Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 12.14.2012
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Kevin love is unhappy. Can GarPax realistically make a deal to get him? I'd be all for trading anyone except Rose, amnesty Boozer in his final year, and build around Rose, Love, and hopefully another free agent.
Sam: This is the question of the week. Love did an interview with Yahoo Sports in which he said he was disenchanted with the Timberwolves organization. Before I get to why the Bulls cannot get Love, I have to say I love these guys. Love, by all accounts, seems a solid guy. He knew the organization. If he was so unhappy why sign the deal? He could have been a free agent, but he chose to sign a four-year contract that pays $60 million. Nice gratitude. An organization commits $60 million to you and a month into the first season of the deal, and which you didn't play much being out injured, you're being treated unfairly? And the Timberwolves did something I'd never do in giving a maximum contract. They gave Love an out after the third season, which is the summer of 2015. If you give the guy maximum money you don't also give him the right to walk away. And he's still mad? And I'm not even sure he's a maximum player. He's an All-Star, sure, and an excellent player. But can he be the best player on your team to be a champion? I don't see that. He's a great position rebounder and has a good three point shot. But he's not beating you off the dribble or taking over a game. He can't be your best player, which, yes, makes him a good fit with someone like Rose. The problem is he has no leverage. He can't opt out until the summer of 2015. Just because a player expresses unhappiness you have to trade him? Ridiculous. And they won't. Love isn't about to lie down as he's a good character guy, plays for a terrific coach and is a booster of his teammates. If he quits, he hurts them. The Bulls even in the championship years had plenty of players crying about money and disrespect. Phil Jackson even felt at times that united them. Love can say all he wants, but the Timberwolves are not trading him. How would that look to their fans? And any good player they'd get they would have to pay as much and not likely have as good a player. It was different with Oklahoma City and Harden as he was approaching free agency. Love's is in almost three years. He should instead of speaking out be buying more winter coats. He's not going anywhere.
What's up with the Bulls free throw shooting? They're hitting at [a good] percentage this year.
Sam: Yes, they have quietly been shocking. The team is at 80.8 percent, second in the league to the Thunder. Noah is at 82 percent. In fact, only Boozer, Mohammed and Hinrich are below 80 percent. The Bulls were 72.2 percent last season. See, that Bench Mob messed them up. The franchise best is 79.6 percent in 2008-09. Coming into this season, Gibson was at 65 percent for his career and Noah 72 percent. It shows guys can improve and get better, and that Dwight Howard probably doesn't really care that much.
Noah is great not only on the court but on his health too. This is totally impressive, as he's constantly playing 40+ mins and still looks healthy. His definitely going to be an All-Star this season, as he proves he can stay healthy. Though, the Bulls still need another big, as Noah seems to run out of explosiveness in the last fives minutes of the fourth quarter. Do you see the Bulls signing another big after January 10, 2013?
Sam: He really has been good, and good to see how playing through the fatigue. He's become the player everyone hoped he could be, but frankly, and especially after his first two seasons, few thought he would be. He's worked hard to get better, and I was impressed he sought out so many figures the last summer to help him with conditioning and his knowledge and approach to the game and leadership. I hope for his sake he is chosen because you could see being around him how proud he would be. But it will be close as there are several good big men in the East now. As for help, I think the Bulls hold onto that extra spot in case of injury. With Gibson playing better, I would think now Thibodeau can increase his minutes and give Noah some rest that way. There aren't many East centers (Chandler, Varejao) you have to worry about regarding offense and teams playing small centers like Miami.
The anti-Joakim Noah All-Star talk has already begun. His numbers are not All-Star level, he has limited offensive game, he shoots funny, yada yada. What they are doing is yada ing over the best part, which is he affects winning. Each game he makes multiple plays which help determine outcome. Isn't that enough for an All-Star selection?
Sam: Yes it is. I haven't heard much negative talk and I believe as long as the Bulls are around .500 or better when the coaches vote in late January and Noah is healthy I believe he'll be added to the team this season. Teams have to game plan for a guy like Noah given his energy, if not his offense, and coaches remember that.
We all kinda know this year is a spare-parts-get-Derrick-healthy year, but at 12-9 don't [you] think Thibs is showing just how good he is? He doesn't care who he has, just play. They are well prepared and fight like crazy. Not so much fun to watch all the time, but very interesting basketball wise.
