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Ask Sam Mailbag: NBA Trade Deadline Roundup and more

John Petersen:

Brooklyn did the most significant transformation before the deadline. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out. It should be put up or shut up time for Harden in Philly. Hopefully shut up.

Sam Smith:

The process finally pays off? I always said rebuilding with draft picks takes about 10 years.

It's an interesting dichotomy with this trade. I'm also for the Nets, though I believe the consensus more favors the 76ers. Who actually probably have a better chance to win this season with more Nets ifs. The problem is there are too many unlikeable players involved that it's difficult to develop a favorite.

Running out of options to entertain myself and make myself a better citizen, I ended up Thursday night watching the All-Star choose up, as we called it in Brooklyn when I played.

It was pretty obvious neither LeBron nor Durant wanted Harden, who was taken last even after Rudy Gobert. And no one wants him in an All-Star game. Having pushed his way out of Brooklyn was obvious, but quitting on his second team in a year leaves you wondering.

And then he'll be asking for that $200 million extension? There apparently was an agreement in the deal Harden must pick up his option for next season (gulp, $47 million), so the deal must be that the 76ers have to win a title this or next season for Harden to get that extension.

Harden usually starts trying again after he gets what he wants and screws his former team, so the 76ers, especially being able to keep Matisse Thybulle and Tyrese Maxey, look like East favorites with the way Joel Embiid is playing and the possibilities in the slower, playoff half court game.

After all, since Simmons refused to play they basically replace Seth Curry with Harden while about two games out of first place. But I still like the deal for the Nets. Simmons, I assume, returns to play. We're not doctors and all that, but his issues seemed with the organization and the city.

Irving is on the road-game-only schedule, but with governors around the country removing the COVID restrictions it seems like he'll be able to play home games, also, before too long. Why he refused to get vaccinated, yes, makes him as troublesome for his team as Simmons was for his. So in a way it was the classic NBA trade of the guy we hate for the guy you hate.

I'm more of a Simmons fan than many. He's much younger than Harden, who probably is the league's worst defender. The Nets, I'm surprised, also recouped a lot of what they gave up for Harden with size, shooting and draft picks. It's been suggested this is for next season since Harden as a potential free agent probably was leaving the Nets, anyway. But when Durant returns from his knee sprain, that's now three 7-footers who defend well with Simmons to facilitate since Irving doesn't care for that.

I like the Nets fit better with Simmons. It certainly should make for a great playoffs in the East as you won't want to get the Nets in the first round as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.

Arturas Karnisovas.

Greg Young:

The Bulls not doing anything on trade day further increases my appreciation of Arturas Karnisovas and his team. Having the confidence and belief in their system and prior work speaks volumes abut them.

Very satisfied and looking forward to the rest of the year. Now the Nets and 76ers, I'm not sure who got the best deal, probably Nets, but talk about integration issues. These things take a lot of time and I don't see happy trails for either of them. This whole concept of "3 alphas" just doesn't seem to work.

Sam Smith:

Since the Three Alphas were Jimmy, Wade and Rondo, we knew it had flaws. That's been a benefit of seeing the Suns play so well. You don't have to go out and buy three big names to succeed; even if no one will walk away from the concept.

It just shows there are different ways to win, as the smaller ball Bulls also are showing.

Particularly with the injuries for the Bulls, there really was no significant path to a trade. Perhaps Montrezl Harrell since he didn't cost that much, but it wouldn't have been worth losing Coby White or Patrick Williams. I didn't see how the Bulls really could do much.

Karnisovas told us last year he was patient. And then did the most radical turnaround in the shortest time in franchise history. It looked good, and then it didn't last long because of the injuries. So he's right.

Why change before you really know?

The Bulls with their defensive component back despite all the time they missed will be more stable than the Nets and 76ers working in basically new systems or styles. Playing well together in the playoffs also matters, and this Bulls group has been impressively tethered.

They've got a shot. But we sure wasted a lot of time talking about Jerami Grant, Christian Wood and Harrison Barnes.

New Sacramento Kings center Domantas Sabonis.

Michael Freeman:

Good for the Sacramento Kings. What's Indiana thinking? They already have Malcolm Brogdon.

Think they will trade him or Halliburton?

Sam Smith:

I'm with you, and we seem in the minority. I don't get all the celebrating for the Pacers with this deal. Most of those instant gradings—meaningless, of course—favored the Pacers, who gave up the only All-Star in the deal who is also 25 years old.

It seems obvious the Pacers are taking that torturous path the Bulls did a few years back after actually a pretty good run for about 30 years of being competitive enough to dream. Meaning not good enough to win—though they were in the 1998-2000 period—but good enough to keep drawing fans and interest. That's more important in the smaller markets where you have less margin for error. You never fully know what an organization is thinking, and often it's like that line about sausages that you don't want to witness the process because it could be ugly. But Sabonis was the one I would have kept.

