Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 12.28.2012
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What are your thoughts on the Avery Johnson termination? Do you think Williams had a big factor on this, similar to Sloan's situation in Utah? Also do we know if Sloan is interested in coaching again? If so, which team(s) do you think would be the best fit for him?
Sam: Now that would be cool if they hired Sloan. No, I don’t think so. Williams had everything to do with this, which seems fairly obvious from his comments last week that questioned Avery Johnson’s system. Of course, since Williams is the point guard you’d think he could do something about it. Plus, it wasn’t exactly a system they were playing in New Jersey, but a lot of one-on-one initiated by Williams. I thought the Nets would be a good team this season, and perhaps still might given what is a talented, if not great, starting lineup. But it’s clear Williams has become a major detriment, a locker room lawyer poisoning the atmosphere now against a second coach. He had everything to do with Sloan leaving no matter what you might hear from the Jazz, Sloan or Williams. He still has value and there’s always a team that thinks they can change guys. So maybe if you are the Nets you see what he can bring. I assume it still would be a lot. He’s always been one of the more difficult people to deal with in the NBA, condescending and selfish. But now that he’s essentially quit on two coaches you wonder what is next. As for Sloan, yes he’d like to coach again but seems to be waiting for a certain opportunity. Though as you approach 70 it may not come.
So Avery Johnson is fired now. I didn't realize Deron Williams was a good enough player to get rid of multiple coaches. They are going to gauge Phil Jackson's interest. Deron Williams does not fit the bill for that type of point guard. Really, who is out there that is a better option.
Sam: I assume they are asking Deron.
Do you think if the Lakers had not passed on Phil Jackson, that D'Antoni would be the right candidate to coach the Nets now that Avery Johnson has been fired? In looking at the Nets roster, they are certainly built more for the run and fun style D'Antoni likes.
Sam: It’s a good point, and if the Lakers can act quickly, they should let D’Antoni go to coach the Nets and hire Phil Jackson, who fits their personnel much better. And, I agree, Mike would be good with the Nets, who have been playing a dull, isolation ball. Despite Williams’ issues as a person, he is a very good pick and role player they could play with Lopez, the kind of perimeter big Mike likes. And then you get Joe Johnson to spread the court with his shooting. Gerald Wallace has become a better shooter and could even play four in D’Antoni’s small ball scheme, and it would come from Russia with love in a more entertaining brand of ball. You hear all the recycled names like Van Gundy, McMillan and Dunleavy. Maybe Larry Brown if he can get out of his college job like every one of his colleagues. Mike Brown? Certainly available. Flip Saunders may be right for a veteran team that more runs itself and is a good offensive coach. I might take a look at Mo Cheeks, who’s got experience and has been a strong assistant at Oklahoma City. The guy I’d hire would be Alvin Gentry, who is great with players and media and is a student of D’Antoni ball and seems to be barely hanging on in Phoenix.
If the Bulls had been able to keep Omer Asik, would he and Noah have been able to play together? Couldn't Noah have played a Kevin Garnett type role with Omer a better Kendrick Perkins? It worked for Thibs in Boston. Why didn't he give it more of a try when they had Omer? Or did they try it sometimes?
Sam: Thibs did try it a few times, but he didn’t seem to like it. He’s a big one for balancing offense and defense on the floor. He seemed to feel with Noah and Asik there wasn’t enough offense. Also, Noah has nowhere near the range and shooting ability of Garnett even though he’s shot better than anyone thought possible. I still see scouts come in to watch the Bulls and are shaking their head every time Noah shoots. And he’s been shooting very well. Hardly anyone can still believe it.
Is Hinrich more hurt than he lets on? He's never been a good shooter but even he is plumbing new depths. And no, I don't want to trade him.
Sam: He likely is as he is a league leader in coming back too soon from injuries. But that’s who he is. He isn’t exactly built for the way he plays, an all out aggressive, physical guy. He’s one of those guys who literally plays so hard he stretches the limits of his body. It’s why coaches like him so much. But it’s also why he gets injured the way he pushes himself. His shooting is coming along, but if you look closely when guards go off against the Bulls it’s when he’s off the floor and when he’s one the floor you always see guys getting better shots than when he isn’t.
