Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 11.23.2012
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I'm not ready to give up on him yet, but why aren't any Bulls fans calling for Thibs' head like we do for Boozer's? I'm getting really tired of knowing exactly what he is going to do in every game. Are all coaches this predictable or is it because i watch him much more often? I could've told you Nazr was finally gonna stop getting minutes in this Houston game. I could've told you he's was gonna lean Jimmy even if Marco played decent minutes. I could've told you he would leave Deng in the game even if Deng was playing terrible and would pull basically any other player out of the game for being that useless. What I've seen this season is players playing mostly how i expected them to and Thibs not being innovative enough to make the game easier for them. I waited until after this Rockets game specifically because i knew he would make adjustments and we would still have the same results. Marco could’ve been a big help(or a least more than he was) in that game and iI don't blame him for struggling as a Bull. I blame Thibs for not being able to put him in the right spots, rotation-wise and spacing-wise. With a veteran team like this you can blame a couple bad games on the players but when every game is a struggle, you have start rethinking the system. I could've told you this would be the season where Thibs develops into a more well rounded coach or makes you rethink his ability to win us a championship.
Sam: Weren’t you one of the guys blasting the Bulls a few weeks ago for not giving Thibodeau an extension soon enough? Though I have to say you have been patient giving him three weeks with seven new players. The fun of sports, except for perhaps those being second guessed, is the ability to second guess. Because of Rose’s injury and the new financial rules, Thibodeau is working with a changed roster, a quarter of whom are basically minimum salary players. He’s stubborn, sure, but so is every other coach I’ve ever seen. He is constantly prepared and I’ve yet to see a single issue with the team of guys not playing hard or anyone embarrassing the team or being a distraction. That suggests leadership from the coach. Actually, Thibodeau has been more flexible this season than usual in varying from set rotations, which he hadn’t done much in previous seasons. But he’s had to. We all differ with substitutions and situations, but that’s why sports is more art than science. I still don’t get most modern art. I’d say we need to give Thibs at least another 11 games into the five years left he has on his Bulls contract.
Since the Bulls gave Thibs a 4 year extension on top of the option they picked up for this year, it is safe to assume he will be coaching here for at least the next 3 years. Was this wise? There is no questioning the success he has had the previous 2 years, but when you consider where the Bulls are at right now, I am not sure if he can develop younger players which might be the only way the Bulls are able to compete in the near future. Given the salary cap situation and the questions surrounded how good Rose will be when he returns, giving him 5 years was probably a little excessive especially if you are looking at Mirotic and draft picks in the future to be the new springboard back to the top. Good coach with veterans, but the jury is still out on developing younger players.
Sam: I haven’t really seen any coaches who develop young players in the NBA. Because if you do you basically would for the next coach. Look at Utah, for example. They seem in perfect position to do that with a great young front court, but Ty Corbin keeps playing veterans big minutes, even ones who are free agents. The NBA is about winning, and Thibs gives the Bulls the best chance of winning games. Plus, it’s not like there are a lot of great coaches out there. If you’ve got a good one you stick with him, and the Bulls signaled that in their extension.
Rose shouldn’t come back, this team as of now doesn’t look like it will get better and will miss playoffs. How did the spurs get Tim Duncan? I think the Bulls should have Rose sit and maybe same thing could happen.
Sam: Is Duncan in this draft, too?
Looking thru the Bulls roster, it's obvious they lack any real trade assets other than Noah and/or Deng. That said, I don't see any big trades to help the Bulls this year or for the future. However, one thing I think could help the Bulls now and in the long run is changing their lineup. We've seen how productive the Knicks and Heat have been going small, so what do you think about the Bulls going with a starting lineup of Rose (once healthy), Kirk, Rip, Lu, and Noah. The only way teams like Memphis have beaten the Heat and Knicks is by pounding them down low.
Sam: That’s obviously months away, and we hardly know if at all Rose plays this season. There suddenly was talk after the Houston game of changing the starting lineup, which no one really ever suggested. And obviously doesn’t make sense given the Bulls first quarters have been fine. Thibs has gone small, and it is something we’ve seen more of. Heck, even the NBA advocated it with eliminating center positions on the All-Star ballot. He gave Taj Nazr Mohammed’s minutes against the Rockets, and I can see more of that. I thought early in the season the Bulls might use Hinrich more with Nate to have two ballhandlers in the backcourt, though Nate has been shooting more than facilitating. Lu has defended two, three and four already this season and will play some power forward, though given your point you also can see why Thibs still is experimenting with lineups.
If the original starting 5 are leading in the first quarter then, go back to the starting 5 before the game ends.
