Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 04.05.2013
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Wow what a game by Boozer. Great to see. [It] makes me think why the Bulls bought into him at top money and then push him so far down the pecking order of 'go to guy' for them.
It's clear it's been:
1. Rose (the star)
2. Deng (the second man)
3. Noah getting a lot more touches this year
4. Then Boozer in his spots.
Like you've pointed out in the past he is doing just fine based on his touches and minutes played. Then look what happens (against Nets) with more minutes, more shots and he has a monster game. Why is it though that he got pushed to the back of the bus? He is a natural scorer with that sweet jumper and has always been a consistent 10 or so on the boards.
Sam: Well, there was that guy Rose. That was a big part of it, and though many fans gave him a hard time, as I’ve noted you always had to give Boozer credit for being a team guy and never complaining as many so-called stars would. Though you hardly commend a guy making $15 million a year in sports for just being a good guy. Yes, I have noted many times within his constraints of minutes and shots he was close to his Utah numbers. I wouldn’t say Boozer was a victim, but he was sold as a 20/10 low post scorer and something of a victim of not being LeBron or Wade when the franchise was talking about bigger names. Then he opens camp and breaks his hand and is out a month. He never quite got in shape as a result, and wasn’t in the greatest shape last season after the lockout as the veterans had the most issues with that as it turned out. In the meantime, Rose was becoming league MVP and the Bulls were leading the league two straight years in wins. So Boozer began to be overlooked. He never was a defensive player. He was the focus of the Jazz’ offense. So now fans expected him to become a defender, and then the way Thibodeau coaches he’d take him out for defense in the end, which made it look worse. But you could see coming into this season Boozer was in his best shape as a Bull. He was slimmer and quicker and, if anything, the team hasn’t done a good enough job of getting him the ball at times. And you are seeing again pretty much the Boozer who was in Utah: Hardly perfect, not a defender, but a tough offensive player who can make shots. And aren’t you glad the Bulls didn’t amnesty him (or trade him for Kris Humphries in another suggestion I still get) and have him putting up these numbers against the Bulls? Of course, now most of those fans have moved on to forgetting how tough and great a competitor Derrick Rose has been.
I have read a little about this year’s draft and it seems that this year’s crop is being described as ‘thin’ in terms of talent. Given the Bulls are so close to the ceiling of the salary cap, do they have to pick a player? A player that the coach won’t play anyway because he doesn’t like rookies much. Or is there some rule that you have to use a pick no matter what talent is on the board at the time?
Sam: It’s true there doesn’t seem to be a lot of excitement about this draft, but more from the top. Drafts usually are considered great if there are great players, and this one is relatively weak in the top spots, which is a huge blow to those teams hoping to build through the draft. You can get a franchise player, like the Bulls did in Rose or the Cavs obviously with LeBron and now perhaps Kyrie Irving. There doesn’t appear to be that level of player in the top five. But there has been depth in the drafts given team after the top 10 look for rotation players, and the Bulls should get one. The draft is going to become even more important for teams because of the new labor deal and the opportunity to have a contributing player at a relatively low salary guaranteed for four years. Plus, the Bulls have done well lower in the draft with Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Omer Asik. So I think they look forward to the pick, and Thibodeau eventually uses them extensively as Butler of late doesn’t even have a seat on the bench since he’s rarely out of games.
Do you think the Bulls will be aiming for a 2 guard or a backup big man? With the development of Butler's game, I think he can take the 2 w/ Belinelli. The draft is rich in big men that can be developed, e.g. Gobert, Dieng, Withey, Plumlee, Olynyk, etc. But, many project the Bulls to take on a 2 like Glenn Robinson III, Tim Hardaway Jr, or Jamaal Franklin. What are your thoughts on the direction the Bulls will take?
