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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 2.5.2016

It's groundhogs day and the Bulls are seeing their shadow. It's gonna be a long season for them of ups and downs. Injury here and there and losses are mounting for them without any sign of stopping. If you analyze the team it's a car with a bad muffler. I can tell you we don't have a 6th man. Now what do we have a bunch of guys that have no heart. I think the Bulls should sign Ben Gordon or Nate Robinson for the sole purpose of giving the team sparks. Granted their fires aren't that hot anymore but this team has no fire.

Ryan Carpel

Sam: The fans have been angry this week, my friends; like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli. My correspondents have been very upset, though did ease off on their trade demands of Rose and Pau briefly after the win over the Kings. I’ve had various weeks of blow it up and no one cares and energy, energy, energy.

Let me clear something up. They play hard. They don’t play smart always and they don’t have the greatest talent, but pretty good and they do try. There’s this shorthand in sports of a lack of energy when you lose. These Bulls players aren’t slackers. McDermott is playing harder than Butler. He just doesn’t run as fast and is not as good.

We prefer to equate success with effort. Success equates with talent. Talent wins in the end. You can try as hard as you can and work harder than anyone, but if you are not as talented you won’t succeed as often. Taj Gibson plays with a fury every time he’s on the court. He’ll never be an All-Star. Mirotic out now after appendix surgery played too hard. That’s what all the pump faking was about and throwing himself into people. Aaron Brooks gets beat up and knocked down as much as any player in the NBA and bounces up every time. In reality, this figured to be a less talented team—at least in the regular season—than the last few. That’s because the mandate was to play guys Thibodeau declined to play, like Snell, Mirotic and McDermott to at least find out if they could play.

Tom was great maximizing the regular season because he played the seven best players. All the time. Hoiberg came in playing 10 and 11 regularly, and so the results weren’t going to be as good if some of those guys didn’t play at a higher level. But you have to give them a try to find out. And also to give your other players a chance to get into the playoffs in better shape. So it makes sense you might not have as good a record on the way there. The plan was to have a better chance when you are there. Maybe they won’t. But we won’t know that until May. I understand the frustration with losses. I haven’t seen that it is because these players lack effort or desire. As Hemingway wrote in the Old Man and the Deli, “I said lean!”

How about this quote from Gasol: "We're not disciplined. Yep. We're not. That's it. It's true. It's a fact."

What he should have said: "I really let my team down. I just can't guard the pick and roll."

Also, Jimmy Butler barking at Doug after a defensive switch is ridiculous. You don't show up your teammates like that, especially after one mistake. McDermott busts his ass out there. He should have been mad at himself for not contesting threes from Mbah a Moute and Wesley Johnson.

How many more losses like this before before Garpax blow this disaster up?

--Yuriy Fomin

Sam: Someone sounds cranky, though I’m not sure if it’s Jimmy. Pau may have said that pick and roll thing to the Spanish media. They seemed perplexed after he spoke. We in the media love Pau because of his unique patience, availability and respect for the media, an almost unknown triple threat. But let’s also remember Pau was on a team that won two titles with the exact same defensive play as now. Pau makes up for his defensive flaws with his offense, his passing, his court spacing, his shot blocking.

No, he’s not firing out to blitz the pick and roll. But he’s a high level contributor and one of the Bulls more irreplaceable players the way his shot can draw big men from the rim or force matchup changes the Bulls can take advantage of in other places. Pau’s still playing at an All-Star level and one of the top players in the league, in my view. The Bulls would do well if half a dozen other of their players or more impacted the game in a positive way as much as Pau does.

The fact is some of the poorest defenders in NBA history are in the Hall of Fame, like Barkley (maybe the worst ever), Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Pau isn’t the player any of those three are, but to focus on pick and roll coverage is to miss the point of how much he brings to a team. The Spurs and Thunder wanted him. I didn’t hear them asking for many other Bulls players; no offense.

I don´t see Lebron James as the best player of the game anymore,I would rather have Curry then him. Who would you pick for your team: Curry or James?

