Ask Sam Mailbag: Preseason Bulls reactions, Javonte Green, Marko, and more

Sam Smith responds to your questions and reactions from the Bulls' fun start to preseason play
by Sam Smith
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Tom Plonowski:

What's your thought on Marko Simonovic? I haven't seen summer league play, except for highlights. He certainly seems better than Bagaric or Tarlac. Based on his physical stature he appears to be in the same mold such as Markkanen or Porzingis or even Bargnani but of course with less talent - lanky power forwards with not so much inside game that can stroke. Does Simonovic have any Detlef Schrempf in him? Schrempf was fun to watch. I don't watch enough NBA these days to really compare Simonovic with guys like Jokic or Nurkic out of many others; that's why I'm digging back in time to see whom would be best comparable to Simonovic's skill sets in his early stages of his career? Oh, and I suppose Brit Luol Deng would be considered a four in today's NBA, too!

Sam Smith:

Well, that's a low bar if I also appreciate the memories. Simonovic wasn't available for the first game with a minor sprain, but we'll probably get a look at him Friday against the Pelicans. I liked what I saw of him in Summer League, though he's not ready to be in this playing rotation this season given his inexperience and size (long but not wide). Though his style is intriguing with the way the Bulls came out playing Tuesday in transition. He's a Joakim Noah type big man in the way he looks to run the court. He shoots better than Noah, which is another low bar. Though hardly comparable to someone like Schrempf, who was vastly underrated and was a highly skilled all around, All-Star level player. There's some resemblance to Mirotic given Simonic has more of a faceup offensive game, but not the shooting depth or smooth release. Simonic looks like he'll be a competent backup in time and maybe eventually a modern era NBA center who runs the court and shoots threes in transition. Though centers are more valuable than given credit for noting some of your list, they seem to be falling farther down in the drafts in this era.


Ben Simmons

Mike Hasemann:

As much as I wanted the Bulls to sign Lonzo Ball and am thrilled they got him because it was by far the best upgrade at the point guard they could have done and he fits their window perfectly, I'm wondering if the bulls have an opportunity to parlay him into a true all star player in Ben Simmons. The Sixers have to trade Simmons if he refuses to play this year. And Ball isn't a bad replacement for them. Would a combination of ball and Coby White plus the first round pick they got in the Lauri deal be enough for Philly to deal? I realize that trade can't happen until December or whenever but still. The bulls would have one of the more interesting starting fives in the league - and thats what wins in the playoffs.

Sam Smith:

Well, that was a short love affair for Lonzo. Big game Tuesday sure, but what have you done for me Wednesday and Thursday? Lonzo will have his struggles, also, and they always complained about his pick and roll effectiveness in New Orleans. So we'll see. It wouldn't exactly be the best advertisement for the Bulls around the league to trade their big free agent (sign and trade) acquisition immediately. Of course, if it could win you a championship, as the players like to say, it's a business. At this point, the 76ers might want to do that. It doesn't appear like they're going to get Damian Lillard, whom everyone has assumed they are holding out for. Now it's who's playing chicken longest, the 76ers fining him and docking him pay or Simmons accepting that. The 76ers could extend into the season and see if they still can win games, which would maintain their leverage. Though the question for any team once a player does that is, What if he does that here? It's usually not the case, and we know Pat Riley would take him. You've got to take chances sometimes if you want to succeed, and I agree with you that Simmons can make a big difference. I also think he's elite. But I actually believe the Bulls like the Lonzo fit just as well or better because he can—and will—shoot, is a good defender if not quite Simmons' level and spaces out the court better to accommodate a player like DeRozan. Not just because of his first exhibition game with the Bulls, Lonzo is a keeper. The Simmons/76ers melodrama is the stuff we love in the NBA and great spectator sport. It will be fun to see how it concludes without the Bulls involvement.


