Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 03.14.2014
Every Friday, Sam Smith of Bulls.com opens his Ask Sam mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers
Phil Jackson to the Knicks? I can’t imagine him resigning Melo...
Sam: Another way for Anthony to come to the Bulls, eh? Yes, Phil going to the Knicks has been the story of the week and it sounds like it’s happening. I’ll get into it more in my NBA column Monday, but my guess is Phil embraces Anthony and Anthony resigns. No one ever has been better working with stars of all sorts than Phil. Michael was hardly a Phil fan when Phil first came to the Bulls, and Kobe certainly wasn’t. And neither was Phil’s ideal of the perfect player. Remember, when Phil as a Bulls assistant first met Michael he told him he shot too much. But Phil also knows you win with talent and his job will be getting more; not giving up the star talent the Knicks have. And even though he won’t be coaching, he knows ways to get the best out of star talent and I’m sure that will be a theme with his coach, whomever that will be.
I was wondering why has Thibs not played Jimmer? I understand he would get few minutes but he's sitting over there even when players like Kirk and Dunleavy are struggling. When these guys are not playing best why not get him in there to show us what he can do, get him ready for playoffs when we need a spark?
Sam: The issue with Jimmer like any of these guys who come to teams late in the season is a coach spends much of the season getting down his rotation and his defense and by March the coach begins to become pretty comfortable with what he has, his rotations, when players come in and out, his defense. Though the Bulls have many of the same players, there has not been great continuity because of all the injuries and a constantly changing bench. So Jimmer really was signed more for insurance—if someone is injured—than to actually take someone’s spot. So it seems to me it’s going to be difficult for him to find many minutes as also once you get closer to the playoffs coaches tend to begin to shorten their rotations. And since the Bulls rely so much on defense and Jimmer is a small shooting guard, it’s difficult for Thibodeau to find matchups that work right. Jimmer could be of value in a late season or playoff game coming in for spot minutes, though the way the Bulls play and this late in the season I don’t see him being in the regular rotation or playing that much.
Marcin Gortat gave an interview suggesting that players should be able to scrap like hockey players. Maybe he's never met Rudy T...
Sam: It is comforting to know that not just fans, writers and radio talk show hosts come up with some of the most moronic ideas.
Recently I found an interview of Chicago film director John Landis (“Animal House”, “Blues Brothers”). In it he talks about working with Eddie Murphy on “Coming to America” and describes how very talented he was. He also mentioned he was horrible to work with as a person. It made me wonder what you’ve known or heard around the Chicago Bulls or NBA in general. Does a name come to mind who was a brilliant talent on the court but a complete jerk off the court (either to media, fans or even other players)?
Sam: You’d be surprised—or maybe not—this is less prevalent in the NBA than in Hollywood, for sure. NBA players despite the occasional slur, like with the racist tweet from that Minnesota legislator the other day, tend to be the brightest and most mature athletes in pro sports. I won’t even go into the NFL, which continues to have shocking arrest and violence rates. And try to remember the last time you read something thoughtful from a baseball player. The other thing about the NBA player is they are the most open and accessible and publicly cooperative athletes in team sports. So you know when there’s a bad one. Bill Laimbeer was the worst I ever dealt with, but we all knew that. Tyrus Thomas was maybe the Bulls’ worst. There were guys like Anthony Mason, but he had been arrested several times. Kareem was difficult because he was so remote and haughty, though he changed after basketball. NBA players because they have endorsement options few team sports players have tend to learn at a young age the importance of dealing with media and fans. Alonzo Mourning was an angry kid early in his career, but he matured as the years went by. Some could be difficult, like Kevin Garnett, but when he wasn’t mean spirited or rude. Just private. Bill Russell was very difficult to deal with as he was especially angry as a player, obviously with so much racism he dealt with in Boston, though it also carried over to when he was a team executive in later years. Though he’s obviously warmed up as well in recent years. You’ll find very few NBA stars who haven’t been approachable, and in this era with the social media I think you’d know who are the tough ones. As many problems as he has, even a guy like J.R. Smith has always been cooperative with media and fans.
