Ask Sam Mailbag: More NBA Draft questions, trade proposals, and thoughts on the late Tommy Heinsohn

Ryan Carpel:

Otto Porter and Tomas Satoransky for Russell Westbrook? Trade machine says it works.

Sam Smith:

Probably not for Billy Donovan. You figure when many of us have those nightmares of forgetting our homework or being locked out without shorts (is that just me?), Billy probably has them of Westbrook flying up court oblivious to the play, his teammates, the time, the score and perhaps the city he's in. It's draft, trade and free agency time. It's not June/July, but it's a November to Remember (of coming up with scenarios).

One of the most popular of late is the destruction of the Rockets with the departures of the coach, GM, and now supposedly a ready-to-go Harden and Westbrook. I can see Harden to Philadelphia as Daryl Morey is always about the next big thing. Harden might see the East as a way finally to get to the Finals. At least as a starter. And Morey figures to recruit—no matter what he's said—the guy whom he rode for years and his one truly great trade. I can see the 76ers even giving up Embiid, who the Rockets could persuade themselves they could rebuild around. Of course, Harden needs shooters, so Ben Simmons isn't exactly perfect. I look for plenty to come from the 76ers. Though I digress again. Right, Westbrook. Run away as fast as you can. Everyone who always couldn't be traded generally is in the NBA. But at 32 years old with three or four knee surgeries, three years left at more than $40 million a year and perhaps the most uncoachable, out of control game in the NBA with a poor shot, you'd basically be sentencing your team to mediocre for years by trading for Westbrook. So, of course, he only makes sense for the Knicks. Nah, I can't see the preparation minded Thibs buying into that. I wouldn't be surprised about an eventual Bulls makeover since the new management team has made clear in moving on from most everyone connected with prior management that they're not wedded to anyone on the roster. Though they'd probably have to see them at play first. Draw a diagonal slash through a picture of Westbrook.

Paul Giuntoli:

Who says no on these trades?

  1. Warriors get DeRozen, Derrick White, and No. 11.
  2. Spurs get Andrew Wiggins and No. 2. Who says no?

  3. Bulls get Wiggins and No 2. Warriors get Porter and Lauri. Who says no? (I think Wiggins has sneaky good Small Ball four potential).
  4. Hawks get Al Horford and No. 21. 76ers get DeWayne Dedmon. Morey saves nearly $55M getting Horford off their books and it only costs him a late first rounder. Atlanta wants to make a playoff run this year and are trying to make a splash. Who says no?
  5. Suns get CP3 and No. 25. Thunder get Ricky Rubio and Dario Saric/Oubre. Thunder take next step in their rebuild saving $40M+, and Booker & Ayton get the PG they need to take next step.

Lastly, I think Aaron Nesmith should be getting more love in these mocks. He's like a Glen Rice / Dennis Scott / Paul Pierce hybrid.

Sam Smith:

  • Warriors say no. The rumor is they'd be interested in LaMarcus Aldridge, which makes sense in trade as Aldridge and DeRozan have run their course in San Antonio, but the Warriors would prefer a big man who can shoot. Insert Aldridge and that makes some sense, though Wiggins comes off the board for my many Bulls scenarios.
  • Warriors say no. Porter has too far to go to reclaim his place as an NBA contributor after two years of injuries and inconsistent play after Washington put some stink on him. It's a big season for him that could benefit the Bulls.
  • Hawks say no. I recall them having Horford when he wasn't modeling petrified wood. He's had a great career, but Philadelphia made a huge error with that signing as he's slowed substantially. The Hawks may be one of the most active teams this next week with substantial salary cap room and a willingness to move their pick, but they're not spending it on memories.
  • Suns say no. Saric is a free agent. Yes, there have been rumors about the Suns and Chris Paul, though the Suns history isn't much about $40 million salaries for players in their 30s. Paul could help, but I doubt he elevates the Suns enough to justify that financial risk for an aging player who has been in decline until a resurgence season in 2019-20. The Suns have been desperate to make the playoffs, but they probably can do that now with some tweaks the way they went through the bubble 8-0. Not linking themselves to a going on 36-year-old Paul.

Lastly, it's a good point about Nesmith, who shot better than 50 percent on threes, if in a small sample before injury. He's among a group with the likes of Devin Vassell, Tyrell Terry and Kira Lewis who could emerge better than someone at No. 5 (hopefully not No. 4) like Tyler Herro at 13 in the 2019 draft. You'd now take him top five after the playoffs, and Karnisovas did say months ago someone at 14 could be better than someone at four.

