Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 04.12.2013
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Jimmy Butler and Nate Robinson dominated the Knicks game, not surprisingly they are the best athletes on the team. If the Bulls get more athletes, they beat the Heat. Obviously that's a gross generalization and oversimplification of the Bulls' needs, but you get the point. They need to resign Nate, he's their best offensive player (w/o DRose) and I have a feeling Thibs wouldn't mind throwing a few towels as long as Nate wins them 4-5 games every year. And they need to target more athletic players in the draft (as long as their names aren't Tyrus Thomas).
Sam: Well, that Rose guy is a pretty good athlete. Yes, the Bulls have looked particularly un-athletic this season without Rose. But he will be back and it does seem he’ll be very close to his prior form by next season. No, that doesn’t mean I know he’s not coming back, but even if he does it would be in limited play, anyway. With Jimmy Butler making a strong case to be the starting shooting guard next season and with Joakim Noah at center that’s an athletic enough starting lineup. Actually, that’s why they took Tyrus over LaMarcus Aldridge. They felt they had too many basketball players and fell victim to all the fans and critics screaming for an athlete. Athletes are good additions, but you need the right ones. Taj also is athletic.
I live in Connecticut and I think I've lost a few brain cells hearing all the Knicks championship talk during this streak. Rooting for Jordan and Rose I've always been in the habit of defending guys that were volume shooters out of responsibility to the team, but watching Melo I just couldn't believe how much he shot.
Sam: Having grown up in New York City I know New York to be maybe the most insecure place in the world, basically filled with a lot of loudmouths who try to make up for their considerable demand to be noticed (and how could you not feel that way with so many people) by shouting their opinion. It’s nowhere bigger than among sports fans. My favorite old line always has been the definition of a dynasty: A family in China that rules for 1,000 years or a New York team on a three-game winning streak. Anthony is a tremendous talent and maybe best pure scorer in the game. But he hasn’t changed from his Denver days and part of the blame now rests with Mike Woodson, who calls nothing but the same postup for Anthony constantly. The Bulls always have a nice plan for them in playing physically, which the diva Knicks don’t like though they dish it out pretty well, and then running the other three point shooters off the line. It remains why the team is fundamentally flawed and cannot win. But these last few decades for New York basketball success is more measured in winning a playoff series.
What do you think would be the Bulls record if they didn't have Nate Robinson who has come up huge for the Bulls in several games? Can you imagine any scenario in which you would get rid of him at the end of the season and get value in return?
Sam: I expect Nate to be gone with nothing in return as he’s a free agent, and am in agreement he has been of great value this season without Rose. It reminds me of the 1985-86 Bulls season when Jordan was out injured and the Bulls brought in George Gervin and he had some huge games, averaged more than 16 for the season and even scored 45 one night. And then Jordan returned and there was no use for him anymore. George after playing 2,065 minutes that season played 11 minutes in the playoffs with one shot. Nate probably will get a better offer like John Lucas III did, so the Bulls will not spend money on reserve players. So that probably makes it moot. The larger point is Rose will return. That means Hinrich moves to backup with Butler or Marco Belinelli if they can keep him at shooting guard. Plus, Marquis Teague has to play. If you noticed, Thibodeau a few times late took Nate out for defense and put in Teague. Nate would likely not be a particularly good teammate as a 15th man with no playing time, certainly not with his activity level. Though he certainly has been a key contributor this season and a vital pickup, I see no scenario in which he returns or would want to return.
So we've now only got a few games left in the season, and the bulls still have several key players out due to injuries. This is now 3 years running that the bulls have been consistently playing without their starting lineup intact, so it seems like this pattern is not a fluke. I haven't followed other teams too closely, but it seems like the Bulls have had more injury problems than other teams over the last few years (even if you don't consider the injury to D. Rose this year). As with most Bulls fans I think Thibs is an excellent coach, but I'm starting to wonder if perhaps he overplays people, leaving them susceptible to injury down the stretch.
