Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 1.04.2013
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Do you think the Bulls are even thinking trades at all? I mean they put together this band aid roster of one year minimum wage players that, aside from Bellinelli, wouldn't even draw attention. A guy like Reddick, who I hear the Bulls have expressed interest in, is gonna cost more than the entire bench right? Who else is even out there that won't cost us our core? And with Derrick out at least another month or so, why even try? Maybe a Calderon expiring contract/back up to Rose for the season?).
Sam: I have a lot of trade ideas, but not many involving the Bulls. Their two most valuable players now are Deng and Noah, and there’s little chance you could get back even equal value either one. Perhaps a player and future picks, and while this is a season to hold the fort until Rose returns, I do believe the Bulls are trying to make the playoffs. Plus, it’s generally not considered a great draft worth giving up either. The name you most hear in speculation is Hamilton. And I suppose someone might want to take a shot, though teams with the cap room to absorb a veteran player like that generally aren’t in contention. Marco Belinelli had a good run as a starter, so maybe you let go Hamilton if you can to give Jimmy Butler more time there. I was talking with a general manager the other day who said if he were the Bulls he’d try to move Hamilton because you shouldn’t be paying the luxury tax when you are not seriously competing, which the Bulls cannot be without Rose. But I’m fairly sure the Bulls would not take back a longer contract for Hamilton given they can buy out Hamilton after this season. I get a dozen or so Boozer trade suggestions every week, but there remains little market for him with $32 million still left on his deal after this season. And he’s been playing pretty well.
What about Carlos Boozer for Marshon Brooks and Kris Humphries?
Sam: I mention this one because when the Bulls signed Boozer the other team making him an offer was the Nets. I know much has changed there since, but Humphries has been coming off the bench and Brooks doesn’t play that much. And Deron Williams, Boozer’s old pick and roll partner from Utah, is there. And Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace are not exactly ideal pick and roll guys for Williams. So if there is a team that might like Boozer you assume it could be the Nets. Though I have not heard of any interest on their part or any discussions. I could see the Bulls doing so to get off that last year of Boozer’s deal. Yes, I know the Nets’ owner supposedly doesn’t worry about money. But that is maybe the biggest luxury tax penalty in NBA history were they to add Boozer’s salary.
What's with all these trade rumors? Everyone is bagging on Booz who I think helps us out a lot. Then Kirk who hasn't been playing as good as I expected.But what I don't get is Luol Deng rumors. He's one of our best players and we talk about trading him for no bodies and Jimmy Butler is good but not a starter yet. The only player I would trade Deng for is Iggy and I don't see that happening any time soon.
Sam: Frankly, I don’t hear any discussion on trading Deng, who is probably as solidly entrenched with the team than ever. They had a bunch of high draft choice offers for him last season and didn’t really take any too seriously. Plus, he has become perhaps the most valuable player and gets 20 points pretty efficiently these days. Because of the loss of the bench players from last season and many short contracts, it doesn’t seem likely the Bulls will be much involved before the trade deadline. Their big addition is Derrick Rose if he can return and give the team any sort of regular production. You wouldn’t get anywhere near that in any trade. I can see some 10-day contract guys coming in, but not much significant more that that.
What are the Bulls chances once Derrick Rose gets back? After all, the Bulls probably have essentially the same talent level that they have had the last two years. Rose could have at least 20 games under his belt by the time the playoffs come around. That should give him enough time to get his confidence and timing back, as well as giving the team enough time to gel together and get used to the new depth-chart and roster combos. Lastly, given the way athletes in recent years have been rebounding from ACL surgery, it doesn't seem all that far-fetched that Derrick will be back to his old self by the playoffs. Given these assumptions, doesn't it seem perfectly reasonable that the Bulls could be at least a somewhat legitimate contender this year?
Sam: I guess in theory, though it’s one question the Bulls do not care to address. They don’t want Rose feeling rushed at all, and my sense is his return could be in stages, playing some, then not playing. And I’m fairly sure they don’t want him pushing himself once the playoffs come and potentially risking something happening. I could even see Rose playing some and then the Bulls shutting him down come playoff time. Part of the reason to come back is to get past the mental hurdles of doing moves and cuts and jumps with his knee again. Not making some sort of heroic challenge as this is the first season on his five-year extension. Everyone seems pretty anxious about how this is going to go.
Given the offensive limitations of the current group, I wonder if it might make sense to run a small lineup occasionally with both Hamilton and Belinelli at the 2/3. Also, Deng is a pretty fair rebounder for a stretch 4. Another helpful tweak would be to have Belinelli essentially playing point when paired with Robinson, because he sees the court better, runs pick and roll well, and moves Nate to his comfort zone as a small 2.
