Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 01.25.2013
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I was just sitting here thinking about what it will be like with D-Rose back into the lineup... and it made me think... it would be pretty cool if he came back on Feb. 28th when the Bulls play the 76ers in Chicago. And to make it even better, if he waited until 1:21 left in the 4th quarter to check in so that it will be kind of like he is picking up where he left off. Of course, it's not the playoffs but close enough.
Sam: And then scores 50 and saves a maiden in distress? I very much understand the desire of Bulls fans to see Rose play again — I sure would love to — and I get a lot of Rose-to-save-the-day stuff lately with all these recent updates, which I feel is doing a disservice to Rose, setting him up for a failure of sorts. I know this is an instant world, or I’ve been told it’s on MySpace (What? No one uses that?). But this latest flurry of breathless reports on Rose practicing and people watching him shoot, to me, has everyone going way, way too fast with him. Yes, he looks good, but that’s, in part, because he is a good looking, strong young man. My sense is there’s no chance Rose plays before the All-Star game and more likely sometime in March. I know this is a media driven thing, and not so much driven by the media guys and gals at the games writing the stories and making the reports. I remember whenever we’d write something controversial when I was at the Tribune they’d say we were doing it to sell newspapers. We’d smugly laugh never having heard of Sam Zell. Everyone bought papers whether we had a good story or Dooonesbury, more so for Doonesbury. But now people don’t buy newspapers so much anymore. So you really do need to promote something to sell them. Thus you see a breathless Rose is almost nearly, could be, maybe back report just about every day. But you might want to read about what Ricky Rubio said this week. He had the same surgery about two months before Rose and he told Minneapolis media this week of pain in his knee, which he said he was told is normal, and he said he’s having trouble jumping and dunking. Not that he was Blake Griffin. But he said he could dunk and can’t for now. He said he’s been assured a year or year and a half after the surgery he’d be much better. So if I were a fan who wanted the best for Rose I’d say to ease off and let him work at his own speed. You know the way he is how much he wants to please everyone. Yes, Adrian Peterson was a marvel. But he could be the exception and doesn’t really require the kind of explosive bursts you do in basketball. Fans might be well advised to give Rose space and not expect too much of him for a while, and to cool it on these updates suggesting an imminent return. I haven’t talked to his doctors or really talked to the Bulls about this. I’m just looking at the history of this injury in the NBA and that Rose is in the first year of a five-year extension and I don’t see him riding to the rescue, and I hope he doesn’t feel obligated to do so.
It seems obvious that the Bulls lack a closer, and are using closer by whoever is hot that night. Now that they are talking of Rose starting to practice, how will that change things?
Sam: See. Now everyone will expect him also to be making game winning plays. Which is another issue that separates Rose from basically everyone else who ever has had this surgery. Perhaps no one ever, and certainly no one in basketball history, who had this surgery was a Rose level star and so depended upon by his team. Rose naturally is a great competitor, and on some level he’ll have to harness that when he returns, whenever that is, and be the distributor more like he was at Memphis than the big scorer he had to be for the Bulls. I see him if he does return this season as more a pure point guard and threat than a closer — certainly not a one-on-five finisher like before — and in a setup role for teammates. So maybe it does help that Boozer and Noah have had more opportunities. Frankly, I see them just as involved in the offense when Rose does return. I think for this season if Rose returns he has to tone down his instincts and be more like Steve Nash and Chris Paul than Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving and Tony Parker. Which isn’t bad, but more ground based and fundamental than fabulous.
If I remember correctly, Rose and Shumpert tore their ACL's on the same day or very close, so why is Shumpert already back playing? If Rose's rehab is going so well, why is it taking a month longer for him to start playing?
