Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 01.18.2013
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Do you think Carlos Boozer will make the All-Star team this year?
Sam: I do not. I wrote Thursday night in the Bulls Blog about the Bulls chances for being picked by the coaches as All-Star reserves. I’d say Noah has the best chance followed by Deng, though I did see Charles Barkley in the TNT broadcast have Boozer among his East reserves. But Barkley as amusing as he is also is one of those analysts who pretty much gives you the last thing he saw, which was Boozer having his career Bulls game in Toronto. Actually, I think one thing that will work against Boozer is that Bulls fans have been so negative about him for the last few years it became an impression about him and probably will hurt him in coach voting.
I was wondering what are the chances that the Bulls re-signed Carlos after his contract expires? Carlos has stated he loves the city and the Bulls and given that he has made a lot of money over his career, he might consider a "home-town discount". If he wants to return in the range of $6-$8 mill a year, what do you think?
Sam: Well, that’s a first. I guess it depends on how he does in his season after the Bulls amnesty him and pay him $15 million to play for someone else. Though maybe they shouldn’t do that, eh?
How do Bulls fans who always talked about trading Booz for Amar'e or Pau now look. Booz is playing his best basketball in years and Pau is hurting and struggling and Amar'e can't jump over a penny. Hol dat
Sam: Last year it was the bench mob, this season it may have to be the “Hol dat” t-shirts, the Boozer phrase that many of the players have adopted that is sort of a catch all for positive things occurring. Though I wouldn’t quite write off Pau yet, at least if he ever gets out from having to play behind Dwight Howard.
With Boozer playing well lately, do you still get a bunch of hate mail? I bet no one is saying amnesty now.
Sam: Not this week, anyway.
Is it possible we already know the 8 Eastern Conference playoff teams and the only question is who finishes where?
Sam: It’s beginning to look that way with the 76ers taking a tumble and it being tough to see Andrew Bynum coming back next month and making a big difference after basically not playing for a year. The 76ers have fallen about five games behind and with their lack of offense it’s tough to see who they’ll pass. Milwaukee has played well and it looks like Jim Boylan might be able to bring them into a playoff spot and hang onto that job.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Portland selected Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan and we now how that turned out. If Houston could turn back the clock, knowing what they know now, would they still select Olajuwan or take Jordan? They won two titles with Hakeem but would they risk that for a possible dynasty by picking Jordan with the number one pick? I think Houston is happy with how it worked out, but it's not often you would pass on selecting the greatest player of all time. Did Houston get it right or would they like a do-over?
Sam: I recall that season very well. There wasn’t a single team that would have taken Jordan over Olajuwon, and the Rockets did make it to the Finals the next year. That was the era with the idea of having a pair of seven footers, which the Rockets would have with Ralph Sampson. The Rockets, in effect, forced the lottery with their blatant dumping of games to get the top pick again after they drafted Sampson. The move if you look back was to trade Sampson to the Trailblazers for the No. 2 pick and use it for Jordan. Then you would have been going forward with Jordan and Olajuwon. But I’ve asked former Rockets and Trail Blazers officials many times over the years, and all agree the idea never came up. Remember, though Jordan was college player of the year and an Olympic winner, he had averaged 17 points in college. No one had any idea Jordan would become the player he did. The Bulls included as then general manager Rod Thorn said Jordan was really good but wasn’t exactly the kind of player to change a franchise.
You recently said the Bulls will probably let Rip go. I think this would be a huge mistake. With the way Rip is playing now due to good health and the possible return of Rose this could be the last chance We get to see this combo. When they did play together like many others I was able to see Rose get the space he needed because of the threat Rip presented. It would be a waste if we’re not able to see these two. How much could it hurt the Bulls to resign Rip to another $5 million since they’re already paying him that once his contract expires after this season? Why go hunting for another SG when we already have a good one who knows basketball and also knows how to win?!
Sam: Of course, there’s always a chance he could remain as it was more speculation. I’ve been a supporter of Hamilton’s since he arrived and have felt he was a good addition even as he’s had the injuries. And I will add, so were just about every emailer I’ve had when the Pistons were considering a buyout of Hamilton the last few years before he did leave. But my sense is that uncertainty over his age and physical condition — though they do know his age — will be the major factor with the fear they cannot count on him physically and that would lead to working out a buyout.
Is Rip Hamilton being saved for something? He outscored all of the other Bulls guards combined against Toronto Wednesday, but was only in for eighteen minutes and change on a night when our bench was, shall we say, sub par.
