Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 6.17.2016
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
By Sam Smith | 6.17.2016 | 10:03 a.m. CT
Iggy is hurting now. Need Curry and Green to wake up in game 7.
Sam: Game 7! Yeah. I still expect Golden State to win. The Cavs have followed the formula the last few games few have mastered during the regular season of blitzing on defense and dominating the boards, pretty much what the Thunder did until they were up 3-1. Plus, LeBron started to play. Though he gets so much credit for playing the right way, he doesn’t too often, and didn’t until Game 5. When you are that physically dominant you have to exert yourself. It was stunning to watch his indifference getting into the lane and passing in Game 4. Game 6 at the end of the third quarter was telling. The Warriors got within eight as Irving was out and LeBron went back to shooting those fadeaways when he wasn’t passing to guys who can’t shoot. He then realized he was a quarter away from losing and attacked the basket, attacked rebounds, attacked on defense.
That’s what truly defines greatness, and LeBron was great in that way. The way he padded his stats driving for layups at the end of Game 4 with the outcome decided was embarrassing. It’s what truly separates him from players like Jordan or Kobe or Bird or West. He’s probably more talented overall, but he doesn’t want to take over he game often enough when he has to. The defense many made for years with LeBron not wanting the last shot was he was making the right basketball play. It’s not when your team needs you to carry them. That’s why you are greater than the sum of their parts. You play with them for three quarters, and then you carry them home. LeBron demurred too often from that obligation. He didn’t in Game 5 and 6, and that’s why the Cavs suddenly have a chance when most, including me, figured they had almost no chance at all. This is good stuff.
I wanted to know your opinion around this rumored deal between Wolves and Bulls regarding Butler. What I've read in multiple news outlets is Wolves want to offer no.5 pick and a role players for Butler. I can't see the Bulls accepting that deal. I've read the Bulls would only consider a package with Wiggins and the no.5 pick for Butler. That to me sounds like a great deal for the Bulls and I see more upside in Wiggins than Butler, but I don't see why the Wolves would pull the trigger on that one. What are your thoughts on this? Not only if there's any truth to this, as well as if any scenario is acceptable for both teams.
Sam: The Bulls, according to sources who may or may not know, are letting it be known they’d be willing to trade the No. 14 pick in the draft for Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s what you hear around, as Donald Trump might say. There’s certainly nothing to this alleged Timberwolves stuff other than the obvious one-plus-one that Tom Thibodeau formerly coached the Bulls and Jimmy Butler and the Timberwolves have enough young players and would like a veteran. They may as well have said they were willing to part with the No. 5 pick for Stephen Curry for all the possibility that exists.
First of all if the Bulls were looking to trade Butler, which I strongly believe they are not, then they certainly could do better than No. 5 in a two or three top player draft. I’m sure the Lakers at No. 2 would prefer a two-time All-Star to another teenager years away from making an impact, and probably the 76ers as well with all their young guys. So if you were the Bulls and you were talking to the Timberwolves –and I assume the Bulls missing the playoffs have to explore options with every team—this is what you’d say: We have a two-time All-Star and a player who has a good chance to play for USA Basketball in the Olympics. Is that in Zach Lavine’s future? Probably not. The No. 5 pick? Probably not, and if so, maybe in five years. Andrew Wiggins is closer, but really not even close to being an All-Star. OK, he can make a national team, but not the U.S.’s. So Wiggins, sure, but you’d have to add way more than him given Wiggins is two to three years away from even being at Butler’s All-Star and all-defensive level. Plus, Wiggins has yet to even play in one meaningful game in his NBA career compared with Butler. So maybe Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng since Minnesota has three centers and the No. 5 pick. And the Timberwolves still would be getting the best player in the deal and the biggest uptick in the short term. If the talks started there maybe the Timberwolves also have to throw in a future draft pick and then you may have something. When you read a rumor like that you can begin to take it seriously. Butler for No. 5 and a role player is not even worth mentioning as serious other than a team oriented leak to curry favor with media and maybe try to embarrass another team by putting their top player in trade discussions.