Alexandre Rayel

Sam: Another way to say Michael was better, eh? That he never wasn’t the league’s best player (we don’t count Washington). But it would be difficult, amazing as it has become, to say Curry doesn’t impact the game more. Curry has a better team; at least one that fits him better than LeBron’s team fits him, and a better coach, obviously.

It speaks to Curry as well, whom the Warriors weren’t even sure about extending given his ankle injury problems and was almost in a trade to Milwaukee instead of Monta Ellis. As well as something like fourth point guard in his draft, and scouts weren’t even sure he should have been that high at seventh. Curry’s rise is one of the great NBA stories. James has not looked quite the same this season. Seems less explosive to the basket, a little heavier and slower.Compared to what he was and not the rest of humanity, at least.

But the great ones are judged that way. He seems to be skipping his two-week vacation, which he had last season, to run the team, so maybe he’s pacing himself some. That the Cavs no matter how bad they play will probably win the East anyway and aren’t getting home court advantage in the Finals, so why push so hard now? Maybe just lay in the weeds a bit until May and June. After all, playing, coaching and finding talent takes time. LeBron’s four years older and has three more years of games skipping college. Evening that out it still would be James for me. Probably still overall unless my theory is wrong and he isn’t cruising.

Chris Bosh?? In the 3-point shootout?? Really? What, did Boogie Cousins turn them down?

--Adam Garcia

Sam: Yeah, what was that? I didn’t even think he should have made the team over Gasol. He’s a lousy career three-point shooter and not even in the top 40 this season, so it makes no sense. Sounds like the league didn’t want to spring for air fare for someone not going, like Doug McDermott, who could win the thing. His legs are fresh and his arm isn’t sore as he doesn’t get many shots, anyway. Actually, only three of the eight guys in the contest have a better percentage than McDermott.

But look, it doesn’t matter who wins. Curry’s the best shooter. Just let him do a shooting exhibition; that would be more interesting than the contest this season. Plus they don’t even like Bosh in Toronto the way he left and kind of gave up on that team in his free agent year and kept them from making the playoffs so the theory went he wouldn’t risk injury in the playoffs. But it will be nice to hear someone booed in the three-point contest.

With the injuries and disappointing record there is a lot of talk now about blowing this team up. Surely, that has to be a disappointment, as Hoiberg was brought in to capitalize on this talent. Instead, Noah (before his injury), Mirotic and McDermott seem to have taken steps backwards, Rose and Butler still are trying to figure out how to play together and Gasol just seems frustrated at the lack of discipline.

It's a mess so please don't cover for management. No one isn't expendable, including Jimmy Butler who in my opinion only hurt the team by declaring himself the leader. This team won't win with Rose on it unless he takes on the leader role, not to mention that Gasol has been more productive than Butler in my opinion because Butler has some games where he just disappears.

--Abe Rothbart

Sam: How the heck have they won 10 games? So you want to basically get rid of only the guys who have been All-Stars. Seems reasonable. Again. I’m not sure what all this hysteria has been about. OK, I know: We want a winner! And now!

The Bulls are in the toughest part of their schedule without now three of their top six guys injured and still on a 46 or 47-win pace. Vegas had the Bulls over/under at 48 wins before the season, which also was in the ESPN prediction blog and CBS with title odds about 25-1. Healthy, the Bulls were supposed to be a team between 45-50 wins with a chance to improve as the season progressed and perhaps play better in the playoffs given they’d give up some games in the regular season to play a longer bench and give guys minutes who hadn’t played previously and keep the minutes for Rose down.

This was supposed to be a season to let them get healthy together and make perhaps a last run given the free agents and see what they could do if they make the playoffs healthy. So why change now? And what exactly is the surprise that desperate measures are necessary? And right now! Or else!

After listening to player interviews after the game against the Jazz, there appears to be more than just a hint of malaise surrounding the Bulls and not for the first time. Is the source simply the inability to win consistently, or does it originate from something else? I don't expect players to be bubbly after a loss, but the team appears weary and defeated in such a way that the ability to bounce back may be in jeopardy.