Javonte Green, Lonzo Ball, and Nikola Vucevic

Stian Nordvik:

I hope you have had a nice summer and is half as optimistic as you seem in your column regarding the upcoming season. I believe we should be happy with 30 wins. Firstly after debating the necessity for a centre or a true point guard in todays NBA for years, the Bulls has decided they do not need a power forward anymore. Gone are the days of rebounding and posting inside like Malone, LJ, Oakley, Rodman, Thorpe, Davis. Management stated that themselves in the press conference we do not have and strong rebounders. Meaning the Bulls will need to rely on hitting shots on offense, relying on the other side not getting offensive rebounds on misses shot at the defensive end. Sounds like a plan to loose in my opinion. Best of luck on what I believe will be another loosing season.

Sam Smith:

Now that's a downer; and just when we were debating 50 or 60 wins. I would have said that's an issue in 1995, and Phil Jackson did. The lack of a power forward was the Bulls' Achilles heel when Horace Grant defected to the Orlando Magic. Not appreciated as much as Jordan and Pippen—and justifiably—Grant's departure changed the balance of power in the East from the Bulls to the Magic. It hit the Bulls directly when Jordan returned in 1995 and the Bulls were defeated by the Magic in the conference semifinals, and Grant was the clutch scoring star of the series. Jackson had made a calculated gamble, which made sense, to double off Grant every game to help on Shaq and Penny. Grant made all the big shots and the Magic won in six. And in Chicago! Thus the kingdom-for-a-power-forward search that landed Dennis Rodman. Today's NBA often features "power" forwards like Draymond Green and P.J. Tucker. It's more about toughness and the ability to make a corner three. The Bulls can compensate because they smartly filled the roster with like-sized 6-5 and 6-6 guards and small forwards who are athletic and nimble and thus can switch and help and recover. And rebound. Even a Cavs team in that glimpse Tuesday with an unusual complement of big guys was not able to play a power game like the great power forwards of the 80s and 90s could with Barkley, McHale, Buck Williams, Oakley and Karl Malone.


Kirk Hinrich

Rui Dias:

Thanks for that Hinrich reference on your Lonzo Ball article. Mostly unappreciated by fans, he was one of those glue guys that I think should be considered one of the greatest to play the jersey. Should we make the banners for the 2021-2022 Champions already? Or is it too early? Better party when we are ahead? 1-0 baby!

Sam Smith:

Though the Bulls and new general manager John Paxson lamented the serious injury to Jay Williams that necessitated the drafting of Hinrich in 2003, it was Hinrich who was the identity of that entertaining Bulls team in the post-Tim Floyd and pre-Derrick Rose rejuvenation. Hinrich was the ideal for the way Paxson saw the game, and probably the downfall in recent years as Paxson, understandably, skewed to talent over toughness. Hinrich, who played shooting guard his last two seasons in college, was a mild surprise as a top 10 pick at No. 7. Most pre-draft analysts projected him in the mid-teens. But with Williams injured and primary target Dwyane Wade taken ahead by the Miami Heat, Paxson opted for grit. It worked well. Hinrich wasn't a natural at point guard, though coaches always raved about the subtlety of the way he "organized" the offense. Coaches love that. He didn't have the speed in transition of someone like Ball and wasn't a big finisher like the brilliant scoring point guards this era. But he was wiry strong, tough, relentless and could make a shot, a prototype for a Paxson team. Which those Bulls were in his image. It's easy to get seduced by talent, which is what the draft is about. But those talents, with some exceptions, never matched Kirk's toughness. And so we have a new era. As you note, it's started well. But everyone still is undefeated in the games that matter, so we'll have to withhold some judgment.


Lauri Markkanen

Kirk Landers:

We'll see what reality brings, but the preseason opener treated us to the kind of directed chaos you can achieve with five athletic veterans on the floor at once, most of them skilled passers. As you keep pointing out, the Bulls are going to score, so it was especially interesting to watch them on defense. I know, it's one preseason game, but they showed quick feet and took strong positions in the post and pursued rebounds with a vengeance. That's a good start. But the Cavs disorganization made me feel bad for Lauri. I think he can be a valuable rotation player on a good team with a good culture. I thought maybe the Warriors would pick him up, but I suppose the dollars are too high for teams like that to take a shot.

