Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 02.01.2013
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If the Bulls were smart they would have Rose come back the game before the All-Star break then you get six days off before the next game and better to ease back in.
Sam: What if you are right and the rest of the world is wrong? I have a lot of experience in this having grown up in New York where pretty much everyone seems to believe that. I feel like the great Secretary of State under Lincoln, Seward, when he bought Alaska, Seward’s folly they called it, and it really wasn’t the case until Sarah Palin was elected governor. C’mon, a cheap shot at Palin doesn’t count as politics, does it? Anyway, I remember talking to my colleague from the Tribune K.C. Johnson before the season and saying how ridiculous it’s going to get in the media when Rose actually is ready to return or close. Or not close. You talk about an event in which you know will be ridiculous, but you never are quite prepared even when it happens as you expected. So now the Rose’s-return-is-imminent stuff is bubbling over the top. He’s not particularly close, and as Mike Royko once kiddingly — I think — told me, “Kid (I was 42), never let the facts get in the way of a good column.” I didn’t fully realize what was going on when I began to get some radio interview calls earlier this week as I pretty much don’t pay attention to the daily breathless Rose updates, and the interview would start with something like asking me when Rose returns in two weeks or three weeks and I’d say, “What?!” There’d been an ESPN SportsCenter crawl about Rose being close and that’s usually all it takes, though they are hardly the only one. I wrote about this a few weeks ago in my "Ask Sam", and here I go again. Go ahead and watch Ricky Rubio and Iman Shumpert and Eric Maynor, all these guys who had the surgery. Rubio had the surgery more than two months before Rose and you can see Rubio probably should not even be playing. Shumpert has played six games and is averaging six points. They don’t seem to be moving so great. Everyone is different, so Rose is not Rubio, but also probably not Adrian Peterson. I guess the speculation is fun and it is sports, after all, and what else do we do but consider possibilities? Maybe I'm just getting the shakes because I haven’t had an Eddy Curry trade suggestion in a long time. I hope Derrick returns; I hope he’s great this season; I’d love to see this Bulls team with Rose against Miami. I don’t expect to see Rose playing this month.
Someone is looking down on us and felt bad for D-Rose's injury and made up for it by creating a situation where Butler can feel comfortable. If his play continues to improve, I'd hate to be any other contending team in the East; even Miami should be very concerned. I expect Rose to at least shoot better than last year and the Bulls now have potential defensive stoppers at almost every position. They also have the luxury of having scorers that if they are not hitting their shots, they can be easily replaced. I'm referring to Rip, Marco and Nate. I can't wait to see a 7 game series with Miami. Butler will frustrate Wade more than any other defender has. I just hope everyone is healthy come playoff time.
Sam: Could it be Juwann Oldham? Oh, higher than that? The Bulls have had such a terrific season that even ESPN occasionally notices between Lakers and Knicks shootaround updates. Jimmy Butler, Nate, Belinelli. So I get a lot of emails like this matching the Bulls against the Heat. We all said going into the season there is no real second in the East, though I have been checking other media and in New York I see them saying it’s the Knicks or Nets against the Heat; in Indiana I see them say the Pacers; in Atlanta they seem to feel it could be the Hawks, all of whom have similar records to the Bulls. And some of whom you’d presumably have to defeat before getting to the conference finals. Yes, the Bulls have the Derrick Rose secret weapon returning. Well, we think, and then we cannot be sure yet how much. But, hey, it feels a lot better than it did the end of last April. But what if someone up there, maybe Rony Seikaly or even a taller power, feels Miami should win again given they have the only player in the group with a “chosen one” tattoo.
After Rose returns and gets more playing time, do you think Thibs will try Rose and Robinson in the backcourt at times? Robinson absolutely torched the Bucks on the fast-break and imagine the possibilities of having two players who can run, easily get their own shot and create plays.
