Ask Sam mailbag: PG options in free agency, Olympic LaVine, trade scenarios, and more

John Petersen:

Certainly you have read the speculation that NO will not match a high offer for Lonzo Ball. If he is that talented it's difficult to understand how NO can let him walk for nothing. Certainly there will be signing competition but this seems like a wonderful gift for the Bulls. What are your views? Is there a better point guard that should be available through trade? What is there not to like?

Sam Smith:

New Orleans is a difficult NBA market. Everyone in the NBA makes money because of the national TV contract. But the smaller ones don't have the local TV and attendance rates and local economy. Plus, the Pelicans have a lot of young guys, which is one problem when you build that way. You can't pay them all. They paid Ingram, which may have been a mistake given an uncertain fit with Zion, and now they certainly have to pay Zion (and Stan Van Gundy for several more years). They're stuck with Eric Bledsoe for two more years and they drafted a point guard they like, Kira Lewis, who is obviously less expensive. So few around the league are surprised they would let go Lonzo despite playing well last season.

Many are uncertain they could even take back the money in a sign and trade. He's been rumored to New York with family big market designs, though the Knicks might have other targets to start. There are a lot of rumors of a Collin Sexton deal for several of the young guys Thibs doesn't play like Knox and Toppin and maybe a draft pick. Chicago is a big enough market with a yawning need, so it makes sense for Lonzo. For the Bulls? I'd probably make the investment, though he's not exactly the ideal point guard, especially for a more modestly swift center like Nikola Vucevic. Ball is more for pace and speed, which the Bulls backed off some after the trade to more half court play. Mike Conley fits that model, but he's older and more fragile. Kyle Lowry seems interested elsewhere. Ball is just 23 and a much improved shooter. It would be a home run/slam dunk/touchdown/goal summer for the Bulls to land him.

Tom Golden:

I love it. The biggest stars in the game talkin about Zach... Now they'll want to play with him. On another note, I read about Van Fleet, and Brogdon being available, I find that hard to believe but do you think that would be doable, let alone a good fit?

Sam Smith:

I know there's a narrative about recruiting and being recruited, which is more fantasy than reality. It's often a nice media talking point which overlooks some obvious points. You know, that they all have cell phones and can text and communicate with one another even when they are not on the same Olympic team. And there are always so many others factors, like location, salary cap or trade availability and most of those guys like being 1A and not 1B. What likely will help the Bulls most is Zach will return a better and smarter player having the experience. Brogdon's name has been speculated regarding Ben Simmons. You know, an All-Star. Not for guys coming off the bench. He's got a few years left on his deal as does VanVleet. I have not heard VanVleet's name mentioned and would be surprised given they'll likely lose Lowry. I don't see Toronto getting rid of everyone to start over again, and VanVleet is popular there. He's not necessarily a Bulls answer (plus if Toronto were moving on it means they'd want draft picks and the Bulls can't trade any firsts until 2025 unless they acquire some) because he's more of a shooter and at barely six foot hardly the defender you'd want. He's made himself a career when no one expected it. I assume it finishes in Toronto.

Cameron Dubose:

When Marko Simonovic comes to the Bulls, how could he help Bulls given Lauri is possibly leaving and could we get Dejountay Murray in free agency?

Sam Smith:

Murray is not a free agent. His name has been speculated in trade because of the uncertainty about what the Spurs are doing with DeRozan likely leaving and without an apparent playoff roster. Rudy Gay also is a free agent. And, of course, the most damning evidence, that Zach LaVine "liked" a tweet of his. And Murray is from the same area of Washington state. What more does anyone need? I liked Murray (not tweet style) in the draft a few years back and was lobbying for him, though like with VanVleet unless they are going back to ground zero, I don't see why they wouldn't keep him. And the Bulls no longer have those imminent first round picks to deal.