The rumor of Jimmy Butler being traded make me nervous. I do not know what management wants to do if they act on this. Losing Butler means missing the playoffs, and the next few years trying to rebuild. I cannot do another rebuilding as a Bulls fan. From 1999-2008 it was rough. Finally got a competitive team, then things fell apart. Im hearing a Wiggins and a 5th pick for Butler? Not saying Wiggins is bad, but hes the type of player that still needs to develop. And then hope in 2 years the team is a contender? I hope the Bulls have a win now mentality. Not another project that may not even work out. Likely losing Gasol and Noah anyways. Will Butler be in a Bulls uniform next year?
Sam: I tend to believe the reports of the Bulls death have been greatly exaggerated. I’ve been somewhat surprised at the media hectoring regarding the Bulls, that missing the playoffs last season was tantamount to the league’s worst season ever. Injuries, yadda, yadda, yadda. I know no one wants to accept that. But this woe-is-them-the-end-is-near media hysteria has been way over the top. Sure, there are some issues with player compatibility, a new coach and his views versus players who are comfortable with something else. When you go for it you add veterans. It only looks good when you get there. I don’t believe we’ll ever again see the Bulls do that 2001 go-with-the-kids for the future blow-it-up thing because it generally is a disaster and only works if you stumble into a superstar. Did the 76ers? The Jazz? We’ll see with the Timberwolves, though it’s been a decade out of the playoffs. Some of this talk makes me think of current politics. There’s been this mad as hell, throw the bums out movement in recent years reflecting voter frustration. So you vote in extreme left and right views. The result: Do you think today’s candidates are preferable. When you start over with radical change it can get worse, a lot worse.
Though the Bulls don’t have a great history in free agency, it’s still better than most. Boozer was an All-Star and Olympian when he was signed; Pau Gasol was offered deals by the league’s best teams. Free agents do come to Chicago. LeBron didn’t. Remember, Kobe Bryant was practically begging the Lakers to send him to Chicago. The center situation is an issue coming into next season, as I’ve discussed in previous Ask Sams. It will remain so as we head into July. But given the generally unspectacular nature of the East—sure LeBron is great, but into his 30s now, and Kyrie Irving always has stumbled against Derrick Rose—competing soon doesn’t take too much. I expect Jimmy to be a big part of that. The Bulls will get a good draft pick, they have young players who have talent in Mirotic, McDermott and Portis, and they should be able to add a good free agent. Who isn’t that enough against? Atlanta? Toronto? Indiana? It will be like last season again in that going into the last month of the regular season you could be ninth or third. But with substantial salary cap flexibility of perhaps $60 million or more after next season, I see the Bulls able to build from what they have rather than tear down.
If Bulls go along and trade Rose/Butler, you can kiss the playoffs goodbye. Not every point guard suddenly plays like how Rose plays whenever he's not injured, and not every SG/SF plays like Jimmy's done the last 4 or 5 seasons now. So trading shouldn't be in our favor regarding them two.
Sam: Yes, there have been rumors regarding Rose, which both make more sense and less sense. Rose has just one year left on his contract—Jimmy has several at what is a reasonable price in this NBA, which makes him even more valuable and unlikely to be traded—and teams need to try to get something for players if they can rather than lose them for nothing. You used to be able to hold onto players like that and do a sign and trade. But everyone has cap room now, so sign and trades are less likely. They couldn’t trade Noah last season as he got hurt too soon. They chose not to with Gasol because Noah was hurt and didn’t want to give up, and I favor that. Plus, there wasn’t much to get as teams were mostly looking to dump bad, long term deals on the Bulls for Gasol to tie up Bulls cap room in upcoming seasons. You can’t do that for role players. I see Rose as unlikely to be traded as Butler, though for different reasons. Rose with a year left, a salary above $20 million and an injury history would be risky for any team to take on. Some teams would, certainly, but they would be in no position to offer anything of substance given the uncertainties and Rose committed to free agency after next season. Plus, reports about Rose working out in California have been sanguine after not having to do knee rehabilitation for the first summer in four years. Rose seems primed for a good season. Plus—and I don’t expect Aaron Brooks to return—the Bulls have no other point guard even on the roster in a poor point guard draft.
