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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 04.06.12

Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of e-mails from his readers
Sam Smith Mailbag

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

People are making way too big of a deal of the recent struggles in my opinion. I think it is pretty simple, there are games when the Bulls miss not having the best player on Earth on their team. Shocker. JLIII and Watson have had great seasons for them, they aren’t great players when they are asked to play huge minutes and carry the load, spoiler alert. The only thing I am worried about is Derrick Rose’s health and I am extremely worried about that. Every time I read a positive report, it seems to get followed up with a big step backwards. It just seems like the injury was so much worse than they are letting on. I hope he will be healthy for the playoffs. Michael Koltun

Sam: I think a lot more of this is getting cleared up, as Rose has been practicing and seems to be getting ready to play. It’s really been a great season and a credit to Thibodeau and the players how hard they have played compared with other teams. Thus, they’ve been able to win games you wouldn’t think they could with their talent. Yes, they have depth and size. But these are guys who have been added to the team to play roles, not to be Rose and Hamilton. That they have stepped in and done such a good job is a credit to them. But to ask them to continue to do so is unfair. The big question with Rose is what level he’ll be at come playoff time. My sense is he’ll be pretty close to full health, but no one can know for sure. Same with Hamilton. And like Derrick said, maybe all the rest will be good given a few months back the issue around the Bulls was whether he’d be too tired come playoff time.

If possible, I still think the blueprint for the Bulls this offseason is what the Spurs did last year with G. Hill. Move Taj, while he has value with a year left on his deal. With your late first round pick to move up into the mid to late teens. You projected Terrence Ross to go a little higher in your first mock draft. But unless something dramatic happens in pre-draft workouts, Ross should be there in the late teens with the other SG's Beal, J. Lamb, and Rivers all likely to go ahead of him. He looks to be an effective "3 and D" guy coming off the bench right away playing behind Rip. Great size, great athlete, and an attitude that seems to fit the Bulls. A future starter in my opinion. This would give the Bulls a couple of athletic wings in Butler/Ross to move forward with on the cheap. This also allows the Bulls to save about 9 million by declining the options on Korver and Brewer. That money can go towards the Asik extension as well as a defensive-minded backup PF to move into Taj's spot. The bench would be weaker intially, but I think this is a move with an eye on the future. What do you think? Matt Maloney

Sam: I suppose it’s possible, though I’d think the Bulls are reluctant to part with Gibson given the insurance he brings backing up Boozer with defense. But there could come a point for financial reasons and to keep Asik they might have to consider something like this. With four eight-figure salary players, more than just about every team, there’s going to be a premium on draft picks who can be in the rotation, like Gibson was and like Butler likely will be. So I assume it is one scenario they are considering depending on how the playoffs go. Like Thibodeau says, you learn from every game, and teams learn (what they need) from every playoffs.

Everything I read regarding Deron Williams’ future suggests that he’s going to sign with Dallas in the offseason. What do you think the chances are the he winds up with the Pacers instead? They’ve got lots of cap space and seem like they’re a star distributor (and maybe a year of Paul George development) away from joining the Bulls and Heat as Eastern Conference contenders. As a Bulls fan, I sure hope he favors his “home” team and opts for the waning Dirk years, followed by a rebuilding process, over a possible multi-year run as an Eastern Conference power in Indianapolis. The Eric Gordon to Indiana theory makes no sense to me unless they trade Granger for a PG like Rondo. Kyle Smith

Sam: There are a number of teams who are going to make a run at Williams, whom most believe will go to Dallas. But he’s always been something of an independent thinker, if also quite the whiner, and may not find the waning years of Dirk if they cannot also get someone else that appealing. Given Roy Hibbert and George Hill are restricted free agents it’s unclear how much money the Pacers will have and how they’ll approach it. But, yes, they do need a point guard and Williams could make a huge difference with the pieces they have. Plus, he was playing in Salt Lake City and hasn’t seemed to have been among that group chasing only a major market. Hey, he went to play in Turkey during the lockout. They will be a team to watch as Larry Bird has put together some good pieces.

