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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 1.29.2016

"We struggle with concentration, sense of urgency, and toughness" ---- Fred Hoiberg

The above quote is really telling. Isn't concentration, urgency, and toughness the job of the coach to bring out? I've always thought of the Bulls vets as all of the above. Gibson, Butler, Rose, and Gasol are old vets. Portis has a huge motor. Seems like that core cares about winning. So which is it? The players? The coach? Or a bit of both?

--Cary Lichtenstein

Sam: It’s really the players. We attribute too much credit and too much blame to coaches in sports because, in part, they are the most visible and available, speaking with reporters sometimes three times a day, are generally the most articulate (other than Bill Belichick) in presenting the big picture about the team. Not to diminish the role—though someone has to make out the lineup card—because a good coach makes a difference.

The truth is there are not that many good coaches who make a difference and even fewer who can sustain any serious length of time in pro ball. Doc Rivers is a great test case. Certainly smart and competent. He was Celtics coach when they lost 20-some games in a row and then after they got Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen the coach of the year and a champion. Doc wasn’t as bad as his previous record or as good as it came to be, though he is one of the better ones.

A good coach sets a tone and grows relationships with his players; the strategy is fairly uniform with the occasional timeout here and intentional foul there. There’s a lot of personality involved, the ability to demand of people while also respecting them and being able to maintain that through discipline and personal disappointment, like the Bulls situation with benching veterans. Maybe the best example of a young coach who made a substantial change with strategy was Steve Kerr in taking over the Warriors and enhancing their style to fit with their talent. Phil Jackson did much the same with the Bulls in 1989, but it is a relatively rare phenomenon.

With the current Bulls, I’d blame—if blame is the word—more the players. I believe Hoiberg has mostly delivered the right message and if he’s had a flaw is that he’s trusted them to act as adults with the appreciation to take the freedom and run with it and expand their games. Whether stuck in the style of the way they played, personally resistant, incapable of changing who they are or uncertain with changing lineups with injuries—though likely elements of all—it’s been an issue among those veterans of being unable to maintain that consistency of effort and ability.

I expect they’ll get the chance to prove otherwise still this season, and there was no reason with a new coach and lineup to expect anything great yet, but if they cannot then you change. And it would be the players.

One of the biggest problems with the Bulls ever since the Luol Deng trade is that they don't have a starting SF. When Dunleavy, 35, was initially signed, he was supposed to cement the "Bench Mob" and be a 6th man type to provide a shooting boost. The SF position is so important and it's reserved for the most athletic players in my opinion, providing size, defense, rebounding, etc.

I've always been surprised that replacing Mike at the SF with a more defensive, athletic veteran never seemed to be a serious priority for the Bulls. The went for Melo and missed. Yes, they tried with drafting Snell who I think hasn't shown any sense of consistency or reliability. Yes, they drafted McDermott who I believe will be a good player, but not a lockdown defender or starter. I feel like they've never properly replaced Luol Deng (who after his rigorous Thib's years, I'm not calling to get back in a Bull's uniform).

What can the Bulls do at SF that would make long term sense for the team. Like everyone, I'd love to see a starting trio of Rose, Butler and Durant, but realistically speaking, who could the Bulls look at in the offseason?

--Mike Habs

Sam: Of course we used to complain all the time the problem with the Bulls was not having an athletic small forward because they had Deng, who was drafted over the athletic Iguodala. It wasn’t the wrong choice as Deng had a great run and remains among the franchise all time leaders in several categories and was a good team guy.

Maybe it’s like White Sox third basemen. They try; they just never seem to be able to find one. As you note, the Bulls did try to fill the hole. They went hard after Anthony; they thought Snell, who physically with long arms and athletic ability is reminiscent of Scottie Pippen, could eventually fill that role, but we know Pippen and, well, you know Tony Snell is no...

They also were going hard after Joe Johnson in 2010 after LeBron, but Johnson signed first with Atlanta for the extra money and the Bulls ended up settling for Boozer. But let’s see Dunleavy first. He’s been if not athletic, passable at the position even though he originally signed to be a backup.

I actually believe Jimmy should be that athletic wing player and I’d be looking for a shooting guard since Jimmy isn’t a good enough shooter to be a starting shooting guard. Unless he gets a lot better that’s where the larger issue is and cuts down the ability of the team to do a lot of what Hoiberg wants because the shooting guard position for the Bulls doesn’t space the floor very much. And not that the Bulls didn’t understand as they went hard after Ray Allen last season, but he chose to retire. As Mick Jagger said, you can’t always get what you want. Though he did mostly seem to.