Sam: Actually, yes. The playoffs in a way. Thibodeau has decided he wants to go slow with Hamilton given the number of injuries Hamilton has had in his two seasons with the Bulls. Yes, he was playing well against the Raptors, but it’s not a ridiculous idea given his history. The way the Bulls have played and the possibility of Rose’s return suggests it’s probably in the team’s best interests in the long run to go slowly. Plus, it was clear Hamilton had no issues. For a player who came with questions regarding events in Detroit, Hamilton has handled himself as a consummate professional and team first player. Deng plays too much, Hamilton plays too little. It’s like the problems Thibs has at the Bulls lunch room. Sometimes his porridge is too hot and sometimes his porridge is too cold. Fortunately, his chair is just right.
With LA having the biggest payroll of any team this year and doing very poorly, which team with one of the lowest payrolls (relative to what the other teams were spending at that time) has won a title?
Sam: There obviously are other factors, but I’m not counting out the Lakers quite yet as there are several Western teams on the edge of falling out of the playoff race, like the Trail Blazers, Warriors and Rockets. The Spurs traditionally have been under the luxury tax, having to operate given their market size and relative income level at a lower financial base than many teams. Fortunately for them, though it’s big part management, they’ve had players willing to go along with fitting in their contracts to play together as Parker, Duncan and Ginobili have at times accepted less than they could have gotten elsewhere. It was my initial issue with James Harden, though I also cannot fault him. There’s something to being the big scorer and the team star. But he did give up a chance to be with a Spurs-like team for the long run. Who can say who is right as Harden earns more and will make more All-Star teams. I recall the champion Pistons in 2004 didn’t have a huge payroll at the time. For many years, the Knicks had the biggest payroll and we know they haven’t been successful. It’s also about having the best player.
I'm curious as to what you make of the Bulls impressive road record (1st in the East by a wide margin) vs. their subpar home record (tied for 7th in the East). In other words, which do you think is more of an anomaly, and which do you think has a better chance of regressing toward the mean? This is especially puzzling because the Bulls have had one of the top home records in the league the past couple of years.
Sam: I’m not surprised, although I certainly didn’t predict it. But that key to being a media analyst is to not be surprised after the fact. Oh, yeah, we saw it coming. Actually, it does make some sense without Derrick Rose, though the Bulls have blown some big leads at home for no apparent reason. And sometimes you’re in a bad streak when you just happen to go home. But this Bulls team without Rose no matter where they are has to play exceptionally hard to win. It’s natural to have a bit more of an edge on the road knowing the fans are against you and you sense you may not get the benefit of the fouls calls. So you push a bit harder. Then you relax a bit at home figuring the home crowd emotion may carry you, but you’re not quite good enough without Rose. Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it
Coach Thibs is clearly one of the best coaches in the league. He demands effort and accountability and has players that have bought into his system. Could his greatness have made Tyrus Thomas a productive player or does the knucklehead factor overcome great coaching? How do you think they would coexist?
Sam: Thibodeau is good. Nobody is that good.
Ever since I’ve been mature enough to really pay attention to the league (late 90’s), Western Conference teams have typically been better, or dominant. Eastern leaders Miami would be in 4th place and 5 games back if in the West. Half of the East’s teams don’t even seem very competitive, while only a handful in the West are. Why do you think this disparity persists? Is there any qualitative difference between conferences? I always hear that Eastern play is scrappy, low scoring and ugly. Is this characterization true? Does the West just attract better coaches, players, or fans? Thanks.
Sam: There’s long been this distinction that the West is the fast, high scoring conference, sort of inspired by the Showtime Lakers and the East is the walk it up, physical, slog conference inspired by the Pistons of the 80’s and Pat Riley’s Knicks. Actually, it depends just on where the talent happens to end up, and that’s random based on the draft and who has money. There are some Western teams that historically have played more open and run to take advantage of their altitude, like the Nuggets. The Suns have a tradition of teams with a fast break philosophy and the Warriors have given having Don Nelson coaching several times. But you may also forget the Bulls of the 90’s, who though a great defensive team also led the league in scoring. Miami obviously is a team that wants to run and the greatest fast break team in league history was in Boston. But it’s an easy shorthand to say the West runs and the East holds.
Usually I don’t discuss the decisions by the refs. [But] after the Toronto game it's tough not to. First of all: what happened to the flopping calls? Kyle Lowry taking advantage by waiting for players to bump into him to either throw the ball up or fall down over and over again. Someone please start making a case for Quincy Acy for defensive player of the year. He took four charges. When someone tries to score in front of you, you have to contest the shot. There you have a guy in the paint waiting for someone to collide with him to take the charge? Sorry, that’s not defense. If the defender gets position and takes the charge. Ok, good D. Now what this guy was doing it’s tough to see any defense in that.