Have you seen Royce White's twitter? He's constantly retweeting the most negative, hateful, belligerent tweets from so called "fans," whereas I'll see countless positive tweets involving him go unmentioned. It's painful enough to read them, but having him retweet them? I don't know if this is his way of motivating himself, seeking out sympathy from other people, or a way to feel sorry for himself. Take a look....it's something I've really never seen before.
Sam: I’ve stayed out of this conversation and, no, I haven’t seen his Twitter, which is something that seems to get a lot of pro sports guys in trouble. Even Rockets coach Kevin McHale seemed surprised when media brought up White’s name. It’s not a joking matter and something more for he and his family to deal with. I can’t quite figure with his issues how he can function in the NBA with the demands placed on players. But it’s not an issue I know how to address.
I read discussion boards and see various tweets from fans/bloggers delighting in the fact that the Suns supposedly have interest in Rip and want him gone. I'm not on board with these guys. I think Rip is too valuable from a leadership standpoint, he has championship experience, and is a reliable scorer for an otherwise anemic offense. These critics also point out to Marco's "emergence" as of late. His stats since starting and Rip's: Belinelli: 15 points per game, 43% shooting, 40% from 3pt, 88% FT, 3 rebounds per game, almost 2 assists per game, just over 1 steal per game, 1 turnover per game, and is playing 36 minutes per game Rip: Almost 14 points per game, 45% shooting, 37% from 3pt, 93% FT, 2.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, .8 steals. negligible blocks, 2 turnovers per game in 27 minutes per game Rip's stats are still better in most areas and isn't it very possible that Marco's production is nothing more than playing with a quality point guard and getting more minutes? Also, who else could replace Rip? It isn't like the '90s when quality SGs were everywhere. Ultimately, the decision will be financial, but I hope management actually considers winning for once.
Sam: I guess you could get under the luxury tax if a team took Hamilton into their space if they were under, as the Suns apparently are. But I always look at the other team, and I could not see why the Suns would want Hamilton as a third shooting guard. They have Shannon Brown and Jared Dudley, who just scored more than 30 in a loss. Why would you take a player who’d be a third stringer for you if you don’t even appear to be a playoff team. First, why pay someone all that money, $5 million pro rated, and if you are missing the playoffs, miss them and get better lottery odds. It wouldn’t make any sense for a team like the Suns, and, after all, he has been hurt. But I like Hamilton with the Bulls as well. I think overall he’s had a better season than last. I know fans become thrilled with reserves doing better like Belinelli and Butler. But Hamilton is a veteran who can score, something the Bulls vitally need. He also moves the ball well and has been good in the locker room. And who are you replacing him with, Jannero Pargo? You’re not getting anyone who can score and play at his level. Plus, I can’t see the Bulls taking on multiple years for marginal players to move Hamilton as that would interfere with chances to add better players down the road. I know fans mention Beasley, but he remains one of the poorest, most disinterested and mistake prone defenders in the league and it would seem to me essentially unable to play for Thibodeau and a Bulls team that competes like this one. Plus you’d be taking on a lot of money down the road that would inhibit your chances to pursue better players.
Is Kyle Lowry a possibility for the Bulls?
Sam: He seems to be slipping in Toronto, but as they gave up a first for him it would cost at least one first. I’ve always liked his tough game, but he seems to have internal issues wherever he goes. Assuming Rose is returning after the All-Star break, there’s no reason to add another point guard making almost $6 million.
Nick Young is the SG answer.
Sam: His name comes up from time to time and my sense is the Bulls don’t much care much for him, and given that Belinelli’s and Hamilton’s numbers are better it doesn’t seem like it would be a great answer.