Haliburton seems like he'll be a very good player, though I would be surprised if he ever reaches All-Star level. I assume they'd love to move Brogdon, whom they can't yet because of his extension. But taking $22 million through 24-25 with his injury history will be difficult; though not impossible.

They obviously like rookie Duarte, and maybe now they'll play Myles Turner inside. Though he always seemed like he drifted away from the basket on offense. Actually from the deal, I can see them moving Buddy Hield. I'm sure the Lakers would like to go back to last summer when they cancelled the Hield trade to add Westbrook.

Russell Westbrook and LeBron James.

Mike Queensworth:

I know I said Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal each wasted their time and most of their prime on their current teams.

They each should have asked out before last season. So many guys waste so many productive years out of loyalty. One guy who should have never demanded out was Russell Westbrook. He was the MVP, he was an Oklahomas hero. A guy who battled for 48 minutes, a guy who did not ask out like KD. Sure he would have never won but he would have never been exposed as a loser like he has been since his departure.

Harden didn't want to play with you, Beal didn't enjoy playing with you, now your best bud LeBron James doesn't enjoy playing with you. What a downfall.

Sam Smith:

The sad story of life in the NBA? So the 76ers couldn't get Lillard or Beal? By the way, you probably have to credit the 76ers for hanging in there for their superstar, assuming Harden still is. Many were demanding they take a McCollum package or something, but Daryl Morey said he was waiting for Harden, et al. So he did get his man to the surprise of many. The test is a title; without one it's not such a slam dunk.

They say win or go home, right? Yes, we commend Lillard and Beal for their loyalty, and that's fine. But it's pretty clear now with both around and with bad teams they have no chance to win a title. My guess is Harden was the touchstone for them. He pushed his way out of Houston to play for a title, and how did that work out? OK, it still may.

But I wouldn't be surprised if Lillard and Beal realized there's too much luck and risk and relying on people who are not so reliable (how's it going in LA, LeBron?) that better to take the money. Beal is up for an extension that can pay $240 million after this season with an opt out to be a free agent. I assume he takes that; the question is should the Wizards offer that? After all, where are you going led by Bradley Beal?

Lillard has a few more seasons, but maybe he just opts for the extension, a raise on $45 million after the 2023-24 season. Gulp! Though as we've seen with one big scorer (Booker) and maybe a clever guard and some nice defensive role players you can do it another way. So maybe it is possible. Is that still a lot of money? Yeah, Westbrook.

We know you can't win with him. What a soap opera that's going to be the rest of the season. I assume they change coaches during All-Star break, and then bring Westbrook off the bench as a second unit transition game leader with a coach he relates better with.

Are the Lakers and Nets still favorites?

Thad Young goes for the layup on the Spurs.

Alejandro Yegros:

Why did the Spurs trade for Thad and then never play him and now might waive him? I can't remember ever seeing a situation quite like that, especially for a player that last year had possibly a career year. I know John Wall and others... but guys like that are washed up. Can't remember seeing it with a guy who is good.

Sam Smith:

Wall would disagree. The Spurs obviously made that sign and trade for DeRozan for the future draft picks, and then decided the present was about their future. But at least they kept Young on the team.

The NBA has made a huge mistake by allowing these teams to send home these players for whatever reasons, whether like Ben Simmons they were upset or Dragic apparently upset leaving Miami for Canada (I get that). But it's also a terrible precedent for the league, and something the commissioner should step in and do something about.

Wall doesn't want to come off the bench, so he can stay home for the year? I know Thad wished he could play, but he did remain what he's always been, a good and supportive teammate.

By the way, Al Horford went home for a season and now has been starting and playing well for an improving Boston team. It's going on too much these days in the NBA, and it can't be a positive for the league. And now it's been sorted out some, at least.

Thad, I assume, will play now in Toronto and the Spurs gets some more draft picks, so it was probably worth their patience, if frustrating for Thad. Maybe save some money on a Dragic buyout. That's why you never fully know about deals because, as everyone likes to say, it's a business.

Well, not the fans. As for Boston and Daniel Theis, let's see, didn't want to pay him last year so basically gave him to the Bulls. Got a big deal and traded for him. Like we say, you never really know what teams are thinking; despite some appearances they generally are (thinking).

Since Wall remains on the books for $47 million next season (Lakers even reportedly refused to take him for Westbrook because Houston also wanted a pick), I assume he just takes up golf. Or buys a course like Jordan did.

James Harden passing the ball.

Joseph Austin:

James Harden forced his way out of Houston to play for Brooklyn. Now, he's forced his way out of Brooklyn to play for Philadelphia. If I'm not mistaken, that's two force outs in one year or less?

Incidentally, this is the 2nd time that he was on the same team with Kevin Durant and got traded. From reading you I know that you are in favor of player empowerment and guys getting their money.

