Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 04.19.2013
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Going into the game against the Wizards, the Bulls were in control of their own destiny. If they win, they play the Nets in the First Round, and if they lose, the Pacers. Do you know if the Bulls organization would strategize to win or lose the game in order to play Nets/Pacers? Obviously, we would rather play the Nets but what if it wasn't these two specific teams under the circumstances?
Sam: I wasn’t convinced the Nets were the better matchup given they have big time scorers and finishers the Pacers don’t, which is big in the playoffs. Plus, the Pacers don’t score much, which suits the Bulls style better. Still, I’m proud of the Bulls, or Thibodeau specifically. These last few weeks have been an embarrassment to the NBA and its players. The game transcends anything an individual team cares to do. And only one team wins the title. Everyone needs the game; the game does fine without any player or team. You discredit the game by pretending to be injured and sitting out games without a real injury, just to rest for the playoffs. Fans still have to pay for the games, and, in effect, you are an entertainer. Sports is entertainment. The show goes on. What about you? No one likes to show up on Broadway and see the under study. When you take a job or assignment you have an obligation to do the work, to come every day if the circumstances permit. There’s never once in NBA history been an NBA team who’s won a title by manipulating matchups. That’s for losers and teams and players afraid of a challenge. The NBA needs to take action, which is easy. Just start fining the organizations $1 million per offense. The league can do that. The obligation is to the fans. All the fans. Not just the fans of one team. The NBA says it loves its fans. OK, show them by at least giving them what they pay for, which is a good show with the main actors. It doesn’t mean players have out be out there 45 minutes. But be out there; Jordan understood. Bird, Magic, Oscar, Russell. They didn’t take days off for no reason. Think they weren’t tired? They played three in three nights regularly. The actions of teams all over the league the last few weeks and many players are making a mockery of the game. I know Thibodeau gets criticized some for the minutes his players play at times. But they play, and it’s no coincidence they play better than most expect most of the time because they play. You don’t improve by watching if you can play. Good for the Bulls and Thibodeau right down to the last minutes Wednesday giving their fans a good show.
Well, that’s the end of the regular season – 45 wins. Pretty good, given our best player has been out all year – I'd challenge any other team to have competed as well as the Bulls have without their best player. At the beginning of the season you did your usual regular season predictions, how did this team stack up against your predictions? From memory I think you went for 46 or 48 how did the team do versus the commentary you gave back then? This year isn’t about winning it all, for me its about building the confidence ahead of a big push next year with our best player back in the mix (although if we win it all I won't be disappointed in my own prediction!)
Sam: I had 47 wins, but, no, I didn’t forecast the injuries. Yet, I hardly expected none given who was on the team and their past health issues. I believed the level of preparation from the coaching staff and commitment from the players would keep them competitive and beyond the general expectations. I also was 50/50 from the start on Rose playing this season, so never really expected any significant bump from that. No one who has come back among those who have from ACL has done anything significant. No one ever does that first season back, which every doctor and player says. No one can really say or want to they are entering a season in which they know they cannot win. No matter the odds, you always believe something is possible. But given the circumstances this was a getting ready season and the Bulls players made it very interesting given the circumstances with a lot of highlights and disappointments. It’s why I love this game and the regular season.
Will the Bulls be back to a standard rotation this weekend? Or will Noah and Gibson still be on a minute restriction? Also, what will the rotation at the 2 look like? I think Jimmy and Marco have been playing the best, but Rip has all that playoff experience. So which wins out youth and athleticism or age and experience?
Sam: Based on how things have gone and how they looked this past week it seems obvious there will be minutes restrictions. The issue will be when to use those minutes? To start or off the bench? Also, given the Nets’ high scoring backcourt I’d guess Jimmy Butler will start at shooting guard as Thibodeau now seems comfortable using him. I’m also quite sure Thibodeau will be letting us know about 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
Boozer is often criticized, no matter where he has played, but of his draft class, he has had a better career than almost everyone but Yao Ming and Amar'e Stoudermare. Jay Williams, of course was lost before he could have shown how great he was.