Some would say that this is absolutely crazy. High risk, high reward. The Bulls should trade for Demarcus Cousins. One of the most talented young bigs in today's game. He's in a terrible situation. However, put him in a better organization and locker room and with Rose and he should be fine. He was very productive for Coach Cal. If you can get him for cheap, why not? That would be the key to the deal, obviously.
Sam: You would not get him cheaply no matter the issues. The Kings spent a high lottery pick for him and they and everyone else can see the guy’s potential. So they’re not likely to give him up easily given they’re not exactly competing for anything now. A lot of teams will take a shot, but you can see at the very least he needs some anger management counseling and isn’t ready to walk into someone’s starting lineup. And while it’s just a guess, you have to assume he’s not a great locker room guy the way the Kings played maybe their best game of the season Sunday while he was out suspended. And it hardly seemed like a “Win one for the Cous” game.
Do you think the Bulls would go for Eric Gordon? If you talk about buying low, now is the time. His scoring ability would make the Bulls have a scary back court for years to come.
Sam: Given he recently signed a $56 million contract, rarely ever plays with mysterious knee problems, announced after the team signed him he preferred to be with a different team even as he couldn’t play and was making some $15 million a year I have the slightest hesitation that he may not be a perfect fit. He may play Saturday, the Hornets said, which then should put him out until March. And, yes, most can’t stand him here for breaking his commitment to Illinois to attend Indiana, whom I didn’t realize were so generous.
What are your predictions for Deng's free agency in 2014? Anything can happen in a year and a half, but let's just assume he maintains his level of play and is healthy. Will he be looking at about the same amount of money? More or less? Paul George will be restricted in 2014. I assume he'll get overpaid by someone and the Pacers will be inclined to match a lot of offers but I wouldn't mind spending a little too much on him. He'd be a great fit. He's a really good defender and now he's putting up some impressive offensive numbers. Along with Mirotic, he'd take a good deal of pressure off Rose offensively. Do you think we'll be interested and able to afford him while keeping Deng around?
Sam: The Bulls would seem to have to make a tough decision on Deng. Though he’s been in many trade scenarios his entire career with the Bulls--including mine--given how valuable he is to the coach and how versatile and important player he’s been, I can’t see how the Bulls could let Deng walk, especially after the Asik experience. But with hardly anyone on the Pacers’ payroll by then and George playing so well it defies logic and credibility that Indiana would let him go under any circumstances. But I’m fairly sure you could get Danny Granger.
So is this Bulls team actually coming together and an Eastern Conference finals contender or do they just have a good matchup with New York?
Sam: Good matchup with New York. But that said, it’s tough to find a team in the East you can be sure will be second to Miami. Half a dozen teams including the Bulls would appear to be on that list, and I don’t see the Bulls that high.
I've been a Bulls fan for over 20 years now. I grew up watching MJ and Pippen and I was accustomed to a very high standards of excellence in basketball. Back in the day, nothing less than a championship was acceptable. Why do we continue to settle for mediocre players? It seems that lately, we're always trying to get the cheaper players that are on their tale end of their career. We've been in desperate need for a shooting guard for over 5 years now. I'm really getting tired and impatient of how our management continues to believe that shooters that are over the hill will help win us a championship.
Sam: Yes, we always hear the Chicago is cheap stuff. But they are paying four players eight figure contracts. Only the Nets and Bulls are doing that. Perhaps you can argue with the choice of players. But the Bulls have spent. They have the eighth highest payroll in the league, maybe a million or so below Boston and about $5 million less than the Knicks. You can’t compare anything to what Jordan did. Having an opportunity to win championship isn’t so simple. Half the teams in the East have zero championships in their franchise history. You’ve got to make some of the right moves and get lucky. The Bulls were lucky with Rose and now unlucky. A few years ago everyone was demanding a shooting guard like Hamilton. I think you’re looking for Jordan, and there isn’t another.
What's your assessment of Jimmy Butler this season and where do you think his "ceiling" is as a player on the Bulls? On one hand, I watch him and think that he's one of the smartest men on the floor. His shot selection, his FG percentage, his unselfishness, his efficiency, and his defensive intangibles attest to this notion. On the other hand, I fear that he's either too smart for his own good and/or he may not blossom into a solid sixth man or starting shooting guard. Where do you think he ends up?