Sam: I know injuries in some sense have become the story of the Bulls season even beyond Derrick Rose. We’ve much discussed the minutes issue with the players, though the Bulls’ players playing time isn’t particularly out of line with other teams with All-Stars (after all, you don’t become an All-Star playing 20 minutes). I’ve also had a number of emails blaming the trainers, doctors and management as well for not knowing the players are susceptible. No one has blamed me yet, but I haven’t gotten through all the emails. Of course, then you also have to credit the trainers and Thibodeau for Boozer having the healthiest run in his playing career. Though you may also want to look at Minnesota with most of their top players out the last two seasons, the Warriors or anyone who has Andrew Bogut, the Wizards playing half the season without half their team. How about the 76ers losing most of their starters? The Cavs losing Kyrie Irving and Varejao? The Hornets having Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis out all the time? Orlando with Baby Davis and Al Harrington and Jameer Nelson and others out. Look around. It’s hardly uncommon. But then why do Durant and Westbrook stay healthy playing so much? What about LeBron? It’s not like he sits much until lately. There are at least 10 players in the NBA who have played more minutes than Deng; dozens who have played more than Noah. Some guys are more prone to injury; it happens. I know the great American tradition nowadays is to find someone to blame and then hope you can get them fired so you can feel better about yourself. There’s not a single guy in the NBA averaging 40 minutes per game and basically no one but the front running Thunder having their players not miss games. So why don’t they break down? Bad things happen to good people and to your favorite teams. When Rose comes back—and certainly a torn ACL is a common injury these days—it won’t look as bad. Sometimes you aren’t lucky, like when Bernard King blew out his knee and the Knicks had to start over again. It happens. The Bulls haven’t been lucky. Maybe they will be next season.
I wrote you 3 times during the February All-Star break about Noah's Plantar Fasciitis. I was dumbfounded the Bulls let him play in the All-Star Game and then play him heavy minutes in games post All-Star Game. It was known Noah was with Plantar Fasciitis. Noah was highly likely to exacerbate this struggling and be compromised come Playoff time. The All-Star break was an ideal time to begin an extended rest. Plantar Fasciitis is such a common problem and the only solution is extended rest. I know the Rush physicians the Bulls use have an excellent reputation. I assume they advised the Bulls to rest Noah. I understand Noah really wanted to play in the All-Star game but there was such a high risk of compromising him come playoff time. I do not understand how the Bulls could have allowed this to happen. Can you provide any insight into how Noah's condition has been so miss-managed?
Sam: This would be one of the blame management/trainers parts. I’ve also gotten a lot of emails about Noah’s sneakers, the French brand, though that may have more to do with the view of some great patriots here to not accept French fries during the Iraq invasion. There has been no proof even if you can’t get those at Foot Locker (I assume) that it’s the shoes. I thought Noah should play in the All-Star Game as it was his first and you have to try to play through some things. If you don’t feel right you can sit out all season. Noah tries to play as long as he can. You can rest a year, but the season doesn’t wait. So Noah is trying to figure it out the best he can with no one quite sure the best way for an NBA player to deal with this as the condition we’re told can disappear just as quickly.
I read on NBA.com that JJ Hickson is not coming back to Portland and is going to test free agency this summer. Is it at all possible with the likelihood that Nazr, Vlad, Marcus, and possibly Nate are not coming back, is it at all possible/does it make any sense to try for him? He had a monster season and looks like he could compliment Taj and Jimmy quite well off the bench, and even starting once Carlos goes.
Sam: I assume the Bulls don’t want to be the team—though there will be someone—saying, “How could we have given that guy that contract?” He’s another undersized four who doesn’t play much defense and is quite comfortable putting up big numbers for losing teams. Usually it takes a few years just to get that out of their systems. The Bulls have that position with Gibson off the bench. Though the larger point is I don’t expect much roster change—unless there is a big trade involving Deng and Noah—and certainly not in free agency as the Bulls have four players making eight figure contracts, which is more than anyone in the NBA, and even with an amnesty the Bulls won’t get enough under the salary cap to make an offer to a free agent. Short of a major roster shakeup deal, which seems unlikely, the team you have is the team you’ll see. But then you add a former MVP point guard, which isn’t a bad offseason addition.
Who do you think is having a better season (overall), Kobe or Melo?
Sam: Now that is a tough one as Anthony’s team has done better and the Lakers even with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol and Steve Nash in and out of the lineup still are fighting off Utah to just get into the playoffs. So I’d probably go with Anthony as he’ll finish higher in the MVP voting, though it’s too close to call in who monopolizes the ball the most. But Kobe has been amazing even if he won’t give up the ball, putting up huge games and quarters to drag the Lakers toward the playoffs. Would they have they done it anyway without his scoring explosions? That was often a criticism of Jordan. But Kobe is the one who is doing it, so no one else has done enough. It’s just another remarkable season from Bryant.
Is Jimmy Butler the next Michael Jordan or merely the next Scottie Pippen?