Sam: Maybe don’t even bring Rose back the way Nate is playing? Though it will be another interesting decision regarding Robinson when and if Rose returns. Thibodeau obviously prefers defense and running the team, which is what Hinrich does best. Playing off the bench, presumably, Hinrich would be in foul trouble less frequently. A three guard rotation always is preferable and that’s not even including Jimmy Butler since you have Hamilton and Belinelli. Oh, no, too many players. What shall the Bulls do?
How long before Nate Robinson gets some serious consideration for 6th man of the year? This guy has single handedly swung so many games for the Bulls this season and other than Rose, I think he's the only player on this team that can get his own shot whenever he wants (albeit sometimes it may not be the best shot). I really think he needs to be in the discussion for that 6th man award.
Sam: It’s a question I automatically say no to, though when you consider the first half of the season you do realize in how many games Robinson has been a factor back to his first happy place visit in the second game of the season when he had 16 points and 12 assists against the Cavs. He, of course, has no chance to be considered seriously given, for one thing, he’s not a sixth man. Probably closer to ninth. Obviously, players like Gibson and Belinelli come closer to the traditional definition and have generally come off the bench sooner, which is the historical nature of the designation. Yes, Robinson has been erratic at times and there even was a question as the Bulls closed in on the January guarantee date if he’d be let go. But he has made some big shots and has been entertaining, as long as, I’m told, you don’t have to sit next to him on the plane.
Marco Bellinelli played very well in December but kind of fell off his game in January. Why do you think? Do you think he'll get more minutes and play a little better when playoffs come around?
Sam: I think he’s been consistent and the same guy basically all season, though it’s tough to score from the bench when you are not in the game. In three of the last four games with the emergence of Butler, he’s played fewer than 20 minutes. He’s only had more than five shots once in the last five games. If he shot 50 percent, he’d be averaging less than six points. I remember when John Paxson used to go through this playing next to Jordan. Jordan would score 40 and Paxson would have four and fans would yell that Paxson needs to score more and Paxson would say — to himself mostly — he needs more than three shots. In December, Belinelli averaged about 34 minutes per game, including a nine-game stretch in which he played more than 40 minutes every game.
Why aren't the Bulls interested in Greg Oden?
Sam: Who said they aren’t? Of course, they are. So are many teams. But Oden isn’t much interested in anyone unless he sees a path to starting, which is why he’s talking to the Heat and Cavs. The Bulls have an All-Star center. Why would he want to try to make a comeback there? And he wants to make much more money than you’d pay a backup center.
Which coaches are the top contenders for Coach of the Year?
Sam: I don’t think we here felt the Bulls would be as bad as many in the national media did. Most of the predictions I saw around Chicago were in the 45-win range. But lower expectations are a good thing for awards. Thibodeau is probably the co-favorite along with Mark Jackson, whose team remade itself around Andrew Bogut, who has played five games. There’s been some mention of Larry Drew in Atlanta, Mike Woodson in New York, Vinny Del Negro with the Clippers and Lionel Hollins in Memphis. But Thibs and Jackson figure to be one/two in some order.
Is there a possibility the Bulls sign Nate for another year or so after this season? And do you see Belinelli being offered a new contract after the season?
Sam: Given the play of Butler and the fact Marquis Teague is waiting patiently and with a big guaranteed contract and Rose presumably back to 35 minutes per game with Hinrich on a two-year deal, I assume it’s one and done for Nate. Though we weren’t even sure he’d make the whole season. I assume the Bulls want to bring back Belinelli, but he is an unrestricted free agent and can go where he wants. Though he seems to enjoy this team very much and for now appears like he wants to stay. But things change and benches perhaps more than any, so I guess we can’t count out Nate yet. In any case, the league has noticed and if the Bulls don’t have room he won’t have to start his NFL career quite yet.
Isn’t the elephant in the room that if Butler continues to emerge like this Deng becomes expendable? Not because we wouldn’t love to keep Deng, but if you have a guy who makes a couple million a year who can play his role close to as well as him (I'm not saying Butler can yet, but if he keeps this up, you’d have to acknowledge he can fill in serviceably if Deng departs). I can see Deng's big expiring contract and value as a player becoming a big trade chip next year,or just letting Deng walk when his deal is complete after next season. I love Luol, but I still feel the Bulls need another wing scorer to play with Rose who can create shots. Maybe this is how you eventually free up the money for that?
