Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 06.07.2013
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The Spurs after their Game 1 win can play even better in this series. They need to go to Duncan in the post more; no one can contain him on Miami. And they need to clean up their coverage on the perimeter.
Sam: The Spurs Game 1 win in Miami looks like it will make this a heck of a series. But Miami lost home court advantage in the last two series and won. But Miami has plenty to do and change after a game they should have won easily. They got up relatively big early on and then substituted liberally, taking LeBron out and the Spurs came back and made it a close game. The Spurs played well for a team after the long rest, but you have to put them on the defensive to start. Miami had them backpeddling after taking an early lead and took their foot off the pedal. Spoelstra’s fault. There’s two weeks left in the season. LeBron’s got to play. Wade did better, but still isn’t explosive. Bosh is a joke, fading out to shoot that three at the end. Does he think there are alligators in the paint? Miami has professional shooters all over the court, but then the 6-11 guy fades out for a three? But this loss is on LeBron even with a triple double. LeBron goes in the post maybe four times and goes to the basket easily or gets a shooter wide open. Then he stops. LeBron keeps walking the ball out of the backcourt, giving the Spurs time to set. You heard Popovich during the game complain about his transition defense. But Miami is walking it up. So late in the game LeBron is desperate and gets right to the rim. He does nothing to put pressure on the Spurs defense, thus hardly shooting any free throws. Given the level of play of Wade and Bosh, James has to put constant pressure on for the Heat to win. But he backed off and didn’t play a serious game. He let the game come to him, and it veered over to the Spurs. The Spurs played LeBron the classic way: Good perimeter defender with stunting help and then backing into the lane. Then LeBron goes on Tony Parker at the end and accepts the screens instead of playing over them. If you are the defender you think you are don’t switch. But James did. He was the best player on the Heat. But he has to do a lot more given the level of play now of Wade and Bosh for Miami to win given the Spurs run their offense so precisely. They move the ball and are patient — much more so than Miami, which takes too many quick shots — and get a lot of good shots. But their defense is not great, and not nearly as physical as the Heat has seen the last month. They don’t cover the three-point line as well. But that said, yes, Miami couldn’t defend Duncan. And enough with the canard that James can defend all five positions. He was overwhelmed and backed off Hibbert in the last round. He was overwhelmed by Splitter on a switch and couldn’t deal with Duncan. That’s OK. But let’s get over the notion he defends everyone. No one does and no one really ever has. Miami played that overconfident game they did early against the Bulls and Pacers. It should be fun to see now if they’re capable of more against a very skilled team.
I don't think the Bulls fear the Heat anymore, the way they are now. It's more of a one man LeBron team, than the former all D-Rose Bulls. With the emergence of Jimmy and a rehabilitated Deng, LeBron will suffer the defense D-Rose suffered when he [had to] do it all. With D-Rose coming back and Taj/Noah on the back court, Thibs will finally have a defensive five who can actually score that can finish the game. Hopefully the Bulls can stay healthy and win it all next season.
Sam: The series isn’t over yet, and Miami is in the Finals a third straight time. That said, we’ve begun to see this for weeks with Wade’s decline and perhaps another offseason knee surgery. That’s why there’s been all this talk about LeBron opting out after next season. Everyone sees this possibly coming, though as I’ve written, never discount what Pat Riley can come up with. The Bulls never have feared the Heat. That’s been obvious the way they’ve played them basically even for three years. With Rose back in full health, the Bulls should be a better team next season. But it’s been three years of injuries, so you can hardly count on anything.
I just read about how the NBA replay system is under review this year again to help the officials "Get it right" as Stern says. But why, just like in the NFL for example, does the league refuse to allow certain parts of a call to be overturned or added to? If there is a replay, and the purpose of the replay is to get it right, why can they not call a foul that wasn't called? Why can they not retract a foul call that through replay they can clearly see never happened? If they really want to get it right, why aren't all aspects of the play reviewable?
Sam: This reminds me of a lot of second guessing that goes on in government. Just because you have the job doesn’t mean you are the most qualified person to do it, or even particularly bright. The difference with government and sports is your mistakes are on display. If U.S. banking were a TV show it would be shocking the incompetency. So the sports leagues decide to set up instant review. They come up with as many circumstances as can develop, and then more happen. It’s not unlike legislation. Basically every major American law, like Social Security and the Civil Rights bills passed. And then weren’t finalized for a few years until they found the mistakes and unanticipated circumstances. So instant replay remains an evolving task. But in doing replay you have to avoid being put in a situation to turn the game over to computers and TV cameras. If you tried to get everything perfectly correct you’d have eight-hour games looking at every play. As for fouls, there is a lot of judgment involved given NBA rules allow certain levels of contact. The officials have to judge what’s in the flow of the game and doesn’t excessively interfere with the ability to make a play. So you can never get into reviewing and potentially changing foul calls. No game is perfect, and I believe the NBA officials do the best job in sports in a very tough game to officiate.
