Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 09.20.2013
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of emails from his readers
Sam Smith: It’s been a relatively quiet summer around the NBA. Yes, most of the Celtics have gone to play in Brooklyn, where Red Auerbach was born and the Nets now claim him as one of theirs. Dwight Howard has settled in Houston, where they used to take basketball seriously. And Kobe should be the first player to score 40 on crutches. Nothing so intriguing with the Bulls. The roster remains at 12 with another player to be added before the end-of-October start of the season. Though pretty much everything is incidental for the Bulls until the return of Derrick Rose from major knee surgery after being injured 17 months ago. Still, there have been questions since my last Ask Sam column in July. So with the Bulls set to open training camp in a week, Friday, Sept. 27, here’s a sampling of the summer concerns from readers of basically nothing that I’ve been writing.
What do you think of trading Boozer for Asik, then moving Noah to PF to start the game and use Asik as starting center? Noah clearly responded to scoring need last year.
Sam: It’s now become a tradition to begin the season with a Boozer trade suggestion. I am thinking of sending Jeff Cross something as this is the 1,000,000th Boozer trade suggestion I have gotten. Bells go off now if I knew how to make an app. Hey, at least let Boozer put up a three-for-14 before the trade suggestions begin. I’m going to stop answering these before the season begins because the Bulls are not trading him and no one is trading for him in this penal salary cap/luxury tax era for a thirty something making $16 million, even one coming off his best season with the Bulls. Hey, he might even help a returning scoring point guard who shouldn’t have to do so much so soon. The Omer part is more interesting. I have no doubt the Rockets will trade him. Though Omer is a good team guy, the talk among friends that I’ve heard is he’s devastated by the Howard deal. Houston keeps pretending he can play with Howard, which is ludicrous. I saw another mention of it this week. Which is all smoke screen. They’re not playing together. Neither is going to step outside to shoot jumpers, and even if you might like both down the stretch for defensive purposes, both are terrible free throw shooters and you’re killing yourself to put both out together. Plus, Howard should be back fully healthy—which the Rockets are waiting to finally see—and when he is he basically plays all the time. He’s not backing off to accommodate Omer. I’ve heard the Rockets would love to have the Pelicans’ (hey, I remembered!) Ryan Anderson. And maybe New Orleans goes for it as they need a center. Houston also could use a better point guard as Jeremy Lin may not be a starter. It won’t be long before Houston makes a trade, but it won’t be with the Bulls.
The Bulls waiting for Kurt Thomas to get healthy and sign him in December is the hot rumor.
Sam: It’s a good one, though I don’t think it’s true. It is true the Bulls would like to add another tall person to go along with Joakim Noah and Nazr Mohammed. Former Heater Dexter Pittman is coming to training camp along with veteran training camp and summer league power forward Malcolm Thomas. There’s still a bunch of big guys looking for jobs, like DeSagana Diop and Cole Aldrich. Greg Dreiling and Dave Robisch remain unavailable. Anyone who has watched the Bulls the last three years knows 13th men on the roster rarely play. The Bulls will add someone in October, though it doesn’t have to be a center. They’ll probably remain flexible and not guarantee anyone immediately to protect against injury and to see if someone else surprisingly becomes available. Nazr should be able to handle more backup minutes than he did at the beginning of last season when he was new to everyone and everything. And maybe on opening night he can beat up LeBron again. Or maybe this time he can just growl at him and watch LeBron collapse like he’s doing a heart attack demonstration.
Is that right? No Bulls deal for Luol Deng? Just let him gone after season 2013-2014? That's is a very wrong decision.
Sam: No one ever said Deng is leaving the Bulls or will not be back after this season. I’m not sure if anyone remembers a pretty good Bulls player who for two consecutive seasons the team didn’t extend his contract and he played out the season to become a free agent and then resigned after the season ended. It was that balding guy, Michael Jordan. As the players like to say, it’s a business. OK, so the Bulls are doing the right thing for their business. They like Deng and long have. They effectively chose him over Ben Gordon by offering him more money when both were free agents, which led to Gordon’s pout and subsequent departure, which hasn’t exactly been great for his career. Here’s the situation: Sure, the Bulls could pay Deng an extension now. But then they basically are out of options after this season. What if Derrick Rose isn’t healthy? What if the team collapses? They owe it to their fans to be in a flexible position in case they have to make changes. Every organization does that. Plus, Deng gets to become a free agent, which is basically the position every top player in the game has taken, like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and even Kobe Bryant, who almost left the Lakers a few years back and could again as the Lakers are letting him play out his contract and not resign him. The Lakers aren’t extending one of the greatest players in NBA history. No big deal. Deng will remain a featured player with the Bulls given we know how much coach Tom Thibodeau relies upon him. And the Bulls are expected to be very good. Deng became an All Star and all-league defenders the last few years. So his value should remain very high. So this should be very good for him as well. It’s really business as usual in the NBA and as they like to say, win/win. It’s really a non-issue.
