Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls
Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 12.05.2014
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 | 12.5.2014 | 9:30 a.m. CT
A lot of hype has been made about this Bulls team, and I suppose there should be. I know there had been injuries but a quarter through the season is a little late to be still saying... "it will come together." Imagine if Jimmy hadn't emerged! Anyway, is the issue continuity and acclimating to each other? After much hype about Cavs and Bulls it seems like it will more likely be next year than this for the Bulls and Cavs.
Sam: I know many fans don’t have time to watch an entire NBA season before they can begin celebrating a championship or condemning the coach and management. A season and a title is a journey. Did everyone forget that from the Bulls title years? Or the Grateful Dead? The year the Bulls won their first title in 1991 when that group had basically been together three years they were 12-7 through 19 games, the identical record the Bulls now have. It hardly means the Bulls will win, but this is a group with a new center, recovering point guard and two rookies playing. I’m not sure what the issue is. I actually think the Bulls have far surpassed expectations thus far with this record and numerous injuries and working in new players and managing minutes despite the league’s second most number of road games. You win championships in June and work up until that. The Bulls would seem well ahead of schedule to me.
At the beginning of the year you, like many others, thought McDermott would be getting more time than Mirotic and it's gone completely the other way. I know Taj's injury played a part in it but Mirotic just looks much more ready for the NBA. He may be this year's best rookie! (BTW the Bulls struck gold in the 2011 draft with Butler and Mirotic which was a very good draft). With players like Emmanuel Mudiay, Brandon Jennings and now Mirotic, do you see some of these top prospects playing overseas instead of college? Is money enough of a motivation to skip the big school experience? Competition and coaching wise there doesn't seem to be much of a difference.
Sam: You’re correct about McDermott/Mirotic, but that’s why the NBA plays the season rather than just using the preseason predictions. Most predictions are made using logic, or the best some people can find. It made sense McDermott would play more with Dunleavy starting at three and Jimmy Butler a shooting guard sort of without a shot. And with Gasol, Noah and Gibson maybe the best front line. But Jimmy goes nuts with Player of the Month (not even his family saw that) and Noah and Gibson are hurt. Plus, Pau misses a few games. As a result, McDermott never has gotten a chance to show what he can do. One or two shots in six minutes is no measure. Mirotic has produced and, I think, with his rebounding surprised even the people who knew him best. Sure, it would be great for the NBA if players could basically train in Europe and then come to the NBA, in effect, using Europe as a developmental league. But it’s never going to happen as players will come to the NBA as soon as possible for the money. With the economic conditions in Europe, it’s not as financially rewarding to play there as it was.
Rose takes 3s more than he takes floaters and yet he misses most of them. I hope he'd drive and take floaters. Those were his shots in his first few years.
Sam: Again, the season isn’t quite over yet. Before Rose was being criticized for not playing; he’s playing now after having gone through an ankle sprain and hamstring injury. So he’s not in full health and not pushing too hard so he won’t have a setback. So now you’re mad he’s not playing at 100 miles per hour? Obviously, having two injuries like that so early in the season has been a setback and has to limit the way anyone would play. Check out Noah; and Gibson before he went out the last six games. They were not quite at their previous levels fighting through injuries. And then imagine Rose trying to work back—and no one played more competitive basketball this summer than he did—and having two injuries like that when we know Rose just loves to drive. He’s taken a lot of threes lately as teams also have sagged off as everyone worries about the drive with Rose. So without his usual quickness, getting into the lane is more problematic. He’s staying in the games and working up to a higher level, which is what Thibodeau has encouraged given just Rose’s presence helps everyone’s spacing. And he’s had good stretches, like the start of the first half in Charlotte when he had 10 points with a pair of strong drives. But we know by now Rose is going to be micromanaged like no one ever; so it’s probably best he pay little attention to all of it.
I’m surprised about Nikola Mirotic's rebounding prowess. I thought he would be just any soft european player who cant bang bodies inside and get rebounds. With his current play, do you think Taj Gibson would be availble for a trade if some interesting offers come?