To the not so seasoned bulls fan I imagine this season to be extremely frustrating. I myself couldnt be enjoying this season any more than I am. Its overly obvious what is going on. The core of this team played under drill sergeant thibs for the last five years when they weren't allowed to take their foot off the gas during the regular season, no matter the opponent. I applaud hoiberg for obviously not sweating the small stuff too much.

Its clear the majority of this team just doesn't have the energy and/or desire to get up for lowly teams. I'm completely content with dropping a few so called easy games as long as we keep beating the good teams there is no need to stress in my mind. I'm loving the way derrick has been playing and hope he can sustain this play, at least thru Feb 3.

We always lose to the damn kings, that's the only crappy team I care to beat. I cant even begin to count how many push ups I've had to do due to lost bets against the queens. butler is balling out of control. taj is finally where he belongs, in the starting lineup. I'm slightly concerned with pau holding up this year he looks tired already, wouldn't mind seeing him put on the popovich regiment. Noah going out will be a blessing in disguise for his future full time replacement.

The playing time portis is getting now is the best thing that could've happened for him. he's obviously a better option all around going forward. he's still nowhere near where he needs to be, and I'd still rather have Jo on the floor in the playoffs. but right now I'd rather the building blocks for the future be laid than watch Noah's jumper. its awful these days. are you enjoying this season as much as I am?

--Brandon Revering

Sam: I can’t say I agree with every point, but I’m in with the summary. I am enjoying this season. I enjoy them all, though I can’t say I paid much attention in Tim Floyd’s tenure.

I understand fans love the winner and no one is happier than in Oakland and San Francisco. There’s never as much attention as there is with a winner. I remember when the Bulls started their run in the late 80’s. In the playoffs it was basically just me and Bernie Lincicome, and Bernie only because he liked basketball and loved Jordan. The Tribune was still chasing the ’85 Bears and Ditka. By the end of the run in 1998, the Tribune had 18 reporters at the Finals.

What’s intriguing about this season is just what frustrates so many, that you never know how they’ll play and who will make a difference or matter, who will perform or let down and what will happen, like a good mystery or story, which we all love. Even when they go well there are failures along the way, disruptions and restarts and uncertainty. And so it is with this Bulls season and your life otherwise. The hope of everyone around and among the team is that it matures as it gets older. But you have to be there to find out. It makes the story interesting, whether or not it becomes ultimately fulfilling.

On paper the Bulls look like the deepest team in the league. With the exception at the wing of course. So when right, I still think they pose the biggest threat to the Cavs in the east. I really don't see any other team in the east beating the Cavs in a series other than the Bulls. I also believe they have under achieved this season even with a new coach and all. I'm hoping the trend of a big win (Cavs) followed by a bad loss (Heat) doesn't continue as has been the case all season.

--Carl Reynolds

Sam: So never mind, but I suspect and it’s been fairly clear that isn’t going to change, that this team is going to do that all season, and for obvious reasons. This isn’t the ’96 Bulls, or ’16 Warriors or ’27 Yankees. In much better shape than those Yankees, physically, anyway. It’s a flawed group regarding talent and health, as we knew coming into the season.

Who was in Vegas taking the championship odds? They were going with a new coach and trying out new players and different roles and expanding their depth. Sometimes it takes a half season or more. Plus, injuries as it’s been inevitable with this team, though nothing major for Rose, which has been the positive. Though you hate to see it happen to Noah and for Noah for everything he is and what he is. But it’s also why you don’t give up and pack it in as we so often hear.

The principal reason why it won’t occur—other than being the wrong thing to do—is there isn’t much value at this point to get more than draft picks not in the lottery. So that means giving up, being the 76ers. Is that what the Bulls are about? But more than that someone is going to be in the Finals that may not be the Cavs. It’s hardly the healthiest franchise: New coach, unhappy Love, uncertain Kyrie, lots of players with depth which also means potentially unhappy players and the league’s least experienced head coach.

And if the Cavs are there they have to get there by beating someone in the conference finals. Seen any other teams the Bulls can never beat? Is Chicago about giving up? So you cash in Gasol or Gibson for some future and then the Raptors, whom you’re 2-0 against, or the Heat is in the Finals and how do you feel about that future? So I agree the Bulls pose a threat to the Cavs, but so do other teams, who also pose a threat to the Bulls.

