Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 10.19.2012
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I personally think that the Chicago Bulls should start Nate Robinson [because] he provides more energy and offense. Why is he not the starting point guard?
Sam: Now let’s not get carried away here. There’s a reason Nate is with his fourth team in the last three years and playing for a non-guaranteed minimum. Could everyone in the NBA be wrong? I’ve written that signing Nate was a good pickup, that I expect he’ll eventually be guaranteed for the season and that he’ll be popular with the fans. But if he’s a starting point guard, you are the Charlotte Bobcats. I know the fans like him because he is like them: Small, he cheers a lot and is annoying at times because he always stands up in front of you. He had a good game the other night against the Bucks, which is great for the Bulls since there really is no true backup point to Kirk Hinrich with Derrick Rose rehabilitating. Hinrich will need time off the court to stay healthy until Rose returns. It probably is the Bulls biggest hole without Derrick. If Nate can deliver 10 or 12 minutes a game as a competent backup, the Bulls will be thrilled. But Nate historically has been a mistake player, someone who commits a lot of turnovers and takes low percentage shots. They are two of the biggest reasons you get benched on a Tom Thibodeau coached team. It’s understandable as Nate is a hustle, activity, energy player who can be a bit out of control. But that’s how he defied the odds to have a remarkable NBA career for someone that size. It will take some compromise both by Thibodeau and Nate to make it work, for Thibodeau to look the other way at times given Nate’s excesses and Nate not to lose his enthusiasm if he’s disciplined often. I don’t think there are enough blood pressure pills Thibodeau could take to watch Nate running the offense.
After watching Nate Robinson play a very solid preseason game on tuesday it got me to thinking. Height is such an enormous advantage in the NBA. In fact, it seems that anyone under 6' 3" or so has pretty severe disabilities to overcome if they want to make it in the league. Surely, guys like Robinson are much better "pure" ballers given their extreme disadvantage in height. After all, how good do you have to be to make the NBA at 5' 9"? Also, if you consider that the vast majority of the population is below 6' 2", that means that most great basketball players just aren't tall enough to stand a chance, hence many better "pure" players never make it to the NBA. With that said, who do you think is the best "pound for pound" or "inch for inch" player in NBA history? Obviously, Jordan and occasionally Russell get the nod as the greatest ever, but if we are talking "pure" basketball talent, who was the best?
Sam: If you go pound for pound and inch for inch, you’d still say Jordan given his impressive career. Though I think you are suggesting the best player under six feet, which is often that category of the guy who doesn’t look like a natural player and has the severest of handicaps given his lack of size. Yes, the topic of the week has been Nate since that game as evidenced by the above suggestion. Guys like Nate, Earl Boykins, Spud Webb and Muggsy Bogues were marvels given how short they were and the amazing careers they’ve had. I’d put Nate in their group of deserving NBA players but not all time greats. But if you go all time greats, you’d have to go to the Hall of Fame, where you’ll find maybe 5-8 Calvin Murphy. There’s also Nate Archibald, who wasn’t named “Tiny” for nothing. Though the greatest in that category, easily, has to be Isiah Thomas. Go stand next to him. Six one? No way. He was the leader of a team that won two titles, a rarity for so called small men in pro basketball. I might go with Bob Cousy after Isiah, though Cousy didn’t win anything until Russell showed up.
During free agency a couple of years ago the Bulls were looking for some inside scoring. That's when we signed Boozer and he was supposed to answer those problems. Why is it that nine times out of 10, he is shooting a fade away jumper? Last year I didn't have too much of a problem with it since he made a bunch of them and also because he didn't play at the end of the games too often.
Sam: Well, that didn’t take long. A few lackluster preseason games and Boozer is quickly the target. Thibodeau may not be thrilled, but both Boozer and Deng seemed to be easing through the preseason, which is fine with me. It’s what veterans generally do. Let’s at least give Boozer the first week of the season. But back to that old question: Who’d you want? David Lee. There just aren’t a lot of guys like that. The Bulls liked Chris Bosh, but he wasn’t interested and isn’t exactly an inside scorer, either. Boozer was next on the list for everyone. A lot of the top power forwards in history, like Elvin Hayes, were jump shooters. And Karl Malone shot plenty. If Boozer can make them they count as much as inside scores.
I am a bit concerned about the depth the Bulls have off the bench. So far, the four preseason games have not been that pretty and Thibodeau doesn't seem to be that happy with their performances. Is there any reason that the Bulls did not go after players such as Josh Howard, Leandro Barbosa, Mickael Pietrus and Kenyon Martin? Was there asking price to high or do the Bulls feel that they brought in better players. I feel the players I mentioned could help the Bulls this year more than the players they brought in via free agency.