There have been reports this week Simonovic was signing with the Bulls, which would suggest, as you mention, Markkanen moving on. I haven't seen Simonovic play, but at 6-11 and a 38 percent career shooter in two leagues he sounds like an economical replacement for Markkanen to play stretch four and backup center. He's not Jokic. He reminds me seeing him on highlight tapes more of a Mirotic type of big. I doubt he'll be as productive as Markkanen, at least to start, but for the Bulls now the priorities are other positions, mostly point guard and small forward. So that kind of signing presumably would give the Bulls more flexibility to build up their roster where the need is greatest.

Brodie Larsh:

I know all the focus on the Bulls offseason is centered around point guard, but I'm much more concerned with the options they have at forward. Whether it's a SF or PF next to Pat, the options seem pretty limited. Pat at the 4 leaves the team seriously lacking rim protection, and not many good options for SF. A sign and trade of Lauri for Kelly Oubre Jr. could make sense, and is one of the few sign and trade options that do make sense for Lauri.

Sam Smith:

The issue with going the sign and trade route—unless it's for a point guard—is it virtually takes the team out of the point guard free agent market without basically releasing Thad Young and Satoransky. I've never been much of an Oubre fan because he's such an inconsistent, streaky shooter and almost oblivious as a playmaker. He's an excellent defender with some size and toughness, but seems to me too much of a luxury for a team like the Bulls with more immediate needs. Yes, small forward is one of them, but someone who also is a playmaker. Fans have asked about DeRozan, and if the Bulls cannot upgrade enough at point guard, I wouldn't settle just because that's someone's business card. DeRozan and LaVine could be an alternating two/three combination with ball handling like the Bulls had when John Paxson was the point guard. I still think despite my opinions and observations the Bulls intend to play Williams at small forward and pick up another power forward and add Simonovic. Hey, whatever happened to small forward Otto Porter Jr.? He's a free agent.

John Stuercke:

Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris for Zach Lavine and Lauri Markkanen? I would resign Theis and move Coby over to the 2. I think Billy can make Ben a better offensive player. Philly wants shooting, but will miss Ben's great defense.

Sam Smith:

And we're losing all that Zach benefit from the Olympics already? I don't see how the 76ers would look at that as that big a positive—yes, they'd love to have someone like LaVine, I assume, but they see Harris as an All-Star level player, and I strongly doubt they are gutting the core of their team and two of their top three players with a fragile and injury-prone Embiid. Can't we just keep Zach one more season now that he's an All-Star and an Olympian?

Quinn Werst:

This sounds like a great offer. Supposedly the Kings offered the 76ers Marvin Bagley, Buddy Hield, and a 1st for Ben Simmons. Kings can do DeAaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton at the 2, Ben at the 3. Or deal Fox or Haliburton.

Sam Smith:

With a lottery pick this season the 76ers can flip for something significant, that does sound like it could be something if there is anything to it. The rumors are the Kings won't give up Fox, which I agree with. I wouldn't, either. Hield would answer some of their shooting issues as a career 41 percent three-point shooter. And Bagley as maybe a bit overrated No. 2 still is a good risk with an upside. The Kings are stuck and obviously have to try something and Haliburton has shown he can play multiple positions. OK, I approve.

Michael Carson :

I just read that Chicago native Kendrick Nunn and Lonzo Ball were two of the league's most improved three point shooters. Should the Bulls consider signing Kendrick Nunn to play point guard, or is he more of a backup. I have been a fan of Nunn since I saw him and Simeon HS play against my alma mater Whitney Young HS when I was visiting Chicago. His path to the NBA is similar to fellow Public League alum Patrick Beverley but Nunn is a better scorer and playmaker. What do you think?

Sam Smith:

Nunn's fun and hardly done, I agree. And he can run and stun. So, yes, I would like him at least for the potential rhymes I can make poems out of. But he's more Coby White than Chris Paul. He's more of a scoring guard first, and the Bulls have that. A few of them. He's turned his career around, but a return to Chicago probably is not the best idea.