Sam: Hey, why didn’t I think about that? Or Thibs? I suspect we may see more of that given the offensive lapses down the stretch. But the Bulls have had a lot of success the last two years going with defenders down the stretch with Gibson, Brewer, Asik, etc. Yes, they had that Rose kid. And now they don’t.
Help me see Kirk Hinrich as you do. Was it me, or did he stink up the game against the Rockets? I thought he'd dominate a "defensively-challenged, turnover-waiting-to-happen" Jeremy Lin. You've always praised him, and I like him for certain things, but I just don't see him being nearly as good you see him. That said, i do think he'll be a great asset when Derrick returns.
Sam: I don’t see anyone better. I think we all understand by now that Robinson is not enough of a point guard to facilitate what the others can contribute. Nate’s valuable, and can change games in short bursts. But the Bulls need Kirk. They need him to shoot a little better, of course. And I know he will. But you can see he’s pressing given the responsibility. Kirk doesn’t say much, but he knows he’s replacing the MVP point guard of the league and is so important to the team. He gets down on himself when he performs badly, and that can make it worse at times. I still think he’s done a lot of good things, but he’s also been in and out of the game as Thibodeau searches for combinations. I still believe he was an important pickup, but remember he’s barely played the last two seasons given injuries, limited playing time and changing systems. I believe he’ll justify my faith.
These games are becoming tough to watch but nonetheless interesting.
Sam: Again, I know fans prefer wins. Players and coaches as well, I believe. But the Bulls have mostly been right there down the stretch in all the losses but the Clippers’. As Phil said, it’s a journey and we should enjoy that part. Which was easier for him to say with Michael and Kobe, of course.
What's happened to Luol Deng's off the ball cutting? I remember this used to be one of his greatest assets and how he would get most of his scores. And I even recall Thibs being most impressed with this aspect of his game. If he was so impressed why not run more of it for Luol given our scoring troubles of late?
Sam: It’s a good point, though Lu still does move within the offense and they still run the same plays. But Robinson doesn’t see the floor much. It’s an old flaw in the NBA and really in all sports: Teams try to make players what they need instead of accepting what they are. You just don’t create point guards. They either are or aren’t. Hinrich is OK, but he’s been in and out of the lineup with injuries and then his shooting slump. It’s obvious Thibs is trying to figure this out and see what works, and who expects him to after 11 games with seven of the 12 players new? Ok, but other than all the fans. But Lu, you are right, has backed off some. He’s a guy who will try to give you what you need to win, and without Derrick and Thibs going with so many defensive lineups, I think he feels more a need to create scoring on his own. It’s not his strength, but he’s tried. After all, with one of the common lineups Thibodeau is using with Deng, Noah, Gibson, Robinson and Butler who exactly are you going to for a score? Nate’s got the ball, so he’s not seeing Lu. So Lu ends up trying more individual stuff. Maybe we see a bit more of Marquis Teague, but at his best he’s really a scoring point. We’ll call it work in progress thus far.
I’m a little worried with our start, but I’m not seeing such a strong East. What do you think?
Sam: I guess the next best thing to being good is being not so good and not having anyone else that great. That seems to be the situation in the East, and I’m not all that surprised. Miami clearly seems the class of the conference not unlike when the Bulls dominated in the '90s because the Bulls had the best player. Miami does now. I know the Knicks have a better record, and they have played well. Their defense is better, but just OK. They don’t rebound well, but they take care of the ball, cause turnovers and make threes. That’s a delicate balance, and we’ll see what happens when Stoudemire returns. I thought the Celtics would be a clear No. 2, but their size problems seem fatal. The Pacers can’t score, the 76ers don’t have Bynum and the Nets don’t defend much. The East still looks wide open after No. 1. Heck, the Bobcats are now tied for third. Who predicted six wins before February?
I'm surprised by the criticism of coaches who play quality players extended minutes. While it is true that extended minutes can lead to fatigue and injury it also promotes physical conditioning. If Thibs, as you mention, limits rigorous scrimmages, then extended minutes may provide the most practical opportunity for increasing the conditioning of our best players.This should be particularly beneficial during close 4th quarter contests as well as play-off games in which starters typically do receive extended minutes. Is there a case to be made that a heavy work load can benefit teams by improving the conditioning of the most influential players?