After reading about Karl Malone leaving MJ off of his all-time starting 5 it got me thinking who would I put in my starting 5. When I got to the big men I really had a hard time. I'm too young to have seen Wilt, Russell, Mikan, and so on, but I fondly remember Olajuwon, Robinson, Ewing, and Shaq. Point guard Magic simply because he was a great floor general. Shooting guard Jordan no explanation needed. Small forward LeBron again no explanation needed. Power forward I chose Garnett not because I think he is the best, but more for his versatility to play inside and out. Center Shaq just because he was so dominant in the paint. Who would make your starting 5?
Sam: Yes, I understand being young and not having seen the greats of the game. Many of us wouldn’t mind changing places at some point. As for Malone, he’s never been a genius about the game and often an angry man. Sure, Jordan denied him a title, but worse stealing the ball from him and then going end to end to score to win games. Michael made Malone look very bad in that series, one time when Malone was league MVP and got badly outplayed. My top five is Oscar Robertson, perhaps the greatest all around player ever, and Jordan in the backcourt. Larry Bird and Tim Duncan in the front court. Remember, you have to judge players in their era. Not against players from other eras. Center is Wilt and Russell and I always go with Wilt because he was by far the most dominant player ever. Russell was the greatest winner and probably teammate. But he played with so many better players that fit him thanks to the best ever executive, Red Auerbach.
There should be a risk disclaimer on the Coach of the Year Award. "Accept this at your our peril". George Karl
Sam: Usually, the guys get fired quickly because they are not great coaches and their team just has a season the voters didn’t anticipate as they underrated the talent. The award generally is about expectations. It was different with George, who like some veteran coaches has a self destructive tendency that tends to wear out his bosses.
Lots of coaching openings and lots of names being mentioned and Skiles isn't one of them. Think he'll get another whiff at the NBA? Or, a better question, think he'll get ever get a whiff with a team that has talent? DelNegro got the Clippers, Avery got the Nets and I don't think either of those guys can coach anywhere close to Skiles' level.
Sam: I agree. Scott’s very good and does affect winning, but he’s scared off some teams with his three premature departures. But the field isn’t very strong and eventually some team will get around to him again. The amount of coaching changes is amazing, and if I were a coach unlike George Karl I’d want to be a free agent/lame duck and see what comes up as the turnovers has become constant and with some very good places to work.
Looking back to the last two games of the Bulls-Heat series, Rip Hamilton had 11 and 15 points respectively, after not playing at all in the first three games and only ten minutes in the Brooklyn series. We know Thibs is conscious of his vets' reputations, since he rarely takes starting jobs away from them. I have a suspicion that Thibs saw the way the series was going and, knowing that Rip is likely gone next year, wanted to give him a chance to show that he can still contribute, a sort of audition for the rest of the league.
Sam: Thibs the old softy, eh? It’s a nice story but not quite the Thibs we know. He is a good guy and his players like him. But he’s not the most sentimental. Yes, he doesn’t throw players under the train (hurts more than buses). Hamilton can score and should at least get himself a veterans’ minimum next season paying more than $1 million. He can help someone and he can make shots, which he showed in those games. But Thibs opted for defense in keeping him out, and Dwyane Wade’s burst in the fourth quarter of Game 5 was all against Hamilton. But given how many players were out ill and injured for the Bulls Thibs was continually searching and the Bulls didn’t have a whole lot of two way players left to go to.
I've just been re-watching the Heat-Pacers game 7, when I noticed Reggie Miller noting how Erik Spoelstra made a critical adjustment in sending James to guard Paul George. Fair enough, but my question all series has been what took him so long and why wasn't James on George from game 1? Who else was he guarding that posed a greater threat? I know he likes playing the passing lanes for steals but he really should've been on him from the start and the Heat, in my opinion, would have had this series wrapped up in 5 or 6.
Sam: It’s why despite his objections he’s not the defensive player of the year. LeBron’s an excellent defender because he’s so athletic and so smart. Well, not exactly brilliant. In the post game press conference, James looked at a box score and decided something had to be wrong as the Spurs had 21 second chance points but just six offensive rebounds. That did seem curious. LeBron lightly said he was good in math and six second shots even threes can’t equal 21 points. But there are other ways you can total second chance points, which include free throws made. Perhaps a blocked shot retained and another shot. But as we know being around them, the box scores do matter and I hate that most newspapers no longer publish them. Anyway, back to his defense, where he rests a lot, taking a lesser scorer, like Stephenson in the Pacers’ series. He guarded Belinelli a lot against the Bulls. One of the things Phil Jackson was so good at — and he did have a second great defender in Pippen — was taking away your first option and your primary playmaker. Spoelstra tends not to do that, allowing James to lay back off top scorers until late in games. You can’t be the league’s best defender when you won’t consistently take the challenge. Yes, I know James has to do a lot. But that’s the job of the league MVP.