Sam: At least we know he’s not the next Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain. He certainly has a chance to be the team’s starting shooting guard next season, and hardly anyone saw that coming given he wasn’t even playing a year ago. My son argued with me before the season Jimmy would average 10 and 8 and I asked how he would do that from the bench. So things can change quickly and unexpectedly. It’s probably fair to say Jordan’s legacy and the space next to his statue is safe. Jimmy probably is more in the mold of a Trevor Ariza or Kendall Gill, a very athletic starting player who can make shots but isn’t going to be there to carry your team. Pretty good, I’d say, for the 30th pick in the draft.
What are your thoughts on what a back court of Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose might play like. Having two amazingly fast and athletic guys who also happen be terrific defenders looks really promising.
Sam: Well, at least I’m not going to be getting a lot of suggestions about shooting guards to draft. It’s probably not a perfect match since while Jimmy is developing his shot you can see for now he’d rather drive the ball and there are places on the court deep from where he doesn’t want to shoot. Ideally, you want a shooting guard with Rose who can space the court and shoot threes to open driving lanes as well. But Butler has obviously shown he can work and improve, so I expect his shooting to get better. It’s also a mindset and his is not to be a shooter yet. Rose has not been a great defender, so we’ll see when he returns. But Kirk Hinrich moves to third guard and can play off both, so that’s a very promising guard rotation going into next season and with another big man…
Eric Gordon is not working out in NO. Obviously he's a health issue and he's a non expiring max contract. However, you have Jimmy Butler coming into his own as a young decent 2 way player (great on one decent on other) with a developing jumper and a great slashing game. This makes Deng expendable (only somewhat). Can Deng alone get us Eric Gordon? Deng and Booz used to be labeled as injury riddled fodder. Now they're all star caliber. Gordon is 22. Should the Bulls take a chance on Gordon? A young core of Rose, Gordon, Butler, Noah, and Taj sounds pretty sweet. Plus Teague can start playing more and hopefully develop into a solid back up. Plus win-win, the Hornets would get an expiring contract but also an All Star veteran with a winning mentality to mentor guys like Al Aminu, Rivers, and Davis as well as solidify a defensive front line of Lopez and Davis.
Sam: I’m again getting lots of trade Deng stuff, though I prefer Butler as a shooting guard given he isn’t as tall as Deng. Also, Thibodeau could be talking to himself even more losing Deng. I doubt Deng is going anywhere now if only because his value is very limited because he has one year left on his contract. Yes, some teams want to dump salary, and I’m pretty sure the Hornets want to dump Gordon. I don’t get the fascination with him as he’s been a bad teammate, a disloyal, selfish guy, makes almost $15 million a year and constantly is hurt. I pretty sure given that there’s zero chance the Bulls ever would be interested as once you add him you are basically done adding players and that’s a heck of a risk to carry his money the next four years knowing you cannot improve. It also makes for a small and much lesser defensive backcourt than with Rose and Butler as Gordon is 6-2 and shoots below 33 percent on threes this season, much lower than Butler.
I see yet again in your Monday column that you have beaten up on Eric Gordon. Now you maybe right, you maybe being a bit too harsh I'm not quite sure. But he had it pretty good early on in that he was playing with a big city club in the clippers. They then traded him to New Orleans a small 'known as a poor man's city' isn't? for Chris Paul and others. Now if I were Eric I too would be a little disappointed that the club he played for just all of a sudden became a contender and I was shipped out to a lottery team in a struggling city that they thought might be dumped from the NBA about 2 years ago. But hey that's the NBA business I know! So then when he has a chance to better his situation, of all the teams that showed interest and he really did want to move himself and his family to a city of his choice. Deal was about to be done but then gets squashed by the team that already owns him and there is nothing he can do about it. Is that correct in that he just had to sign with the team who held him or could he have still signed with Phoenix for less money? This is the part I'm not sure on how it works.
Sam: That’s the point with guys like Gordon. They want it both ways and only the team to have the risk. He could have gone to Phoenix. All he had to do was sign his qualifying offer, play one season for the Hornets (half given how many games he plays) for $5 million and then been free to sign. But he wants the money and security knowing he has a bad knee. So he signs for the $56 million from the Hornets and then says he really preferred to be in Phoenix. Nice, eh? This is the guy we also knew committed to play at Illinois and after some funny stuff ended at Indiana after he’d made still another commitment he wanted to back out on. How could you ever trust the future of your franchise to someone of that character? Teams can’t play fantasy and make a mistake and go, “OK, too bad.” Those mistakes stay with you for years and cost real money.
