Ask Sam Mailbag: Questions about Bulls Minicamp observations, Jimmy Butler, and more

Stian Nordvik:

Time and time again I read that small forward is the weakest spot on the Bulls roster. Porter J.r is the Bulls biggest earner isn't he? With backup Valentine, sometimes Zach, and my favorite Bulls potential player Hutchison. How come a wing player is in such a need for the Bulls?

Sam Smith:

Perhaps if they played like management hoped/expected it wouldn't be. The Porter trade looked like a steal immediately afterward, a young, long, versatile good shooting 6-8 player who had been underutilized playing with John Wall and Bradley Beal dominating the ball and almost fighting for it. Porter showed that immediately as he led the Bulls on their best run of the season with excellent two-way play. It was .500 ball for almost a month, but for that Bulls teams it was exceptional. Then Porter mysteriously sat out the last month of the season and we just thought the Bulls liked the audition and were knowingly resting him. But it obviously was more as Porter played nine games last season—mostly poorly—and then missed most of the season with a foot problem. Now he goes into his last contract season and can you trust his health?

Similarly with Hutchison, who did to his credit try to play through injuries, but has not been able to and needs a better shot for that position. Which suddenly makes Denzel Valentine one of the more interesting possibilities. There has been a lot of draft speculation for the Bulls regarding a wing player, like Israel's Deni Avdija. Or maybe trading down for someone like Auburn's Isaac Okoro. Valentine also has been burdened by multiple injuries, but even with the limited play in the recent Bulls bubble, observers said Valentine looked like along with Coby White the best players, shooting well, handling the ball and playmaking with aplomb. He's probably not tall enough at 6-4 or 6-5 for that wing position. But for a player some believed might be released, Valentine's recent play may just change some minds. Remember, everyone is on tryout with a new management and staff.

Brodie Larsh:

Which players seem like the safest to stay, and which seem like the least safe (excluding free agents)? Seems like there's been rumors or speculation about almost every player, other than Coby White. Do you think a draft night trade is likely? Or will they wait until mid season to better evaluate who they have?

Sam Smith:

Although it's been occurring like a slow moving lava out of a volcano, the effect appears to be the same. The old Bulls town we knew is being wiped out. Which suggests to me no one is safe. That recent Bulls camp isn't a good test because the Bulls players—unlike the Orlando bubble teams—didn't have a real camp of any sort before their games (scrimmages). You can't sit out five months and then in a week be ready to show what you have. Though I agree about White and heard he looked especially good in comparison to other players. But with the recent departure of virtually the entire coaching staff coming a few months after the hiring of a large new management contingent, it seems clear that the new management team not only is in charge but intends to remake the franchise in its image of a franchise. And there isn't a single player whom they acquired. Though we always hear how much it is a business, there is a personal connection—whether to prove your belief and vision or simply from a relationship—with players you acquired. That effectively ended for all the Bulls players with the hiring of Karnisovas and his team and then the addition of Billy Donovan and his assistants to come. Which actually makes it exciting, at least for fans, if not for every player.

This is going to be a difficult offseason to make many moves because of all the uncertainties to even when the next season will begin. Plus as Karnisovas and Eversley have said, they believe the Bulls underachieved. Which suggests players may be undervalued based on previous team records. And thus difficult to exchange for equal value. But the behind-the-scenes maneuvering for the last six months and that none of the new executives or head coach has any stake in any of the current players suggests everyone is being reevaluated, nothing much they did before matters because the new guys weren't watching, and there could be plenty more change to come.

Gorav Raheja:

Thibs must be smiling somewhere about all those minutes Jimmy played. Did you see this potential from Jimmy during his time in Chicago?

Sam Smith:

The Orlando bubble clearly was a boon and benefit to Jimmy. It was interesting given this era's load management ethic that I really never heard anyone saying Jimmy was playing too much as he was only out about 45 seconds in Game 5 and played at least 43 minutes the last five games. I often understood Thibs' minutes demands because, after all, I'd seen this with Jordan and Pippen. It did often seem much overplayed with Thibs. So I'd say RJ Barrett better get in shape.

We did and didn't see this from Jimmy in Chicago. After all, he still was a multiple time All-Star with the Bulls and scored 50 points in a game, once 40 in a half. He had numerous some huge games with the Bulls and that run of 48-minute playoff games one year when he was just getting his chance. So we knew there was something there. But rarely do we see it until we do. LeBron, OK, that's different. But you could say that about Steph Curry and certainly Giannis and Kawhi.

