Ask Sam Mailbag 9.30.2016
Sam Smith makes his triumphant mailbag return for 2016-17
By Sam Smith | 9.30.2016 | 1:30 p.m.
Just 2 questions: Where have you been and is it time for a mailbag? I still have reservations about this year’s roster but as always, it is interesting to watch. I have a bet with a guy as to which team has more wins: Knicks or Bulls? I’m nervous because I went home town.
Sam: I’m back, again. Good for both of us. I have the Bulls, but I’m hometown, also. Not that I have to, but the teams probably will be measured more against one another than the Cavs because of the Derrick Rose trade. Everyone knows I was a big supporter of Rose’s and feel he’s primed for a good season. But I also agree it was time to go for both sides. Last season was the last dance. And not like Phil Jackson’s famous 1997-98 one. We all understood. When the music ends and you don’t have a partner, it’s time to go home.
So the Bulls let Noah go home and joined with Rose. It will be better for both of them. It’s why Fred Hoiberg was a terrific coach for last season and did the franchise a service. Everyone knew it was title or bust for last season, and once guys went down and began to come apart, there’s no tougher job in coaching, except working for the 76ers under Sam Hinkie. Hoiberg never looked at it that way and kept pushing. Now he gets a chance to sort of start again, though it’s not ideal with two 30-plus guys. So it’s really a start for Hoiberg as he did the organization a nice service (yes, well paid, I know) by riding it down for them. Now he gets to start coaching. It seems clear now that team couldn’t be coached any longer by anyone because after five or six years of being told you are playing for the ultimate and never getting there, the situation is too toxic for anyone. They actually were all good people, just separated by the disappointment versus the expectations. The Knicks probably have more veteran talent, especially with Carmelo Anthony, who is better offensively than anyone on the Bulls roster. Despite his flaws, he remains as difficult to defend as anyone in the league. But they have so many more questions. Obviously health with Rose and Noah, but also fit under what is now probably unrealistic expectations in a market which always demands too much in an angry way. Rose and Noah have no idea how easy they had it because they were mostly asked about basketball in Chicago.
Referencing your 10 questions article: Question #11: who is going to rebound for Bulls?
Gibson, obviously. Lopez scares me a little here. His rpm is not eye popping, though he does seem to be a pretty good offensive rebounder. He doesn't pass, but he doesn't turn it over a huge amount, either. You probably get a lot of dribble handoffs and stickbacks with this guy. He doesn't get to the free throw line a lot. He does play like a rim protector, though. Portis can rebound but both he and Mirotic are spotty. Here, I think that DMD is underrated. He's nobody's Larry Smith, but I bet he'd open an eye or two. Both Rondo and Wade have chipped in, and if Butler goes to the frontcourt, he's willing. I think my point here is that lots of rebounds left with the two seven foot guys.
Question #12: How many games do the old guys actually play?
If Rondo is interested, the Wade/Rondo/Butler group with Lopez in front of the rim can play defense, especially if they start Gibson. Start Gibson, though, and ball suddenly seems like it's been dipped in superglue. Will this group get to play together enough? it takes time to jell on defense. Practice is nice. Games are better. With less 3pt shooting, offense not including FT may be harder to count on. Defense can bridge the gap when they're stranded by their offense. Thing is, this group is absolutely capable.
Question #13: Second team. What gives?
No more Hinrich to set up this group. They can score with Portis and DMD. Last year, I sorta liked these two together, since both attack but in compatible ways. I know nothing about Grant's game, but if he can slash and play defense, he can pair with DMD who's a little heavy footed and slow in the hips but fights like crazy to have a decent perimeter. You'd sorta like Gibson with this group because he's a good help defender and rim protector. Add Snell playing awake and it entirely changes the complexion of the second unit, but up until now any such prospect has been fantasy. If it's Mirotic off the bench, he's a good enough rebounder to get it done against the other team's bench but he's a bit of a space cadet defensively. I sorta wonder who's distributing if both DMD and Mirotic play together. Canaan? He strikes me as a guy looking for his own shot. It gives me something to watch this season.
Sam: Good questions, but after years of watching David Letterman I thought you only could have 10. I wrote about the rebounding issues (like who gets them and how) some this week as well as the rotation and that seemingly open power forward starting position and, did I say rebounding! It’s what makes this season potentially intriguing, if not expectant of brilliance. The point is more to remember where you were and what you did. The Bulls went for it every year for the last six years. The community was on board. They added the best free agents they could get and chased the others. Every one. They weren’t as successful, but no franchise was more involved in every major free agent situation. And they did add players who were All-Stars and Olympians, like Boozer and Gasol. They were an ACL away from at least one title, I'm convinced.
They rode it down last season, so the choices were a complete back to zero 76ers-like destruction or what they did, which suggests legitimate competition with the flexibility to stay in the free agent market. They’ll lose out on top five picks, but those are long seasons to endure. With Rondo and Wade on short term deals, the Bulls can be as involved in adding talent as anyone going forward. So adding to that an intriguing season seems like a potential for entertainment. It’s a flawed group, obviously, which is why the betting over/under was for under 40 wins. I see that as low, but there are issues and I had three fewer than you did. I think the Three will fit better than many believe because I see Jimmy more comfortable with them. Wade’s one of those guys who knows how to make things work even if he can’t explain it (and we can’t) and I like Rondo’s serious nature, even if it comes in interviews too often. Man, does he give you that stare! Like Wade, I think Doug McDermott can do a lot more than he’s been given a chance to do before. But, again, they cannot afford to go too much into the bench to replace starters.
I see you gave Snell a mention on your article of a couple days ago. I don't know if you recall, but two years ago I predicted this would be Snell's year. Hope I was correct.