Sam: I’m not going there as I think Lu feels I’m finally done trading him. And I am. Two-time All-Star, all defensive player, playing through injury. Really, are you getting better than this guy? Would you rather have Rudy Gay? Not me. Anyway, this notion of an expiring deal being worth something is ancient history, meaning before the labor deal of last year. The closer you are to free agency the less you are worth because then you certainly won’t stay with a bad team and a good team has no guarantee. So they cannot afford to give up much for you. The Deng trade window was last year, and the Bulls passed. Yes, they’ll have a decision after next season. But who are you getting better to defend LeBron or Anthony or now Rudy Gay? Jimmy’s good, but also can play shooting guard and I think his value will end up more there although the other day Thibs was talking about him as a four as well. Actually, he really looks good as probably the best true sixth man ever along with Craig Hodges.
Luol has become really good but I don't think the Bulls can win a title with Luol as their second best player. Assuming I'm right how do you get that second best player, keep Luol & what position does that player play? My fear is that if you resign Luol you can't upgrade due to salary cap yet the Bulls will win 50 games a year but no chance at a title. If you get rid of Luol then you need a second & third best player. It seems the way this team is built, its destiny is a nice 50+\- win team almost every year and that's all.
Sam: Look, there are many ways to win. And the way the NBA is going with the Grizzlies dealing Rudy Gay and the Thunder dealing James Harden, you may not be seeing with the potential financial issues and luxury tax looming any more of these big three star teams. Maybe Noah’s the second best player? Without a so called second best player last season I was convinced the Bulls would have beaten Miami if Rose hadn’t gotten hurt given having Asik. I think how things have gone with Miami that isn’t unreasonable. The Pistons won in 2004 against a team of four Hall of Famers. Do you think many are worried about the Lakers this season? You play defense, you get size and rebounding and guys who can make a few shots and you can win. Check teams like the champion Supersonics or Rockets of 1994 who won a title with Kenny Smith and Vernon Maxwell as their backcourt. Jason Terry was the second best player on the champion Mavs. This relentless Chicago cry of “get us a second star” is a bit too much at times. The Bulls have some future possibilities with Mirotic overseas and draft picks. Trades come up. But it seems to me they have the coaching staff, talent and depth to be able to win anytime. It doesn’t mean you can or will. What you do is put yourself in position and see if it works out. They’re in position to do that for the next several years assuming a reasonably strong return from Rose.
Just wondering, are you starting to get "Let's trade Deng because we have Butler" emails yet?
Sam: Uh, yes.
Please explain to my know-it-all older brother that Kyle Korver dreams about being the player Marco Belinelli is. I really liked Korver as he benefitted often from Derrick Rose penetrations and kick outs. Of course he’s a good and much needed three point shooter in this league. However, that’s where it ends. Marco brings so many more dimensions with his ability to drive, shoot and pass. Can you expound on this and get this knuckle head to understand that Marco is a better player and fit for the Bulls? He even calls Belinelli, “Bumnelli”.
Sam: Is this because you changed your name from Marco? I’m not taking sides on this one, though I hear the Harbaughs are having the same dispute, which is why they haven’t been talking about their relationship much. The Bulls see Korver again Saturday and he just passed Dell Curry, one of the most classic shooters ever, in three pointers made for 34th alltime and has a run of 38 straight games with a three. He’s not as athletic and versatile as Belinelli, sure, and doesn’t do as much off the dribble. But he’s one of the most feared shooters in the league, a shooter teams game plan for, which opens up other stuff. He’s one of my favorite all-time people in the NBA and I’d rather decide between Radmanovic and Mohammed.
With Deng, Noah and Tyson Chandler making the All-Star game, is David Stern happy that Thibs isn’t coaching the team? Mix in LeBron James and Thibs could have the lockdown defense he’s always dreamed about. He’d be the only coach that would be pacing the sidelines and shouting out defensive assignments during an All-Star game. Thibs’ head would crack if any team he coached gave up 150 points; as happens in most of these exhibitions.