Who is Vladimir Veremeenko? I've read that the Bulls have the rights to him via Hinrich trade from Wizards.
Sam: The Bulls have the rights to him from the Hinrich deal to get cap room. It was a throw in to make the deal. The Bulls have no intention of pursuing him as he’s about 30 and I don’t even know if he plays anymore.
Is O.J. Mayo going to test the FA market this year? If he does what do you think he will command? I think he would be an excellent player for the Bulls at the 2 guard spot. I don't see any way the Bulls would be able to afford him though without an amnesty to Boozer. I also feel like the Bulls are spending a bunch of money on a backup PF. I would like to see them just go ahead an amnesty Boozer, move Gibson into the starting lineup, sign O.J. Mayo, and extend Deng. Then with the 20th pick they can try and find a backup big man that can defend the rim. Someone like a Jeff Withey or Gorgui Dieng.
Sam: I answer this pretty regularly, which discourages me as it suggests no one reads my answers. Though I tend to believe the reading comprehension is not good. Boozer is not getting any amnesty. Even if he were, the Bulls this summer could not add a free agent by getting under the salary cap. And they still have to pay him, so they’re hardly going to pay Boozer $16 million so they can add a backup guard. Mayo probably gets an exception deal, but once Dirk returned he shot and played poorly and I’d take Jimmy Butler or Belinelli over him. Not that there’s any chance of signing him. Yes, those guys likely will be in the discussion with perhaps a dozen other guys mostly at center and shooting guard.
With the emergence of Jimmy Butler, would you say the Bulls have the best shutdown defensive lineup in the league of Hinrich, Butler, Deng, Gibson, and Noah? Two of them have been voted All-Stars for mainly their defensive talents. The only lineups I can think of that rival it are Hill, Granger, George, West, and Hibbert of the Pacers, and the starting lineup of the Grizzlies. The Heat and Spurs both lack two defensive minded big men, and both have defensive holes at guard spots, and no one else seems to be remotely close.
Sam: I agree the Bulls will be able to put a good defensive unit on the floor at times, though I’m hoping to see more of Derrick Rose as hard playing defenders without scoring gets you basically as far as the second round.
I was reading about the Bears off season weight training and wondering about the Bulls. I assume the Berto Center is always available but is it staffed with trainers during normal hours? What about video tape review/instruction? If Jimmy Butler wants to work on his shot is a Bulls coach/advisor available or does he go outside? Does management suggest areas of work to improve to each roster person or is that up to the player? Is there periodic player/coach contact to monitor progress/status in the off season? I recall that Marcus Teague was reported to be out of shape for the summer league games last year and I wonder how that could happen.
Sam: The training center is always open and the Bulls always have it staffed with coaches and trainers, not to mention Thibs, who waits for guys to come in. But teams have no say over players in the offseason and cannot compel anyone to work out or use their facility. You have to rely on the best interests and habits and character of the players. Jordan never worked with the Bulls in the Summers. He generally came back each season pretty good.
Where in the world do you rank Erik Spoelstra as a coach? He is definitely pretty good as he won a championship and has been to 3 straight finals. I think a great coach figures how to get a player like Bosh getting the maximum out of his talent. I think the jury is still out as he has the best star player talent. My Heat friend fanatic thinks he is the 2nd coming of Phil Jackson. Where do you rank him before the series concludes? How about if the Heat win or lose this series? Is he in jeopardy of losing his job if he doesn’t win the finals this season?
Sam: Pat Riley is a big fan and loves being the mentor, so Spoelstra is very safe no matter what happens. I heard the other day where Jeff Van Gundy said Spoelstra is on the way to the Hall of Fame, which Jeff says about every coach and every player being responsible for why coaches aren’t perfect. Spoelstra seems hard working and knowledgeable, but he still cedes much too much to the whims of Miami’s star players. Given half the coaches in the league get fired most every season, he’s certainly a top half coach, but probably second five.
I saw speculation about LeBron coming to Chicago and it got me thinking about how I would feel about that scenario. Honestly, I think it would cripple my passion for the Bulls. First of all, it's like being gifted a championship without having to 'earn it', whatever that means. Sure, we lucked into Rose, MJ, and Scottie, but its a different feeling when you draft a great player and watch them grow in your system. We've watched this Bulls core struggle and grow, and it would be satisfying on another level to watch them achieve the ultimate goal. Acquiring pieces through free agency is one thing, but to acquire the best player in the game, changing your team dynamic, and winning a title the easy way would just not bring me much satisfaction as a sports fan. Secondly, I've become comfortable with my dislike for LeBron and find it enjoyable to root against him. He is probably the #1 reason I've watched every game of the East Finals this year. I'm not sure what that says about me, but having that favorite team to hate has always made sports more fun. So, I guess what I'm saying is lets stop wishing for a title to fall in our laps and start enjoying the struggle, because that is really what it's all about!