Sam: It may be a bit early to make a judgment about the bench, though our instant message (do they still have that?) society demands immediate responses to everything. Imagine actually seeing if something works and trying to make it better? Ridiculous, I know. With the financial means the Bulls had, given the new collective bargaining agreement restrictions, they seem to have done reasonably well with the reserves and we saw Nate Robinson since you wrote this have a good game. Which I diminished, of course. It’s easy to forget how critical fans were two years ago about Ronny Brewer being injured, C.J. Watson not running a team, John Lucas on the roster and Keith Bogans being alive. Without going into details, the Bulls can add a player about three weeks into the season, and one of those players is possible. Though the larger issue still is the absence of Rose, and while it isn’t noted much the Bulls really are limited more than anyone on payroll given they are paying Rose $16 million this season and he cannot play. And they cannot use that money to pay someone else.
Taj Gibson is one of the players who embodies the values of this current Chicago Bulls' group. He's hard working, doesn't complain, trusts the coach's decisions, plays at a higher level than his raw talent projects, etc. With the loss of Asik, it appears the Bulls are preparing to do what it takes to keep Gibson and hope that he can handle 20-30 minutes a night playing the 4 and the 5. However, this is the type of contract that can really become cumbersome to a capped out franchise. In the eyes of fans, Gibson could be transformed from a hard hat, lunch pail team player to an overpaid, under-producing, aging forward. It reminds me of so many good reserve forwards who became pariahs after signing an unrealistic contract for a role player (Kenny Thomas, Malik Rose, Dan Gadzuric, Austin Croshere, Luke Walton, Jerome Williams... I could go on). Luol Deng only has haters because of that contract!
I think Dallas may have a good model for moving forward in the new NBA when you don't have three All-Stars. If you strike out on a superstar, don't sign the lesser stars to multi-year and costly contracts. If the franchise is desirable, a quality veteran will always be available. And I'm not sold that Gibson is such an unreplaceable player. The 2001 Raptors spent way too much money retaining role players and it backfired immediately. I view Gibson as a 2-3 year, $5 million/year player. Anything longer or more costly can be crippling if he doesn't flirt with double/doubles on a nightly basis. A Kris Humphries is available every year along with other solid combo forwards. What is your assessment of Gibson's value under the new CBA? And are those past players an accurate precedent to determine the risk/rewards of Taj Gibson?
Sam: You make a compelling case. And it has been interesting to see the way Cuban has been able to dismantle a title team and basically run in place without all the hysteria it would produce in Chicago if the same tact were taken. I see Gibson somewhat more valuable than you do, perhaps somewhat above the exception in a three or four year deal. I have not been privy to the talks and Gibson has been quiet about his intentions. But you are right that a team cannot afford to keep giving everyone eight figure contracts. The NBA financial world is changing, and players usually realize it last. The fans love when their favorites get paid. Then they get upset when that player doesn’t produce at that money level. And sometimes you can’t have every toy. I’d like a Porche and can probably afford one. But does it make financial sense and then will it change where my kid can go to college? Teams have to make these decisions as well. A team in this era has to identify its top players and pay them. The model being set up is basically not for bench talent. The Heat has virtually none and neither do the Lakers, two of the favorites. The Thunder is struggling with extending James Harden for the same reason, which would seem a no brainer to everyone. But if you are going to play off the bench, can a team afford to pay you as a starter? And if it does, how much does it hurt its chances to add a starting level player at a high salary in the future. I assume these are the discussions taking place, and you hope each side can approach it with reason and perspective.
These predictions suggesting the Bulls are going to win close to 50 games this season and be in a position to make a playoff run when Rose returns seem overly optimistic. In addition to the fact that they’ll be playing at least half a season without Rose the competitive landscape in the East seems to have changed over the past couple of seasons. While I’m not suggesting teams like the Cavs, Pistons, Wizards, and Nets are going to contend for an NBA title, they did get a whole lot better and more athletic in the off-season and these seemingly easy victories the Bulls had in prior seasons, won’t be a given this year. The Bulls will be playing a majority of this season at a greater athletic disadvantage than prior years and their offense is going to be reliant upon three guys who are “long in the tooth” in NBA terms. Coach Thibs may have a wonderful defensive scheme and be a tireless worker, but as it’s often said, have you ever seen a jockey carry a racehorse over the finish line?
Sam: I haven’t seen those 50-win predictions, though I suspect they come with the optimism of an early Rose return. I’m not sure about that. I’ll make a prediction that basically means nothing at the end of training camp. But this team without Rose looks pretty much like a .500 team that will be struggling to be in playoff position. I think you are right that there will be a lot of close games which can go either way. Offense will be an issue, as everyone has pretty much suggested. But I think where they’ll miss Derrick most is in those run stopping positions like in the third quarter when all of a sudden no one can score and Derrick gets 10 in a row. Who does that now? Right, no one. Games don’t always come down to the last minutes. Often you can get to the last minutes because someone kept it from being a blowout before that. Just seeing the roster in September and estimating a Rose return around the All-Star break, I’d been suggesting an optimistic 47-win season and maybe sixth or seventh in the East. Given Thibodeau’s drive as a coach, I believe the Bulls will do better than expected or what they should do. But it’s difficult to see them out of the 40’s. But I did say two years ago I was certain Rose never would be an MVP and this was no 60-win Bulls team. But I’m still picking against the Mayans.