Sam: Not that Shumpert’s health is unimportant to the Knicks, but he’s not exactly the future of the franchise. Though he he may be balancing off his knee recovery issues with that high hair style. It should also be noted that Rose waited about a month later than Shumpert to have his surgery. Though in reality the issue as every doctor knows is everyone is different. Peterson was fine; Rubio was benched Wednesday night. I’m fairly sure the Bulls are not employing this sort of thinking. Rose has a day-by-day plan of recovery independent of practice and coaches, and I’d be surprised if there is any return date included. The doctors, I’ve heard have stayed away from any specific even with Rose. All this media reporting of late seems very, very premature.
The fan outcry will be absolutely deafening by the end of Feb if Derrick still isn’t playing. If he’s doing full contact in practice right now with more than a week before the end of January, how can they sell the fans on keeping him out for at least another month after that? Any chance David Stern steps in and fines the Bulls for not playing their best player like he did to San Antonio? Kidding on that one! The East sure looks winnable. Can’t hold back because you just don’t know what the future holds. Gotta strike while the iron is hot my friend! Don’t risk the kids’ health but if he’s ready, play him.
Sam: This is getting crazy, as Derrick might say.
I know you're having separation anxiety from Boozer trade questions, so I'm here to save you. With Boozer playing so well right now has there ever been a better time to trade him? His value has to be the highest it's been since Utah.
Sam: So, who exactly is giving you double-doubles with Rose out? Perhaps the biggest issue with Boozer and a trade has been his contract because of $32 million after this season. So, no, there is no difference in demand. The rules changed last year after the new labor deal, and after this season luxury taxes are going to come in multiples. So those older contracts signed under different rules are pretty much not of interest. You already are starting to see the beginning of teams dropping salaries. It will continue, and even the Lakers are saying if they make a deal they aren’t taking back contracts. No offense to Taj Gibson, but he’s having a bit of a step back on offense this season. I assume at this point a trade of Boozer for, say, Courtney Lee and Chris Wilcox, probably wouldn’t exactly make the Bulls a title contender.
I was speaking with a friend about the Miami Heat. With the luxury tax threshold getting harsher on teams, it's not inconceivable that the Heat might consider using their amnesty on Bosh and try to build around LeBron and Wade. When we went to check out Bosh's salary, we saw that he has player options in the 2014 and 2015 seasons for $20 and $22 million. How do player options figure into the amnesty clause?
Sam: As I wrote, yes, teams are going to be getting much more conservative, and you are going to hear players and agents screaming about it in the next few years as teams stop getting in the tax. I assume everyone blames Billy Hunter’s family. Players didn’t fully get that was the intention of ownership and I do see it becoming more prevalent with the penal nature of the taxes. Yes, these Forbes values came out this week and they show high values of teams. But like with your house, or what used to be, you have to sell to get that money. You are going to see a lot of teams cutting back. They’re not dropping Bosh. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was traded, but for one thing you have to pay those option years, which means $20.6 million in 2014-15, $22.1 million the next season. Once you amnesty a player, you have to pay him his entire salary. Which is why I don’t know it will be that common. If you are out of the tax or barely in it, it makes no sense since you have to pay that salary out of your pocket — which cuts directly into your profits — and then have to replace the player. I don’t see many players getting amnesty anymore. For all those fans for the last year who have demanded Boozer get amnesty, I wonder the emails I’d be getting if the Bulls were paying him his full eight-figure salary while he was leading the league in double-doubles for another team, perhaps a direct competitor.
What if the Lakers called the Heat to inquire about a Bosh for Gasol trade?
Sam: If I were Miami, I’d certainly be listening and would do it in a second. Pau’s long-term money is even way less, which actually is an issue as the Lakers don’t want to take back more money. Plus, assuming D’Antoni remains — and if you get rid of him I assume you just let them coach themselves like the recruits from Stripes after Sergeant Hulka was injured — the Lakers need a perimeter shooting big. So lighten up, Francis. Well, Bosh is close, though not for threes. But it’s certainly something I assume Miami would look hard at. Though it might make LeBron decide to stay in Miami, and the rumors have been, other than in Cleveland, that if LeBron opts out after the 2013-14 season, when Kobe’s contract, expires, by the way, LeBron would go to the Lakers.
