Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 04.26.2013
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I'm not a stat geek, but isn't Stackhouse on the way to an all-time record in firing airballs ? Not that I want to make fun of him, but I'm really amazed by the number I saw. I think he's up to six or seven (on a limited number of shoots). Maybe the series will yield an airball record too.
Sam: There have been quite a few, actually, which is part of the Bulls’ plan. It’s everyone’s, but that is why the Bulls are such a good defensive team. Every coach asks his players to get out and cover the three-point line. It’s not easy. The strength of the Bulls’ system is not only that Thibodeau demands it, but the players respond to it. Part of it, actually, is not having a level of star talent. Deron Williams never would do it, and then what do you do? He’ll pout. Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant. Do you bench them? It’s not like Derrick Rose was some great defender, but he did try. And was willing, which is one reason why his teammates always have been so supportive. They knew he was the star, but he never would act like one, off the court or in the game. It’s also why you hear Nets’ coach P.J. Carlesimo lamenting his team not hitting threes. They’re much harder to make when someone is running at you. And they may even be yelling “Miss” for all I know. As for Stackhouse, he’s been one of the better veterans in this league and one of the classier guys and it’s a credit to him he’s been able to play as long. And we all remain grateful he once punched out Christian Laettner on a team flight.
With the Bulls winning today, this series feels very much like the 2010 conference finals against Miami but in reverse. The home team winning big the first game, only to lose the next four. It even includes a Taj Gibson smash. Do you see the Bulls closing in 5?
Sam: Not really. Neither team strikes me as good enough or playing well enough to have any sort of dominance. With a short turnaround for the playoffs, it feels like a baseball doubleheader, and teams generally split those or those NBA back to backs when you play the same team. Though defense wins championships, it doesn’t make particularly appealing viewing in a first round series. This one has the feel of going six or seven games with the outcome highly debatable.
What happened to Hamilton? There is obviously a rift between him and Thibs after the first game debacle. He has always been a hot head and I wouldn't be surprised that he got into it with the coach after Thibs got into everyone during the film session. How come no one is talking about this?
Sam: Only because it’s not true. Hamilton has been a terrific teammate all season, supportive, and perhaps as much as anyone has kept Nate Robinson from getting into distraction by befriending Robinson and helping him manage. If only for that Hamilton was worth his salary as Nate has had issues on teams when he hasn’t had personal support. Thibodeau will give a player some space in the regular season, but he always falls on the side of defense, especially in this series because of the matchup with Joe Johnson, a scorer. So he went with Jimmy Butler. Plus, Hamilton has been out a lot and not practicing and it set him back as far as the late season rotation. But with how the offense has stagnated and Butler has struggled offensively in his first playoffs, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hamilton get some time because he is great at finding shots. Butler has been a bit reluctant shooting and Hinrich has to fight himself not to pass up shots sometimes. You hurt the team when you won’t take a good shot. Plus, Hamilton a longtime veteran with playoff experience has not been the least of a distraction which many veterans could be. He deserves credit for his role with the team.
Does owning a players bird rights still give you the option to go over the cap to resign them? If so then it would be possible for the Bulls make an offer to a top free agent in 2014 and re-sign Deng because of this. Of course this can only happen with them amnesty Boozer and not signing any big long term deal before then. Which I see both happening.
Sam: This remains the big question for the Bulls moving forward because if you are in the luxury tax it’s not just that you are spending more money and cutting your profits. There are personnel penalties like barring you from sign and trade deals, eliminating the biannual exception and reducing the size of the midlevel exception. The mote you go over, the fewer moves you can make. The Bulls would have Deng with Bird rights, but what breaks down on your theory is Deng is under a cap hold of about double his salary until he signs a new deal. So even if they were to amnesty Boozer, with that cap hold they’d still be well above being able to make a major free agent addition with the salaries of Rose, Noah and Gibson, which total $39 million alone. And that’s without even Jimmy Butler.
Noah 4th? Really? I understand him not winning (Defensive player) due to injuries, but why would he come so far behind in 4th place? I still think he should've won it despite all the injuries. There's no one in the league who has as much impact on the defensive end as Noah does. Who gets to vote on these things? Should their voting privileges be revoked?