I still think the Cavs are the team to beat and the Bulls in a group with five or six others who could beat them. One of those could have a slump and even miss the playoffs. That’s the East. Two years ago, Golden State with a similar roster took to the final weekend to qualify for the playoffs. You take your shot and then begin to figure it out if it didn’t work.

Griffin and Stephenson for Noah Gibson and mirotic.(throw in a pick if need be)

I say this if and only if clippers ready to move on from griffin, who you could argue are playing better without him. You could also argue they've played a weak schedule lately.

Anyway allows LA to dump Stevenson who I think would give a little something to an attitude lacking bulls squad. After griffin returns you have a starting lineup of him gasol butler rose and either stephenson, or you could have him come off bench if dunleavy ever plays again this year.

--Mike Kay

Sam: I think Mike is getting close and could play by the end of this trip. But don’t count on him for all that much for awhile not having played for six months. I always get a bunch of these sorts of trade proposals when a player is upset/in trouble/stupid. It happens enough in the NBA that I get a lot of trade proposals and why we love the league so much.

The Clippers are hardly trading their all-NBA star over this. Though I could see them trading Chris Paul sooner given his age; someone mentioned a good one with the Cavs for Kyrie Irving, though you can’t really take that chance with Irving hurt so often. And I’ve heard speculation about Griffin for Kevin Love, though that doesn’t sound right, either, with LeBron and Kyrie having the ball. That’s right, if you are talking Griffin you better talk someone of the level of Love. I’m fairly sure not for a Bulls free agent who can’t play and a few guys who’ve mostly come off the bench. The guy who runs the team, after all, is known as Doc and not RIP.</P

Now that it seems Lebron may have had David Blatt fired, there are bloggers and tweeters saying that Jordan did the same with Collins, yet didn't get any of the flack that Lebron is getting. Did Jordan in fact get Collins fired?, I can't remember what role, if any, MJ played in Collins getting fired, or if it was a mutual decision between Krause and Reinsdorf.

--Terrell Bryant

Sam: Yes, everyone is winking; there isn’t something in their eye. LeBron certainly was involved, and he was told about it despite what they say, which they have to say as it’s what teams do for their top players. The Lakers covered as much as they could for Magic when they dropped Paul Westhead, though Magic sort of let it out when he said he’d rather be traded than play for Westhead.

The difference with Blatt and Collins was Jordan had nothing to do with it. Michael as much as any great player was always a great believer in coaching discipline and respect. As much as I admire and think James is a good teammate, he never learned the same about working with a coach, likely given coming to the NBA as a high schooler. Michael played for Dean Smith and even in their senior system which he didn’t much like and brought up in his Hall of Fame speech, but respected. I never saw him once undermine his coach; he didn’t care for Phil’s triangle to start, but he adapted. He supported Loughery, Albeck and Doug as much as he did with Phil.

But he knew things were unraveling that last season under Doug. He never once asked for Doug to be replaced—though he had some strong trade suggestions—but he was told before as a heads up. It’s only the right thing to do for your star player. Just as LeBron was told. That his buddy became the coach and with a three-year deal instead of being interim makes it seem obvious he was involved. But as Phil always said, the pretty girl gets kissed. There are different rules everywhere for the star.

It's interesting how all the Cav's beat media now say that they were aware all along of how difficult the relationship between Blatt/Lebron/players. If it was that obvious, it sure never surfaced in anything more than rumors. With that in mind, curious what Bulls beat media really know how players feel about Hoiberg and his system. Other than Butler's call out there hasn't been much said. Since they all tried to defuse the Jimmy comments there must be players thinking that Hoiberg and his system will not work.

--Adnaan Hamid

Sam: It’s not the case. This use of the word “system” in basketball is also much overstated and overused and misunderstood. Football coaches like to pretend they have some deep secret, unique strategy or “system,” which essentially is a good way to fool owners about their worth. There aren’t many so called systems of play.

There’s basketball: Move the ball, cut, make shots. Is slowing it down and calling plays and walking it up a system? Or conversely pushing the ball and passing it around like the Warriors do a system? You might say Phil Jackson’s use of the triangle was, but Phil saw it as more something there for players to fall back on. His Bulls used all the same “systems” as every one else with post play, drawing a double, rotating the ball, finding the best available shot. Hoiberg is merely encouraging players to do what Red Auerbach had his players doing 50 years ago. And the Harlem Rens I think maybe 40 years before that. Basketball stuff. The players have no issue with it that I can see other than some not shooting well, some not passing well and some not defending well. Those systems have broken down at times.