Sam: In case you forgot, Thibs coached last year and the players I heard loved him. I do think he makes the Bulls a more attractive team given his demanding style since you don’t draw players you don’t want with coaches like that. But with adding Brook Lopez to replace Rondo, this could be an East All-Star team with Noah and Chandler and Garnett that might not score 90 points.
If the Bulls could acquire any player that might be acquired by the trade deadline and make a solid impact to help push the Bulls and Derrick Rose into the playoffs and make them a legitimate contender whom might that player be and who do you think the Bulls would have to give up if anyone in return?
Sam: LeBron? Durant? Mozgov? I don’t expect the Bulls to make any moves before the trading deadline.
What do you think it would take to get Deandre Jordan out Los Angeles? I can't imagine what Thibs could do with him at center
Sam: Well, that infatuation with Noah didn’t last long.
It seems as though Kirk Hinrich is picking up two fouls rather quickly of late. Is Kirk doing something different than earlier in the year? Or, are refs enforcing the tighter hand check rules more vigorously?
Sam: It’s Kirk being Kirk. He’s always gotten quick fouls, a sort of Paxson of the 2000’s, but more athletic. Kirk plays hard and aggressively and gets up in players and the rules in recent years have hurt players like him, of which there are few, because officials are asked to call it closer on the perimeter as the rules changed to feature the scoring guards more. So it’s also no coincidence why we have more top point guards than likely ever. Much easier to be fancy without an arm bar knocking you down. Plus Kirk likes to let the officials know their work isn’t always as accurate as it should be. And when a guy scores on him he sometimes takes it a bit too personally and goes after the guy. But that edge is what makes him a valuable player, one of the game’s best perimeter defenders. It’s also why he needs backups.
I said it and now it seems reasonable. If the man (Butler) works on fixing his shot he's going to be an All-Star.
Sam: So that makes, what, four, five? So with four or five All-Stars why would the Bulls need to make any trades and how could they not be a championship team?
Now that Kobe has learned to play well with others by averaging 14 assists per game over the last two games, is this comparable to the Doug Collins era when MJ reluctantly played PG and averaged a triple double? My money says being a facilitator will wear thin with Kobe after a few more games.
Sam: There are many chapters of this Lakers story to come, eh? You could see at the end of the loss to the Suns Wednesday. Things began going badly for the Lakers, who would eventually lose, and the last few minutes everything stopped as Kobe held the ball to make plays. He didn’t this time. The overall stats looked good, but not the ball movement at the end. But that’s Kobe, much like Michael. They believed they could do everything needed for the team, and they generally did. The Michael as point guard under Doug is a classic Jordan story. The Bulls were slumping with Sam Vincent as point guard, which he really wasn’t. Michael was getting frustrated as this was 1989 and the Bulls were still not close to getting past the Pistons. Magic Johnson was still winning, and back then Magic believed he was better because he was winning. He joined the media chorus that it was about winning and the numbers didn’t matter much. Triple doubles, I recall Jordan saying. He could get those if he wanted. Actually, the team needed a boost and a change, and Jordan went to point guard after a bad loss in Boston in which Jordan sat out ill and had stayed home. So Jordan went to point guard and with the talk about he’s no Magic, Jordan listened. He went out and then got triple doubles in nine of 10 games, seven straight. And not your Magic triples with 14 points but more like Oscar with 30. Michael went back to being Michael and the Bulls inched a bit closer to the Pistons in the playoffs. Kobe will be Kobe.
The league just released a statement that the officials made some crucial errors regarding some calls made in Portland and Denver the other day. What’s the purpose of those statements? If I've lost a game under unfair circumstances why would I wan't to hear about it in the aftermath if it isn't going to change the results anyhow? To me that feels like a "rub-it-in-the-face-act".
