Ask Sam Mailbag: 09.27.19

John Petersen:

I wish to note that the Bulls have everything they talked about including a full summer of work and with training camp yet ahead with no coaching/system change. Pax has his coach and the only known injury is a hammy to Hutch. No excuses right? No one expects much other than improvement, growth and hopefully a consistently competitive team. The playoffs are still improbable and probably not even the most important thing. Thirty nine or forty wins would be an incredible achievement. Sadly, I'm less optimistic but hopefully I'm also wrong. The burden is on the coach to show some type of consistent team effort and an offensive/defensive system. The talent has improved but the coaching remains a huge question for this fan. We should know 25 to 30 games into the schedule. I will always remember the "resting", not playing at all, of the regulars during those last games, a bad taste.

Sam Smith:

Though I agree the accumulation of injuries and lack of competitiveness to close last season was discouraging, I also believe it perhaps establishes the Bulls as the stealth bomber (hopefully not bomb) of the current season. No one nationally could have been paying much attention to the Bulls the last month of last season, so 22 wins sounds like ineptitude. There was that bubble of competitive play after the acquisition of Otto Porter Jr. and a marked improvement from Lauri Markkanen finally recovering from injury that was eventually obscured by the lacking roster to close the season. Observers, understandably, can only go by the last thing they saw, which did make you recoil in horror at times. But I believe it also masked a nascent improvement that I believe could/should/might make the Bulls a playoff team this season. LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard out of the conference and Kevin Durant injured also might have some impact. With Porter, Thad Young and Tomas Satoransky, the Bulls again have some true adults (and perhaps leaders) in the room. Often players put undue pressure on themselves when they look around and don't see much help. It's like a baseball pitcher who would be a good No. 4 starter but looks horrible trying to be a No. 1 or No. 2. Confidence also builds when you can stay in your lane. I believe LaVine and Markkanen will be much more efficient without the weight of production they felt last season. The East is as wide open (translation: weak) as it's been in decades. So why not?

Thad Young talks to Chuck Swirsky during Summer League

Tom Plonowski:

I have the Bulls pulling out 33-39 wins. This team reminds me of the roster with a nice mix of youth and veterans that included Curry, Chandler, Jalen Rose, Crawford, Hinrich, Pippen, Gill, etc.The roster looks like a 5th or 6th seed but court production is a different story. They could be a better team than Orlando, and could easily slide into the 9th seed, but I don't see the Bulls overpowering the Detroit Pistons. The Nets even without Durant will be too much for the Bulls.

Sam Smith:

We hope it's not the Jalen Rose team, but I get the point. The Bulls in 2003-04 were 23-59. With a new coach in 2004-05, they started 0-9 and everyone with the 25-win predictions was feeling pretty smart. Then the Bulls went onto a 47-35 record that season, a 24-win improvement basically without an All-Star in what was a very average Eastern Conference. Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Antawn Jamison were All-Stars. A playoff spot isn't unreasonable, and to the critics, it's not a back-to-mediocre scenario because there's young talent in LaVine, Markkanen, Carter and Coby White. Of course, the Pistons, Pacers, Hawks and Magic feel the same way. Somebody who finishes 10th is going to believe they could have been fifth.

James Dahlin:

Why are they in such a hurry to get rid of Kris Dunn? They are probably not going to get much for him and and why not keep him for backup at the 2 guard? I know that's shooting guard and Dunn is not a great shooter but he probably is the best defender on the team. Valentine is coming off a major injury and has not played in a long time and I think Dunn is better. I think the bulls have a shot at the playoffs. Start the season with him at the backup 2 and with the Bulls injury history last couple of years why not have as much depth as possible?

Sam Smith:

To paraphrase John Wooden, not so quick to be in a hurry. My sense is the urgency to move on from Dunn that seemed so apparent last spring has waned. Probably, in part, because the market wasn't great for a former No. 5 overall pick. And, well, 22-win teams can't be that quick to move on from lottery talent. I think you have a good idea in there somewhere regarding the wing position. Otto Porter probably isn't a 32-minute per game player if they want to keep him healthy. For, you know, the playoff run. So the wing position isn't exactly taking flight. Perhaps Dunn hasn't been the ultimate answer the Bulls once saw at point guard when they began their pursuit of him. But he can defend, is long, and should be motivated going into a potential contract year. I can see Dunn being one of the surprise players of the NBA this season, and it probably would be better for the Bulls if he does so in a Bulls jersey.

