Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 11.16.2012
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I am under the impression that Phil Jackson really doesn't want to coach anymore. He left the Lakers because there was no room for him in a front office position. He tried to get a consulting position in Portland and he was turned down. When the Lakers came crawling on their bellies to beg for him to comeback, did Phil make outrageous request like, "I will go on only road trips to certain cities", so they would drop their request? There are some unusual circumstance around him and his future. He is partnered with the owner's daughter, but it was written that he was surprised D'Antoni was named the coach, as he was putting a staff together the press release came out. The Zen master played head games with his players while coaching here (to motivate his players), and he appears to be doing the same with the family feud in the Buss family. So what does Phil want?
Sam: I’m sure Phil appreciates your concern. Phil isn’t one to start a media war, other than with perhaps Mark Cuban or Pat Riley in the playoffs. But Phil has been done wrong on this one. One thing you learn in sports and life in general is the fewer people you trust the better off. Sorry to bring you my New York cynicism. Not to say Phil is a dilettante, but he got ambushed on this one. They came to him. He never sought the Lakers job after Mike Brown was fired. They asked if he’d be interested, and he paused knowing he hasn’t wanted to return to coaching and it was the Lakers, after all, and he did want to get back into some work in the NBA. He said give him 48 hours. The Lakers certainly had the right to hire anyone they chose. Phil had no issue with that. And Jim Buss, particularly, didn’t want to have to go back to Phil again after doing it previously on his sister’s advice, and his sister proved, right. Jerry Buss chose son Jim to run the team and not daughter Jeanie and it’s been killing Jim that Jeanie was right. He didn’t want to see that again, and Mike D’Antoni is as personable a man as you’ll find in pro sports. It’s no surprise Jim Buss fell in love. And Mike is a very good coach. But Phil never asked for anything, never demanded anything, never set a single condition. He asked for a bit of time to ruminate, which we know he does. It appears the Lakers decided to slander him to ease the way in for D’Antoni. Nice, eh?
The question now for the Lakers is around Howard. Gasol does the Stoudemire role and Kobe is the volume shooter/slasher. Who is Howard? Shawn Marion/Boris Diaw? Howard will play defense, run, and rebound (things Stoudemire sometimes didn't do). Lakers just got an order of magnitude more interesting. For this group I think that D'Antoni might actually be technically better than Phil Jackson, though obviously Jackson is the better coach. I can see Gasol as triangle midpost, but not Howard. Triangle is a jump shot offense and Howard is nobody's McAdoo flashback. On the other hand, Nash high screen roll with Kobe on the wing opens seams that Howard can work, if only for stickbacks. Big key for Howard now: how good is Gasol at making the inside touch pass? I think Kobe will find Howard, especially in the first half of the game. You sort of wonder if Lakers didn't all along have their eye on D'Antoni.
Sam: I’m sure he was high on their list. He was high on a lot of lists. An owner friend called me recently about his coach. I said if there were issues he should consider D’Antoni. I’m among those who believe his system will work. I’ve debated it often with NBA coaches, who generally are not big fans. But I do question the Howard role. He’s not going to stand around on the weak side cleaning up misses with Pau in a pick and roll. This is by far the most talent Mike ever has had. He does great making lesser talent perform better. It will be a challenge to do what Phil does better than anyone ever: Deliver with great talent that is expected to deliver. It’s not so easy as we now have seen.
Do you think Joakim Noah will get serious consideration for Defensive Player of the Year? He's a beast on the boards, top 10 in block shots, and the anchor to Thib's notorious defense. Not to mention he often needs to compensate for Boozer's poor defense as well which should be enough credit alone to be a top candidate for the award (what's a Sam's mailbag without a few jabs on Boozer?)
Sam: Yes, beating up Boozer has become a hobby for fans, if mostly ill-informed. As awards go, I think making the All-Star team would be huge and reasonable for Noah the way he’s playing. His defense is hard to measure at times. He’s really good, though undisciplined at times. He is probably the league’s best big man helping on guards. But he tends to over help with his activity and can be out of position. The Bulls defense has not been as good overall this season, which probably would work against Noah. I think he’d love to make the All-Star team. He and Deng are deserving, but the Bulls would have to have a plus-.500 record in January for them to get the coaches’ votes. I doubt either get picked by fans.
With Danny Granger hurt, LeBron playing power forward, and Igoudala in Denver, plus no center on the ballot do you think Luol's chances of starting on the All-Star team have increased?
Sam: The tough part is he’s now competing with Noah given the center classification has been eliminated. At this point it seems a lock LeBron and Carmelo Anthony are forwards. Rajon Rondo is a guard. That leaves two spots. Deron Williams likely gets a fan vote and if Miami has a top record either Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh. But Deng has a shot since most of the top statistical players now are in the West, which has become much more interesting with higher level play again.
