Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 02.07.2014
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of emails from his readers
Please tell us that Thibs aren't going anywhere else. In my opinion, the only coach that I would replace Thibs with would be: Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Jerry Sloan, and maybe Frank Vogel if we have to. All those names are not available. Thibs is an All-Star coach. Hopefully Jerry Reinsdorf sees that as well.
Sam: This also has been one of the more outlandish scenarios this season. Thibodeau will be Bulls coach next season, I am certain. Well, I can’t imagine any circumstance in which he won’t. We’ve heard all this stuff about the Knicks and even being traded. And I would say if the Knicks resigned Anthony and then wanted to trade him to the Bulls, yes, I assume the Bulls do that for Thibs. Though I don’t think Thibs goes along. Remember, his mentor Jeff Van Gundy quit there after about 10 or 11 games into a season over all the crazy internal politics and ownership interference. New York media reports it’s typical for the owner to meet the coach after games to discuss things he did. Yes, Thibs would love that. Thibs has three more seasons after this on his Bulls deal. He’s already been involved in personnel discussions about next season and the planning of the new practice facility. He’s developed a solid relationship with managing partner Jerry Reinsdorf. Does that sound like a coach on his way out? His supposed feud with management is much overstated. Are both sides perfect with one another? Of course not. Just like good marriages. But the Bulls know Thibodeau helps them win. And Thibodeau knows he has a great situation with the Bulls, loves living in Chicago and really wants another try with Derrick Rose. Though how could a man, I understand, not want a chance to coach Ron Artest, J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin? And maybe without Carmelo Anthony, who could opt out of his contract. Really, you bought that he was leaving?
The Bulls can’t shoot straight (apologies to Breslin). I’m assuming that they shoot fine in practice and that it’s mostly mental and was wondering if it is: over focus on defense, rigorous attention to play running, group dynamics or some semi contagious disease. Maybe sage burning or an exorcism is in order. As hard as they play, they are difficult to watch with their fear of shooting cropping up everywhere.
Sam: I don’t think they shoot that great in practice. They just don’t have many great shooters, and the guys getting the ball a lot with the clock running down tend to be players like Noah or maybe Hinrich, who are not good shooters. Though Hinrich shot really well Thursday in Golden State. Hinrich generally is OK, but inconsistent. A few things go into it. One is playing as hard as they do. You tend to get tired, which affects your legs, which affects shooting. It’s a reason you like the Bulls so much. Most NBA players save themselves for offense. The Bulls save themselves for defense. Also, the offense is structured and slow. Part of that is to take advantage of defense by making sure your guys are in better position to get back in transition and avoid fast breaks. So the Bulls run down the clock a lot and end up taking an inordinate number of shots with the shot clock running out, which are thus forced shots. It’s worse with Rose out, as he basically has been for two years, because the Bulls have no star offensive player to draw a double team and get more open shots for others. Plus, they don’t have players great at breaking down the defense off the dribble, which can produce a drive and kick. So most of the shots have to come out of set offense without the defense rotating a lot, which makes for tougher shots. And without much three point shooting, the interior gets clogged and the spacing breaks down, making the mid-range shots more difficult. And as I finish writing this I wonder how the Bulls score more than 50 per game.
The reason for my email is regarding the internet chatter that the Bulls should consider trading Gibson - likely for a top draft pick this summer - to get even further under the cap so the Bulls have enough room to offer a max deal to the likes of Melo, LeBron or Stephenson. I've heard people say Gibson is dominating right now, is 29 and has a fair contract which would be attractive to other possible suitors. For me, those are the exact reasons you keep him. He is the kind of player that is everything the Bulls stand for...defense and a blue collar scrappy work ethic. Hard hat lunch pail. To try to go for these free agents is risky.
