Ask Sam mailbag: Damian Lillard trade possibilities, playoff thoughts, and more

Sam Smith answers your offseason questions in his weekly mailbag
by Sam Smith
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Joseph Austin:

What do you think about this trade idea?
Bulls get: Damian Lillard
Blazers get: S/T PF Lauri Markkanen, SG/PG Coby White, Aminu or 2021 2nd round pick, 2025 first round pick, & 2027 first round pick.

I know that it's a lot of first round picks being traded away between the Magic and Blazers. However, the Bulls would be getting a 3rd superstar to team up with LeVine and Vucevic. The Bulls would be giving themselves a 5 to 6 year window to win 1 or 2 NBA Titles at least. It's a huge risk, but it's going to take 5 years for those pick to be turned into players, anyway. The Bulls would be transformed into an immediate Eastern Conference force with this trade.

Sam Smith:

Thanks for the fantasy. Damian Lillard top five MVP contender for players coming off the bench this season and some future picks? Assume that means Trailblazers are shutting down the franchise. Of course, the Bulls don't have near enough to compete for Lillard—who supposedly has expressed some dissatisfaction for the first time about the coaching change and lacking personnel—without including LaVine and more. The Knicks, of course, are rumored, which means primarily in the minds of local media. They have no chance. But possibilities regarding Lillard will be one of the big stories of the offseason. The 76ers likely would offer Ben Simmons plus plenty of stuff. There are also rumors Golden State would put out Wiseman, this year's lottery picks and everyone not named Steph and Klay. Portland might have to give that some thought. Wiggins, Paschall and three lottery picks. Boston has been speculated with Jaylen Brown and Indiana is anxious to do something big and likely would move at least Brogdon and Myles Turner for a star. I assume Lillard gives it one more run with Billups, though you never say never in the NBA.


JaVale McGee

Kieron Smith:

JaVale McGee and the Chicago Bulls or the return of Robin Lopez? McGee actually retweeted the Bulls, and listed himself as Best Vet Fit. He listed Rolo as Low Risk, High Reward though. Considering the Bulls need someone to cover Vucevic's back as a backup, and considering he's a free agent, would Bulls be looking to sign him? Or would they settle for a return of Rolo?

Sam Smith:

The majority of the Bulls talk/speculation/rumor has been about a point guard, and I still assume it remains their No. 1 priority. The Bulls are going to need some size, especially considering the uncertainty regarding Markkanen and Daniel Theis. I'd guess both of your suggestions would fit in veteran minimum or reasonable exceptions. I doubt Thomas Bryant will be back in Washington to start the season and they did like former Bull Daniel Gafford. So they could try to retain Lopez, whom I'd probably prefer, though like his brother in these Finals there's that switching and drop coverage problem. McGee never could get much time after going to Denver late in the season. It probably depends on what offers Theis gets. Yes, the Bulls have more than one need. Though the interesting addition to this discussion is Patrick Williams. Erik Spoelstra for the Select Team against the USA Team has been using Williams often as a small ball center with the reports positive. We saw the Bucks have some success with that in the Finals moving Giannis in for Brook Lopez. Given Williams' size already as a 19-year-old and with legs and a frame that suggest growth, it seems to me more likely Williams will excel playing stretch four and small ball five rather than a three/perimeter defender. I see Williams being able to give the Bulls useful versatility and skill inside and an ability to adjust better to opponent changes. Thus lessening the need for a classic center backup. And there’s also 6-11 Marko Simonovic from last year’s draft.


Patrick Williams defending Khris Middleton

Elijah Humble:

You gotta give Khris Middleton a little more credit, he's smoking out there. His offensive game is as smooth and well-rounded as anybody in the league, and I love his all-business attitude, barely cracks a smile. He sorta disappeared a couple games earlier in the playoffs but has otherwise been clutch when they needed him. Middleton vs Zach...who's gone deeper in the playoffs? Middleton's not only been in several times, to Zach's none, he's routinely hitting shots and winning big plays not only deep in the playoffs but in the conference finals. They're different players with different roles (Giannis sidekick is a pretty good role) and the all-star team is based on the regular season, but overall Middleton seems worthy.

