Ask Sam Mailbag: Billy Donovan's All-Star chances, buyout candidates and more

Sam answers your questions about potential buyout candidates, Billy Donovan being an All-Star game head coach and more.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
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Brian Tucker:

Despite Ayo being a great college player and my agreement that we truly got the steal of the draft, I looked at our depth chart and thought there was no way he could get enough playing time with our remarkable guard depth. I thought if we had injury problems with Ball and Coby, we'd be more likely to get a veteran rather than rely on a rookie. I figured he'd get his shot a couple years down the road. Wow is all I have to say about how impressive he is playing.

I will not be surprised if he remains in the starting lineup until Ball is back healthy. And maybe even after, our starting lineup could be Lonzo, Zach, Ayo, DeMar and Vooch. Teams will be worrying about matching up with us more than us worrying about however many 7-footers they can put on the court. I will not be surprised if he is the Futures Game All-Star MVP.

I will not be surprised if he ends up Rookie Of the Year. To be playing at this high a level for the first place team is remarkable.

Sam Smith:

Well...maybe not quite all that. I agree that I didn't see it coming and where he'd play with all the money the Bulls invested in point guards this summer, about $30 million for Ball and Caruso and that the roster was filled with veterans his size like Javonte Green and Derrick Jones. I thought it was a mistake to play Patrick Williams so much last season, but not that big a deal because it was still for a developmental team. With the additions of DeRozan, Ball and Caruso following the trade for Vucevic—despite what others saw—most of us closer believed this was a win now 50-win type team. It's proven out to corroborate management's vision.

Sort of since that vision looked like Dosunmu in Hoffman Estates. Learning to be a point guard. But not as much as the injuries, and a lot of that has to do with Dosunmu actually learning to play in college; when he got his opportunities he improved. Early this season and especially in Summer League he was erratic, unsure when and if to shoot. But going on 22—which is part of the reason he dropped in the draft because the scouts' consensus is if you stay in school as long as he did your ceiling isn't very high, or not much higher than they saw—he's had real experience.

Dosunmu's feel for the position has been impressive. But Ball will return to start as let's not forget how good he was. His physical play on defense along with the play of Caruso was responsible for the Bulls early excellent defensive play.

Dosunmu isn't in the top 10 among rookies in scoring, rebounds or assists (he is No. 1 in shooting). So he might not even make the rookie game with the new format of U.S. players vs World players. It's why Coby White got overlooked even when the game was in Chicago. Though if Ayo continues to start, say, instead of Caruso along with White his stats should improve.

But it's hardly about the awful rookie game or rookie of the year, the latter which obviously he has no chance for. What he's doing for the Bulls is impressive enough.


Bulls team photo

The Bulls celebrate after beating the Indiana Pacers.

David Beer:

We're a little past halfway through the year. I can't remember seeing a Bulls team with comparable depth since Taj Gibson was our 6th man, and I haven't felt this good about the team since 2011. I'm really impressed by how many players can provide scoring and the general level of commitment on defense.

My question is: does this team have a shot this year?

I know this team hasn't been together for long, but I think the half court offense is the best the Bulls have had since the late 90s. Am I just too excited that the team is a contender again?

Sam Smith:

Excited is good; I'd stick with that. There's that old line about that's why they play the games. The Bulls were in first place halfway through the season, which makes you a contender in anyone's estimate. Not many believed Milwaukee would win the title last season. They were checking with LeBron first. But stuff always happens.

Kevin Durant's foot was three inches too far. LeBron and Anthony Davis had injuries; so did Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray. And there's COVID hanging around. The general consensus is the Bulls are one of the most improved teams in the league, but in a group with perhaps nine or 10 others with a chance to get to the Finals. Which makes them a contender.

Most don't believe the Bulls as presently constituted will win the NBA title this season. But the definition of an expert in this era is that person who is best at telling you why they won after it occurred rather than who will win before it's happened.


Alex Caruso guarding Steph Curry

Alex Caruso guarding Steph Curry.

Alejandro Yegros:

Alex Caruso is like Draymond Green. Low-volume shooter, but efficient, defense, passing, and just so, so smart. It's unbelievable what a difference he makes. My only worry about him is that with his frame and the way he plays I'd be really worried about getting him injured. He's already been down twice, and he's playing more minutes than he ever has.