Sam: It’s a good point. It’s fun to go back and redo drafts and ask yourself what could they possibly have been thinking. Often like in a marriage that breaks up, you want someone to be what you want instead of who they are. Boozer never has varied as a somewhat indifferent defender and solid offensive player who likes to play outside. Fans want him to be Karl Malone. He’s not, but has had a very consistent career and if that draft were done over you could make the case he should have been No. 1 overall — instead of No. 35, one of the best second round picks in the last two decades — instead of Yao based on longevity. Perhaps as well with Amar’e and the few others who have succeeded from that weak draft, like Caron Butler, Tayshaun Price and John Salmons.
I am one of the few Bulls fans who think Boozer has played well during his time here. He has been durable the last 2 seasons and provided double doubles on average. His scoring is on par at Utah given his few mins he has played here. He might not be as explosive he was in Utah but he has been consistent. He also has rebounded well. His defense is what it is, he was never a great defensive player in Utah or Cleveland so I don't understand the fans who are complanining about his defense, I guess they never saw him play before he was on the Bulls. I know he is a lighting rod for his contract but Bulls had to sign someone in 2010 after Joe Johnson, LeBron, Wade, and Bosh said no. He is better than Amar'e. He is better than what we got back in summer of 2000 when McGrady, Hill, Duncan and even Tim Thomas rejected the Bulls. At least he isn't Ron Mercer.
Sam: You’re not alone these days, though if Reggie Evans goes off in the next week, look out.
I respect Rose decision not to play if he won't, but he and the Bulls hurt the fans more by giving us hope that he will play.
Sam: I’m fairly confident now Rose will not play in the regular season. What should he have said. He said back in camp he wanted to play but didn’t know if he’d heal quickly enough. He said he hasn’t yet, and I don’t know how anyone can tell someone else they feel better or right. He says he’s not there and not ready. It’s what he’s said all along. He didn’t know, so he always said he hoped but didn’t know. The Bulls always said if he can he will, but they didn’t know and would leave it to doctors and Rose.
Recently you told a reader "I don’t think [Derrick] is anywhere near healthy." I just don't understand how this can be said, as (1) he's cleared to scrimmage (2) we've been told there are no setbacks. Rose does not have a torn ACL. That much is clear, as the Bulls would not clear him otherwise. Since we have never had a star player have this kind of injury, we are not used to the possibility that a star player would try to control their own rehab. What is it about a game with whistles and a ref that is so much more dangerous (or setback-causing, or compensation-injury-causing) than a scrimmage? Rubio's injury was on a totally innocuous play. He can reinjure his knee at any time, but "cleared" means he has "no increased chance" of injury. Why not play him five minutes in a game, if he is cleared? Why not play him five minutes in a D-League game? I don't see why sitting out and delaying months is seen as accomplishing anything. Can't Derrick reinjure himself in an offseason pick-up game?
Sam: There’s been a lot of criticism about Rose like this from many other medical school graduates and world class physicians as well. I know I haven’t seen any doctor quoted saying Rose is cleared for playing in a game. Thibodeau said he was cleared for scrimmages, which the Bulls basically never do and when they do Noah, Gibson and Deng aren’t in them as they have so many injuries. Rose tore his ACL. It was repaired. I’m not a doctor, but if you had a heart attack and a bypass and there was a repair I assume you are not exactly like you were before, that perhaps there are some limitations put on you. Rose says he’s not right. That suggests to me he isn’t as after playing through maybe a half dozen injuries last season and missing a total of six games his first three seasons and seeing him take falls like those brutal shots from Dwight Howard and not miss games and as many hits as he took driving I don’t see how this is a player with a history of not playing. The way I look at it is here’s a guy with one of the most major injuries a player can have with an eight to 12-month timetable to when he can get just back on the court if he’s right for a limited amount of time. He’s not healed yet. What’s the issue?
With the latest buzz about Phil "itching" to return, do you think he would consider taking on a Pat Riley-type role with the Bulls? And, if he were willing to consider such a scenario, what sort of terms do you think he would demand?
