Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 01.17.2014
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of emails from his readers
I think the quotes from Coach Thibs really after the triple overtime shows how ridiculous all these rumors about him leaving for New York are. You can see how passionate he speaks about his players, and the way he describes them with words like inspired, driven, and hardworking. I don't think it would be that easy for him to leave these men, that play their hearts out for him, because of possible conflict with management. Last night, after the final buzzer was heard you could see Thibs on the sideline clutching his fists with excitement, he didn't seem like a guy who was just waiting to leave.
Sam: I think the problem with your analysis is it’s much too reasoned and would make you a poor candidate to work in today’s media. I tend to agree. I know the Thibs/management imbroglio is a popular topic. As opposed, for example, to the smooth relationship in New York between management and coach. Where Thibs is supposed to be going to coach a roster with J.R. Smith, Ron Artest and some of the poorest defenders ever, like Andrea Bargnani and a debilitated Amar’e Stoudemire. If Thibs didn’t believe the Bulls had a future and wanted to leave, would he be seeing a future with the Knicks? They have been this supposed landing spot. Since Thibs makes more than $4 million annually and has three years remaining on his contract, that would take out virtually every team in the NBA to not only match and beat that salary but then also pay compensation to buy him out of his contract like the Clippers did with Doc Rivers. The truth is as you’ve suggested. He likes Chicago; he likes his team and still wants to take another shot with Derrick Rose. We always have to qualify everything in the NBA, but Thibs agreeing to being traded really doesn’t make much sense at all.
Can you explain why Marquis Teague was recalled from the D-League if Thibs won't even play him in a triple OT game against the second worst team in the league minus it's two best players? I haven't complained about this as much as most, but was this win really worth playing Jimmy Butler's turf toe for 60 minutes and Joakim Noah's chronic plantar fasciitis for 49? Unless of course he's trying to get those guys on the DL again so we can get that higher draft pick.
Sam: Ah ha. Thibs may be surreptitiously in league with management to tank the season. That feud apparently has been just a cover for this covert draft pick operation, eh? I’m sympathetic with Thibs on this. First of all, who is he supposed to play? Teague just returned from the D-League and Augustin and Hinrich didn’t play all that much. Perhaps he could have given Cartier Martin a few minutes after he played well when he came to the team. But Orlando was super small, so he couldn’t play Mohammed. Boozer was sick and wasn’t even supposed to play and Dunleavy wasn’t playing well and had an elbow issue from the other day. I also think Thibs realized this was one of the few games the Bulls really could get with Afflalo and Vucevic out and they better get it. He’s not about giving up this season and shouldn’t be. But I still don’t get this fan desire to baby these players. I recall Jordan played several of these 50-plus minute overtime games and in back to back situations and all anyone did is congratulate him for working so hard. Now all everyone wants to do is blame the coach. Jimmy’s 24 years old and had played a total of 37 minutes in the last five days. He’s not a glass figurine. He’s one of the top athletes in the world. He can’t play 60 minutes once in his life in a basketball game? This isn’t exactly a regular occurrence. If you train people to do less they will do less. We see it in baseball that pitcher’s arms have become accustomed to 100 pitches or six innings because that’s all they ever have been asked to do. There isn’t a single Bulls player in the top 40 in total minutes played in the league. What are you saving these guys for? They are professional basketball player who are supposed to be playing basketball. Resting for what? The summer? Thibs doesn’t scrimmage very often, so his players get rest. Pat Riley played his players big minutes and scrimmaged for hours. He’s in the Hall of Fame. Since when did counting minutes replace counting points? Maybe we should just dispense with the actual games and have players’ minds attached to computers to simulate games so they won’t wear out their tender bodies. Enough of this stuff already. Let ‘em play!
I was watching the Denver/Warriors game last night and saw our old sparkplug Nate have another big game for a small man in the NBA. It got me to thinking about where he would fit in in a list of top small players under 6ft who ever played in the NBA. I have a list I'd start with the original Nate at number 1: Nate "Tiny" Archibald, 2) Bob Cousy 3) Calvin Murphy, he'd light you up or knock you out whatever needed to be done, 4) Spud Webb-Dunk contest was never the same after him, 5) Nate Robinson gets a slight edge over Muggsy Bogues, strictly from an offensive point of view. How would you rank em?