Sam Smith:

This is a debate I get into occasionally to make a point, like I did recently on a Colin Cowherd podcast about Devin Booker. When someone suggests one player is better than another it doesn't mean you believe the other player is bad. It's incremental, and opinion based. I've made the point with Zach and Middleton a few times because Middleton was making All-Star teams when Zach still couldn't get a sniff. It's not that Middleton wasn't worthy; I was just suggesting if he was, then Zach was, also, because Zach is more athletic to get to the basket, shoots just as well, has more range and averages more points. It's fair to say Zach does score more because he has to and doesn't play with a star like Giannis. But Middleton would not be in the playoffs if he still was back in Detroit where he started. And it is much more difficult to hit big shots at big times in the playoffs from your couch back home. And no one is mentioning Middleton for all-defensive teams, either. Great players like Durant or LeBron are a different category. When you move down a bit to Middleton or Booker or LaVine, it matters who they play with. Booker put up great numbers for five years without being in a playoff game or with a team with a winning record until this season and Chris Paul, who perhaps is on his way to Finals MVP. It matters whom you stand next to. Scottie Pippen probably would have been an All-Star. But if the Bulls hadn't been able to trade up in 1987 from No. 8 to No. 5, he would have been selected by the Sacramento Kings. As good as your defense is, no one notices if your team is losing by 10 instead of 25. It's where you fit sometimes as important as your talent. Middleton was able to slip in next to the guy who is doubled constantly. Credit him for taking advantage. I'm not diminishing Middleton as much as I was asking for a closer look at LaVine. Though I guess the league has since Zach's now an All-Star and a member of USA Basketball. And now it's up to Nikola Vucevic for the rest of the journey?


Bobby Portis hyped

Michael Carson:

I have enjoyed watching the playoffs and the Hawks and Suns surprised everyone. I have been pleased to see Bobby Portis shine on the national stage. What do you think about the Bulls re-signing him. He plays with more an edge than Markkanen and catch shoot and rebound. I think he could start at the 4 and complement Vooch and Zach.

Sam Smith:

Maybe to reassemble the dream team with E'Twaun Moore, Cameron Payne, Daniel Gafford and Tony Snell? One thing about the playoffs, and especially later like in the conference finals and Finals—though don't feel badly because GMs make the same mistake—you come to believe things guys do in those occasions they'll do all the time. Like most snapshots, they can be misleading as just that point in time. My lesson to team executives that generally is ignored is to remember the Bulls champion role players. Phil Jackson used Luc Longley expertly, recognizing his ability to contribute without the talent or inclination to dominate. So he'd run a few early plays for Luc, Luc might make a basket or two and the defense would sag a bit and then open the floor more. Luc would barely see the ball again. So the Suns after the 1998 Finals thought, "Hey, we'll give him more shots." Luc averaged his same nine points for the Suns, but for a lot, lot more money. Similarly with Scott Williams when he went to Philadelphia, Jud Buechler when he went to Detroit and even Steve Kerr when he went to the Spurs. By his second season with the Spurs after leaving the Bulls, Kerr was out of the rotation because he couldn't defend no matter how many shots he might make. Though he made some big shots for the Spurs in playoff games, he never did average five points in three years with the Spurs on that first big contract. It makes a difference when they're doubling and tripling Jordan. Bobby is a good contributor and a fun teammate, but he's still the same heavy legged guy who's kind of slow to react who because of emails like yours is going to find some GM who thinks that 22 he scored when Giannis was out was the real Bobby Portis and his team will bring out that magic no one else could. Seen that before.


