Ask Sam Mailbag: Questions about coaching, trade ideas, Lauri Markkanen and more

Joseph Austin:

Would a trade involving Lonzo Ball and Chandler Hutchinson make sense? I've read that the Pelicans are looking for front court shooting and that might point to Lauri Markkanen. With Markkanen's offensive resurgence and Carter's prolonged absence, Markkanen is too much value and front court depth to give up. Neither Ball or Hutchinson have a lot of value right now and both might need a change of scenery? There are "rumors" out there suggesting they trade Coby or Lauri for him, I believe that the Bulls could and should receive a lot more in a trade for Markkanen than just Lonzo Ball.

Sam Smith:

Lonzo is the trade du jour because the Pelicans are rumored to be interested in moving on—not a good sign being headed to your third team in four seasons—and the belief among many is the Bulls need more of a classic facilitator as the point guard given Coby White's natural predilection toward offense. I like Lonzo more than most and might be inclined to take a look, as you suggest, if it's not too costly, which we don't know. Is there something internal going on and they have to move him? Or just that he's become extraneous with the addition of Bledsoe and so much ball handling by Ingram and Williamson? Ball did improve his three-point shooting some and is a natural playmaker. He's also seemed like a good teammate and his father seems more preoccupied in Charlotte. Though I wouldn't be ready to turn over the team to him. I'm sure the Bulls still want a longer look at White as their point guard. Ball is going to be a restricted free agent, like Markkanen, in a weaker free agent class that could make them more desirable. I'd certainly want to take a look at Lonzo if I didn't have to surrender too much. But given Lonzo was a No. 2 overall pick and David Griffin likes to "win" deals, I suspect the price would be too high.

Alejandro Yegros:

Collin Sexton is averaging 25 pts on 51% FG and 47% on threes. I don't think it's an accident that this is happening as the team finally gave up on him as a PG and just lists him as a SG so he can just shoot like he was born to do. Want to make a prediction on when the Bulls finally reach that point with Coby? I guess the same day LaVine is traded. Also, I know you get a million of these. In any other year, I'd have said "no way" because I thought Simmons was so much better. But this year, at least? They're completely different players, but in those all-in-one advanced stats (BPM, WS) Zach and Ben look almost identical. And, unlike Ben, LaVine complements Embiid. Who says "no" to that trade?

Sam Smith:

That's been my sense with Coby, too. That he needs to be a "point guard" looking to score. It's OK. Others do, and as you note it seems to have freed up Sexton. You know, putting him in the best position to succeed. But I understand the Bulls position. It's just Coby's second season. He started just one game his rookie season. He's been an NBA starter fewer than 20 games in his career. Perhaps a bit premature for a final judgment? Coby will have some good games where he looks like a distributor, though I've always believed and mentioned many times you don't create those players. They either are or are not. Coby's a scorer. His situation reminds me of something I heard years ago to go along with many of my tortured analogies to the NBA. It was when Lech Walesa in the solidarity movement championed, "Let Poland be Poland." He led the then return to free market from communism with a plea to be who they are. Let Coby be Coby? Inevitably, I believe it will come to that and you still can succeed in the NBA with scoring oriented guards, as Cleveland is doing with Sexton. Yes, I get Simmons/LaVine deals weekly, and it seems obvious now however much I like Zach and know he's an All-Star and has been one in production if not prize, the 76ers are the East's best team and don't exactly need to break up things. Someone will eventually have to explain that to Daryl Morey, their new GM. Zach's shooting and his floor spacing obviously exceeds that of Simmons. But if the 76ers made such a trade with no other point guard on the roster—Shake Milton? Seriously?—they'd probably soon be looking to trade Zach for someone like Simmons. Simmons is criticized for basically refusing to shoot, but he does so many other things on offense and defense and at 6-11 that he is probably the closest player there's been to Magic Johnson. Not as energized or motivated. I'd never give him up.