John Petersen:

With virtually no exposure to the new Bulls brass, there cannot be even intelligent speculation about potential trades. A strong position can be made that the Bulls really need to see what they have with a new system, coach and young players before any moves are prudent. That stated, there was a suggested trade, Carter & No. 4 for the Warriors No. 2 that raised my interest even though it was not even a rumor. The Bulls would get a shot at potentially a very good center and not a lot of star potential is lost (for them) with a trade of Carter. The Warriors still have their shot at that foreign small forward or whoever. Would you do that trade if you were the Bulls brass? I would.

Sam Smith:

I suspect Karnisovas, too, if not the Warriors. My pick in this draft long has been Wiseman for his unique game (certainly among Bulls players) with size and athletic abilities and a decent shot. You can develop with him. The Bulls in your scenario would have to take back a matching salary, of which the top heavy salaried Warriors don't have many. More significantly, Wiseman makes more sense for them than Carter since the Warriors always employed a rim protecting role playing seven footer in their title seasons and Carter is hardly the kind of veteran they seek since he still hasn't played one complete season. It is true the new management has been exceptionally circumspect about the draft with virtually no leaks about Bulls interests. Heck, they're not even promoting lies like many teams. Where's the fun in that?

Kirk Landers:

Mock draft managers and a lot of beat writers put a lot of emphasis on "athleticism" in their evaluations of draft-eligible players. Two questions: what is "athleticism"?, and is it overrated in these pre-draft profiles? I'm assuming "athleticism" refers to running fast and jumping high. It seems to me everyone in the draft and certainly everyone in the league is pretty athletic. It also seems to me that year in and year out the guys who have the fastest times and the highest jumps in the pre-draft workouts end up playing overseas or in the G-league. It seems like a lot of NBA stars have about average speed and jumping abilities, and others, like Jimmy Butler, ascended to stardom by developing skills and relying less on their athleticism.

Sam Smith:

It's a valid point and often a lazy analysis. Basically it means having the ability to be that next level player, like Giannis, Anthony Davis, LeBron or Jordan. The NBA with rare exceptions is about that exceptional player who has that ability to physically outmaneuver opponents and make a play, get to the basket or the free throw line to decide a game. Most NBA games come down to a few possessions, and those players make the most difference. Also getting one player like that can extend an executive's career a decade or more. They still mention drafting Jordan for Rod Thorn even after he blew the previous five drafts. Of course, others not so physically dynamic have thrived. Ask Larry Bird. Magic was no super athlete. Nor is Steph Curry. Skills, intelligence and competitive nature add plenty. Then you combine it with the athletic part and you have Jordan or LeBron. Instead of Jimmy. Jimmy's evolved into an excellent player, though hardly near that level. In his case, it's also been fit with his fourth suit measurement finally looking right.

Mike Wayne:

How about the Bulls new management swing for the fences on its first draft? Trade their 4th pick, Kornet & Sato to Minny for the 1st and take James Johnson train wreck salary on. Minny absolutely could use steadying play and D at the of position. Kornet shooting and shot blocking can really help spell KAT. Then send Otto, Young and Gafford to Golden State for Wiggins and the No 2 pick. Again, GS would much prefer Otto and Young's proven veteran toughness and grit over notoriously soft Wiggins. Again no one who needs Wiseman can offer a better package.

I say the Bulls grab their new "dynamic duo" of Ball and Wiseman. The excitement alone will sell out every game (that covid will allow). We still should be looking at a high 1st round selection in next year's loaded draft...

Sam Smith:

Well, that covers a lot as it probably gets the Timberwolves and Warriors GMs fired and keeps the Bulls out of the playoffs yet again. Kornet's shooting and shot blocking, eh? And the two expiring deals for the youthful Wiggins? I will say if Arturas could pull those off he's way better than any of us imagined and deserves a very big raise. I'd say try to come up with some combinations that don't only benefit the Bulls. Even for the Bulls web site.

James Costas:

I saw a mock draft predicting the Bulls taking Isaac Okoro. Don't recall much talk about him. What do you know about him and potential fit with the Bulls? FYI, found this tidbit, "Okoro is a surname of Igbo origin meaning of "Greatness" especially in one's character." Could that be a sign?