I find it funny how you and your peers make a living off pure speculation. Keep it up, as I find your basketball knowledge quite entertaining like Noah shooting "J's". A friend always reminds how the Bulls must be the luckiest franchise in the world by winning the rights to draft Rose back in 08. According to him (delusional to the point he thinks the NBA fixed it), it messed up the Heat's plans to have a Rose/Wade backcourt. However, I remind him that it's the Heat that's lucky to have Wade. I tell him that if it wasn't for his astonishing play in the 2003 Final Four, the Heat would have drafted Kirk Hinrich at No.5 and since the Clippers were set on Kaman, Wade would have been a Bull with the No.7 pick. Do I have any legitimacy with that logic, or I'm I just speaking baloney like all of you guys do? David Alfaro

Sam: How could I not respond with such praise and compliments for our craft? Your friend has it right that the Bulls were lucky. But so were the Spurs with Duncan and the Thunder with Durant. It’s what you do with them. The Bulls were certain they had Wade that year as they were on him early and the tournament messed them up. The Heat didn’t have him on their radar as Riley was looking for a big man to replace Zo. They supposedly were going for Bosh or Kaman. At the last minute, Riley’s staffers persuaded him to even consider Wade and he changed his mind. The Bulls were so stunned they almost missed the pick. Miami never was going for Hinrich. The Bulls group in that draft was Hinrich, Mickael Pietrus and Jarvis Hayes. Had Riley taken Kaman, the Clippers were passing on Wade. The Bulls believed until minutes before the pick they had him. Of course, if they did they likely wouldn’t have had a chance to be back in the lottery to get Rose. Which is why you never can look back at what ifs in the NBA.

Anthony Davis is the next Hasheem Thabeet. I wouldn't want to be the team that gets the #1 pick this season as they will be pressured by the fans and media to take 180 pd soak and wet Thabeet clone He's not a franchise player nor will he fill any seats for a team. Bad year to have a #1 unless you are the Bobcats who already have a nice future all-star center in Biyombo. Mike Sutera

Sam: I don’t think I can agree. I never did think much of Thabeet at the time and kept trying to figure out what Memphis saw given how awkward Thabeet was. But Davis is awfully skilled. We’ve all heard the story of the kid who was a guard who grew so much. It’s reminiscent of a sense of Scottie Pippen, who was the manager of his college team as a freshman. Then the growth spurt and the too small kid who played point guard was now a giant small forward with the skills of a 5-10 guy. Davis looks like he could have a perimeter game as well. He’s agile and active and it looks to me like he’s going to be a terrific player. I’m sure you’ll let me know if he’s not.

(ESPN’s) Bill Simmons makes what seems like a solid argument that Oscar (Robertson’s) numbers need to be interpreted in context, and when they are, the luster fades a bit. The most obvious thing is that the pace of the game was twice as fast, there were 120 shots a side a game and not 75.The shooting percentages were less, so the number of rebounds was tremendously more, so Oscar's 10-12 rebounds then, were maybe like 7 or 8 now, and the whole triple double for a season thing kinda fades. Similar for assists and points when there are so many more opportunities. It's like comparing someone on Denver with people on a walk em up team. And then there's the issue of competition. Very few black players in 1962, very few guards anywhere near Oscar's size. Imagine Derek's stats with 120 shots and being guarded by Johnny Egan. It is interesting that as black and bigger players entered the league throughout the sixties, and the game slowed down, Oscar's stats declined. Of course, he got fat, too. I'm disinclined to say anything about the big O, who signed a book for me, donated a kidney, and more, but.....all things, especially statistics, in perspective. What do you think? Sheldon Hirsch

Sam: I think it's nonsense to compare eras and say that things are static and they could not adjust to the game. Who's to say given how great Oscar was he wouldn't do more in an era like this one when there is so much less contact allowed on the perimeter? Maybe he gets 20 free throws a game. The point also is no one came close to doing what Oscar did in his era and there were plenty of the greatest players ever then with Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Pettit, Walt Bellamy, Bill Russell and all those Celtics Hall of Famers, Nate Thurmond, Willis Reed, Lenny Wilkens. Look at it this way given Robertson’s Royals didn’t have a great center—Oscar probably was playing more than half his games against Wilt, Russell, Thurmond and Bellamy, the greatest big men in the game and Hall of Famers. Who s blocking the basket these days? Nene? Zaza Pachulia? Brendan Haywood? Andrew Bynum, Samuel Dalembert, Shelden Williams and JaVale McGee? Sure, there’s Dwight Howard now. But try to find another Hall of Fame big man in the NBA. And given there were nine teams then, the NBA featured elite talent even if there likely was a quota system on black players. Still, look who they were and the influence and how many from the early 1960’s are in the Hall of Fame. Oscar basically went at a Hall of Fame or All-Star guard every game in Guy Rodgers, West, Sam Jones and K.C. Jones, Richie Guerin, Hal Greer and Wilkens. And if getting a triple-double with more possessions was so easy, how come no one else did it? And though Robertson averaged it one season, his first five seasons in the NBA combined he averaged 30.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 10.6 assists. That’s right. If you add all five years, he averaged a triple-double cumulative for five years. And this wasn’t the modern Jason Kidd/Rajon Rondo triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. This was while averaging more than 30 points per game. Yes, the league scoring average was about 15 points per game higher per team. But he was scoring more than 30 a game. And there are more players now averaging more than 20 per game than there were then. So it wasn’t that easy. And he was 6-5 and 225 in an era when no one lifted weights. There never has been another like him.