Sam: Well, we see Noah the most, so obviously we are biased. As I wrote when I voted for him I felt he wouldn’t get the award because of missing so many games. That is a significant factor. It was good to see Dwight Howard fall so far. But a lot of voting privileges should be revoked. Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook, two very poor perimeter defenders (Wade often doesn’t run back as he’s arguing calls and Westbrook doesn’t try that much) got more votes than Thabo Sefolosha, by far the Thunder’s best perimeter defender, and Kirk Hinrich, who Wade even hates playing against because he defends him better than anyone. The NBA should reveal the votes, which at least would enable us to make fun of people directly. I don’t have an issue with Gasol, Ibaka or Tony Allen, who was fifth. I do with LeBron James second. He’s a terrific defender late in games when put on a top scorer, but he often plays a non scorer so he can rest or play the passing lanes for steals. It may be best for the team, but it’s not defensive player stuff. And you just can’t be the best defender when you are rarely ever called for fouls as LeBron this season again went six straight games without a foul call. Again, perhaps good for the team but hardly a physical defensive effort all game.
I'm interested in your thoughts regarding (the ESPN) trade scenario Would trading Boozer, Butler, Mirotic and the Charlotte pick be too much for Kevin Love? Could any team offer anything better (Miami- Bosh)? Would we rather trade Deng instead of Boozer but keep Butler, then amnesty Boozer or trade him for a decent 2? Also, is Love a defensive improvement over Boozer? Mirotic has improved every year but his rebounding numbers still scare me. I would do this deal (Boozer, not Deng) in a heartbeat. Spread the floor even more for Rose without losing your rebounding presence, keep a Belinelli type at 2 (love Kirk but don't trust his health)... sounds like a championship team to me!
Sam: I’m flattered ESPN and many others have adopted my tactic of trying to help teams. The idea is to help both teams, and this proposal—which was much suggested last fall when Love first was pouting before he sat out the season—would only hurt the Timberwolves. So you also hurt the ones you don’t love (no pun intended). Of course, you’d Love to have Love. Even like to have him if I weren’t getting carried away with the pun. He’s an All Star, young star in the league. He moaned about staying in Minnesota, but like a lot of these guys not until he signed his contract and got his money. Nice. Perhaps that changes some with a new general manager in it seems Flip Saunders, who is going to value having a power forward star when he coached there in Garnett. My guess is talk of any Love deal vanishes if Flip is running the basketball operation. Anyway, Love cannot opt out before the summer of 2015, so the Timberwolves are under no pressure. That Bulls package makes no sense as if you were Minnesota you could only do such a deal for a young All Star (like Noah) or to save money and get lottery picks, neither of which the Bulls have. Boozer makes more than Love and isn’t as good. Then Mirotic doesn’t have to come to the NBA, and if it’s Minnesota Europe may look a lot better. The Bobcats pick goes to 2016, and isn’t a top five guarantee if Charlotte improves. Minnesota has got Derrick Williams, a high pick they want to be their small forward, and Butler is hardly the fill it up shooter to space the floor for Rubio as we’ve seen in the playoffs. So other than none of those players making sense for Minnesota, sounds good for the Bulls. Given Love already has been a two-time All Star and averaged 26 points, I could see them asking for Noah, Butler and the rights to Mirotic. Would the Bulls do that? Right, likely not. You don’t get star players for anything less than your top two, especially in this era of diminishing star returns.
Last year DRose missed 27/66 games with, I believe, turf toe, back and then groin injuries. When he went down against Philly everyone forgot how relieved they were just to have him out there in the first place. Is it possible that DRose and crew saw the toe lead to the back lead to the groin and just wanted to avoid a similar outcome this year? I am not suggesting that those prior injuries led to the ACL; however, plenty of turf toe sufferers have suffered from other injuries as a result of overcompensating to avoid pain in the toe. Rubio and Shumpert have experienced just that and have had a rocky road in their returns.
Shouldn't we just let him get whole in peace?