Sam: I agree. It is one of my pet peeves about NBA officiating, which I also rarely mention as I feel it is basically very good. But it’s not so much the officials but the guidelines the officials have to work under. It’s the league undermining its own effort to cut flopping. Running halfway across the court and jumping in front of someone is not defense. It’s made the game ugly, and yet officials keep rewarding players for not being good defenders. Being a good defender is moving your feet, staying in front of someone, fighting over a screen. Yet, the league rewards players for running across the court, jumping in front of someone and falling down. It could stop easily if players like Acy, whoever he is, didn’t get rewarded for plays like that. It’s the league’s fault, not the officials. Though what mostly happens in these cases is the coaches on the competition committee whine about changing those rules because they feel they get more credit if they are considered defensive coaches and generally skew toward rules that enhance their defensive reputations.
If I am correct Vinnie Del Negro does not have a contract for next year. Barring a major upset, which would probably make them want a new coach, could you see him leaving to coach somewhere else next year? They lost their GM last summer because he did not have a contract. I actually think he would be a wanted man in places like Milwaukee, or Brooklyn if they do not keep the interim guys.
Sam: I’m fairly sure Vinny would love to stay with the Clippers, who may have the best overall roster in the league assuming Chris Paul stays, which it seems he will. Where else is he going to go and have a better chance to win? And give Vinny credit. The Bulls job was his first as head coach, and you learn after your first job. And with GM Neil Olshay leaving last summer, Vinny was something of the co GM and you’d have to say he did a great job in building that roster. I have to assume Vinny remains because he has done a good job and deserves a new deal.
I think Thibs has gotten more wins out of less raw talent than just about any coach in the NBA these past two and a half seasons. This season in particular. Right now the Bulls are 5th in the Eastern Conference standings. It may be a difficult task, but if you had to rank the Eastern Conference teams by talent level, where would the Bulls rank?
Sam: I don’t disagree about the job Thibodeau does. He’s an excellent coach, one of the league’s best. But let’s not get too down on whom the Bulls have. You can makes cases for Noah, Deng and Boozer to be All-Stars, which isn’t that poor a roster.
Good players never stay in markets like Toronto. Since we have that number 2 pick and we know that Nikola Mirotic will be here at some point in this life, let’s offer it to the Raptors for Demar Derozan. As you well know teams always try to keep their best players from walking the year before they become a free agent. Let us deal with him during his contract year.
Sam: I know fans like to assume bad teams will support better teams, especially theirs. Though I hardly think Toronto GM Bryan Colangelo who is fighting for an extension is going to cash in his best players for future picks. Though having seen former Bull Aaron Gray start there Wednesday, I do now know the NBA’s worst starting player.
Now that Lance Armstrong has finally admitted to being a cheat and a fraud, it makes me wonder about the level of use of performance enhancing drug use in the NBA. I'm not sure how comfortable you'd be commenting on it but, in your opinion, what percentage of NBA players use performance enhancing substances (HGH, steroids, blood doping, etc.)? Those things can help you recover quickly from injury or fatigue and some of these guys have unbelievable amounts of muscle. And if they do use them, should we care?
Sam: Yes, we would care, which is why I doubt the NBA has an issue. I admit I’m not an expert in this, but given the amount of money in NBA contracts and the severe penalties it basically would make no sense to try. First of all, the NBA does extensive surprise testing, which I see regularly with players going in for random drug tests after games. I’ve seen Rose called in as well this season even not playing. Plus, when guys get hurt they often don’t exactly rush back. When the contracts are guaranteed, you don’t always have to. I can understand why they’d want to use this stuff in football without the long term guarantees like in the NBA. Again, it’s not my milieu. But basketball is more a game of speed and flexibility rather than strength, especially as the league has altered the rules to give more freedom to the perimeter play. It’s why near seven footers like Kevin Durant become guards. I don’t see where the use of these sorts of drugs would outweigh the risk and loss of your career. Plus, it seems pretty clear that an awful lot of top players like Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul aren’t being helped by supplements.
College teams always play offense in front of their bench in the second half while NBA team almost always play defense in front of their bench the second half. I understand that NBA Rules state that the visiting team chooses which basket to defend and according to your post on 4/01/11 regarding the Memphis game:" Generally, teams always want to play defense in front of their bench in the second half. So the Bulls generally start going east to west in the first half and west to east in the second half." The question is why? I have asked my sports enthusiast friends with no success and so far no amount of internet research has turned up a satisfactory answer.
Sam: This is why you must consult me. The general feeling in the NBA is coaches have more impact on their teams on the defensive end, so they want their teams closer to their bench toward the end of the game where the players can hear the coach better. This doesn’t necessarily include the Bulls as they can obviously hear their coach at most times. As I recall, the Jazz from their days with Jerry Sloan running his system and preferring the offense at his side at the end and the Pacers are the two teams that generally go the other way.