Sam: Get ready for a lot of “best player available” answers. Probably the only position they won’t look at is point guard with Rose’s return, Marquis Teague having to play and Kirk Hinrich with another year on his contract and possibly an extension after that. Yes, Butler probably will fit in as a shooting guard if they cannot re-sign Marco Belinelli. And maybe even if they do. I guess it’s possible Nate Robinson returns in a scoring role which can be sort of a shooting guard, though Thibodeau usually won’t care for a 5-7 shooting guard. But Nate continues to make so many plays for a team so bereft of offense (presumably that changes with Rose) that perhaps he plays himself back onto the team unless like John Lucas III he gets a good offer elsewhere. So they’ll probably look for shooting guard, small forward to back up Deng and probably center. I suspect they have Mirotic lined up down the road as a backup power forward, though more the stretch four job which is sort of a small forward as well in some lineups. But given the payroll situation and the uncertainty regarding the bench given so many free agents I doubt they look for position. I know there’s nothing of that sort under consideration yet. But they still do have the rights to Mirotic and the Charlotte draft pick and their own, and with some teams looking to do a sort of Denver model and get players and draft picks, if you can land a high level player to pair with Rose on his full return next season I assume you’d have to look hard at that.
I hate to look past this season, but Rose is sort of the elephant in the room when talking about the rest of this season. I was interested in the cap situation for the Bulls with the Rose, Noah, Gibson, and probable big Deng contract coming up. For the next couple years that seems to be the lineup, with Butler, but it doesn't leave much wiggle room in cap space. Assuming Deng gets a reasonable 4 year contract worth 12 plus a year, with those 4 players that's easily 50 plus in cap space. If the plan is really to add another scorer I don't see how you could fit a large contract for that kind of player and fill out the rest of the roster all under cap (the Bulls are frugal about the salary). I'm more curious as the Bulls are pretty conservative which is good (high character guys, solid draft picks) but not necessarily risk takers (Houston's Harden deal). So how do they make this work? The core of Butler, Rose, Noah, Taj, Luol will be a good team, but maybe not enough. Do you think they go conservative and hope for good draft picks and solid free agent pickups (ie Shane Battier, though we don't have very good luck with free agents) or do they do something else? I know they are targeting 2014 free market but if you look at the list there aren't much big impact guys.
Sam: It’s why I mention above that it may be the time this summer to explore some of this stuff. Look, everyone perks up when a big name becomes available. We heard plenty of speculation about Kevin Love, though after sitting all season with an injury you feel he won’t say much about leaving, as he previously suggested, after getting paid to watch for a year. But you never know. Maybe they want to go in that different direction, which since it’s different and we don’t quite know where to look you can never tell when or if it will occur. The point is these things usually fall in your lap. Then you look smart and get an award. So the Bulls now have some of those so called assets to add with a player. If they don’t do anything major this summer, then the big decisions come in the summer of 2014 about Mirotic, Deng, Boozer. Can you afford to bring back Deng at a high salary? He could be a three-time All-Star by then. Can you afford to lose him? If you do sign him, it limits what else you can do if a player like Love becomes available. Amnesty Boozer? Trade Noah? The feeling is the Bulls if this is a quiet summer and next season is about getting up to speed with Rose, they have to use the summer of 2014 as a turning point time. Until you are a championship team you have to figure everything is on the table but Rose.
Noted in your last article the comment about the cliché, "a one-possession game." Another cliché thrown around is "in the playoffs, the game slows to a half-court game." Everyone says it. Why does the game slow in the playoffs? Why don't teams try to run if they can? Don't understand why this is a given.
Sam: With Denver and Golden State or Houston lining up for a Western Conference first round matchup, I don’t think we’ll have to worry that much about 82-78. But it is something to say when you have a lot to say and not a lot of details. Given the value of playoff games, there is an element of extra control by some coaches, which can slow the game. And officials may let a bit more go, which makes it harder to score and gets you to the free throw line less often. But there are enough high scoring teams in the Western Conference this season it shouldn’t be a rule. And fewer coaches anymore are using Pat Riley’s play book for John Starks and Anthony Mason.