Sam: This all is really the fun of sports, especially around trade deadline in the next two weeks. I’ve had a number of emails about this topic given the speculation—and that’s exactly all it is—that the Bulls should or would go into free agency like they did in 2010 as you need another star. Yadda, yadda, yadda. A case can be made, sure, though we all agree LeBron isn’t coming. The Bulls had the best case to make in 2010 to sign James and Wade to even more money than they signed for in Miami to play with Noah, Gibson and a healthy Rose. And he turned that down. So the attention switches to Anthony, whom I actually do like, as I have written. I think he’d do well with the Bulls given his terrific scoring ability. But there’s really no chance, as I’ve explained previously, that this would work and less chance the Bulls would take it on. The Bulls really aren’t that far away in the East with Miami maybe changing and in decline with aging Ray Allen and Shane Battier and the Pacers good, but just a version of the Bulls with one star, rebounding and defense. But the Bulls could blow it by taking a big run at Anthony. It would require giving away Gibson and Boozer, the latter in amnesty, for nothing. Then you have to have Anthony’s word, which he cannot officially give he’d come on board for a contract $30 million less than in New York. OK, Dwight Howard did, though younger. So say Anthony is willing. We’ve seen these last minute changes for years after promises to stay or come, like Tracy McGrady to the Bulls in 2000 and Carlos Boozer with the Cavs. And these are good citizens. Not that Anthony isn’t. But say one of his buddies, like Chris Paul or LeBron, come up with a plan for he and them. Think he’s staying with some illegal promise to go to Chicago? And then you are stuck with cap room in a poor free agent summer and basically with a roster of draft picks. It’s why the Bulls are out of the Anthony business.
If the Bulls are going to trade Taj, Dunleavy, and/or Kirk why not package them all and swing for the fences. I would like to see something like this. Lakers get: Taj, Kirk, Dunleavy, the Bobcats pick, the Pacers pick, and the 2015 pick swap from Cleveland. Suns get: Pau Bulls get: Okafor and the Lakers 1st round pick top 3 protected.
Sam: This is obviously a wild one and nothing that makes much sense. But I wanted to get to this idea the Bulls are offloading players for cap reasons or draft picks. They are not in my view. The Deng trade was an unusual one time situation that could save them more than $20 million toward future acquisitions, though they had to do it that day. It was a tough call and went back and forth for days. There was much debate and no unanimous agreement. But once you decide in a group, and it was a group agreement, then everyone goes along. The Bulls this season even with a healthy Rose were a shooter short. Without Dunleavy they’d be at least two. He’s got a reasonable contract and I don’t see any trade. Similarly with Hinrich as the team has no intention of trying to miss the playoffs despite what the Deng deal may have suggested. They were mutually exclusive. The financial situation with being able to exit the luxury tax and future severe penalties was too good to pass up now considering the moves it would allow later. But the plan after Rose was hurt never once was to blow the season for draft picks and still is not. By the way, there was that odd speculation about the Suns trading for Pau Gasol. Which makes no sense as why when you are not playing for a title or a long playoff run and have basically made your season already with how well you have done in a rebuilding season would you take time away from your two developing centers to take on a rental veteran center and then throw in a draft pick or young player? Of course, that makes zero sense and I assume the Suns won’t be doing that. But that’s been internet headlines for a week.
Looks like the Bulls have an option on Jimmy Butler this offseason. Do you think they give him a multi-year extension? Seems like there was some sentiment that we had found our shooting guard of the future last season. But, it's hard for me to overlook the fact that he's shooting 37%. I love Jimmy coming off the bench and giving you high energy defense for 20-25 mpg. I don't know if I love Jimmy as a starting SG getting 38 mpg, particularly on an offensively challenged team.
Sam: This is the first time he’s ever played that position on a regular basis. So I wouldn’t make any long term judgments. He’s also shown he’ll work to improve and I believe his shot will become much better. He’s not going to be Ray Allen, but not every shooting guard lives by the definition of his position. I assume the Bulls would like to do something with him. But it will depend on the summer additions, which are wide open for now given the uncertainty regarding Mirotic, the amount of cap room, the draft picks the Bulls will have and whether they’ll use amnesty. Jimmy’s extension comes after that as the Bulls can have him two more seasons with a contract match after next season.
Just saw NBA TV do a nice little homage to Oscar Robertson out of the blue. Highlights and a 5 minute panel discussion. Nice to see them give credit to the history of the game without being prompted by someone's death.