Sam: There isn’t exactly any sort of official list or category and, sorry, but Nate doesn’t make it. Yes, I know how much he’s beloved here and the Bulls probably could use him this season after losing Rose, though D.J. Augustin probably is a better addition for the future since he’s a good playmaker. And if they had Nate they wouldn’t have added Augustin, whom I assume they hope to keep. This is this “small man” debate which generally divides players by under and over six feet. Well, if a guy is listed at 6-0 or 6-1, like Augustin is, he generally isn’t six foot. The best has to be by far Isiah Thomas, who is the only six footer (really under) to be the main player on a title team. Obviously Cousy and Calvin and Tiny. Then you add Mark Price, one of the greatest shooters in league history. You might put Gail Goodrich in that class as he was maybe six foot. Tim Hardaway certainly was under six feet and so was Allen Iverson and Guy Rodgers, the latter maybe the most underrated guard ever. Probably Kevin Johnson. Remember Michael Adams? Certainly Slater Martin and Dick McGuire, Hall of Famers and I’m not sure if Lenny Wilkens was six feet. And someone asked me about the Kings Isaiah Thomas. You are basically talking about the exceptions, the amazing little guys who are anywhere from 5-3 to 5-8 and can play in the NBA. Nate’s in that group and is a remarkable athlete. But none of those guys rank with the great “little men” in the history of the game.
I keep seeing Dion Waiters pop in all of these articles, whether it's him getting in a fight or him just not fitting in well. I feel that he may be on his way out of Cleveland, do you see him leaving any time soon? If so, where does he fit best?
Sam: The Cavs obviously went all in with the Luol Deng deal. So it’s about making the playoffs for them. If that’s what you call going for it. Anyway, if they don’t make it they’ll probably look to make a lot of changes as they have a roster in major flux with Deng a free agent and Varejao with a partially guaranteed deal for next season. And then there’s the future of Kyrie Irving and whether they can get him to commit to an extension in the offseason. In light of their LeBron experience, if they cannot they’ll probably look to make some major trades and trade him. Waiters likely would be a big part of that. He’s a Ben Gordon type sixth man, so you need to be careful not to overpay him. As a No. 4 overall pick he’s a tough guy to get a financial handle on because like Gordon he’ll want to be paid like that but you cannot for that level of talent in this labor era.
Miami moves Joel Anthony to save about $10M this season and $3.8M next season. Miami next season only has Cole, Andersen, Haslem and the big three in their payroll. If they can trade Bosh and Haslem and Wade take lesser money in his extension, the Heat has enough cap space to cater Melo. That setups a Wade-Melo-Bron off-season with Cole and Andersen to round up the starters. Do you see another coup happening?
Sam: I would no longer be surprised. One thing we know about the Heat now is they think big, and there’s no better way to persuade James to resign than coming up with a big plan and another big star. Bosh would be the key. Would someone take on his $20 million? He is sort of a star, but as your lone star he doesn’t lead you into the playoffs. And Miami wouldn’t want to take back money in that scenario. But we’ve all pretty much figured out their 2010 coup was likely long planned and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the players have gotten together with Anthony and have him under some sort of wink wink agreement. The other issue is how small they’d be. Bynum for a minimum? Greg Oden really is for next season? I don’t know what Miami is up to. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s big.
Mike Dunleavy and the Sacramento first rounder we got from Cleveland for Ben McLemore. Maybe sweeten it with a second rounder or two. They get a vital number one back and a real pro in Dunleavy. And we take a chance on a kid who may flounder in Sac Town.
Sam: I’m assuming this isn’t the mayor. Because this isn’t going to help you with reelection. It’s not a bad idea… for the Bulls. The Kings are hardly close enough to contending that a player like Dunleavy would matter enough. They’re an aggressive front office, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they do something. But their owner has made clear they are not about draft picks and rebuilding. The Bulls would love to make moves like that for young talent. It’s doubtful anything like that is available.