Sam: I have heard he wants all the lights on Michigan Avenue changed to yellow so people can consider when is the best time given their moods to go. Actually, I talk to Phil and he seems very pleased with both how the Bulls have done and how he has done and prefers to remember his time in Chicago fondly.
Kirk Hinrich has been a huge pickup for the Bulls this season. He's one of the guys whose impact doesn't show in the box score. I feel the offense runs significantly better with him in the lineup. I can't wait to see him and Rose in the backcourt together. But who would you give the Bulls MVP this season?
Sam: For awhile I’d have said Noah given that great run midseason, but again injuries have shut him down. I know the fans’ choice is Nate, though if I mentioned anyone but Deng I know Thibodeau never would speak to me again. It’s tempting, but I’ll mention Deng, anyway.
With Butler looking so well, Belinelli doesn't seem so important anymore. I don't see the Bulls getting into a bidding war with anyone over him. If he does leave, does the team have the money to sign Korver back? He would be great to have as a backup again. Or has he played himself out of the Bulls price range?
Sam: The Bulls would like to retain Belinelli given he also can play point guard, or at least run an offense. But he may have increased his value with a solid season. Given the circumstances of the new labor agreement with luxury tax and other penalties that would prevent the Bulls from potentially making a move for a high level player after next season, I don’t expect the Bulls to make any free agency moves of substance this summer. Korver will be far out of their range and unless they make a major trade involving core players I expect a quiet personnel summer.
How do you feel about the free agency coming up in the summer, and do you think the Bulls are looking to sign anyone. I feel like J.R. Smith is someone that the Bulls should try and sign.
Sam: I have never been a J.R. fan, though he has had his best and most controlled season by far. I saw where the Knicks kept J.R.'s brother, Chris, around this season for rehab after he was injured. Which probably suggests that J.R. will return to the Knicks. It’s not illegal, but J.R. also is their second option and given Stoudemire’s uncertain status, I’d be stunned if J.R. chose to move on. Though as I noted, I don’t see the Bulls involved in free agency this summer.
I'm watching the Lakers/Rockets game. With the Rockets down by the 3, Jeff Van Gundy was saying that the Rockets should take their shot and foul Dwight Howard while the shot is in the air. He says that way you are getting Howard to the line and but being penalized for fouling away from the ball. I generally consider most things Jeff Van Gundy says to be nonsense, but I'm not familiar enough with the rules to know that this wouldn't work. It seems like it would work. The only thing I could think of would be if there was a rule that takes points from the shot made on that attempt away. Is there any such rule that would make his logic not work out another reason as to why such tactic is not used more often? I realize that the tactic doesn't show much class, but it does seem as if it would be effective.
Sam: Jeff can be very entertaining given his conversational style. But he’s sort of like Barkley with a degree. He says a lot of stuff he basically knows is stupid and makes no sense to see both how it sounds and if anyone will react. He gets called into the principal’s office a lot, but since the NBA vetoed his brother’s job with ESPN they are leaving Jeff alone for awhile. Jeff in his curious misunderstanding of the salary cap called the NBA a Ponzi scheme a few weeks ago. I expect he’ll be back in coaching before too long — perhaps even next season with all the openings — given the money is better and people may start to ask him what he means. You have to take him like Barkley, with a roll of the eye, a smile and that unlike a lot of the others he at least has some eclectic ideas and a sense of humor. As for that strategy, if you foul off the ball at the end it’s shots and possession for the other team. Or they could call an offensive foul and negate the shot. But give Jeff that he does think outside the box, though in his case it’s more outside the hexagon.
Mike Singletary gave his blessing to let a new Bears player wear number 50. When the Bulls retire #1 does it go to D-Rose or Benny?
Sam: I’m told so far they are leaning toward Jamal Crawford or Del Beshore. Though Randy Brown keeps hiding the No. 1 jerseys and saying they are his.