Art Alenik:

I know TOs are a problem. I know that Zach is a big part of the problem. But you know, he does make up for it with lots of points. And btw, no complaints about his D lately. I've been watching closely, and he hounds guys into a lot of bad shots. They may get a shot off, but it's not the one they wanted and it often misses. Then it's up to the Bulls to clean the boards and not allow 2nd-chance pts. But, as a team, they have to clean up the TOs. You're not going to beat many teams turning it over 17-18 times. By the way, as much as I like Williams and he's a great pick, I wonder if we shouldn't have picked Haliburton.

Sam Smith:

I understand Billy Donovan cannot accept the turnovers and that's what teaching, improvement and development is about. I just see these Bulls always being a high turnover team the way they play and who they are. They don't have that traditional point guard facilitator player to run an offense perhaps other than Arcidiacono, whom they don't consider a rotation regular. So if you are going to play fast, as they do, and are asked to move the ball quickly without a true point guard you are going to make a lot of turnovers. Maybe not every game, but you are because if the players stop to think about not making turnovers they're not going to play naturally and to their capabilities and strengths. I'd forget about the turnovers, stop talking about it so much, accept it and try to win despite that with more possessions, more activity to force turnovers the other way and take advantage. Also learn to run a fast break better. They're often too close to one another. Spread out in lanes! You know, like they tell you in sixth grade when no one can lob the ball for a dunk. My view with the draft is if you get a good one, who cares who else got whom. I believe like you that Williams is a good one, so that works for me. Not that I saw Haliburton coming. It's too much of a second guess. After all, Haliburton was regarded as the third best point guard in this draft after LaMelo Ball and Killian Hayes. And I didn't like either one of them. I didn't like Haliburton that much, either. He's surprised me with that shot going in so much. It's also the flaw when executives say they're picking the best talent available. That's a mistake because there is no perfect order of talent in any draft. I do believe in going for needs unless, say, it's LeBron and you already have a small forward. Unless the talent is so clearly superior, I'd always pick for need because then you still need that need you didn't believe you needed (I do love my need to write that sentence). I'm fine with Williams because it looks like the Bulls made an excellent choice, and if they went for a point guard I'm not sure they would have selected Haliburton. I recall having GMs tell me they liked point guard Kira Lewis Jr. It's easy to get it wrong; at least it looks like the Bulls got it right.

John Petersen:

Lauri was one of the questions at the start of the season and the answer may be sad for the Bulls and fans. Not tough enough, inconsistent, relatively weak rebounding for his size and not a good defender. There is still a little time left but it's not a lot. He will be a restricted free agent and if he is traded does the acquiring team have the right to match an accepted offer?

Sam Smith:

So imagine if he weren't just below has career scoring high of 18.5 per game. His rights transfer with him in trade, though I don't expect one. Here's the issue with Markkanen, which is common in sports, if not also life: People cannot be who you want them to be. They are who they are. I'm told this is an issue that comes up in marriages frequently. It's what's bothered the Bulls and fans in recent years with Markkanen. He has to be tougher! Why isn't he! So who did they think they were drafting? He was playing on the perimeter in college. He's a unique talent, a seven footer who shoots like a six footer; unfortunately with a similar mentality. He's averaging almost 20 points on about 13 shots and close to 40 percent on threes. He's been taking the ball to the basket more. That's not who he is. He's not the same style player, but he reminds me a little of someone like Tobias Harris, who is a good scorer and should be probably the fourth best player on a good team because he's not there every game. It seems to me Markkanen is having a much improved season. Enough for a long term investment? That's still the question for the Bulls.

Phil Smailes:

Watching Lauri in his match-ups he is always at a full 4-6" advantage to his defender. We know he is very good to great 3 point shooter but he is a regular all star if someone would teach him how to post up. A fundamental few of today's players have learned. From that post-up position a turn around bank shoot or better yet a jump hook would make him unstoppable. He has been showing signs of that lately but as Stacy King likes to say - "a mouse in the house" - well Lori has a perpetual "mouse in the house" I know I'm beating a dead horse on this subject but it is critical to his success - either with Bulls or the next team. Who will teach him?