What do you think is the ideal minutes for him? Like Thad Young last year?

Sam Smith:

I guess that's the rub. He does make a difference, and I'm not saying it's a true comparison, but he reminds me of the way Jason Kidd could dominate a game, and then you'd look at the box score and he had eight points.

Though it probably comes down to he has to be who he is. I wrote the other day about maybe Zach's body telling him something about dunking or perhaps not dunking with his knee tweak. But I suspect he'll continue to do so since that's who he is. I just worry for him a bit more than others because he had the Rose injury and has been so misrepresented (until the last year or so). Caruso got where he is not being careful. Like they always say, you can get hurt like Zach did three minutes in. Or maybe Thibs said that. I'm interested now to see what Donovan does.

With Ball's injury you'd have thought Caruso was next man up to start at point. But the way Dosunmu has played point guard, perhaps it should be him with Coby White. It will be his next big test. Dosunmu hasn't been featured on scouting reports before, which is partly why most of his shots have been open corner threes.

He'll start to be played physically. How will he handle that? Meanwhile, the way Donovan has set lineups before, it seems Caruso could be the power forward. Watch out Giannis, here he comes?


Kevin Garnett

Kevin Garnett on the Timberwolves.

Yara Santillan:

So when a play is dead on offense the offensive player with the ball will often take a shot at the basket. Usually a defender close to the basket will block the shot from going in (usually by poking the ball out through the hoop/net).

Why are they doing this so much lately? I don't remember noticing it as much before the last 5 years or so.

Sam Smith:

It really is so stupid. It seems like Kevin Garnett started that.

He was a noted trash talker, though generally with smaller guys who didn't talk back, and it seemed then an extension of that with the physical comment of the block. They often say when players are going bad they just need to see the ball go through the basket to get going, so coaches often will advise a player to drive and get fouled and then shoot free throws, generally the easiest way to score.

So perhaps the after the whistle block is another psychological edge.

You'll often see players shooting before games and when it's time to return to the huddle, a lot of guys won't leave until they make a shot. Good Ben Wallace didn't believe in that. Seems silly to me, but a lot of things do these days, like the post game hugging and congratulations (c'mon, they just kicked your butt) and the reassurance at the free throw line after a miss that everyone has to shake your hand so you don't feel bad. C'mon, make the damned shot!


Ayo Dosunmu

Ayo Dosunmu shoots a 3-pointer.

James Dahlin:

Is Ayo Dosunmu an unrestricted free agent after next season?

Sam Smith:

Not sure where you are going with this, but he got a two-year guarantee as the rules changed and some second round picks got guarantees. He's now a bargain at about $2.5 million for the next two years. Considering his affection for Chicago and this team and it seems vice versa, I suspect he'll be in a nice bargaining position after next season and will want to return and will encounter a welcoming organization.


TJ Warren

TJ Warren.

Josh Johnson:

I know we could use some more depth at the wing/big man spots. One name I haven't heard mentioned that I would be interested in is TJ Warren.

Now I know he's been recovering from a foot injury I believe for a while, but I wonder if he could be had for a reasonable price seeing as he's an expiring contract ($12.9 million)and the Pacers are going nowhere.

Sam Smith:

Since he's basically missed two years and apparently is not close to a return and it's been foot problems, it hardly seems likely, and even more so for a team that wants to play in transition. Several fans had mentioned Myles Turner, but now he's out, also, and never seemed a good fit to me since he always seemed to hang around by the 3-point line, certainly on offense.

Sabonis is the big name there. I saw a report that mentioned perhaps De'Aaron Fox and picks from the Kings. Where the Pacers are now and seem to be going, I'd probably do that.

Indiana seems out of it for this season with a limited ceiling if everyone is healthy and returns. I don't like rebuilding projects with kids and draft picks since most fail, but you can start with someone like Fox. Sabonis has two more seasons after this. Could they keep him? Indiana will be a trade deadline team to watch because they're in a tough spot.


LeBron James and Russell Westbrook

LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.

Mike Queensworth:

What does LeBron James do? This is the team he wanted. Team is full of old guys with no value, and a bad contract in Russell Westbrook.

