Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 05.03.2013
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At this point it became ridiculous. As a fan, I am disgusted, really. The Bulls are not in a position to compete for anything. I understand that injuries are part of a season, but to me the word injury does not cover the seven wounds of Egypt. As a basketball player, I am really impressed by the toughness of the guys. I think you have to show them respect for their resilience.
Sam: As I was leaving the United Center parking lot after the game, I think I did see locust, frogs, thunder and hail as it is spring in Chicago and, of course, there was darkness. The way Deng looked, he may have had boils as well. It has been an unfortunate and unusual occurrence of afflictions, but the Bulls once again have been a team you can be proud of and enjoy. They clearly played with more passion basically every game than the Nets. They don’t have nearly the talent with Rose out. And it is tough to take for a fan, I’m sure, to see them so close to beating a basically healthy Nets team with half their team. You can imagine the frustration for them, which is perhaps the best part because they are not a team that doesn’t care about the outcome, which is the most you can hope for from a team you support. They care, they try and they give you all they have. Only one team ultimately wins a title, but no matter how far the Bulls go you know you are getting a great show, a great effort and a commitment to excellence, which really should be the greatest prize for any sports fan.
As of this moment (the end of Game 6) you are probably getting a ton of e-mails about how we should trade Jo or Lu, Boozer's amnesty, Rose's daily hate mail and many more on how the Bulls can "improve" the team... Maybe a few on whose fault it was. I know we have Game 7 but let's face it - this Bulls team can compete but not win. Many people forgot how good this team was the past two years. Yeah we lost to the Heat but how close were those games? Yeah we didn’t make it last year because of this horrible injury. How about this year when most of the team was injured all the time? Next year we'll have the core of the team back and I even think that this team has more potential than the team from two years ago. Jo is better; Boozer has become our best player (and the healthiest); Deng a 2 time All-Star and the hardest working guy on the team; Rose is going to be sick as always(maybe a better shooter).We had Bogans at 2 and now we have Jimmy who is better on every level and let's not forget Kirk If the Bulls keep Marco, our backcourt is pretty much set and better. We just need one more big man and we are on the top again. I still don't see how can the Bulls improve with trades.
Sam: It’s a good point, though how’d you sneak this among the hysteria. As a franchise, you can’t exactly announce you are not winning. But the reality for this season was the window closed last season with Rose’s injury and basically being out all season, which they always felt was a chance (if you read this feature back in December you might recall me writing Rose was a 50/50 proposition to play this season or maybe even play a few games and be shut down for the playoffs). This had to be a season of starting again without rebuilding. The Bulls still have high level players, though not enough. And you have to play the 82-game season. But how many had the Bulls finishing higher than fifth this season? Not many. Certainly none among national guessers. And if you don’t finish higher than fifth you aren’t supposed to win a first round series. The Bulls are headed to a seventh game in the first round after winning 45 games in one of the worst injury seasons they’ve had in a while. If everyone knew then what they know now would they have predicted the Bulls to make the playoffs? Even of the season ends Saturday, it’s been a good one, and the way the Bulls play it certainly can continue. But the point is to get Rose back as close to 100 percent as possible, and then put him back with the players they have and perhaps pick up something around the edges, hope you can retain some of the players you brought in as difficult as that might be, but add a good draft pick, maybe make a trade, who knows. But a pretty good core is there with Rose’s return that makes next season look pretty bright if you don’t panic over the results of this season and the playoffs.
I just want to point out that the bulls have to bring back Nate Robinson next season. If they let him walk Derrick has to start where he left of by putting the whole team on his shoulders. Because I don’t think that Teague will be ready next season to play heavy minutes and obviously everybody who counts on Kirk Hinrich must be crazy, this guy will always be hurt. We´ve seen it the regular season and now in the playoffs. I rather let Belinelli walk than Nate. Nate can play alongside Rose or Hinrich as a 2-guard if needed, there is no problem by playing him that way in a regular season. People always talk as Belinelli would be a superior shooter, I think Nate is a better 3pt shooter than Belinelli is, and he is showing you the whole package offensively against the nets, Belinelli cannot do that. Do you still pick Belinelli over Robinson, knowing Teague is a question mark and Hinrich with all his injuries? I don’t see it.