With Kobe's injury and the very real possibility that the Lakers will amnesty him to save $50 million in luxury tax; any chance the Bulls sign him? If he gets amnestied he can't play for the Lakers next season. I can't see him sitting out a full season if he's healthy to play near the end of the season and playoffs. The Bulls almost got him before. If there's anyplace Kobe would play in besides LA, I have to think it's Chicago.
Sam: No chance for the Bulls under any circumstances. I don’t believe the Lakers will do it, though most NBA people you talk to say they have to given the huge luxury tax hit if they resign Howard of some $80 million. But they can also cut that substantially dealing Pau and/or Steve Nash. That Kobe would return to play without missing next season would be a disaster for them. The way amnesty works teams under the cap could put in a bid for him and then he’d be obligated to play there to get his $30 million salary. I doubt the Lakers put him in that position. He could retire with a wink/wink deal to resign with the Lakers, but they could be limited by cap room. I’d say they have to ride it out with him on the roster.
Doug wants to stay on with the sixers as an advisor? Heck with the sixers. They stabbed him in the back.
Sam: I don’t expect Doug will be doing much other than it being a way to work out the rest of his deal. And he does have good ideas about the game as we know from his broadcasting. Whether he went along or not, they basically traded the team out from under him on a gamble that backfired with Bynum. Maybe it was worth the shot; but that’s why they call it gambling. Doug did what he always does, which is make your team relevant after it wasn’t. Few ever have been better at it, but like with Larry Brown they are never long term solutions, which few coaches are, really, as there already have been a half dozen or so fired this season and more to come as the playoffs conclude.
I was wondering. Was it a smart move to rid of Korver for Hinrich? Korver was our best shooter when it came to three pointers and was starting capable. He is a more consistent shooter than Bellineli. Why did the Bulls let him go for a point guard who lately has not been performing as well as he should.
Sam: You would have loved watching Nate Robinson make decisions with the ball all season. Boozer might have gotten 10 shots. Everyone would loved to have kept Korver, a great teammate and great shooter. But Belinelli did end up averaging more points and being a capable backup point guard at times while Hinrich has come on strong the end of the season and remains one of the league’s best perimeter defenders, especially vital to play the Nets. It’s tough to be a defensive team if none of your guards play defense.
What teams will be interested in Andrew Bynum this summer and what kind of contract offer do you think he'll receive? Is it possible he signs a one year contract with a team so he can try to come back in 2014 and get a bigger, longer deal?
Sam: He’s shown what a risk he is. If someone pays him a long deal or a lot of guaranteed money it figures to be their last job. The 76ers say they’ll take another look. Bynum will love the booing. I’d say the Mavs and Portland could be in the mix as desperate duos. Those guys end up where teams are desperate and willing to believe guys will be who they need instead of who they are.
Why are the words "trade" and the name "Deng" still appearing in the same sentence? Seriously, what does he have to do? Why aren't we making space in the rafters for when his jersey is retired, and I ask this knowing full well that there are only four up there and it's not something the team does lightly? On any other Chicago team a guy that works that hard, defends, came from adversity, and holds the team together. There would be riots if the team even hinted at trading him. Hasn't he earned some respect? Why don't we see him as a lifetime "Chicago" player?
Sam: Too much fantasy basketball, probably. I did get a few more this week of those Jimmy Butler is on the way to Springfield, so trade Deng. I have explained before as a coming free agent, there isn’t any great demand that would get you a player anywhere near his level. We know how the coach feels and the Bulls have had chances to trade Deng in recent years and said no. He’s proven impressively durable, a clutch performer’ he’s a great teammate and wonderful citizen. So trade him. It can be an angry fan base.
Is there any other team in the NBA better set to compete against the Heat, when healthy, then the Bulls? Deng plays LeBron as good if not better then any other player in the NBA, Noah or Boozer vs. Bosh is a pretty even matchup (As long as Boozer doesn't turn around with the ball and Bosh go flying to the floor like he just got punched by Ali) and one matchup I'd love to see for 40 minutes is Butler vs. Wade. Butler has the speed, strength and athleticism to give Wade nightmares. While Butler is still young and has alot to learn, with a line up of Rose, Butler, Deng, Boozer and Noah they can switch on nearly anyone and hold their own offense maybe limited but defensively it would be a great battle.