Mike Sutera:

Now Kawhi with an ACL does he opt out and LA pays him max knowing he will be out all of 21-22? Like what Nets did with KD? If Dolan didn't do it for KD he won't do it for Kawhi. Don't see anyone doing it for him except Clips.

Sam Smith:

And then I saw a report that suggested Leonard wouldn't mind being in Chicago. Hey, wasn't Toronto cold, also, and he left for Southern California? Of course, he only played every other game there, so he did have a lot of vacation time. Sad for Leonard with the ACL, which means bye bye to next season. It's one thing to wait a year for Durant; I'm not sure I'd be as certain with Leonard given he bailed out on two franchises, basically complained about the training staff everywhere he's been, doesn't like to play every game or most of them. And that was before the ACL surgery and now at age 30. And don't the Bulls have the next Kawhi? His fate is going to be another one of the interesting stories of another interesting NBA offseason, often as interesting as the inseason. He's got a $36 million salary for next season, and silly me I'd actually take that. But I guess if someone wants to extend you for $200 million or so... I can't see anyone taking Leonard up on that, but as they say in the NBA—and people doubting my ability to find a wife—it only takes one. I'm with you as I can't see Ballmer being outbid for Leonard, especially a Leonard not playing for at least a year. But it only takes one.

Joseph Austin:

It's been rumored that Spurs guards Dejounte Murray and Derrick White are both "gettable" in a trade. It's been reported that the Spurs are interested in Markkanen. Would a trade like this realistically work?:

Spurs get: S/T Markkanen and Satoransky. Perhaps the Bulls and Spurs agree upon a future pick swap, where the Spurs get the better pick.

Bulls get: Dejounte Murray and Derrick White.

The Bulls solve their contract issue with Markkanen while solving their PG problem, plus they add depth at guard with Derrick White.

The Spurs get to reinvent or better utilize Markkanen while also getting a quality player in Sato. The pick swap is added value because Markkanen had another down year.

Sam Smith:

As I noted I've heard these rumors about Murray that I don't understand, but you never fully know what's going on with a team and their plans. The Spurs are on that fence. Popovich could leave after the Olympics. RC Buford, their Theo, has been rumored to perhaps move on. It's a very tight lipped organization, so you never know. Rebuild? Retool? Make another run for 10th? There has been Markkanen speculation regarding the Spurs and Mavericks. Not only isn't this Lauri's first rodeo, maybe he hasn't actually seen one. If the Bulls could turn a sign and trade into a point guard, that would save a lot of uncertainty. Though if the Spurs are moving out those guys it doesn't quite make sense to add Satoransky. I'm not a huge fan of White at his $70 million starting this season. A little too deliberate a game, and the Bulls already have a White as a backup guard. Though maybe it would cost that to get Murray as a salary dump. The Spurs have a huge amount of potential cap room without free agents DeRozan, Gay and Patty Mills. They'll be one of the more intriguing teams to watch.

Randall Sanders:

With all the talk surrounding the Bulls 2nd round draft pick for next year coming on board, it seems that Markennen is done in Chicago. Would the Bulls seek a sign & trade for him and why would a team (such as the Spurs) agree to a sign and trade when all they have to do is simply sign him to an offer sheet and tell the Bulls. "If you want him, match." Why do sign & trades happen?

Sam Smith:

There is that, but if you really want the guy and a team matches your offer, you cannot get him for at least a year. And in the Spurs case maybe you can off load a salary. From the Bulls standpoint, it would have to be a player they really want. Teams often match as a misguided ego thing. The rationale is they're not letting anyone get their player. Sets a bad precedent. Something like that happened with Otto Porter and Washington when the Nets made an offer. Washington subsequently regretted it. I favor letting the guy go if you don't want him. And then use the money on someone you want. The catch is a salary cap loophole with a sign and trade that you can go over the cap resigning your own guy, which gives teams latitude in some cases. So you can add a player even if it's not the ideal player for the guy you don't want. That's probably not ideal for the Bulls this season as it could exhaust their salary cap room if they want to try to get below. Perhaps they do a sign and trade and then use taxpayer exceptions, which are larger, and can retain Young and Satoransky. There are so many ways the Bulls can go. Which still also includes keeping Markkanen.