Sam: The NBA actually has been good about this, sort of business in the sunshine and revealing embarrassments. People always are demanding institutions admit it when they make a mistake. The NBA is doing it to its credit. Of course the negative is the NBA having to do it so much lately. Unfortunately, that’s less unselfishness than it’s not been a great season among officials. I’m generally a strong advocate of the NBA officials and still am. They are the best officials in sports. Try officiating a basketball game at the park sometime. You’ll see. It’s just in the last year or two so many of the veterans guys have retired or been pushed out with so many new officials and lead officials pushed up they shouldn’t be in that position yet. The NBA quietly changed officials’ leadership behind the scenes and I think it’s a positive they’re openly admitting mistakes, which doesn’t go over as well when you’ve been the victim.
I’m sure you’re already receiving e-piles of e-mails talking about the Bulls’ new savior, Jimmy Butler. While I am not so sure I agree with that, I do believe he should be the starting 2 guard for the ‘Derrick Years’. When evaluating Jimmy’s current success and future trajectory, I think we too often forget to factor positional relativity. Yes, he’s not a great shooter, and he’s an average ball-handler at best. But he is a strong, intuitive defender, great rebounder for his size, can get to the rim and finish, and is improving daily in nearly every facet of the game. In this city, we still have a belief that the prototypical 2-guard is 6’6, 200 lb, hits every big shot, can dunk from the foul line, and calls his general manager ‘Crumbs’. But look at the 2’s around the league today. There is Kobe, Wade, and Harden. I just called those teams and – spoiler alert – they’re not trading them. Who follows them? Ray Allen? Monta Ellis? OJ Mayo? Kevin Martin? Very quickly we enter a group of guys that have serious defects in their game whether it be age, size, or character issues. And while their names might have greater badge value, after seeing what Jimmy can do given major PT, if matched up individually against any of these guys – does Jimmy get beat? Maybe, maybe not. But the fact that it’s even a question dictates that the guy currently on your team holds more value to you than any of the players you’re comparing him against. And after that, who else is there? Ben Gordon? JJ Reddick? Pickings get slim. There are a host of young 2’s that might end up being great – Brad Beal, Terrence Ross, Klay Thompson (really more of a 3 anyway) – but these guys have proven very little to this point, most less than Jimmy. Given the current talent level of 2 guards across the league, a very easy case can be made that Jimmy Butler is already a top 10 player for that position. And all of the above is not even factoring in salary, which obviously, makes Jimmy a huge value play.
Sam: Just that this is the first email I’ve gotten considering “positional relativity” I’ve got to agree. Actually, the point is well taken given there’s been this scream for years for the missing two guard when as you note it’s really been the inability to give up the grieving and accept there is no more Jordan. I think a Belinelli starting with Jimmy as a two/three/four sixth man might be perfect. Though Belinelli is a free agent, and maybe Jimmy is better, anyway. But the way Jimmy has played and especially defended I’d say as well that shooting guard should not be a great priority anymore.
Do the Bulls pull the ‘Rip’ cord on Hamilton continuing to start this season?
Sam: I expect Hamilton to continue starting as long as he’s with the team as Thibodeau doesn’t like to change the starting lineup and doesn’t like to sit veterans, and Hamilton has had good moments. Obviously, his minutes are down now with Butler and Robinson playing well. Some veterans would not handle it well. But he has and I’ve had no indications he’s been a problem. There’s been talk of potentially a trade, but given his salary and recent history of injuries I don’t see any teams that would take him at this point.
I had completely forgotten about Deng's wrist injury. Looking back it's amazing how much concern that wrist caused Bulls fans and management last spring and over the summer. Obviously I have no clue whether Deng is gutting it out or if the injury is not bothering him much, as he promised it wouldn't over the summer. He's having a great year and I think it's amazing how little we fans have had to worry or hear about the wrist.
Sam: How about that? A few years ago he supposedly was making up a foot injury. No one needs an apology as Deng has proven himself where it matters, with his peers and in his profession as one of the best and most respected players in the NBA. But you never hear Deng mention it, and I’m still amazed how long he can sit with his feet in a bucket of ice. Try that sometime. He does it every day several times a day. Heck, I’d be fracturing my wrist to just get my mind off the cold.