Sam: Well, yes, after three straight road wins my "fire Thibodeau" mail has dropped off considerably. It's what I've felt going into the season, that it would be perhaps more entertaining with more close games and more opportunities to see players and the coach make plays and decisions they didn't have to as much before in winning so much the last two years. One reason I was on the optimistic side with the Bulls and went with 47 wins was Thibodeau. Because he is so prepared and demanding and would have the Bulls ready to play at a higher level than the opponent many times. I know some feel he'll burn out Deng and Noah with the big minutes. But they still are in their 20's, they like to play, Thibs is pretty good with days off and without a lot of hard scrimmages that many teams do. I've never heard the formula that makes 37 minutes better than 41. If you don't know how old you are how do you figure out how old you are?
With the current state of the CBA, teams can only invest in 6-7 players and fill the remainder of the roster with close to minimum salaried players. The Bulls currently have sizable contracts with 7 players with little flexibility. They are set at the 1 (Rose), 3 (Deng), 4 (Boozer), 5 (Noah), reserve 1/2 (Hinrich), reserve 4 (Gibson). This leaves the expiring contract of the 2 (Hamilton) as the only unknown for next season. Being severely limited due to the salary cap, how can the Bulls improve unless a trade is made?
Sam: Not easily as you see the issue for now. And also why trades are not likely at this point as the only players who'll get you much, Noah and Deng, they need too much. The Bulls will have the trade exception of $5 million from the Korver deal and a salary cap exception of $3 million or $5 million next summer. Then the question will be at that point would they be willing to amnesty Boozer and not resign Deng or sign and trade him. The rights to Mirotic and that Charlotte draft pick become more valuable in a year or two and could be included in deals, but the Bulls seem intent on keeping them for now.
It's now a given the Lakers pulled the plug on Mike Brown a bit too soon. Bernie Bickerstaff was winning because, as Kobe said, "he stayed out of the way." If the Lakers continue to slide when Nash gets back, will they go back to Bickerstaff? (It seems highly unlikely they would call Phil again.)
Sam: It does seem unlikely they would call Phil, but it seemed more unlikely they'd call Phil back after the Kobe/Shaq breakup and Phil writing a book that condemned Kobe in part as the Lakers chose Kobe. But Phil came in and there was no real issue because Phil can handle those situations. And in the end, the Lakers are a business about winning, and as Phil often said, "You never say never in the NBA." I wouldn't dismiss it, though it would be pretty amazing. Though when was a coach fired five games in?
With Bellinelli playing so solid in the starting role, do you think there is any chance that Thibodeau would be willing to start him, assuming he keeps up this level of play? 20 points a game is nothing to sneeze at when your team's biggest struggle is on the offensive end. Hamilton would make an excellent sixth man all things considered. And given his age lesser minutes may benefit him come playoff time. If his ego can handle it, this could be a very wise move.
Sam: When Hamilton is able to return, he'll be starting. You can count on that. Hamilton has played well this season, and perhaps outside of the 49ers in football, coaches don't believe in a man losing his starting job with an injury. After all the complaining about losing the Bench Mob from last year, now fans want the top reserves to start? And as many say, it's really about who finishes. Butler and Belinelli will do some finishing, as Thibodeau has demonstrated. I know you are supposed to do what's best, but benching a veteran even if he doesn't complain can lead to the kind of daily media questioning that Thibodeau avoids. No one asks him much if guys don't finish. But he'll never hear the end of it changing starters, something he basically hasn't done in three years.
Now that Marco Belinelli has played well three games in a row as a starter, do you think he is for real? Can he average between 15-20 points a game as a starter? If he continues to play well, how can Thibs use him as a shooting guard? He certainly will have to share time with Hamilton and this means he will not be able to play more than 25 minutes a game.
Sam: That's true, and the win over the 76ers demonstrated the problem Belinelli was having. He started slowly against the 76ers, but being able to stay out he got his shot going and made some big ones late. You are right it won't happen as much when Hamilton returns, but now that Belinelli has shown Thibodeau what he can do in those situations I think he'll give him a bit more rope to hang onto than he previously was.