Sam: Thibodeau has taken a look at all of these things this season as he’s played more different rotations and lineups than perhaps in his first two seasons combined. He has strong beliefs about pairing certain guys on the floor to balance offense and defense, and overall I think he’s done a good job with alternative lineups and combinations this season, though he prefers more a half court game.
I know you've never been a fan of the Houston approach to team-building (tear it down, focus on having tradeable assets, bide your time until a star comes along), but it seems to me that's the only way to really get anywhere in the modern NBA. Look at the recent champions outside of LA: Boston tore it down before getting Garnett, Miami before getting Lebron. Even OKC in a way. Houston struck out for a few years on Howard and Gasol, but ended up with Harden. That's because their approach works eventually... or at least better than hanging onto good veterans like the Bulls do and developing internally. So the question is: why not tear the Bulls down Houston-style? What's the argument against getting rid of as many contracts as you can from the current Bulls team outside of D-Rose? Or the better question: isn't that approach proven to be a better one than what the Bulls seem to be following?
Sam: I don’t see the logic here as the Bulls did try that twice, in 2000 and in 2010 in breaking down the team to almost nothing and going for free agents like Houston did. Plus, let’s remember Houston, while much improved, is not quite considered a serious playoff contender yet. The Bulls didn’t get lucky. Miami won with the sales pitch in 2010, but what a disaster that would have been if James didn’t go there and they’d spent two years wasting Wade with virtually no roster. Essentially you cannot do that to Rose: Ask him to be patient while you fish around with loads of cap room and no players. There are different ways to win. Often it is being lucky. Houston was shut out year after year and then Oklahoma City decided they wouldn’t play Harden a max deal. If they did, Houston still wouldn’t be a playoff team. Sure, you can sit around and wait with one year deals, like Dallas is doing. But you don’t always get something. A bunch of teams tried that in the famous 2010 free agency, and only Miami succeeded. The Bulls have some so called assets—I do hate when people are called that—in draft picks and the rights to Mirotic overseas. Perhaps they combine that with someone, though it’s tough to see right now who you could get as the top six scorers in the league are bound to where they are and then you move to players like David Lee and LaMarcus Aldridge, who are nice but hardly a major upgrade over what you have. It’s not fantasy basketball. Once you pay them you generally have them for awhile.
What’s your take on Kirk getting so many minutes? To me he clearly didn’t have anything going, on either end, yet he played 31 minutes against Memphis. Conley repeatedly torched him, even though Kirk was giving his best. I kept hoping he’d go with Marquis to slow Conley down a bit in the third, and even with Kirk healthy, I’d like to see him more into the rotation, if anything just for his defense. Kirk’s best years are clearly behind him at this point, so realistically what do you think the next couple years look like? Although I think he can be a good backup to Derrick, that’s really about it, as he’s no longer a starting-level.
Sam: This is where I defend Hinrich and get attacked on social media, whatever that exactly is. The problem with society now is too many people other than me have a voice. The Bulls wanted Kirk especially because he could play point now and evolve into a third guard also playing some shooting guard when Rose returns. I think it’s pretty clear the Bulls play so much better when he’s in. You see guys getting better shots and the offense actually going somewhere. Good for Nate getting his guarantee. Though he’s hardly ideal as a point guard since he isn’t actually one, he can score when he’s hot and get his own shot, elements the Bulls need. But you see like against Orlando when Hinrich went out their guards went off against Nate. Not like Nate isn’t trying, but the Bulls function the best with Hinrich at point with this group. Though I will stop short of voting him league MVP.
Would sending back that very popular, yet useless protected first round pick from the Bobcats be a bad idea for Gerald Henderson?
Sam: I hardly think Charlotte would be interested for maybe their best player. Anyway, knowing they could lose that pick, the Bobcats got the Pistons No. 1 in 2016 in the offseason Ben Gordon trade. So they’re OK with that draft and no longer desperate. Sure, they would look bad if that turns out to be a top three pick. But there’s still a chance the Bulls get it before then as making the playoffs in the East isn’t exactly a Herculean task. As I get asked every few weeks about that pick, here again are the details: The Bobcats' pick is top-12 protected in the next draft, top-10 protected in 2014, top-eight protected in 2015 and unprotected in 2016.
We've run through a pretty rough stretch here the last few games against Atlanta and Houston. Realistically, what do you think the breaking point is with management? Should that point be reached who do you think goes? Will it be Thibs? Some combination of players? I'm really attached to the team as it is right now but I'm beginning to wonder if Thibs has enough of an offensive repertoire. The idea of Jerry Sloan keeps creeping in.