Sam Smith:

I'm certain the Bulls have mentioned this to him in the past. It also reminds me some of Kevin Garnett. Garnett developed a great mid range elbow jumper because, in part, the word around the NBA was he didn't like contact. Especially early in his career you never saw Garnett post up. Garnett made up for it with his scowl. Lauri doesn't scowl. Garnett yelled at people a lot. The Finnish people are the happiest in the world, we are told. Lauri seems content. I know Hoiberg and Boylen mentioned that to him, and I assume Donovan has noticed. Sometimes despite their size, a mouse can be very frightening.

Brodie Larsh:

I'm a Lauri fan, but I think they have to be listening to offers on him. They have to be worried of getting too financially invested in this core they didn't build. If they can get another prospect and a 1st for Lauri, they'd have to think about it. Would you feel comfortable giving Lauri over 20 mil a year, and tying this teams fate to him and Zach (looking for a max contract next summer) developing into an elite 1-2 punch? Neither Lauri or Wendell feel like safe bets to be here long term. And I'm a fan of both though.

Sam Smith:

The big financial questions, like in football. Where it's actually easier. Give a great quarterback everything he asks for and then see if you can get everyone else on minimum wage. If you know you have a star, a No. 1 star, then you can begin determining the pecking order and begin to get things in line. Zach is easily the team's best. But good enough to start lining it all up? That's what management has indicated it is up to, and I suspect being a quarter of the way through the season isn't nearly enough of a look for them to make any decisions. Not that they're less concerned than fans with winning now, but they're not finished examining and evaluating now. Markkanen is easier because he's not good enough to carry a team and is a restricted free agent. So the Bulls can match. Zach's the tough one because he is good enough to carry a team—if not deep into the playoffs—and with so many top players resigning with their teams or expected to, like Steph Curry and Kawhi Leonard coming up, LaVine could be the No. 1 free agent by the 2022 summer. Maybe not 1-2, but until you have that sure No. 1, you can do things with a 1-2-3-4 punch. This still is playing out.

Sergio Kalet:

Any interest on the Bulls part for Drummond? Maybe Porter and a future pick?

Sam Smith:

I believe the Cavs have a guy who doesn't play back to backs and has had injury problems in Kevin Love. We all thought when the Cavs added Jarrett Allen from that James Harden deal it meant a buyout for Drummond, and perhaps still will to go to a contender. But the Cavs have been one of the biggest surprises of the season with a .500 record and several excellent wins, like the recent sweep of Brooklyn. They're one of the few teams allowing fans and starting to create some interest and credibility with a team we all thought had little chance of making it to No. 14. So you figure for now they're in no rush to move Drummond.

Richard Leslie:

There are a lot of 19 and 20 year olds in the league, including Patrick Williams who is just about to turn 19 1/2. When I was that age, I continued to grow another inch or so, maxing out at 6'2". So it seems likely that Williams who is listed at 6'7" might get up to 6'8" before his full height is reached. If that happens, how will that affect Williams' game next year. An inch can't hurt, can it?

Sam Smith:

I guess unless you're a supermodel. Many observers, and you know they have to be trusted because they observe, believe Williams eventually fits best as a stretch power forward with his size and shot and by being heavy legged he isn't going to be as much of a ball handler like Scottie Pippen, or even Chandler Hutchison. That brings up the potential conflict with Lauri Markkanen. But you are correct given he's so young that he could be much taller. Can he become the Bulls version of Ben Simmons? That would negate a lot of my trade Zach mail. The Bulls could use more size at center, but that might be too much to ask. Could Williams mature to be like Kevin Durant, a smooth seven footer? Perhaps also too much to ask, but enough to hope. Overall, yes, a good thing.

