Ask Sam Mailbag: Fan trade proposals and more

Mike Sutera

I don't get to travel much. What are your favorite and least favorite NBA cities?

Sam Smith:

The travel around the United States is probably what I've missed most this season not being allowed in the arenas. It's really a great country for seeing and enjoying, if not always talking to everyone. My favorites cities living in Chicago are, of course, the warm weather places, Miami, Phoenix and Los Angeles. Though not as much Los Angeles anymore with the arena downtown. When the Lakers were at the Forum and we stayed by the beach, there wasn't much better. California's beaches for the ambiance, the weather, the vibe are the continental 48's best. Though I can't say I've tried Alaska's. Downtown LA is just another place and the traffic there makes it too tough to get anywhere else. Montana says it's big sky, but nowhere is bluer than Phoenix. Miami is probably the best place in the U.S. to be in winter. It even smells better. Is that coco butter? There's nothing like the tropics. People seem to be dancing everywhere you go. I'm sure they are great places to raise a family, but I'm still surprised the NBA is in Oklahoma City and Memphis. I've been to a lot of those awful memorial sites, Dallas, Austin and counting much too often. Nothing is as somber as the Murrah Memorial in Oklahoma City. It practically makes you cry every time. It's also the most desolate downtown I've ever seen. The ducks in the Peabody Hotel in Memphis are cool, but that's about it. Nothing to see here, keep moving. The U.S. has some amazing cities with rich history, great sights and sites, and so much to do. Not so much in Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Minneapolis. Salt Lake City is underrated and may be the most picturesque city in the country surrounded by those amazing snow capped mountains that look like they are in 3-D. The best for walking around and enjoying a city are Boston, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. You can pretty much walk each in a day, and there's so much to see and do, though I'd probably rate Boston best for the history, the only American city that looks like Europe and the variety as long as, again, you don't spend too much time talking to the locals, as if you can even understand them. Oh right, basketball. Sorry, it's almost the start of spring, which gets me day dreaming. Though being in Chicago we don't get spring until three days in late May. So plenty of time to keep writing.

Alejandro Yegros:

When AK was talking about "delusional" teams recently... was he talking about the Bulls? I still have faith in Wendell and I love P-Will, but are they really that interested in being the 9th seed? Every single time a good team turns up the pressure, we fold quick.

Sam Smith:

I think he meant the Pistons; maybe the Cavs since they sent home their best center. It's sort of an ouch after Wednesday's devastating loss to the Spurs, though you see a lot of those kinds of losses in the NBA these days because of all the weird circumstances of schedule, no practice, Covid testing and who else knows what goes on since none of us get to the areas or practice anymore. It's a little discouraging writing these fan pleas after a bad loss since it is true you do seem worse than you are after a loss and better than you are after a win. Getting some confidence with a winning streak might mean more for a team like the Bulls, who have had so few. I believe they will be better than they have been because there's so much active veteran involvement now. It's the danger of those rebuilding projects with all the top draft picks. The veterans have the appropriate perspective, which the Bulls now have with Young and Satoransky playing prominent roles. They are unshakable veterans. LaVine is becoming one. But they are not elite talents. Zach, is. The reason the Bulls, as you suggest, "fold" some is because they lack a true No. 2. Young and Satoransky aren't good enough on their own without the team play that Billy Donovan preaches. The Bulls hoped Lauri Markkanen and/or Coby White would evolve to that position next to LaVine. Maybe they still will. It's too soon to ask Patrick Williams to do so yet.

Rahul Chatterjee:

Is it legal for Lauri Markkanen to go down to the post once in awhile? I know he will never be Karl Malone but most times he's just camping out on the 3 pt line on every possession.

Sam Smith:

You know the most famous cliche now to describe most everything in life, It is what it is. Or he is what he is. It's just not who Markkanen is ever going to be. Which doesn't mean he's not a valuable player. We often want players (and people) to be who we need them or want them to be. Though don't coaches always say their job is to put players in position to succeed. With what they do best. Lauri's is not in the post. He doesn't do well with contact, but he does things well, namely shooting, and you can take advantage of that with a seven footer. Isn't shooting the game now? Or so we hear. Teams tend to play smaller players on him because he floats outside. So then you have an advantage with their less mobile big guy on your smaller guy. Which has often enabled Thad Young to prosper in the post. If Markkanen had that post element, too, he'd be a star. It doesn't seem like he will be, but teams need five starters. All five are not stars. The 76ers look like an excellent team with Seth Curry starting. He's primarily just an outside shooter. So Markkanen does that. Michael Jordan was a great post player. So was Adrian Dantley at also about 6-5. You just try to take the best from what a player can offer.