Sam: I know there’s this tremendous American xenophobia, but if you think players who play in Europe or overseas are “soft,” then you don’t watch any of those games, which I assume is possible. The only thing American players always are warned about in those overseas games is getting their heads beaten in by the tough play. Is Ginobili soft? Scola? Varejao? Splitter? Dikembe? Hakeem? Noah? We really didn’t know what to expect with Mirotic, so he’s shown a lot of elements to his play. But forget trading Gibson. The Bulls badly need him for their defense, especially with the health concerns involving Noah and to some extent Gasol. Mirotic is a rookie. He’ll have his time in the next few years.
Although you have mentioned repeatedly in your columns that the Bulls want Jimmy Butler and he wants to stay in Chicago beyond June 2015, it is fact that an agreement could not been reached before the start of this season. So, Jimmy will be a restricted free agent. Now Jimmy seems to have a career season, he has morphed into the go-to scorer of our team, having even double digit free-throw attempts in the majority of games lately. After being on the All-NBA second defense team last season, he now has been honored as the player of the month November of the Eastern conference. I guess it can be said that he is one of the very top two-way shooting guards in the whole NBA. I am pretty sure that he will be offered more than 40 million for four years by another team during free agency. What do you think, if Jimmy stays healthy and plays on the same level for the whole season, other teams might offer? What cap space are the Bulls having as a maximum after this season – will they be able to offer near to max contract figures to Jimmy?
Sam: As for the technical part, since Jimmy is a Bulls restricted free agent they can match any offer and go well above the cap. Your value is what someone will pay you; not what someone else gets. One issue Jimmy will have is unlike with Asik where teams knew the Bulls had Noah, teams know the Bulls have no other shooting guard and will match. So Jimmy might not even get an offer as when you make an offer to a restricted player it ties up your money for a while and are limited with other offers and you could lose other free agents while waiting for a team to match. And then there are a lot of teams that have money and likely interest, like the 76ers; would Jimmy really prefer to play there? Most of the good teams don’t have enough cap space to make an offer. The NBA landscape is set up for teams to have the edge in keeping their free agents. The Bulls did the right thing, in my view. They made a generous offer to Jimmy with media reports of $11 million, which would be almost 40 percent more than Taj Gibson’s annual deal for a guy who’d been a starter for one season. As I’ve written given I’m conservative financially, I would have taken it. But negotiations are about risk in all fields. That’s what investing is about. Players invest in themselves; that is their product. If you take a risk in an investment and it pays off, you should make more. The Bulls understood that. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone at the time who thought $11 million annually for Jimmy Butler wasn’t fair. Jimmy thus far has exceeded everyone’s expectations. So he could cash in. But there’s a long season to go and a market which doesn’t guarantee any offers given the restricted status. Indications remain both sides want to find a deal and when that’s the case it usually occurs.
I've sent you an email about Hinrich and Deng having their names in banners on the UC. Deng is gone and probably wont come back like Hinrich did. Where does Hinrich rank in the Bulls History? I know the honor of having the name in a banner is literally through the roof. But I can't really see another player, after the Michael's and Scottie's teams, that represent better the Bulls than Hinrich. Apologies to Derrick, not a question of talent, I'm pretty sure if Rose continue to do his thing he will get a banner, but Hinrich represents the toughness and resiliency that every Bulls fan love in the last decade. We sure werent the best team in the league on the last decade but we were a team that always played tough. Since Skiles and the baby Bulls through Derrick draft, Noah passion.... and Kirk was a big part of it for all these years.
Games - 664 (4th) Jerry Sloan is 3rd with 696.
Minutes - 21852 (6th) Probably end up at 4h, maybe 3rd.
FG - 2963 (9th) Probably can pass to 8th.
FGA - 7229 (7th) Probably can pass to 6th.
3FG - 993 (1st)
3FGA - 2624 (1st)
AST - 3664 (4th) Van Lier is 3rd with 3676.
STS - 817 (3rd)
TO - 1362 (4th)
PF - 2039 (4th)
PTS - 8177 (9th) Probably will pass to 8th.
AST/G - 5.5 (5th)
AST. PCT - 27.7 (3rd)
Defensive Win Share - 26.8 (8th)
Win Shares - 46.6 (10th)
Value Over Replacement Player - 14.6 (8th)
I know most of these stats are not as important as titles. But this is a guy that can easily end up with more games and minutes than anyone in Bulls History less Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Many may say that the Bulls had already paid him enough. But not many would take less money to be with a team. Ask most of the stars. Do you think he deserves it?