Can the Bulls beat the Heat in a 7 game series? 4 seeds have beaten 1 seeds before, same goes for 3's and 2's.
Sam: The Bulls were a No. 1 seed when Rose got hurt and lost to the No. 8 seed 76ers. So things happen. But as presently comprised I don’t see it. I actually believe the Bulls could beat the Pacers, who at least for now as team president Larry Bird pointed out the other day have not been playing as tough or interested. We’ve all seen that in their recent losses and even the win over Boston Tuesday. They did push hard to start for the best record, so they may be worn out a bit. Also Roy Hibbert seems to be playing at half speed, and at his fastest he’s half speed already. I believe since the Pacers aren’t a scoring team the Bulls even as they are now could beat them. Though they’d certainly be an underdog if they meet. Which means the Bulls could beat anyone in the East but Miami. With LeBron I don’t see the Bulls matching up well enough in the long run. Though you don’t want to get too far ahead as both Toronto and Washington have mostly outplayed the Bulls this season and any first round series is going to be pretty even. Plus, the Nets beat up the Bulls pretty badly the last time the teams played. And that was with Garnett out. I’m with Thibodeau on these playoffs. Better look only to the next game. You aren’t good enough to look beyond that.
Well, here we go again. Another year that should be lost has been made interesting by the Bulls and their relentless, hard hat, lunch pail effort. Sure, the win against Miami is nothing more than a regular season win, but it was so sweet nonetheless. I for one was not overly excited when the Bulls drafted Noah, but he has made a believer out of me. It seems the trade of Deng has given him the opportunity to be the leader of this team - of which he has excelled and the rest of the team has responded. How do you see things transpiring with this team assuming Rose comes back next year at full strength? Is this Jo's team to carry into the future? I will always be a fan of Derrick Rose, but I wonder how the rest of the team will view him and he's never appeared to me to be a vocal, fiery leader like Jo.
Sam: This “my team” thing gets confused with what I wrote about in my NBA column this week, the Thunder’s issues with Westbrook vis a vis Durant, that you need a star pecking order with scorers. It’s less likely to be an issue with the Bulls now as it wasn’t with Jordan/Pippen because Pippen was a role playing star as Noah is. You generally do not throw the ball to Noah for a score. Plus, Noah had a great answer to those MVP chants, that the team has an MVP and it’s not him. Noah knows he has little chance for that dream of an NBA title without Rose, but he also knows Rose is an unselfish star, that Rose could care less about scoring and is about winning as much as any star and giving his teammates credit and the spotlight. The stories were legend how Rose submerged his game in high school and college to allow teammates to get more attention for college scholarships and NBA chances. It’s disappointing just because Rose has been injured that it’s been forgotten how much he has been an unselfish team player, a player who scored because his team needed him to and not because he felt it was his game. But it’s a lesson we all learn about out of sight, out of mind. Once you leave people basically are interested in the next thing. It’s Noah for now, but the Bulls hopes the next few years rest on whether Rose will be healthy. If he’s not, they’ll be pretty much where they are. Whose team? It’s all theirs.
The hot rumor around the league for the past few weeks is Carmelo coming to Chicago. I believe it is highly unlikely mainly due to the money Melo would have to leave on the table. Leaving 30+ million behind isn't easy for anyone to do and most people wouldn't do it. A sign and trade is possible but at what cost? What I do see as a possibility is Bulls getting an above average player along with bringing over Mirotic, if he decides to come over. If they amnesty Boozer and do a few other things, Bulls should have around 12 million in cap room. Evan Turner is a free agent this year and he isn't a max contract player. If the Bulls were to pick him up for 8-9 million a year ) They would have a starting 5 of Rose, Butler, Turner, Gibson and Noah. A bench of Kirk (resign him for vet minimum) Dunleavy, Snell and maybe Mirotic if they can get him for about 3-4 million a year and 1 or 2 first round draft picks. Turner will take some of the scoring burden off of Rose.