If I were the Bulls, I wouldn't trade Noah straight up for Howard. Noah may be a more valuable player in some circumstances, like the circumstance of being on a winning team. Noah will be approximately 6 million a year cheaper than Howard, and that really matters with cap. There's been a lot of talk about trading Howard, and I'm hoping the Bulls aren't involved. Second, would the Nets even trade Brook Lopez for Howard now? Lopez has figured out that he is 7 ft. tall, I think, and Brooklyn seems to be on a bit of a tear.
Sam: No, the Bulls are not involved in Howard and haven’t been, if also because Howard refuses to give any indication he’d resign with the Bulls. The lack of indication, I’m told, is saying he wouldn’t. But now given his apparent physical issues following back surgery, his relentless self involvement that we thought was just the Magic catering to him but actually is a severe personality disorder and that he’s something of a locker room poison to teammates these days raises the question of whether he’s worth the risk. You obviously cannot ultimately succeed if he’s your best player, as the Magic know. You also cannot trust what he says, as the Magic found out. He had the perfect situation in Orlando. They loved him and he loved them and they were pretty good. So he brooded and demanded to leave. Then when he could have gone where he said he wanted, to the Nets, he blew that by opting in with the Magic. Then he spent a year there pouting, said he didn’t want to go to the Lakers, then agreed to go there and now is unhappy. Who the heck knows from one day to the next what he’ll do. And now the question simply is how good he is anymore. Sometimes when you have back surgery you are not the same anymore. He makes $19.5 million and likely will stay with the Lakers or demand a sign and trade so he can get his contract with a raise on that amount. Which means you have to start him at about $20 million and go up from there. Sure, the Lakers can afford it and probably stick with him. But he got yelled at by Kobe the other day and is now sad. It’s also why he doesn’t likely leave as a free agent. I doubt he’s taking maybe $4 million less per year to be in Dallas or Atlanta with a bunch of minimum players. But you may the way things are going now be getting Joe Barry Carroll instead of Dwight Howard. Maybe the Lakers realize now and take someone, maybe Josh Smith, maybe O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison and every Dallas pick until 2075 since they basically have no players. As for the Nets, I’m guessing now the Nets suit up Carl Eskine first.
As I'm watching young Jimmy Butler come into his own, I have to give our front office and scouts credit. Looking back over the years, there is no denying that these guys do their homework and no matter what our draft position is, they seem to always bring in some very impressive talent. They may be cheap and seemingly overly hesitant to make big moves but they sure know how to work a draft.
Sam: I’m sure they’ll treasure the compliment. I assume they have it made into a motivational sign for the office.
What is the league-wide opinion of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist? Obviously, Anthony Davis was the star, but during the draft MKG was mentioned as a Scottie Pippen-esque player. Are there any players who are better than expected or failing to live up to expectations in their rookie year?
Sam: For the most part, he seems to have done pretty well to me, averaging about 10 points with his offense questioned and second among rookies in rebounding, and probably better than Pippen as a rookie. And that’s with Pippen after four years of college and 23 while Kidd-Gilchrist is 19. The rookie of the year looks wrapped up for Damian Lillard and then it’s pretty much wide open after him with No. 1 pick Anthony Davis injured several times. A surprise has been Alexey Shved, though because he played in Russia and maybe Kyle Singler and Andre Drummond. But mostly Lillard, who has had an impact way beyond most rookies in NBA history.
I know the Bulls are one of the best in the league as far as attendance goes, but where would you rank the United Center and its fans in terms of energy and crowd noise? My suspicion is it's not very good and just above the lower rung teams that can't draw in crowds, and that that is leading to a poor home record especially when home fans have less to get excited about in missing their star player.
Sam: Actually, it’s pretty good, though given there are an awful lot of teams having trouble drawing, which isn’t the case in the big cities. I’m always impressed with Golden State given the poor quality of the teams the last two decades. New York is pretty good, but their knowledge tends to be overrated and they fall into booing pretty quickly when shots miss more than plays breaking down.