Did there used to be a rule in the NBA that teammates had to have the same color shoes? Or am I just imagining that because the Bulls used to uniformly switch from white to black shoes in the playoffs? I'm watching the Clippers play the Knicks and the Clippers players are wearing wildly different colored sneakers...
Sam: I believe there still is, though players tend to get around it with the idea that there is some of the same color in the shoe. So the Bulls colors are red, white and black. So players have to wear one or more of those colors. The league actually pays attention to this stuff and if you have another color, like someone has a speck of green other than on a special day like St. Patrick’s, they’ll send warnings and fine the team. They actually have someone watching tapes to monitor clothing. I know. Don’t ask.
The NFL always seems to be trying to find ways to not necessarily improve the game as a whole, but at least attempting change where they see the sport needs to evolve. What are some of the changes the NBA is trying to make? What would you change? I only ask because it seems like there aren't many new developments in basketball. The newest shot I know of is the floater/runner, before that it was the three point line and the fadeaway, the zone defense Is there any way the sport can grow from where it is now, as far as new schemes/plays/shots?
Sam: Football is actually mostly trying to make up for so many of its stupid rules it changes regularly like whatever that ridiculous tuck rule is and a runner just has to reach over the goal line and it’s a score even if he drops the ball. Then a receiver falling into the end zone has to have possession of the ball all the way through a catch even though he’s held onto the ball several seconds in the end zone already. Talk about NBA officiating? Tell me what holding is? Or isn’t? Anyway, the NBA is relatively stable regarding rules and you could tweak a few things regarding timeouts and inbounding balls. I know the commissioner wants to adopt the international goal tending rule where you can touch the ball on the rim, but the teams are opposed for now. The biggest change that is needed but never will occur is the size of the court. It’s way too small for the athletes who play the game now. Remember, this was a court designed for guys maybe as tall as 6-2 who didn’t jump. They are so long armed and fast and jump so high now the court is too small. But the teams can charge so much for those close views which are unique in sports they’ll never push the seats back to broaden the court. You could get the photographers off the end lines. Who looks at newspaper pictures anymore, anyway?
In the case of players like Rose or Andrew Bynum who are out with long term injuries, do they still get full pay? Or a percentage or something?
Sam: If you have a guaranteed contract, as all NBA players do, you obviously are paid in full. And with a case like Rose he was hurt on the job, so even if he didn’t there would be some sort of workmen’s compensation, though perhaps not at that salary level.
What are the odds that Rose just returns for the beginning of the playoffs and how should Thibs manage his minutes?
Sam: It’s beginning to look less likely, obviously, though there really is no deadline, no so-called drop dead date not to return and still up to Rose to decide and he hasn’t ruled it out. One season, Udonis Haslem missed all season and returned for the playoffs. If Rose does play, team doctors will determine minutes Rose plays and not the coach.
It definitely seems (depressingly so) as if a majority of Bulls fans are angry with Rose over not returning yet. You noted that in a recent Ask Sam. You're pretty clearly of the opinion that only Rose knows when he's truly ready to come back. Couldn't agree more with you myself. I thought this post from a message board I frequent put it pretty well. "The doctors can tell him when his knee is healed enough so that he is at no more risk of an ACL injury in that leg than any other player. They can't tell him when he'll feel that he's ready to come back and contribute positively to the team.” This guy has played basketball his whole life. I've played it on the blacktop. He knows a hell of a lot more about playing the sport than I do. More than any fan does. The guy knows what he's doing. It's his knee, his mind. He knows the best route for his own comeback. What do we know? We're just fans, most of us have never played basketball at even a remotely high level. We have no idea what the process of returning from an injury is like. Sure, some players jump right back into action after this type of injury as soon as doctors clear them, like Rubio and Shumpert. Not every player thinks the same way. Rose is his own man. He knows what's best for himself. Rose has tremendous heart, takes more contact than probably any point guard in the league. Great teammate, really humble guy. There's no doubting his commitment. Fans just need to be patient. At least some Bulls fans think like this!