Victor Devaldivielso:

Do you still think Dunn will be traded before training camp? I hope they keep him. He should be motivated. They could have a nice guard rotation of Dunn, Lavine, White and Satoransky. They don't have a backup for Lavine...so why not just keep Dunn and see what happens.

Sam Smith:

Suddenly, Kris Dunn as the next LeBron playing every position? There's been a lot of speculation that the Bulls won't want to go into training camp starting next week with four point guards (you forget Arcidiacono). Actually, I think Arcidiacono will be ahead of White in the depth chart, at least to start. Though it's "Just Summer League," as it's known, White looked like he still needs point guard 101. He's intriguing with his speed and you can fantasize about he and Zach LaVine as a supercharged backcourt. But for now I believe the Bulls will be more motivated from the start to take a run at a playoff spot, which doesn't mean guard-in-training roles like the last two seasons. With players like Thad Young, Denzel Valentine, Dunn or Satoransky, Hutchison and Luke Kornet, the Bulls have the makings of a strong second group. I don't see Dunn potentially so much as a shooter off the bench, but as part of a doberman-lite defensive unit with Young and Wendell Carter Jr., who could give the Bulls a varied look.

Kris Dunn with 26 Points & 13 Assists in Win Over Wizards in March 2019

Kirk Landers:

I would especially like to see Denzel Valentine have a full year of health. I always saw a lot of promise in his combination of handling, passing, and shooting the three. That said, if they have a reasonable degree of team health this year, I think the "over" bet is going to look pretty good.

Separately, I'm curious what kind of impression Daniel Gafford made on you and the Bulls attending the Summer League games? His athleticism certainly stood out and he seemed to have good, quick feet on defense, but the quality of Summer League ball makes it hard to tell what you're seeing.

Sam Smith:

Remember media day last year? John Paxson declared he didn't know what would happen, but at least everyone was healthy. Oh, well. Within a few weeks basically half the main rotation was out and then Carter midway through the season. Then trades and firings and, oh my! I'm guessing Paxson Monday isn't making many declarations other than crossing his fingers around a four-leaf clover hung on a rabbit's foot while wearing a horseshoe and watching a shooting star. Though Kris Dunn's future remains a big question, there's much to consider with Valentine, who also was a lottery pick and also entering a contact year. Can he play shooting guard? Small forward? Play? He'll presumably be recovered from surgery, can shoot and has a nice feel for the game. NBA-level speed and quickness have been concerns beyond health. If it's average, he'll be huge off the bench. As for Gafford, he reminds me a little bit of Michael Ruffin. He's a bit taller and with, it seems, more of a touch. Though Jar Jar Binks probably had a better shooting touch than Ruffin. But Ruffin had a nice nine-year NBA career hunting down loose balls and offensive rebounds. I don't expect much from Gafford this season, but perhaps someday a bit more than Ruffin and somewhat less than Draymond Green.

Stian Nordvik:

Playoff spot this year? Honestly, we will not be good enough, I realize that. Following the NBA for 30 years, maybe I am wrong. Markannen and Young will play big, Carter JR and Gafford will play Center. We have Felicio. We need height.

Sam Smith:

Well, there is another big question. Maybe I'm overlooking some in my September optimism. The center position is supposedly somewhat extinct, though the Bulls last season had problems against teams with tall people. OK, they had issues with teams with short people, too. But Wendell Carter probably hasn't grown that much since we last saw him. The tallest guys on the roster are Markkanen—listed at seven foot, though the NBA is now demanding exact measurements—and we know he's not a center. Then there's newcomer Luke Kornet, listed at 7-1, and mostly known for shooting. True, now so is Brook Lopez, but defensive size matters. Maybe Felicio grew.

Ateeq Ahmed:

You know I'm biased, so apologies in advance. What are the real chances our guys Hinrich and Rose get into the HOF? Rose might have a better chance since he was MVP. For Hinrich, he is the Bulls' all time leader in some key stats like 3's made. Is that enough?