Nicholas Hill:

I must say that now that Lauri is back, he looks as great at center as he has all season. AKME is going to have a hard time deciding whether to match or not. The Mavs have a similar issue with Kristaps. When he's in, great! The guy is an all star level talent. When he's out, that 27 mil per year starts to hurt. It makes you wonder if AKME wants that problem. Regardless, he's not guarding the Jokics and Embiids of the nba. So, the Bulls need a big body. So, draft one. Dayron Sharpe is 6'11, 265. There's a guy to throw at NBA bigs. Sharife Cooper is my favorite prospect but with Coby being put back into a 6th man role, I suspect the Bulls don't want to develop another guard. That's where I think a nice chunk of their cap space will go (Lonzo?).

Sam Smith:

I've likened Markkanen to Porzingis in the way they can play and impact a team, and it is a tough decision at some point. There were rumors the Mavericks were looking to trade Porzingis, which now has been rejected and denied. Still, teams have difficulty with players like them who don't actually fit the profile. If you're seven feet tall (or more) you're supposed to be the shot blocker, physical guy. But what if you're not? It's a shooting era, right? And they are the best big shooters. But it seems then you still need a big guy. What to do? It's why the Bulls need a healthy Markkanen to finish this season and see how—or if—he fits. Rarely do teams not match. So we'll see. Which also brings up the debate we always hear and will again. If you're not playing for the title or thereabouts, get in the lottery and get talent, right? The Bulls are on the edge of that, so starting Young and Satoransky surely suggest the lottery isn't a goal. We'll know for sure after the March 25 trade deadline. I don't know the college players yet, but I did take a peek at the top guys. The No. 1 guy Cunningham looks great for anyone. For the Bulls, the consensus center from USC, Mobley, seems like he'd address the greatest need. There's no doubt the Bulls need to get some physical, defensive size at center first.

Brodie Larsh:

Knicks get Thad, Lauri, and Wendell and right to a 1st round pick swap: Bulls get Julius Randle and Nerlans Noel.

Who says no?

I'm guessing Knicks might need more to give up Randle. Maybe if we added Coby for Elfrid Payton or something. It's a lot to give up, but Zach would finally have a legit running mate.

Sam Smith:

I assume the Knicks would say we'll give you Barrett, Knox, Quickly and a No. 1 swap so Randle can finally have a legit running mate in Zach. You probably have to develop All-Stars.

Peter Bachman:

Start Denzel instead of Williams?

Sam Smith:

I might give that a try. I feel like Williams needs a break after starting all season. Donovan obviously starts him because he's relied so much on putting Williams on some of the better offensive players. But Williams isn't that quick and often gets beat off the dribble by guards and wing players. Denzel is not the same level defender. But he is a good shooter. Trust me. He hasn't shot well recently, just 22 percent on threes the last month in 13 games and 32 percent overall. I suspect that has something to do with the changing roles and rotations depending on who's out. I think the Bulls may need to reduce Thad Young's minutes some to keep him fresher, and perhap give Valentine some of that ballhandling and playmaking responsibility. We justifiably give Williams a pass as a rookie and teenager and a player who looks like he could be a stat. It's unfair to expect too much now. But the games count. He'll grow into it, but for now he's a reluctant offensive player. Bringing him off the bench for awhile might give him a chance to relax and experiment with his game.

Brendan Greeley:

Among the many aspects of Zach LaVine's game that are worth appreciating, I like that he doesn't flop. He absorbs contact and finishes strong. Fully endorse superstars that exhibit such toughness. Troubling trend in NBA of 3-point shooters purposely kicking and entangling feet with an opponent as defender runs clear off to one side. Seems like a play that could cause injury, yet refs have rewarded offenders Bertans, Quickley, Young, Herro and others vs. Bulls this season. Why don't refs coordinate efforts to identify common floppers and stop giving those players constant benefit of the doubt? Commissioner seems flimsy on flopping issue. Slows the game down. When did flopping begin in the NBA? Also, who would be on your all-time flopper starting 5? James Harden has to be the Flop GOAT. Amazing talent, but flailing adds 6-8 pts to his scoring average every season.

Sam Smith:

I wish in a lot of places in American society honest and professional behavior were the most rewarded. It isn't always that way, and with sports officials it often seems the same way. I also don't get why Harden keeps getting rewarded for what often to me seems such obvious acting out. So perhaps while we credit Zach and are proud of him because he wants to play the game honestly, too much of the U.S. these days has evolved to the ends justifying the means. Derrick Rose never went there, and we were always complaining he didn't get to the free throw line enough. I generally support NBA officials and default to there being so many scoring plays you can make it up. But it would be nice if the frauds were exposed. In basketball, also. Alltime, obviously Bill Laimbeer and Vlade Divac were two of the most notorious. LeBron doesn't fall down, but I can't recall him ever driving to the basket and not scoring and not acting like he was wounded. Of course, Jordan did his share of complaining, too. It's epidemic and we see easily now with the replay how egregious it is sometimes with obvious fouls players say they never committed. The basic problem is it's a game theoretically without contact in which certain contact is permitted. Manu was expert; one of my favorites (least favorites) was Anderson Varejao because it looked worse with his hair. A lot of players did it as part of routines to stay in the league, like Bruce Bowen, Shane Battier and Raja Bell. Danny Ainge was a practitioner along with Reggie Miller. It's not new. The dynasty Celtics invented everything and Frank Ramsey knew how to draw fouls, or as it was called then, gamesmanship. Jerry Sloan was good at it. So was Phil Jackson, who looked like he was flopping around with his gangly body. But Harden is ridiculous! Stop him!