Sam: Probably not, and anyone who reads me knows my regard for Hinrich. The interesting part is how he is working himself up among the lists of franchise alltime greats. I’d probably honor more former players than the Bulls do, though not as many as the Celtics, who generally retire the number of any player who has ever eaten clam chowder with one of the owners. The Bulls unofficial standard has been being in the Basketball Hall of Fame, though there have been exceptions with Bob Love and Jerry Sloan under previous ownership and Jerry Krause. Artis Gilmore and Chet Walker are in the Hall of Fame, but haven’t been honored. Same with Rodman. Many ask about Norm Van Lier. It’s obviously arbitrary and certainly players on title teams could have cases made for them, like Horace Grant, Rodman and Bill Cartwright. As you note in your impressive work, Kirk’s had a terrific career for the Bulls and exemplifies the sort of person you want for your team, one who competes as he does and sacrifices for the team. The irony is the Bulls never even would have been interested in drafting him if not for Jay Williams’ motorcycle accident. I’m putting up a Hinrich banner in my basement and I suggest you do the same.
It turned out to be one of John Paxson's more inspired picks given the circumstances. That was the draft the Bulls thought they had Dwyane Wade locked up, the famous LeBron draft. It was set through four: LeBron, Darko, Carmelo and Bosh. Those teams were locked in. Pat Riley was set on a big man and wanted Chris Kaman at 5. The Clippers at 6 were going big and not interested in Wade. The undistinguished Chicago kid would go 7th to the Bulls in Paxson's first draft as general manager. But Riley's staff at the last minute talked him into Wade. The Clippers went for Kaman and the bottom dropped out for the Bulls, who were all in on Wade and didn't think they'd have tomake a different selection. They had to decide quickly as everything changed draft night and staff was divided among Jarvis Hayes, Mickael Pietrus, Michael Sweetney and Hinrich. There was heavy lobbying for each and Paxson made the last moment call for Hinrich.
Is Gasol in the MVP talk for the first quarter of the season? How about Butler?
Sam: Sure for Bulls MVP. Let’s remember the Bulls’ record isn’t in the league’s top 10.
So I was thinking about how the Spurs model is becoming a model that everyone is trying to copy in the NBA now. Everyone is trying to find that balanced team in which they can rest players and step it up in the playoffs. While this has worked out great for the Spurs, I believe you have to be a team of that caliber to pull that off. Thinking about this made me think of another similar example in the hip hop industry. Nas, a revolutionary and amazing rapper, had released an album titled Stillmatic in 2001. When making an album, the rapper usually writes the lyrics to a set of beats (or the music) that is created by the producer of the song/album. While the lyrics provide the meaning, the beats provided the feel for the song/album. Generally, there would be one producer for an entire album so it would have a uniform feel to it. In Stillmatic, Nas revolutionized the process by having numerous producers for the different songs creating a montage of different beats in one album. While Nas, like Popovich, did something completely different and made it work superbly, so many followed to try the same thing and created disjointed albums that didn't feel like one album. In the NBA, I feel like a lot of teams don't realize that you need that genius to successfully make this balance of minutes in regular season and playoffs. Teams/coaches don't realize how fortunate the Spurs have been to have this work for them, but also how talented the Spurs are to make this work for them. I feel that other teams trying this will also end up having a disjointed regular season/playoff picture in terms of how well their team transitions from one to the other vs teams that are consistent from the beginning.
Sam: I might have passed on this question/observation except for not ever having heard of Mr. Nas, though I know he is Pop’s favorite rapper. Society generally is about copying what is successful and sells. It always overlooks what is special because that cannot be duplicated. I remember when the Lakers were dominating in the 80s and everyone said you had to have a big point guard to counter Magic. So teams starting going after these 6-8 guards trying to make them point guards and, you know what, there was only one Magic. There’s only one Duncan. When you get a player like that you have a chance trying to follow the Spurs model.
Do you believe Derrick, deep inside, wanted Melo to become or Bull or did not want that? Also, I have a feeling Pau was a better fit, and not having Melo may have made Butler a better, more assertive player.