Sam: He’s come along well, but my sense is a general lack of offense holds him back some. I think he’s a good enough shooter, but remains somewhat hesitant, I think, because he’s told to play defense first. I can see him being a high level sixth man, which is very good for the last pick in the first round.
Many people wrote and stated that Asik would not be worth the contract he signed. I was disappointed the Bulls put themselves in a position not to resigned him or not to get any compensation for loosing him. Please don't spin doctor the loss of Asik, like most of the press in Chicago has espoused. The question I have is, now that the season is more than a quarter done, does the mad scientist moves made by Houston make them look like they know what they are doing? Is it possible the Rockets make the playoffs and the Lakers don't?
Sam: Asik is always an easy armchair quarterback, second guess. But if he was with the Bulls he’d probably be playing 15 minutes primarily with a defensive group that doesn’t give him the ball and all the mail I’d be getting was like last season when virtually every email was to trade him for Courtney Lee. The Rockets had loads of cap room and a rule that worked for them and they took advantage. Sure, the Bulls could have traded him and gotten something last season. But they believed they had a chance to play for the title, and I believed it as well because of guys with size. How would the fans have reacted if they gave up what was presumed to be their edge against Miami? Once summer came, Asik wouldn’t go for a sign and trade with the Bulls. And the way the rules are structured, the Bulls would have had to carry him on their cap in the third year of his deal at almost $15 million, meaning they’d be spending $27 million, half their cap, at center alone. So then even after letting Boozer go they still wouldn’t be in position to go into free agency. And Asik would be a reserve, most likely. I’ve long supported Asik and knew he was a very good player. I made some suggestions last June for potential trades of Noah for a scorer and keeping Asik. I didn’t get one email supporting that. Everyone wanted to keep Noah, and I got some personal suggestions of where I could go. And remember Asik was coming off that horrid playoff ending making the foul that led to the winning points and missing the free throws. And fans were seeing Noah as a potential All-Star and he’s having his best season. For second guessers it’s easy to say they would have done better. But I’ve yet to hear a better suggestion. You could have paid him, but after two seasons not playing much behind Noah you were not going to move a guy making almost $15 million in that spot. And let’s be reasonable. The Bulls need most a second high level scorer. I hardly see Asik as that, and then how would you do it without losing Deng also? So if you keep Asik you probably cannot pay Deng. If you do, that’s basically your team as Rose, Asik, Deng and Noah basically take up your entire cap. Even without Gibson. If LeBron would want to come to the Bulls you’d have to tell him no because you are paying Omer Asik. Sometimes the other guy makes a good move, and the Rockets did given they basically had no players and hadn’t even been making the playoffs. Though their big coup was lucking into Harden. With Asik and Lin you’d never be talking about them. That’s what happens with free agency. It’s hard to digest for many, but you take a big step back when you lose the league MVP. As for passing the Lakers, anything remains possible given their dysfunction.
Me and my friend were debating Nate Robinson the other day as it pertains to him being a good 'locker room' guy or not. My friend was on the side of Nate Robinson being a bad locker room guy, and I had to disagree. I think you can tell by body language that he's well received with the Bulls players. There seems to be good camaraderie on the floor, between plays, and during introductions when he dances and everyone hoots and hollers.
Sam: Well, if the Bulls develop a street dance group, Nate would be perfect to serve someone. One issue with Nate may be he just seems to wear out everyone with his constant talking and energy. I don’t think he’s a cancer inside the locker room. But he can become a distraction. The Bulls need to weigh that against what he delivers, which is badly missed scoring and the ability to get his shot. It’s a big thing and why he is valuable. The larger issue may be when Rose does return and his minutes are reduced. Some players don’t respond well to that.
Omer's looked very good so far this season and its a testimate to the Bulls ability to develop players, still I could not help but notice the major void his loss gives the team this season. I still say another big with a defensive mindset would help the club stay competitive this season. What are the prospects on these guys: JuJuan Johnson, Hassan Whiteside, Sean Williams.