Sam: A two-game losing streak? They at least gave Mike Brown five games in L.A. No, there will be no panic this season and no major changes. Thibs is really doing a terrific job with all the injuries thrown at him. There was some fatigue last week, but the team continues to compete hard and be in basically all the games even with the occasional stinker, like Charlotte. Thibs will be here for a long time. So the players better stay in good shape.
I'm writing this straight after watching the Bulls lose to Charlotte on New Year's Eve. In my mind, it was the worst performance of the Thibodeau era, bar none. I was genuinely ashamed of the way they played. Looking back over the last four games (bad losses to Atlanta and Houston, a tougher win than necessary against short-handed Washington, and a disgraceful loss to the Bobcats), I'm starting to wonder something: do you think maybe the players are struggling to play for Tom Thibodeau right now? We all know he's a demanding coach who pushes his guys extremely hard and expects a lot. But given the physical and emotional toll of playing without Derrick, not to mention the changes in personnel that have obviously messed with team chemistry, is Thibs asking too much of his guys? Are they starting to lose focus and struggling to respond to him and his system? It's strange, because (most of) the New York game was so good, and that wasn't all that long ago. But something has changed. They're just not themselves right now and haven't been properly ready to play. Surely part of that has to fall on the coach.
Sam: This comes under the can’t win them all and stuff happens. You know, sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes the nail. The favorite theme with Thibs is when the Bulls lose the players play too much. I noticed LeBron played about 90 minutes the last two games. It seemed OK as they won. I have come more to side with Thibs on this one. These are the best, most well conditioned athletes in the world. But that doesn’t guarantee they’ll make their shots all the time. It seems to me when you are in better condition you are less likely to get injured. Yes, Noah averages 40 minutes. But 20 guys in the NBA average over 37. Is there that much difference? The Bulls got a nice road win against Orlando, who took the Heat to overtime. Do they seem less tired now? Coaches, as the saying goes, get too much credit when they win and too much blame when they lose. But those seven figure salaries are a nice cushion. I prefer to base more on the players. Thibs was saying during those losses last week it was his fault. It was the players’ fault, as it was to their credit when they rebounded against the Magic. Because I know all 700 plays Thibs has in his coaching book end with scores.
After surprising my Bulls-fan wife with tickets to the game and an overnight stay in a nice Indy hotel for Christmas, I spent 8 hours in the car driving from my Illinois home to Indianapolis for the Bulls/Pacers game on December 26. A quick public service announcement, Indianapolis does not view 6 inches of snow the same way Chicago does. Not only did I arrive at my hotel only to immediately find out the game was postponed, but I was also surprised to discover that almost every restaurant downtown was closed due to the weather. When is the last time the Bulls postponed a game in Chicago due to snow? It just never dawned on me that this was a possibility. Lesson learned the hard way!
Sam: I have to admit I didn’t get that one as the teams and the officials were there and the snow had pretty much let up. But we know Hoosiers are not as tough as Chicagoans. Heck, I think the only team the U. of Illinois beats is Indiana. The Bulls have had six games cancelled in their history, the last in 2000 when Bobby Phills died in a car crash after practice. They had a game cancelled in 1986 because of fog as they weren’t able to fly back in during the era when they still used commercial airlines. They had four home games cancelled because of snow, two in the great 1967 blizzard and then in the blizzards in 1978 and 1979, which were some of the biggest ever and got Jane Byrne elected. Which made for four of the most bizarre and entertaining years even for Chicago politics. I don’t think anyone in Indiana came out of their houses that year until July.
What do you think of Scalabrine's comments on Waddle and Silvy regarding Asik and Mirotic? He essentially said that Omer is a guy that can "move the needle" (meaning put a team into championship contention), while Mirotic is not. All White Mamba jokes aside, Scal made a lot of sense and he did work closely with Omer, so I'm inclined to believe him. The Omer saga is over and I have accepted that (hindsight yadda yadda), so my concern is more that Mirotic, despite his standing in the Euroleagues, will not live up to the hype of a poor man's Kukoc or Dirk. Perhaps he is more valuable as a trade than as a Boozer replacement.
Sam: Surely it is a risk and no one can truly say until he plays against NBA competition. But for the same reasons you say I doubt there is high level interest in him in trade given there is no certain date for him coming to the NBA and we haven’t seen him enough against NBA players. So for now it’s a Bulls risk. Yes, Asik is very good as we have seen. Would he have gotten that chance playing behind Noah? I doubt it. Were the Bulls trading Noah to open up space for Asik? I doubt it. For now, Mirotic isn’t worth enough to include in a trade. He’s a Bulls IRA in a sense. It’s a penalty to cash in now.