Sam: I saw that and was pleased as well. If you talk to the guys who played with him, stars like Russell or teammates like Wayne Embry, they’ll still tell you Oscar is the most talented player they ever have seen. Though some remember Oscar later in his career when he went to Milwaukee with Kareem and won a title, you saw him in that film younger and thinner and as the great athlete he was.
How surprised were you by Boozer publicly expressing his frustration with lack of fourth quarter minutes? It's nothing new that he rarely plays in fourth quarters-why speak now? He's been such a professional during his tenure with the Bulls.
Sam: I wrote about it at some length for the Bulls.com web site Thursday. I was a bit surprised, though I sensed things were a bit different for Boozer this season and, after all, who wouldn’t be bothered with all the amnesty talk in the media. I loved that he said what he did about playing more. Then you put yourself on the line and have to produce. You put more pressure on yourself, though I’d say Boozer’s comments were much milder than any of the outbursts from Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant when the Bulls were winning multiple titles. I’d say it makes Boozer a better player and a happier one as it’s healthy if you can—and you can with a $16 million contract for next season—tell your boss changes are necessary.
Since they would have to go ahead and pay him anyways, what is the conventional wisdom about amnestying Boozer, do they really think that a first year European player would be more productive than Booz or a rookie, that could implode or just not be any good. It be one thing if you didn't have to pay him but he'd be better than a rook or Mirotic.
Sam: I’m sure the Bulls are considering all this. Maybe it is time to make Gibson a starter, which he won’t be with Boozer. Can you have your backup making double your starter? But if there are no free agents to get or no Mirotic, then I agree why pay Boozer to leave. It’s certainly possible, though not a slam dunk.
Phil Jackson's assistants never went on to be head coaches yet it seems everyone whose ever been on Gregg Popovich’s staff has went on to be a head coach? Jacque Vaughn; Mike Malone; Mike Budenholzer And several others. As for Phil its really been Kurt Rambis and Brian Shaw and really none of the assistants from the Bulls teams.
Sam: The Spurs have a great organization, undoubtedly. The best in the NBA. So smart people want to go there to learn. Phil did it a different way. He wanted to learn. So he wanted the old heads of the game, like Tex Winter, Johnny Bach and then bringing in Jimmy Rodgers and Frank Hamblen. Jim Cleamons did get a head job with the Mavericks briefly. Phil often was misunderstood with this view he was arrogant and had all the answers. He had strong opinion and views, but he always was anxious to learn and explore. And he was tremendously confident in his abilities. Many coaches—and not Popovich—hire young assistants because they are not a threat to replace them given their inexperience. You could say Winter and Bach weren’t, but Bach was a head coach and Tex was one of the top college coaches ever. They certainly could have. But Phil wanted to tap their knowledge, to test his ideas and learn from them given how much they saw in the history of the game and were involved with. Phil’s assistants weren’t going on other jobs. They were going to halls of fame.
I've enjoyed Boozer as a Bull and will miss him whether he's gone after this season or next. It's not his fault that he's paid slightly more than his production on the court warrants. Thinking back to that 2010 free agency period, I was happy that the Bulls signed Boozer after losing out on James, Wade and Bosh. I believe Stoudemire signed with the Knicks before the Bulls got Boozer, which disappointed me since I wanted him on the Bulls more than Boozer. Obviously that was a mistake. The other big name left was David Lee. At the time I thought his numbers as a Knick were D'Antoni system fools gold. In retrospect, signing Lee may have been the better move as he's been very consistent over the past few seasons. Did the Bulls ever consider signing him?
Sam: Lee was on their list, though after Boozer. Lee perhaps has better numbers, but he’s been on the trade block on and off the last few years because of poor defense. He’s also played in a system in Golden State that produces way way way more offense. The Bulls have been a much higher level playoff contender. Yes, the Bulls probably would have preferred Bosh. But after those top three I think they got the right guy.
I usually dismiss most trade scenarios or proposals, especially pie in the sky ones like Carmelo, but I don't see why both teams wouldn't go for this one. Arron Afflalo to the Bulls for picks, Kirk Hinrich, and other contracts to match salaries.
