Ask Sam mailbag: future PG options, Derrick Rose, old-school Bulls, and more

Sam Smith fires up his mailbag to answer your questions as NBA playoffs are well underway.
by Sam Smith
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Brian Tucker:

In the West I like the Trailblazers and the Suns. Those teams are the most fun to watch. In the East, I'm just rooting for the Bulls offseason, haha! The eye opening storyline is Conley being upset with the Jazz and is an upcoming free agent. Something to keep an eye on and I'm thinking about the prospect of him as a Bull. A 3rd All-Star, though not a particularly shining one. He doesn't light up the stat sheet and will probably miss about 20 games, but he's got skilled and is a good floor leader. He'd be a good mentor for Coby, and having Coby for those missed games makes that less an issue. Would you prefer him or Lonzo, who offers a very different set of pros and cons.

Sam Smith:

Another fan sent me his potential point guard list for the Bulls:

  • Graham: A down year but not a true PG. A fancier more expensive Coby.
  • McConnell: A solid backup but can he start for us while we develop other PG options?
  • Dinwiddie: coming off his second ACL. Will be looking for a big deal but doubt he gets it. Will have to settle for a 1 yr deal to prove he is healthy. Could be the best option for us.
  • Schroder: Wants way more then he is worth. I feel he is a guy who if signs a big deal will become what Reggie Jackson became for the Pistons (an Albatross)
  • Ball: The sexy name. Would look great alongside Zach. Hefty price tag basically takes him out of consideration for us. Hear Knicks.
  • Lowry: Will want a 2-3 yr deal around 50 mil. Probably wants his home town of Philly or the nice weather of Miami.
  • Elfrid Payton: Watching Knicks games he is basically a better distributor than Sato and a worse shooter.
  • Conley: will stay with the Jazz is my guess as he looks to sign one final big deal for his career.

It's a good list, and what it also suggests is it's not an easy answer that might be easier—even though I'm no fan of another teenager—settled with some draft luck. I've been a fan of Conley's and was promoting him the summer before the Bulls went for Young and Satoransky. Though I thought that was a reasonable alternative, especially where the Bulls were and that Conley did miss half that first season. I don't know about the mad-at-Jazz part; I thought that was Donovan. I don't believe the money's going to be there for as many of these guys as they believe and there'll be several big one-year deals. Maybe Conley from Indianapolis wants to be back in the Midwest. You never know what drives these guys, and frankly despite what's talked about in media, it's not often the chance to win a title. That depends too much on good luck with health and plenty of variables. I'm also intrigued by Kyle Lowry, though I assume the Bulls will get in the Lonzo bidding. It might become too steep with New Orleans threatening (no one believes them) to match. The Bulls obviously gave up too soon on Dinwiddie. And, heck, now even Cameron Payne, who really the community and fan base for whatever reason hated and were demanding he be released, anyway. I know he's not favored like Rose, but he's also made a heck of a comeback. Actually, there are a lot of former Bulls point guards out there, if not stars. Bring back Michael-Carter Williams? He was up to 25 percent on threes this season. Ok, maybe not.


Joakim Noah and Ben Wallace

Longiang Le:

Do you think Ben Wallace in his prime was better defender than Pippen? People have been arguing "prime Wallace was better than prime Pippen" Pippen had a versatility where he could guard little point guards like stockton but also defend even centers sometimes on the same play.

Sam Smith:

Who are "those people!" I assume that sort of debate maybe should be more David Robinson or Hakeen and Pippen. Which brings me to another topic that is so arbitrary that it becomes too easily debatable. Ben Wallace, Hall of Fame? That certainly lowers the bar. I know many have differing opinions on what the Hall of Fame really means and who is a Hall of Famer, though it's often mistaken because baseball is just major leagues and basketball is the world and all its leagues and age groups and gender. Wallace was certainly a useful player on one of those one-off champions like the '75 Warriors, the '06 Heat, '11 Mavs and '19 Raptors. But he was probably the fourth most impactful player on that team. The most talented and important was Rasheed Wallace and then probably Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton. I'll give him over Tayshaun, who they should have let go as their excuse for not drafting Carmelo Anthony. What happens after people forget how someone played is in the voting they look at the tiebreakers of being on a championship team—as if you were responsible for that title—and Wallace led the league in rebounding a few times. OK, that's significant. But an all timer? Though if he is it does buttress my longtime argument that the Bulls do attract elite free agents. Hey, free agent Ben chose to go to the Bulls over every other NBA team the season after he was an all-star and second team all-NBA. How did that work out, again?