A lot of commentary has been published that the Bulls might/should be looking at this season as a prime one for a championship push. With that in mind, do we believe that Nikola Mirotic can be brought on to the Bulls roster this year? If not now, when might we finally get him in the USA?
Sam: I have a reader in Spain who tracks Mirotic for me, and he recently sent an article from Spain that lists Mirotic second to Juan Carlos Navarro and just ahead of Rudy Fernandez as the best players for the NBA playing in Europe. So part of the point is this isn’t exactly LeBron James. So let’s let the kid learn to play some more. He’s 22. The larger point remains that under NBA rules, the Bulls are limited in what they contribute to a buyout and are limited in how much they can pay him as a second round pick. Thus given he is under contract in Europe, with what the Bulls could pay him plus what they could contribute to a buyout, it would cost Mirotic more than $1 million out of his own pocket to play in the NBA now. So literally, he doesn’t even have the money to play in the NBA. Though it would be nice for a change to watch an NBA player who would have to ask you for a loan. Though like with most players, you’d have to pay for dinner. But in his case because he couldn’t afford it. Most of those prohibitions are erased after this season, so the real countdown begins in the summer of 2014. But, remember, Mirotic is only 22 and a big star in Europe. Toni Kukoc only came to the Bulls a few years after he was eligible because he was having so much success in Europe. It appears Mirotic will eventually come to the Bulls and looks like he’ll be a good player. But no one can yet predict when.
Can any of the rookies drafted this year have an impact? I have read where Thibs does not like to play rookies. They are not going to learn sitting on the bench. So, who if anyone can have a big impact on this year’s team?
Sam: Thibs takes exception to this media canard, in his view. He always points to championing Rondo as a rookie and playing Omer, though more after Noah was hurt. Impact is a difficult concept for rookies who are not lottery picks. Even ones who are. Rarely do rookies selected outside the lottery have much impact, especially with a good team. Rookies going to bad teams can put up numbers. But that’s not the case with the Bulls, who are expected to be a top four team in the Eastern Conference and have a solid rotation at least eight or nine deep. So other than with a catastrophic injury, you wouldn’t expect either of the Bulls rookies to get much time. Perhaps Snell gets some time, though I’d guess more in defensive situations. Jimmy Butler really didn’t get much chance until he was a sophomore and I suspect that will be the situation with Snell and Murphy.
I'm sure you have probably received a few emails with this question, but I was wondering what your thoughts would be on the Bulls possibly taking a look at Michael Beasley. I know he was released from the suns because of possession, but don't you think a chance to work for Thibs and an opportunity to play alongside D Rose could be what he is needing? When he's on his game he can be a good asset.
Sam: This, obviously, came to me before Beasley signed with the Heat. I said then I wouldn’t add him and still probably wouldn’t. Fans tend to ignore that actual basketball is not fantasy basketball and just stats don’t produce wins. I don’t think Beasley is a bad guy, and I don’t think it’s that much of a big deal he used marijuana, which is now legal in some states. But there were also some assault allegations and several other minor things, but always something. Beasley is a scorer, and you can always use one off the bench. But the Bulls also have very good chemistry, and Beasley isn’t much to chemistry other than his fondness for chemicals. Plus, there are basketball issues. Beasley is regarded as perhaps the poorest and most indifferent defender in the NBA. Maybe Thibodeau can do something with him, but you basically could not play him with Boozer. Given the Bulls have a solid eight or nine guys, it’s difficult to work in a high volume shooter with minutes and opportunities. It’s a bit different with title teams. Like the Bulls with Rodman. No one else wanted to take a chance. But you can when you’ve succeeded like that. Yes, the Heat did take a chance when no one else would on Chris Andersen and it worked out. But these things generally don’t. Plus, they bring all sorts of extra media scrutiny, which we know Thibodeau hates. Plus, this Bulls season is more about working Rose back in. Not taking chances on a multiple offender.
What are your thoughts about injury reduction this year? I think injuries have been the weak link to get the Bulls into a championship position in the previous seasons. Do you think there could have been anything to be done to prevent injuries before this?