--William Kochneff

Sam: What should they say? If they are upbeat after a loss they are accused of not being serious; if they are downbeat it’s that they have given up. Really, who has to answer questions about their failures 10 minutes after them? I played ball in high school and college and fortunately—unfortunately for my career hopes—was not very good. So no one ever asked me anything.

No media covered our games, which also limited my interviews. But often I could barely speak with teammates after a bad loss in which I’d messed up something. You always remember the losses much more than the wins when you are a competitor. Many of the NBA veterans I speak with can tell you in minute detail about the losses and often barely remember wins.

This is a very good group of people with the Bulls. No one ever yells at media members as much as even fellow media members would like to or tells them to get away, which media encounter in many NBA locker rooms. And when they go home. Guys obviously care and care about one another. But imagine what it’s like after every loss for someone to come up to you and basically say, “Why do you stink?” And it’s not like you’re getting questions about the intricacies of plays or lineups. It’s generally vague questions about what happened and various, repetitive versions of, “I’m going to call you a loser but I just need a few words from you to fill in.”

Who are the players that are not playing hard every possession that Gasol, Butler, Rose, and Hoiberg are referring to?

--Jeff Lichtenstein

Sam: Bairstow and Felicio? It’s player speak. They don’t necessarily mean anyone specifically, but it’s what you say in general when you lose. Sure, you can point to issues with everyone: Pau on pick and roll defense, Rose on outside shooting, Jimmy on isolation two-point jumpers after holding the ball, the coach in general frustration since he cannot play. There are a lot of players whose specialty is on one side of the ball.

But if it weren’t, they’d probably make too much money for you to sign them or would have been unavailable to you. As I recall, Michael complained about pretty much everyone, called them his supporting cast, openly lobbied for basically every starter but Paxson from the championship teams to be traded at one time or another. Actually, he sounds like a lot of my emailers. Lucky there was no social media them or he’d have been bombarding me with complaints about the team.

I would love it if the bulls would take a flyer on Michael Beasley. I think he could bring another offensive option and be a better option at the 3 than both McDermott and Snell.

--Rocky Rosado

Sam: I’m fairly sure the Bulls—and seemingly anyone else—aren't taking a chance on giving vital late season playing time to a guy who would make Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic look on defense like Michael Cooper and Sidney Moncrief.

I’ve told you I think the Hawks will trade Horford and now there was a report that The Atlanta Hawks are expected to listen to offers for Al Horford before the Feb. 18th deadline.

--Mike Sutera

Sam: Anything, we know, is possible in the NBA given you never fully know what is going on with a team, and in Atlanta they just changed owners and maybe it’s a money issue which we never know like in Oklahoma City with Harden. If I’m the Hawks with a similar record to the Bulls and fans perhaps a bit less apoplectic I’m not giving up. I know this get-something thing I hear from Bulls fans all the time, but with Horford a free agent there’s so little to get. I’d rather play it out, see if I can get lucky and steal a game or round in the playoffs; maybe someone gets hurt, who knows.

After all, I’m over .500 and not the 76ers or Suns. Then if the guy walks on me, fine. I’ve got his money and can sign someone. Maybe not as good, but too many teams get caught up with this stocking of “assets” like draft picks or rights to players or to swap picks or some reserve for the future. Most teams basically hang onto all these great assets like trade exceptions and they don’t win you many championships. You compete and then you make changes and you compete. I would not trade Horford unless I was getting a good first round pick or future starter and no contending team has that to give up. Sports is about trying; not trying for the next thing.

There certainly are parallels between the Deng to Cleveland trade and a rumored possible trade of Gasol. The Bulls are crumbling rather than improving so why not at least try and trade Pau, get something and get under the cap? You probably disagree with this hypothesis but which teams might be candidates for a scoring rotation center to get deep into the playoffs?

--John Petersen

Sam: I still get the trade Pau stuff after each loss, and maybe I shouldn’t answer them anymore. Of course, management doesn’t much care what I think. The Deng trade was not a parallel. The Bulls traded Deng for cap room to make a run at Carmelo Anthony because of Bynum’s unique contract that had that early buyout and would enable the team to get $25 million off the books to be in position to make a major offer to Anthony, who was interested in the Bulls and had offered some signals.