Mark Aguirre

Pete Zievers:

Players before their time. You mentioned Brad Sellers. Tiny (Archibald) was way before his time, too. Curry a better shooter but for my money Tiny at his best a great deal more difficult to defend. Kyrie Irving not as good as Tiny playing on one leg. Irving is a heck of a shot maker but Tiny had a few ways to create space for his shot involving multiple dimensions of the game of basketball. Wilt as someone way before his time? I'm not sure anyone could ever have stopped Wilt wherever you put him on the timeline. Yeah, these days there's better training etc but if Wilt came forward to today he'd have those same advantages too. I keep thinking of Mark Aguirre too. He was so slippery and opportunistic. He had a better shot than folks generally gave him credit for. I think he could run with today's players but would handle them pretty well inside. I can't think of anyone in today's game that plays just the way that Mark Aguirre did.

Sam Smith:

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, now that Toni Kukoc is going in, the most overlooked player—at least with a Chicago connection if not Chicago love for his service with the Pistons—has to be Westinghouse and DePaul's Mark Aguirre. Aguirre's game was unique, a combination of Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley and maybe Chet Walker. We know Aguirre could be moody the way he flamed out with DePaul in the NCAAs and his history with the Mavericks, but Texas, unsurprisingly, wasn't always so welcoming to a Chicago kid. There's a funny story from that 1981 draft featuring also Isiah Thomas. Thomas wanted no part of Texas and at his interview with the Mavericks made sure by mocking owner Don Carter and his big cowboy hats and boots. Isiah escaped; Mark couldn't as the Mavs had the number one pick. It wasn't a particularly liberal or sympathetic media and Mark's reputation suffered. But he checks all the boxes: two titles with Detroit as a starter, college player of the year, 1980 Olympic team (darned Jimmy Carter), multiple NBA All-Star, NBA scoring leader, six-year run averaging more than 25 per game, career 20-point scoring average in almost 1,000 games, 17 points in more than 100 playoff games. Yes, and Ben Wallace is in.


Zach LaVine guarding Bradley Beal

Don Techen:

I would really like to get your take on the age-old "Missing Piece(s)" topic, though. And specifically in regards to one player. Bradley Beal seems to represent the most realistically-attainable (all things relative) "3rd star" option for the Bulls over the next 2 seasons. How realistic is that given the likely salaries of Lavine, Vuc and Beal? And if that's not a non-starter... How well-positioned do you believe a team led by those 3 players would be for serious championship contention?
 What type of skills/players would AKME need to fill out that roster with to have the best chance at the above?

Sam Smith:

The Beal rumor/speculation to reunite with Billy—can Joakim Noah and Al Horford be far behind, as well as Corey Brewer and Chandler Parsons?—has been one of the popular fantasies that doesn't seem to make sense to me other than, of course, you'd want to have a player like Beal. He's got a $37 million player option after next season that he'd have to opt out of to be a free agent. Which then would mean you'd probably have to give him a long term deal averaging $40 million. With Vucevic's salary and Zach LaVine due an extension with Patrick Williams and Coby White around there's not really cap room for that. He could go the James Harden route and pretend he's hurt to force himself out, which you would never see Beal doing to the Wizards. Who with a rejuvenated Westbrook now have at least some possibilities. Any three stars gives you a chance. But what makes it so different and special for the Nets is their three all are elite isolation players and all three can make plays for others. Beal really isn't that kind of player as much as I see the Bulls concentrating more on a facilitator first/scorer second guard to supplement LaVine and Vucevic. I know I have written this and we've heard that so much, but with that kind of player and being able to fill round the edges as the Bulls have with players like Garrett Temple, the Bulls should be more than just a playoff contender next season. I know, I know, I said that before last season. But now I'm really serious.