Sam Smith:

I suppose it's an interesting experiment the Cavs are trying: Everyone's going small, so we'll go big. Sort of the Nellie of the 80s when everyone was going big, he was going small. It looked bad Tuesday for them, but as you note about the Bulls it's probably best to withhold ultimate judgment until at least three preseason games. I'm not entirely opposed to trying what the Cavs are, though then your big guys have to score in the post and against matchups. Lauri, as we saw with frustration in previous seasons, struggled with that, and Mobley and certainly Jarrett Allen don't seem like those kinds of players. As for Kevin Love...? There's all sorts of Ben Simmons rumors floating around as there are probably fantasy deals with 20 teams. I heard some involving the Cavs, which shouldn't worry the 76ers about trading him in conference. The Cavs still need a leader as there are all sorts of rumors about whether they want to retain Sexton. Maybe Sexton in a package with Allen and the Cavs first rounder, which is valuable? It seems the 76ers will have to "settle" at some point. Shooting, a big and a lottery pick is a nice haul. And Simmons could get his team and you can build around a guy like him. Yes, I believe that. We know he does.


Kevin Durant and Zach LaVine

Brodie Larsh:

Are other teams around the NBA really that worried about the Nets? I know they're talented and have shooters, but when I look at them, only word comes to mind; soft. Whose playing defense over there? KD Warriors were better than the KD Nets

Sam Smith:

Suddenly, Kyrie's a distraction, Ben Simmons is a distraction. Too bad Giannis is such a good guy; the Bulls could be playing for second? Everyone said that about the Nets last season, and then without Irving and Harden limping around they were a Kevin Durant shorter shoe size from probably the Finals. There's physical and there's tough. I don't see Harden or Durant as physical, but I don't see them as soft. They made a nice pickup of Patty Mills, who is considered a tough guy as those things go. And Paul Millsap, very tough guy, and LaMarcus Aldridge also now, who maybe not physical, knows how to play. Irving eventually comes around on most things, and like the GMs in the survey this week, I'm still buying Nets in the long run. It's not a cage match; it's basketball. They have the most talent.


Javonte Green finishes an alley-oop against Cleveland

Mike Sutera:

Javonte Green deserves a special shoutout from the Cavs game . He was like DPOY level defense out there. He is going to play some serious minutes if anything like this continues. Plays so much bigger then his size.

Sam Smith:

In some respects that was the highlight/surprise of that first game the way Green came out ostensively as power forward at 6-4 holding off much bigger players, dunking, setting the tone, as we like to say, in the first quarter with offensive rebounds, blocks, help, hustle. When Billy Donovan was asked a few days before who would fill in for Patrick Williams, there was at least media raised eyebrows when in going through a list of several possibilities Donovan mentioned Green. It hardly seemed there was even a role for him on the team. And now can they keep him off the floor? It's actually pretty encouraging for the Bulls that they may have that level of depth. Donovan once the season begins seems like a coach who prefers a tighter rotation of maybe nine regulars. So exhibition season is turning out to be something of auditions. Once Williams returns, it seems like Caruso and White are certain off the bench. How many guys can make a run for those two of three places among Bradley, Green, Brown, Jones and various Johnsons? As they say, it's a better problem to have.


Lonzo Ball

Brian Tucker:

Okay, okay, it was the Cavs and it's just one game, but that was an exciting brand of basketball, a true show of entertainment that basketball should be. Next to Zach (of course), I was mostly blown away by Lonzo. It's pretty special what he must see on the court. Crisp passing, brilliant awareness at both ends of the court and especially in transition… just putting the last several years into perspective about what's been missing. And shoutout to Vuc and DeRo too. Legit talent out there! And how about Caruso too! I won't go too far and call us a Big 5, but the value of him is looking good.

Sam Smith:

I'll admit I was surprised about Caruso, who seemed more to me in Los Angeles as a higher level Scalabrine, competitive without quite enough skills. But I may have overlooked that LeBron probably didn't let him have the ball much. Caruso in that opener seemed almost as adept as Lonzo with the ball, looking ahead, seeing angles. I'm not sure he's as fast, but he may indeed be better than his six-point career scoring average.