Of course, when Anthony declined—and he said the Bulls made the best presentations—the Bulls recouped by signing Gasol, which seemed a coup in that the Spurs and Thunder were chasing him along with his former coach, Phil Jackson. The Bulls this summer cannot get any substantial cap room for free agents unless they renounce both Noah and Gasol. So they could not take back a player for Gasol if they wanted to be in free agency even a little bit, which means maybe a second round pick since Gasol is a free agent/rental type player.

And then what do you do at center next season? Or this season? Really, you’d rather watch a team with draft choice assets and Felicio at center? We know it’s not Portis after seeing him thus far and hardly Gibson or Mirotic. Noah to return? Maybe, but at how much? If you trade Gasol the chances of getting him back if you wanted him are remote given players don’t much look with favor on being off loaded like that. You can still renounce both and get some cap room without quitting.

As I’ve written, I think Durant stays for one more season to get a contract worth maybe $50 million more. The next top free agents are DeRozan, Conley, Horford, Howard and Batum. None have given much suggestion at this point they’d prefer Chicago at less money than resigning with their teams. And then you are pretty small unless you invest in the also much injured Howard. So you are basically saying give up this season at a time when there is hardly any great East team perhaps other than the Cavaliers. And as we know they are one injury away from not being top dog.

Yes, plenty of teams wouldn’t mind Pau as a backup for a playoff run—he probably wouldn’t start for the top teams as they have centers—but if you are a contender you are not giving up a rotation player for a backup rental player. I am not for giving up on the season before giving this team a chance to show if it can do anything in the playoffs. It always confuses me why so many who mail me would rather give up. Fortunately the Bulls players are better competitors than they are.

Against the Kings is how our offense looks when Derrick is the main facilitator, and doesn't feel obliged to dump it off to Jimmy, just because he has to have his touches. We don't need him to be great, we just need him to buy into the system. We could have an ‘04 Pistons team if we have everyone on the right page. Not saying this yr but next yr. but that's if everyone buys in.

--Bob Ding

Sam: Well, the Clippers won something like 15 of 18 without Griffin. I’m told they’re still not going to cut him. It’s a much smaller sample with the Kings win, though the temperature of this Bulls team seems to be taken every quarter. Actually, the Bulls had a sort of this issue with Jordan, who was actually better than Butler as I recall.

Michael liked to stay back and get the ball and slowed the offense, like Jimmy will do at times. It wasn’t until Pippen grew into his role as a facilitator that Michael headed up court faster. The idea was to bring the defense with him, which opened the court for penetration and gave the Bulls the flow that led to the titles. No one is predicting titles if Jimmy runs more. But he is so good that his presence now occupies and worries the defense. So if he will get up court more quickly it will take the defense with him and give the Bulls the ability to push more whether it is Rose, Moore or Brooks.

Jimmy has a tendency to come back for the ball, perhaps in part because he is a serious player and he feels a responsibility to the team and feels his scoring is vital with Rose working his way back and that he has to do more. I feel Jimmy still is adjusting in his own way to being the “max” player and the ensuing responsibilities, which he admits he hasn’t always handled well but is also new for him. He’s probably felt the money meant he had to be the leader; he just has to be a good player, which he already is. It may be time for Hoiberg to coach him a little harder.

Been watching our Bulls this year, and my expectations for the season have been tempered a bit. Noah’s injury not withstanding, the team has struggled all year. I had no problem with the coaching change; Thibs had run his course, but there is more to it than a perceived chemistry problem with Butler and Rose holding the team back. It is the make up of the product on the floor that is the problem.

Management has stayed too long with some players and not been aggressive enough in trying to find a wing player who can add scoring, play-making and defense on the perimeter. McDermott and Snell are both role players, and there is way too much emphasis on Dunleavy’s return. That is the spot that is killing the team, and it must be addressed.