Derrick Rose hyped

Brian Tucker:

Vintage D-Rose in Game 2. What a game! 39 minutes though... I could only imagine what Thibs yelled at halftime! Good to see DRose carry a team again. Unbullieveable!

Sam Smith:

It was good to see, especially as we know how much Rose was dismissed and written off to the point the national consensus was he was done. And there he is the TNT postgame playoff interview and that best player on the floor guy. Good for him. But while Thibs again gets condemned for the playing time, I'd like to address that sham science. Talk about Bull.

There is absolutely none and has never been any correlation between those minutes played and major injuries. Yes, Derrick got hurt at the end of that game in 2012 when he could have been out. But as even he's pointed out, it was him doing that jump pass stuff. I get the notion if you extend yourself with wear things can break down. As us older people discover with our bodies. But this difference between 34 minutes played and 38 and then saying a guy can come back and play 20 and not 24 is ridiculous. Kareem probably averaged 40 minutes his first 10 years and had the longest career. Similarly Karl Malone. And Jordan and Pippen. Atlanta lost that game because Nate McMillan decided he had to rest Trae Young. Why? The Knicks play so slowly you can rest on their possessions. I don't know if this is coaches or doctors or trainers or the betting apps. But someone is messing with crazy minutes limits and costing games. The problem is players then come to believe it, like in baseball where media falls into paroxysms of disbelief when someone throws 95 pitches. And yet more players than ever have arm surgeries. This has become epidemic especially with the Clippers, who seem most proficient at resting. It seems to work given the excellent contracts they get. Must be because they think better in the offseason. Good for Thibs. Let ‘em play! That's what they are there for.


Derrick Rose shooting Atlanta's Bogdan Bogdanovic

Gorav Raheja:

Derrick Rose has been playing well for the Knicks. Do you think him having a longer career (albeit not as productive as his tighter days) will help his chances to make the hall of fame? Or will he need to have more playoff success ?

Sam Smith:

Well, after that Game 2 I assume New Yorkers demanded he be voted in immediately. This has been a debate because Rose gets that category of best player to win an MVP not in the Hall of Fame. Of course, now my answer can be, If Ben Wallace is in the Hall of Fame... which you can make for a lot of guys, I suppose. In now a 13-year career averaging still almost 20 points per game (more than 22 points per game in 50 playoff games) with USA Basketball gold medals, college final game, high school big city and state titles, multiple All-Star starts, an all-NBA first team (Ben Wallace, by the way, never was) and now top three Sixth Man, I really don't see the case for Rose not being in the Hall of Fame.


Zach LaVine sizing up Paul George

Brodie Larsh:

Just to get on the bashing Clippers bandwagon right now... How about trading a resigned Lauri, Thad and Satoransky for Paul George? Would you even want Paul George at his 40mil+ price?

Sam Smith:

Yes, join me. Sure, I'd take a run at Paul George because with Vucevic and Zach you don't need him as much and he's a talent, if not the talent everyone wants him to be. And it's not easy to acquire someone like that. Of course, why exactly would the Clippers be done with George—and I'm one who values Markkanen more than most—and want to pay big money to Markkanen along with some veteran bench guys. Though that brings me to the other speculation if the Clippers continue to implode (as another aside, if anyone can make any sense about anything Ty Lue says let me know), Kawhi Leonard can pass on his $36 million option and become a free agent. And then teach Patrick Williams how to really be Kawhi Leonard? Hey, the Bulls have got one of those already. Clippers rebuild and Williams and some stuff to the Clippers and Kawhi to the Bulls in their cap room? I wouldn't count on it. It certainly doesn't seem like Kawhi likes cold weather leaving championship Toronto for back home to California. But, hey, this is time-to-dream-time, and playoff flameouts bring up all sorts of scenarios.


Wendell Carter Jr. and Nikola Vucevic

Julien Gras:

After the end of this disappointing season, not going to the POs (with a let's call it solid roster which should be OK to grab the 8th or 7th seed in the East), what can we expect next during the off season? Was it a mistake to put Wendell Carter Jr in the trade for Vooch? He wasn't going to be an all star of course, but he was doing the job no? How do you explain that with the addition of a second all star (Vooch), we looked better during the first half of the season than during the second one?