We need to fix the All-Star selection process. There is no way a player like Garnett should be at the All-star game, let alone starting. Garnett is on a team that’s 3rd in their own division. He averages 14.7 ppg and a paltry 7 rpg. This is either proof that leaving it up to the fans is a foolish idea, or the NBA powers that be alters votes so that the paying public and TV networks get to see the name brand players mostly.
Sam: What’s the problem? The East only has two starters for a sub .500 team. Hey, life and All-Star selections aren’t necessarily fair, though I don’t recall John Kennedy quite phrasing it that way. There’s generally going to be someone to complain. I don’t think Garnett deserves to even be an All-Star, but I’m OK with fan voting for starters. Fans should be involved, and I’ve never seen a media, player, coach or GM vote on these things that wasn’t equally biased in some way. Look, the TNT former player broadcasters almost unanimously agreed J.R. Smith should have been an All-Star. They make the fans look like Red Auerbach.
With the Lakers floundering and Kobe sounding very unhappy. Do you think it's a good idea if Gar Forman dials up the Lakers and inquires about Kobe's availability? The Lakers badly need draft picks,a pick a few years down the road could be offered but with Kobe.
Sam: Not happening, of course, not only because the Lakers don’t do draft picks as their future with the highest cost for seats to games. But with Kobe making almost $30 million annually, to match salaries I assume it would require a package of Noah, Deng, Butler, Belinelli, Teague and Hinrich. Sound reasonable?
I was recently reading about the possible trade for Kobe back in 2007. I was out of the loop at that point and was wondering, was it really that close to actually happening? From what I understand Kobe was ready to go for it, but the Kobe wouldn’t move if Deng was part of the trade. I just find it amazing that Kobe was almost a Bull and they couldn’t pull the trigger. Could there have been any way for the trade to have worked while still having Deng on the team? And would you have done whatever it took to get him at that point?
Sam: It was a big story at the time, and really nothing to it, though the Bulls pursued it seriously. It was the spring Kobe went nuts. The Lakers were blown out in the first round by D’Antoni and the Suns, Shaq had won a title in Miami and Kobe melted down. He literally was calling radio stations demanding to be traded, and, yes to the Bulls. He’d had a flirtation with them a few years back when he was a free agent. But they were over the cap then and couldn’t pay him. So he resigned with the Lakers, obviously. ESPN reported Kobe would be 100 percent gone and with the Bulls. So the Bulls played along. They were talking with Kobe’s agent, who was passing along demands of whom Kobe wanted. It would change from day to day. Then there was the Lakers, who told Kobe they’d explore a trade to basically appease him and hold him off. They gave the Bulls a list of All-Stars to get knowing the Bulls couldn’t. But the Bulls were trying. The Lakers never had any intention of trading Kobe and never were. They just needed him to calm down. He did, they traded for Pau and he had two more titles. No, the Bulls never ever had a chance and it had nothing to do with Deng.
Thinking about the Lakers and how good they were expected to be this year, and also about the Celtics, who most believed were a solid 2 seed in the East, can you think of any other years in the NBA when teams with high expectations underachieved this badly? It seems that when you have stars in the NBA, you generally win. That theory just does not seem to be holding up this year, especially considering L.A. and Boston.
Sam: Predictions usually are made on media observations, and we know how ill-informed and conceived they can be. It happens. I recall Wilt leading the league averaging 44 points and 24 rebounds and the Warriors with him missing the playoffs. I remember a Royals team with Oscar leading the league in scoring and assists and with Jerry Lucas and not making the playoffs. The Lakers thing was unusual given so many new players and then firing the coach five games in and then injuries to Nash and Howard off surgery. So it’s not a great comparison. As for winning with stars, yes, but not such old ones.