Do you think that the Bulls regret signing Boozer over David Lee? I've always liked Lee a lot better. On top of that Lee is only making $12.7M this year compared to Boozer's salary which is $15M. The Bulls could definitely use that $2+ M in signing another role player. I also like Lee's overall game better. He is not flashy but always puts up big numbers. He has a more reliable jumper and I like him better at center, which he could have played on occasion with the bench. Who would you rather have?
Sam: Lee has played very well this season and one of the reasons for the Warriors surprising start which surely surprised me. I don't have a strong feeling as I didn't much believe in either at the time. The general consensus at the time around the NBA was Boozer was more valuable. Their numbers and games (lacking defense) were similar. And Lee never had been in a playoff game. Boozer had been a go to guy in playoff games and did well. So it made sense to go for him over Lee. I don't believe Lee would have made more difference in winning than Boozer has and Lee also has been injured and missed many more games since that 2010 free agency.
Jimmy Butler can hit threes? Where did that come from?
Sam: Jimmy was a good three point shooter in college, 39.6 percent, though it is a shorter line. But he came to a team with Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson off the bench. So he saw his way onto the court as a defender. It's not like he wasn't practicing, but he obviously felt he could stay on the court if he just defended and didn't make offensive mistakes. As a result, he's still a bit uncertain taking jumpers. But he can shoot and I assume will be taking more as he's had a few big threes in the fourth quarter the last two weeks. If he can do that, he can do it anytime.
I guess little Nate wasn't a bad pick up after all.
Sam: Depends on the day. No, I think overall I'd keep him. The Bulls do have to make a decision on him by the guarantee date in early January. Marquis Teague had a good stint in Wednesday's win over the 76ers with Kirk Hinrich out. And I suppose you could make him backup to Hinrich and release Robinson. Sometimes, yes, the offense comes to a stop with Nate having the ball. But he can do something very few Bulls players do, which is get a shot pretty much anytime. You may not like them all, but he has had many good sequences this season. He's certainly an upgrade on John Lucas, and given Hinrich's injury problems this season you'd probably want three guards. Of course, it's easy for me to say as I don't have to listen to him talking all the time. But, yes, overall he's been a positive.
Asik and Taj Gibson had been taken care of, good or bad for the Bulls. What about Loul Deng? I am one of the Bulls fans who have believed that Loul was overpaid and tried to get rid of him anyway possible since he signed the big contract. Not any more. I watched him play this season without Rose and suddenly have a fear, what will happen to the Bulls next season if Loul will be lost to the free agency? If Loul is lost, we are not a contender next year.
Sam: Yes, it wasn't long ago the fans' favorite to get rid of was Deng. I don't get those emails anymore, and even when he doesn't have a great game, like against the Clippers Tuesday, I don't get a single email complaining about him. They complain about Boozer when Lu has a bad game now. Deng is under contract through the end of next season, so it's a bit far away but one of the biggest questions facing the franchise. Deng's contract expires the summer of 2014. That's likely when the Bulls, if they were going to do it, would do amnesty with Boozer with him having one season left. At that point with an amnesty and not counting Deng, the payroll would be about $42 million. They'd hope to bring over Mirotic then and need money for him. Who knows how much. Say $6 million, which is just a guess. That gets you close to $50 million. And then if you pay Deng you'd probably be at the cap figure, thus taking you out of any bidding for free agents. But Deng would be just 29, and it's difficult to imagine wanting to let him go. If the Bulls did, someone likely would pay him a big salary. So that's a big question coming, presumably after next season. Hang onto Deng or dip into free agency, and we know the Bulls haven't done very well with the latter.
Taj hasn't been getting minutes this season. Also if you check his career stats, his minutes have dropped every year. He averaged 27 minutes as a rookie, 22 minutes and 20 minutes the following years. This season he's averaging just over 19 minutes per game. What is going on? With Asik gone as with the bench mob, you would think he'd be playing more. Have we already seen the best of him?
Sam: The Bulls sure hope not. He played more against the 76ers, and much better the last two games. Though he denies it, it's likely in signing a new deal he felt some obligation to be better and live up to it. It's a fairly common reaction. So he was aiming in trying to show he was worth it, I suspect. My sense is he's getting past that and will earn more minutes. The Bulls sure hope so.