--Craig Chandler

Sam: As I’ve written as well—yes, not many new questions—they did try to address it. Their guys have not worked out yet and Carmelo said no. Plus, I think Jimmy is that wing player and they most need a shooting guard. They tried to add shooting with McDermott and Mirotic, but when your best player MVP is injured and with a long term contract there’s only so much you can do in a salary cap league.

For all the demands to do something now after paying Jimmy the max deal they had to and having Rose on the books—and, after all, he was hurt playing for you so it’s not like you can ask him to retire and leave his money when his career arc has been changed working for you—they are limited. Actually, the Bulls have done well filling out the roster with limited resources. They got Gibson on a cap friendly deal, Gasol at less than he was offered by the Lakers and basically the rest rookie deals and some minimums.

The cap room doesn’t begin to expand until after this season. Any teams lose their MVP player they generally collapse. Look at the Pacers and Thunder last season without Paul George and Durant. They missed the playoffs, and the Thunder still had Westbrook. The Bulls actually have held up remarkably well to compete at the level they do with the injuries and then changes with Rose. That’s right: How come no one is nominating them for Executive of the Year?

What should happen if the Bulls are eliminated in the first round - or even worse, if they don't make the postseason. If that happens, I think people should lose their jobs.

--Piero Paguaga

Sam: Yes, the Bulls could miss the playoffs. Losing Noah for the season and now Mirotic out for who knows how long is two of your top six or seven. It’s a lot to lose with Dunleavy just returning. But they also could finish in the top four. They’re not changing management in what many fans don’t seem to understand—I know fans and media prefer to rate franchises based on each game—is the team really is working on the end of a run that began with Rose’s draft in 2008.

Eight years is an NBA life cycle (other than in San Antonio) and this is toward the end of the process with the idea of remaining competitive and improving on the fly. So management is actually on course, in a sense, and will be judged on what comes in the next few years. The other element of society these days is the meanness. If someone says or does something you don’t like, fire them!

OK, replace them with whom? Some of the big time executives who have recently taken over teams with great fanfare are Sam Hinkie in Philadelphia, Ron Hennigan in Orlando and Ryan McDonough in Phoenix. Former Raptors executive Bryan Colangelo is now the hot name. There’s Phil Jackson going to New York. I think he’s done fine, but New York hasn’t been so complimentary. Doc Rivers took both jobs in Los Angeles. Not so great with personnel. So whom do you like?

Do the Bulls still own the kings 1st round pick for 2016 (top 10 protected ) ? If that's the case, the way the Kings have been playing that pick could be a late lottery pick, right?

--Randy Sanders

Sam: Yes. Hey, there’s optimism. And then the Bulls Wednesday beat the Kings and send them closer to keeping their draft pick. It’s hard to figure for whom to root.

The infamous preemptive Reggie Miller bow by none other than Rose? What the heck is going on this season? That is so uncharacteristic of Derrick and utterly embarrassing!

--Bambi Choy

Sam: Well, he thought it was the winner. As Reggie did that game when Kukoc threw in a winner right after that. I loved Reggie doing that. But it’s another of the Rose can’t win syndrome. Everyone yells he doesn’t show emotion and needs to be more inspiring; so he does and he gets criticism for showing emotion and trying to be too enthusiastic. It’s about winning the game, I guess. I like spontaneous outbursts like with Reggie and Rose. It’s the best in sports. Not so much the old choreographed phony football celebrations. Let Derrick be Derrick.

The Bulls are not good enough to contend for a championship, it is pretty simple, although they can be fun to watch at times. Either they don't care, don't understand the coach or simply can't compete with the best remains a mystery. I think this is a combination of the three.

Which makes Gar Forman and John Paxson's job even more difficult: it is one thing to change the coach, it is another to reshape a flawed roster with Joakim Noah hurt and Derrick Rose considering his next big contract. Well my wife is not perfect, I love her deeply though.

Does it work like this for basketball teams?

--Hamza Cherief

Sam: That sounds like the true essence of being a fan. As long as you also put the toilet seat down.