Sam: I’m fairly sure you don’t speak for Bulls management and most fans, who despised Dennis Rodman until he became a Bull and then engaged in some very embarrassing pandering. In any case, you’re safe. He’s not coming to the Bulls. So dislike away.
How about a trade sending Deng to Washington for their #3? Chicago could use that selection on Oladipo or Potter? This can also help Chicago by reducing their payroll to add two or three good quality free agents.
Sam: I’ve published a bunch of these just to let fans know they keep coming. Sure, a deal always is possible. But most any deal the Bulls would make for Deng this Summer likely would set them back next season. Teams do deals for financial reasons that set them back (see Thunder and Grizzlies). It happens and will more so in this era with the penal luxury tax that limits your ability to add players. But no rookie No. 3 pick from this draft is going to come close to doing what a two-time All Star, all-defensive player can do. It wouldn’t even be for a player who could start this season.
While the 2013 Draft Class is considered by most experts as being "weak", there is one player projected in the top five that would seem to be a perfect fit for the Bulls, Victor Oladipo. He's a hard-nosed worker, as reflected by his stats skyrocketing, an athletic two-guard, with a 42 inch vertical, who could have an immediate impact at both ends of the floor. He could backup Jimmy Butler, then possibly become the starting shooting guard in two years, while providing insurance if the Bulls decide not to bring back Luol Deng. Could the Bulls pull off a reasonable trade with Charlotte at four or Phoenix at five to draft Oladipo?
Sam: No. You don’t fully understand what high lottery picks mean to bad teams. They view them as not only building blocks but marketing tools. You can fantasize about the unknown, and when a team is trying to rebuild and regain fan interest, lottery picks are major prizes because you can build them up from late June until November without challenge. It’s why you rarely see them traded. They are much over valued as a result, and to get one would cost you way more than the pick is worth. Which means for the Bulls it would cost you Rose or Noah as teams look at it that they are giving you a No. 3 pick so you give back a player picked in the top three as well. Another reason such trades are rare.
Three team trade involving Miami, Chicago, and Minnesota. Centered around Bosh going to Minnesota, Noah going to Miami, and Love to Chicago. Probably have to add picks from Miami and Chicago to Minnesota and possibly Jimmy Butler as well, plus other players needed to match salaries. Can Minnesota be convinced to take part in this trade?
Sam: I love when Pat Riley writes me under assumed names.
The Bulls could trade for a big man who is far more talented than Hibbert. The Bulls should trade for Cousins. Before you shudder at the thought of covering Cousins and delete this email, I exhort you to read on. Look he's not perfect, which is why he's available. But he's the most gifted big man in the game. Better than Howard, Hibbert, Bynum or Lopez. Bulls obtain Cousins and Travis Outlaw (salary filler) for Gibson, Butler, Teague, CHA's pick, Bulls' 1st rd pick in 2014 and 2016.I still think the Bulls need to pair Noah with another skilled 7 footer. He's a head case, but not in the Dwight Howard way. I'd rather have Cousins and his temper issues than Howard's child like antics. As John Thompson once said, "I'd rather try to calm down a fool, than wake up a corpse"
Sam: The Bulls don’t go for guys like that who can destroy the chemistry they work so hard to create and which fans generally love and opponents admire. With a new ownership, the Kings are talking like he’s Wilt, which means either they’ll take another shot, which they probably will, or believe like you do he’s a huge talent and they better get a lot. A package of low first round picks and players is fairly laughable. You start with Noah in talks for Cousins as if they trade Cousins they need a center. Get back to me when you finish that deal.
The trades need to stop. How can you listen to all of these outrageous ideas? No trades, sign some minimum guys, (I liked the Brand idea), draft another Butler/Gibson at 20 and watch 2013-2014. I believe that D-Wade is dramatically on the way down and think the Bulls will be in good shape next year, the injury bug not withstanding. When do you think Rose is coming back, by the way?
Sam: I heard he was cleared to play.
Any chance we can sign Marco to a MLE next year, or even a 3 year MLE for $9 million if he wants something longer? I think he earned a bigger payday, but would he really want to go back to a sub-par team like New Orleans?
Sam: He doesn’t, but it’s hard to see given the luxury tax implications of a $3 million salary with the escalator perhaps costing up to $8 million annually that the Bulls would go for those sorts of contracts.
You mentioned in an earlier mailbag that think Bulls should look at vets like Antawn Jamison to fill roster spots. What do you think Bulls pitch would be to productive vets willing to sign for the minimum? Chances of getting some to come to Chicago?
Sam: Come to the city of the never ending winter. Imagine how much use you can get out of your winter coats like few places in the world.