Sam: I’m not among those who see it as a major issue. It’s a common one among fans, though I like to kid Deng and Thibodeau about it. Thibodeau gets a bit defensive with the second guessing, but there’s little proof fatigue causes injury. The case always can be made when someone misses shots short in the fourth quarter that they are tired. Which doesn’t always explain all those early missed shots. As Thibodeau likes to point out, Jordan routinely was a 40-minute player during the Bulls prime, and it didn’t seem to affect his late game play. Same with guys like Kobe and LeBron. The Bulls do scrimmage less than most teams, so fatigue should not be an issue as much, and I think Deng is well past that. Noah has had issues in the past with conditioning, but you may be right that it is helping him this season, though he faded late against the Rockets. I always come back to these are the world’s greatest athletes. Which is why I never much write about that fourth game in five nights excuse. They travel in incredible leisure and rarely if ever pick up a bag. They’re mostly kids, and what kid wants to sit out. The Bulls problem is more that Thibodeau can’t seem to figure yet who are his best players so he can play them more.
I watched part of the Lakers-Kings contest Wednesday (11/21) and I was simply aghast at how stiff D-Howard looked on the defensive end. Chuck Hayes in particular completely got by him for a baseline floater in the fourth with little resistance. I recognize he is generating All-Star quality numbers, but he still seemed rather injured to me.
Sam: Well, he did have back surgery and only is working his way back now. So, yes, he’s not supposed to be what he was. The bigger issue may be what he becomes once Steve Nash returns and the Lakers supposedly go to a high tempo game which I’m not sure Kobe Bryant would much care for.
What was the true reason the Bulls let Ronnie Brewer go? It couldn't be cap space, he signed with New York for the minimum. Why didn't the Bulls want him back?
Sam: You got it. He wore No. 11 and they wanted to free up that number in case they decided to retire it for former No. 11 wearers Lindsey Hunter and Dalibor Bagaric. I’ve explained this some before. Under the new labor agreement in order to have the larger non-taxpaying exception to sign a point guard in Kirk Hinrich they needed to get under the tax threshold, which meant not picking up the options of Watson and Brewer and trading Korver to a team with cap space. The Bulls would have loved to have had him back at that minimum. Brewer had an option for $4.7 million for this season. Because the Bulls didn’t pick it up, he said the heck with them, as did Watson in also signing for a minimum. It was more that if you didn’t want me at what you were paying me before, I was not coming back for a pay cut. Even though they’d take one from someone else. It’s a very human emotion, but too bad for the Bulls as Watson did the same and they’d have loved to have had him back given he signed with the Nets for essentially the same as Robinson signed with for the Bulls.
Rick Adelman. Hall of Fame coach?
Sam: It’s one you don’t think of, but I’d say yes. He’s getting more than 1,000 wins, and generally NBA coaches have a harder time with the Hall of Fame. The reason is so many have to take over poor teams some time in their careers, which reduces their records and winning percentages. Adelman has done that now with the Timberwolves, though he’s at 60 percent overall and has taken two Portland teams to the Finals and just barely missed with the Kings. But guys like Bill Fitch get overlooked because of running up so many losses because unlike college coaches they don’t get to schedule their games. For many college coaches—though certainly all—they have to actually coach about six games a year and still win 20 games. Between the bozos they line up preseason and the bad conference teams, a decent recruiter generally walks into 20-plus wins.
I keep reading about how Jimmy Butler is seen as a defensive specialist, and that he won't contribute much offensively and I just don't get it. I watched Jimmy throughout college at Marquette, and he was the team's leading scorer for a couple seasons. I know the pace and such is different between college and the pros, but I also don't think he's forgotten how to score. How come Butler couldn't also be a solid contributor offensively, especially with the scoring issues from the Bulls bench right now.
Sam: I think he can be better, but sometimes players come to see themselves in the roles spelled out for them by the team. Jimmy’s was as a defender and he was basically told that’s how he’d get on the court. So he did that and stayed away from offense. He worked on it, but he’s been shy about shooting. He’s come on some and looked more for his shot the last few games. Still, he’s been reluctant to shoot threes. Thibodeau has given him more time at shooting guard, and while he makes some spectacular follow shots, he doesn’t help spread the floor. So the Bulls spacing breaks down when they have a lineup like they finished with against the Rockets with Butler, Gibson, Noah, Deng and Robinson. Plus, the Bulls are 29th in the league in three point shooting at a pathetic 28.5 percent. So teams are squeezing the court and daring them to make threes. Thus the middle closes and they end up shooting a lot of bad jump shots like they did against the Rockets.
Will Jimmy Butler compete in the dunk contest? It looks like he enjoys those putbacks and breakaways.
Sam: He does make some spectacular putback plays, but I’m not sure the league office knows who he is yet.