The Bulls did a decent job picking up vets for little money down in Nazr, Bellenelli and Robinson. However, why not fill that last roster spot with Kenyon Martin or Chris Douglas-Roberts? Douglas-Roberts (a former Memphis teamate of Rose) is leading the D-League in scoring at 27 ppg; while at 6-5 he has ideal size and athleticism to be a good fill-in at the 2. And, if you do some fact checking he scored 31 points versus the Bulls while with the Bucks, he kind of reminds me of a young Michael Redd. And, Kenyon could be a nice inside scoring threat if used against other teams 2nd units.
Sam: I get Douglas-Roberts' name a lot from fans as well. I suppose it's possible, but teams usually look in the D-league for role player guys as you don't generally bring in guys from the D-league to enhance your offense. The Bulls have been scouting the D-league, and he did play with Rose in college. But in his 155 NBA games in the NBA he was a pretty poor shooter. And who does he play ahead of? Butler, Belinelli once Hamilton returns? Gibson? Perhaps if there are more injuries, but I'd guess no for now. As for Martin, he tends to be a problem guy, which is one big reason no one has picked him up. And now that Gibson is playing better why would you want Martin taking away some of his minutes as Martin doesn't play center and Taj has been squeezed some on minutes already.
I don't see the Jazz making the playoffs this season. But they have a chance to do so and will keep Al Jefferson, at least until the trade deadline. I see a trade happening before the deadline, between the Raptors and Jazz built around Calderon and Al Jefferson.
Sam: Not bad. The Raptors are growing desperate to do something and you hear talk from general managers of them trying to be active. Both players are on the end of their deals, and the Jazz desperately need a point guard. The problem for the Jazz is Mo Williams would go into a funk again. If the Raptors could get something back so it's more than a rental they might try it. I wrote a week ago Pau would make sense for them, but with Bargnani getting hurt that probably can't happen.
So we've long said the Bulls desperately need a second ballhandler who can create their owns shot to take the pressure off Rose. But in Houston, they're being critiqued for having one two many ballhandlers, arguing that Jeremy Lin and James Harden can't play together in an efficient manner ... and wasn't Jeremy Lin a two-guard in college? I find this all perplexing. Is it simply more a matter of Harden and Lin learning to play with each other?
Sam: Me, too. The old Pistons did this as well as anyone when Joe Dumars would play point guard and Isiah Thomas off the ball. The issue there is Harden prefers to play with the ball in his hands and Lin isn't as good as a spot up shooter. But I don't see why it can't work, and I think Rose could play well off the ball, where he could attack from the wing. I think those guys in Houston will work it out. Though I'm not too sure about the Lakers.
How much of a chance do you think Joakim Noah has at winning the Most Improved Player Award?
Sam: None, really, though he is playing better. But he's averaging almost 13 minutes more per game than his career average. He is averaging almost five points more per game, an impressive 13.9 for a guy we wondered if he could ever average 10. But it's hard to see how he's come farther than Omer Asik, a low second round pick who is among the league leaders in rebounding, has 10 double/doubles and is averaging almost three times more points per game.
I can't help but notice what O.J. Mayo is doing down in Dallas this year when given a larger role: 20-21 PPG, 4 RPG, 3.5 APG, >50% from 3pt. This is a guy many discussed trading significant assets for the last two seasons, but when he was available as a free agent last offseason, the Bulls instead signed Hinrich at an almost identical salary. Now I don't mind Hinrich, and he leans more toward a facilitator, but paying 4MM to an aging stopgap and ultimately a backup over a 24-yr-old (at the time) who could prove a long-term solution as a second scorer/playmaker makes little sense to me. Any thoughts why the Bulls didn't go after Mayo?
Sam: As you noted, the Bulls most needed a point guard with Rose out, and they felt Hinrich would be ideal to be a third guard when Rose returns. Though my sense is the biggest reason is Mayo wasn't interested in the Bulls. He wanted to be promised a starting job after coming off the bench in Memphis. He first looked at the Suns, but they wouldn't guarantee. The Mavs would. The Bulls were in no position to with Hamilton under contract. Plus, there was little reason to believe he'd shoot like he has as a 37.5 percent three point shooter in four years in Memphis. Plus the last two seasons he shot under 41 percent overall. Dallas, you may recall, broke up a championship team and had basically no one on the roster, so they were in better position to pay and promise than anyone else. Had the Bulls gotten rid of Noah, Deng and Hamilton they would have been in great shape to add Mayo.