With Mirotic doing so well overseas, it got me thinking. Why don't more teams draft young foreign players not NBA ready and stash them overseas until their ready or use their rights in other deals? It would make sense to me to acquire as many 2nd round picks as possible to stockpile assets. Are there rules in place keeping teams from doing this?
Sam: Well, let’s just say Mirotic is doing OK. His averages are good, but he’s a very young player there and hardly dominant. He has the chance to become a very good player, but is at least two years from whether he’ll come to the NBA. The fact is there aren’t that many great players there, teams have done this for years, and have you forgotten Dalibor Bagaric, Kornel David, Chris Anstey and Dragan Tarlac? And there was an Orlando lottery pick, Fran Vazquez, who never came to the NBA, so there’s risk as well with second round picks having value now the way guys like Chandler Parsons have come on.
What were the Raptors thinking when they traded for Rudy Gay? Other than entering luxury tax, that trade doesn't make any sense. Now they've got redundant players in Gay, DeRozan and Ross who play the same. All of them need the ball to be effective. To make it worse they got Lowry at point, rather than Calderon. Now, Amir and Jonas will have to get those rebounds to touch the ball. Like the Bobcats, Raptors pieces doesn't fit well. The head scratcher there is, unlike the Bobcats, Toronto just killed their flexibility. Now, they'll have to trade Gay or DeRozan to make room for Ross and A. Anderson, with the latter playing great for them. Pistons getting Calderon was great. Now they have someone who can feed Monroe and Drummond. Memphis did achieve their goal of cutting down expenses. They provide flexibility to themselves, without sacrificing their chance to compete. They also manage to get pieces to build around Conley and Gasol.
Sam: I, too, think the Raptors were the big loser in the deal, and you didn’t even mention Landry Fields, their big summer free agency acquisition. And they got rid of the wrong point guard. Otherwise, it was mostly financial and I generally have a policy of not calling people cheap when I’m still checking prices before I buy. Yes, you’d want the Grizzlies to have kept Rudy Gay and given that group a chance, though previous ownership did way seemingly overpay Gay. I think they came out OK short term, though maybe a bit less of a contender than they probably were before. But I like quietly picking up Ed Davis. It’s why I also didn’t hammer the Thunder for the Harden deal. I would have kept him until the summer if I couldn’t afford his deal and then gotten what I could and given that group another shot. I wrote that’s what they’d do because it made sense. But this is the NBA. I didn’t condemn them because they pretty much admitted it was a financial issue, and I always enjoy the media members who complain about paying $6.00 for the press room meal and then damning a team for not spending $20 million on someone. Similarly with Detroit. With their building so empty, how could you blame them for dumping salary? Calderon’s contract expires and I assume they let him go as they like Brandon Knight. They’ll have a lot of cap room money, but I’d guess they hang onto a lot of it this time with their young core, let it develop and make money. As the players like to say, it is a business.
You always talked about NBA players as "the best athletes in the world". It always make me wonder, are the NBA players better athletes than NFL players, for example? I'm a pro soccer player here in Brazil, and I belive the best athlete in soccer today is Cristiano Ronaldo, who is very quick and strong for a soccer player, but I don't see him a better athlete than D-Rose. How about Megatron?
Sam: I had to look that up to see who it was. Yes, it’s the receiver for the Detroit Lions, the big, huge, skilled guy who is about 6-5 and 235, the size of a shooting guard? You mean the guys who take a rest after every play? There’s nothing close in the world to the NBA athlete. Soccer players have great stamina, but nowhere near the strength. Football players are strong, but don’t have the various athletic skills like jumping. You see guys try to dunk a football over the goal post after a touchdown and maybe a few can do it. It’s 10 feet, the same size as a basket, and Nate Robinson at about 5-6 can do it. No one even mentions baseball as John Kruk famously said they aren’t athletes they are baseball players. Seen one standing at third after a triple? Great hand/eye coordination and wrist power. But they’re as close to being great athletes as golfers. And who else has to do it almost naked like basketball players? Now that’s special.