Adam Groner:

I know Patrick Williams may still grow. You've written you think he will end up more of a power forward. I agree positions still have some worth especially on defense. The important distinction for me is can Patrick Williams eventually be the primary defender against wings like Tatum, Durant, Butler, Hayward, Simmons, OG, Khris Middleton, Kawhi and Lebron?

Or will he be too slow and end up guarding bigs like Siakam, Giannis, Julius Randle, Bam, John Collins, Jeff Green, Tobias Harris, the Morris twins and Anthony Davis? When the Bulls eventually make it to the finals many years from now, will Williams start the game guarding Lebron or Anthony Davis?

Sam Smith:

I like the optimism. I'd say Davis. I know Williams is being looked at as a Kawhi Leonard type, and that's a good look. At 19, to me, he appears too big for the wing guy. With his athletic ability I think he'd be even more valuable, especially for this Bulls team, playing inside and where he'd have the biggest advantage. He got 13 rebounds against the Spurs and you hardly noticed. I might even have him defend centers now since I think he may be the toughest on the team to stand up defensively to the bigger players. You don't always need to be seven feet tall if you can push them out of their spots and box them off the boards. He seems like he can do that and is quick enough for the athletic bigs more than the athletic wings.

Kevin Johnson:

Something needs to be done about tanking and sitting player's randomly who, for all accounts, aren't injured, and probably aren't really tired. What can the league do? I have a couple ideas. First, abolish this "rest" gimmick. Tough this year, but we all know this has been going on for years. What about a "disabled list?" If a player misses more than one game in a row, that players official medical information gets sent to the league office for clearance. He then is either declared healthy and considered playable, or he is deemed injured and has to sit for a minimum of days, say ten, or placed on another list where he will be re-evaluated depending on the seriousness of the injury. And as for tanking, what ever happened to responsibility? Imagine a world class restaurant resting it's best front of the house staff because Valentine's Day is three days away. It makes no sense. People work for a living unless they are very fortunate. People pay money and support these franchises.

Sam Smith:

Well maybe not this year, but I get the point. I think the NBA has dealt with some of that with the expanded playoffs and play-in tournament (if you're nine or 10 you basically have to win two games, winning the nine/10 and then beating the loser of seven/eight to get the No. 8 seed). Like Karnisovas said, even some deluded teams seem to be trying. At least for now. The embarrassment this season is so many teams sending players home either because the players want out or the teams want to play their young guys, if not not necessarily to lose on purpose but those guys being part of their future. The NBA once had the medical list you talk about, and I'd go for that. But players have so much more influence now the league often defers to them. What I'd most like to see dealt with is the buyout period going on now when the better teams just get better. It's so unfair and contrary to everything the league is supposed to stand for—if not the country—which is basically leveling the playing field to equalize competition. As a society, we complain about income inequity and the one percent and all that. And then the NBA allows just that with players able to walk away from contacts and sign with the best teams, Blake Griffin already to the Nets and we know more to come for them, the Lakers, Clippers, maybe Bucks. It's not in the best interests of equity and fairness. I know, I'm such a dreamer.

Mike Queen:

Reports say Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz are considered the only untouchable players on the roster of the Orlando Magic. Both Isaac and Fultz are out for the season but are signed long-term.

Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier have been made available, while Nikola Vucevic could also be acquired if the offer was strong enough.The Magic are in search of point guard help with interest in Ricky Rubio. Should the Bulls go for Rubio?

Sam Smith:

Since Rubio is on the books for $18 million next season, certainly not. I've never figured out how he impacts winning, anyway. Orlando is one of those teams with so many injuries that it looks like they may be about to pack it in for the lottery now, 14th in the East losing nine straight. There were rumors about trading Gordon and Fournier before the season. Gordon makes about $17 million for next season, which seems reasonable enough and he is a heck of an athlete. Either could really help a playoff team. I can't see them moving Vucevic. Like with Young and Satoransky, this isn't the last NBA season ever. You need veteran talent. Maybe the shooter Fournier for a buyout? Can't see teams taking on his money, though did I mention how unfair those buyouts are? One week to trade deadline. It's quiet; too quiet.

Mason Worth:

How about Michael Carter-Williams coming back?