Sam Smith:

Look, it was, as I think Vucevic or Zach admitted late in the season, a failure not to get to the play-in. Watching the play-in really hurt because I believe the Bulls would have won it. I know, easy to say from the outside. You are what your record is. I know, I know. Trade, no practice, Covid, yadda. I am in agreement it was more than a one-season effort and Full-Season-Vooch will prove worthwhile. Wendell remains too small. Vooch isn't Embiid, but he always made it difficult for him. That's all you have to do to at least compete with the 76ers. Wendell never is going to be able to play those guys. I disagree they looked better earlier. The schedule was much easier the first half and the Bulls really lost too many games against the weakest competition early. And then just couldn't overcome with a better team, but not a full team once Zach lost three weeks with Covid. Sure, it's excuses. But some good ones.


Norm Van Lier

Michael Mortenson:

I've been a Bulls fan from the beginning. You didn't ask, but here are my five favorite memories from their history.

  1. Watching Bob Love and Dave Bing trade baskets from my seat way up high in the old Coliseum in the fourth quarter of a playoff game that resulted in the Bulls first playoff series win.
  2. Norm Van Lier trying to hit Spencer Haywood with a metal chair. And the interview afterwards when an unrepentant Van Lier said he would do it again. No "heat of the moment" apology for Norman.
  3. Taking my sons to watch a Knicks-Bulls Martin Luther King Day game at MSG, and telling them about the last time I had seen the same two teams match up in the same place on the same holiday in the game that resulted in the Trent Tucker rule.
  4. Later, with 0.4 seconds left, someone (Ben Gordon maybe?) from the Bulls gave them a one point lead with a three pointer, thereby activating that same rule.
  5. Anytime I got to watch Jerry Sloan and Pat Riley guarding each other off the ball.
  6. Watching on TV when Michael Jordan, in the finals against the Lakers, took off from one side of the basket, faked two or three shots and used the glass to score from the other side. Somehow, it seemed that even the Lakers could see that The Bulls were going to win their first championship after that shot.

Sam Smith:

There's lot of cool Bulls history, which I love, and that was Sidney Wicks whom Norm was chasing. It probably was the most energetic Wicks ever was in an NBA game. That's also why the game was so great then. They chased each other and didn't have to chase the fans. I was also at that Trent Tucker game in 1990 with the winning shot with a tenth of a second. I recall Phil Jackson afterward not in agreement. He always was getting fined for saying the refs mostly from New York and Philadelphia always were helping their favorite home teams. I forgot it was King day, which was his actual birthday day. I more liked when Sloan guarded the pretty boys of the era, like Walt Frazier and Jerry West. They hated the way Jerry roughed them up. No one else ever tried it. Quick quiz: Bulls inaugural starting lineup in 1966. If you know this one, you really know the Bulls: Sloan, Guy Rodgers, Bob Boozer, Don Kojis (the one everyone usually misses) and Len Chappell, who got in when Erwin Mueller was injured. My favorite story was it was supposed to be Nate Bowman. But the managing owner, Dick Klein, brought in a hypnotist during preseason to help promote positive thinking. Bowman fell down during the trance in hypnosis and missed most of the season. There have been some stories.


Chet Walker

Ed Sikora:

Reading your articles on the options available to the Bulls to add talent for next season, suddenly the 1970 era Bulls of Love, Walker, Sloan, Boerwinkle and Van Lier popped into my mind (I hate when that happens). Who would you add from that team to make the current Bulls team better? I was thinking Stormin Norman as point guard/floor leader and a nasty defender!

Sam Smith:

More history! Yes, we need a break from this disappointment. It probably would be Norm in that Kyle Lowry type of tough point guard who isn't actually a classic facilitator, but who does enough and is going to make tough plays for you and take on the best the other side has. That's something often missing these days as you watch these play-offs and in this era, how much the supposed best defenders don't defend the best opponent players and how often they accept switches to (in theory) offset the pick and roll. Hello, it often ends up in size mismatches that thwarts the strategy. But if Patrick Williams becomes the power forward I believe he's destined to be, then Chet Walker as a finisher who can be a great scorer on the block with a shot would be my other choice. Chet still has the second highest scoring game (other than Michael Jordan and all his games in the high 50s and 60s) in Bulls history with 56 points. The Bulls just need one more scorer and one playmaker/scorer. Yeah, just.