Is it too early to suggest the Bulls management made a minor miscalculation in providing Gibson the contract extension instead of Asik? I know the Gibson extension has a kind of “feel good” story to it but would the Bulls have been better served to pair Rose with a mini-twin towers approach with Asik and Noah in the front court? The luxury that front court gives you is it provides the opportunity to focus on offensive minded players on the wing to fill the rotation out. Furthermore, it’s never been about this year anyway so maybe in the interim you rotate Asik, Noah and Boozer and you could have shopped Gibson in the off-season for some offensive help or draft picks? I don’t think Gibson’s a bad player by any means. He'll be a valuable, productive rotation player, if not starter, and I understand he’s also in a slump. But having Rose with two young, active, defensive minded seven footers in their prime, no less, would have had the makings of a dangerous team, especially to the Heat.
Sam: This obviously will be discussed endlessly. But it just mostly comes down to the Bulls being caught in a collective bargaining loophole the league missed that allowed Houston to backload with that $15 million third season when Asik would be second highest paid player to Rose and still not starting. I suppose they could have signed everyone and worried about it later, but as you say it’s not about this season. So why spend all that money now and perhaps limit what you can do later? Everyone liked and wanted to keep Asik. Everyone knew he was good, the Bulls more than most as they went after him following Portland drafting him as a future project. But sometimes the small print gets you.
Earlier on the trip, the Bulls have involved Boozer more, and he's had more than 20 and 10 in both contests. Last season Bulls fans looked at Boozer's 15 points per game and were disappointed, but the real issue wasn't Boozer's abilities (his efficiency from midrange and in the paint were both among the best in the league), it was that he wasn't receiving enough opportunities. I did a bit of research to see how Boozer performed last season when he actually received as many opportunities as a No. 2 scorer should. Arguably the best 2nd option of all time (or at least in Bulls history) Scottie Pippen averaged about 16 shots per game from 1990-98, so I used that as a standard for about how many shots a 2nd scorer like Boozer should get. It turns out that last year in games where Boozer took at least 15 shots, he averaged 21 points on 56% shooting, compared to 12.6 points on 52% shooting when he shot fewer than 15 times. Also, Boozer averages over 10 rebounds per 36 minutes in his career. I firmly believe that if Boozer is utilized correctly, as a second scorer and not as a role player (ala Luol Deng under Vinny Del Negro), he can be the 20-10 player that he was in Utah.
Sam: Yes, the eternal Booz debate, though as many would be quick to tell you, They know Scottie Pippen and Carlos Boozer is no Scottie Pippen. Boozer usually gets the hook for his defense, which is the priority of the coach. Boozer might be better with someone like Mike D’Antoni, though he’s a better coach on defense that given credit for. But Thibodeau is going to have to make some tough decisions for himself the way the offense has stumbled late in games and maybe ride Boozer more than he cares to at times. Perhaps he should just look away if he considers the view hideous.
After watching the Clips dismantle the Bulls with relative ease, and likewise watch them do the same with the heat the other night, I have to ask, how did Vinny get so lucky? In all seriousness, why aren't the Clippers being mentioned among the championship contenders? They've got a really strong, deep roster that's only going to get better when Billups and Hill return from injury. Having watched the Lakers and the Clippers, I fail to see how you couldn't make the case the latter have a much better chance at hoisting gold at season's end.
Sam: I think the league is taking notice—the name and history work against them and you have to prove yourself more—but they look and seem legit. Now Vinny has to be able to handle the depth, which was a big issue for him with the Bulls as Deng had something of a two-year paid vacation.
Do you think Taj Gibson has reached his ceiling? I use to be the one to say Taj should be starting but it is becoming more apparent he will never be a consistent 10 and 10 guy. Has he reached it or is his development being stunted coming off the bench as oppose to starting somewhere ala Omer Asik's hot start?
Sam: That was one of the questions regarding Taj given he was such an old rookie, coming out of college when he was 24. So it was less likely he’d have farther to go than someone like Teague coming to the Bulls at 19. I’m not sure if signing the contract and worrying about living up to it is an issue or worrying before about whether he would. Taj started slowly. He’s come on some, and I expect he’ll get more backup center minutes to come. But you’re not looking at a 20/10 guy and perhaps no more than a solid third forward, which is fine for what the Bulls paid him. Though I don’t think the Bulls ever had visions for him as a big time starter the way some fans did. They made a good low first round pick and I’m sure remain pleased with what Taj has done in his career.
What are the chances the Bulls sign Korver next season?
Sam: I suppose it’s possible as he is a free agent and he liked playing for the Bulls. The only players under contract for next season are Rose, Noah, Boozer, Deng, Gibson, Hinrich, Butler and Teague. So I expect five new players again, and Mirotic isn’t coming until at least 2014-15. So there will be more additions and certainly not enough shooting in that group.