Sam: I believe we should. But sometimes I feel like some of the people who are commenting on this appear to be those who stand at the bottom of a skyscraper with someone on the ledge urging them to jump. Get that momentary thrill, say they were there, and then move on and say too bad for that guy. Yours would be a reasonable thought given people forget this is two years of injuries for Rose, and not just that ACL last April. If he’s going to be the guy whom the team is relying upon to move forward with, I still don’t understand the rush of some to see him back now when he would be under a minutes restriction because by its nature that means he isn’t fully healthy. He pushed himself last season, and I’m not saying either that led to an ACL. But it hardly seems as unreasonable as many make it sound for him to be cautious at a time when he’s still within the eight to 12-month window of a limited return the surgeon originally recommended as he didn’t have surgery until mid-May 2012.
I've been really worried lately about our fan base. We have some of the greatest and most passionate fans in the world, but lately, lots of fans have just been overly bashing Derrick Rose over his comeback. I personally love Derrick and appreciate all that he has done. I just watched the video of him crying at the release of his new shoe a few months ago and just felt awful for him. In his speech he said that he felt very grateful for all the support people had given him. But that was then and this is now. I wonder if the relationship between Derrick and us fans will be severely damaged after this whole situation is over. Derrick has always stated that he loves Chicago and will never leave it , but now the fans are, unfortunately, starting to turn on him. We don't want this to turn into the whole LeBron-leaving-Cleveland thing as it certainly has the potential to go that way with the treatment he is receiving from some fans. Don't you think it just would be great if Gar comes out and says directly that Derrick isn't coming back this year?
Sam: That’s not likely an immediate issue as Rose just signed an extension which doesn’t have an opt out—I never understand why teams do that with maximum salaried players, giving them the most money and the right to leave—and expires in the summer of 2017 when Rose will be almost 29. I actually don’t think all this condemnation has bothered Rose as much as it has some others. He seems in good spirits whenever I see him and seems to understand you rely on the people who are close to you and who have been with you and the ones who yell and complain the loudest don’t necessarily comprise a majority as much as demand to look at them. He is a pretty mature kid. It’s probably best to learn more about people now when you have your money. It may even help him with investments because perhaps he sees how fleeting outside adulation can be. I do believe Rose is committed to Chicago and any future decisions he may make, like James, will probably be based on the ability of management to put together a team worthy of competing for a championship. As much as any player I’ve been around, Rose is about winning the game. He never wanted to be a scorer, but understood he had to be with the roster the Bulls had. But like Luol Deng said with his stress fracture which led many in the community to doubt his commitment, you never forget. And it does leave a mark.
There’s something I’ve never understood about the NBA and how its organized… Why or what is the reason the playoffs are divided by conference? Couldn’t they just make the brackets 1st vs 16th, 2nd vs 15th and so on? We could see very good semifinals and finals in that scenario… It may be a silly question but I’ve always been curious about that.
Sam: It actually came from costs. The league, like most leagues, was organized so the teams closest to them would play one another. That cut costs in an era when the NBA barely was making it and players were actually quitting the game to sell insurance because it was more profitable, like John Paxson’s father. There also was the notion of rivalries, that people living closest to one another would likely be more city rivals like New York and Boston. This notion has been suggested at times for the purity of matchups. But even though costs isn’t as big an issue in travel it still is an issue. More so for times as if you end up with more cross country matchups the games would be on bad times for many fans and the travel would be too difficult having to criss-cross the country for games, especially in the playoff 2-2-1-1-1 format. Then you are going to more 2-3-2, which many don’t like and don’t consider fair.
What do you think the league's approach was with this new flopping rule. I believe they wanted the issue addressed which is why the rule was created mostly to stir up awareness, but it's still a problem. I can't believe this first year these warnings and fines weren't handed out like candy. I understand flopping is part of the game now-a-days because if you never try and sell it you will not get the call as often but sometimes it’s ridiculous. I could have come up with 1 a week just watching Bulls' games.