Shouldn't the Bulls at least try to get a D-league wing player? It sure is cheaper. And who knows how good they might be. Danny Green was a D-league player. And many more actually.

--Josh Regencia

Sam: Mostly because if there was a player good enough to start in the NBA he probably would be. Remember, the Bulls are using players there who are high draft picks and much more highly regarded. Plus, maybe Hoiberg has found something with the three-guard thing with E’Twaun Moore, who is 6-4 and can guard wing players reasonably well and gets his hands on a lot of balls as he’s good at stripping basketballs. There are plenty of D-league players good enough to be in the NBA, but not good enough to come midseason and play a vital role.

The Bulls need Noah’s heart and ability to bring the team together. Especially with Jimmy and Derrick not always on the same page. Presumably Pau goes next season to a team that emphasizes a half court offense. How about starting Noah and Portis? Portis can score inside and outside so he could balance Noah’s offensive deficiencies. Also Fred has an off season to figure out how to best use Noah in his offense. For example let Joakim lead the fast break off his own rebound. He is the best ball handling point-center I can recall. Also in half court put Noah at the top of the key if the guards get too caught up in hogging the ball and stagnating the offense.

--Tom Pappalardo

Sam: We all love Noah now. How can anyone not like him, after all. It will come down first to whether he and/or Gasol get good offers. The issue with Noah is his lack of offense and shooting, which has become acute and not particularly cute for a team that wants to spread the floor and draw defenders to shooters and then swing and move the ball.

I’m not convinced Pau wants to leave. The Lakers media peppered him with questions after Thursday’s game about returning to L.A., and Pau, as he’s done on several occasions this season, said he’ll think about that stuff in the summer. He’s been pretty consistent to never make a commitment to staying or going. But I think there’s a greater chance he stays than leaves.

Pau as we know has a wide variety of interests in culture and the arts, and no offense to places like San Antonio or Oklahoma City but, well, OK offense, the culture there is pretty much bar-b-que and rodeo. Pau’s not chasing titles in places like that. There are other cities like Chicago, but not many, and he’s been there done that in L.A. That stuff is a long way from playing out and all depends on the playoffs and who does what. Noah said last week he’d love to return, but we assume he’ll listen to offers as well. My assumption is the Bulls bring back one. If both want to return. I’m not sure what they do.

Durant Compliments Porzingas; NY Media and NY fans going nuts like he said he is signing come July 1st.

--Mike Sutera

Sam: Yes, everyone wants to play in New York, though no one basically ever goes there as a free agent. I’m fairly certain—from sources who may or may not know—that Durant returns to Oklahoma City next season on a two-year deal with a 2017 out. With the labor deal changes, he can sign to average more than $30 million in 2017 and about $25 million this summer. Plus, more guys come up in 2017, like Russell Westbrook, and with expanding cap room once again you can build your own team instead of just joining one like this summer. So I expect Durant to be with the Thunder at least one more season and the Knicks to leave Phil Jackson still wondering how they could have given away all his draft picks for Bargnani.

JJ Redick got a tattoo covering half his arm. He's having his best shooting season and is playing with more edge. Could Doug McDermott benefit from a little ink?

--Chris Ragalie

Sam: Maybe Doug’s still waiting for Hoiberg to get his. Heard Fred is looking at a combo of Kenyon Martin’s lips and Tyson’s eye decoration.

Chris Bosh and Paul Millsap over Pau? Is this simply coaches being lazy and picking someone they're used to? Maybe I'm just biased.

--Ateeq Ahmed

Sam: Pau was deserving on many fronts from having the best overall stats to team record to veteran history. It’s not quite Curry overlooked for David Lee a few years back, and we are a bit biased—and some who see Pau say he’s undeserving for games against fast teams like Golden State—but then again when you watch one team all the time you also overanalyze players’ flaws.

Millsap is deserving as probably the most reliable and consistent player on that team. Pau’s had a much better season than Bosh has had. If you watch Bosh all the time you see a player who mails it in at least once every three games, still able to produce in those games but weak on defense and barely in the offense.