If you were getting a starting point guard, sure, but if you’re not—and who’s giving a starting point guard or center for a one season risk with Rose?—why would you give up what promises to be a good season from Rose. Maybe you’re cynical and say he’s just doing it for free agency—I don’t believe that as I’ve seen nothing but his motivation to regain a healthy career—and if you do, OK, why not take advantage of that? Rose and Butler both averaged 20 per game in the playoffs in 2015. There’s no reason they can’t do that again. I know all this can’t play together stuff, and Fred Hoiberg’s system. But I know from Hoiberg’s team at Iowa State and philosophy that he prefers to adjust to his players' strengths. Rose shouldn’t have played the first month after his facial fracture, but he did. Butler probably came back too soon after his knee injury and wasn’t the same post All-Star break. I’d like to see them take a shot at one more full season together.
I’m reading all these trade Rumors about Butler and I’m asking myself the question: First of all, these are just rumors and the idea of trading butler could be bitter/sweet depending on what they get in return and how those players turn out. Anyway, the question I ask myself is: Why would the Bulls trade a potential superstar player with a very friendly long-term deal moving into the future just to make players happy such as (Rose-Noah-Gasol) who are not part of the Bulls long-term (and for that matter short-term with Gasol) Plans anyway? They have the 14th pick this month plus cap space to add a decent player this year and even more cap space (over 30 million next off-season when Rose & Gibson come off the Books). Chicago would still be an attractive place to play for free-agents in 2017 with Butler-McBuckets-Felcio-Portis-The 14th pick this year along with Mirotic ?
Sam: I don’t believe the Bulls are considering deals to accommodate other players. Any players. But the point is credible. This has been one season of missing the playoffs after being the only serious threat to the Cavs in the East. You never should overreact to one season no matter the circumstances. This is an unusual year because of so much coming financial flexibility, and a much superior free agent class in 2017. It makes little sense for some sort of overhaul—even less sense for a meltdown plan with draft picks since the draft is freshman and teenagers now years away from producing seriously for a contending team—after one season in which, sure, you missed the playoffs. But you played above .500 with losing four regulars for a month or more each and were still just a few games behind the third place team with several of those teams, like Atlanta, perhaps in position to lose major components. It’s not as bad as many portray it, though until you improve you have to live with that characterization.
I just read a piece (from a fan, not someone with an editor) that laid out some stats for Rose this year. While examining the period from New Years to April (when the elbow injury happened) it turns out that Rose shot 40% on spot up 3s during that time. This got me thinking about his fit with Jimmy, who modeled his game after Kobe and MJ. Both those players lived in the paint, had point guards that were good spot up shooters and who mostly handled the ball long enough to get them the ball in their spots. Also, both were strong defenders. Rose apparently can hit spot up 3s pretty well now. He can defend too. Pax knows it and that's why he was so upset at the end of season press conference. I think he's still good enough to be the top dog on a good team, but for this team maybe it's better if he plays that role vice the, "your turn my turn" stuff that's been happening so far.
Sam: Rose actually began to shoot the three pretty well before his 2012 ACL injury. I remember a scout telling me earlier that season they were looking at him as undefendable as his percentage went up into the mid 30s. Of course, all that changed with multiple knee injuries. I don’t ever expect him to be a knock down Curry/Thompson three-point shooter, but you make a mistake by trying to copy the best. They are aberrations. It’s why the league staggered with Magic. Everyone felt they needed big point guards. Pete Myers told me he was grateful because he felt he got drafted because he was a 6-6 guard and everyone was looking for Magic countering guards back then. You can’t duplicate what Curry and Thompson do because not only do they do it so well, but no one basically ever has like that.