I recall Derrick Rose's rookie year when a fan asked if he could be MVP and I dismissed the question saying he didn't score enough. Until he had to. Same with Jimmy. He needed/wanted to lead his own team with a supporting cast. Remember with the Bulls how fans often would say he dribbled and isolated too much? He probably gained more credibility in Orlando than anyone, which is saying something for a multiple time All-Star. Now comes the tough part. Being consistent, doing it again and improving on what you did.

Dan Fitzpatrick:

So your well educated followers who advocate moving the 3 point line back 1 to 2 feet among other things need to go back to basic basketball school. This is not the problem/question! The problem is that the pro game has become too predictable. What needs to be done is to encourage more action -driving, passing (when is the last time you saw an incredible assist other than a boring lob dunk -think Ernie DiGregorio) and more moves -yes moves (think Earl the Pearl, Elgin, Dr J...).

So here is what needs to be done: The court needs to be widened by 1 and 1/2 feet on each side -move all seats back a bit and maybe you lose 1 row in the nosebleed seats -an easy transformation in this day and age. NBA players have just all gotten taller and faster and more athletic across the board-Players have outgrown the court.

So what would would that do for the game? By widening the court (and extending the key area) you would create more space for driving/slashing/passing/moves (the exciting parts of basketball); you would encourage/create more opportunities for even higher percentage 2 point shots (maybe 60%. Take that Geeks).

Sam Smith:

We call them analysts.

It's long been obvious the court is too small. Baseball can compensate for the larger, stronger people by deadening the ball so everyone isn't hitting 80 home runs. Golf is having some issues with the courses becoming too short, though they've been able to maintain the balance with difficult short game conditions. The original Naismith basketball rules didn't specify a court size. It generally went by the size of the gym you could find. Around the 1920s when basketball was mostly played as a barnstorming show, the current dimensions became common and were eventually standardized at the current 94 by 50. Players obviously are much bigger and quicker now with a long reach that can clog the court. It's been complicated by coaches and executives being intelligent and able to take advantage of rules to enhance their teams generally at the expense of the game (aka, human nature). So the league makes modifications, like the zone rules that opened up the game around 2000.

Surely the court needs to be wider, especially, but the attraction of being close to the court changed the economics with the high priced seats. No franchise—certainly not in the major cities with some courtside tickets perhaps as much as $4,000 for a game in Los Angeles—these days can afford or would sacrifice giving up even a row of those seats. People with the money for those seats don't sit in the second row. Arenas are built so that removing those seats puts everyone in a hockey-like setting, which while more democratic removes the individualism riches demand. The league as readers have suggested before has work to do, though getting through the virus ranks highest on the list.

Elijah Humble:

Have to say nothing bores me more than talk of the draft board or mock drafts, etc. It's like the McDonald's All Americans in high schools and the recruiting race to see where they'll end up, for a year, and/or which coach is making a brief splash, taking top prizes away from the big shots... often followed by scandal, payments under the table, etc. Can we just fast forward to the ones who'll be solid NBA players? Of course we don't know, but I don't get all this time and effort spent talking about trading up or down for players none of us have even seen, other than maybe brief video clips. I do love talking about unsung guys not on anybody's draft board, like Duncan Robinson, Joe Ingles, Fred Van Vleet, Daniel Theis, Alex Caruso or even guys like David Nwaba who come out of nowhere and steadily contribute and even start from time to time. So who are some of your all-time unsung nobodies who led solid, long NBA careers?

Sam Smith:

It seemed like half the Miami team was undrafted, Nunn, Robinson. It's hard to believe Pat Riley wasn't executive of the year again with the roster Miami put together and where it went. How about Ryan Arcidiacono? There are so many, which shows why the draft is so difficult and not to believe the consensus. Shush; they really don't know.

Some of my personal favorites were former Bulls, like Adrian Griffin, Jannero Pargo, Brad Miller and, of course, Andres Nocioni. My childhood favorite with the Knicks, undrafted Carl Braun from Colgate. It's why I didn't switch to Crest for a long time. I was going to be the next. Ben Wallace generally is regarded as the best undrafted and should get into the Hall of Fame someday. There were the minis like Linsanity, John Starks and now big free agent Fred VanVleet. I like some of the lottery misses, like Jimmy No. 30 and Dennis Rodman a second rounder along with some second round favorites of mine like Mark Price, Doc Rivers, Manu Ginobili and Toni Kukoc.