Sam: The larger problem is they may not be able to sign either Belinelli or Robinson, who both could get reasonable guaranteed deals given the seasons they’ve had (Belinelli tied, I think, in game-winning shots) and the Bulls being well into the luxury tax. Remember, the Bulls have four players making eight figure salaries, which is unheard of in the NBA today with the new labor agreement. They are over the cap alone with just four players. Add to that Gibson’s extension kicking in, Hinrich and Butler and you are getting deep into a penal tax that would prevent you from making future moves. If I had a choice it would be for Belinelli because he is a true shooter coming off screens, taller and better defender and can handle the ball some. Rose will take the minutes when he returns, Hinrich will play less, so presumably will be less prone to injury, Jimmy Butler likely becomes the shooting guard and Teague has to play as he’s a first round pick and they have to play him someone. Plus, he’s shown flashes if being able to score if given time. Nate might fall to not playing at all or just a few minutes, and I don’t see him even interested in returning in that sort of role. He was brought in as an emergency bench replacement with Rose out. He’s done his job. He was a terrific pickup, as it turned out. But you can’t fall in love with guys who you never figured fit your team for the long run.
Do you think the Bulls will rethink keeping Nate if the price is right? If they can lock him up for $10-$12 mil over 4 years with bulls option in final year? I think the Bulls should consider trading Teague and this year’s 1st to a bad team. Nate's size is tough, but he can spell Rose and play a few minutes with him. He does not need big minutes to be effective. 20 minutes is all, and play rose no more than 36-38 minutes most nights.
Sam: What happened to Hinrich? Trade him, too? So let me see. Trade two first round picks so you can resign Nate Robinson, whom 29 teams passed on and he signed with the Bulls for an unguaranteed minimum. I know Nate is popular and has helped, but as I suggested above I think it likely will become a moot point as Nate falls out of the Bulls financial picture which I assume they are managing to add a starter and not a sometimes backup guard. It’s great for Nate he got noticed and should get paid. He helped the Bulls and they helped him. That would be win/win.
Will the Rockets be able to sign Howard? Won't they be over the salary cap in 2014-15 with Asik, Lin, and Harden earning over 15 million?
Sam: They could have plenty of money to do so. They could easily trade Asik to someone with cap room given Asik’s $8.3 million salary, which the Bulls would have had to backload and carry at almost $15 million. The question, of course, is whether Howard wants to play there. It could be a heck of a team with Harden. The other issue is the extra year and $30 million he could get from the Lakers over signing anywhere else, or if he tells the Lakers he won’t sign, perhaps a sign and trade with Houston in which the Lakers get Asik and Chandler Parsons and some other stuff. We have hardly heard the last of Howard, and you know the Rockets with a chance to even pull this amazing upset will be thinking big.
Harden or Durant? Now that we have some evidence (though such a small sample proves nothing), two things stand out. One, Harden carries the weight of a team on his shoulders better than Durant. Two, Westbrook is the engine of that team. Durant, to me, is like Kobe. He's a world class talent and may have the best offensive skills in the NBA. But, skills aren't wins. Intangibles -toughness, pride, confidence, aggressiveness, will, and spirit- separate the greats from the legendary. I know Durant's a great guy. But there's a reason he underachieved in college. A reason he was standing around the 3pt line with his hand up while the pundits took jabs at Westbrook for trying to win the series. And, there's a reason why Houston is about to win this series.