Sam: There’s this notion that the Bulls don’t seem to care about injuries. They’re not exactly open about this, I assume, in part, because of HIPPA regulations. As well as someone’s girlfriend perhaps having big hips. Anyway, the Bulls go to great lengths with treatment and training to try to avoid injuries. Sometimes it’s being unlucky and sometimes it’s just a bad body. But you also cannot force players to do what you want off the court. Michael Jordan, for instance, rarely ever used the Bulls health personnel and training. He had a good body. Not everyone does. The Bulls are obviously aware of the issue as the health of their players actually affects them more than it does the fans. The team added a new strength and conditioning coordinator, a woman who’s worked with Rose. They have massage therapists and strength and conditioning staffers traveling with the team. They have a nutritionist and have special meals from a chef the players can take home with them. No one has to lift anything on the road other than their meal money. Being lucky works better.
I was wondering if the Bulls would be willing to take a chance on Oden if he showed he's interested.
Sam: Again, Miami. Given their situation with no big man and the chance to go slowly as Oden isn’t expected to play for a few months into the season, they were probably in the best position to take a shot. Several teams were curious, but I never got the sense Oden was interested in the Bulls. If you’ll recall, basically all the teams he was talking about seriously were in warm weather locations. Perhaps better for his knees.
Will Derrick Rose play in the preseason, or will he wait until the big regular season opener vs. the Heat so he can get more publicity for the return?
Sam: Rose intends to play to open the preseason in Indianapolis Oct. 5 and most likely in all the preseason games, though I can see the team resting him somewhere. The last thing Rose wants is any more publicity about his injury. Though you can be sure you’ll hear more about Rose’s knee this season than the royal baby. That, of course, not being George Brett’s. The hope is it’s mostly about how well Rose is doing, but we’ll be listening for gasps with every fall.
Any chance Bobcats/Hornets win enough games and hand over the 2014 11th pick to the Bulls?
Sam: No. Well, probably not. Yes, they should be better as well with the addition of Al Jefferson. The East is a lot stronger, but the 76ers and Celtics are pretty much blowing off the season and the Suns and Jazz are pretty bad. The pick is top 10 protected in 2014 and top eight in 2015, which is where it could come into play if the Bobcats (for now) get one of the studs from the 2014 draft and then add another free agent. But it is looking better for the Bulls and Tyrus Thomas remains out of the NBA.
Has anyone yet asked you whether a Kobe and Zen Master package will be delivered to Chicago in 2014? I'm technically not asking, just assuming there's some guy who's like "OMG Phil and Kobe are totally coming to the Bulls!"
Sam: You’re the first. So take the credit/blame. Phil’s not coaching again. But the Lakers have a big decision regarding Kobe, and it’s sentimentality against reality. You don’t rebuild with Kobe. So, yes, I do expect plenty of Kobe to the Bulls questions this season and certainly next summer. I’d pass as at 36 next season going into his 18th season after multiple surgeries it’s difficult to see the free agency fit.
Why don’t the Bulls go after a Darko Milicic? I know I know, he’s a huge bust and hasn’t played anywhere near his 2003 draft potential and never will. But two years ago, he averaged 9 pts, 2 blocks, and 5 boards on 25 minutes. He's also only 28 and 7'1 with a 250 lb frame. He can play the role of an insurance policy while taking the vets min. He's a big body who at least has coordination to catch a pass when defenders break down and put it in the basket. He could also hold his own on the defensive end. He also has a chip on his shoulder and something to prove which I feel like he can accomplish if he can help split minutes with Nazr to give Noah some much needed rest.
Sam: Because he’s a huge bust and never played anywhere near his potential and never will. Actually, he returned to Europe on a reasonably good deal and doesn’t seem interested in playing in the NBA anymore. He’s a classic example of a team’s mistake costing him a career. The Pistons way, way, way overdrafted him because they wanted to believe they outsmarted everyone. Confidence is a big part of success in pro sports, as simple as that seems. When you lack it and when your flaws are constantly noted, it’s difficult to overcome that unless you are truly a tough minded talent. Darko never was. He’s a nice, skilled, finesse big man who prefers the offensive game. He might have developed an NBA career, though never a great one, if he didn’t become Mr. Bust so quickly. Adam Morrison went through this as well. The Bulls have little time for reclamation projects even if he were available.
I just watched a documentary on coach Nolan Richardson called 40 minutes of hell and I was intrigued by his style of basketball. I was just wondering what you thought about it, if any NBA coach/team has ever tried that game plan, and if so how successful was it? It seems to me like it would work well with the right coach, i.e. Thibs.