Brian Tucker:

So Zach on the point? If Pops is doing it, shouldn't we? Actually, it's just a good sign of Zach's abilities, and outside of KD, he looked like the best player on the court against Argentina. I think AK embraces position-less basketball, but realizes that Zach struggled with turnovers when under pressure, and no-one else was helpful. So we better be getting someone with handles. Fun to see all the rumors flying around. Ball or Schroder seem to be locks, or apparently we can trade for Dejounte Murray now. I'd been wondering who we would sign/trade Lauri to the Spurs for! Haha, rumors are fun! Regardless of who we get... imagine how many more corner 3s Zach can shoot with a good point guard on the floor with him. It's looking like the Bulls will be unstoppable next season. Zach love must be at an all-time high right now!

Sam Smith:

Zach! And he's had Covid already. You hit on the issue, which is the pressure. Zach and Coby looked OK when the opposition wasn't pressuring, which teams don't much in the regular season, and when they do just in spurts. But while Zach is doing some primary ballhandling for USA Basketball, they also have relief valve players available across court in an emergency. And Zach moves the ball pretty quick once crossing half court. Unstoppable?

Kevin Franzen:

How does team management come the value players in contract negotiations and trades? I read Cleveland should trade draft rights to #3 and Sexton for Michael Porter Jr. in Denver which seems like a huge robbery on Denvers part if taking that deal. More focused on my favorite team. As a person who thought matching Zach was not a good deal, I've been proven wrong. I still don't believe he is a max player to lead us to a championship. In today's game he seems like a weak 2nd guy or a strong 3rd guy. He's still our number one as that's how the league is today. I say offer $30 million not more. I think if Chicago can make an upgrade at point we see how the team is at trade deadline. If not in 5th or higher play off seed with or without a PG upgrade trade Lavine and Vucevic. Go full rebuild as these two really aren't number one and number two on a championship team more like 2 and 4. Entertainment and professional sports players get paid way too much especially compared to how little revenue they generate. I like sports as an escape. CEO of Walgreens the top revenue earnings company based in Illinois more revenue than the NBA 15 times over makes less than Zach today and he is earning a 14 million dollar raise. Making her $25 million bonus look small.

Sam Smith:

That's the problem with capitalism. It's a great system until it benefits someone else. I have no idea who is the CEO of Walgreen's, but I'm pretty sure the people who go to Walgreen's are a lot more grateful for the pharmacist. But that's also capitalism. You are worth what someone will pay you; not what someone else is making. In every workplace I've ever been the discussion always has been about how much smarter and more deserving everyone was than the boss. Or the biggest wage earners. Actually, the NBA and the movies have it right. Samuel Jackson and Tom Cruise? Or the producer? I understand investment and risk, but consumers pay for the performers. They also deserve substantial compensation based on the income of the entity, which the long fraud of the NCAA finally is changing. If things continue to trend as they are, Zach will play on a maximum deal. Hopefully it is with the Bulls. I believe like I've mentioned before Zach can play for a champion if he has the teammates. I believe the Bulls are getting closer with Vucevic, and perhaps this summer. Devin Booker and Khris Middleton have the teammate. One soon will be a champion. You would be hard pressed to show how either is better than LaVine; and certainly not using statistics. Plus neither has gotten all-defense votes. And then there's the most basic economics: supply and demand. There aren't many players like LaVine, now an All-Star and an Olympian who is playing well among the Olympians. That surely increases demand. Like the quarterbacks in football. Not many win Super Bowls. Many earn maximum-level salaries because they are in demand. Seriously, give it a half season and start over? Do you remember the last four years? The CEO of Walgreen's got a $25 million bonus? Without knowing on what shelf is the aspirin?