Sam: We’ll go through this well into July, and most everyone continues to overestimate what the Bulls will have. With the players now under contract for next season—Rose, Noah, Gibson, Dunleavy, Snell and Butler (and that’s taking away Boozer, which remains no certainty), the Bulls have to add two first round draft picks, which is about another $3 million, and have $500,000 added as a space holder for every roster spot under 13. So you’re maybe looking at $10 million or $11 million without Boozer. You’d want to bring back at least one of the guards in Hinrich or Augustin, costing you a few million. With a $3 million buyout, it would be tough to get Mirotic for much less than $5 million to $6 million. So, yes, you badly need a shooting guard, which Turner isn’t. His game doesn’t fit the Bulls, anyway, as he’s a forward scorer who needs the ball and not a good perimeter shooter. I think the Bulls have the possibilities of being much better and one of the title contenders next season with what they can do around the edges as long as Rose is healthy. There are options with keeping Boozer that actually give them as much or more options because of the larger mid-level exception for teams over the salary cap. So there’s still a long way to go and plenty of options to discuss and truly nothing decided, I believe.
I think that Kirk Hinrich is playing well, especially after the All-Star break. I guess he needed the rest. Do you think Hinrich, Noah, and Butler would be considered for All Defense Teams?
Sam: Well, maybe not after the Spurs game. The Bulls will get a lot of consideration given they are one of the best defensive teams with the strongest defensive averages. Though Hinrich is one of the better defensive guards, the coaches, who vote this, tend to take offense into account for some reason and vote for a lot of bigger name players. Plus, Kirk’s minutes have been down. National TV games help, so Jimmy’s game against LeBron and Thursday against Harden gets him in the conversation, though usually you get it the next season after you first deserve it. Noah should be a lock and then perhaps Jimmy, though LeBron and Paul George are popular choices among the coaches at forward.
I know you have rejected talk of moves claiming correctly it was too early. The time is coming near for some serious discussion. The Bulls need a strong back up to Rose. I would expect that D.J. get offers the Bulls cannot reasonably match but Kurt is aging and in need of periodic relief himself. They are very different ballplayers with different skill sets. Salary numbers aside and forgetting trades and the draft would you pick Kurt or D.J. for next season?
Sam: Again, this is more complicated than that. Which is why this summer is going to be filled with rumors, speculation, guessing games and great wonder. What if Hinrich costs less and as a result the Bulls can get their much needed shooting guard. Or perhaps the difference in paying a superstar free agent and not getting him. It’s like the simplistic nature of sports statistical analytics. There’s much more to it than just comparing one statistic to another.
I think that Boozer is becoming a negative for the team. He seems to be really down and upset over his minutes. It's not as if it will get any better for him next season with the Bulls. It will probably only get worse. Even if the Bulls have to pay him next year, I don't think the Bulls would be worried about facing him again; his production has really declined.
Sam: There’s an old saying in the newspaper business about don’t mess up on a slow news day. Because then you get on the front page. It’s like that with some stories lately of Boozer and his minutes and some issue or distraction with the team. Absolutely nothing to it, as far as I can see. I don’t think I’ve ever been around a team with less controversy for so much happening, like Rose’s injury and the Deng trade. But it’s an unusual group of players who really seem to love playing and are basically happy guys. There’s not many story lines left to the season since the Bulls will make the playoffs and aren’t beating out the Pacers or Heat for the top spots. Perhaps they hang on for a first round home court, which isn’t exactly essential given whom they’d play. They could win or lose home or away. Hardly anyone ever complains about anything, so there becomes less to write about. But Boozer complained, albeit mildly last month, about his fourth quarter playing time. It’s been down of late, so some stories popped up that he must be upset, this must be upsetting the team. I don’t see that. Some reporters were trying to ask about it after the Houston game without being too direct, but Taj Gibson understood. And one thing about Gibson, who has become something of the go to guy for media as he’s professional win or lose, is he’s honest. So I liked what Gibson said when asked about playing time fully understanding it was about Boozer. “He is one of the first guys always picking me up when I’m having rough nights,” Gibson said about Boozer. “He’s the first guy up when I come to the bench. It’s one of those situations. Now it’s to where Thibs has options in the post; whoever is hot he’ll roll with you. I’m still trying to find my rhythm back. Carlos was hot tonight. I had no problem with him continuing to light it up. There are times I’m in the game and there’s a mismatch and the play is for me and I’ll tell Carlos to take it because we’re just about winning. It’s going great right now.”