Sam Smith:

The Bulls have good character. There's the other stuff they could use. Okoro was a popular mock draft choice to the Bulls during the summer, though that's cooled since the Bulls moved to No. 4. I'm not a fan, which is also difficult to state categorically since I haven't seen any of these guys play. There were some hopeful Jimmy Butler comparisons for Okoro, that he can't shoot but he can defend. You know, just like Jimmy. He was on a conference call this week saying he's now a great shooter, though what else should he have said. Though the Bulls need defense, to me he doesn't make a lot of sense for the Bulls given the team's poor offense and the ability of so many teams to score so easily. I know everyone loves defense, but I point to the NFL Bears. The sports leagues have changed the rules to make it easier to score. No matter your defense, you have to be able to match the scoring teams. You can build defense from that. I don't see the Bulls with the luxury of defense first players. Which is why I'm interested to see what happens with Kris Dunn. It's offense first in this era. Once you have enough you can begin to stop opponents.

Nathan Anderson:

Please draft Killian Hayes. I believe he's the best and incidentally also safest PG in the draft. While acquiring Ball will (likely) cost, Hayes may open up the possibility for further additions via a trade (down).

Sam Smith:

If I read this right, it comes from Germany, where you have the edge of actually having seen him play. Though one of the Bulls needs certainly is a playmaking point guard, it's difficult to expect someone to do that at 19. I've cooled on the consensus top three point guards in this draft, Ball, Hayes and Haliburton. I don't think if I kept the No. 4 pick I'd select any of them. I'd still want to give Coby White a full look and while he's not the ideal distributor, I default to his scoring ability. Though I've seen a mock draft with Hayes at No. 1—not from Germany—he strikes me as too limited with his left dominant game and two or three years away from making an impact or playing a regular role. He could be very good, but I think after these last three years of futility the Bulls aren't in three-more-years mode.

Jeffrey Pierce:

Here's what I would do. Trade Markkanen to Atlanta for the 6th pick. His defense is horrible and always seems a step slow. Like you said, too scared of contact. Then I would draft Onyeka Okongwo and Patrick Williams. We need athleticism and some grinders. I think Carter could average 18 and 10 if he was allowed to shoot. Do you think Atlanta would do that? They need shooting with Capela.

Sam Smith:

The rumor is Atlanta could be looking to move No. 6, and they have cap room. Markkanen is perhaps the biggest elephant in the room. He seemed to have so much promise. And then he seemed to have so much less. Take a chance on resurrecting that? Or move on and get what you can before having to decide on an extension? It's a really big decision for the new management. I'm not sure Okongwu fits with Carter. He seems to fit better with Markkanen given his physical nature. Carter may learn to shoot, but he's been so thwarted so far and so reluctant. So who knows. He's from Atlanta. Maybe he would be the one who is more comfortable there. Though I think the Hawks are looking for veteran players. The problem the Bulls likely have in such discussions is both have been injured most of the last two years, and didn't even get to the bubble to show they are healthy. Those are difficult players to create value.

Alan Smith:

After you noticed the ability of Patrick Williams, I decided to look at the highlight reel of Williams and his stats at FSU. He has a sweet jump shot that if it doesn't swish, bounces around the rim and falls in and his free throw percentage was 73%, the same as Okongwu at USC. Both players have a soft touch and Okongwu shot well from the outside on film when he played alongside the Ball brothers in high school. Williams is super fast and a quick jumper and an explosive jumper also just like Okongwu.. If Williams wasn't so shy, he could turn into a very good NBA scorer. Reminds me of Michael Jordan as a freshman at NC except for the shyness, which star NBA players don't have.

Sam Smith:

He doesn't remind me of Michael Jordan, who did make the game winning championship NCAA shot as a freshman. But he looks like the fastest riser in this draft. The rumor lately is he could get all the way up to No. 7, which is really all fantasy because everyone is dropping players they mostly have never seen play into artificial slots. If Williams was mentioned top five in March, we'd be saying now he's slipping. I had heard his name a lot six months ago when scouts were telling me he's a sleeper. I guess no one's sleeping on him now. It's like with Kawhi, who was barely a first rounder when the first mock drafts started that season. I recall a scout telling me then he'd take him in the top 10 if his team had a high pick. Leonard finally moved to 15 on the way to the Hall of Fame in this very arbitrary process.