I'm starting to watch the Bobcats now in the hope they make the playoffs (looking good) and we get that 15th'ish pick from them don't we?
Sam: I haven’t heard that one much from the Bulls, who I assume have been hoping that pick extends out and they get it unprotected. But, yes, the East is wide open and while we still don’t expect the Bobcats to hang on to a playoff spot, if they were to make the playoffs the Bulls would get the pick. And then with their own and maybe a player they would be in position to deal next summer and add someone in addition to that $5 million trade exception from the Korver deal. So, yes, they could make some moves next summer, but there doesn’t look like much change coming for now.
CDR (Chris Douglas-Roberts) recently went off in his D-League debut with an astounding 49 point 8 assist 7 rebound night. Although those stats are a bit padded (triple OT & D-League competition) would the bulls have any play in acquiring him? The non-existent play of Marco leaves me itching to find someone more productive.
Sam: I’m not down on Belinelli as he hasn’t had enough time and shots. Shooters go through slumps. You don’t break out with three shots. Kobe gets that in a minute. Though now that the Bulls have the financial maneuverability to add another player, you can start the guessing game. The problem is position. You could make a case for just about every position, though it would have to be someone of a reasonably veteran level. The Bulls could use another big guy, another ball handling guard and a scorer. Though at this point in the season and for minimum salary you hardly are going to get guys who’ll make an impact. This is third string quarterback stuff available, and you know where that gets teams.
Who was a bigger contributor to the team, Bill Cartwright or Joakim Noah?
Sam: Bill. No offense to Noah, who is productive and fills up more columns in the box score. But Cartwright was the elusive final piece. It was much chronicled back then how much Jordan opposed the trade for Charles Oakley. Though when the Bulls won the title in 1991, Jordan privately went to management and said they were right and Cartwright was the final piece the way he defended the East’s big guys, like Patrick Ewing and James Edwards. Plus, and this was rarely understood about Cartwright, he was the team leader. Jordan, of course, was the most important figure. But he wasn’t a leader given his challenging or taunting ways with teammates. Pippen was too reticent. The players called Cartwright, “Teach.” He’d be more likely to convene a team meeting or speech, especially since when players or coaches were doing that Jordan often went to the toilet.
Most predictions for the Bulls this season has been a realistic .500 record. What if they get lucky, what's the best case scenario?
Sam: 42-40? I think that’s what some are overlooking in this 5-6 start. They were generally supposed to be around .500 without Rose, and then if Rose were to return and look good maybe get up to 47 or 48 wins and go from there. The Rockets won a title after a midseason shakeup and 47 wins in 1995. No, I’m hardly suggesting that. But you lose a lot of close games when you are a .500 type team, and the Bulls appear right on schedule.
Now that OJ Mayo is producing the way everybody was expecting him to after that rookie season (averaging 21.8 ppg, the 7th-highest scoring average in the league, it's sure looking like he's about to get a great deal this summer, on his way to very possibly a handful of All-Star appearance. Yes, maybe we couldn't have necessarily anticipated such awesomeness, but wasn't it worth doing our due diligence to pursue a player with this much obvious talent who still average double Kirk Hinrich's scoring average last season in limited minutes? Courtney Lee has been shooting significantly better than Hinrich (40% for Lee vs. an absolutely deplorable 29.6% from the field), but losing out on time due to his current status as a defensive sieve. So why did there not feel to be a stronger push for these younger options. Also, why are Mickael Pietrus and Kenyon Martin still free agents? Why has no team tried to pick them up at the league minimum? Would one of these two players be something the Bulls could explore instead of the significantly inferior Kyrylo Fesenko or Marko Jaric.
Sam: Now there’s a classic second guess given Mayo shot 40.8 percent last season and Memphis benched him for Tony Allen. Dallas got Mayo because they dumped their team after they won a championship, so they had plenty of cap room because they no longer were playing to compete for a title. The Bulls were playing to compete, so they didn’t have cap room. So Mayo went where he could get more opportunities, and smart of him. But the larger point is they are not point guards. That’s what the Bulls needed. They already had Hamilton on the books for $4 million. Another shooting guard with all their cap room didn’t make sense. There’s an old story about the Mets first expansion pick in 1962. They took Hobie Landrith, a low performing backup catcher with the Giants. Reporters asked manager Casey Stengel why he picked him. Casey said if you didn’t have a catcher the ball would roll all the way to the backstop. If you had only shooting guards and no one to get them the ball they wouldn’t get any shots.