Sam: Well, that didn’t take long, which is emblematic of this instant society. I agree Durant may have allowed Westbrook to be too dominant this season with Westbrook shooting so much. They need an offense which utilizes Durant on the move more with more variety instead of so much isolation ball like the Knicks. As for Kobe, he has won a few titles. We’ll hold off on considering Harden better until his team wins a first round series. Houston does have a shot because without Westbrook and Harden it’s losing 40 points tough to makeup as they’ve spent the last two years ignoring Ibaka because Westbrook wouldn’t pass to anyone. I’d still take Durant if I had the chance. He’s fabulous and 24 years old.
I'm sure there are so many passionate fans out there that wonder the same question I have. How can Derrick Rose sit on the bench and watch Robinson throwing up on the bench, Taj looking exhausted from the Flu, and Noah playing his heart out on one leg and not get up and go put on a jersey? I know the team must be afraid to say anything to him, but as outspoken as Noah is, I can't believe he hasn't went to Rose and said "Look, we love you, but we're busting out butts out there, playing hurt and sick, this is the end of our season...you need to get out there and play." I can't believe he hasn't said that and the how could Rose justify not playing? I know he's a good kid, hard worker, but they need him. You want someone that has your back, that you can go to war with. Derrick isn't showing that quality. Noah is. He's the leader of this team.
Sam: Yes, and as expected I have heard from many of them, especially after the Game 6 loss. Though there is a big difference between reconstructive knee surgery and the flu or plantar fasciitis. Not to diminish anyone for playing and what an inspiring effort it was for the Bulls even in that Game 6 loss, but Rose’s injury was career threatening, he doesn’t feel right to play and his teammates completely understand and my view is have told him not to rush back. Deng went through something similar in 2009 when he looked to fans like he should be playing in that great playoff series with Boston when it seemed the team needed him badly. Everyone seemed to indicate he could give it a try. As it happened, he had a broken leg (stress fracture) and sat out. He’s come back to be the healthiest he’ ever been and remain an important player and became a two-time All-Star. Had Deng played then he could have done irreversible damage and never had the career he’s had all the while remaining on the team payroll because of his contract. To me it would be amazingly short sighted for anyone to push Rose to play based on some acts of others or the situation given his importance to the future of the team. But many of these emails are get are from Miami fans knowing probably the worst thing for Rose would be to feel guilty and come back and play limited minutes because the team knows there is now way he can be fully healthy until next fall and perhaps do some damage that doesn’t enable the Bulls to again become a serious threat to the Heat. Ironically, now I saw Friday Deng had to resort to his twitter account to defend himself from apparent fan hysteria again that he should have played despite the possibility he had a serious medical problem and is making regular trips to the emergency room. “What do you mean he only had one leg and one arm amputated and he’s still not playing! Hold on, I’ve got a pizza coming.”
What your take on this nonsense coming out of CBS Chicago posting letters that Rose should be playing coming from a bunch of people who have never come back from a serious injury in their lives. I find this utterly crazy that selfish fans are not concerned about this player who has more than proven he would play in pain and play for the team in his short but starred career. I for one understand that he is not ready to go, there are no glorified scrimmages he could use to help get back into playing condition to ask him to come back now, and coming back not under a strict time limit is possibly damaging to his career and his future as a Bull.
Sam: I think you also saw the danger in the Golden State/Denver series in which Faried took a shot at Stephen Curry’s ankle. I agree with Mark Jackson that was an intent to injure, and you better be fully ready because Rose would be vulnerable the same way. The Miami guys took plenty of cheap shots against the Bulls (Wade vs Hamilton for example). If you are healthy, it’s fine. You’ll survive. But if your knee isn’t right, do you really want to see Rose out there in the heat of a grueling playoff series when he’s not right or not sure he’s right and seeing someone take a shot at that knee?
This may sound odd coming from a grown man but do you know how we can send Derrick some email/letters of support? The talk from some people, especially on talk radio, has gotten sickening and I feel like we need to show him he still has support in this city, that at least some of us have his back and have complete confidence in him. Maybe it's not a problem with the way his character is but if it was me I would be enraged by now at the betrayal by my 'hometown' fans. I love this city more than just about anything else and don't think there would ever be a reason I would leave but if I were treated the way Rose is being treated right now that might just do it. If it was me, I would say (heck with) these fans and demand a trade once I was healthy. I'd make sure to especially torment those fans for the rest of my career.