Wendell Carter Jr.

Joseph Austin:

I keep reading that Wendell Carter, Jr. has a sour taste in his mouth towards the Bulls. If anything, it should be the other way around. Both WCJ and Markkanen didn't really establish themselves because of one injury or another. WCJ got traded for a perennial All-Star in Vucevic. The Bulls could never really get those 2 guys and LaVine and White on the floor together at the same time. OPJ had the same problem. What makes a guy who didn't become a mainstay think that a team owes him anything?

Sam Smith:

I haven't seen him saying much and would be surprised if he did given he's a very good guy. I saw a playful covering of the Bulls logo on his social media in the summer. It didn't seem too accusatory. But who likes being fired? No matter the circumstances, I've never met anyone who believes their organization is better off without them after they've been let go and moved, though most workers rarely are traded. But you get the point. Wendell and Lauri owed the Bulls their best efforts, and I believe they gave it. That it didn't work out and result in success isn't just an indictment on them. They were injured, so it was unfortunate. I don't see that they felt owed anything by the team, but there is hurt anytime you are rejected be it dating or in the work place. Everyone wants to believe they are vital and performed well, and I always believed those guys tried. It didn't work out. But they both seem to still have good jobs. I doubt either is too upset.


Ben Simmons

Trevor Hoffler:

What do you see happening with the Ben Simmons debacle? Personally, I love it. If I factor that Philadelphia is such a classless sports city and the shameful way the 76ers constructed this team, I can only conclude that they and Simmons were made for each other... I hope he holds out forever and they never find a team dumb enough to trade for him. I'll never forget how they cheered when Derrick tore his ACL, enjoy your PG Philly.

Sam Smith:

Sounds like you might be able to be comfortable in Philly, actually. It's history makes it one of my favorite American cities to visit, and you have to laugh about the fans. They're their own entertainment. But you have a validly ironic point about "the process." Many were disturbed by the way the 76ers were going about that rebuilding even as we seemed more upset than the 76ers fans. In truth, many teams probably just hide it better, And maybe they deserve credit for pretty much openly saying they were dumping games (I did love Jrue Holiday getting a Finals star turn as among the players they dumped in order to lose). But I'm not sure how that was different than prosecuting players for throwing games. So perhaps it is fitting that they are going through this mess with the other big prize (other than Embiid) for five or six years of purposely losing. Since they've been a title contender and Embiid is an MVP contender the last few years, you might say it worked. And they made some good moves to supplement those picks, so credit them. I thought Simmons would come in and work up his value to be traded as he is valued. It's rare to see a holdout in this era. I guess they have to "settle" at some point. With Tobias Harris and picking up Drummond, they should be able to land a point guard shooter like, say D'Angelo Russell, and with the usual disclaimer of Embiid being healthy they should be top four, if not top dog.


Lonzo Ball, Nikola Vucevic, and DeMar DeRozan

Kevin Burns:

Bulls three alphas with LaVine, Vucevic and DeRozan. Do you envision a scenario that Ball becomes the maestro on the offensive end a la Rondo in the old Pierce/Garnett/Allen days of the Boston teams about a decade ago? I always would marvel that he was their most important player

Sam Smith:

I still favor Garnett, but I get the point. The Pelicans obviously don't think so or they wouldn't have let him go, though they have other financial considerations with Williamson and some good young point guards in reserve. So I understand their position even if I had some fun with them a little the other day in our rapture over Lonzo's eight points. Whenever a player moves on, the last guys dribble out the faults, so it was with Lonzo now that he shoots somewhat better there are weaknesses in pick and roll, carelessness with the ball and lacking that love of the game, which is as amorphous as it comes for comment on anybody. Rondo was vital to that team with a lot of what Lonzo looks like he'll bring for the Bulls, though lesser in importance compared with Garnett, Pierce and Allen. And, please, can we drop the three alphas. Still bad memories from that one.

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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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