Nikola Jokic seems to be doing well lately for a second rounder. But please don't be bored with the draft talk because if we didn't have the draft and this endless speculation, which I do love, we'd have to watch more baseball. It may be a long time until we see NBA games again and all we really have is draft, free agency and trade speculation, in that order. Who really doesn't love that? C'mon, you don't want to discuss LaMelo Ball for another month?

Robert Curtis:

How about trading down with Detroit in the first round and trading up in the second round? I like Killian Hayes at this spot.

On top of that deal, I would like to get Bobby Portis back at a realistic salary number, say $9-$10 million. I do not expect the Knicks to re-up for $15 million. I also don't expect a long line of suitors for his services. Bobby provided good leadership for the second unit when he was with the Bulls and his superior outside shooting (to Young) was a much better fit for what the Bulls were running last year. I think Portis will be more comfortable back in familiar surroundings and will perform much better than he did with the Knicks. I also believe the improved player environment with new front office and coach could return a boost to his game. Bobby now has experience with two other dysfunctional organizations (Knicks/Wizards) and returning to the Bulls might prove to be a refreshing change.

A second unit of Portis/White/Gafford/Hutchison/Draft Pick?/Harrison could develop into one of the most formidable second groups in the league. That was one trait I loved about Taj Gibson was his willingness to embrace this role.

Sam Smith:

Well, Taj figures to be available, also, and less expensive. Despite how it all ended and the difficult negotiations, you can tell Bobby misses Chicago. He has a team option for about $15 million and you'd assume the Knicks aren't picking up many options to put themselves into free agency. Bobby probably regrets the negotiations with the Bulls at the time during which he turned down an eight-figure long term contract. A season in New York probably leads to that. The Bulls should have just the salary cap exception of about $8 million available once Otto Porter Jr. opts in, as expected. I assume Bobby examines the market, though I suspect there's more been there/done that for the Bulls as the new management team probably isn't as sentimental as we are. I'd love to see them take a flier with Taj, who as you say will play any role and likely won't be too costly assuming he also becomes available. See, fans love that trading down talk.

Ateeq Ahmed:

I saw a little bit of the Bulls' minicamp and Lauri looked good. I know it's hard to judge from a few snippets, but I liked what I saw with his mobility. Will this be a bounce back year for him? I certainly hope we don't draft a forward. I like our guys and I'm not ready to move on from 2 young PF's who were both lottery picks.

Sam Smith:

BullsTV Thursday offered a nice look at some of the scrimmages, and, yes, we actually saw Bulls playing basketball for the first time in seven months. So you can't fairly expect much. Or make many judgments.

Coby White looked the best, which confirms what I'd heard during the scrimmages, though he also had the ball most of the time. But that is the current NBA. I think it's becoming clear he's not going to be a reserve. That seems to make it less likely the Bulls will draft a point guard with No. 4. Perhaps if they trade down. I actually like the other French guy, Theo Maledon, who could drop into the 20s, as a backup point guard for the future. Avdija seems to fit on need the best, but Karnisovas has said that won't be a priority. But I digress again.

Lauri and Wendell? I don't think either had great camps, though without Billy Donovan yet it probably was more conditioning and practice than tryouts to impress. I assume, though, Billy also has internet and was able to access the feed. With the success of Bam Adebayo in Miami, many are projecting (hoping?) Carter can take that step. It's a big one. Lauri, I agree, is the larger question for now. Donovan will give him a chance, but he'll also have to come back with perhaps not so much more game, but the game he showed this first two seasons. We know he can make threes. Can he do the other again? Look, he once did. There's something there.

Mike Sutera:

I read in the New York media the Knicks are considering trading down.

Sam Smith:

Uh oh. Since everyone speculates about the draft—and I say that's the fun—who really knows. Still, it's a worrisome sign if the Knicks, who were everybody's favorite to trade up to the top five in this draft, want to go the other way. It could send even more worrisome signals about the level of talent in this draft. Hey, even the Knicks don't want you guys! I kid, of course, and I do believe things will change the way people think about the Knicks thanks to Thibs. There's also been a lot of speculation the Knicks, one of the few teams that could have free agent money, want to get into the market and add veterans and aren't much for developing more 19-year-olds. What we do know is that we really have no idea about this draft. Which only means another month of intense speculation. Goody.