There are reports that the Bulls management will wait until seasons end to discuss Thibs contract situation. What else does he (Thibs) have to do to get what he deserves; some respect and a fat matching contract to go with it? I’m sorry all he’s done is turn this program around back to dominance and respectability unlike his predecessors. If there were any more proof of his value to this team, don’t go any further than this recent stretch of success while Rose has been out. The guy can coach and his players fight hard for him. Something is telling me that he and someone from management are bumping heads about the direction of the team and\or have personality clashes. Because if that’s not it then what’s the hold up? Armando Zepeda

Sam: Yes, this has bubbled up of late with the ESPN report that Thibodeau is “dismayed” about the process. He rejected that, and Tuesday Bulls GM Gar Forman said they talked before the season and agreed to talk after. I have no doubt—though without any inside knowledge—that they’ll work out some sort of extension after the season. I assume there are issues like whether Thibs plays out the final season on his deal or gets a new one, which is rare in the Bulls organization. Though I’m old fashioned about contracts. I know it doesn’t work that way in sports, but I believe you live up to your deals. I liked the way Jordan handled this. He came back to the Bulls in 1995 with two seasons left. He wasn’t even in the top 20 highest paid. He didn’t ask for an extension. He bet on himself. He said he’d play it out and wouldn’t complain, and he didn’t. Then he got the biggest contract in NBA history because he had the leverage. Thibodeau is such a good coach and he’s not about to lose his luster. I have no idea what he wants to do and what he and the Bulls will do. And my view is the story maybe was a rogue agent or not from Thibodeau. But I don’t see why either side—Thibs for more leverage if he wins and the Bulls with more perspective if he doesn’t—wants to do anything now. I think you get in trouble committing to someone five years out. Times change. If your handyman does a great job on your sink and drains, do you lock him up for five years? I know sports is different, and I have yet to hear any Bulls issue with Thibodeau. And with Derrick Rose extending, this would seem to be a great situation for years to come. I assume they’ll get something done.

Any chance the Bulls are tabling Thib's new contract until after the playoffs to see if they want to go in another direction? While highly unlikely, they do need to keep their options open. If team flames out in first or second round they might look for someone else. Alvin Coleman

Sam: Even if the team is swept in the first round, I expect Thibs to get an extension. OK, maybe not swept, but losing 4-1. Yes, anything can happen. But everything I have heard on a consistent basis is they love the guy and feel great that they hired him. Gar Forman waxed eloquently on Thibs’ coaching again in recent days. Though the Bulls have hired some good coaches over the years, it’s not a specialty. They went through something like 18 candidates before settling on Vinny, and they generally don’t have coaches in reserve like many organizations do. They don’t hire assistants as future interims, like the Knicks did with Mike Woodson. They know they’ve got a good one with Thibodeau and when you’ve got a good one you try to hold on. At the same time, there’s a process to these things. Even Jordan’s extension took time. Yes, sometimes players get angry about the length of time it takes to make a deal. But as the players also like to say, it’s a business. They have shown they’ll leave as free agents and the loyalty is to their personal future, which is fine as those are the rules everyone has agreed to. With Thibodeau, it’s much less surveying the field and seeing if there’s someone better than trying to make the right deal for both parties. Again, I expect as Forman said the other night, it will get done. You’ll notice, Thibodeau isn’t talking about it and doesn’t seem to want it to be a distraction.

