Ask Sam Mailbag: 08.16.19

Ateeq Ahmed:

They are putting the Bulls' over/under for wins at 30.5. I'm definitely taking the over on that. I think they'll make the playoffs. How many wins do you expect them to have?

Sam Smith:

Well, I'm not quite back, but in an effort to extend the intense and exciting momentum from the release of the 2019-20 schedule, here's a summer bonus Ask Sam. Which happens to be filled with a sufficient amount of the expected summer optimism. Hey, still undefeated and all that. The qualifier for your prediction, of course, was we were really sure about taking the over (27.5) last season. But, you know, now we are really, really, really sure. No, really. Last season, obviously, was a dumpster fire on a train wreck that fell off a cliff. Injuries, minor league call-ups, lottery balls, yadda, yadda…nothing to see here, keep moving.

Which is why despite a lot of positive reviews for the Bulls post season moves (Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky, Luke Kornet, Coby White, Daniel Gafford), the predictions have generally been between 25 and 30 wins and somewhere between ninth and 12th. Which could be, though I seriously believe this is a .500 Bulls playoff team. I know, hold off on the Grant Park rally plans. Young and Satoransky are adults in the room, finally, and I believe Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen are on the verge of becoming All-Star players with an improved team.

An intriguing scene I witnessed in Summer League gave me pause and piqued my interest. Several players, including LaVine and Young, came in for the games. Then I heard Kris Dunn would be there, also. I was somewhat surprised considering all the speculation about him being on the outside, likely traded, and so on. But Dunn was especially upbeat and greeted John Paxson like a long lost brother and they appeared to have a friendly chat. And then with, it seems, not much subsequent talk about another transaction. And Satoransy in an interview saying the Bulls didn't tell him he would be a starter. So it's sounding more like Dunn will be with the team. And with what's been from indications a summer of serious work for him, suddenly with the late season acquisition of Otto Porter the Bulls have perhaps as much veteran depth as any team in the Eastern Conference. I frankly don't see, for instance, the Celtics roster being so much better. Or even much. With Wendell Carter Jr. and Dunn, that's two plus defenders. LaVine and Markkanen potentially are plus offensive players. The Bulls could feature a bench with Young, Satoransky, Denzel Valentine, Chandler Hutchison and spark plugs like Shaquille Harrison and Ryan Arcidiacono. Which also gives the rookies a chance to learn and develop. And not have to endure their inconsistencies.

The 76ers, Clippers and Rockets probably don't have much to worry about. But this is looking like a season in which with more parity several teams could surprise. The Bulls have a chance to be one. No, really.

Ryan Carpel:

Dunn isn't done like the pundits are saying. I think actually he might be a great shooting guard for the Bulls. He's got a real nice mid-range game. And, the potential to be a good 3-point shooter. What are your thoughts on moving him to the 2?

Sam Smith:

A few months ago "moving" seemed to be the operative word for Dunn. And maybe it still will be. But like I suggested above, it's appearing more like the Bulls want to give him a chance—remember, he's basically been hurt every season—to show he's a former No. 5 overall draft pick coming into his contract season. Motivated, and all that. No matter the concerns and questions about his shooting, Dunn always has been able to defend well. You can pair him at times with Harrison for a backcourt that can pressure. And with long wing players like Porter and Young, the Bulls could present teams with challenges. Zach LaVine has a chance to break out to be an elite shooting guard. Dunn's never going to be the scoring point guard model of this era. Though perhaps in the mold of a championship team player like Rajon Rondo. There are many ways to help a team at point guard.

Ted Fleckles:

With Team USA seemingly struggling to field top end scorers and athletic wing players for perhaps the first time ever, why did Zach LaVine not get an invite? He would seem a good fit to provide explosiveness, shooting, and can even play some PG in some lineups. What gives? He didn't even get asked after all the dropouts, is his game not a fit or is he less respected around the league than I think or is it something else?