With the emergence of Jimmy Butler shouldn't this definitely be the off-season the bulls see what they can get for Luol Deng. I think they'd be in a win-win situation because they don't need to trade him, so if a deal isn't in their favor then they can just shoot it down, but if they can nab a lottery pick out of it with a decent player attached to it then wouldn't they have to consider it. Two teams come to mind that could be trade partners: How about Luol Deng to Minnesota for Derrick Williams and Minnesota's 1st round pick. Maybe Minnesota finally wants a divorce with Kevin Love and we can see about a Deng for Love swap. That could be very interesting. Another team could be the Phoenix suns: Luol Deng for Michael Beasley + lottery pick+ top 2nd round pick
Sam: Michael Beasley? Derrick Williams? Lu misses two games and all heck breaks loose. If the Bulls were to trade Deng, I wouldn’t consider anything less than a break the bank package that landed some star. Not a draft pick in what may be the worst draft ever or some underperforming backup draft bust. As for Love, he just sat out a season and you’d think he owes the Timberwolves something having collected his $14 million. I assume he’ll be back. But as I also said above, with Deng an unrestricted free agent after next season I don’t see teams lining up for a rental. And then the Bulls would have to consider trading him to a team that needed a coach so Thibs could go there.
How do you think the bulls will play when Derrick Rose returns? Will they again depend on Derrick? Or will they step up their game like this season? And if this happens will it affect Derrick's stats?
Sam: It would be nice for someone to average 20 points again. That is not a bad thing. But Derrick his entire life has been an unselfish star who fell into being a scorer with the Bulls because they needed him to be. He’s always been content to be a good teammate, which is another reason why even when a lot of media and fans don’t support his rehabilitation his teammates are behind him and supporting the way he’s handled everything. They know his character and the player they’ll get back.
How did the Chicago Bulls get the name Bulls?
Sam: It was a play on the single syllable name like Bears and Cubs and a tribute to Chicago’s meatpacking tradition and board of trade, I’d always heard. The perhaps apocryphal story was original owner Dick Klein, who was quite the promoter and impresario. He said teams with multi-syllable names didn’t win, though the Yankees did do OK. Anyway, he said he was throwing out names like Matadors and Toreadors and his son said those were a “bunch of bull,” and Dick exclaimed, “That’s it! We’ll call them the Bulls!” I know. But that was Dick’s story and he is no longer around to ask again.
I do not want to sound like I am not a supporter of Derrick but maybe you can clarify what the big difference is in full contact practice that is pretty much a scrimmage game and a 20 min limit cap on a season game. I would love to see Derrick back on the court in whatever capacity, I want him to feel comfortable and take his time but I wonder what is holding him back?
Sam: The Rose questions and complaints seemingly never will end, though as I’ve written many times before and which basically every NBA player has warned Rose to go slowly he remains on a reasonable schedule. Carmelo Anthony was the latest the other day to say he doesn’t know what fans and media are thinking and Rose needs to be cautious, and not because he’s afraid to face him. I’ve been standing with Rose in the United Center hallway many times as former players with knee injuries come to him one after another saying their biggest mistake was returning too soon. I heard Tim Legler, hardly an athletic player, say on ESPN his biggest regret in his career was coming back too soon from knee surgery. You just don’t get it. For one thing, the Bulls rarely if ever scrimmage. Rarely if ever have. It’s one of Thibodeau’s ways of keeping players fresh for games. It’s why a lot of the minutes debate is specious. If you practice hard for three hours and no one sees and then play 37 minutes instead of 39 are you stronger and more rested? And with the injuries the Bulls have had when they do practice it’s with Radmanovic and Teague and Mohammed and Cook more than Noah, Deng and Gibson. I never ask Derrick as it’s a personal decision, but I have heard talk of not feeling physically right on some moves he makes. Which hardly sounds like a great case to me to rush back. I think he could play, but in limited minutes and tentative is that so great? I remain amazed so many fans and media after he’s played so hard for the team and the community are so quick to turn on him.
What's the back-story with B.J Armstrong not liking the Bulls organization? What happened, wasn't he once the Assistant GM?
Sam: B.J. was working under Jerry Krause in management, but when Krause was replaced, most of his staffers went as well, which is hardly unusual. B.J. has gone on to become one of the most successful agents and player representatives in the country. I’m sure like anyone else he wasn’t happy to lose his job, though it obviously is common in sports among coaches and executives. But I know what this is about, that somehow he wants to pay back the Bulls and get Rose to leave Chicago. He also still plans to get his first grade teacher fired. It’s nonsense, of course, as B.J. still has a home here and knows how important Chicago is to Derrick and his family. What B.J. most wants is Derrick to play on a championship team in Chicago because that’s really good for everyone’s business.
