Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 06.13.2014
Every Friday, Sam Smith of Bulls.com opens his Ask Sam mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
What do you think about the latest Melo to Miami rumor? Being Cole's the only guaranteed contract on the team, could the big three opt out and resign for less so that there is room for Melo? If the four of them sign for 15 million per year they should stay under the projected cap of 63 million and still earn more than they could get if they choose to go elsewhere. Add on to that the fact that Melo and LeBron are really close friends and the low taxes in Florida that you often bring up and it all could make sense.
Sam: Hey, everyone’s stealing my crazy trade proposal gimmick! And now the big problem is I think Pat Riley copyrighted it. The NBA, of course, is the never say never league. Though I don’t see those guys, especially LeBron James, taking a substantial pay cut to accommodate Carmelo Anthony’s fantasies. If anything, what you heard around LeBron these last few years was the next deal would be to make up what he lost last time, which wasn’t that much. Plus, I don’t think such a formulation would be any guarantee since Wade is in such decline, especially on defense, and then add Anthony to that, who isn’t much of a defender, and then Bosh has to become pretty much all defense, which he’s also not that much interested in. Plus, it hardly limits the burden on James as he’ll have to make up for it on the defensive end. The Lakers have tried versions of this with Dwight Howard and previously with Karl Malone and Gary Payton without any titles. It’s certainly possible if those guys care to do that as they are all wealthy. But I don’t see LeBron happily being the 22nd highest paid player in the NBA. There’s ego also involved in salary. Though we have heard for some time of Miami wanting to do something to get Anthony. The thinking among some executives I’ve talked to is they’ll do something with Bosh to create room or a trade for Anthony. It really makes more sense if LeBron wants to play with Anthony to wait a year and then go to New York in the summer of 2015 when the Knicks could add two free agents. Though most seem to feel LeBron wants to remain in Miami, and it’s hard to blame him given the living conditions. Wade is owed $42 million for the next two years and that would be some impressive talking if Riley can talk him out of that after all Wade has done in winning titles and helping recruit LeBron. If I were Bosh—as much as he wants to stay—I might opt out and go to Dallas since I think once he commits to a longer deal they’ll trade him.
Should be a very interesting summer for the Heat should they lose these finals. Could the panic button be pressed?
Sam: Well, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. Right, or until the fat lady, well, big boned lady sings. The Heat sure look out of it down 3-1 and with the way basically nothing they’re doing is working. That three-peat is a tough one; even for Pat Riley to sell t-shirts. If the Heat do lose, this Anthony to the Heat stuff is going to seem minor league compared to all the possibilities for a LeBron opt out. My guess is he returns to study the landscape for one more season. It seems clear Dwyane Wade is close to the end the way he misses so many close shots and cannot get in the air much. His body has taken a beating and it’s no surprise. Which probably is why the TV commentators give him a pass as they criticize just about everyone else while Wade is the last guy back on defense and hasn’t kept anybody but Erik Spoelstra in front of him for the last month. But I don’t see where LeBron has to go for now. I do think they can do enough tweaks with Battier, Ray Allen, Chalmers, Rashard Lewis, James Jones, Toney Douglas and Oden and Beasley on expiring deals to bring in enough role players to give LeBron reason enough to opt in another season. After all, they did go to the Finals. Pat Riley will look to do something major, and perhaps with Bosh. But I don’t see all those guys with the uncertainty of success taking way less money. And hardly to help Anthony have some success. After next season, LeBron could move in comfortably with Anthony in New York or return to Cleveland if they show vast improvement. Also, Riley will have a year make major changes and he’s good at that. But get ready for the latest LeBron to Houston nonsense if the Spurs win. The off season only promises to get wilder.
I took my son shopping for some new kicks today at Old Orchard mall in Skokie. As I walked into the Finish Line store, I recognized a tall and familiar face inside. Dalibor Bagaric. We started chatting since I’m Macedonian and he is Croatian and we both speak Serbo-Croatian. He was extremely polite and we ended up talking for almost 30 minutes about basketball, soccer etc… He mentioned that he was visiting friends here in Chicago, that he used to play professional ball in Italy, but he also said that Chicago is one of his favorite cities in the world. I asked him if the winters here ever bothered him, and he said it was never an issue. How much is the Chicago weather just an excuse and an overrated reason for free agents? NBA players spent 9 months with their teams (camp, preseason, season, playoffs), traveling from city to city. In the off season, most of them take vacations with their families anyways. Most people find Chicago to be an awesome city, and I think the weather has been overplayed in terms of free agency. Do you really find the weather to be the main reason free agents skip the Bulls, or the main reason lies with the organization, coaches and personnel?