Sam Smith:

And Cameron Payne. That's also the problem when you are going through a rebuilding. Or apparently heading toward one. Fans are anxious and frustrated, and as much as management talks about patience, it's difficult for them to be. Both those guys had injuries when they were with the Bulls and were judged harshly and quickly. They're probably solid backups, but they are NBA players. I especially liked Carter-Williams, who was hurt and not producing much with the Bulls. He was acquired for Tony Snell, which seemed like a no brainer for a rookie of the year point guard. But he also was independent and not afraid to have a voice, which I think hurt him with the Bulls. It was a fractious locker room then with Jimmy and Dwyane Wade at odds with Rajon Rondo and multiple point guard tryouts going on with Carter-Williams, Payne, Isaiah Canaan, Jerian Grant and Jimmy and Wade both wanting the ball, anyway. How the heck did that team make the playoffs? And then they should have beaten Boston. Good for Carter-Williams, even if it's just 'til Fultz recovers.

Tapani Kivini:

I was making some comments in last season and stopped commenting, because of the old coaching. Now I have been watching about every game even it is very late in Finland. Donovan has made some great changes to Bulls system and it looks again worth to watch. Comments: If they will not get any real center to the rest of the season, they really should focus on the next season. This missing power center also make their own practice sessions poor, when there is no real man attacking towards, Markkanen, Carter, Williams, etc. So how could they learn how to play against Jokic, Embiid, Davis, etc. Another issue for every player. When they shoot they never make fakes and get a body contact and fault and free throws. They just play nice basket ball, but it is not the way the best shooters act. Like Trae Young, Harden Damian etc. They always look the free throw option.

Sam Smith:

With all the games they're probably not practicing much this second half with I noticed another make game added in April during their only two-day break of the month. It's a valid point, though you never get to practice against guys like LeBron and Harden because there aren't any others. It's also why I think coaches often overestimate practice. I know they love it because that's what they do. But how many times have you heard coaches say how great the practice was and then the games not so much? It's about finding competitors. Like Allen Iverson said, "Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it's my last. Not the game. We talking about practice." I remember all the hullabaloo and didn't understand. It was practice, not the game. It's just Larry Brown was nutty and won everyone over with that coming-to-work thing. But Iverson was right. Seriously, practice? I'll show you in the games. Those are the players I prefer, also. As for the fouls, it's an art and these Bulls still are finger painting.

Frederick Ong:

It has been established this season that Zach LaVine is truly a star and a franchise player for the Bulls. I suppose the first order of business should be to lock him up long term. My question is how much and how long of a contract can the Bulls offer him this offseason as an extension? Also, if he does not sign an extension contract this offseason, how much can the Bulls offer him versus what other teams can offer him next offseason? Thanks!

Sam Smith:

The other big question—make it another, instead—of an offseason full of questions. What's the most important position still to fill for the Bulls? Most everyone says center, and certainly after Moses and Jakob were among the latest classic NBA big men to put up career highs on the Bulls. But what if you can get a top point guard? Markkanen's free agency? The cap room? Free agents? The draft? Oh yeah, Zach. He is eligible for an extension starting at 120 percent of his salary for the 2021-22 season. That would give him a starting salary of $23.4 million, which we assume he would not take. Though you can get by on that. He has one more season after this on his Bulls contract at about $19.5 million. The Bulls could use part of their salary cap space this summer for a larger deal, but then, well, that's the cap space. LaVine can be an unrestricted free agent after next season and the Bulls could offer him five years and other teams only four. Both sides take the chance and ride it out? Stay tuned.

Bruce Roberts:

There are things I like about this team but something important is missing. At times I feel we need a point guard. At other times I feel that Wendall Carter Jr, a nice young man, but he is not the right fit for this team and we need a defensive presence with height that can add some offense down the stretch. Or someone besides Zach LaVine who likes the big moment and makes plays down the stretch. Donovan is right, our only option going down the stretch cannot be LaVine. If Arturas called you and wanted to know what he should do, how would you answer?

Sam Smith:

Stay the course for now. I don't see that trading Young or Satoransky is going to bring enough back to be worth it, and this isn't the last season. I'd like to have them around and they're not that old. Markkanen and Carter because of injuries just haven't played enough yet for a complete judgment. I like White as a sixth man scorer in the Ben Gordon mold, which good teams need. I still want to see if Markkanen and Carter can demonstrate they are long term NBA starters, though both have shown they can produce in the NBA. I'd like to see the Bulls make the playoffs, but I don't want to see it at the expense of those players not getting substantial playing time and also in big moments. Sure, it's important for these guys to get into a playoff game or two to see what they can do in those situations. But having someone else help get them there defeats the purpose. Can they do it? If they can't, then we have some other questions answered. Of course, if he did actually call me I'd warn him that he's probably butt dialing.