Sam: I figured it would come some time, and my Rose backlash finally has started. The majority of emails I received this week regarding Rose were about why these fans are such selfish idiots caring only their personal moments of entertainment than about a great ambassador for the city and high level person. As I’ve stated in my view for months, Rose merely remains in his eight to 12 month window of when he can come back as a part time player. What the heck is everyone talking about?
It's astonishing how narrow minded some people are. Don't get me wrong, that's the side effect of everyone having a voice on the internet, and I realize I am not that different from the rest. But at least apply some decency and logic in your articles or reactions! 'Trade DRose, if he does not want to play, trade him'. , 'Oh no, Deng has been in a shooting slump for THREE games, trade him now while you still get something for him!' How can someone question the effort and heart of someone like Derrick Rose or Luol Deng? Naturally, I don't know them, never met them and never will. But if there is something I am a 100% sure of in this league, it's the loyalty, effort and pureness of DRose. And of course I want him to be back, I must have seen his 'greatest moments video's' like a 100 times on YouTube since he went down. But if he thinks it's better to sit the season out, so be it, and I will respect that decision. Whatever the reason. Because I know that he breathes basketball and would like nothing more than bringing a championship to Chicago. Sorry for this rant, and my English.
Sam: Thanks for your rant. Do you see what we have to deal with here?
You know who wants Derrick Rose to play more than anyone else in the world? Derrick Rose. He is one hell of a competitor who is obsessed with basketball. He didn't get to be one of the best basketball players on the planet by being lazy, selfish, and a coward. Derrick Rose's teammates, coaches, front office, doctors, colleges, and retired players who had shortened careers have all told Derrick Rose that he should be cautious when rehabilitating a torn ACL, so Rose has been cautious. I'd like to see the Rose haters tear their ACLs and then try to play a professional sport 10 months later, going against the advice of everyone around them.
Sam: That has been the surprising part in much of this to me, that some people actually believe Rose doesn’t want to play. You don’t get to be the player he became not caring about the game. You know how much this has to be killing him to stay away from the game for a year. I used to go to Rose’s summer camp and I never saw an NBA player do this. He was going from court to court all day playing with the campers virtually all day. And to think having seen this kid compete like he has for the last several years and to believe he’d rather sit around and not play is amazing. Ever see this guy with loads of jewels or running around all over the city posing and being an embarrassment? Basically all he’s ever been is a player. And now suddenly he’s a malingerer who is doing exactly what?
Regarding Derrick Rose and all the nasty grams I've seen pop up in your mailbag: I'd like to say that I appreciate all the hard work he has put in to his rehab, his professionalism throughout this ordeal and his career as a whole. This whole "mental toughness" subject is, as Joe Biden would say, "Malarkey". D-Rose is physically and mentally tough as you could ask for. Those who can't see that are either willfully blind or woefully stupid. This guy came from a rough neighborhood and through the sheer willpower it took to put the endless hours in to refine his talent, managed to make it out of a pretty rough area that a lot of people don't. If you don't believe me, look up Benji Wilson. I guarantee Rose knows who he is. With respect to playing hurt, he played hurt all season last year. I think what makes people angry is that he isn't as stupid as they are. He learned from last year that you can't rush an injury. He's not going to sacrifice his career (y'know, that thing he's worked his butt off his entire life for) for anybody. Good for him! If you don't like Rose anymore, then please go away. I hear the Pacers are looking for a loyal fan base.
Sam: Ok, that should be the clincher.