Sam Smith:

I wondered the same thing and even offered a suggestion to Jerry Colangelo, which seemed to lead to his phone battery going dead. I believe Zach is a victim of playing for losing, lottery bound teams (hey, someone has to score), which could change this season. What I've been most surprised about and which I've mentioned several times in previous Ask Sam column was why Bulls fans have questioned him so much. He's sort of the Mitch Trubinsky of the Bulls, that because he's not someone else it's almost like many would prefer he fail. What many are missing, it seems to me, is who else is so much better. Zach ended the season averaging close to 25 points, he had several games of 40 points or more, he was averaging almost 30 a month into the season, among the league leaders in getting to the free throw line and was an end game winning shot maker. As few times as that opportunity presented itself. And that with a team in the midst of a radical coaching change, evolving playing philosophies and a roster of teammates he often had to check the jerseys in the locker room to find out who they were. I'd take him ahead of several All-Stars from last season and averaging more than four assists and rebounds, LaVine demonstrates an unusual versatility. I know, he's not Jordan or Rose. But is that the only bar?

Nate Daniels:

Any contact with our PF over Summer? Any upper body strength added? Your projections for Laurie?

Sam Smith:

We hope it's just the beginning and he's not finished. Just Finnish. I haven't heard much about Markkanen this summer and believe he's mostly been in Finland. Hopefully making neighboring country pleas for ASAP Rocky. It's a big season for Markkanen. He's had injuries, but that's also part of being elite. You have to stay on the court and be consistent. He should be able to average close to 20/10. The test for him will be whether it's a tough 20/10, becoming a late game go-to guy, making a big play when needed, carrying the team through tough stretches in the game when nothing is going for anyone else or during a few weeks like he did in February through that four-overtime game in early March. There was some medical scare afterward which turned out to be a false alarm. But he withered most of the last month after defenses went after him. He'll have much better teammates this season, so defenses can't load up on him like that. But he's so talented it's on him to show in his third season at 22 he can be the Finnisher many project. Right, never too early for the bad puns.

Tim Koncel:

When you look at the Warriors and them having 4 players with at max or near max deals, something has to give. With Russell they have two point guards and Curry seems to be the most expendable. Would the Warriors consider trading Steph Curry and what kind of haul would they be able to get for him? He has expressed interest in playing for Charlotte, do they have the assets to interest the Warriors and still be competitive?

Sam Smith:

There's been some talk over the years of Curry returning home to North Carolina, though I'd speculate that if the Warriors did that the current owners also would have to move there. Of course, the Hornets have nothing much of worth, and even if they did there's no way perhaps the most popular player in San Francisco history was being traded. And just as a new arena was opening. They have plenty of money and I can't imagine how much they'll be charging for those tickets. The general consensus has been the Warriors will see how the Curry/Russell thing works and can always trade Russell. You don't lose a player like Durant if you can get an All-Star back. No matter the position. It's sort of a sabbatical season for the Warriors, but Thompson could be back late in the season. And they did re-up Draymond, so they should still be good. And Curry remains one of the most must see players in the league. He'll retire a Warrior.

Randall Sanders:

Was reading an article of the top 100 players going into the 2019-2020 NBA Season (written by the Mystique). They list the Bulls Players: Zach Lavine 39 Otto Porter 69 Markkanen 34 Pascal Siakam 27 (Really? he was an unknown before the NBA Playoffs) Zion Williamson 100 That should serve as a bit of motivation to players such as Wendell Carter Jr, Thaddeus Young and others who did not make the list. You think?

Sam Smith:

I guess that's why they call it the Mystique. It does seem a bit of a mystery. Of course, these sort of rankings are a way of reporters saying, Hey, we have nothing else to write about and I still need a paycheck. Zion 100? Not based on the NBA schedule I just saw. Call that a mystique. Based on the TV games I saw, the networks appear to believe he's some combination of Julius Erving, Michael Jordan and Pete Maravich. Wait until they have him for 10 load management games. The Pelicans mostly have been treating him like a porcelain doll, and I'll be interested to see if he plays at all in the preseason or again after the opener until Christmas Day. Especially with New Orleans in the United Center for an exhibition. Heck, LeBron never even got on the plane for those.