Still, I can't believe that it's good for the health NBA that Harden did that in such a short period of time?

Sam Smith:

It's true that I do believe the players (and all workers) deserve a voice in their fate, but I also have this quirky notion of responsibility, accountability and delivering on your promises. You know, Michael Jordan and me. You can say Jordan had plenty of money with the endorsements, and Jordan did drop hints from time to time to reporters that he wouldn't object if they questioned his contract, but Jordan always said he signed an eight-year extension in 1988 and his word mattered.

The supposed contract to beat all contracts that was the biggest in the history of sports at the time certainly was outdated by 1993 and more so by 1995 when Jordan returned from baseball. But he played it out until after the 1995-96 season for the eight years. It's the right thing to do, which is where player empowerment has gone astray.

Now players often sign long term deals to insure the security and then decide they want to play for someone else. And everyone seems to believe they have to be traded because, oh no, what if he's unhappy? This has become so epidemic—and pendulums swing back once they go too far—that I'm sure this will become a big issue.

There has to be some sanctity to contracts. Or what's the point?

Obviously, the counter argument is why a team then has the right to trade that contract to somewhere unpleasant. So there needs to be some compromise, but contracts—and your word and commitment—have to matter at least a bit more.

You know, be like Mike.

Kirk Hinrich diving on the floor

Trevor Hoffler:

Whats Kirk Hinrich up to these days? I'm surprised he isn't an assistant coach on somebody's bench by now...

Sam Smith:

If he wanted to be, though I don't believe most people realize how time consuming that job is. It's more for the grinder or the guy who is determined to make a life in the game as a coach because the hours are ridiculously long. Perhaps some day as you eventually need something more to do, but Kirk seems great. I speak or text with him every few months. He's got four kids and coaches some of their teams; lives out in one of the Dakotas. Not sure which one, and not sure why we need two, but that's another issue. He's done some ambassador work for the Bulls on occasion, I believe, but he also was fortunate enough to make a lot of money when he was a player, and if you have plenty to do, which he seems to, who really needs more to do? He appears to still be captain, though for now of his own preferences.

Kyrie Irving.

Michael Sutera:

If Kyrie gets vaccinated does Harden still ask out?

Sam Smith:

How was the universe formed? When did time begin? What's Kyrie thinking? Philosophers have debated these questions for years. The Nets were something like 13-3 when they played and beat up the Bulls pretty good. And if Durant's shoe size was just a bit smaller in the playoffs last year….As we know in the NBA, stuff happens. If Kyrie wasn't, well, Kyrie, if Durant wasn't hurt, which coming off about two years away with an Achilles injury, well what did we expect? Knowing Harden and that his former GM Daryl Morey in Philly was eying him for a long time, who knows. You assume if they were winning and Kyrie were responsible the Nets never would have listened. But Harden sure looked like he was heading for the door this summer and the 76ers had one swinging open. Few thought this Nets combination was long term, anyway, that with all the individual uncertainties it was a two or three-year window at most. So it was one and a half. You do have to try, however.

Caris LeVert driving to the rim.

Art Alenik:

The best deal was Rubio & picks for Caris LeVert. He really impressed me and I think he makes the Cavs a much better team.

I also think the Knicks took a step up with Cam Reddish for Kevin Knox. Cam Reddish also looked very good last time I saw him, though not as impressive as LeVert, who seemed almost DeMar-like playing against us.

Sam Smith:

I guess Thibs doesn't share your opinion. The Lakers and Knicks, who get discussed on basketball talk radio the most, did the least. Because they obviously didn't have much appealing to offer as their records suggest. Thibs hadn't been playing Reddish since the deal—though a bit lately—which suggests possibly another one of those management/authority things he sometimes has problems with. The Cavs have been the surprise of surprises, obviously, and adding a wing player like LeVert makes it interesting…for the Markkanen family. Where's Waldo and Lauri? Sounds like the Cavs finally got their starting small forward. Wonder what happens when Lauri gets back from his ankle injury. Who thought that would be an issue for them? Heck, they may not even want LeBron when he wants to come back and play there with Bronny.

Bulls head coach Billy Donovan.

Joshua Levin:

If Bulls are a top three seed can Billy Donovan win Coach of the Year? I know Monty Williams is the favorite but I think that's garbage.