Sam: I don’t see much of this stuff, but I’ve gotten some emails about a CBS station campaign. I assume ratings are down and they need attention. I can understand your frustration and emotion and I believe many fans feel the same way. But Derrick seems to deal with this exceptionally well and I detect no grudge against anyone. He really is a good kid and it’s too bad you can’t say as much for so many of his critics.
I'm a Bulls fan from Europe with a media degree and I would like you to clarify something for me about the media outlets in the US (given the differences in communication that is made in Europe and the US): What is CBS Chicago doing with this "An Open Letter to Derrick Rose" thing? What is the purpose? It's a normal for a media outlet to take a position like this? "Yell at him, (...), convince him"? Seriously? I admit I'm not a expert in US media but I am shocked by this attitude of CBS Chicago as a media professional and furious, as Bulls fan, for this voice that's been given (and sanctioned by a media outlet) to some "fans" to show directly their ingratitude towards the most important part of an eventual bright future for the franchise.
Sam: I think it was from one of their radio stations, which generally don’t adhere to what you would consider any standards of journalism, not that there are many anymore. It’s like that station in Australia calling the Queen of England with some stupid hoax. Some so called “shock jock” radio stations tend to do that stuff regularly for attention, to create debate, whatever. I don’t think too many take them very seriously. Not that it’s a new tactic. But the rules toward responsibility have declined substantially in the era of social media (you saw during the Boston bomb story media sites doing their own investigations and naming their own suspects falsely), and talk radio only is an extension. I think Derrick only listens to music, so he may be unaware. LeBron and Kobe survived differing forms of community reaction. Rose will as well.
I'm sure you heard Steve Kerr's comments about Derrick owing it to his teammates to come back during the playoffs. I don't know if I agree that he owes it to them, but I still can't believe he's not back yet. I know that if I was able to practice fully and had doctors tell me I was at no elevated risk of injury, there is no way you could keep me off the floor during the playoffs. I'm not saying anything bad about his commitment or his heart and I'll love him just as much when he does come back, but I really just don't understand his motivation for sitting out.
Sam: His motivation for sitting out appears to be he’s injured. It’s one thing to speculate you are not risking injury, which no one truly knows and I have never once seen anyone quoted saying that. But that aside, I have heard Rose having questions still on certain movements, side to side, for example, which certainly wouldn’t suggest to me everything is great. As for Steve, I didn’t hear but later read them. Steve’s a terrific guy and was a wonderful, if limited, player for the Bulls. I enjoy his broadcasting, though he doesn’t remain my choice as the next president of the U.S. I don’t agree with him about everything, and he did trade for Shaq, which began the end of the great Suns run of the 2000’s. Certainly in his job it is important to hear broadcasters express an opinion, which generally are informed or otherwise.
How about a Derrick Rose for Russell Westbrook trade? Rose can assume a secondary role to Kevin Durant and Westbrook can become the man. The trade works financially and it allows two players who are basically the same player to chart a new path.
Sam: Well, at least it wasn’t for Reggie Jackson. You’d assume you’d at least want to see Rose back for one game. But then does everyone get to chant MVP for Westbrook? I’m pretty sure the Thunder would love to have a real point guard. So do the Bulls.
Teague... I was never a fan of that pick. Do you think he could be a quality back up? I feel that was an emergency pick because of Rose’s injury. He looks like he should have stayed 4 years at Kentucky. How does the organization feel about his future?
Sam: Fans tend to be awfully quick, sort of like media and most management. That said, a year ago or so all the mail I was getting was to get rid of Asik because he couldn’t catch the ball and so on and take pretty much anything. Teague has shown abilities and, yes, he should have stayed in school. But the money is good and you can’t blame him. Perhaps next season he’ll actually get a chance to play some. I’d like to see how he looks as no one can have an idea yet.