Brian Tucker:

Some thoughts on Deni, our consensus #4 pick. Just to be clear, I am all for it mostly because I appreciate how unique talent can impact the game. You mentioned earlier that the wings in today's NBA have got to be able to shoot. This is Deni's big question mark. The bigger question mark is the free throw shooting. Let's just put it out there and say Pippen was not a great FT shooter when he started either. How about that for some pressure? The point is Pippen's level of awesomeness is what you want from a really high pick. And by all accounts, Deni's got that "it" factor perhaps more than anyone else in this draft. I surely want someone who is going to play tough. Or maybe Arturas drafts him to play point guard... so could his game is comparable to Ben Simmons? Except that Deni will take 3s. I was mostly thinking of size and poor free-throw shooting. This would be an interesting spin to the lineup. Showcase his playmaking ability and surround him with shooters like Zach, Coby, and Lauri and see if there's magic there. Sure seems like a playoff team.

Sam Smith:

I wouldn't worry much about the free throw shooting since he seems to be a dedicated worker, did improve after the spring shutdown in his league's return and players have reversed that early career trend. Pippen, true, and Karl Malone was barely a 50 percent free throw shooter when he was a rookie and eventually worked himself to almost 80 percent even if the mailman didn't deliver that Sunday. Avdija remains the mock consensus for the Bulls, though we've had no indication from anyone connected to the Bulls. In some respects we've made the ugly American comparison we often do of comparing international players to international players. You know, Arturas is from Europe so he'll pick someone from over there. It's Deni if he, indeed, has IT. I haven't seen it yet.

Robert Ewing:

I don't think anyone is special in this year's draft. Any chance Bulls can make trade with Brooklyn for Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie for No. 4 and LaVine and Carter or Laurie. Bulls need veteran players.

Sam Smith:

Well that's a lot of wasted Zoom calls. I do think there'll be someone (or two) special. I just don't know if it will be in the first five picks. The Nets situation is one many are picking over because of the returns of Durant and Irving. Many have been speculating about trading players like Dinwiddie and LeVert. First the Nets have to pause given both star free agent players are coming off serious injuries and unlikely to play every game. But perhaps in comparison is the Clippers factor in which the hard working guys of the previous seasons who overachieved then got overlooked when Kawhi and Paul George showed up and got all the headlines and load managed themselves to modest regular seasons. The resentments seemed to show up in the playoffs, which is something the Nets could face. So perhaps better to make some moves. The Bulls, as you'll recall, had Dinwiddie and took a chance on him out of the G-league when others didn't. Then gave up on him too soon for Michael Carter-Williams. LeVert has scored impressively, but gets hurt a lot. I wouldn't give up LaVine for either, but I would talk to them.

Michael Staine:

I believe AK and ME are going to pull off a big draft day trade. I'm hearing they are looking at trying to get the top pick and the 2nd. Without giving up LaVine, WCJ, Lauri, White or Dunn. That would be something to see. I think a young vet wing like Porter would be extremely valuable to Golden State... They aren't competitive with Wiggins going against LeBron and Leonard. Thaddeus Young is very highly prized by teams like Golden State, the Mavs and even the Jazz. His experience, vet IQ and toughness gonna long way when you have championship goals. Porter, Young and 2nd rounder while taking one of the great 1st pick underachievers in Wiggins should get it done. I have heard rumblings in the basketball community that the Bulls were in tank mode the last 2 years and "persuaded " Porter, Dunn, WCJ and several other players to "nurse" injuries for far longer than necessary. I'm sure Curry and Draymond would be more than ok adding Porter and Young in place of Wiggins. There are rumblings that Orlando is trying is offering Gordon for the 2nd, but he doesn't answer their wing and defensive issues. I truly believe the Bulls are in a very good position with many viable options. I'm expecting some creativity out of AK in this draft.

Sam Smith:

I suggested some possibilities the other day with the Bulls and Wiggins. And while players like Porter and Young fit that veteran profile, I don't believe their value rises to that pick and Wiggins, especially coming off the Bulls down season. Unfortunately, as I have often stated, NBA executives are more like fans and media than we'd like to believe. They also are influenced by the last thing they saw. Or didn't. Gordon's probably got more value, but he isn't that defender, either. I'd say they're better off just trying to outscore the Lakers, which they can do. Plus these days LeBron doesn't seem to want to score that much in place of running the offense. It's sounding like it could be a wild Nov. 18. I'm certainly rooting for that. It also should finally give us a sense of Karnisovas' intentions.

Louis Marshall:

I hear a lot of talk about Onyeka Okongwu but when I watch clips of his highlights I feel like I am watching Dan Gafford. Gafford is a little taller and has a bigger wingspan and I really like his energy when he is on the court. I know Dan has to work on his shot away from the rim but I don't see Okongwu lighting it up from outside either. What are your thoughts on comparing the two players?