Kawhi Leonard

Art Alenik:

About the rumors of Kawhi deciding to become a free agent: He's unhappy w/ the Clips' medical staff? Funny, he was unhappy w/ the Spurs' medicos too. It was OK in Toronto, when they ‘cleared' him to sit out every other game. Maybe he needs to play for the T-Wolves, close to the Mayo Clinic, or the Cavs (Cleveland Clinic). Yeah, I'm sure he'll take the $36MM. So as to PGs: Do you consider Dinwiddie to be a PG? I know he played there in Kyrie's absence, but I still see him mostly as a SG, and he would only be a temporary band-aid to the Bulls' lack of a PG Schroeder is definitely a PG, but nowhere near worth the $$$ he wants, and still not as good a PG as I'd eventually like to have starting. Conley is probably too expensive (and prone to injury lately). I guess my choices would be Lowry Or Ball. Lowry brings experience & toughness, while Ball is coming into his own & still has lots of potential. Not sure AK can resolve the PG problem this summer. It might be a short-term solution while we look for someone better. I guess if they don't spend big $$$ on a PG now, they may be able to keep Thad and/or Theis.

Sam Smith:

I agree Kawhi needs to stay close to UCLA medical center. As much as the point guard search will dominate the Bulls summer, they may as you suggest have to postpone things. With Vucevic there are possibilities to play through big men, including Thad Young. I'm also not for investing big money long term in someone whose title is point guard but doesn't pass the eye test. I like Lowry also for his toughness, though he sounds like a 76ers fallback choice to return home. The Ball bidding could get out of the Bulls range if the Knicks are stymied despite local media reports that Durant, Kawhi, Curry and Beal really prefer the Knicks. Though I assume the Bulls get in the chase.


Al-Farouq Aminu and Troy Brown Jr.

Mark Schweihs:

The Bulls 2021-22 roster has mostly good contracts. There are two that stand out as over-paid.
1) Al-Farouq Aminu, 30 years old ten year veteran, is in the final year of a $29.2/3yr contract and will earn $10.2 in 2021-22.
2) Troy Brown Jr., 21 years old, is in the third year of his rookie contract making $5.2 mil in 2021-22.
At the trade deadline these two were "also added" parts. Looking at the 2021-22 season, $15.4 million combined. Do you expect anything from Aminu or Brown?

Sam Smith:

The Bulls had to take on Aminu's contract and save the Magic money to complete the Vucevic trade. After all, you're getting an All-Star mostly for draft picks who will become reserves or marginal starters. I was surprised he played so little, but when he did he didn't earn more time. I expect to see more of Brown, who missed the last several weeks injured after a reasonably good start as a defender and occasional shot maker and ballhandler. That was the Gafford/Hutchison deal, and Washington looked like a winner with Gafford playing well in the playoffs. His time was going to be limited with the Bulls acquisition of Vucevic. Hutchison obviously needed different scenery. We all liked Gafford, though he's a role player. So is Brown. With the priorities of finding a point guard, which could cost players like Garrett Temple and with Coby White's shoulder injury recovery, Brown could be a valuable player to at least begin next season.


Arturas Karnisovas

Ben Arrieta:

AKME would have a better bargaining leverage if there can be a mutual agreement with Orlando Magic for the 5th pick which could be Scottie Barnes and 8th pick which could either be Davion Mitchell, Jonathan Kuminga or Moses Moody in exchange for the "untouchable" Zach Lavine who has an expiring contract by next year as unrestricted free agent whose price can go as high as $38.8M and who has yet to bring the Bulls to the playoffs for his 5th try. Prudence is the footprint of wisdom and seize the moment when opportunity knocks but once. This would create a triple threat and raise our hope to duplicate the Rising Suns feat for a possible run for the championship.

Sam Smith:

Nicely put, though I expect the Bulls to keep Zach, to be past the rookie tryout stage and to eventually put on the table an offer that other teams cannot match or exceed.