Let me begin by saying I love this team and always will support the Bulls no matter what. Having said that, right now this particular Bulls team is bordering on unwatchable. theres no closer, no one that can consistantly create offense when the team is tied down and missing shots. I know Luol is management's favorite and a guy who does the little 'unmeasurable' things every night to win but he, along with the irreplacable Joakim Noah, have the best trade value out of any player not named Rose. How's this trade: Rudy Gay for Luol Deng and the overrated Charlotte Bobcats future pick? Gay is [an] All-Star level talent that can create his own offense and flat out score but just doesnt fit in with the Grizzlies for some reason. Luol actually seams more suited to the Grizzlies style of play than gay and would be a great asset for them. Gay would provide us with that 2nd option this team isn't a championship level team even with the greatest point guard in the league, we all know it so something should be done about it.
Sam: To the direct part, there’s no way such a trade is even imaginable even in my scenarios, and even if Memphis wasn’t doing so well and perhaps the surprise of the new season. I guarantee it never will be discussed. Plus, Deng is an All-Star level talent for the Bulls. There’s no point in making lateral trades. But to the point of the team being boring: I hear that a lot. I have to disagree. There are a lot of fans who look at the Bulls as if they can’t play for a title then why bother? I don’t get this. If that were the case, why would anyone have ever watched the Cubs for most of the last century? Why would people go to plays or shows? The NBA puts on great sports entertainment, seeing the world’s best athletes and talents in competitive situations. I enjoy watching this Bulls team because of the uncertainty. What was the fun when they played Charlotte last season and there was zero chance to lose? Now, they can lose to anyone and have to compete hard not to. There’ll be many more close games, if not all. Rare was having that sort of lead against the Suns, albeit briefly. It’s a great chance to measure the essence of sports, the opportunity to see who produces with the game result waiting and the pressure. I look forward to these Bulls games, and given the mostly sorry state of the Eastern Conference, who knows where it will lead? It’s a show worth watching.
After the Celtics loss along with the similar loss to Oklahoma City it is clear as you have pointed out that Thibs has a huge conundrum to deal with all season with his balance of offense and defense, particularly down the stretch in the 4th qtr. In the past, he has been able to go with a more defensive minded lineup down the stretch with Boozer, Hamilton, Korver (last year) etc. sitting out many 4th quarter minutes with his reliance on Rose and to a lesser extent Deng to hold things up on the offensive end. Unfortunately with Rose out this similar philosophy is actually completely playing into the hands of the opposition. Using, both the OKC and Celtics games as examples, not only is Thibs putting undue pressure on Deng and in particular Noah to hold up the offensive side he is also giving a free reign to the opposition coach to be able to leave his most offensive team on the floor with no pressure on them to defend any real offensive minded players. An example of this is how Brandon Bass was “allowed” to be on the floor (and hit key shots), when earlier in the game Boozer was scoring so easily on him. I have no issue with Thibs going with the team that gets them back in the game, but at some point he needs to make the OFFENSIVE minded move when they are going through what seems to be the inevitable dry spells (like not scoring for 5 minutes after getting within 3 points). Maybe if he had of gone to Boozer, and played through him it might have forced Doc Rivers to take Bass out for Wilcox? I’m wondering if Thibs needs to change his philosophy slightly and instead of putting undue pressure on Deng and Noah to score, rely on his ‘team defense’ ethos and put pressure on the likes of Boozer and Hamilton to hold up their side on the defensive end as opposed to the other way around.
Sam: Yes, and he did against Phoenix, which was immediately after Boston. And it worked wonderfully with Hamilton and Boozer making big plays at the end. Thibs does tend to have a quick hook with both, and I was glad to see he stayed with them. Part of the reason is he doesn’t have the bench he did before. And Taj Gibson is off to a slow start and not delivering even the defense he did. There’s little reason to go to Belinelli over Hamilton, and while Jimmy Butler is good in spurts, you can see Thibs isn’t comfortable with him yet. I think Jimmy can score a bit more, but he tends to see himself as a defensive player. And sometimes when you do, you tend not to seek out offense. I have written at times this season I’d like to see Thibs ride Boozer and Hamilton more, and given he’s not getting a boost defensively with them out as he did last season with the likes of Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer, I suspect we’ll see more of those guys finishing games.
Who could the Bulls go for in the 2013 free agent class to add that second scoring threat? Or who is on the trade block who we could get but what would or who would it cost?