Sam: So do the Bulls. Tony’s family, I assume, also, as he may find himself at least a restricted free agent next summer. The Bulls would welcome if not a resurgence since there’s been no surge yet, but some life. It’s too bad because here’s a kid who does all the right things, works hard, is serious and responsible, great teammate who is supportive of everyone, all the traits everyone says they want in a player. Until he doesn’t score. The Bulls could use an athletic wing defender who can make a three, which is Snell at his best. And which we’ve seen, though very occasionally. But it’s also going to be tough to earn the minutes with Doug McDermott and Jimmy Butler at small forward. Snell has played some shooting guard. Can he do that well enough to earn his way onto the floor? It’s tough to see his impact, but the Bulls would welcome it if he can produce.
If the Bulls wanted to be competitive they should have gone into bidding wars to get Whiteside (or Batum). That would have been aggressive and competitive. Then pick up another FA next year. Or go Full Tank mode. Get a top notch draft pick. Instead, GarPax waited until the last minute to get two free agents who are damaged goods... Now we'll have a team that wins 38-42 games (only if no injuries, unlikely). Full of limited one way players that will be frustrating to watch. We won't get into the playoffs, and we won't get a great draft choice.
Sam: Well, it turns out not everyone is excited. I actually think given the circumstances the Bulls did about as well as they could in balancing competitiveness and the future. Those free agents returned to their own teams for the better hometown deals pretty immediately in free agency. They weren’t much interested in moving, obviously. Tanking is that easy solutions for people with a remote control. Yeah, what else is on? The problem as it seems obvious these days with teams like the 76ers and Lakers is that the draft is so young, players are generally not ready for the NBA and are years from being impact players, even when there is one. Check the teams with top picks the last four or five years and count the impact stars. Some of the greatest to come out the last five years were the No. 1s, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett (Victor Oladipo second) and Karl-Anthony Towns. You’d love to have some, but even Irving never got to the playoffs until LeBron came back and Davis keeps getting hurt and missing the playoffs. And that’s now going on five years. I like the pickups of Rondo and Wade to front for the young players to see if there is anything there, and to give Butler a chance to grow without the pressure of having to be the guy. Since both Rondo and Wade have short term deals, the Bulls remain in position to be a player in free agency while retaining their draft picks and young players. No, they don’t look like title contenders this season, but they look interesting and it’s better to start again from 40 wins than 10 wins. And there’s enough mystery with this team not to be sure just how many wins is realistic. With the teardown we knew. Then we’d be counting the days to spring training even before the World Series.
Do you think Jim Buss has gotten the short end of the stick? He's made some questionable decisions (e.g., Mike Brown and Steve Nash), but some of what has happened can't be blamed on him. Getting Dwight Howard was a gamble, but what choice did Buss and Mitch Kupchak have (the latter of whom seems to go blameless in this entire saga)? Andrew Bynum ended up having his career cut short by injuries. Perhaps the worst decision he made was signing Kobe Bryant for two years, tying up money, player development, and thereby stunting the progression of the franchise. And media seem to be clamoring for his sister to take over; his sister has zero experience evaluating players, whereas Buss at least went on scouting assignments and had relationships with team scouts. I can't see the Lakers doing that much better under the current CBA under Jeanie Buss, or Jerry for that matter.
Sam: We always watch the Lakers because they have been so successful, but they are on the way to being the Celtics. A dynasty that will struggle like everyone else. If you can’t get fortunate and get the truly great player, which they no longer seem able to as endorsement and lifestyle seem to have extended to many places, then you are trying just to be competitive and fall into luck, like everyone else. But the aura hasn’t worn off yet. They seem not to have a chance to make the playoffs again this season, and this was to be the year Jim said they had to or he’d walk and Jeanie said she’d hold him to it. Of course, the L.A. speculation is Phil Jackson, the fiancé, will then come in to run the organization as he’s now gotten the Knicks at least competitive and perhaps back in the playoffs. Thus he’d have done his job, earned his way and his exit. And New York has about a three-year attention span on everyone in sports. Fair is not part of sport vocabulary. It’s win, especially in L.A., the only market where basketball is the No. 1 sport. I judge teams and management on if I would have done the same thing at the time. Of course, anyone would have with Howard, and the Kobe plan wasn’t that bad. It’s just that free agents aren’t thrilled about being there. And the drafts aren’t so great with players so young. So it’s tough to build that way unless you have years to spend, which is in short supply in L.A. The Timberwolves have this promising core, and it’s been 10 years of trying and they’re still a questionable playoff team. No matter who comes in there to L.A., it’s questionable where they can go without a big, lucky break. Though we all look forward to the road games there.
What are the Bucks trying to do? They signed Delly and Terry and are experimenting with Giannis at point. The way I see it, they have at least four point guards who should all play. If Thon Maker is a center then they also have four centers who should all get time. It seems very ill-fitting to me.
Sam: If people think the Bulls can’t shoot…Wow, wait until you see those guys. We’ll get a look as the Bulls open this Central Division preseason with the Bucks Monday. Perhaps not the statement game for western Lake Michigan dominance quite yet. They don’t seem to be a playoff team this season with Khris Middleton’s season ending injury and losing Jerryd Bayless, who was their top percentage shooter. It’s going to make Jabari Parker a Most Improved candidate as someone will have to score. Making Antetokounmpo a point guard seems like a questionable idea. But only because he doesn’t dribble or pass very well. But the Bucks are going to be compelling because of Jason Kidd, who doesn’t do multiple years that well. Having Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams off the bench seems the heart of a feud with management over not trading them. Kidd supposedly wanted them out; OK, don’t trade them? I’ll bench them! They have a new general manager in waiting/training and they’re going to be a team to watch. Sometimes on the court, as well. Bulls/Bucks Monday. Can anyone really wait? Be still my heart. Here we go!
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