SGA

Mike Sutera:

Hot rumor. OKC is not shopping SGA but will listen to offers. Supposedly he does not fit into their time frame of their rebuild. I would love him, but we don't have the assets. Remember they shut him down cuz he along with Dort kept winning them games. He's one PG that never gets any credit as one of the leagues young PG crop cuz of where he plays. I can honestly say he is just as good as Ja Morant.

Sam Smith:

Maybe not quite that dynamic, but really, really good and would be the ultimate answer to the Bulls needs. If Gilgeous-Alexander doesn't fit the Thunder's timetable then it may involve players not born yet. The problem as we both see it is the market. It may be as big or even bigger than for someone like Lillard, who is 30 and has a lot of miles on his knees and shots in his elbows. I've seen speculation for Simmons, of course, but also an interesting one with the Pistons for the No. 1 pick. The Pelicans are quiet, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Brandon Ingram offered along with some of the many picks and young players they have. The bidding could get very serious for a player just 22 who averaged 24 points for a team trying to lose and taking him out whenever he started played well.


Adam Silver

John Petersen:

In the NFL each team creates their own draft board. Is it the same with the Bulls? It must be somewhat similar. Again in the NFL there is the Wonderlic intelligence test but does the NBA have a similar test or do the teams each have their own? What other type of testing exists beyond vertical jump and measurements of height, hand size, wingspan etc.? Has NBA testing and evaluation recently evolved along with other measurements from other sports like exit velocity in baseball? With all the emerging sports technology what is "new" to the NBA?

Sam Smith:

All the teams in all the sports operate similarly with the draft, making a list of their top 60—for the NBA—and then crossing names off as they get selected. That's how you hear a team say their pick at No. 19 was rated second on their draft board. Sure. What generally is most curious is how so many different personalities can analyze talent almost identically. Those draft boards generally are similar, and if it's LeBron I agree everyone will see him as No. 1. But so many others? I get the concept of testing and checking all the boxes and doing your due diligence and all, but if LeBron was a kleptomaniac everyone would take him No. 1. If Marcus Morris were, he wouldn't have been drafted. If those tests can identify future serial killers, I understand. They seem not to be able to. I'd watch them play and then decide.


Patrick Williams

Brian Tucker:

Seeing the Bucks bully the Hawks with their big lineup gave me a lot of hope for our team. I know many want to see Pat play power forward and we go with a smaller, quicker lineup. I haven't been a fan of that idea and prefer he stay at small forward. I think he will grow more aggressive offensively and allow us to have a bigger lineup. The key, of course, is getting a PG. Thinking of matching up with the Suns, I think Pat matches up well with either Mikal Bridges or Crowder, as would another wing. They are another great example of team building like that. This Finals will be a good test. If Phoenix wins, I'll totally be on board going small, but if Milwaukee wins maybe size does matter? I am hopeful that Pat takes a big leap in Year two, especially on D, and can be that lockdown defender. A full offseason of being on the Olympic select team and specialized training should make him quicker and more confident. That should really help our chances of being good next season.

Sam Smith:

So far with the Suns ahead 2-0 that means you're in the Patrick Williams at 4/5 camp? He's playing against the big inside guys with the Select Team, so it will be interesting to see how the Bulls use him next month as Williams is scheduled to be in Summer League. Though it's not a bad debate to have with the concept of the two-way player. Williams could be a special one. Though I also have had some critics suggest to me Williams because of his nature will be more like Marvin Williams. Marvin Williams had a 15-year NBA career and averaged about 10 points, which is well above the average. He was a bit more on the passive side, highly skilled at 6-8 and about 235. He was selected in that draft ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams when executives were envisioning what the NBA has become, a league of versatile 6-8 players who could switch everything and guard inside and outside. But Marvin Williams maxed out at 14.8 per game, in part, because he preferred to fit comfortably with the group and play a role. That remains the big question for Patrick Williams, which we should recognize over the next few years.

Got a question for Sam?

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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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