Sam: This one the fans are having difficulty understanding: The Bulls cannot be far enough under the salary cap next summer to be a player in free agency even if they were to offer amnesty to Boozer, which every indication I have gotten is they do not plan to after this season. In fact, without any major additions the Bulls again will be in the luxury tax next season. You are not getting more than they can give you from Noah and Deng, Boozer is basically untradeable with his contract and no one else makes enough to bring a high level player in return. It’s all about the return of Rose for the next year or so.
Why do the Bulls seem so lax on defense this year? I could hardly watch last night's game vs. Phoenix, and can't believe Thibodeau is putting up with that kind of play.
Sam: The numbers are not quite as good, but the Bulls play very hard on defense. But as I noted above, there are various factors regarding this season’s team. First, there’s basically a new bench and defense takes time to develop. Asik is gone and he was the top defensive reserve along with Taj, who has had trouble adjusting to the new group on defense. Plus, Thibs has had to ride offensive players a bit more at times with Rose out and the top defenders, Noah and Deng, have had to do more offensively. So it would be only natural given increasing minutes and Noah playing career high minutes that their defense can’t be at the level it’s been at. But I remain impressed how hard they defend, nevertheless.
I always hear Bulls fans (and others) complaining on forums and blogs about player improvement. Of course, you get the usual regarding Boozer's, defense and Noah's offense etc. People seem to think that if a player just works harder, they will be able to score or defend. But that's not really how it works is it? Sure, players can make mild improvements here or there, and sometimes if they are put in the right system with the right coach certain aspects of their game may come to life. But players generally don't fundamentally change their game once they have been in the league for three or four seasons. It's kind of like asking Danny Devito to be attractive: it's just not his thing. Poor defenders can't defend, poor scorers can't score. So what players in the NBA have fundamentally changed major qualities of their game after they have been in the league for several years?
Sam: Yes, the old rule was after three years you are what you are. But Noah’s a good example, for one. Who thought he’d ever be a guy who you could run offense through, which you can now. I know I never did. Hey, LeBron became a post player. It’s changed in this era because guys come into the NBA more than ever not knowing how to play basketball. It’s been much discussed, but it’s the combination of the corrupt AAU system in which players switch teams like underwear, then players in high school frequently changing schools if they don’t like the coach, then a year in college when there’s no time to coach the player as he’s about to leave, anyway. So players come into the NBA often so fundamentally unsound or lacking in basketball knowledge that for some they only begin to learn how to play three or four years into their pro careers if they are lucky to stick around that long, say like Gerald Green now. But there are way too many who never get it and begin to regress, like our old buddy Tyrus Thomas.
Next to D-Rose, Noah is the top guy I'd keep. I love his energy. What happens when Deng's contract is up? Do you think he'll get a ridiculous offer from another team?
Sam: What is the meaning of ridiculous if Asik, with basically never having played, would have been getting a $15 million season? One of the biggest questions facing the Bulls and not much talked about is what happens with Deng when his contract expires after next season. I believe the way he’s developed and as much as he does the Bulls have to keep him. I don’t think you want a guy like that who’d be an unrestricted free agent going on the market. The problem is resigning Deng could cut deeply into any Bulls chances to be a major free agent player in the summer of 2014. But at his age and production I don’t see how they could let him go. And that’s from someone who had him in 73 trade scenarios.
Is it possible for Boozer to offer to take a pay cut after this season? I think the expectations of Boozer would go down a great deal if he offered to reduce his pay but also think he would be a much better player as he’d no longer feel the pressure of such a large contract for such little return. With Taj re-signing for less than what he could have gotten elsewhere it would be good to see Boozer do the same.
Sam: Good for whom? No, the NBA prohibits players from having guaranteed contracts adjusted downward. Again I remind everyone on a team lacking scoring, Boozer is averaging about double what Gibson is in only about seven or eight minutes more per game. Enough, already.
Omer Asik's start with the Rockets is one the best early stories of the season. He is playing some great basketball. And I as well as all Bulls fans should be happy for him without lamenting he is doing it for the Rockets. He is getting an opportunity he would have never had with the Bulls and making the most of it. And after watching Joakim Noah's start to the season, I am glad Asik never got his opportunity with the Bulls. Without moving Noah to power forward, there were just not enough minutes for Asik to warrant signing him to a three year contract. His size would have been helpful against Miami, but once again that alone did not warrant matching the offer. I guess what I am saying is no matter how good Asik has been to start the season, Noah is playing at an all NBA level.