With it being so late in the season already why doesn't the Bulls brass just choose to shut him down for the season? I believe that since he won't come back with 15-20 games to play in the season (we currently have six games left) he won't be able to play himself back into game shape nor have the chemistry needed with his team mates this late in the season. If he does return now I believe it would be more detrimental to the team so why doesn't Jerry Reinsdorf just squash any idea of Rose coming back this year? or have Gar Forman come out and say for the future of the team it would be better for Rose to continue sitting for this season?
Sam: Because it wouldn’t be better. Can’t sleep? I also don’t get this, “I need finality!” plea. If Rose decides one day to play even in the playoffs, what’s wrong with that? He can play a few minutes. Is it better to bring in Daequan Cook? If Rose is comfortable at that point—and we still are in the eight to 12-month window of when he COULD come back at a limited basis and not when he WOULD come back—how would that damage the team or Rose? This process has been all about Rose as the Bulls and the doctors said from the first day, so everyone remains consistent.
My impression from interviews on television and reports from your columns is that the organization has assembled a roster full of high-character, hardworking players, which I feel is under-appreciated. It makes the team likeable and easy to root for, and it's good for the NBA's image as well as that of the Bulls organization. I'm always a bit hurt on Rose's behalf when ESPN or impatient fans call into question his desire to play. With regards to his knee, I'd like to voice my support of Rose's rehabilitation. I think the majority of Bulls fans are still very much in his favor, and it's only the vocal minority that have tried to make a stir out of his "delay." I just wanted to make sure that you weren't only getting emails from bitter or disappointed fans in moments of temporary insanity. Throughout his recovery, I have not seen any reason to doubt his integrity, and I'm sure his teammates appreciate his dedication to his rehab even more than me. If Rose is feeling ready to play games without much of a minutes restriction, I'm in favor of his return to the team, even if it's halfway through the playoffs. I know the return of a star player usually involves a period of readjustment with the team, but given how much the Bulls' roster has been in flux lately, I think it'll be more help than harm. Even a rusty Rose gives the team another athletic player on the floor, regardless of his scoring and playmaking impact. And with Rose back, why not take a run at Miami? They might be heavy underdogs, but the Bulls seem to be one of the few teams that have the focus, teamwork, and depth to make Miami work for their wins consistently. Before dreams of Miami, though, the Bulls have to win a playoff series or two. To that end, what do you think the Bulls' chances of (winning a round)?
Sam: If Noah, Gibson and Deng are back in reasonably good condition I think the Bulls privately like their chances. It’s obvious from the games they’ve played in recent weeks beating the Heat, Knicks, Pacers and Nets they have a chance against almost anyone. I don’t see them able to handle Miami in a series without home court and without Rose, but they have shown to be a team that doesn’t give in or give up and obviously are not a team anyone in the East really cares to play. You’ve seen both Carmelo and LeBron complaining about their physical play. Which shows you both they don’t like playing the Bulls as they don’t complain about that stuff much as they both dish out a lot. I’ve discussed this a lot: Getting the fourth seed and Brooklyn would be a better first round but Miami in the second. Falling to sixth and Indiana in the first round in my view would be the toughest first round opponent given they are the only team among the top six the Bulls don’t have a winning record against and David West has been a huge problem. So I’d say shoot for fifth and no matter what happens a week in Miami in May if you can get there would be a heck of a season given everything that has happened.
I guess I am getting a little tired of all the back and forth on Rose. He has been a great basketball player and will be again soon I hope. I don’t see the Bulls going very far in play-offs this year with or without him. So I would rather wait until next year, make sure he is comfortable, hope everyone can get healthy and then try to go deep in the play-offs. Does that make sense?
Sam: Yes. Unless he wants to play this weekend.
I traveled to Detroit to catch the Bulls-Pistons game this past Sunday and arrived early to catch Rose working. I'm not a scout or anything, but overall he looked good especially his mid and long range jumper. Then again it's tough to look bad shooting jumpers over a trainer pre-game. Anyhow at one point Derek started working on floaters and fancy layups and ended up missing at least 5 in row during one stretch. He was visibly getting upset with this and even began talking to himself. Again I'm no Jerry Krause when it comes to player evaluation, but it sure didn't seem like that explosion to the rim was there. I don't want to read too much into a pregame shoot around, yet was hoping to hear what your take is
Sam: I don’t think he is anywhere near healthy. Yes, playing is part of rehabilitation. But that doesn’t mean playing now.