Sam Smith:

If they're comparable, then it really is a really weak draft. Gafford was a second round pick and the latest buzz has Okongwu perhaps going as high as No. 3 to Charlotte. But if so the Bulls made a heck of a draft pick and perhaps Gar Forman deserves a belated executive of the year award. The routine disclaimer in all of these analyses is we really haven't seen these guys play. There's also the Bam Adebayo effect, that 6-9 athletic centers can now be All-Stars instead of being dismissed for being undersized. On first glance (and several others), Okongwu seems more physical, aggressive at the rim and fierce. I've made comparisons to Montrezl Harrell, who generally tossed Bulls players out of the way. The Bulls in recent years have lacked that physical DNA. There are a lot of skilled guys, and they don't fight in the NBA anymore. But the Bulls haven't been good getting to the free throw line or playing through contact. Okongwu seems like he will.

Brodie Larsh:

My guess is if Ball is available at No. 4, they're trading down with the Knicks or Pistons, and still might be able to grab Deni, or a different wing/guard the covet.

Sam Smith:

So what does best player available mean? That's what Karnisovas said the draft is about for him. Most "experts" rank Ball among the top three talents. Do you pass on that? To me that's going to be the biggest story of this draft.

Kurt Payne:

I think you could post on message boards with your trades, they work but they aren't likely to happen. Likewise I don't see the Bulls being able to trade anybody and end up better than they are now. I think getting one or two of those Boston picks would be nice but unless Donovan is begging for a college team roster how do they find playing time for 3 or 4 rookies? Unless they're aiming for higher than #4 in the next lottery.

With the lack of scouting any team can have on players with less than a college season or a few foreign league games I don't even see the Bulls being able to trade down and get some contributing players in return if the other teams see the same risk in taking somebody at No. 4 as they would have at No 8, 9, 12 or 17.

Since the outbound information and rumors are tied up like the Dan Ryan, all that's left is just a guess or wish. With AK knowing the international game is there any chance he could find an Andres Nocioni type player that nobody else has their eye on or is he just as likely to end up with a Dalibor Bagaric, Kornel David or Dragan Tarlac?

Sam Smith:

The real Big Three? And thanks for giving me hope for skewing young, though I'm not sure what you mean by a message board. Those "trades" I speculated about the other day were, as they always have been, for discussion. It's the best part of sports and why the trading deadline and free agency are more fun than the regular season. And now we've got them all coming within a week. It sure sounds like there's plenty of changes coming, though it's always fewer than speculated since Don Nelson retired. Let's not be too xenophobic and understand that Arturas has been here since he started college in New Jersey 30 years ago. The guy survived that smell. Plus, every team now (at least pre-pandemic) has personnel on huge European expense accounts.

Keanu Reeves:

I'm loving the Mo Cheeks (assistant coach) hire. I don't know much about Longstaff, but I'm sure he will also be a great addition. He did work under Coach Bud, so that's a huge plus.

Sam Smith:

Cheeks is a fine addition. Most have expected Mo to remain with Donovan since he's been a top assistant with the Thunder for several years. It's all about the head coach in every sport. But good for DuSable High's Mo to be coming home to his native Chicago, one of the nicest and most humble people in sports. They all talk about being humble or humbled. Cheeks is the poster for character and selflessness.

Larry Jurkens:

I thought you might have some stories about Tommy Heinsohn.

Sam Smith:

Tommy told them so much better. He told me many for my book, Hard Labor, which was a 1960s and 1970s NBA history built around the labor and social justice movements of the era, though without the publicity. Tommy was perhaps as important as Oscar Robertson in that NBA labor history in keeping the NBA union going when it first president, his teammate Bob Cousy, gave up in exasperation because he couldn't get players to pay the $25 dues. Too costly. Tommy proved more demanding. In and off the court. While the labor struggles and racial issues those players faced were daunting—Celtics players led by Red Auerbach did more than any to integrate the NBA—the stories Heinsohn told about that infant league were the most remarkable. Like the time St. Louis owner Ben Kerner before a playoff game was accusing Auerbach of tampering with the basket height. So Auerbach hauled off and punched out the Hawks owner. And then coached the game. When the league fined Auerbach $300, Celtics players were angry about the severity. After all, it was just one punch. It was a brilliant time and Tommy was one of the brightest lights. He was the guy who Auerbach secretly offered the coaching job to when Russell was retiring as a player. Tommy was grateful and eventually coached the Celtics to titles. But at that time he said there was only one person who could coach Bill Russell. Which is when Bill Russell became Celtics player/coach.