Sam: Afflalo’s name comes up a lot given the Magic have remained toward the bottom of the standings. But they have a team filled with draft picks and young players. That’s their problem. They don’t want more. They want players if they are going to move someone like Afflalo, who has drawn interest scoring on a bad team. He’s good, though I don’t believe he got robbed of a place on the All-Star team.
Roy Hibbert an All-Star, really? He's averaging 12pts and less than 8 rebounds per game. At 7'2 & 285 lbs, he should easily be averaging double figures in rebounds simply by positioning himself better. I understand Indiana is the top team that deserves to send more players to the All-Stars so if that's the case, it should've been David West instead since he's the real enforcer of this team.
Sam: Obviously, this is because the Pacers have done so well and they are a top defensive team. And Hibbert is tall, which is an advantage. I agree he’s not what anyone thinks of as an All-Star, especially when he runs, or whatever that movement of his is called. It’s the reward the winning team guy thing. There’s some merit to that, but when the Pacers needs to score Hibbert gets the ball fifth among the starters. He’s a nice piece for a system team, but a highly questionable star. Look away when he has the ball in the All-Star game. It can be hideous.
I can't believe Korver was passed over again for the 3 point shootout! When is the league going to learn and put the best 3 point shooter in the contest? No offense to Aaron Afflalo, but wow!
Sam: Kyle was asked. He turned it down to spend time with his family as he has a one year old. You sometimes don’t realize how much these guys are away from home and how much that weekend can take out of you with the travel and all the activities the NBA plans for the players there. Kyle had turned it down a few years ago and the league got mad and stopped inviting him. But now with his streak they couldn’t hold the grudge. But he’d moved on.
Turning back the clock a bit, what did Reggie Theus do to be in Kevin Loughery's doghouse? I remember him being a great shooter with Magic Johnson like passing and I've always wondered how well he and MJ would've played together. He was a rare big man who can play both guard positions who's had a pretty solid but short NBA career except for the year he played/sat under Loughery.
Sam: Reggie is a much forgotten guy in the Bulls most forgotten era, that dead time with the brief 1977 run with Artis Gilmore between the Sloan years to the Jordan years. The team was in incredible dysfunction then with the worst drafts in the league, drug issues and historic losing. Reggie was a huge talent and seeing the mess around him just decided to hold the ball and score. That wasn’t the issue. He was popular in the city and loved being out. He was known as Rush Street Reggie. He enjoyed life. There were some financial contract issues and management turned on him. Kevin Loughery was close with Rod Thorn, though they didn’t help themselves running down Reggie’s value and actually benching him. It became personal as those things can be without a defining incident. But with Michael Jordan being drafted after Reggie was traded—which the Bulls didn’t know at the time of the trade—he probably would have had to move on, anyway.
Let's say Luol Deng stayed with the Bulls and finished out his career with the Bulls. Around the same numbers and then a decline at the end of his career, do you think the Bulls would retire his number? He is a good player, but not a great player. But he is a great guy and did a lot for Chicago.
Sam: I think it would have depended on a title and perhaps the Hall of Fame. The Bulls have a fairly tough policy on the retired numbers, so I’d doubt it. But we can only imagine what Deng is going through as he was supposed to have said it was a mess there last week even before the GM was fired and the team lost to the Lakers with four players.
I think the Bulls would be pretty good next year with Deng back, Mirotic and a healthy Rose. Do they have enough room under the salary cap to bring Deng back, assuming he takes $10M annually, and add Mirotic?
Sam: They would not have room to do anything else if they did bring Deng back at the figure he supposedly rejected. The way things have gone for him who knows what he’d do if he had to do it over. And bringing him back would not only eliminate Mirotic, but require an amnesty for Boozer. So it seems unlikely, though still not out of the question.
I was one of few Bulls fans that actually never thought about tanking, with the Deng trade I thought they would collapse. They didn't. And they are not tanking. And I love them for it. But I also love the draft. If the 5 teams were to be Milwaukee, Orlando, Sixers, Boston and Jazz in this order in the draft, which one will you see making the greater jump next season? And do you stay with your opinion that only Parker will change a franchise? I saw a mock draft that sayss Embiid is going first overall.