Why does a number 1 pick like Anthony Bennett happen? Meaning how is it he can get picked first only to barely play for a bad Cavs team and ultimately end up a bust?
Sam: And now his season is basically over with the trade for Deng as he hasn’t played much since and not at all the last two games. It’s too soon to say bust as he was hurt and thus out of shape and NBA teams don’t have much time to work you in. The larger issue is it wasn’t a great draft. Consider that the third, fifth and sixth picks barely have played, if at all. Six or seven of the top 10 picks either don’t play, have been hurt or have regressed once they started playing. Drafts take a few years to evaluate, and even more so now with so many young players who have less basketball experience. It’s why the NBA needs to increase the waiting period to enter the NBA to at least two years. It’s not unfair. It’s not about kids. It’s not unconstitutional. It’s a private business, which has a right to protect itself. You need a law degree; you need to be a CPA to be in these firms. The NBA has the right to make its own rules regarding entry. If you are 18 and don’t want to go to college, you can make money in Europe, in the D-league and there are loads of minor leagues. The NBA’s biggest problem with all these fake issues like the lottery and officiating is too many young, inexperienced and unready kids joining an adult world and being unprepared, thus lowering the quality of the product. Until the NBA fixes that, it doesn’t matter how much wallpaper fixes they make. The structure still is cracking.
Do you feel D.J. Augustin will be retained by the Bulls or will this be another Nate Robinson situation?
Sam: I think they’d like to bring back Augustin. But would he want to return? He seems to like it here now and is getting plenty of chances to rescue his reputation, which I’m sure he appreciates as he’s a very good guy. But it’s still Derrick Rose coming back and would someone based on Augustin’s play give him a chance to start? Plus, how much would the Bulls pay to retain him compared with their other options in free agency. Maybe you have to use your money for a higher level talent. One of the reasons they went for Augustin was with next season in mind. But there’s way too many possibilities this summer to know what either side would like to do or can do.
Something doesn’t add up to me regarding all the articles I’ve seen noting that the Bulls are looking to deal Dunleavy. If the Bulls are going to be a contender next year, then they will need veteran floor spacers like Dunleavy and it’s tough to come by a guy as good as him at that price (which also speaks to his trade value). Since I can’t image the Bulls getting a 1st round pick for Dunleavy, it only makes sense to deal him if you’re clearing cap space for an all-star. But wouldn’t the Bulls be able to find a taker for Dunleavy in the off-season after they’ve found out if they have any chance at James or Anthony? If you deal him now, then you’re in even worse shape once LeBron and Carmelo turn you down. What am I missing here? Are guys like Dunleavy too replaceable to tie up potential cap space with?
Sam: I haven’t heard there’s anything going on regarding Dunleavy. I think it’s just been media speculation putting two and two together and getting the usual 22: They’re dumping Deng, so they must be dumping everyone to save money and get into the lottery and get more picks. I think that was a one-time thing because of the Bynum buyout that had to be done then to save the money. I don’t see more moves that would undo the team for this season. Dunleavy’s moderate by NBA standards NBA salary also led to speculation. But, yes, this isn’t the last season. And you need shooters. There aren’t nearly enough even with Dunleavy. It seems to me it would be a huge mistake to trade him.
Before you quickly say no really just think about it. Why wouldn't Rose come back this season when he's ready. And by the way, there's a very real chance he will be ready before the season ends. What is there to gain from both his perspective and the perspective of the organization by holding him out again. I understood the first time because an ACL is an entirely different animal. But coming back from a meniscus tear is borderline common. Also, and I suspected this at the time, by saying he's out for the season they do Rose the ultimate favor. Because now if he comes back he looks like the warrior playing through and injury. If you say week to week and he never comes back then he looks like a wimp. I've read you say before that no matter what we hear we will not see a #1 Bulls jersey on the floor again this year. I just can't think of a valid reason why not if he is healthy.