Sam: Rick Pitino was the last to bring that sort of college pressing/fast breaking game to the NBA, and he didn’t last long in Boston, though that was as much due to poor drafting, his impatience and too much hair gel. The NBA game and season are too long to play like that. The Nuggets in their high altitude play a form of that, but NBA players are so much more skilled at breaking pressure than college guys that you’d never have much success and pretty much wear out your team and welcome. If you watch Thibs, he’s more a control coach. He calls all the plays and though the Bulls talk about running—as most teams do—the Bulls tend to play more out of the half court and run a lot of sets and pick and rolls. Plus, NBA defenses get back and set so quickly that it’s very difficult to regularly run an up tempo game.
In your last mailbag of the season you mentioned you thought Derrick Rose was the best player the Bulls have had since Michael Jordan and thus far the second best player in franchise history. I know I could look at statistics and I could always bring up championship rings, but I don’t think that was the point you were trying to make…so I am wondering why you think Derrick Rose is better than Scottie Pippen?
Sam: I wasn’t making an exact comparison and obviously Pippen is in the Hall of Fame, deservedly so, and Rose is hoping for a career after his serious knee injury. But I see Rose as the only other player in Bulls history capable of carrying a team as a league superstar. As good as Scottie was, he was the ultimate role playing star. We saw that in his game walkout when even Phil Jackson wouldn’t give him the ball at the end of a game. It’s no big deal. A lot of great players don’t have that. Pippen was one of the best ever defenders and facilitators. But he was no league MVP and never really discussed in his prime as one of the top five players in the game. Though he had an exceptional season the year Jordan first left in 1993-94 and was All-Star game MVP and a member of the Dream Team in 1992, he was first team NBA just three times in 17 seasons. That’s terrific. But the Bulls also tried to trade him twice and he basically had Michael to take the pressure off him. It’s no criticism of Pippen, whose greatness is institutionalized. But in the vernacular of NBA superstars, Rose more fits the definition.
I watched D Rose play in high school where he was more concerned with setting up his teammates than scoring. But his role with the Bulls required his being the leading scorer. However, despite his nature it seems that with the last possession, Rose has forgotten that while the ball is in his hands doesn't mean he has to take the last shot. Michael knew this (just ask Kerr or Paxson) but it seems Rose hasn't learned this.
Sam: Obviously, we did not see it last season. But I never saw it that way. Rose was a reluctant last shot player his first two seasons with the Bulls. But it became obvious he had to take over the responsibility. He’s always been an unselfish player, which is why his teammates enjoy playing with him so much. I saw Kobe wave Karl Malone out of the post in an All Star game so he could shoot more. You see Rose defer to teammates and others all the time. I’ve seen him most comfortable when a teammate has made a big shot or had a big game. I’ve never seen play the Rose you are talking about. And using Michael Jordan as an example of giving up last shots suggests you may not have cable.
I have been reading an old Phil Jackson book and was surprised to hear how much he and Krause had issues in 1998. Jordan sided with Phil and said he would only return if Phil did; however Krause decided to blow up the team and rebuild rather than paying Jordan a 1-year $36 million contract which Reinsdorf said was on the table. Do you think the Bulls could have won again in 1999?
Sam: I’ve always considered this the great urban legend. Sometimes when you were there, as many of us were, you forget not everyone was. Phil’s relationship with Krause had deteriorated to unworkable. Though, remember, that was Phil’s 10th season with the Bulls. Coaches don’t get along with management and coach that long anywhere, basically. The truth is Michael could have returned with everyone but Phil and even named the coach. Krause also wanted to trade Pippen in 1997, which Reinsdorf vetoed, as he did any Krause attempt to move out Jordan. Phil is his own man and he knew the era was over. Reinsdorf also offered Phil a long-term deal to rebuild the team as coach, but Phil declined. Michael was done, just like in 1993. He’d dragged through that second three-peat and had enough. He no longer wanted to play. He could also see the decline in players like Rodman and Longley, whose careers soon ended, and the decline of Pippen, who admitted he never was the same player after that 1997 surgery. That was the lockout season, and Jordan suffered a severe finger injury on his shooting hand during the lockout, which would have probably prevented his playing that season, anyway. A lot went on in that 1997-98 season, and it was the end. Those players were worn out and worn down and ready to go. There’s no way they could have stayed together and won again.
Besides the return and hopefully the resurrection of Rose to MVP form, the development of Jimmy Butler is the second most compelling storyline of this coming season. What expectations do you have for him as he transitions to the 2? With his size, it reasons he'll exploit matchups with many smaller 2s. His jumpshot, from inside our outside the arc will likely improve. His explosiveness off the dribble and finishing is already evident. He's already a stalwart on the defensive end, even against the likes of LeBron. His work ethic and attitude seem impeccable. My one concern is as big as he is, over a long season he'll tire out consistently chasing ever faster smaller 2s around the court.