Is it too early to say that our Jimmy Butler has become one of the few elite defenders in the NBA? I've always loved his cool, calm and collective nature which makes him look like a veteran player at such an early stage of the career. No question he's defensively solid but what's more impressive is that he can score, albeit being not the best shooter, often in the 4th quarter when it really matters the most. Jimmy Butler's 4th Quarter/Overtime Stats Past 4 Games: 33 points, 11/16 Shooting (69%), 10/10 from the line. He looks determined and confident to take the big shots. He's been a solid replacement for Deng thus far and may even be better defensively. I love Deng for everything he does so well but with Butler coming along strong, would it be a bad idea to shop around Deng since he probably holds the most trade value on this team?
Sam: I know there’s this great excitement about Jimmy Butler, who has played very well in relief of Deng since his hamstring injury. I got a lot of these two years ago when Taj was doing so well replacing Boozer and the idea was to trade Boozer and play Taj. And then defenses realized Taj was in the game and schemed for him and he’s averaged about eight points. No offense to Gibson as he doesn’t play big minutes. But defenses haven’t adjusted or game planned for Jimmy yet. He’s clearly a competitor and does a lot of things well, perhaps most impressively playing those minutes. But he still mostly doesn’t shoot well, about 40 percent overall mostly on drives and dunks and under 20 percent on threes. I think Jimmy has a chance to emerge as a Tony Allen-type defensive stopper starting shooting guard/small forward with better offense, though it took Allen a few years to get there. It would be a mistake to give him the responsibility of Deng’s role. Yet, with Deng going into the final season of his contract, management has some big decisions to make on him and perhaps finances becomes an issue given other priorities, as you mention. It’s something to watch, but this all depends on how Derrick returns, how quickly and what kind of player he is. I suspect we don’t truly know that until next season, so I suspect the Bulls would basically stand pat until then.
I saw you mentioned Eric Maynor in a column out of rotation. I've seen Reggie Jackson play and can't believe he's favored over Maynor. I'm a big fan of Maynor's game: finished a win over Westbrook in West Conf finals, top-ten assist-to-turnover ratio, knows how to run an offense. I'm hoping he's undervalued in the league and the Bulls can get him cheap.
Sam: I don’t fully know what’s happened with him, though he did have ACL surgery and basically hasn’t come back. Is he still hurt? It is clear he’s not in the plans of the Thunder, and they don’t make too many mistakes on talent, though I would have hung onto Harden at least the rest of the season if they had financial issues, which they say they do.
Do you think once Derrick Rose gets comfortable and returns to the starting line up that we could possibly see a starting line-up with Butler and Deng sharing duties at the 2 and 3?
Sam: Sure, at times, though I assume Jimmy could play some four and five as well and do some coaching to give Thibs a break.
How can you sit Butler again when Deng gets back? He is proving to be a super high IQ/Athletic player who can do things the roster doesn’t have much of. Create shots, get to the free throw line. And obviously is as good as a wing defender as there is in the league. I don’t see how you can sacrifice Butlers minutes at the 3.
Sam: I think you are one of the guys who told me a month ago the Bulls had to trade him for MarShon Brooks. So given that I’d say only if the Nets send him back. I know the Bulls — as well as other organizations — are criticized for not being bold enough, sort of like fans are in fantasy league. But that’s the point with guys like Jimmy, who barely played for two years. Once you do something, you are stuck, either with the contract you take or the deal you made. So let’s be patient and see how Jimmy does at least through six games.
Just read your [analysis] of the Pistons win. So is this Bulls team overall potentially a better playoff team than last year's (even though last year's I think had East's home court advantage) because of the additions of Bellineli (better overall than Korver), Hinrich (experienced, stronger defensive player & timely shooter against players like D. Wade; and Kirk can take over for DRose at times at point as well as 2-guard), Nate Robinson's playoff experience (better than Watson). Of course the loss of Asik is undeniable and Taj Gibson may be a question mark with consistency? Jimmy Butler maybe still can't shoot well- but showing improvement - could he be better than Ronnie Brewer (the player you & I compared Butler to in the past)? Boozer is potentially back to being the All-Star level player he once was in the West? And how are the centers doing? Nazr? Much worse than Asik? Certainly Rose's recovery is the primary hope for a serious title NBA Finals run - which still seems unlikely.