Sam: Well, now the fans want to lose games. So Rose could mess up that plan. I believe he wants to play, but again, I believe it’s a medical issue. Given the meniscus surgery he had it’s actually conventional wisdom of at least six months out. Russell Westbrook had the same thing and was out seven months, came back and now has had to go out again with more surgery. So this amateur notion that a meniscus operation is routine seems fairly misplaced. I have to admit I was a little surprised to see Rose traveling already and on the bench, which some fans asked about. It almost was a disaster in Orlando as someone flew into the Bulls bench chasing a loose ball. But I can understand Rose being bored with all this rehab and needing to be around the team and doing his work with them. This is two years of rehab for a kid. Imagine yourself in high school or college being told to sit out two years of playing. You didn’t even need money. It hardly replaces the game. I’m certain Rose would play if it made any sense and was possible.
Has any team been more negatively affected by the latest CBA than the Bulls? Before the lockout, the team seemed to be in good shape financially with a deep bench and some room to move. Then with the new CBA, in addition to dropping the salary cap, they added the "Derrick Rose Rule" that added several million to Derrick's salary over what was budgeted. I don't know if the Bulls' owners knew that might be coming, but the first I heard of it as a fan was after Derrick was the beneficiary of it. Makes it hard to budget for. The CBA also included the poison pill loophole that let Houston get Asik through creative contract structuring, and now Deng is let go for draft picks because it's too financially punitive to keep him due to the repeater tax. And next year the Bulls may pay Carlos Boozer $16 million to not play for them, all to make their situation more workable under the cap. The irony of it is that, before the latest CBA, the Bulls were doing what you'd expect a good company to do: find young talent, develop them and invest in their future, and when they help contribute to the company's success the company rewards them. It happened with Kirk, and Luol, and Joakim, and Taj through contract extensions, and now that desire to reward them may be the reason some have to be moved. I have a feeling another lockout is coming in 2017.
Sam: I’d think the players would consider it as well. The poison pill thing was there before, I think. Just not used. And you see why now as Houston appears stuck with paying Omer $15 million next season basically not to play. They did get caught with that clause to pay Rose more. So Rose does have a good agent, it seems, who had a lot of clout in that labor negotiation. At that point the Bulls could do little but pay it. Like everyone else. But that’s also what’s missed with the Asik situation. The Bulls did a heck of a job, the right thing, in finding a young talent. But Asik’s representatives also did a smart thing in refusing the three years the Bulls wanted. He’d only take two years to come to the NBA. It’s the issue with being a rebuilding team, which the Bulls weren’t completely. But if you have a lot of young players, especially in this era when they come into the NBA so young, by the time they are able to do something for you together they want to be paid. And the new labor agreement is mostly designed to spread out the talent and preclude teams from multiple big contracts for young players. It’s why an ideal team needs a blend of veterans and young players and you will have trouble succeeding with multiple draft picks and young players unless you get the true star like LeBron or Durant. And there aren’t many of them.
Can a team amnesty a player during the season or does it have to be during the offseason?
Sam: You can only use amnesty during a week in the summer. Plus, with all the possibilities there is no guarantee they’ll use the amnesty since you after all do have to pay the player his full salary and then he can play for your biggest rival for a minimum with you paying him.
Would you agree that Joakim Noah is the best center in the history of the Bulls?
Sam: Best this season for sure. And it would be a shocking omission if he’s left off the All-Star team. Although it’s always debatable who is a team’s leader and even if it really has one, it’s clear it’s now Noah for the Bulls with Rose out and Deng traded. Noah’s been on an incredible run the last several weeks amidst all the turmoil. And it’s pretty amazing the Bulls have even been winning all these games given their last place offense. Noah’s averaging 13.7 points and 13.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists the last 10 games and even better in January. He’s one of fewer than 10 players in the league averaging a double-double and easily the best center in the conference as Roy Hibbert is averaging fewer than half as many rebounds as Noah. Hibbert figures to be a certain All-Star given the Pacers leading the conference. But no Eastern conference center is playing anywhere close to Noah’s level and his inclusion ought to be automatic. Best ever? It’s not an impressive or illustrious list. But Artis Gilmore is a Hall of Famer. And while that was because of his ABA career, he still made four All-Star teams with the Bulls and had a couple of 23/13 seasons with the Bulls. You’d also have to consider Tom Boerwinkle, who averaged more than 11 rebounds four consecutive seasons and missed a total of five games while doing it.