Adam Silver

Mike Sutera:

Please no! The NBA wants that midseason tournament?

Sam Smith:

Play-in euphoria? You never know these days, but the Clippers (here we go again) can barely get their best players interested in the playoffs. How are they supposed to get guys serious about a midseason tournament? And not just the Clippers. I read somewhere that soccer—which supposedly has these things— is having trouble keeping teams engaged in that mid season stuff. You figure the NBA holds out a carrot of a reduced regular season, which they already are talking about with perhaps an expanded play-in. Yes, include the G-league teams! The play-in served a legitimate purpose and cut down some of the late season tanking and did retain more local fan interest for teams that wouldn't have had it. It was a great idea. Not so much using early season games as some sort of qualifier for this tournament that basically means nothing unless you scrap the playoffs. To most top players, it would seem an ideal time for load management. I can see a lot of sprained ankles. Bad idea. Not happening.


Doug Collins and Michael Jordan

Bam Douglas:

What is your take on the attitude of the current generation of players?

It seems to me that there's a distinct lack of competitive hunger and ‘fire in the belly' from the current crop of players. Coby White looked almost happy to get dropped from the starting line-up and Patrick Williams is taking the; "cool head on young shoulders" cliche to a whole new level.

I mean, come on!! You're a pro NBA player! At least look excited to be earning an insane amount of money doing what you (supposedly) love! Most of the modern generation players look like they're going to work in the mailroom of a small accountancy firm! Can you imagine Jordan's response to getting dropped from the starting line-up! You mentioned a few months back about the best players being a little bit ‘nasty' and I personally think that this element is distinctly missing from the current Bulls team. Only LaVine and Vooch look genuinely pissed off when the team loses (and both are All Stars. Coincidence? I think not!). How do the Bulls resolve this? And what do you think needs to happen in the off season?

Sam Smith:

I don't agree, though you have some valid points. I believe guys really care and play harder than most believe because they are so good it often doesn't look like they are. Coby did come back better, so even if he didn't protest he did do something about it. Though you do have the point that bothered me some during the season with the lack of excitement that seemed to be exhibited at times, like even in the pregame introductions. Not everyone loves LeBron, but I do like the enthusiasm he shows as the game starts and gets his team involved. Though I think the lack of fans this season had something to do with that since later it improved with the Bulls. They do have an unusual number of relatively passive personalities, which is why I prefer a player like Lowry. People show they care different ways. Kawhi doesn't show much emotion, but you'd probably like to have him on your team. It has helped the Jazz to get that with the return of Donovan Mitchell. Sometimes it's fraudulent for show, and sometimes it's window dressing. And sometimes it's needed.


Gonzaga standout Jalen Suggs

Ben Arrieta:

British statesman Winston Churchill wrote, "Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." John Stockton and Karl Malone played together for 18 seasons but never won an NBA championship. Why? They were the 2nd and 3rd NBA career turnover leaders. For the past 12 years since 2000, there were only two seasons where no top 10 players in the draft made it to the Finals. So there is still an 83.33% chance of making good with the first round pick. Zach Lavine was traded to the Bulls and it has been 4 years now that the team hasn't made it to the playoffs. LaVine has committed a lot if not the most turnovers. The Bulls rank 27th in turnovers or 4th to the worst team. Why not trade Lavine for Cade Cunningham or Jalen Suggs who might do a better job and trade Nikola Vucevic who is aging and slow moving for a younger and more energetic Evan Mobley as a queen's gambit in chess. Who knows if these set of young players might do the trick? You'll never know till you take that calculated risk since your previous cards didn't turn out well.

Sam Smith:

It actually was Spanish novelist George Santayana credited with that a half century before Churchill, though I rarely get to mention Santayana much in my columns anymore. So thanks for that. This is a bit premature to give up on the Vucevic/LaVine pairing, though given this line of thought my only response is now I probably should take a hiatus from Ask Sam. I'll be back if something happens. I'm quite sure not this.

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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