Sam: Yes, I think the Heat would rather have seen the Bulls in the other bracket and let someone else take them out, but at this point the Bulls aren’t exactly a slam dunk to get past the first round with Noah and Gibson on limited minutes.
In a few of your columns you mention how Michael Jordan had planned to retire after 1998 regardless of whether Phil Jackson was going to return. But I also remember back around the year 2000 Michael remarked during an interview that the Bulls would still be winning championships had the team not been broken up. I agree and think that the Bulls would have won the title in the lockout shortened 1999 season had MJ, Scottie, Dennis and the rest of the team resigned for one last run together. In fact I always blamed Jerry Krause’s hostility towards Phil and Scottie as the reason they both wanted to leave Chicago after 1998 and prematurely ending our dynasty. I am aware that he was physically and mentally exhausted after the second threepeat but it seemed as if Michael, the ultimate competitor, still had a great desire to play. Yet he correctly recognized that the Bulls without Scottie and Coach Phil would not go very far even in a lockout season. Thus he decided to retire because Krause ran his coach and his teammates out of town. So do you think the Bulls would have won more championship had Krause displayed a little civility toward the team?
Sam: This is a great sort of urban legend that they never would have lost. Mostly, I don’t believe Michael under any circumstances would have played the 1998-99 lockout season because he was burned out like 1993. Yes, he could have returned, but this time the Bulls didn’t leave anything to return to in Krause’s desire to rebuild. Krause may have mistreated people and he and Phil were not going to make it anymore as Phil was burned out as well. Winning doesn’t always produce happiness. But there were so many factors that pointed toward the end. Pippen was declining to resign under any circumstances and already had essentially agreed to wink/wink free agent deals. Rodman was about done, as we saw when he went to Dallas and was released weeks after destroying that team. Plus, often forgotten is Michael suffered a serious hand injury that offseason and could not grip a basketball and might not been able to play. And Luc Longley broke down quickly in Phoenix. Your last memory of that group would have been most unpleasant. They were one of the rare groups or individuals who left at the right time in and era when basically no one does. That’s how good they were.
What if the Bulls did a sign and trade with the Clippers - Rose for Paul. 1) CP3 is a safer bet health wise. He's gone through a major injury and has proven to be fully recovered. His game is such that he'll be able to have a long career playing the style he plays. You could argue that he's a lesser risk than Derrick. 2) He's more of a traditional point guard. If Derek has lost some of his explosiveness he'll be less of a player than he once was. He can make improvements in his game but he's just not (and never will be) as smart a player as Paul is. Paul would fit in nicely with this group in a more typical point guard role.3) Paul is a competitor of the highest degree - I think we're a title challenger immediately with him next year. 4) Derrick's image and reputation has taken a hit amongst Chicago fans. If there is truly a rift between his inner circle and the Bulls ,there is at least SOME risk that he bounces four years from now. Maybe starting over with a new star who's a little more balanced and logical in his thought process would be a good idea.
Sam: Well, there goes that era. There are obviously all sorts of technical issues like sign and trade restrictions for teams over the cap and if your case is so strong why would the Clippers want that malcontent? Plus, Paul is basically hurt often with a degenerative knee condition and has never been close to the talent of Rose and I don’t recall ever won a game against Rose’s team. And he is known to be a very difficult teammate. I add this to show the how quick they forget attitude in society these days. I know you always hear the what have you done for me lately thing, but it seems never more palpable than in the reaction to Rose and his major reconstructive knee surgery. How dare he get hurt and recover at his speed.
Fun fact. Extend Nate Robinson's PPG, APG, STL, RPG over 35 minutes and his season would compare nicely with Derrick's 2010/2011 numbers.
Sam: Whew! That’s a relief. I assume the Bulls then trade Rose for cap space and maybe a nice second rounder. Should be some offers.