Sam: It’s a good point unfortunately lost on many fans. Sometimes you are penalized under the new rules for putting together too many good players as happened with the Thunder. Asik is averaging a double/double and even shooting 73 percent on free throws. Who called that? All I mostly heard from fans about the guy was he couldn’t catch the ball and couldn’t shoot. I never heard anyone even say he’d be part of the team when he was drafted and acquired and came from Turkey. I wrote one scenario last summer about playing Asik and trading Noah. Fans wrote that was ridiculous. So, yes, if the Bulls retained Asik, he’d never be putting up these numbers because he’d never be playing as much. And who wants to trade Noah now? Plus you probably weren’t playing them together with Boozer and Gibson, and I hardly heard anyone say to not retain Gibson. The Bulls got caught in an NBA oversight when the Rockets were allowed to average Asik’s salary while the Bulls had to backload it. You say they could have paid Asik two seasons at $5 million and then traded him before that $15 million season. But who was taking on $15 million for a guy playing behind Noah and obviously not putting up numbers? The Bulls did offer Asik the maximum they could for the maximum years. Privately, NBA officials admitted they mistakenly left that provision in the new collective bargaining agreement and it will be changed. But that doesn’t help the Bulls. So why not get something? The Bulls were trying to win last season and believed they could. How would it have looked to give away Asik last February? It’s not like free agents off the bench were going to bring much. And then both the Rockets and Asik declined a sign and trade chance. Usually the guys judging four months after the fact are the ones who know what to do, right?
So, what should we do with that Charlotte #15 pick in the ’13 draft?
Sam: What, Michael Jordan a successful owner? Who figured? Yes, the Bobcats are over .500 and if they make the playoffs any time in the next four years the Bulls get the pick from the Tyrus Thomas deal and it’s just a mid range first rounder. Not bad, but nothing that gets you a star or high level player. And the East is so bad it could happen as the Bobcats finally are adding legitimate talent with a serious coach. But it’s a chance you take and after all, the Bulls were letting Thomas go for nothing when the Bobcats curiously made the deal. So you get something. Given the circumstances and uncertainty I doubt the pick has great value in trade for now. Though you could combine it and that does give you some flexibility to make a deal. I’m fairly sure you could get Thomas for the pick at any time.
What, if any, chance do the Bulls have of re-signing Nate Robinson next season?
Sam: If they need him again the Bulls might be in more trouble than we think.
I keep reading the Jazz may be looking to unload one or both of their starting big men to make room for Kanter and Favors to get more PT. Think the Bulls will be in the running for either? I remember when the Jazz got Jefferson, I believe they only gave up 2 first round picks and a trade exception. Think he's still worth that? Would the Bulls give that up for him?
Sam: Since the Bulls and Jazz are over the cap, it would require matching salaries. Since Jefferson makes $15 million, that means Boozer, whom I’m fairly sure the Jazz aren’t taking back after he was booed in his return among other reasons like sitting out two or three seasons of a six year deal (by the way, the Bulls main worry was once his health). Millsap makes $8.6 million, which means Deng or Noah. But with both having expiring contracts there’s a lot of thought now Utah rides it out for the flexibility, which often translated means lowering salary.
Should we be concerned that we're barely above .500 with all games played at home except one? Will we be at .250 once we start playing the away games? I was anticipating Bulls to be somewhere between the 7th and the 8th seed, but at this rate are those even feasible? 8th seed is cannon fodder for Miami, so we want to be 7th. If 7th is not feasible, shouldn't we just tank the season, trade Boozer and Deng to other teams with cap space for lesser but significantly cheaper talents and picks, hold Rose off for next year, and grab as high a pick as possible?
Sam: I’m guessing you are holding off from buying season tickets. The East is fairly wide open, though now I guess you want sixth to avoid the Knicks as well. But Rose may return, Noah and Deng are playing like All-Stars, Hinrich then can strengthen the bench. There are all sorts of possibilities. Maybe it’s shaping up to be a great season, eh?
Since I moved to town in 1982, every major Chicago sports team (not Cubs) has won a championship. They all had one thing in common: their head coaches all sported a mustache. With his eye on every detail, is Coach Thibodeau aware of this?
Sam: He wasn’t. I did make him aware of that and he seemed unimpressed. I told him I’d check whether the Sting coach was similarly hirsute. Though perhaps you can look at it this way: If not for Ditka, maybe the Bears would have had five titles. Ouch! Did I write that?!
Is there any way that D-Rose is meeting the club in L.A. because he is targeting the Clipper game as his return, and the Bulls are staying tight lipped just in case he has a set back the next few days? I find it odd that he is meeting them specifically in L.A., unless he is resuming long term rehab there. I know it's far fetched.
Sam: I think you stumbled onto something, which I’m told Susan Rice also has been trying to mislead Bulls fans on. I’ll be attending the Clippers game and let you know. But this could be exciting. Hollywood! Perfect! In your face, Vinny!