My friend suggested that he will ask out this Summer for a return to Cleveland. I said the Lakers is where he will finish his career because he wants to be in the Hollywood scene and be in movies and TV. But it's got to eat at him that Steph once again has a title contending team and is the likable face of the league.

Sam Smith:

I was hoping to make this a LeBron-free zone, but with the coach probably soon to be out (LeBron has fired more successful coaches in mid season before), Westbrook looking like a sixth man (now there's a guy for Sacramento) and even all his buddies at ESPN losing faith, I also found it's now required under league rules for all forms of media to mention LeBron at least once a day.

I'm with you.

He has the biggest stage, and I think he can get past the end of his championships run by grooming his son to play with him and breaking Kareem's all-time scoring record in LA. He's played great this season, but at least he's sent a message to future partners/investors not to let him be the GM.


Goran Dragic and agent Bill Duffy

Goran Dragic and agent Bill Duffy.

Michael Suit:

Not sure what's going on with Dragic but if he's ever bought out would we be interested?

Sam Smith:

Oh yeah, I completely forgot about him. I guess Toronto did, too. Heck, I had to look it up to recall where he was, or supposed to be. I think if it's not really a personal problem and just a problem with Toronto he could help a lot of teams.

Given how upset he was with moving, he seems like he's prefer to return to Miami. I assume they'd have him on the cheap like that with no hard feelings.


Billy Donovan

Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan.

Raj Sheth:

Will Billy be the East's all-star game coach this year? Despite recent and expected upcoming losses, we'll still have the best east record 41 games into the season. Or is it measured by a different stat the the 41 games?

Sam Smith:

I believe it's the best record two weeks before the game, so he's got a chance with a little more than two weeks and maybe 10 games to go. I can't speak for him, and maybe unlike Joakim Noah he likes to vacation in Cleveland. But with the virus, the likely chaos of the 75th anniversary celebration and the hectic season, I think this is a year to miss the game. Most who aren't there go for a nice week off in the sun. Though perhaps that's the day in February Cleveland gets sun.


Serge Ibaka

Serge Ibaka of the L.A. Clippers.

Stephen Zwick:

One name I haven't seen mentioned for a possible big back-up for a 4/5 who might makes sense in the Bulls system is Serge Ibaka. He has a reasonable expiring salary (for the NBA) of $9.7 million that the Clippers appear to want to move just in order to not pay luxury tax.(Supposedly Ibaka is on the trading block)

So the Clippers would want to trade him mainly for picks rather than take back salary. Can the Bulls use the trade exemption?

Sam Smith:

I believe he makes more than that, but the larger issue probably is he isn't the guy Billy remembers in Oklahoma when his was the wind sweeping down the plain (sorry, I always break into song when someone mentions Oklahoma. Trust me, you don't want to be around).

I'm sure the Clippers would like to let him go, though he's started some lately with guys out. He's 32 with a recent history of back injuries and has been in and out injured most of the last five years. More like a buyout candidate type for maybe a look. He was once an athletic marvel, but when I saw him in recent seasons he seemed to want to stand around a lot and shoot threes.


Paul Millsap

Paul Millsap goes for an offensive rebound.

Brodie Larsh:

Paul Millsap to the Bulls? The Nets say they'll try to help him find a new team.

Sam Smith:

Sounds more like a Laker: good name, not so much game. The Millsap of six or seven years ago, yes, that's what they could use. At 36? You never know what is going on with teams, but if he can't get on the court ahead of Blake Griffin that would worry me.


Lauri Markkanen

Lauri Markkanen being guarded by Zach LaVine.

Harri Ahola:

After watching Bulls/Cavs:

  • Do Bulls miss Lauri? (OK, maybe not)
  • Do Bulls need Zach LaVine? Or do Bulls need LaVine with a max contract?
  • Sam Smith:

  • Agree, no.
  • Yes.

  • Coby White driving on Eric Gordon

    Coby White driving on Eric Gordon.

    Randall Sanders:

    With all the trade talk surrounding the Bulls, I hope they don't make a significant move at the trade deadline because, not only will you most likely have to part with either Coby White or Patrick Williams in any trade, but the Bulls should not act as if they are contending for a title this season.