For all the people up in arms because the evil brain trust of the Chicago Bulls hasn't given Coach Thibs an extension, let's review some names, shall we? Mike Brown, 2009 Coach of the Year. Fired in 2010. Byron Scott, 2008 Coach of the Year. Fired in 2009. Sam Mitchell, 2007 Coach of the Year. Fired in 2008. Avery Johnson, 2006 Coach of the Year. Fired in 2008. Hubie Brown, 2004 Coach of the Year. Left in 2004. Rick Carlisle, 2003 Coach of the Year. Fired in 2003. Now, Coach Popovich won in 2003. his job is secure. Scott Brooks looks to have broken this trend, and I think Thibs will, too, but why is it such a bad idea to pick up Thibs' option for another year, further verify he's the right guy, and then work out a long-term deal? Why does that make the Bulls a bad organization, as a major sports network seems to paint them? Scott Skiles seemed to be the guy to coach this team, and then his tough approach started to wear on players and he was gone. Is it out of the realm of possibility Thibs could do the same thing? Why is investing $15 million in a four-year extension a better move now when recent history says he is more likely to be fired than see the end of it? Chris Feldman

Sam: And there’s that. Again, I agree that Thibs likely will break that mold. But I suppose you cannot blame the Bulls for looking at recent history, and especially a guy who never was a head coach before, and saying they’ll wait. My guess is they work some sort of extension out. But, sure, they could just pick up the option and play it out as the Mavs have done this season with Rick Carlisle. And that was after he won his first championship. Or Scott Brooks with the Thunder, who also is in the final year of his deal.

How awesome was that press conference after (the Oklahoma City) game. I have to admit I'm a total sucker for the "angry coach" presser. But it seems Thibs is a master of calling out his team, without actually calling out individual players. His answers were so simple yet so revealing: "we win games by doing 3 things 1) Defending 2) Rebounding 3) and keeping Turnovers low" (No way we get that out of Vinny). Gotta love a guy who believes he can win games without a starting pg. With all due respect, part of the reason we turn it over so much is that we don't have D-Rose or a NBA caliber starting PG. I thought we played our butts off against OKC, but they just have more talent and we don't have a PG. Anyway, I hope Jerry Riensdorf isn't cheap and pays the man whats coming to him anyway. Of course that price could go up significantly if the Bulls win the championship (or simply make another deep playoff run) b/c there just aren't enough capable coaches in the league. As Gus Johnson would say "Give that man a contract!!!!". Al Mirza

Sam: Yes, there is that side of the equation as well. It would seem to me it makes the most sense for Thibs to wait and bet on his team and himself for these playoffs and maybe be the first ever back to back to win Coach of the Year. That would be some impressive bargaining power. So maybe it was Thibs who held out before the season about extending. I really don’t know. The Bulls have been in these situations many times before where they waited out a contract—John Paxson as a player, to name one—and then the guy won the final game of the championship and his value increased way beyond what even he was asking for. So it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Every year during March Madness I have the same NBA vs. NCAA argument. I'm one of only two people in my job prefers the NBA, everybody else loves the NCAA. They typically defend college b-ball with points like "more defense," "more teamwork"... these are arguments that I find to be obviously silly and I think I can argue well against them. There was one argument someone made that stopped me in my tracks and it's one on which I'd love to hear your take. One guy said he hated the NBA because it's the only sport where the coverage reads like a gossip column: Gasol feel unwanted, Dwight's working on his brand, Melo is unhappy, Kobe and coach aren't getting along, Odom's sad, etc etc. He hates that so much of the narrative is about the feelings of the actors, and not the game itself. I quickly checked ESPN NFL, MLB, college, golf, and NBA... and indeed, the NBA stories stood out for having a much more frequent focus on feelings vs the game action. My question is: why is that? Has it always been like this? I think he's right that this is a very annoying aspect of the NBA. Alejandro Yegros

Sam: Actually, that always has been one of my favorite things about the NBA and one of the things that attracted me to get involved writing about it. The NBA, more than any sports league, is like life, and especially life in small town America. Well, aside from the salaries. Football is militaristic. Baseball is a remote sport where everyone stands around and watches one guy. They play in small towns in nowhere, U.S. and then come to the majors and are basically overwhelmed as a result and become mostly loners. Basketball kids are the most sophisticated because from the beginning they are playing in the biggest arenas and because of the nature of their uniforms the most recognizable. Because the NBA is relatively small with 12 to 15 players per team but only about seven or eight who matter, everyone is pretty much known. You can’t even recognize a football player when he isn’t wearing his armor. I’m always surprised to see so many baseball players who are bald. Like in a small town because of its size, in the NBA everyone knows everyone and pretty much now more than ever it’s more fraternity with all the pre and postgame hand shaking and greetings. And because of the intimate nature of the game and interpersonal way it’s played, players develop strong opinions about everyone. And because they are so much more independent because of their wealth and sophistication by being exposed to the financial elements early, they tend to talk more about others, classic American small town gossip. Don’t people talk most fondly about those places where everyone knows everyone and what they are doing. That’s the NBA, and what other sport can you get that intimate feeling. Sure, like in the small towns, not all the gossip is true. But it’s generally all fun and part of the fabric of the community. Who doesn’t love gossip? It’s really why it’s the NBA that is America’s game. Who is more like America?