Sam Smith:

I saw last month when the Hall of Fame listed those newly eligible and included Hinrich. I keep in touch with Kirk and texted him the list. He texted back to say he was pleased to know I still had my sense of humor. I'm probably biased regarding Rose, especially since (disclaimer) I worked with him on his new autobiography. The charge is raised often about Derrick that he'll be the only MVP winner not to be in the Hall of Fame since all those eligible are, and those not yet will be like LeBron, Curry and Harden. The Hall of Fame honors excellence, of course, and generally longevity. But there are exceptions for those who have had substantial impact, and I believe Rose should qualify. After all, he was league MVP in a season when one of the greatest players in the game's history was healthy and in his prime. We know Rose's injuries that basically cost him three years, but he checked all the boxes: High school titles, NCAA finals his one season, two USA Basketball gold medals, Rookie of the Year, matching Kareem's rookie playoff scoring record, three All-Star games with a pair of starts, a comeback for a 50-point game and nine seasons averaging more than 15 points per game and five of at least 18 per game. Hall of Famers with similarly short careers because of injuries while having an impact include Bill Walton, Grant Hill, Maurice Stokes and Drazen Petrovic. I could name a dozen Hall of Famers with fewer honors and less impact in the game. Among recent inductees — and all are deserving — did Paul Westphal, Charlie Scott, Maurice Cheeks and Louie Dampier impact the game more than Derrick Rose? Plus, who knows where Rose is going? Hill came back to make an All-Star team in a supporting role after missing almost five years. Likewise, Hall of Famer Bernard King after missing two years with an ACL tear. Maybe Kirk will attend if Derrick is enshrined.

Andrew Brown:

I saw Rodman came out and said the reason why that championship team (part 2) split up after the 3rd year was because Michael wanted millions and the Bulls wouldn't pay it. That Scottie, Phil and Dennis were all ready to return but wouldn't without Michael. Is that true?

Even if Michael did return im not sure they would have won. Dennis was on his last straw and spent a lot of time on the bench to Toni in that 1998 finals series. Think Phil was over him. What's your take?

Sam Smith:

Let's see if I get this straight: You're getting your information these days from the drug addled, booze filled recollections of Dennis Rodman? Though if it was on the internet who could argue? Dennis certainly wanted to return, and based on his season with the Lakers in 1998-99, I'm sure the Lakers wished he had with the Bulls. This one has been debunked some, though as an urban legend it hangs around some despite Dennis having endured spontaneous combustion back then. Michael declared Done II back then as a sequel to Done I in 1993. The following season after the sixth title was the lockout year that resumed in February with a 50-game schedule. Jordan had suffered a serious hand injury during that winter and couldn't dunk a ball or really grip one much. So there would have been questions about his level of play and even ability to play. Plus, Pippen the previous season had declared himself a Never Again Bull and declined to discuss a new deal with the Bulls. The Bulls after the 1998 title season offered Jordan a substantial raise to stay despite Jerry Krause's personal desires with a similar percentage raise on a year by year basis for everyone else. Jordan declined, and players like Luc Longley, Steve Kerr and Jud Buechler all received multi-year offers from other teams that made no sense to match or exceed if Jordan wasn't playing. Plus, that also might have interfered with Dennis's legacy as a foreign policy expert.

Jim Cogley:

I remember going to a few games at Chicago stadium when I was younger and before MJ was Air Jordan, I seem to remember that when he would make a dunk or a big play afterwards on the scoreboard they played a short cartoon of a bull with a Cape and maybe a jetpack or something similar flying up in the air. Then in 60's Batman TV show style it would say SuperBull! Am I confused? I couldn't find anything about this on the internet anywhere the guys at work think I'm crazy.

Sam Smith:

I think you may have stumbled on what really should be the halftime show for the Chicago All Star game this February. You know after J. Cole last year, it's probably next time for an uncommon artist like Common. Beyonce? Rihanna? Trombone Shorty? Bet you didn't think I knew who that last one was. Right, I did look it up. I was relieved to learn he can play the trombone. Though I initially thought it's what they called Paul Simon when he played trombone. You probably are referring to the Jordan cartoon the Bulls had on the scoreboard years ago — alert, New LARGE scoreboard coming this season — but this message made me think of Jeff Platt, the 300-and-change guy known as Superfan. Back in the late 70s when the Bulls played to polite gatherings, they effectively invented in-game entertainment by having, let's say, a big boned man wearing varied Bulls shirts and capes run around the bottom of the lower deck during timeouts. No, there weren't any courtside waiters and waitresses and no three figure courtside seats. It's still unclear if he was the inspiration for Weight Watchers. The only embarrassment was that the guy generally would be faster than the Bulls transition game. I don't know what ever became of him, but that would be a a heck of a halftime show to celebrate all the history of basketball in Chicago. Probably would need some emergency oxygen, though. And I wonder why the Bulls never invite me to the All-Star planning meetings.