Sam: I liked recognizing that it was an issue, but the message didn’t seem to get down to the officials. I’m in agreement with Jeff Van Gundy on this one as he’s brought it up on the broadcasts several times. The NBA’s problem is they reward bad defense. Defense is not running halfway across the court and jumping in front of someone and they splaying out on your back as if shot. Yet, there remains a preponderance of charging calls. Charging calls should be the exception and earned by moving your feet, staying in front or being planted for awhile. Until the league stops rewarding this ersatz defense there flopping is going to continue. Once they begin to call all these bad defensive moves blocks, which they are, it will stop. But part of the problem is the coaches on the competition committee often are against these changes as the more offensive foul calls the view is there is great coaching going on. Instead of bad league management.
What’s the deal with bad teams firing their coaches only to pay them as they pay another coach to run their team? Why hire a coach and not give him at least 3 years to improve a team. The latest being the Bobcats. Why aren't these owners being honest with themselves?
Sam: I don’t fully get it, either, especially why you have to give a long contract. It’s a great job and it’s not like so many guys are in demand. Let them prove themselves a bit like most every worker in the country. It’s not like most have a track record of excellence. Yes, I give Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich security. Not many others. The coaches make this ridiculous argument the players won’t respect them if they don’t have contract security and the owners generally fall for it not being knowledgeable in sports given their success was built elsewhere. You gain respect by your knowledge and the force of your personality and leadership; not your bank account. But it’s a backward world in sports where the system is built to improve by the draft and ownership and fans demand immediate results. Don’t feel badly for the coaches unless the TV analyst jobs go away.
Has there ever been a player/coach in the NBA? I remember the Cleveland Indians won a World Series with one, but that was in the 50's I think. Maybe I'm crazy, but I think LA should have just hired Kobe as coach, not D'Antoni. Maybe actually having responsibility for the playcalling would have helped move the ball around and involve their bigs more. It would have been a great story at least.
Sam: Dave Cowens was the last for the Boston Celtics in the late 1970’s. Lenny Wilkens coached Seattle in the early 1970’s and played and it wasn’t all that uncommon in the early years of the NBA. When Red Holzman did. Dave DeBusschere famously did as he also played professional baseball, perhaps the most versatile athlete since Jim Thorpe. Bill Russell won a title finishing his career playing and coaching for the Celtics. The interesting story is Michael Jordan could have. One of the proposals being floated to Jordan after the 1997-98 season was to return as player/coach given Phil Jackson was leaving. No, the Bulls weren’t pushing everyone out. They were doing everything they could to retain Jordan. Jordan said he didn’t want to coach, but the Bulls then floated several possibilities to him for his choice of a coach, including Dean Smith. Jordan said he was done. We knew he returned in Washington, but when Jordan is done in the moment he is done in the moment.
Why don’t professional players use the backboard more often? As a 35 year old I distinctly remember being taught the advantage of angles on a shot. This argument might not fit with younger players such as Derrick Rose or Kyrie Irving, but for players who grew up in a similar time, why did this skill get left out? Imagine a shooter like Ray Allen or Kobe Bryant opening up shooting space by using the glass.
Sam: It is mostly lost, and perhaps thought of as old fashioned as Tim Duncan does use it most frequently. I attribute it more to fewer players going to college as they never really learn geometry.
Do you think Mike Dunleavy Jr. would be available for vet minimum next season?
Sam: He certainly hopes not.
Is it time for Bulls to trade Deng, play Butler and bring in an elite player to run with Rose next year? Timing couldn’t be better. Maybe JR Smith or Curry, or Bosh, McGee or Barnes? I say no brainer. What say you?
Sam: Oops, Lu must have had a bad game. Oh, right. Game 1. First of all, there’s been this huge rush to anoint Jimmy Butler, and you can see from the playoff games in Brooklyn he’s not yet ready to take an active role on offense, especially as a shooter as they really can’t run shooting guard plays for him. Though I do believe he will become a very good player. But remember this is basically only his first full NBA season. He could begin next season as a starting shooting guard, but isn’t exactly top status at that position even though he projects to be better. Plus, there isn’t a huge market anymore for expiring contracts as so many teams are under the salary cap now and trying to unload contracts. The big issue is Deng will be unrestricted after next season, which means whoever would trade for him basically is getting a rental. So you’d get what? Maybe a low first round pick. Maybe a bad long contract. Welcome back, Derrick. We’ve traded the best players you can count on. Now win us 60 games.