Sam: Yes, things have gone well, better than most expected, and there is the hope and expectation of the Rose return as the Bulls have 25 wins at the halfway mark even without him. But the center position is not nearly as good without Asik, Robinson remains a huge wild card, especially in big games, basically no one off the bench other than Taj has even been in playoff games and Taj has been off and on this season and the minutes for Deng and Noah with Rose out have been big. There’s a long way to go and a lot of questions, the least of which is how much Rose would, could or should play in the cauldron of playoff heat.
At the beginning of the season you had an optimistic 47 win prediction for this team. If we beat Detroit we will be at 25-16 putting us on pace for 50 wins. I know we have a lot of road games, but we thrive on the road. If you could give a midway prediction what would it be?
Sam: Nyaah, nyaah, nyaah. I got a fair amount of heat about that pick, which now is supposed to be conservative. As Thibs says, though he does cry wolf a bit much, the road gets tougher. And who knows how this transition goes with Rose. But you felt the way Thibodeau prepared the team and given the professionalism — and assuming a relative lack of injuries, which has been the case — the Bulls would have a shot for a .500-plus season. Fifty still sounds like a lot, but part of the thinking was the East was lousy, and it may be worse than I imagined as I had Boston second. I’ll stick with 47 because there’s a big road trip coming up with six of seven on the road leading up to the break with only the Spurs at home.
What are the chances of Thibs winning what should be his third but what would be his second Coach of the Year award? How can you deny him, given the job he's done with Rose out and the injuries to Deng, Hinrich and Hamilton? Likewise, how about GarPax winning Executives of the Year? Not only have they completely rebuilt their team, again, and come up with a winning combination that has the third-best record in the East, but they deserve credit for something that's completely underrated and undervalued: consistency and silence. They let the players play and the coaches coach and you never hear a peep from them or about them, unlike in other markets. In doing so they maintain a culture of stability in which the players know the coach is the final and absolute authority and that management isn't going to butt in or dabble about in trades or indulgences for players.
Sam: If you succeed, you get awards, and so we’ll see as the season goes on. I actually heard some hosts joking on a national radio talk show the other day that Thibodeau should be coach of the year every year, which also does suggest people undervalue the Bulls talent, though perhaps not in Houston. But given the loss of Derrick, Thibs is a strong candidate. Though it seems now the favorite is the Warriors Mark Jackson, especially as they now have wins over Miami, the Clippers and Thunder and are the only team to have done so. It’s generally about expectations and teams doing better than media projections. Also, voters like to spread it around as if you give it to one guy it suggests he’s better than all the others, and if he is where are his titles? It’s the tiebreaker. But Thibs is right there. As for executive, the bench changes have pretty much worked out, though the loss of Asik probably disqualifies the Bulls. Though, yes, you are right in that there doesn’t seem much controversy. Houston certainly gets executive of the year by far not only for Asik but especially getting Harden. We’ll see about how that Lin signing goes. The non executive of the year goes to the Lakers, who already were working on their acceptance speech and now are saying they thought they were getting Juwan Howard.
You mention the extended amount of time that both Kobe and Howard spent talking with Thibodeau. Do you know what his reputation is now among players around the league? Does he make the Bulls a more popular free agent landing place than before? Back in 2010 no one knew for sure what kind of head coach he would be. Or does he kind of scare some players who may not want that coach who could be labeled as overly tough? Curious to see if that whole thing about free agents not wanting to come to Chicago is going to come to an end now.
Sam: Well, the top guys went to Miami in 2010 to play for Erik Spoelstra, who I’m quite sure Chris Bosh thought was his barber.