Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 9.25.2015

On your mark, get set….Almost time to, as the new Fred Hoiberg era is supposed to go, hit the ground running. The Bulls report to the Advocate Center Monday — though most have been there for weeks on and off working out already — for media day interviews and then begin training camp practice sessions Tuesday. The first preseason game is Oct. 6 against new division rival Milwaukee. The first statement game? Anyway, here’s the last of my pre training camp Ask Sam features. There will be a few during Camp Fred and then it will be a weekly Friday feature once the regular season begins.

Just listened to your podcast. I saw Rose have some great games. Home against Portland comes to mind. However his 3 point shooting over the season was terrible. His turnover rate at times seriously hurt the team. He did not play defense on many occasions so statistically which these surveys are probably based placed him in the middle of the league. The season comes down to this. If Rose and Noah return to form the Bulls will be excellent with the same team. If they don't it will be like last year an early out in the middle of the playoffs. If Rose regains form he will be on all the top player lists. Still a big if.

--Art Newman

Sam: Yes, I am doing a weekly podcast this season at my web site where I do my book business, samsmithhoops.wordpress.com. This past week I believe I broke my own record for pausing and saying, “uh” between my many salient points. I probably need a script, but I’m sure everyone prefers what it’s like to speak with me in an elevator. Anyway, I spent considerable time talking about Derrick, as you note, and about the way the basketball world is mostly dismissing him. Yes, it’s understandable given the three years of injuries. Sports Illustrated with an NBA rating feature had Rose ranked 60th best player in the league. Another basketball site had him 13th best point guard. If your fantasy league has Rose ranked 60th, pick him and I guarantee you win the league.

It’s speculation for all of us, of course. I go by a few things, mainly Rose being able to train without coming off surgery for the first time since 2011 and that inner drive hearing how he’s being so widely dismissed. I’m not yet likening it to Michael Jordan in 1995, but Jordan’s poor shooting when he returned from baseball and being downgraded that summer after Nick Anderson’s infamous No. 45 is not No. 23 comment helped drive Jordan to lead the Bulls to the greatest season in sports history. I’m not suggesting Rose will do that, but I wouldn’t want to be many of those now top rated point guards against Rose this season. I ran into John Calipari at the Hall of Fame enshrinement a few weeks ago, and he was raving about Rose’s attitude and condition in talks with him during the summer. Calipari kept saying regarding Rose, “It’s on.” I think that’s positive. But I do agree, a lot depends on Rose and Noah returning to high level form if not quite MVP candidates. I believe both will; so then we can blame Hoiberg.

I was going through some old emails and saw this proposal I made about a year ago (Kobe for Butler and Taj). What a difference a year makes! Jimmy is an All-Star and getting better. Do we now take a chance on reuniting Kobe with Pau and trading DRose? What if that's where Rose wants to end up anyway? Rose could thrive outside of the hometown pressure. Both players are risk of injury yes, but Kobe is a proven playoff megastar, like Pau. Milk the season with Snell, McDermott and Mirotic, etc. and then make a big push, maybe add another veteran later. Pau's time is now, not next year.

--Ken Kochman

Sam: Well, that was a short period of support for Rose. To digress, though, even I’m done with the Kobe trade scenarios. I came up with one last season for Washington to make a run, and Kobe broke down again, the third year in a row. Even Congress made fun of me. Anyway, Kobe is certainly Laker for life now, which may just be a few more months. Few expect him to get through another full season. I’m fairly sure I didn’t publish your suggestion from last season, and wouldn’t have now except I still do not fully get this desire to move on from Rose. Obviously for someone like Kobe is ludicrous.

But I do know this: Without Rose the Bulls have zero chance to be a contending team and would likely have to rebuild. Butler has become a deserving All-Star, but he’s still not at the offensive level yet to draw a double team. No one on the team is but Rose. A healthy Rose, of course, and there’s no reason to believe otherwise at this point given he played close to 40 minutes per game in last season’s playoffs and came through healthy and averaging 20. I can see Rose and Butler, the latter with his two-way play, even overtaking Curry and Thompson as the elite backcourt of the NBA. The Bulls are quietly going through a transition period as well, trying to move into the rotation three or four players with almost no regular playing experience. That will mean setbacks and learning curves. And remember Pau broke down in last season’s playoffs. Rose, now a veteran, will be as important to the Bulls success this season as ever. Even more than Kobe to the 18-win Lakers.