Sam: I think you made the point yourself. You want one of those guys? I don’t see where you improve picking up big men whom poor teams dumped. If there was a big man out there who could help he’d be playing. That’s part of even why the NBA changed the All-Star ballot to eliminate the center position. It’s become a hybrid with many teams in part the way they play and in part because of the lack of big kids who play by the basket. At one time, if you were tall that was your position. But with AAU and players able to change high schools anytime they want, the players told the coaches where they wanted to play. So kids nearly seven feet like Kevin Durant become guards, basically.
Would this work? Bulls receive: PF Kevin Love, PF Dante Cunningham, SF Chase Budinger Timberwolves receive: SF Luol Deng, PF Taj Gibson, PG Marquis Teague, the rights to F Nikola Mirotic, future protected first-round pick from the Bobcats
Sam: Why can’t the Timberwolves throw in Rubio and the old Mary Tyler Moore show live shots? Teams don’t trade their best players, especially a team on the rise with a chance to make the playoffs. And while the Boozer trade scenarios are slowing, I haven’t hit the 1,000th yet where I’ll refuse to answer anymore and I’m just up to 997.
I am amazed about how many people want to get rid of Boozer, be it amnesty or trade or simply by throwing him out of an airplane. In my mind he is simply fantastic and in many ways invaluable for this team. I know that his defensive efforts are sometimes questionable and that he does have off games but seriously, who doesn't? The reasons why I believe him to be such an asset for this team are mainly: 1) He is team-oriented and professional. This is a guy who is being paid a starters salary and coming from a system where the offense often was based around him and here he is often sitting the 4th quarter and not getting the ball and do we hear him complain? No, never have we heard him say anything against the organization or the other players. He just does his job. 2) His partnership with Noah. This is simple really, He just makes Noah a much better player. I don't think that Noah would be putting up the numbers he's been doing without Boozer. Boozer is a great passer and often finds Noah. I really really think that people should give him some slack.
Sam: As I’ve addressed there’s always a guy fans like to blame, and it’s Boozer given his casual defense. But as I’ve also mentioned many times he never was a defender and defended in Utah the exact same way he does with the Bulls. The big issue when the Bulls signed him was health, and he’s been one of the more reliable players on the team as he rarely misses games. But if you get rid of him basically for nothing you have to replace maybe 15 points and eight rebounds. It seems questionable Gibson can provide that, and you’d still be short another power forward. And that’s asking the Bulls to pay someone maybe $30 million to not play and end up producing for a competitor while you pay his salary. I strongly believe he’ll be with the Bulls at least until the summer of 2014.
The New York Knicks finally have a team now. The amazing thing is, they're having much success playing eight guys worth $51.34M next season. If the Knicks can get rid of Amare Stoudamire and Marcus Camby, they can grab Paul Millsap out of free agency and add the likes of Antoine Jamison. Not only they have a better front-court, they can avoid paying the luxury tax too.
Sam: If you can find someone to take Stoudemire’s $45 million left after this season with no insurance given his major knee problems, the Knicks will pick you up at your front door and carry you like a Roman emperor to New York to inform them.
Do you think the summer of 2014 will see several elite talents changing teams, similar to 2010? I did a little searching and found that LeBron, Bosh, Wade, and Carmelo all have player options that summer. Throw in Stephen Curry as a free agent. Deng's contract will expire and Boozer will have just 1 year left on his deal, making him a potential amnesty candidate. It just looks to me as though the landscape could start to shift, and perhaps the Bulls will have an opportunity to put that star player next to Rose and Noah that could put us over the top.
Sam: That seems maybe to be the plan, though it’s not one you brag about going through a season. It’s why the Bulls generally are not going with long term contracts and aren’t likely to make any trade that gives them a player with a long contract, even if it were for someone like Hamilton. It’s like 2010. We basically knew LeBron was a longshot, but don’t you have to try if you can? Maybe next time, huh? There is all sorts of speculation he’ll leave Miami in 2014 and maybe go back to Cleveland if they are good enough. Maybe this time he’ll pick Rose. So you at least want to be in position to make a call and an offer.