Was the decision to sign Vladimir Radmanovic merely to replace Scalabrine? I thought he was brought here to contribute in offense especially in 3pt shooting which the team lacks. Not that I was ever a big fan of his, why isn't he getting much playing time especially when the Bulls are often struggling to score? Heck if he's not playing, why isn't he cheering and at least try to become our next fan fave Scalabrine?
Sam: Yeah! I thought he would be a help as well. But for all the positives with Thibodeau, which have been obvious again, he tends to stick with a limited number of guys. Radmanovic actually was brought in to fill Scalabrine's spot, if not play as he did. I would like to see Radmanovic get a game where he gets up some shots, but my guess is Thibs has seen defense in practice that he doesn't like. But Thibs tended to bury Asik and Jimmy Butler when he first got them. He loosed up eventually, and maybe he will with Radmanovic.
Is Marco Belinelli our present/future SG or is he still an experimental player?
Sam: I think he's good enough to return as a starting shooting guard, though he's only on a one year deal and can choose to leave. It will depend, obviously, on whether the Bulls can find anyone better. I'd probably try to stick with Belinelli.
How about Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, and draft pick(s) for Pau Gasol? It would be a good time to take advantage of the Lakers' need for defense and a PG to get Gasol.
Sam: Wrote too soon. Someone wants to get rid of Deng. That leaves the Bulls with no point guard, of course, and the Bulls have a center and Boozer isn't going anywhere. Plus given Hinrich's various injuries this season I doubt the Lakers would take a chance. Pau's their only piece they can move, so they have to hit it big in some way. And if D'Antoni remains coach it's got to be for great perimeter shooting. I do think they eventually trade Pau as long as they are keeping D'Antoni because Pau isn't exactly a running player to stretch the floor. I really don't expect the Bulls to make any significant move this season until they see if Rose is returning. Ricky Rubio, who was hurt almost two months before Rose with a similar injury, is due back this weekend. It will be interesting to see how close he is to where he was. Of course, every injury is different and who knows how rehab went for each. If he does return this weekend, it's a little over nine months. So for Rose that would be early February. The Bulls are emphasizing caution and conservatism with Rose, which suggests somewhere closer to the middle of the eight to 12 month estimate than early, which suggests late February or early March.
Why doesn't Boozer play aggressively all the time? I feel like his game could be the most dependable, because he can get closest to the rim for easy layups and has the most accurate mid range shot, but he is totally inconsistent about what he brings to the table on any given night. Last night I was watching, wondering why he doesn't average 25 & 10, if he can do that against the Clippers: getting the ball in the high post, quickly shaking a defender, then driving and dumping off to Noah or Deng, or getting an easy layup... Maybe this is what irks fans. They know he can, but he doesn't.
Sam: Why don't you run for the bus every day? Why don't you give your best presentation at work every day. Boozer's got 10 double/doubles in the last 14 games. He's three tenths of a point from averaging a double/double on the season. He's the healthiest Bulls player the last two years. He's constantly team oriented, never with an issue not playing in the fourth quarter. The micro managing of this guy's play is ridiculous. Some games they just don't go to him much. He had five and six against the 76ers, but played just 26 minutes. It's hard to shoot yourself out of a few misses when you don't get many shots.
How come there are games where the Bulls hardly run any offense through Boozer? Against Clippers he put up 20 shots and against sixers he only had 6 shots? I really like him when he is getting a lot of shots up but I can see when fans start disliking him for only scoring little amount of points because he isn't getting the scoring options.
Sam: It's his Catch-22. Is it because he's not working hard enough to get the ball or because they are not working hard enough to get him the ball because he is not working hard enough to get the ball. Say that sentence five times fast and I'll answer.
What's with all these people trying to get the Bulls to try and sign Pau Gasol? As far as I can tell he's extremely overrated and weak (mentally and physically). Boozer isn't the greatest but I'd much rather keep him than get Gasol, especially since the Lakers would want more than the Bulls can give anyway. Am I the only person who can see this?
Sam: Yes, apparently. No, wait. I think there was one other guy.