Your reputation rises with team success. I understand it's difficult to explain that to young players because their families and agents generally tell them the opposite until they get their first big contract. I'm sympathetic. There's not as much money just being on a winning team compared with a big, guaranteed contract. Which is one reason it's so difficult to succeed with a plethora of young players. And which is also why acquisitions like Porter, Young and Satoransky are so crucial for the Bulls this season. Once you get on national TV and in the playoffs your fantasy ratings rise. But that depends more on talent and excellence. The Bulls appear to have enough talented players now to gain some notice. But they'll need the wins, too.

Victor Devaldivielso:

When LeBron was on Miami, he seemed to take most of the credit for victories and when they struggled... he'd often argue with Bosh. Chalmers too. But LeBron seemed to have something against Bosh. Again, just my opinion. Then LeBron goes back to Cleveland. He replaces Bosh with K Love. The same thing started happening... LeBron starts complaining about Love to the media, to his face etc. Again LeBron takes all the credit when they win. Seems to blame others, Love, when the team struggles. I can't take away LeBron winning titles with both of those teams, but I won't be like him and take credit away from those other players. If I'm taking shots at his throne, now that he's on the Lakers, LeBron needs a new teammate to blame. He needs someone to blame when the media talks to him after a critical Lakers loss. He can't blame a broken air conditioner. He can't blame Bosh and Love is no longer with him. I select Kuzma as his next whipping boy. You know why? Anthony Davis will not put up with that mess. Cousins won't put up with it either. Rondo? Nope. Someone should prepare Kuzma!!

Sam Smith:

Maybe he already blamed Cousins. I haven't felt sorry much for Cousins, but what a terrible occurrence, the ACL this week after the Achilles. It's tough to see him even having much of a career anymore. No one should have to go through that. I was anxious to see Cousins with LeBron and Rondo and the potential for nightly ESPN behind the scenes stories. Though you're being a little hard on LeBron. I actually like LeBron. Certainly more than you, I guess. I understand as a team you sort of do the Damn Yankees sell-your-soul-to-the-devil thing when you take him on. We've heard all the stories of his entourage guys getting all the benefits of the team compared to even his teammates. But he also makes you money because you win, you're on TV. Look at the incredible contracts he got for guys like J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson. And Love, actually. They always say a great point guard gets you paid because of the way they can enhance your statistics, like Steve Nash did in Phoenix. It's in the numbers.

There isn't a team that wouldn't take LeBron even with all the favoritism baggage that comes with him. And on the plus side, he's a big positive for the community and media. He remains even with his fame one of the league's most accessible stars. With Cousins down and most of the roster traded to the Pelicans, I think the expectations will begin to lower for the Lakers. Though Kuzma might get some stares when those threes go awry.

LongGiang Le:

Who is the best person/ department for me to contact about nba all star game tickets - Saturday night (3 point contest)? Are they on sale yet?

Sam Smith:

There's an NBA web site that sells packages. The home team cedes its arena and facilities to the league for the All-Star weekend. It's a worldwide event; not a local event. There will be plenty of Chicago-Based public events like the fan NBA Jam Fest, usually at a convention center. The NBA holds out most of the tickets for sponsors and league business. It's why the Bulls for so long declined to host the game. They could not guarantee their fans tickets. They believed it wasn't fair. But the league continued to lobby, the Bulls have a tradition of good citizenship with among various projects the endowment of a college prep school and the boys and girls club. And one of former mayor Rahm Emanuel's business priorities was enticing the sports leagues to hold events in Chicago, like the NFL and NBA drafts in recent years. The All-Star game became another and the Bulls agreed. The home team basically works for the league during All-Star weekend. So it's best to check the NBA web sites. Some events, like the celebrity game, will be at the new Wintrust Arena in the South Loop. I haven't been asked, but I'm ready to post up Kevin Hart if I get the call.