Can you provide insight with regards to Marquis Teague's lack of playing time? With Rose out, I would have expected him to get more playing time this season. Sunday night’s 99-85 loss to the Pistons should have been an opportunity to rest Hinrich, 38 minutes, and Robinson, 34 minutes. Is he just not fitting in with this team? Would the Bulls be happy to trade him or are they just bringing him along slowly like they did with Jimmy Butler last year?
Sam: This guy Robinson seems to be doing pretty well these days. and he doesn’t much get tired. Jimmy is the operative point and I think Teague will be a good player when given a chance.
I keep hearing a lot about how the 2014 NBA draft is going to be a good one. I was thinking about the assets that the bulls have now like the Bobcats draft pick and Nikola Mirotic and I couldn’t help but wonder what the chances were that the Bulls could possibly trade one or both of those assets so that we could receive a top pick in 2014. I’m not big about Mirotic and I think that the Bobcats will be good enough to get in the playoffs in the near future if they continue to get good draft picks. I do believe that the Bulls could get a future star in the draft that would be able to impact the team instantly and help take a lot of pressure off of Rose.
Sam: Maybe no one else in the NBA knows about those 2014 potential draft players and the Bulls could give them the rights to an untested international player who doesn’t have to come to the NBA and a potential pick three years from now that could be No. 15 in the draft. Can’t imagine why the phones are not ringing off the hook. Are there hooks anymore? Oh, right, there aren’t. Maybe that’s it.
I know it's only speculation but how do you feel about the latest report on Doug Collins' contract extension. I personally feel he's a great coach but how many games did Philadelphia's front office expect to win with that roster? The front office gambled on that Bynum trade and lost.
Sam: Coaching is always a gamble and you have to know when hold them and know when to fold them, I’ve heard. It seems obvious Doug and the 76ers are going to fold sometime soon and who else would take the fall for a bad personnel move? The general manager or owner? They don’t fire themselves.
The percentage of Derrick Rose coming back this season is getting smaller, and smaller. Fine. So why not try to ink Allen Iverson to a 10 day contract.  He has the resume  The Bulls could use an extra tool in their tool box come playoff time if things go well e.g. chemistry. It is a win-win situation with low risk if they could come to an agreement.
Sam: They have Iverson. He’s named Nate Robinson, but 10 years younger and in a little better condition.
This is regarding the Hall of Fame. Given what we know of them now and can reasonably expect from them in the future, who on the Bulls' current roster would you guess has a chance of making the HOF? I assume Hamilton is the most obvious choice, with Rose close to a lock assuming he keeps competing at or near the level we know him for. But what about Boozer, Noah, Deng, or even Hinrich? Do they need championships on their resume for serious consideration? Or can they keep playing the ball we know them for and get in based on a strong career, even if they don't reach that trophy?
Sam: Based on most of my mail Id assume just Jimmy Butler and Nate Robinson. In reality if he has a long career, Derrick Rose as he has that MVP. Chet Walker had a title and seven All Star games and it took him 40 years to get in. It’s a fairly exclusive club.
I know this is not Bulls related, but Roger Ebert left a lasting imprint on Chicago. Although he worked for the Sun-Times and you for the Tribune, did you get to meet or know him? Just curious what your thoughts are on the man.
Sam: I didn’t know Roger well and am not one to write a tribute as so many have written so many wonderful ones for a truly good guy, as was his colleague from the Tribune, Gene Siskel, whom I did know well and was a great Bulls and basketball fan and loved to talk basketball. But I had a great memory from Roger that I’ll always cherish. When I wrote The Jordan Rules some 20 years ago, it was controversial at the time and I was under siege from much of the media, many either jealous or trying to curry favor with Jordan. In any case, and that happens when there is fierce competition between newspapers in a market, the Sun-Times saw it as an opportunity to go after and try to embarrass the Tribune, which stuck by me. The Sun-Times didn’t have a very high level or professional staff then—much better now despite the issues with newspapers—and they unleashed a few of their lower life writers to continue to take cheap shots at me. One wrote to the Tribune asking I be fired. Another whom I told was printing something inaccurate said it made a better story than the truth and they were running it. Anyway, I got a note from Ebert saying how embarrassed he was by the paper’s sports staff and that I should hang in there and not let the little people bring me down. It meant a lot at a tough time, which was the kind of guy he was, so much more than one of the great literary voices of our era.