Do you believe Miami’s home record is significant because it indicates that come playoff time, they can't lose at home? I believe that will be huge problem for the Bulls because I think miami is more capable of taking one in Chicago than we are there, effectively taking away our supposed home court advantage. If Miami can't lose at home, don't they have more of a "home court advantage" because they are so good at home and still the more capable team of winning on the road? Kieran Rose

Sam: They are good at home, except when they are not. Playoff games are generally mutually exclusive. The Bulls have won in Miami, and though the Bulls were 36-5 at home last season they lost twice at home in the conference finals. And had a last shot to win in regulation in Miami. The Bulls and Spurs had the best home records last season and didn’t make the finals. Home-court advantage is nice, but it doesn’t guarantee you anything.

Please thank the Bulls for getting blown out so early. I had a lot of yard work to get done. Do you feel that the Bulls missed Derrick’s defense more than his offense? They had nobody who could slow down Westbrook shooting or penetration which caused the rest of the defense to scramble to cover. Westbrook did to the Bulls, what Derek usually does to other teams. I would like to see them in the finals. It would be a great series. Jim Harlan

Sam: Yes, with Rose it would be compelling as they have more overall talent. But the Bulls are more disciplined with a better system and better depth. The networks, though, seem to prefer them with Miami. So it will be up to the Bulls to show otherwise. As for Rose, he did get much better on defense this season. The question will be given the sharp moves required whether he can return to that level or whether he’ll be afraid of tweaking it again and perhaps pace himself on the defensive end.

What are the odds of trading for Steve Nash given the article I recently read saying that he wants to sign a 3 year deal? Imagine a backcourt of Nash at 1 and Derrick at 2. My word that would be incredible to watch. Derrick playing at 2 would free him up a lot, particularly as Nash would demand a lot more defensive attention than Rip/Brewer/Kyle currently do. Not sure what the trade package would look like but I imagine CJ, Brewer, Omer or Taj and some draft picks. I know you don’t like the thought of moving Derrick to the 2 position but would you make this move given the opportunity? Mark Magris

Sam: No. Derrick is a better point guard than Nash and not a shooting guard. So why weaken two positions? Derrick plays best with the ball in his hands, and obviously Nash only lets it go for a scoring play. Plus at 38 and wanting three years, I hardly see that a future for the Bulls. Nash has generally gone for the money so far. My guess is he wants a three-year exception and then maybe play two years. Would Miami do that? New York? I think Toronto would to finish up in Canada, which wouldn’t be bad, if not trying for a title is OK with him. I cannot see any interest from the Bulls.

I don't think Reggie Miller is a Hall of Famer, at least based on his NBA play. The Naismith Hall of Fame includes college and other contributions to the game, so maybe that justifies Miller, but I remember a mediocre defender who couldn't get his own shot off and had underwhelming number of All-Star and All NBA spots. Yes, he was a great shooter but overall just a very good player, not one of the best of all time. When a player makes only 5 All-Star teams and not one as a starter, he is barely among the best of his time. I think a few big games against the Knicks is making people forget his deficiencies. Or am I biased because he was such a whiny jerk on the court? Joe Schwarz

Sam: I think you are basing it too much on Reggie’s act, and it was an act. He was one of the better people I’ve dealt with in the NBA and perhaps more than almost any player I’ve ever known to spend countess off hours visiting kids in hospitals, though only if the media were not informed. Reggie liked to keep his image as the villain. But you don’t get in the Hall of Fame for being a secret good guy. Reggie was statistically one of the best ever three point shooters, the best player on a Finals team and a regular high level contender who kept getting beaten by Michael Jordan. Oscar Robertson never could get past the Celtics. If there’s a great player—and the greatest ever in Miller’s case—in your division, it’s tough to win. Over 18 seasons, Reggie missed four games or fewer 14 times. He was an iron man in his era. He was one of the best free throw shooters ever and the all-time career playoff leader in threes and a career 20-plus playoff scorer in more than 140 playoff games. This was a big time player, and the only surprise was he didn’t get in the first time he was eligible, last year.