I hope Coach/Mayor Hoiberg gives Pau more plays. I mean let him do his thing and not handcuffed his true skills. I know he is 35 but wow his skill set can outgrow his age. Feed Pau more!

--Rollen Decazur

Sam: The big dog ate pretty well last season. Actually, I expect we’ll see less of Pau. He had a fabulous Eurobasket tournament in leading Spain to qualify for the 2016 Olympics without his brother Marc playing. Pau was as dominant as perhaps he’d ever been in his basketball career, averaging almost 26 points per game on a team scoring maybe 60 or 70 points per game.

Everyone is moving on from Tom Thibodeau, but no one can say Thibodeau underutilized Pau. Pau led the NBA in double/doubles and had the second most play calls for him on the team after Jimmy Butler. Pau’s playoff hamstring injury seemed a fluke and not connected to him leading the team in total minutes played during the season despite going on 35 years old. But that’s probably over for various reasons. The Bulls likely will play more guys, divide more center time between Pau and Joakim Noah and build Pau’s minutes toward the playoffs like the Spurs do with Tim Duncan. It doesn’t mean Pau won’t have great moments, but likely not as many as last season during the regular season.

As old as Pau Gasol is, having him come off the bench would not be smart.

--Kieron Smith

Sam: I suspect Pau will be the starter, but we’re going to hear a lot of that who finishes thing being more important. Except when the third quarter spurt group is important as well. There aren’t many personnel changes for the Bulls this season, but there are plenty of storylines and second guessing potential. Hoiberg has been a flexible coach in college who adjusted well to his talent virtually every season. You figure Pau will start because with older players it’s usually better not to let them rest after warmups and bring them into the game after the start. With eight or nine potential starters, I suspect we will hear a lot of the diminishing importance of the starting lineup. Except in the media.

Can you analyze the Bulls coaching staff and the x-factor they will play if any? Will Jim Boylen be the defensive guru like Tex Winter was for PJ's offenses? Does Hoiberg have any history with this coaching staff beyond his assistant Charlie Henry from Ames?

Dan Wagner

Sam: The Other Boleyn Boy is regarded for his defense (not the Jim Boylan who was a Scott Skiles assistant and interim after Skiles was fired and now on the Cavs staff). But at this point it’s difficult to analyze what they will or can do because no one has seen them in their roles. Thibodeau was a micromanager type head coach and didn’t allow his assistants to coach during games or in practices, which Thibodeau ran. The assistants did more scouting, preparation and one on one work with assigned players. But they were competent. So we’ll see how Hoiberg utilizes his assistants. Boylen is well regarded around the NBA, and coming from the Spurs staff is usually a plus. Pete Myers returns after working with Mark Jackson in Golden State. Pete is one of the best in the NBA relating to players, a former role player not afraid to get in guys’ faces but who is also popular among players. Randy Brown moves down from the front office and has a long history with the Bulls and Mike Wilhelm is the only holdover from Thibodeau’s staff as one of the best advance scouts in the league. I don’t know Charlie Henry, though he should be easy to be around as you probably can call him by either name. From last season, Ed Pinckney went to Denver with video expert Dice Yamamoto. Adrian Griffin joined Skiles in Orlando and Andy Greer went to Toronto. It seems like a good staff, but it always comes down to the head coach since he selects the restaurants on the road.

You know, after finally getting time to read the mailbag, last season is coming back to me. I keep thinking Snell is going to become a very good player. He needs to find his niche and when he does, he will pour it on...I hope. I think Noah is the perfect leader for the new incarnation of the bench mob. I also believe that if the Bulls are to find greatness, it will be through a dominating bench as opposed to their starters. So, when the starters take the court, the bench will be cheering, "Hold 'em!"

--William Kochneff

Sam: Perhaps not exactly, but one of Gregg Popovich’s secrets in plain sight has been the way he builds a bench and employs them and trusts them so much during the regular season that he can rest his starters so much and still win so many games. He doesn’t have better reserves than other teams, and he loses guys regularly. But his players abide by their system of play and he relies on them and trusts them. It’s a big part of coaching (and running any successful business), making your employees feel a part of the organization and success and trusting them and taking an interest in their fate. Popovich does that well and that will be a task for Fred Hoiberg, which I think he is up to the way he has coached in college and worked with teammates. Reggie Miller, for one, talks up Fred as a teammate like few players he ever has played with.