I’d still take my chances with Rose and Butler and mid range play if the Bulls cannot find a shooting guard now and can’t move Jimmy to small forward. The wing positions are fairly interchangeable, anyway. Jimmy’s an established two-way player who can guard the league’s best scorers and have an effect. Trade him and who’s doing that? Which is enough reason not to. Rose still has that explosive burst, and it should be better coming off this summer with no injuries at the end of last season. Two pointers still count. The Bulls used to average about 110 per game without shooting many threes. The Celtics averaged more than that and shot none in their dynasty era. The Rockets adopted this shoot-only-threes thing a few years back and have continued to regress. Shooting those threes are great as the math works for you, but only if you make them and don’t get beaten on fast breaks all the time with those long rebounds. The Bulls have three-point shooters in McDermott, Dunleavy and Mirotic. Butler and Rose are scorers. Butler gets to the free throw line enough to offset the difference in three vs two, and Rose can improve on that. Rose has shown he can defend as he’s had big games defensively against the likes of Irving and Wall, among other top guards. The Bulls made a point of asking him to do more on that end, and he’s always been a willing teammate. I expect him for a lot of reasons to be more tuned in this season, if also because it feels a lot better to play when you feel a lot better.
We’ve speculated about the possibilities of Butler and Rose as an elite backcourt. With Butler’s scoring ability and defense and Rose’s speed and power there’s no reason to believe they cannot. You always hear this dislike issue, which is a fallback when things go bad. Some of the best teammates in NBA history barely got along, from Cousy and Russell to Kobe and Shaq, and they produced many titles along the way. Just respect the other guys’ play, and there’s no indication Butler and Rose cannot do that.
Is the post up game not reliable anymore? Can it be revived?
Sam: If I had Kareem, I’d be using it extensively. The so called evolution of the NBA has been, in large part, because the big kids growing up these days determine what position they play. Once if you were tall you were told to go inside and learn to play out of the post. Now if a coach tries that with touring AAU teams and kids able to switch high schools—years ago you could only play in the high school in your district or not at all—the kid leaves. Same with college. And now the big kids like to shoot. Kevin Durant is seven feet tall. So they grow up now facing up and shooting. They’re the best players, so they decide where and how they want to play and switch teams until they can do so. Thus players often don’t learn or try to be postup players. But the game changes with the talent. If a player comes along like Shaq who prefers to play inside, then you play him inside. That game still works. If Wilt is shooting 70 percent inside, then that should offset 50 percent on threes. There are plenty of ways to win, and while three points still counts more than two, baskets from one foot still are easier than from 23. Or should be. Another issue is the guys who become inside big men today—your DeAndre Jordan types—aren’t very good basketball players and end up there because of their size (as it used to be) but don’t bother to develop skill. So they can’t make a free throw or shoot a hook shot (assuming they knew what it was) or develop an inside approach. The post up game is just awaiting it’s second coming.
Make up call on Green for not suspending him when he actually did something
Sam: Yes, there was something to that. I hate to see guys suspended in the playoffs as the Amar’s Stoudemire and to a lesser extend Scott Williams with the Bucks in 2001 were two of the more egregious and unnecessary and series changing suspensions. So Curry plays Sunday. Enough with the technicalities. Yes, a physical assault I understand. And this time Green didn’t do much egregious, but he clearly took yet another shot at an opponent’s groin area and I have no general objection. I would have fined him $500,000, but I’m not sure if that was even allowed in the collective bargaining agreement. It’s clear Green has been a dirty player at times throughout these playoffs and allowing his edge to go over it. I’ve heard Warriors people in key positions (not coaches) privately express exasperation of being tired of Green’s act as selfish and hurting the team by continually trying to draw attention to himself. You won’t hear that publicly, obviously, and it’s still meant success for the Warriors. The NBA probably had to do it even if I’d rather not see these playoff suspensions. After all, a foul isn’t always a foul even in a game.