Lachlan Everett:

I believe Ja Morant and JJJ are a dynamic duo for the future and are they comparable to Derrick Rose and Jo Noah? Dillon Brooks could be the Deng but focus on the two stars. JJJ is a modern defensive big who can defend all over the court and Ja is an explosive guard who could touch the roof if he tried plus being skinny. Wondering what your thought on this and what the Grizzlies might need to do this off-season?

Sam Smith:

I'll admit I don't get enough Grizzlies questions. Rebuild for the Rockets? Trade James Harden? Oh, right, I'm answering about the Grizzlies. They don't get much notice and they're not grit-and-grind anymore.

Morant should be a star while the loss of Jackson in the bubble was much overlooked. They could be a world class tandem with a heck of a good, young roster. And Toronto may regret giving up Valanciunas with Marc Gasol's likely defection overseas. Which makes the Western Conference next season if not great, certainly exciting. We assume Golden State doesn't finish 15th again. So who's out? Especially since everyone's favorite New Orleans also wasn't top eight. There's Phoenix, which seemed to take that step with its 8-0 record in the bubble. The Mavs are being talked about as a contender. The Nuggets and Jazz have established themselves. Portland's got their bigs back. The Clippers now have a championship coach. Ok, they did before, too. That's at least a dozen teams with playoff promises. Including the Grizzlies. They could use a good face up, catch and shoot three point shooter. Right, like everyone else.

Michael Ballogan:

Now that the work outs has ended... would the Bulls players still be allowed to voluntary train with coaches/trainers at the Advocate Center if the players wanted to?

Sam Smith:

It doesn't seem like it, but day to day is less a cliche in sports now than a working plan. The Orlando "bubble" and those for individual teams like recently for the Bulls were agreed to in negotiations between the league and the players' union with health and safety priority. Which seems to mean there's not going to be any camp or games or scrimmages until there is an actual preseason. Now like it was before the Bulls minicamp, a player can come to the Advocate Center and basically practice shooting with one coach. I doubt many will do that when they can go back home. I saw Coby White on social media from a UNC scrimmage. Rules aren't so strict where there's less league liability, though players, I assume, have restrictions from their contracts. But the way all this has gone with the NBA and the uncertainty regarding the start of next season, it can change anytime. Watch this space.

Jay Carlson:

Regarding Horace Grant, the ultimate "hard hat, lunch bucket" player. Everyone loves the flash and sparkle but we rarely spend the time to notice the guys who are in trenches doing the dirty work. Maybe it's because those guys represent what so many of us do everyday, just carry the load. Maybe we are drawn to the sparkle because possibly it ignites our imagination of breaking the boundaries of the everyday routines that so many of us experience. There should should be a separate wing in each Hall of Fame for those who provided the foundation for the greatness of others, those who excelled at doing the dirty work for the greater good of the team. So this leads me to the thought your article created: Zach LaVine or Kris Dunn? Who do you think becomes the better all around player, with proper coaching? LaVine is the flash and Dunn is the grind.

Sam Smith:

The NBA has attempted to recognize those types of players with the Sixth Man award and Most Improved. You make a good point about the similarity to most lives, which probably is why they don't get recognized much. Our society, at least, and probably most, chase dreams (or nightmares), celebrating the richest, the smartest, the baddest. Our attention tends to be drawn to our dreams, what we'd like to become, or which we most fear and then justifies our own mundane existence. At least we're not that guy! So perhaps that explains it. We don't honor the role players compared to as much lip service as we give them because while we believe we are special, society generally doesn't. Yeah, sorry. So Zach or Kris? Kris is a specialist; Zach is a special talent. One issue the Bulls have is just not enough players who can make plays, handle the ball, finish and score. Zach can and Coby White can. Zach has star talent. Like Jimmy Butler, he needs a place where it can be nurtured. We hope with Donovan. Dunn is an undervalued role player who needs a chance and could excel. This roster might be too crowded for now.

Randall Sanders:

Would you agree that Zach, Markkanen, White, Carter Jr. (and whoever they draft next month) will be the core of the Bulls?

Sam Smith: