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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 5.27.2016
Sam Smith opens his mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers
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By Sam Smith | 5.27.2016 | 10:30 a.m. CT
I was a little surprised that OKC pounded GS that badly (in games 3 and 4). Series is becoming interesting. What does 73-9 mean without the ring? Let’s ask Harp! Not so surprised that Toronto beat the Cavs (after 10 straight W’s). Every team has a clunker now-and-then. What do you think about Draymond Green kicking Steven Adams? I can see where it was probably unintentional… but Adams says it’s not the first time he’s done it, so I wonder…
Sam: They ain’t dead yet? On to Oklahoma City. Having a 3-1 lead in a series makes a difference if you have two home games left. But if the leading team has just one, they better get game six because not many win game seven on the road. There’ll be plenty of second guessing critics if the Warriors lose: Pushed too hard for the record 73; see, jump shooting teams really can’t win; Curry is hurt; got too full of themselves. Many have long said—and I agreed—the Thunder probably has the league’s most talented roster. But why they kept blowing those fourth quarter leads was because Durant and Westbrook, so confident, reverted to believing either could win it and just getting into a pop-a-shot game. There’s even more talent there now with the maturation of Adams and Kanter for a full season. They have better big guys, like McGary, on inactive than many teams have starting. As many have said but obviously few did, you counter the Warriors not by trying to outshoot or outsmall them because they are the best at that, but with size, which the Thunder has done some. Durant and Westbrook match anyone on talent, but the Thunder not only had the plan—as many have had—to play the Warriors physically, grabbing and hitting and switching and trapping, so credit to them for actually and finally doing it. Though they eased off that in Game 5 in Golden State.
Though it was close, the Thunder departed from their physical play and defensive activity, almost like they couldn’t wait to get back to Oklahoma City. But that’s risky. It probably cost the Knicks the 93 conference finals after they went ahead 2-0 on the Bulls. All they talked about instead of going in to stomp on the Bulls neck was just trying to get one and get one. They got none and the Bulls came back from 0-2 to win four straight. We’ll see who these Thunder players are. Not that we could see it coming during the regular season as they played guys like Kyle Singler all season and now not at all. Plus, we’re seeing some of why Green was a second round pick and that all the gms aren’t idiots. He had this reputation at Michigan State of erratic and out of control emotional behavior that scared off a lot of teams for a 6-6 power forward. Credit to him for turning himself into an elite player and taking advantage of the system to work for his skills. The kick with a follow through seemed intentional as Adams is bothersome and many say employs some cheap shots, sort of like Bogut. I applaud the commissioner for not overreacting and not letting the game be decided by the league office as in David Stern’s worst decision to allow Robert Horry to assault Steve Nash and lure the Suns into fatal suspensions and shift the destiny of a series. Of course, the way Green played in Game 4, the Warriors were the ones appealing to have him suspended.
I saw a report that said Noah has been telling bulls teammates he's done in Chicago?
Sam: I think you probably misread that. I heard that Noah feels it’s fun in Chicago and that the city is not outdone when it comes to cinnamon buns. Not done. Some media people get misinformation because of lousy cell phone connections, so perhaps it was something misheard. I doubt Noah or the Bulls have any idea yet what they’d like to or plan to do with six weeks until free agency. But this I do know as it’s never happened in the history of the NBA: No free agent has even given up the potential leverage of a contract offer from his own team before entering free agency by declaring himself an outsider with that team. Especially because the home team can pay more and offer more years, and certainly a player like Noah older than 30 isn’t going to risk not getting an offer from not only his team but the team that can pay him the most. Even Dwight Howard after basically going on TV saying he got his coach fired and had myriad other destinations didn’t dismiss the Magic. It would otherwise make no economic sense, and we know it’s the economy, stupid. Noah might leave; the Bulls may want to make personnel changes and move on. Though none of that has been decided yet. The one thing we can be sure of is there is no way Noah has unilaterally eliminated any team, especially the Bulls.
I saw it written the Bulls should trade Butler or Rose. Reluctantly, I agree. Butler would be easier to trade because of his lengthy contract period. Do you agree? Offhand, I would think it would be easier to trade someone with only $21 million guaranteed than someone with $65 guaranteed. Money aside, Rose strikes me as a skillful player but one who would benefit from a change of scenery.
Sam:I’m an old sentimentalist, as everyone suspects, and yes I know it’s a business and all that. But I still hate the idea that a guy gets hurt playing for you, and several times, and the answer is to dump him on someone else. Thanks for the memories. Forget it, Rose is not being traded. Not because teams are sentimental like I am. No one is taking that salary with that injury history. And with just a year left so if he has a good season you have no claim on him. So you can’t afford to give up much of anything even if you were interested. As I have been writing, heading into free agency and coming off no surgery for the first time in four years, Rose is primed to have his best season since then. So why rush to trade him now? Why not take advantage of that after waiting four years? Plus, you can’t always assume every team but yours is stupid. So a team looks at the Bulls roster and thinks, “They’re trading Rose and they don’t have another point guard on the roster. Sure, that makes sense. There must be nothing wrong with him.” There really isn’t, but not even with the hint of a replacement who would give you anything at all for Rose knowing you are willing to trade him when you don’t have any replacement? Or even really a shooting guard as I still believe Butler is better suited to small forward, which he was until the Bulls ran out of shooting guards. As for Butler, I do not see any deal and I would not trade him. He just made all-defense again, he’s a 20-point scorer and All-Star. How the heck are you replacing that? You finally groom an All-Star and you want to cash him in for teenagers as he’s entering his prime? What’s the hurry? This Eastern Conference playoffs has proven to me that last season for the Bulls was more aberration than pattern. I know everyone hates talking about injuries, but, hey, they had big ones: Noah, Butler, Dunleavy, Mirotic all gone a month or more. C’mon, that’s no factor? Next man up? Which man? Rose spends the first month looking through one eye, Gibson out again, Gasol late; they’re going down the stretch starting Felicio and Holiday. C’mon. I still have the Cavs better than anyone, but hardly unbeatable. The Bulls just about had them last year; the Raptors, hardly a monolith and rumored that DeRozan might leave, are No. 2? The East is still very gettable and I’d be tweaking rather than terminating for now.
Do you see Butler staying? I'd consider Lavine and 5th pick.....and whatever else it would take. Lavine is not the PG Minny has tried to make him. Yes, I know we'd lose any hope in guarding Lebron by trading Butler but Butler hasn't helped us get by Lebron anyways. Get Lavine, draft Jaylen Brown. Maybe they'll have cap space to get a vet. Can't we dream?
Sam: From everything I hear, the Timberwolves have their Big Three as basically untouchable for now. You want Shabazz Mohammad? No problem. But before you decide you want to strip down the Bulls’ roster for this bounty known as draft picks, let’s go through an exercise. Say someone gives you five top five draft picks in the next five years for your top player. Not only is that not even allowed (teams cannot trade consecutive No. 1 picks), but no one would do so because with the crazy salaries about to explode, teams are hanging onto their high lottery picks for talented players with built in low salaries for at least four years. But let’s pick a draft number, say, No. 3 overall or No. 4 overall. I’m even leaving out the top one/two draft busts from the last five years of Anthony Bennett, Derrick Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Say you waited five years to have the No. 3 overall pick each season. You’d have Enes Kanter, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor. That’s five years and do you have one All-Star? Close? OK, how about the No. 4 pick every year for the last five years: Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Cody Zeller, Alex Gordon and Kristaps Porzingis. None of these three/four picks were considered out of order like Bennett. Yeah, Porzingis is a nice piece. Okafor may be. Beal, who now wants a maximum contract, has been hurt every season. Sure, you can get some great talents in the draft. But with the players so young and inexperienced and immature, it’s a long term project and uncertain even if you have high lottery picks. So be very, very careful before you start discarding All-Star talent because things may have not gone right for one season or you want change. Sometimes change makes things worse.
I was thinking about the NBA drafts in the past the other day and it occurred to me that despite some weak picks near the top, the 2011 draft was pretty amazing! Kyrie Irving, Valanciunas, Kemba Walker, Brandon Knight, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic, Butler, Niko, Kenneth Faried, Chandler Parsons, Reggie Jackson and the last pick: Isaiah Thomas, who is really good. Not to mention some rotation guys like the Morris twins, Etwaun Moore, Kyle Singler, Bogdanovic, Shumpert, Alec Burks, Tristan Thomson, and Enis Kanter...I think top to bottom this is one of the best!
Sam: I’m not suggesting the draft won’t help a team, and this is a good list with some players you’d love to have. Several, as you note, were No. 14 of below, so the Bulls should be able to add a good player from this draft. Also because the Bulls season was a disappointment—good enough to be a Western Conference playoff team, however, as I always note—it puts a hex on some players. From outside as well, which is why you don’t make many moves now as teams devalue your players. Whatever criticisms observers had about Nikola Mirotic, he came on strong and shot 45 percent from three-point after the All-Star break, which was among the best in the league. And that was his first full season as a regular. Similarly, Doug McDermott was in his first full season in the rotation, little more than rookies. He averaged 11.4 points after the All-Star break. These are young players just starting out. They’re better than most of the projected top draft picks, at least for now. Felicio came on and let’s see more of Bobby Portis, who showed aggression and a shot. Now just add some discipline and maybe a full season in the rotation. The cupboard isn’t bare. Unless you panic. Or think it is.
So, how much credit does Nazr Mohammad get for how well the Thunder are doing?
Sam: I guess all I can point to is the last time the Thunder was in the Finals, Nazr was on the roster, one of five players still left from that 2012 Thunder Finals team. It’s perhaps fixed, like a syllogism in Aristotelian logic: If Nazr Mohammed is a member of the Thunder, then you get at least to the conference finals. It follows. Three seasons with the team, three conference finals. How could it even be challenged whether they would be where they are without Nazr?