Sam: I truly believe Rose doesn’t care whom he plays with other than being supportive of whomever he is playing with. Like he says, he’s a baller. And hopes to go back to being that full time. The truth despite all the theories and conspiracies is the people connected with Rose worked as hard as anyone to help persuade Anthony to join the Bulls. Pau as well. They understand other than the health, the most important thing for Rose’s basketball future is to be with a championship team. It’s always been in Rose’s best interests to play with the most talent. It’s also why Rose personally doesn’t say much because of the implication of a lack of support for teammates. Anthony would have been great for the Bulls; he didn’t want to play for the Bulls. Gasol did and he’s been terrific.
Recently while watching Bulls games I've developed a theory that if Derrick Rose can regain his MVP form, the knee injuries while devastating at the time were quite possibly the best thing for the Bulls championship prospects moving forward for the following reasons: Player Development. With a heathy Rose, I don't believe Jo, Jimmy or Taj would have developed into the players they currently are; Draft Picks with a heathy Rose we would have most likely been a top 2 seed in the east, in effect pushing back our draft picks, possibly losing out on Snell and McDermott; Reliance on the team rather than the player (next man up culture). The Bulls know that if Derrick is out or having an off game they can still win. Am I wrong? Do you think we would have been better off with a heathy Derrick the past two years?
Sam: Your optimism should help you going through life, but Rose’s injuries were a disaster for the franchise in losing opportunities that may never again arise.
Right now Thibs is splitting the spot minutes between Doug in the first half and Snell in the second. Why not just commit to one of them?
Sam: Fans ought to appreciate it the way Thibs does it; he’s a results oriented guy. Yes, I thought McDermott would get the majority of the minutes among he, Snell and Mirotic. Mirotic has produced the best, so he’s gotten them. I don’t think there is any agenda with Thibs. You produce, you play. It’s difficult to say thus far that either McDermott or Snell has, though you could question how much they could do in their limited minutes. Perhaps it’s not fair, but neither are life and basketball. You make plays when you are in the game, I think Thibodeau has demonstrated that will earn you more playing time. And it’s not like a lot of contending teams are playing multiple rookies with Snell having played barely more than a rookie last season.
The Clips and Cavs interested in Kirilenko. We should be as well.
Sam: I’m not fully sure what’s going on with him, but it sounds like he’s going to Russia with love and has had his share of injuries. The Bulls trainers are busy enough.
If Butler continues to play this way, I'm [going to] have to wage my MVP campaign, and forget All-Star, which I already have going on my Facebook page. If Rose won it with 25 & 8 numbers, why can't Jimmy? His numbers aren't quite high yet but his defense makes up for it. His noted victims are Gordon Hayward, who averages 19.2 but was held to 6. Derozan, who averages 19.4 but held to 10, and Joe Johnson who averages 16 but held to 3, all effective at the time of this post. Again, I know it's waaaaaaaaay too early, so I'm emphasizing "if he continues."
Sam: Yes, way too early. It’s nice to have the excitement about Jimmy’s start, which is perhaps the biggest surprise of the NBA season thus far. I’m quite sure if you had the GMs do their famous preseason poll and had them pick the top 100 for November player of the month I’m certain Jimmy would not have made that list. Jimmy joked he just wanted to get on scouting reports. I noticed he’s there. The last two games defenders were really working him hard and teams were crowding him and he shot 14-32 and in 85 minutes got to the free throw line 13 times, far below his previous averages. It’s been good for the Bulls as it’s enabled other players to function well and gave the Bulls a chance for a sweep of the back to back. Jimmy’s built himself into a terrific player; no one saw this coming. He’s got a good chance to make the All-Star team, which really would be remarkable. He’s not an MVP candidate.
Do you think the Most improved player award is already locked for Jimmy Buttler?
Sam: First impressions do mean a lot with that award, and as long as Jimmy has a good season he’ll be the front runner whom someone will have to unseat.
Good thing the Bulls didn't listen to me about going after Lance Stephenson.
Sam: They’ve kept their record perfect in not listening to you; or me. As well as all the Eric Gordon fans. I don’t hear anything from them anymore, either.