Sam Smith:

Monty really isn't the favorite, though he'd be a legitimate choice the way the Suns have played this season, and especially without the so called superstars of the game. As good as Chris Paul and Devin Booker are, no one had likened them to the Durant, Kawhi, Harden, the free agents types that are supposed to save your franchise. Or even Paul George. Thibs was deserving last year, but probably Monty more so with his team on a 58-win pace for an 82-game season after missing the playoffs 10 straight seasons. It's not over 'til it's over, as we know, but coach of the year is based on exceeded expectations. It's too difficult and subjective to measure coaching acumen; even if it can be done. So the winner becomes the coach of the team no one expected to do much. And, true, most didn't expect the Bulls to do that much, though that was based on the front of the jersey (Bulls the last few years) and not the backs (DeRozan, Ball, Caruso, et al). But the Bulls and Memphis, another so called surprise, were at least expected to be playoff contenders. Vegas had both around 41-43 wins. No one had the Cavs winning 30 games. They were universally expected to be in the bottom three or four in the league. I didn't see one projection of more than 28 wins. And hardly heading into All-Star with a chance to lead the conference. Erik Spoelstra will get votes, also, and Billy should, as well, for pushing through this mess of absences and keeping the team seriously competitive. Billy's been a stabilizing rock throughout. But unless the Cavs lose most of the rest of their games it's going to be tough to unseat J.B. Bickerstaff.

DeMar DeRozan.

Peter Laundy:

DeRozan gets dissed for taking too small a percentage of 3 point shots.

But is this a fair criticism for someone who takes so many shots that have a shot at being 3 pointers? It would be interesting to know what percentage of total shots he takes that include both inside-the-arc 2-pointers that become potential "and-1s" and outside-the-arc 3-pointers. His percentage of makes of potential 3-pointers must be astronomical. Let's say roughly he takes twice as many "and-1s" as he does outside-the-arc 3's, and his percentage of makes for the former is around 80% and the later around 40%, adding up to a total percentage well north of 60%.

Sam Smith:

Let's just say he's good. DeMar has been perhaps the favorite player of the so called old school types not so much because he disdains the onslaught of threes, but that he actually seems with his exceptional scoring to have cooled the ardor for only the analytical view of the game. If they revote top 75, he has to be ahead of at least Lillard. That's what I call impacting the game. There are a lot of things the mathematical wave isn't good at measuring, like not only the and-1s that DeRozan can create, but the missed opportunities when a player—and you know we see this at least five times a game—is two or three feet from the basket and passes for a corner three. At the very least that play before the pass would lead to free throws, which also are not measured in the computations for threes versus twos of plays not attempted. And forgetting the effect on the defense and how it reacts, who is in foul trouble and maybe isn't as aggressive with more fouls, and the habit of playing through contract without fear or concern and how that also becomes a habit, or when you choose not to. DeMar DeRozan may be saving the NBA. That's what we call an MVP.

Dennis Rodman dunks the ball.

Larry Jurkens:

About Dennis Rodman and if you ever actually had a human conversation with him?

I have a buddy who used to own a nightclub in Vegas and said Rodman would come in, the place would go crazy for hours, he'd order shots after shots after shots for everyone, then it would be almost impossible to get him to pay for them; they'd basically have to have multiple bouncers bigger than him, and let's face it, he might've looked small against Shaq but he's still a pretty large fella, gently "persuade" him to pay up or he'd not only face the boys but still end up in jail or maybe the hospital... followed by jail.

What a bizarre dude!

Sam Smith:

Yes, bizarre. I can't say I ever did as I had something of a contentious relationship with Dennis when he was with the Bulls because I had this apparently naive notion—even David Stern gently chided me about it one time—that there should be dignity in the game.

Dennis was not much of a conversationalist, which I'm sure you're surprised to hear. Actually, he was painfully shy and a lot of his act was to get attention and notice and companionship so he didn't have to engage in that human sort of interaction you identify with.

I'm pleased for him, and he's adapted more to society that many expected. But to be honest the way he drank, especially, I didn't think he'd be alive by this time. I did have a rapprochement with Dennis after he left the Bulls and I was actually pleased and a bit sentimental when he asked me to write his biography for the Hall of Fame when he got inducted.

We had sort of a conversation then, but not really in complete sentences.

Gregg Popovich.

Parker Lerdal:

Will Gregg Popovich enter the Hall of Fame as the Spurs head coach? He will pass Don Nelson soon as the all-time winning coach of the NBA.

Will Coach Pop be the first ever coach to have 1,500 wins for regular season and playoffs record?

Sam Smith:

Not bad from a neighborhood guy from "da Region?" That's the area in Northwest Indiana that is so much more Chicago it is in a different time zone than the rest of the state. It actually has some wonderful beach areas; of course the scenic views are of smokestacks. But I digress, which Popovich doesn't much having left on his secret mission to the Air Force Academy and then where he won't say, otherwise, but that it 's been to a place with more wins than Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Lenny Wilkens...I can go on and on, but don't dare mention it to Popovich. He'll become the all-time winningest regular season coach in NBA history perhaps this month. Again, don't mention it to him. Popovich is here Monday with the Spurs, and this being his 26th year as a head coach and him being a year younger than me….it seems to me he has plenty of years left to coach the Spurs. Send Valentine's Day wishes. He's really a relationship guy, but don't dare mention that, either.