Whatever happened to the Birdman? I mean he sucked, but there hasn't been a lot of attention on the result of his child pornography case.
Sam: He hasn’t been charged with anything that I know of after he was cut by the Nuggets following reports of an investigation involving pornography. In any case, he did sit out two years in a drug suspension and given even the hint of scandal he wasn’t really good enough to take that risk and publicity on. Yes, it’s not fair sometimes, but it is based on what you can do for the team. No one wants to explain that one for a 10th man.
How come the Bulls get a free pass on trading Lamarcus Aldrige for Tyrus Thomas? It's clear things eventually worked out, but Aldrige for Tyrus has got to be one of the most lopsided trades in Bulls history. How do you think things would have played out had they kept him? Deng, Aldrige, Gordon, and Hinrich.
Sam: I don’t see where they got a pass as I thought for awhile Tyrus’ real name was Tyrus Thomas Who Was Traded for LaMarcus Aldridge. Sometimes you miss. Check the top five or 10 of every NBA draft and you’ll find plenty of misses. I don’t know how the final decision went, but I recall in that era fans were killing the team because they never took chances on great athletes and kept picking these good citizen guys like Hinrich, Deng and Gordon and not some spectacular athlete who might be a problem. I don’t know if that pushed them toward Tyrus, but you can be sure there are regrets. Though it’s hardly scientific, the Bulls can claim had they not made that mistake they’d never have Rose. That lineup, as it’s basically been for Portland with Aldridge, has been good enough to just make the playoffs and lose in the first round. Which it likely would have been for the Bulls, which would mean they wouldn’t have gotten the lottery shot at Rose. Though I don’t believe they planned it quite that way. I was for Brandon Roy in that draft, and while he had some good years he’s basically retired now. Or again. Interestingly, fans and media have grown frustrated with Aldridge in Portland, saying he’s not physical and a jump shooter and urging the team to trade him.
The Clippers 17 in a row is impressive no matter who they're playing. (And incredible! considering it's the Clippers.). However, I did notice tonight, that they played none of the Great Eight teams (one's with .667 winning percentage or higher), during that streak. They'll start playing those top level teams again Wednesday night when they face Golden State, then 5 of next 11 against great 8 teams plus games against rising Lakers and Rockets. Then we'll truly see where they stand against the best.
Sam: And that’s two straight losses. There goes Vinny’s and Chris Paul’s coach of the year award. Though they are good.
If J.R. Smith opts out of his contract, is there any chance the Bulls could sign him? He's athletic, can create his own shot, and has even been playing some defense this year. He's only making $2 million this season, but what kind of money would he be offered in free agency after this season when he's averaging 16 a game off the bench?
Sam: Of course, there’s a chance. Though as much playing time as he gets and how well he’s done, unless someone goes well above the exception—and that’s all the Bulls could offer—you’d think he’d stay as he seems to have calmed down quite a bit and looks like he’s comfortable with Anthony.
With them not happy in their current organizations, Eric Gordon and DeMarcus Cousins, could you see a way the Bulls could work out a deal to acquire either player? Eric Gordon is the 2 guard we have been lacking since Ben left and DeMarcus has the talent to become the premier big man in the league. The Bulls have a lot of good assets that packaged together I think could be intriguing to either team. I don't like the idea of hoping for a good 2014 free agency, these players would be available given the right offer.
Sam: Well, I have not heard anything quite yet to suggest either is being traded. Plus, it likely would take someone like Noah to get a player like that. I don’t sense the Bulls are big fans of Gordon, who is a mercurial character in declaring his love for Phoenix after New Orleans paid him $56 million and then disappearing for a year with a knee injury that didn’t need surgery. He seems like a major risk and as a small two guard he doesn’t much fit the way Thibodeau likes to play. As for Cousins, it certainly would take at least Noah as the Kings don’t have another center. And I don’t see where the Bulls would take the risk of a guy with multiple suspensions already for a hustling, committed player like Noah.
I'm going to assume we're going to keep hovering around the .500 mark for the rest of the season, but if they go below, at what point would the Bulls hit the panic button? I read somewhere that there is an MIT basketball conference where they determined the best positions to have filled in the NBA is a versatile small forward who can hit the three, and a defensive center who can block shots. So are you still getting Deng/Noah trades?
Sam: Mostly Boozer, of course. Unless the Bulls get more major injuries, they should be good enough to make the playoffs in the East. So I don’t see any panic this season, even if something else major occurs. If it does, like injuries to Deng and Noah and no reservations at the Four Seasons hotel, I assume they’d write the season off that way. You only trade from strength, not desperation. And there were hardly great hopes this season without Rose. As for that conference, I never get invited because it’s basically for guys who don’t like watching basketball.