I know you said DeMarcus Cousins may be the dumbest player in league history. I wonder what your personal philosophy on dumb guys is in terms of having them on an NBA team. To be as strategically unenlightened as a DeMarcus Cousins, a Ron Artest, or a J.R. Rider and still be earning NBA cheese, one must be extraordinarily talented. It's the kind of talent, if not mindset, that wins championships. We saw from the pre-Rose Bulls that having a bunch of hard-working team-oriented guys only gets you to the 2nd round of the playoffs before a more talented team blitzes you. Therefore, in your preferred role as Shadow NBA GM would you take a lot of chances on knuckle-headed talent or favor strong-hearted mediocrity? If you take the former and they somehow mature under your wise yet firm hand you've got a title contender. If you take the latter, maybe you win the lottery or get lucky in some other manner and you have a ready-made cast of complimentary players when you finally land the superstar.
Sam: Well, perhaps I was into a bit of hyperbole with the dumbest ever thing. Though he certainly qualifies for team picture. Yes, you have described the executive’s chick or egg thing. Everyone takes chance son talent. Tyrus Thomas? Remember him? Sometimes it works out. It used to be on drug guys like Bernard King, who did, and Quintin Dailey, who didn’t. I happen to think Cousins may be too far gone because while he is a great talent, it’s not the kind of talent good enough to win a title with. He’s not LeBron or Kobe. But, OK, say you put him in a good environment like with the Spurs, for example. I still don’t think it works unless he goes through such radical changes and becomes more a defensive player and a third option guy. And I see not the least bit of character to allow that. Plus, his years with so little structure in Sacramento after a walk through in college probably have set him back even farther to the point he doesn’t even know what it’s like to be on a real team.
Is it just me or was the only reason Cook was brought in was to stretch the defense and hit 3's.
Sam: He was brought in to hit threes. Mostly he’s just attempting them for now.
I'm really upset at the NBA for changing the foul on Gibson to fragrant just because LeBron complain. If another player complains on a foul call, they get fined. Look at these fouls Miami gave Boozer in the same game, should they be changed also to fragrant fouls?
Sam: I heard they also have ordered Taj to wear his underwear on the outside now because LeBron wants to make sure everyone changes their underwear regularly.
Should Jimmy Butler be in the most improve player talks?
Sam: Probably not given he hasn’t played quite as much, but he certainly is in the Bulls starting shooting guard talks for 2013-14.
How long do you think LeBron will stay with Miami? I get the sense that he will not finish up his career there. Not to say that he will be running out the door first chance he gets, but does it have to do with how the season turns out for them? I mean, I would have trouble seeing him opt out after next year if they were in the midst of a 4th title run. But, if they somehow were to come up short this year, I feel as if his chances for heading out go up dramatically.
Sam: There’s been a talk about that as there always is with the biggest name in the game given he’s moved once already. I can see him returning to Cleveland later in his career, though not in 2014 when he can opt out as they don’t appear quite like a title group. My guess is he rides it out in Miami until the summer of 2015 when this contract expires as Wade should be good at least until then and they’ll be serious title contenders. And Miami still isn’t bad for the summer.
Have you had the chance to listen to any extensive Shane Battier interviews? I know he's merely a role player (and an alleged flopper), but he's got to be about the most articulate, interesting people in the league right now. The only other guys who I've heard give as interesting interviews are Kobe and Steve Nash. And Scalabrine.
Sam: There are many, many bright and articulate players in the NBA, many more I’ve found than in any of the team sports because NBA players have to grow up more quickly because they play to big crowds in big places early in life and are stars who deal with the public first. Baseball players play in small, nowhere places for years and tend to be grumpy and remote. No one talks to anyone but the quarterback in football as they wear armor and no one knows who they are. When I was around football, the only smart ones I found were the offensive linemen. The quarterbacks were still the arrogant kids you hated from high school and most everyone else was dizzy from concussions. Others in basketball who are great communicators include guys like Ray Allen, Elton Brand, Kyle Korver, Manu Ginobili. In fact, the international guys are great and I found Yao Ming to have a better sense of humor in English than most Americans.
