Just 28 days. With four weeks until the opening of Bulls training camp for the 2015-16 NBA season, here’s a bonus Ask Sam as some readers forgot I wasn’t doing anything.
Starting 5: Noah C, Gasol PF, Butler SF, Snell SG, Rose PG? I think its a well balanced offense/defense line up.
Sam: I don’t, though the more significant voice probably will be Fred Hoiberg’s. Let’s get this straight, or as straight as I think it will be: The Noah/Pau lineup should be history. Neither is a power forward, especially in this era of the midget shooting fours. It obviously didn’t do Noah much good chasing around the perimeter last season when he went from MVP candidate to Brian Scalabrine. Pau obviously isn’t chasing around quick forwards since it’s tough enough for him chasing centers. Plus, Hoiberg likes the smaller ball open model and I don’t expect anything close to the plodding big man game the Bulls have played in recent years. I expect Snell to get a good look this season as he’ll be up for an extension after the season. His size, shooting ability and potential defensive abilities raise hopes. We’ve seen glimpses for two years. Of course, glimpses was all given Tom Thibodeau’s rotations.
But can Snell be counted upon? Even when Thibodeau gave Snell rotation time Snell would go from aggressive to passive game to game. For all the criticism Tom got regarding playing young players, if you produced regularly he’d play you. Snell never did. He was thunder and lightning. You’d hear one and then see another much later. There never was enough consistent boom. So I don’t see him as a starter, either. But I do see him as a regular. I think the starting lineup other than Rose and Butler still is wide open, though I can’t see Pau not starting at center given you run a risk bringing older guys off the bench after they warm up. You could ruin what Gasol gives you. I expect a deeper rotation, shorter playing time runs and different finishing lineups to the point starting should not matter all that much except to media searching for controversies.
Whenever I read someone's version of the Bulls all-time team, it seems like Noah is always at center. I don't hate Noah by any means but I honestly think Artis Gilmore would have knocked him around like a rag doll. I even think Boerwinkle would have given him all he could handle. What is your all-time Bulls team?
Sam: Yes, memories can be shorter than Aaron Brooks. It is understandable that so many would favor Noah given his spectacular season in 2013-14 when he challenged so many statistical marks, including longest pony tail. Plus, it’s not a rich history of Bulls centers, especially since before Noah the only center to make an All-Star team was Gilmore. Artis did make four in six full seasons with the Bulls. And when the Trailblazers won the title in 1977, Bill Walton said the toughest center he had to face was Gilmore. That’s good enough for me.
The other guy who gets overlooked is Chet Walker, who I’ll make the case for best all-time Bulls power forward. He was more a scoring forward—the only player in Bulls history other than Michael Jordan to score more than 50 points in a game—but so was Bob Love when they were the forwards for the great Bulls teams of the early 1970s with Jerry Sloan, Norm Van Lier and Tom Boerwinkle. Chet was one of the most unstoppable scorers in the league then in a time of some of the greatest scorers ever. His head and shoulder pump fake was virtually unguardable. I can’t put him ahead of Scottie Pippen given Pippen’s titles and defensive prowess. But Pippen was nowhere close to the offensive player Walker was. The way Pippen played you could make a case for Pippen as point guard and Walker at small forward. But with Derrick Rose having been the league MVP, you have to put Rose at point guard with Jordan in the backcourt. Then Pippen at small forward and I’d go with Chet at dual forward—more appropriate in this era the way teams play—and with Artis at center the way he blocked shots and protected the rim as the strongest player in the game in his time. I don’t consider Rodman a candidate with three Bulls seasons and missing 45 games his first two seasons. If I go with a more classic power forward it would have to be Horace Grant for playing on three champions and holding the franchise record for most consecutive seasons leading the team in rebounding, which was six. Grant along with Bob Boozer were the only traditional Bulls power forwards ever to be named to the All-Star team. And then probably Charles Oakley behind Grant.
Why trade Taj Gibson(a highly defensive power forward despite being only 225lbs), and Doug McDermott(a guy who played only 320mins last season), just to get Rudy Gay? Please tell me this is just a rumor.
Sam: It’s encouraging on some level to know the stupid rumor machine operates even in August when the biggest story is whether Carlos Boozer is planning to learn Chinese. I’ve seen a couple of versions of this one in rumor/speculation/senselessness. Another was Gay for Gibson, Snell and Portis. Nothing against Rudy since he really is one of the nicer guys. But he’s owed about $40 million through 2017-18 (during which time if you can get under the salary cap there are going to be a lot of great free agents) and he’s probably hated more than anyone by the analytics guys as he specializes in the long two pointer, which he doesn’t even shoot that well. Basically shoots a lot and doesn’t much pass the ball and has pretty much assumed the Woolridge effect, that being the player whose teams improve when he leaves. My sense is the Bulls are going through this season with the current roster without any major changes and after this season if things don’t work out well, well, they’ll talk then.