Do you see Jimmy Butler becoming a scorer like Aaron Afflalo or like he is now (Corey Crewer type)?
Sam: That’s not a bad comparison. The Bulls loved Afflalo and were pushing hard to get him at one point. I think Jimmy will be better than Brewer, who has had a nice comeback season. The way things look now you can see Butler starting at shooting guard next season.
I know it’s early but would… Deng/Hinrich/Pick for Gasol work?
Sam: For which team? Oh, right. Hinrich was hurt and Deng was ill. Trade them. My guess with the Lakers is if they can resign Howard they’ll trade Gasol into salary space to recoup a draft pick and save all the luxury tax penalty. If they cannot keep Howard they’ll keep Pau. The Lakers don’t do rebuilding.
Let me be the first to publicly apologize for the criticism Carlos Boozer has taken in his years with the Bulls. I apologize for all of the explicit and implicit abuse I've given him for not (or apparently not) showing up in the playoffs; this year he has been a rock. I apologize for crticizing his health and perpetual injuries; other than an intial hand injury, he has been more consistent than anyone else on the team. He has taken it like a man and not retaliated. Congrats to you Mr. Boozer. You have done it better than most.
Sam: Well, the first in public. Yes, Carlos Boozer the ironman. The Jazz season was bad enough, and now this.
Have you ever seen a pro athlete have a sneezing fit in the middle of a game; and a team had to call a time-out because of it?
Sam: No, but that would be a heck of an explanation for what you really were saying when the referee believed you were saying “*#*&%$#$ you.” Might even get a God Bless You out of it.
How do you feel about Jason Collins coming out? Are we going to see more active players coming out within the next year or two? Also would it be a much bigger deal if it was superstar of say, Carmelo Anthony's status?
Sam: I’m not naïve about discrimination, but I was surprised about the response. The president, sure. But Oprah? Views finally have begun to change regarding gays and lesbians, albeit gradually, with state laws and TV depictions. Though, yes, in our often closed minded and mean society I have no doubt gay people are among those still targeted. I’m not surprised an NBA player was the first in a team sport to make the public announcement as I know the NBA to be the most open, welcoming and bias free sports league in certainly American history. That may be David Stern’s most important legacy. I never fully understand the hatred toward others because of their private beliefs. It’s, in my view, been the biggest thing to undermine religion in the world as we’ve seen a peaceful worldwide religion subverted and made ugly by extremists. So many of these beautiful religions that are built on peace and love and understanding end up being used to provoke the worst ugliness in societies. As for the locker room issue, what do people think goes on there? Guys shower, dress and leave. There aren’t orgies. Most don’t even like one another that much. I’ve known a handful (maybe there were more) of gay players over the years, and so did their teammates, and it never was an issue. It’s obviously not an issue now as the story went away as soon as the Knicks wore black to Game 5. I know our era is filled with hyperbole, but Collins is no Jackie Robinson. He’ll never endure what Robinson did, which is hardly a condemnation. The other issue is I don’t think he’ll be in the NBA next season. Teams are much less concerned with your sexual orientation than your potential distraction quotient. We all know sports like perhaps nowhere other than politics is open to second chances. As Jon Stewart playfully pointed out on his Daily Show this week, gay players might not be so honored to join a sports world that has included adulterers, wife-swappers, gamblers, cheaters, rapists, racists, those who’ve abused spouses, drugs, alcohol, family members and animals. Collins is going on 35 and was let go this season by Boston, which didn’t even have a center, and lowly Washington barely played him after a late season acquisition. So the demand is slight, if at all at this stage in his career. And once you sign him, in every city he becomes a story that becomes tiresome in your locker room as all the players have to be asked about it and they really don’t care. That more than likely will far outweigh anything he can bring for the team. No offense. Yes, that’s also why such an announcement by a higher level player would have been more a test case. But it still was great for him and it was nice to see all the support he got. I’d be surprised if he were in the league next season, though there’s no other sports league that is more welcoming than the NBA. Given the stuff Kevin Garnett calls people, no one turns the other cheek better than the NBA. That’s a religious reference, by the way, about loving and understanding your enemies, not hating them.