Sam: You may have identified the issue there. Yes, you can get Dalibor Bagaric. I think the weather (lifestyle) is a big issue with free agents. Consider the free agents in the last two decades. How many have come to cold weather cities? Even the World’s Greatest Arena, as they like to say, in New York? Yes, Stoudemire, who couldn’t get a deal anywhere else. Carmelo did in a trade he forced, and now he’s supposedly talking Miami. Look at when the Bulls struck out in free agency. In 2000, they lost all their targets to Orlando and Miami. In 2010 it was to Miami. Shaq went to L.A. When Danny Manning and Tom Chambers were in demand they went to Phoenix. Players love to come to Chicago for the entertainment and night life. But they leave here in the winter asking how you can live there. There will be occasions where you just pay so much more than the other guy you would get someone. But once the NBA established maximum ceilings it hurt places like Chicago and New York in that they couldn’t overpay. Even if they wanted to. So you have to do it other ways, like the draft, or a trade or putting together an all-around group like the Pistons did with only Chauncey Billups a free agent and then just for an exception and then show someone once they are here the value of being in Chicago.
We need you to help explain to people why it does not make sense for the Bulls to trade both the 16th and the 19th pick for Denver's 11th selection, with no other compensation. This is a deep draft and the Bulls can get two serviceable players with the picks at 16 and 19. This is a year that we need to get both a shooter and another back-up BIG to make a push next season. Carmelo would be nice but is a long shot, no guarantee Mirotic will come over this season. Time for Gar to make a move for sure, but two for one unless we move up to the top 5, is a non-starter in my opinion.
Sam: I’m not the one as I would trade the two picks for one higher and I assume the Bulls have talked to numerous teams about that. With Mirotic, whom I think will come unless the Bulls use their cap room for someone else, and Tony Snell that’s two young players as I still consider Snell a rookie the way he played and how little he played. There’s no way Thibodeau is going to play four inexperienced players. Nor should he. Enough with this development camp. The Bulls’ window, as I have suggested before, is closing with Noah 30 and Gibson 29. And who knows how Rose will return. The Bulls have to compete immediately. You can always pick up non lottery draft picks. If I were the Bulls and couldn’t trade up, I’d trade for a future No. 1 with No. 19 and no way would I be bringing two more rookies to the roster, which would be three with Mirotic. That’s way too much for any team that is serious about competing and contending.
Do you think the Bulls will be able to move up in the draft and if they get into the lottery who will they be targeting?
Sam: I’d guess one of the top shooters, who should get picked toward the end of the lottery. I’d guess someone more ready to play, like Nik Stauskas or Doug McDermott. I know there’s the ‘Who’ll he guard?’ question with McDermott. But he’s too good a shooter to pass and the Bulls’ defensive system has accommodated loads of poor defenders. One interesting name to me is Julius Randle, the Kentucky power forward who may need foot surgery. Teams in the top 10 don’t like to take chances, so perhaps he falls a bit. You’d have to think hard if he falls to you as he could be a Zach Randolph type post scorer in the NBA. Yes, the Bulls are strong at power forward with Mirotic coming at some point. But you go for talent when you get the chance.
I tend to agree that the Bulls won’t get Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love. I personally like the current Bulls major players and mix. I’d hate to see Jimmy Butler or Taj Gibson traded. Anyway read an interesting article in Bleacher Report regarding Arron Afflalo being available in a deal. I’ve always been an Afflalo fan. Plays great defense, can consistently score, and he’s only 28. I agree that Afflalo alone won’t get the Bulls to the promise land but it will get them closer, make them better and he’d fit well with the Bulls current mix. Supposedly, Orlando is going for the youth movement and willing to deal Afflalo for a draft pick and some fringe players. Afflalo has a two-year 15 million dollar contract. Don’t know where this falls in the Bulls scheme money wise but believe it’s worth exploring.
