for an entertaining last month, which often is not so much the case. No one is waiting for the playoffs because it’s easy to make a case for the Bulls not to make it. So as they’ve already said every game it’s a playoff urgency, if not always a playoff level of play. But there is that fantasy out there buttressed by the sweep of the Raptors. Maybe you don’t do it in the playoffs, but if they’re No. 7, you can’t go into the playoffs believing even after all this you have no chance. It would be tough to beat Cleveland, but the Bulls probably have the same chance as just about everyone else in the East despite their records, and perhaps better as they’ve played them enough and with Gasol, Rose and Butler have All-Star level players who won’t be intimidated. I’d give a healthy Bulls team a better chance against the Cavs than most anyone in the East. Which would require the tough part, making the playoffs. Or trying to beat Atlanta.