Although he doesn't really need it this season (maybe Rose last season but that's past), how lucky can LeBron be? Kobe out, Rose out, Granger Out (although Pacers play better without him), Stoudamire out (same - Knicks are better off), Rondo out, Bynum out, and now Westbrook out? If the Spurs make it to the Finals and meet the Heat, both at 100%, who do you think would win the series?
Sam: Some years are like that. I recall the 1989 playoffs when the Lakers were 11-0 going into the Finals and then Magic and Byron Scott went out and they were swept by the Pistons. I like the Heat all the way, still, given their strength at their Wade and James positions. Though Tim Duncan might make Chris Bosh cry.
As I've read your last few Q&A columns I find myself wondering if the NBA owners haven't finally found a way to make pro basketball boring. The new salary cap and associated restrictions make meaningful trades increasingly difficult, if not impossible, which cuts out a lot of fun fan talk, especially in cities where the team isn't competing for a title. But it goes even deeper than trades. If you sign a max star and the star develops chronic injury problems, your team is not going to be competitive for the duration of that contract. Same thing if the star gets old before the contract expires. Add to that how limiting the cap is in terms of collecting talent, and we seem to be hurtling toward a league that's trying to be more "competitive" by making all of its teams mediocre. It's like a bunch of Harvard MBAs managing a goose that lays golden eggs. To enhance margins, they bind its lower intestines so they don't have to pay for clean up in the barn. It kills the goose, but they have great margins right up until the poop hit the fan. So, what's your five year outlook for the league? I.e., what will teams like the Thunder, the Heat, and some of today's other competitive franchises look like by the end of this players agreement?
Sam: There’ll always be trades and teams to get lucky and unfortunate and someone will win each year and everyone will try to change to follow their model. But, yes, teams are going to be more cautious, just as you see now in baseball in a lot of places as the Yankees and Red Sox have come back to the pack in spending, if not completely. I’ve heard a lot from GMs coming out of the labor deal the premium now will be more on being smart than being rich and adventurous. And being lucky enough to not have anyone get hurt. Which then will make you seem smarter than you are.
Big men are very important. Nazr has been a wonderful surprise in the playoffs so far, but he is not a long term solution. In the regular season, our 3 main bigs played the majority of minutes at PF and C. Nazr played in 63 games and had 12 starts, averaged 11 minutes per game. Anyways, we need a big man that can at least provide good defense or good offensive skills. So I took a look at some big man prospects entering the 2013 NBA Draft that will fall to our range. My favorites right now are Steven Adams, Gorgui Dieng, Jeff Withey, and Rudy Gobert.
Sam: Big men centers are important, though Miami seems to be doing fine without them. Of course, they have the other positions filled pretty well. The problem with these college kids are exactly that: Kids. Like Phil Jackson always said, You win with men. That’s why the champion Bulls always added veteran and really veteran centers each year. Never can have enough, and never have them too young. Plus, as we’ve seen, Thibodeau seems to believe in the same philosophy regarding winning. Nazr’s done well enough and played little enough all season to deserve a return. I’m for that. Though I assume they’ll keep looking. The Bulls could draft a big man, but you could then figure he won’t be playing much these next few years.
I have a request/question regarding Jimmy Butler. Can you please ask Jimmy to only answer questions in the third person from now on? If he refuses to speak in the third person entirely, can you gain his permission to write any quotes from him as if he did speak in the third person for your articles the rest of the postseason?
Sam: Jimmy’s not happy today going to Brooklyn. Jimmy wishes he were preparing for Miami.