I'm very excited to read that Toni Kukoc is rejoining the organization. What will his position be exactly? He was always one of my favorite Bulls players. Is there a good chance he will make the HOF? I'm hoping yes since he did a lot in his career between the Bulls, NBA and Croatia basketball.

--Ateeq Ahmad

Sam: I believe Toni initially will be in something of an ambassador role like Scottie Pippen. But I believe the Bulls and Kukoc have other possibilities being considered when they see how things work out. I wrote about Toni as a Hall of Fame candidate last season. Initially, you think sixth man, international, and sort of shrug. But when you consider his international accomplishments of multiple championships and MVPs and a 12-year NBA career, three title teams as an important part and part of that 76ers team that went to the Finals (though he was traded during the season) and seeing some of the deserving international players in the Hall of Fame like Sabonis, Marciulionis and Petrovic, then Kukoc should definitely be added.

Has there ever been consideration of creating an NBA Hall of Fame separate from the current Naismith Hall of Fame in Springfield that considers accomplishments from basketball leagues other than the NBA? Personally, I think it would be cool to start from scratch with a new NBA HOF and try to make it a fan destination similar to what Cooperstown is for baseball fans. I've never been to Springfield, so maybe I'm selling it short, but I don't often hear it spoken of the same way that Cooperstown or even Canton are. It would be fun to debate who should be in the first class.

--Dan Michler

Sam:It’s tough to match baseball with its history. I’ve been to all the major sports halls of fame and none stand out like baseball. Except the bowling one in St. Louis since you get to bowl. But basketball is pretty good. Can’t say much for the night life in Springfield or Vinny Del Negro being its most famous citizen, but the Basketball Hall of Fame ranks with the others for memorabilia and history. The difference with Cooperstown is the way it was built—also with nothing to do there—for the memorabilia industry with so many souvenir shops and Pete Rose selling autographs much of the year.

Springfield doesn’t have any of that, but neither does Canton. I’ve been to the hockey one in Toronto. Best city for halls of fame, but you’d hardly know it was there unless you stumbled into it. It’s got a lot of sweaters and old looking socks. There aren’t really many huge omissions from Springfield, and they eventually catch up. I actually like the touch with international players, officials and women now being added. I’d hate to see just the NBA celebrated when it should be all of basketball. It seems there are enough daily arguments on the best ever that you won’t need to start a Hall of Fame again to add to that. The Hall of Fame, by the way, started in 1959 before Wilt, Russell and Oscar. And since many here in Chicago believe basketball began in 1984, it’s probably not a good time to pick a first class.

(Your) column on the overlooked Bulls candidates for the Naismith HOF: As I read it I couldn't help thinking it would be nice if the Bulls had their own HOF, with dioramas and bios of great contributors through the years around the United Center...I grew up with Norm Van Lier, Jerry Sloan, Bob Love, Chet Walker and Tom Boerwinkle. I suppose some of those guys won't rate a place in the Naismith Hall of Fame, but for Bulls fans of the 70s and 80s, they were special and their body of work has survived the decades. I'm glad you brought up the announcers, too. Red Kerr's analysis was as good as any national color guy and a lot more fun. Doug Collins was (is) able to analyze games, teams and individual performers in substantive depth without being insulting. And Stacey King may be the best of them all, combining deft analysis with a wonderful sense of humor.

--Kirk Landers

Sam: Stacey needs a nickname. King Stacey the First? The Sunny King? The Bulls have done a few statues and busts with Pippen and Johnny Kerr. They actually have murals outside their locker room of most of those players from the 70s. Unfortunately, they are not in fan areas. I would like to see them do more to acknowledge some of those men and the organization likely will do so this season as it’s the anniversary of the 50th season in franchise history. I’ll be doing historic stories and I know the organization has several things planned they’ll be announcing as the season progresses. I do believe it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate your history. I’ll be writing a history piece for the season program and there were some great stories with the start of the franchise. I’ll look forward to sharing them, like the time when the hypnotist hired by management just about destroyed a season. That’s no Bull.