Sam: I think it’s become clear to the NBA talent evaluators there is no immediate franchise changer in the group. As one GM told me the other day, “These guys’ teams are losing four and five games to teams without NBA players.” This isn’t Kareem or Bill Walton. It may also be why some are said to be considering remaining in school another year. I think whomever gets any of the top ones will be excited and feel they have a major piece to move forward with. But none of those teams likely will make the playoffs next season with any of those top five players.
How good is D.J. Augustin? Is he good enough for Bulls to free up cap space to keep him? It seems to me that the only weakness he has is defense but it is not really too bad. The only question is whether he is willing to be a back up.
Sam: He’s indicated he likes it with the Bulls and appreciates the opportunity. And having been at a few places where it didn’t work out for him I don’t see him chasing the last dollar. Though you can’t do it all the time, I can see him playing with Rose enough that he’d get a fair shot at regular minutes. I’m sure the Bulls would like him back, but there are too many questions given his potential options and how much money the Bulls will have given their free agency possibilities. And whether they bring back Kirk Hinrich. None of which has been decided.
I was wondering if ever anyone commented about the habit of Thibs of standing and walking during the whole game. As a Chicago fan I really appreciate that. How do you reckon that correlates with successful coaches? How was Phil during his time at Chicago, for example?
Sam: I don’t believe it correlates with winning. Phil sat quite a bit, but I know it was important to him to be able to be up at times communicating with his team. It’s another reason I know he did not want to coach anymore because he knows he cannot take standing all that much and didn’t like to have to sit so much his last few seasons. Thibs is a bit excessive, but I’m also not a fan of coaches like Jacque Vaughn, who appear in a coma during games. The game has changed. I prefer all sports — quarterbacks calling plays, pitchers calling their pitches, point guards directing the offense — with the players determining more on the court. It’s another part of this analytics fad and the coaches enhancing their preparation. I believe there is too much over control all over the league, which slows the game. I know the officials would love for Thibs to relax a bit more.
Number one, the fan in me can't help but ask if there is any more chance now that Rose could be back this season. And why aren't the Bulls strongly encouraging Rose to talk to the media every few weeks or so. Kobe has been addressing the media regularly and I think Rose should do the same. Did they not learn from last season? Fans just want to hear him, even if he doesn’t say what they want him to.
Sam: I assume he will start speaking again as once you begin practicing with the team it’s a new league rule. No, I don’t believe there’s any chance he plays this season. Look, we saw after all that time off last season how slowly he was working back into form. How responsible would it be to bring him back for the playoffs, which is the medical period when he might be starting to be ready. Assuming, of course, the team makes it. The Bulls said he was out all season; the doctors endorsed that and it makes sense. He’ll work with USA Basketball this summer and give him some playing time before next season. Which the team is supportive of. What’s he going to say now, anyway? I’ll tell you as he’s with the team and chats with reporters from time to time. He feels good. Is happy. Feels he’s ahead of schedule (he always does). Is working hard and supporting his team; glad to be around the guys. Looking forward to next season. Need any more?
What are the chances the Bulls trade Taj? It makes zero sense to me if they are trying to trade him. He signed for an affordable contract and is playing the best basketball of his career.
Sam: And coming off equaling another career high. He’s the power forward of the future, obviously. They’ve taken this long to get him to this level. I strongly doubt they want to see him anywhere else as his extension now looks like a heck of a good deal for the Bulls as well.
Better player, John Wall or Kyrie Irving?
Sam: Tough one as Irving is down this season with all the dysfunction in Cleveland and Wall is up with improved shooting and a team that will make the playoffs and perhaps even get a home court in the first round. Neither probably is a top 10 point guard now, though perhaps right on the edge. I’d go with Irving given his more all-around skills with shooting and decision making, though he has played selfishly this season. I’m giving him the benefit of blaming that on the team and system or lack of one.
Is Joakim Noah a "poor man's" Dennis Rodman or was Dennis a poor man's Joakim?
Sam: Joakim Noah is a rich man’s son. While there is just poor Dennis.