    We need a versatile power forward at the moment but, let's see what happens when everyone gets healthy. I think if they have to trade either White or Williams, they would get more value for them later.

    Sam Smith:

    I don't expect anything major to occur; you know, like what I said last year before the Nikola Vucevic trade.

    But with the injuries now, especially with Lonzo, and that it does seem like Patrick Williams will get back, despite Arturas' early comments that he's exceptionally patient and then had the biggest turnover in franchise history, I think they want to see what they have if they can get everyone back.

    And for now are satisfied the group is competitive and the chemistry is excellent.


    Bobby Portis

    Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton of the Milwaukee Bucks.

    Blake Walters:

    It hurts a bit too see former Bull Bobby Portis continue to play so well for the defending champions. He had 25/12 (+27) in a win over the nets and 20/7 (+27) in a blowout win over the Warriors in the past couple weeks.

    I know Bulls management at the time probably felt like we needed to trade him after he punched Nikola Mirotić, but the way his teammates reacted at the time and how much his Bucks teammates love him leads me to think he might have been justified in doing so. Not to mention he is one of the best 3-point shooters in the league as a big guy. I think his $4.3 million a year contract might be the best value in the whole league relative to his production.

    At least it seems like he's happy now after having to deal with the Bulls' previous dysfunctional years. I would love to know what you think of the Bulls trade of him a few years later.

    Sam Smith:

    Let's remember the Bulls valued Portis higher then anyone in the league, and certainly the Bucks. The Bulls offered Bobby a four-year contract valued at, as I recall, about $48 to $50 million. Bobby rejected it and sought about $72 million for four years. That's why he was traded; he said he was insulted by the Bulls offer despite being a reserve. Obviously, he misread the market. Though I assume if he remains healthy, he will get a very good contract after this season from the Bucks.

    I'm sure the Bucks never would have made him a promise beyond this season because we know that's not allowed. I suspect Bobby loves brats and cheese more than anyone I'd ever heard of. So good for him. Good guy, fun to have around (I know, except if you were named Mirotic), but I'd hardly fault the Bulls. No, Mirotic didn't deserve it. It's a story neither likely will tell because both probably are embarrassed at the stupidity of that day.

    Bobby was upset because he stayed around to work out for the Bulls all summer and worked by most accounts harder than anyone and just had learned he was being left out of the regular rotation (for a bad team), and Mirotic seeking a contract extension was being told he'd have to be tougher, so he seemed to be trying that. On the wrong guy at the wrong time.


    Daryl Morey

    76ers President of Basketball Ops Daryl Morey.

    Mike Sutera:

    Sacramento has considered packaging Buddy Hield, Tyrese Haliburton, Harrison Barnes and two first-round picks for Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Matisse Thybulle, per report. Said the Sixers aren't interested.

    The Pistons made a trade offer of Jerami Grant, Saddiq Bey, Kelly Olynyk and a 1st-round pick to the 76ers for Ben Simmons. The 76ers were not excited about the offer.

    What does Morey want?

    Sam Smith:

    Your assurance he's a genius. If that Sacramento deal were true I'd be interested in that. But Morey, the current 76ers head who unleashed Sam Hinkie on the NBA, is the ultimate fantasy GM (though his main plan once was Omer Asik) who loves the big hit and the I told you so.

    It has sounded like that would be James Harden as a free agent this summer more than Damian Lillard, who's hurt now. Maybe Portland doesn't recover when he does and he finally gives up the ship. That seems to be Morey's plan, give up one more year of Embiid's career but maybe get him two titles with an All-NBA guard.

    If that were the tradeoff I could see you could accept that.

    So probably why he doesn't want to take on salary. Offloading Harris' would be the tipping point. You figure Harden will have had enough of Kyrie after this season.

    After all, Harden couldn't wait to split with the prickly Chris Paul. He's a mensch compared with Irving.

    Ben Simmons has made a mess of this as well as he should be playing. C'mon, you took the money (which sadly he still gets) and made a promise, so play. So the fans and media make fun of you. With Simmons there and this erratic NBA season the 76ers could win the title. That shuts up everyone. Hey, I wouldn't want to live in Philly, either. But you're on the road a lot.

    Got a question for Sam?

    Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

    The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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