With Phil ostensibly headed back to NYC, I figured now was a good time to clarify the events of 1998-99. The common perception has been that Jerry Reinsdorf, in essence, chose Jerry Krauss over Phil. In other words, if Reinsdorf had fired Krauss and installed Phil in his place or perhaps installed a more Phil-friendly GM, Phil would have stayed on with the Bulls. How much truth is there to this?
Sam: None. Though Phil was finished with Krause, Phil also had decided no matter what he needed that sabbatical. He’d always talked about seven years being the limit for a coach, but he’d agreed to stay after the 1995-96 season because of the run and the players urging him. But he’d seriously considered leaving then. Starting in 1997-98, he’d made up his mind. So Krause’s ill-considered preseason announcement Phil wasn’t returning was just Krause spouting off. In fact, Reinsdorf had decided to offer Jackson a return no matter what happened. He did. But Phil was convinced by Michael that Michael wasn’t going to play in the lockout season. Phil also told Reinsdorf he wanted no part of any rebuilding situation even though Reinsdorf was offering a multiyear deal. Which is why if Phil does go to New York I don’t believe he breaks up the team to go for draft picks and young players. That team’s time was done. They did what fans and media always ask for: Quit while you are on top. I don’t think they would have won again. Some do. The irony is so many who always scream to leave on top also charge that the Bulls broke up the team. It expired naturally.
Are Bulls-Heat a legitimate rivalry? Maybe not on the level of Lakers-Celtics but close to Heat-Knicks of the 90's or Kings-Lakers of the 2000's.
Sam: The Heat say not until the Bulls win a playoff series, though they say that about everyone, and the Mavs are hardly their rivals. There aren’t many rivalries anymore because teams play so few games against one another and they are more built in the playoffs. But if there are some rivalries, the Bulls and Miami have to be one no matter what LeBron may say.
Is D.J. our two guard of the future? What else could you want in a SG (compared to the best on offer in free agency)? Amnesty Boozer and use the money to resign D.J., bring over Mirotic, and flesh out the roster.
Sam: Though Augustin and Hinrich play together a lot, you’re never going to see Thibodeau going with a backcourt that small for defensive reasons, which also would mean Rose would have to defend the bigger, stronger two guards. That’s hardly a plan for future wellbeing for your star. The larger issue with Augustin, whom the Bulls would love to sign, is whether he’d get a big money offer or chance to start somewhere else, like the NFL Bears lost their backup quarterback to Tampa after a good season. Reserve players with lesser earnings power have to take the most money when they can and the best opportunity. And since the Bulls are a defensive team first, it might be better to have someone like Hinrich, who is one of the top perimeter defenders and would enable Rose to play with him given Hinrich could defend the better guard. Augustin cannot do that. So, yes, again a lot of decisions to make that will be second guessed until they work. Phil won’t be the only GM being watched this summer.
Don't you think Rose owes it the fans/team to restructure his contract and reduce his take since he's missed the last two years since signing the big contract?
Sam: It’s not permitted under NBA rules. You cannot restructure contracts like in the NFL. Rose got hurt on the job working for the Bulls. They offered him the contract and he agreed. If you were hurt at work would you give up your salary or health care because you no longer were able to work because you got hurt at work? As he will not and should not.
Is Benny the Bull the most entertaining mascot in the league? If not, where do you rank him and who is above him?
Sam: Since he sometimes rubs my head, I have my doubts. But since he can’t talk I assume he can’t read either, so I’ll offer the truth. He really is the best. He’s a remarkable athlete and gymnast and very clever, the best I’ve seen at what he does. I do ask him how he’s able to sleep with that big Benny head, but he never answers.
Can you tell me what the letters DJR represent or stand for on the Bulls jerseys please?
Sam: It’s for David Reinsdorf, the 51-year-old son of managing partner Jerry Reinsdorf. David, the father of four, died suddenly last week and the team is honoring his memory wearing the patches. He was a fine man and father and a very sad time in the Bulls organization.