Sam: I know everyone has pretty much written Jimmy in as an All-Star by now after a very impressive playoff run. But, remember, he’s never played a full season as a regular, let alone a starter. It’s a lot to ask and expect. I agree he’s a hard worker and a talented player and his stamina seems amazing. But he rarely played much last season until January. Plus, he has to be the shooter now opposite Rose, which isn’t an easy job as Jimmy isn’t quite the spot up shooter. His defense should be helpful as the Bulls can put out some amazing defensive lineups with him, Deng, Gibson, Hinrich and Noah. But let’s not rush him too much as this remains his first full season as a starter and even in college he only averaged around 12 points. Let Jimmy be Jimmy.
What impact do you think Greg Oden will have on the Heat? Should he be a big concern for the Bulls?
Sam: I don’t expect a lot given how long Oden has been out and how many serious knee surgeries he’s had. It’s too bad as I was excited to see a potentially great big man when Oden was coming to the NBA. It’s hard to see him ever being very mobile. But I think the Heat mostly took the chance to have at least some response for the Pacers’ Roy Hibbert, who gave them trouble in last season’s playoffs. If he can produce by playoff time, which seems to be the Heat’s hope, he should help them.
Looking at the Bulls schedule, I think they are poised to win around 64 games. Other than the games after all-star until the end of March, I really don't see a series of tough schedule for them. This was the best Bulls team since 2010, and everyone comes to training camp healthy. With a roster this deep, I don't expect a lot of hard fought close games from them. Other than health issues, is there any particular concern you can point out that could prove challenging for this team?
Sam: Miami, Brooklyn and Indiana? Sixty-four sounds like a lot, lot, lot. I think the Bulls would prefer to lower expectations some. I agree they should be good as long as Rose returns in good health. But they’ve had a history of injury issues with various players, so it’s tough to predict full health. But I think the biggest issue will be the strength of the Eastern Conference, which is potentially deeper than it’s been in years. The Pacers have had a great off season adding Scola, C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland and getting Granger back. I think the Nets will be very good with the additions of Garnett and Pierce, especially come playoff time, and I think the Wizards, Cavs and Pistons are much improved and will be tough teams to beat. I also think the Bucks and Raptors are better. Winning 60 in the East will be difficult. And then winning in the playoffs, which is shaping up as one of the most competitive in years.
So with all the rumors going around (Aldridge, kevin love, etc..) and all of them being shot down, rightfully so… if you ask me this team is already set for this season, and i think we got a group good enough to compete in the playoffs. But say we have an average/mediocre season (something around 45-50 wins). Can you then say that it's time to try something bold and perhaps break up this team. By that I mean letting Lu walk, amnestying Boozer, and maybe trading some of our younger assets (butler, taj, snell, teague) and see if they can help us acquire a more established star, say during the 2014 draft weekend. The end game being trying to acquire a third star to pair with D-rose, Noah. And you still have Mirotic and our 2014 first round pick to build around. I know it's a little out there, but i'd just hate to see us become the new Atlanta Hawks.
Sam: I think that’s probably the Bulls plan, which is why not doing anything dramatic this offseason makes sense. First, see if Rose can play at his former high level. Assuming he can, then you are a legitimate contender to get to the Finals. I saw where TNT broadcaster Steve Kerr recently picked the Bulls to come out of the East. Of course, he also still thinks Jud Buechler should have been the league MVP in 1998. So take your shot and if you win, then everything pretty much falls into place and you can bring back everyone and go for it again as long as you’re not Mark Cuban. If things don’t work out then you aren’t burdened with long contracts. So you can have the flexibility to make some changes in a summer with a large number of free agents and possible trade targets. It doesn’t mean anyone would choose to come to Chicago, as we’ve seen before, and stability is important. The Jazz for several years failed in the playoffs. But they kept their team together and then went to the Finals in consecutive seasons. So a makeover isn’t always necessary. But you want to be in position to make changes if you have to. And the Bulls are in a good position this season to both make a serious run and then respond if things don’t work out well.
I read and watch everything and anything on the Bulls. I have a contest with my brother to see which one of us can decide what are the Chicago Bulls players and coaches favorite cheeses. I think Derrick likes cheddar but he thinks he's more of a brie type of guy. Is there a way we can find out what each players favorite type of cheeses are? Thibs has to be an aged Swiss guy. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.
Sam: Too bad John Salley isn’t around anymore as I’m sure his would have been brick. Overall, I am suggesting a new hobby for your family as this seems the limburger of questions. Are you wearing one of those cheese hats?