We have the CoY, the MVP, 5 future/former all-stars in our starting 5, and the Bench Mob. Do we really need anyone else? No. Do we need to tweak our gameplay? Yes. Don't you think we may have been playing a little bit too slow? I've always thought that if we play another fairly paced team, it's a guaranteed win. If we play fast paced teams, I'd worry. In the past week alone, we got blown out by Denver and Oklahoma, both top 3 statistically in pace. Against Atlanta and Detroit, both fairly slow in terms of pace, we blew them out. A high-pace is possible for the Bulls through Rose and/or Hamilton, but both are injured. Right now, it's only possible when John Lucas gets on a roll, who brought the Bulls up from being down 31 to 14. I am not saying that we should dump our offense that got us to clinch a playoff spot first, but..Don't you think it's time Thibodeau, the great underrated offensive coach that he is, preach pace and develop some fast-paced, minimal passing offense to match up those by teams such as New York (a potential 1st round matchup), Miami (ECF), and Oklahoma (Finals)? Ray Palangan

Sam: I agree and have mentioned over the last two seasons about playing faster. Actually, Thibodeau does talk about it a lot and encourage it. The Bulls would seem to rebound enough to do it, but they don’t outlet that well all the time or have someone rebound and then fire out like Miami does with James. They do push Rose to do it more, but he’ll tend to pace himself early in games. Noah is obviously better that way as he’s not a half court scorer and Boozer has shown some signs of late of running the court. Their passing and movement in the half court has carried them. The issue is turnovers, though. Thibs is a stickler for keeping them down, and a faster game like the Thunder play leads to that and as you note without Rose there’s not actually a true point guard. And against, say, a team like Miami you want to keep them out of transition and in the half court. It’s a tough balance, really, though perhaps we see more when Rose gets back closer to full health.

I must point out that although the Knicks are an up and down team that’s dealing with its fair share of injuries, the Bulls surely should not want to face them in the first round. Even if Amare Stoudamire is less than 100 percent come playoff time, the Knicks are a dangerous opponent for the Bulls when you consider their lack of firepower on offense and the improved Knicks defense. Not saying I’d wager my hard earned money on the Knicks in this series, but the Bulls shouldn’t sleep on my squad. Justin Grant

Sam: I did think the Knicks could be a tough first round opponent for someone given that ability to score. But that was with Stoudemire and Lin. And Baron Davis in a bit better shape. I know they’re saying Stoudemire could be back in a few weeks, but you’ll recall how much of an issue his back was in last season’s playoffs and it didn’t seem like it was as serious as now. It’s difficult to see him at a high level, and it’s been no secret he and Anthony have had some difficulties meshing. But, no, you can’t take them for granted given a guy like Anthony can steal a quarter from you and a game with his scoring. We should get a better idea with a home and home coming up Sunday and Tuesday. The East isn’t exactly loaded this season, which bodes reasonably well for a Bulls/Heat conference finals.

Do you think the Bulls should consider resting Luol Deng a few games before the playoffs start? Reggie Ware

Sam: It will be interesting to see how Thibodeau handles the close of the season and home court. Obviously, the key is those two Miami games. If the Bulls can get a split, they have the inside track on home court. So I suspect then Thibs would ease off the whip. Yes, with Deng second in the league in minutes it would make sense to rest him given Rose and Hamilton have had plenty. The issue will be working those two guys back in with the other players and Thibodeau wanting to create continuity as he playoffs come. So I suspect that last week the minutes come down, but not substantially.

With the Bulls projected to be well into the luxury tax next season (barring major roster changes), what are the rules regarding trades and/or sign and trade agreements for tax-paying teams? Or. Is there a good online resource you can recommend to find this information? Kurt Aim

Sam: There’s a guy who is great with this stuff. His name is Larry Coon and his site of salarycapfaq.com. That’s for frequently asked questions. He’s a private guy not connected with the league, but is as good a cap expert as anyone with the NBA. If you ever have cap questions, use his site. It’s very good.

The truth will hurt, but Russell Westbrook is flat out better than Rose. He is way more under control this year. Less turnovers and is a flat out better jump shooter than Derrick. He is much faster in transition and his defense has gotten ferocious. He jumps passes, he steals and plays with more passion. I actually think the thunder will beat the heat in the finals and I am happy about that!! Kudos to thunder management. They have done a fantastic job. Dan Abdo

Sam: I know this was written right after the loss to the Thunder. Have you taken that deep breath yet?

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