With the luxury tax penalties being so strong do you think the Heat would be willing to break up the big 3 for young talent? If so here is a 3 team trade that may help all teams. Heat get D.Cousins, T.Evans, and J.Salmons Suns get M.Thornton Kings get D.Wade, J.Anthony, J.Dudley, and 1st rd picks from the Suns and Heat.
Sam: Of course, the Heat isn’t breaking up a championship team nor trading Wade, and certainly not for an unbalanced player like Cousins. Why do you start over when you are champion? Answer: You don’t, unless you are Dallas, and that didn’t exactly work out. But I answered this ridiculous one to mention the Kings, who are a mess and likely a major trade partner by February. They could be unloading players given how poor they’ve played and with low attendance and threats of moving. They’ll be an interesting team to watch given they have some very talented players who have been poisoned by their atmosphere.
And now for something completely different. Sign Nikola Pekovic this offseason as a free agent (if possible), amnesty Boozer (if successful), and move Noah to the 4. You can only hide Boozer's defense so much against strong competition and Noah suffers offensively, defensively, and on the glass against size, but has the athleticism to defend stretch fours in the fashionably small NBA.
Sam: Gee, a getting rid of Boozer idea. Now that’s original. Pekovic is restricted and given the Timberwolves have a relatively low payroll I assume they’d match. But the Bulls this summer are in no position to be in free agency even if they were to amnesty Boozer. The guarantees they have for next season, which doesn’t include Hamilton, add up to more than $55 million. I assume the cap stays about where it is at about $58 million given how many empty seats I see watching games around the league. Which takes the Bulls out of anything but use of exceptions, the biggest of which is the $5 million from the Korver deal. The Bulls have a chance to be a free agency player, but not until 2014 at the soonest.
I know the Bulls will get blown out this year at times (like they did by Atlanta and Houston), and will have trouble winning the Central from Indiana and Milwaukee, but after those wins against New Jersey and New York, I'm giving them a pass. They are a team you can be proud to root for. They have a passion for the game. And I am going to stop my bashing of Carlos Boozer also. For a guy who gets paid max dollars, he doesn't act the diva and complain about being benched at the end of games, and works hard at being prepared to play his minutes.
Sam: Booz thanks you, I’m sure. Yes, Boozer may not be exactly the 20/10 player he was advertised as, but, yes, he could be a problem and has chosen professionalism despite the often unfair community reaction. And, yes, this has been a Bulls team that basically competes and cares about the result. You don’t hear guys complaining like Gerald Wallace was about teammates not caring. The locker room is quiet and disappointed after losses, except, of course, with Robinson. The Bulls rarely have anyone outplay them; teams have more talent, for sure. But you get a professional effort all the time. It does matter and does make following them intriguing because they will win a lot of games they shouldn’t, though without Rose not enough to please everyone, obviously.
Baseball fans saw what happened this past season with Stephen Strasburg, the wunderkund starting pitcher for Washington Nationals, as his team restricted his play with an innings limit due to his recovery from Tommy John surgery. When Rose returns, are we going to see a similar minutes limit? What’s realistic? Or is this going to be a scenario when Derrick only returns when the doctors clear him for 30+ MPG? I’m not suggesting Reinsdorf would shut Rose down in any case, but what’s your feel? I have a feeling a minutes limit will be dominating sports talk in Chicago post-All-Star break.
Sam: Yes, it’s going to be a constant story and drowning in a sea of misinformation. There will have to be a minutes limit, which is always controversial, especially with this franchise. It’s one thing to do rehab, but Rose and Thibodeau are going to go nuts answering the same stupid stuff every day of asking Rose how he feels and asking Thibodeau how much he’ll play him. I’m guessing Thibodeau still has issues letting people even see the games since that tends to reveal who is healthy.