What’s your view on this question?
Sam: I’ve seen this around—for debate only; no wagering—and this is where Mike probably comes in third. I know us old guys will not be excused for favoring our childhood favorites, but, really, check it position by position. No one rivals the front court of Wilt and Russell for championships, statistics or domination. No, Russell wouldn’t shoot threes in this era, but neither do Duncan, Malone or McHale. Oscar, in my view, is the best ever point guard. He’s got the size to match up with anyone in this era at 6-5 and 220, and that’s when he was his skinny, short shorts rookie weight. Jerry West is the inspiration for the NBA’s logo. And Elgin Baylor basically invented hanging in the air and forward athleticism. He couldn’t quite jump like Dr. J, but his all around game rivaled anyone who’s ever played. He was small for his era at power forward, but at 6-5 with his athletic ability he could still fit in at small forward even today.
But it is an intriguing debate. It’s probably premature to consider the 10s given their careers are so young, particularly Davis. I probably go with the 2000s next with Shaq despite his indifference to the game because of the presence of Duncan, LeBron and Kobe. Iverson brings the group down, but Malone, Stockton and Barkley don’t quite rate. Though I’m sure if you asked Michael he would be certain he could beat any of those teams with any of those guys. Really, Michael should or could be in the 80s group with Magic at point and Bird and McHale, and then you are making a case. If you could slip Hakeem in there in the 80s instead of Moses then you have something. Michael’s group is probably third the way these teams go as Malone and Hakeem take McHale and Moses. But Duncan, LeBron and Shaq take Barkley, Malone and Hakeem. The best overall team? The 60s get point guard with Oscar, the 90s shooting with Michael, the 2000s small forward with LeBron and power forward with Duncan (sorry over Russell) and the 60s with Wilt. The two most important positions generally are point guard and center. And you’ll get plenty of arguments placing anyone over Russell given his effect on a winning team. OK, Russell over Duncan for all around success. Case closed.
What are your thoughts on the Markieff Morris situation? Do you think he'll get traded? Or do you think he'll have to suck it up and play as he's under contract? If he didn't show up to training camp could they fine him? If he did not play games and practice and what not will they be able to withhold his salary/fine him?
Sam: Goran Dragic doesn’t seem so upset, and his brother was traded to another continent. It is a curious situation with Morris so vocal about planning to dislike everyone. It’s unusual in Phoenix where given the temperate winters and golf being the number one sport—perhaps one reason they’ve never had a title winner in franchise history that goes back almost 50 years making the Cubs look dynastic—the players generally are so happy. I think it has more to do with the boom in salaries and Morris and his twin signing for what now is close to minimum (about $8 million for Markieff). But as their contracts go through 2019, good luck.
So Markieff is upset and seems to be making it some wink deal reneged upon of he and his brother as an entry. Good luck if you believed any team would do that. That’s on you. He has to show up or be suspended without pay, which he likely won’t risk. So how much disrupting can he create? Just because a player is uphappy you don’t have to trade him, but most teams don’t have the stomach for the fight and I assume he gets dealt at some point early in the season or in October. But beware. He’s got a lot of years left at way less money than he believes he should get. Those players can get unhappy fast seeing so many big deals coming for guys they think less of. And in four seasons playing with the Suns he’s never been in a playoff game. Not his fault, but not exactly a game changer yet.
Why don’t the Bulls get Jason Richardson?
Sam: Using my Elizabeth Barrett Browning voice, let me count the ways: Injured, old, potentially divisive, can’t shoot. Did I mention he’s barely played in four years? Of course, it could be a positive to have someone more fragile than Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Richardson had a nice career, but there’s a big “had” in there. I think he agreed to a deal with Atlanta since I received this. But I always get a lot of these in the Tracy McGrady tenor. I hope Richardson does well as he’s always been a good guy and has had a tough last four years with injuries. He’s rarely played the last three. Going on 35 that’s tough. And for the Bulls, well, perhaps their greatest strength coming into the season is depth, and they have to make some decisions on players like Tony Snell and Doug McDermott. So perhaps play them a bit and see if they can play.