In their last two games the Indiana Pacers did a great defensive job on the Heat and the Knicks. What is your opinion of this club? They have played very well without their leading scorer. Do you view them as a real threat in the East?
Sam: I don’t, but they have generally proven to be difficult. They obviously have issues scoring, but Granger is out. He’ll help, but I’ll be interested to see how that affects Paul George, who has come out of his shell with Granger gone. I think they miss Collison, who is one of those small, quick guards who gave the Bulls problems. The Bulls haven’t played them much this season and since they’re a defense and rebounding team there should be some good games between them to come. Given Miami’s lack of rebounding, you never know who can beat them now.
I think I owe Luol Deng an apology. After watching [Friday's] game I totally agree with you that Luol is better than Rudy Gay. It's not even the 33 points he scored, but the defense he played on a elite scorer like Carmelo, and the versatility he scorers the basketball with. I'm thinking he is becoming that second option the Bulls were looking for. At half time the ESPN crew were discussing the Bulls chances of competing with the Heat. Magic thinks they have a good chance with their defense and a healthy D-Rose
Sam: Yes, I haven’t gotten many trade Deng for Gay emails lately. And Lu thinks I’m always trying to trade him. My story is it’s made him better and now he’s the player the Bulls weren’t sure they would give up for Pau even if that deal wasn’t actually ever there. I felt sure the Bulls would beat Miami last season with a recovered Rose and that bench with the size of Asik. It would seem less likely now.
If Derrick Rose is healthy and in game shape come playoff time, I don't see why the Bulls couldn't be a contender. With Rose, they match up well against pretty much all the contenders: They outsize Miami and Boston, they make New York one dimensional by taking away the 3s, and they give Indiana's offense lots of problems. They were able to compete with the Thunder for about 46 minutes of their game against them and that was without Rose. A healthy Rose may have made the difference because not only would he give them scoring at PG, he might frustrate Westbrook into turning the game into a 1 on 1 match (same goes for when Rose would match up against Deron Williams). Rose has had a lot of success against Tony Parker and the Spurs, and Chris Paul has never beaten him. The last time the Bulls made a deep run in the playoffs they lost because no one was able to ease the burden on Rose and his sprained ankle. Now, with Boozer, Deng, Robinson, Belinelli and Hamilton, the Bulls have five other players who can carry the offense for stretches. Am I the only one who's this optimistic?
Sam: So much for the Bench Mob, eh? No, you are hardly the only one given the Bulls impressive record and wins over Miami and New York. But perhaps it would help if Rose would actually play a game. I know the Bulls hope he returns. But there’s still the possibility even with the latest return of Iman Shumpert, who had his ACL injury the same day, that one of Rose’s doctors will have a hesitation and then Rose would just wait until next season. I haven’t heard this from anyone with the Bulls. But I wonder how the Bulls feel about Rose getting into a playoff situation a month into his recovery and knowing his competitive streak seeing him extend himself too much too soon knowing how much he wants to help his teammates.
I’ve seen this scenario on the Internet lately: The Charlotte Bobcats are interested in reacquiring their protected first round pick from the Tyrus Thomas trade. They’ve talked to the Bulls a few times and Bismack Biyombo was brought up in conversations. The Bulls have no interest in trading the Bobcats pick in return for a package built around Biyombo. The latest: The Bobcats have sought the Sacramento Kings as a potential third team in their efforts to reacquire their first round pick from the Bulls, according to a source. The Bobcats are trying to interest the Bulls in a young big man who could boost their frontline, like Kings forward Jason Thompson. Thompson is under contract through the 2017 season and is on the table for the Bulls. Thompson has started all 39 games for the Kings this season. In the discussions, Mohammed would go to Sacramento along with Gerald Henderson while Hamilton would go to Charlotte with the Bobcats first round pick from the Bulls. One deal that works under the CBA would have the Bulls take Jason Thompson, Jeffrey Taylor or Jimmer Fredette, along with a pick from Charlotte, the Bobcats get Rip Hamilton and their pick back from the Bulls, and the Kings taking Gerald Henderson and Nazr Mohammed.
Sam: I’ve gotten a few emails about Jason Thompson this week, so this is where it comes from. Obviously, it is some writer who has no understanding of the Bulls roster or the NBA who is making something up. First of all, the Bulls just extended Taj Gibson. Why then would they want someone like Thompson, who is another Gibson. Plus, Thompson has a long contract that effectively would limit the ability of the Bulls to sign Mirotic. Have you seen Biyombo? Haven’t seen much indication he can play. And knowing Charlotte wants that pick back suggests you’d want to keep it as that would mean Charlotte may know come 2016 they might be losing one of the top three picks in the draft. For Tyrus Thomas. That would be sweet.