Sam: Though I also think it’s a long shot, I’m not off the Kevin Love train. With all this talk about Anthony and Miami it probably does tell you that Anthony has his eyes on a bigger prize than taking less money to come to Chicago in a potentially riskier situation. But the Bulls could have a reasonable package for Love. Yes, it would cost Gibson and Butler and picks, but they’d probably have to take that risk. Of course, that also assumes Love either signs long term or at least opts in to guarantee two years. He might not want to do that given he hasn’t seen Rose play. I like Afflalo and he does answer needs in shooting and defense and two guard. But I don’t see Orlando with all those young players and picks wanting more for their most serviceable asset. To match salary, the Bulls would have to send someone like Gibson, which would be too much for me as Afflalo is 29 next season and shooting guards begin to decline after 30. Plus, he’d probably want an extension to drop his opt out after next season, and I wouldn’t want to tie myself up long term with a 29-year-old shooting guard. And if you were to acquire him for just picks and expiring deals, which I cannot see as it would make no sense to Orlando, you’d pretty much use up your cap room and have to maybe forget about Mirotic for next season. I’d try to stay in the Love connection for as long as I could and then turn to Mirotic unless the Magic went absolutely out of control and gave him away.
Let's assume the Spurs win the championship (still a long way to go), do you think there's any part of LeBron James that'd want to play for the Spurs. Before you completely dismiss it, look at their cap sheet. If they find a way to dump Splitter's contract (who's good but not great), they'd have around $18 mil in cap space with Parker, Duncan, Ginobili, Belinelli, Mills, and Leonard still on contract. Add LeBron James to that team and they'd be unbeatable. Why not join the Spurs? As a basketball fan, that would be nirvana.
Sam: That’s a hell of a dump as he’s owed about $26 million after this season and may not be a starter in many places. So, no, I don’t see them able to do that. But let’s say they could. Nobody turns down LeBron James. But I do seriously believe he made his sacrifice with the Heat in 2010 and wants a contract this time that increases his approximately $20 million annual salary. And he’s hardly a loser as this is a fourth consecutive trip to the Finals and that was wearing on Michael Jordan doing it three straight. Plus, you hardly hook on for a long term deal with 38-year-old Tim Duncan and 37-year-old Manu Ginobili. And the Spurs have a pretty good small forward in Leonard and a guy who handles the ball a lot in Parker.
I think Thibs is a great coach and the most important element to the Bulls success the past few years. But I am in the camp that believes his staunchness regarding minutes and lineups occasionally costs the team. Do you think he will take anything away from watching the success Coach Pops has had with mixing different lineups and reacting to certain matchups? Starting Diaw in Game 3 appears to be a little move that made a major impact on the game, and maybe even the series (although it's becoming clearer now that the Spurs are just the better team). This seems like the type of move Thibs would never make. Obviously the Spurs are blessed with a deeper bench than the Bulls had this year, but I think Thibs has earned enough respect from his players where he would be trusted to make those types of decisions in the future.
Sam: I get a variation of this question a lot, which is the classic bandwagon jumping see who won and why don’t you do what they did thing. Are we comparing Boris Diaw here with Tony Snell and Jimmer Fredette? Or Marquis Teague? The Spurs, by the way, who have had all their top players, have not been missing their best player and the league MVP for two years. Last season, Thibodeau used 11 different starters; this past season, Thibodeau used 12 different starters. His leading scorers in the fourth quarter were bench players. The Bulls had one player, 24-year-old Jimmy Butler, in the top 20 in minutes played. In 1996-97 when both were in their 30’s, the Bulls had two players, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, in the top 20 in minutes played. Wracked with injuries the last two seasons, Thibodeau used just about everyone he could for a team that wasn’t guaranteed to make the playoffs. Joakim Noah and Luol Deng weren’t All-Stars until Thibodeau began using them regularly. Do you think they regretted that? Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik all advanced under Thibodeau. Nate Robinson had his career year. So did Gibson. And, remember, this is Thibodeau’s first ever NBA head coaching job while Popovich has been coaching in the NBA almost 20 years. Why doesn’t Jimmy Butler score as much as Michael Jordan? After all, they are built similarly and are about the same size.
I've been looking at Embiid a lot. The kid can play really well. Has great footwork and quickness in the post and can step out mid-range to hit a jumper. Great prospect. Do you think he would drop because of his injury concerns similar to what happened to Nerlens Noel? If he did how far do you think he would drop? Seems like a guy you can build a team around a lot like Dwight Howard just not as athletic and strong.
Sam: I believe that’s what a lot of pro scouts see. He’s a potential franchise big man, and few come along. So there are two top of the draft scenarios I’ve heard. One is the Cavs take Embiid to pair with Kyrie Irving, LeBron watches for a season, sees he likes it and returns. Then the Bucks take the safe pick in Jabari Parker and Wiggins goes to the 76ers. The other one I’ve heard is the Cavs cannot afford another bust with their erratic drafting record. Parker is a sure, safe NBA potential star for the next decade. Maybe doesn’t turn your team around, but very good and a probable All-Star. LeBron’s not coming, so you build with him and Irving. Then the Bucks, who also cannot afford a mistake with so many they’ve made, take Wiggins and Embiid with the questions about his back problems falls to the 76ers. Embiid’s the classic high risk/high reward player in this draft. But if you miss, you’re fired.