Though the larger issue with fantasy players like Richardson is you don’t want former stars at the end of your bench. It basically never works out well. At the end of your bench, guys don’t play much. That generally proves difficult for guys who were stars, or high level players. End of the bench guys need to happily accept not playing for weeks and then perhaps in a few blowout minutes. Most guys can’t handle it and become difficult. There are some, like Kurt Thomas, who do it well. But you generally are better off with a motivated young free agent or rookie anxious and grateful just to be in the NBA. The Bulls are pretty set in the first 10 with veterans and high draft picks ready to play. If you are replacing anyone you better get a potential All-Star, and then, well, Rose and Jimmy Butler have the ball an awful lot. And so will Pau Gasol. It’s a team game and not a fantasy league statistics accumulation.
Any chance of a reunion with Jamal Crawford?
Sam: Another guy who sure sounds like he’s going to be traded with their acquisition of Lance Stephenson. Pretty reasonable salary in this era with about $6 million and becoming a free agent. Ok, I amend my previous comments about an absolutely set roster. I’m not sure how management feels as they had a chance to sign Jamal a few years back and didn’t go for it. Now he’s 35, but he looks good to me. He doesn’t play much defense, anyway, and can shoot so he looks like he did 10 years ago. Speculation will come up about Gibson as it has already and will with pretty much every available player until the trading deadline. That likely will depend on the adjustment of Bobby Portis. If he comes fast, OK, but you are competing with the Cavs in the East and they’ve gotten bigger and more physical. You better think twice before giving up one of your power guys to rely on a rookie, and the Bulls also have to see about Noah’s health. The Clippers say for now they want value, which makes sense. But once the season starts and if Jamal is not playing things can change fast. I’d sure take a chance if I could. Jamal’s also one of the better people and locker room guys around the NBA. And a guy who is accustomed to being a reserve player and not a starter.
Last season the best player in the Portuguese league was probably Jobey Thomas, a real veteran that was in pre-draft camps in 2002; he had 35 but was quite the shooter. I think he average more than 15 points a game, which is not that bad on a 40 min game and for a 35 year old guy. Benfica this year has included Daequan Cook.
Sam: Probably to sell tickets.
I'll always remember the five Thibodeau years fondly. His teams generally competed, they played really great defense given the rosters, and the second units were often times more fun than the starters. I appreciate Thibodeau, think he's hilarious in his own way, will miss him a great deal, and will do best as a fan to give Hoiberg a chance. That said....I'm not so sure he was using Gasol to best advantage and I think he should have mixed his rotation differently. It's pretty easy to expect that Hoiberg features shooting more than Thibodeau. I think you could say that about nearly any coach from pee-wee to NBA HOF, with maybe the exception of JVG.
Mirotic/Gasol is a pretty good pairing to start the game if Rose turns up his perimeter defense. It would be smart to then also start Snell if they could get him to produce. This would put an athletic rangy shell on the defense that could challenge on s/r and close more consistently at the stripe even with post doubles. Missing piece: outstanding effort consistency-wise from Rose. Gasol doesn't have enough to handle in space a wing's counter or an agile stretch big. Have to make those guys go to the shot. Gasol does a good job of closing when his target isn't so dynamic. Mirotic still learning, wastes a lot of motion. The other thing it does: Puts Noah together with Gibson in a proven combination, and let Dunleavy move the ball with Hinrich on the second unit. Both bigs are quietly aging so their synergy makes them maybe subtly better paired at this point.
Sam: I think Rose will be better defensively, if not quite all-league. After all, coming off surgery or rehab every summer I think he basically was asked just to be upright. I think he’ll be adequate and with confidence in his knees (though he didn’t show it or talk about it, it had to make him nervous every game as much as it did everyone else), I expect his pride to rise to the challenge. After all, he’s always done well against the other high level point guards. And after these last few years experts have Rose listed behind a lot of guys. I suspect he’ll be taking names.
Snell is that curious X-factor because he in theory can do so much and be a defensive force (the game last season helping force LeBron into about nine turnovers), but as we know we never know which Tony we’re getting. The interesting question—and why this season should be so much fun filled with so much second guessing—is the pairings don’t match up that well. Gasol and Mirotic are both the weaker defenders. Noah and Gibson are the more limited scorers. But Mirotic provides the better spacing and shooting. Start Gibson with Pau? But, again, are you clogging the lane and not giving Hoiberg a chance to do his spacing dance? But Noah, Gibson, Hinrich, Dunleavy? Lots of ball movement, player movement and passing. But they still count the baskets for points. Not the passes. Maybe McDermott with that bunch. Then who guards twos? Well, second line twos. Does that matter? There aren’t really many new faces, but there will be plenty of new questions.