Pau’s position often at the hub of the half court game, especially without Noah, makes him valuable to the Bulls and the numbers he puts up across the board have not bee matched by basically any big man. And when Noah was healthy, Pau had to finish because Noah could not make free throws. What a luxury it is in the NBA now to have a big man who you can leave on the floor and no one will foul. Pau’s a worthy All-Star and if anyone is hurt should be added. Isaiah Thomas? C’mon, seriously?

There's a rumor saying that the Bulls want to re-sign Gasol. Pau's been good for us but I am confused by this (assuming it's true). Wasn't Hoiberg brought in to create a fast offensive scheme? Pao's a slower 1/2 court kind of guy.

--Matt Ruth

Sam: The Bulls have not dismissed trying to resign either, so it’s just speculation, but to continue my treatise most of basketball is played in the half court. Golden State plays mostly in the half court. It looks better with the movement. This notion of full court, breakneck running and shooting is some old Paul Westhead cockamamie (my first official use of this word in an Ask Sam) scheme with no validity. Pau’s a vital half court player with his shooting and passing ability and I pretty much have always assumed the Bulls biggest concern is Pau not wanting to resign. I’ve always assumed he’s a big priority for the team.

Is Jeff Teague gettable? Smart player. Play the point, move rose to the 2, jimmy to the 3. Give up a 1st rounder and snell. Nothing like the dud Teague we once had.

--Andrew Brown

Sam: No, nothing like that, but it’s always predictable any time a player’s name comes up. I’m not sure why the Hawks would trade Teague. I’ve heard Schroeder wants to play more, but Teague has a great contract for this era as a legitimate starting point guard and if I were Atlanta I’d probably be looking for two first round picks and one in the lottery, the sort of inventory teams like Boston and Philadelphia have.

The Bulls as an historical practice basically never trade draft picks until they know what they are in the draft. You do know, by the way, as Rose improves this season coming back at the lowest point of his career that Teague is averaging about the same in points and rebounds and shooting and with Teague in decline at maybe about 10 points per game the last month.

I suppose that the Bulls would find it difficult to win without either of Rose and Butler. But is it possible that Butler is the better player and Rose the more valuable? I still contend that Rose is the magic that makes this team a contender. After everybody, including the cleaning lady down the hall, screamed for Rose to drive the ball into the paint, it is obvious how Rose can make the offense flow now that he is consistently taking the ball inside. Set a screen for Rose to allow him to get the ball into the lane.

Then Rose has the option to toss up the floater, take a ten foot shot off the glass, dish to a driver, or pop the ball out for an uncontested jumper. With Rose deadly from inside 12 feet and the good shooters the Bulls have on the perimeter, this offense could verge on the elite someday...hopefully before the playoffs begin.

--William Kochneff

Sam: That’s the other point of media and some fans often trying to drive a wedge between the two. Don’t good teams have more than one good player? Why is there so much either/or? Didn’t Jordan need Pippen and Kareem need Oscar and then Magic? They need one another and neither is good enough at this stage of their careers to be the best player on a highly successful team without the other.

Moore injected some energy into the starting 5, yes! Will he continue to start? Against LAL he was the SF, but will be play more 2 and move Jim to the 3?

--Matthew Mikulice

Sam: The two and three thing is not a big deal as players always switch assignments based on talent. Jimmy guards the best two, three or sometimes four and a lesser player guards the next best. I’d like to think Hoiberg will stay with it because Moore is a tough guy who is big enough at 6-4 to play many small forwards and all shooting guards and gives the Bulls the edge they need on the other end to attack the dribbler, passer and the ball. Ideally, you’d wish he were a bit taller, but I like that notion even once Dunleavy returns as so few teams employ wing guys in the post to isolate and beat you.

It’s a risk to down size, of course, and I assume that’s why Hoiberg has stayed with bigger guys like Snell. But I prefer the player who will make plays, which is what the game is about, and Moore will do that. He doesn’t every game, so then you can take him out. I do like the look even if the Lakers make a lot of guys look good.

ESPN reported that Pau Gasol is the first player this season to record 10 points & 10 rebounds in the 1st quarter. He's the first Bulls player to do so since Aaron Gray did it in April 2008 against the Raptors. Is Aaron Gray still in the league and is he available?

--David Manzeske

Sam: Poor Pau. The All-Star snub and then an achievement elevating him to the company of…Aaron Gray? Why do bad things happen to good people?