This isn't so much of a question, but more an angle that could be worth exploring given the inundation of emails you are likely to get about speculation that Heat will make a run for Carmelo. Although this is probably just rumor at this stage, it does beg the question of what the league could do if players were to create an all-star team by all taking pay cuts. The Australian league has an interesting system that doesn't simply cap teams by salary. It has players ranked in some way and given a points value. Team rosters can only contain a certain number of total points. I think there may be some concessions for home-grown talent and maybe a marquee player exemption, but essentially it limits one team collecting the limited number of stars in one team, and helps to promote a more even competition. Good management is still rewarded and teams can still create mini dynasties (the NZ team I support recently achieved a 3-peat), but at some point too much talent can't be amassed on one team.
Sam: I know there’s outrage about this players making up super teams thing, though I do not see them quite that super. I don’t really have an issue with players doing this. It’s within the rules agreed to by the owners and the league. They’re doing nothing wrong. Teams have been stacked before. No one ever did it like Red Auerbach with the 50’s and 60’s Celtics and he pulled off all sorts of questionable moves, like trading arena dates and dispersal drafts and the old territorial draft. Auerbach was smarter than the other guys, but it’s the same concept. People seem to be more upset that players are doing it. I don’t see why management putting together a super team makes it any better. The NBA does what it can with a salary cap. That levels the playing field and adds to that revenue sharing. If players want to make a financial sacrifice, I don’t see the issue. People like to love/hate super teams. They’re never bad for a league. The history of labor relations is managements get too strong and greedy, like at the turn of the 20th Century in the U.S., so workers unite and become stronger. Similarly, we see that today with the corrupt and immoral NCAA. Because they have so abused their powers, the players have responded. Free agency in sports developed from the bias of the team owners. So now that players have more power, they should use it if they’d like. The dynasty Yankees or Cowboys or Bulls didn’t hurt their sport. As for the particular issue, those things are collectively bargained. And I don’t see players limiting movement without the owners making a huge financial concession. And the owners are not about to do that to stop one potential super team. Plus, the next labor negotiation could be a doozy with the exploding franchise values and sales in the past year.
I started watching basketball in the late 50s, early 60s and I can say basketball was truly played for the love, enjoyment and competition of the game. The one thing that most media types don't discuss is that Michael, Magic and Bird era did most of all was transformed basketball into a business. And, ever since, I have watched the integrity of this sport drop. To me, the biggest drop was when David Stern allowed for Pat Riley, LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh to conspire to combine their talents in south beach and would not Chris Paul to go to Lakers. The NBA can live with that with the generations after the Michael Jordan era because it's about being a business. I not only have a bad feel for the Miami Heat but also for the NBA.
To me, the NBA has gone from the number two sport to the number four sport behind the NFL, the MLB and the NHL.
Sam: Even though we still can’t see the puck? Sounds like more Miami anger. I hear this Chris Paul stuff about how the league ruined the Lakers and it’s nonsense. Stern did exactly what he had to do and if he had not would have betrayed the league. It was a horrible deal for the Hornets, then owned by the NBA, which was trying to sell it. Stern had a fiduciary interest to his other owners to get a fair price and that trade would have cost the team millions. The Hornets were taking on huge contracts of Lamar Odom, Luis Scola and Kevin Martin in the deal. They’d also have gotten Goran Dragic, who is good but could have left as a free agent, as he did. Those tens of millions of dollars in salaries for older veteran players for a young team would have been a disaster. Stern saved the franchise he had responsibility for. As for this notion of the economic NBA now compared with the previous purity, there are virtually no salary holdouts anymore compared to dozens almost every year in the 70’s, for example. There were more financial holdouts in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s than any time since. Not that the players were wrong; they just were denied rights and a fair share. The Bulls came into their best chance for a title in 1974 with 60 percent of their starting lineup holding out for more money. It seemed to me every year Scottie Pippen was demanding a new contract or more pay. Similarly with Karl Malone. Stacking teams is a sports tradition and done the best ever by Red Auerbach 60 years ago. And by the way, a super team with the starters including Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem or Shane Battier and Chris Bosh, who couldn’t get Toronto into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference? It’s a super player.