My feminist friend sent me an article on how Mark Cuban was considering drafting Brittney Griner. I know the guy has a big mouth and loves publicity, but do you think it’s possible or plausible that a woman will play in the NBA one day? I’m not trying to trap you into saying something politically incorrect, but do you think that Brittney Griner could hold her own against the male world-class athletes in the NBA? She would be a pretty undersized center in the NBA, but maybe there’s a crafty Steve Nash-like lady point guard out there that could hang with the boys.
Sam: I didn’t know you had to declare yourself a feminist still. I know the politically correct thing—and we are very caught up in that—is to say of course. I doubt it as after all if women could why aren’t any playing for Division 1 college programs where the competition is much less. Anyway, I asked a few people I know—women Division 1 players, NBA strength coaches and trainers and coaches. No one seemed to think it was likely because of size and strength and speed. This isn’t new, by the way. Ann Myers, who was an amazing player, had a tryout with the Pacers maybe 25 years ago. If there was a woman who could play at an NBA level, the NBA would accept her, I believe. NBA teams are about wins. There is hardly any codes or biases. You cannot imagine how great these players are. It’s why so few high level college players even get a chance to play in the NBA. I’ve never seen this woman play, so I’m not making a specific comment. But no one I’ve asked has ever seen a woman play whom they believe can play at an NBA level. It’s OK. Not everyone can do everything. But if she wants to try, get a D-League or summer league tryout, at least first.
Good to see Taj knock down that jumper down the stretch against Miami. I (along with most Bulls fans) really like him, but if he could just knock down that 15-20 footer with Boozer-like consistency, I'd like him a heck of a lot more. Unfortunately, once you reach your third or fourth year in this league, you are what you are. Do you think the Bulls will regret giving him such a lucrative contract down the road? Will he be getting the kind of hate Boozer does in 2 or 3 years? I sure hope not, but I could see it happening.
Sam: I don’t see it because as big as it sounds it’s not such a huge contract. I think it’s about $8 million. The salary cap exception on a contract averages about $6 million. Taj isn’t being sold as or expected to be a high scorer. He’s great insurance if the Bulls do something with Boozer or when his deal expires. He’s a hard worker, a committed defender and a good teammate. I’d rather spend the money on someone solid like him than take a chance on someone with a potentially high ceiling and then you always are wondering what you will get. You know with Taj, and it’s pretty good.
Most everything has been said about strengths and shortcomings regarding Boozer. But the shot he took from LeBron James demonstrated a unique and important role he brings to the team that is undervalued by most fans. Who else on the Bulls can take that shot and not even flinch? Game after game Boozer is the one Bull who can clear out rebounder and back down defenders. I know it gets him fouls but often it looks like he doesn't even realize there was contact. I suspect every team needs a player who can physically match up with any opponent. Do Boozers teammates recognize and appreciate this?
Sam: And some fans, too? Love us some Booz, eh?
I read where you said Marco will become a sought after free agent after the season ends. How did he become so hot all of a sudden!? Surely other teams outside of the Bulls had to know he has potential to be very good before he signed here to play. Will it be hard to resign him due to the new CBA even with Rip’s expiring contract on the horizon.
Sam: Well, hitting three game winning shots in one season helps. He was in demand before as the Bulls gave him more than the minimum to get him. He wanted to come to Chicago, but given there aren’t a lot of shooting guards he could get an offer that he cannot refuse. With Butler coming on I assume the Bulls feel more relaxed about the position in the future. I assume they’d like to bring Marco back, but the given they have more eight figure contracts that basically any team in the league limits what they can do for the bench again and there may be a turnover again. So Marco could be too rich to retain, though I assume they’ll try and he does like Chicago.
Question/Comment: Is it my complete imagination or has Nate Robinson played himself into position to be this year’s Most Valuable Bull?
Sam: Maybe Most Voluble. I would say most talkative, most sneakers, Most times calling himself Peter Pan and most signals, handshakes and habits I can’t figure out.