From everything I've been reading lately it sounds as though the Kings aren't going to give Tyreke Evans an extension. I realize the guy has been spotty, but he was still a ROY winner and can really be something when healthy. Any chance the Bulls could offer an aged Rip Hamilton for Evans? The numbers seem to work out, though I realize trading an over the hill player for a young asset might be tough.
Sam: There’s been much talk about Evans being dealt as he was moved to small forward last season. Yes, you answered your own question about a trade like that. But the issue for any team is paying someone like Evans who doesn’t seem to have a position. He obviously, as a former rookie of the year, wants a big contract, and if you trade for him you are either renting him short term of getting ready for an eight figure offer or demand. The question for a team like the Bulls with their payroll of four players alone making almost $50 million with a $58 million cap is if you are going to invest in another high salaried player is he good enough to be the second option to Rose? If he’s not, I’d say keep looking.
Why don’t reporters ask the follow up questions to Iguodala? It would be nice if they would point out that he is saying that playing winning basketball is not enjoyable to him and he would rather keep chucking threes. It's not unlike the political campaign, the lack of poignant follow up questions when people say things that beg for the obvious follow up questions drives me crazy. This may be more valid to politics than the musings of today's NBA player, but why can’t anyone be held accountable?
Sam: Long term guaranteed contracts. Maybe like with the NFL if the NBA can induce more concussions their players also will agree to short term contracts.
As a native Brooklynite, I've bailed on the Knicks in favor of the Nets. I don't see a championship ceiling for this Nets team. At best they seem to be a second round team. What do you project for this group? And who is the best team in New York?
Sam: Is this like the second ugliest guy at the dance question? Is that sexist? If you were really smart you’d bail on all New York teams, but it’s a start. I have the Nets finishing ahead of the Knicks this season although it will be a close contest on the non likeability chart of who you can least stomach, Carmelo Anthony or Deron Williams. I do think both are short term teams with older veterans making big money and filled with potential A-Rod players over the next few seasons. Which will bore the rest of the country, which pretty much everything about New York does. Sure, the rest of us will root for both to lose, though for now we’ll have to satisfy ourselves with the dysfunction of the Knicks winning (or losing) out.
Is there anyone in your opinion that has really stood out from the team?
Sam: I never make much of exceptional preseason performances since many veterans pace themselves. I haven’t seen that much to thrill me with the Bulls this far, though I have to admit I’ve been surprised with the relative ease Nazr Mohammed has been able to score and the good shape he is in. I can see Thibodeau using him more than he’d expected or planned. Overall, I think Hamilton has been the best player in showing they’ll be able to do more and be counted upon more than many expected. Also, Hinrich has been solid and steady, though I expected that.
With Hinrich playing so well with his second time around with the Bulls so far, I began to wonder how well the Bulls would have been if they didn't dump his salary and kept him with the bench mob players over the last two years. Could the Bulls have beaten Miami in the East and taken the title in the last two years? Something to ponder, especially the way Kirk appears to be revitalized.
Sam: I really (really, really) believed the Bulls would have beaten Miami last season given the combination of depth and size. You saw them able to size down to win a title, which they’d never been able to do against the Bulls. That’s also what hurts Bulls fans about Rose’s injury: That was the window for now given the bench and Omer Asik, and while not starting again, it certainly is running in place for awhile. Yes, they’d have been even better with Hinrich, who played Dwyane Wade so well. But can you imagine the Bulls saying in the summer of 2010 they were going to keep Hinrich and build the bench with reserves from other teams and draft picks like Asik instead of making a play for Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh? If they had kept Hinrich, that’s what they would have been saying. Yes, had they kept Hinrich with that group they brought in maybe they do beat Miami, assuming Rose isn’t hurt, of course. But they never saw that coming and neither did anyone else. And could you imagine how Hinrich would be treated now in Chicago if people believed the Bulls picked him over LeBron James?
I recently watched a three hour training session in Europe of Partizan Belgrade. The players use 17 seconds of the shot clock moving the ball around the 3 point line (8 to 12 passes during this time).
- Each player could only the hold the ball for a split second and had to pass it off.
- Once they passed the ball the player had to move sharply to a new location (I noticed that there seemed to be marking on the floor that the players ran to before changing direction - Kind of looked like route running).
- PF and C were required to move out to set screens every 4th pass then roll hard back oppersite side of the key (I never seen such hard screens and hard cuts by big guys. The assistant coach was yelling at them the entire time)
- Ball does not touch the ground through a dribble.
- All shots came 1 of 4 places (left 3 point corner, right 3 point corner, easy under the bucket layup/dunk and dead center on free throw line
I have to say every time a player dropped the ball or took too long they were subbed out and started running laps around the courts until they got subbed back in. The entire training session I did not see one player answer back or talk out of turn. All of them were 100% focused on the session. How many NBA pampered premadonnas do you think would do this training like these players did with out complaint?
Sam: I guess my main observation is that you need a hobby. It does seem surprising more of those players aren’t in the NBA and leading their teams to championships. I did hear Iverson is interested in playing there, though.