Matt Chilewich:

As much as I initially thought that the team should deal Lauri, I am starting to think that dealing Coby for a pure point guard would be better. I know we won't do that. But then I thought, what if Billy just went back to a healthy Sato as a starter and had Coby coming off the bench? Do you think this team would be better? Things are working well now with this terrific bench. I'd love a Mike Conley-like player at point guard and Sato is a distribute first, shoot second guy. Does Coby's shoot potential keep defenses more honest or is Sato's veteran savvy and pass-first mentality better suited for the starting five?

Sam Smith:

I actually lobbied (mostly here) a few years ago to sign Conley instead of Young and Sato for that pure point guard thing and the same two guaranteed seasons on his larger individual contract. Though at the time when they ignored me again I thought Young and Satoransky made sense, especially when Conley was hurt and missed much of last season. I wouldn't replace White with Satoransky for whatever short term playmaking benefit there might be, especially because at least for now the absences have taken a lot out of Satoransky's offense. I reiterate I still want to see Coby and Zach let loose each trying to score 25 per game and see where that leads before I'd make any changes. Conley will be a free agent after this season and is from Indiana. Maybe he'd want to get back in the Midwest for a reasonable rate.

John Rallis:

Who says no?

Bulls- Bradley Beal
Wizards- Coby, Markkanen or Carter, Bulls next 3 first round picks.

Sam Smith:

Bulls. Three future No. 1s? So five No. 1 picks for Beal? If that cannot win you the title, it makes no sense. So it makes no sense. I'm quite sure Tommy Sheppard appreciates the thought and support. Though seeing those sad faces of Beal every game after yet another loss you have to figure something is coming. Their core is developing with Avdija and Hachimura. The problem is what to do with Westbrook without Beal there as a buffer. You know he'd never pass to any of those guys.

Parker Lerdal:

So how with the NBA games postponed because of the health and safety issue, will they be rescheduled?

Sam Smith:

The NBA has started to address that even moving some games from that secret second half schedule into the first to avoid the excess of games. There's been about two dozen postponements and some have wondered if there'll have to be an uneven schedule in the end with standings based on percentage. The NBA will try to avoid that, and as vaccines get rolled out and the weather improves and people can get outside, perhaps the need for the contact tracing absences decreases. Which is why talk about an All-Star game in March makes little sense. I agree with having the vote and designating players all stars as most will get a contract bonus and Zach really, really deserves it this season. But it makes no sense with so many games being rescheduled and then trying to keep players safe and isolated to drag them to Atlanta for an All-Star game. I understand the TV pressure and that the league probably needs to satisfy a deal with its sponsors. There have been reports it could be in Atlanta. Which is one of the premier NBA party cities. Even if you lock the players in their rooms, you are inviting people to go to parties. I remember the last time the game was there the downtown gridlock was the worst I'd ever seen it at an All-Star game—and I sadly admit I've been to 30 some of them—other than the disaster it was in Las Vegas. I've noticed the southern United States also hasn't always been as persuaded as some other places that the virus is that contagious.

Brian Tucker:

These past couple games really showed our weaknesses, but without the scoring to offset them. I suppose this is going to be pretty common against the league's upper echelon of teams. Is it that our shooters get a bit tighter under the pressure of playing better teams, or do the better teams just pressure the shots with better defense? Still, we seem good enough to make a playoff run and be an entertaining middling team. So let's enjoy this season best we can, and hopefully keep improving, win some games, and establish some guys to build around. The next steps in the rebuild will be enjoyed when they come. The mystery and intrigue of that is exciting! So let's have some fun during this latest break in action.

Sam Smith:

That sounds right. The most troubling issue that's shown up has been the play against pressure, which also is why the reserves have been doing better. The NBA takes times, and the starters with the coaching changes and injuries haven't had much stability or time together with the addition of a teenager to start each season. And without having ever played in a game that really mattered, being a playoff or elimination game. So they're learning painfully when teams pressure them. Without that player who is accustomed to withstanding that and making plays. The Suns aren't great, but it eases pressure when you can tell Chris Paul to get you a shot somewhere. So I am with you that I am interested and intrigued to see how the new management team evaluates and recommends and what changes they make. I assume many are coming this summer. Not so much until then.

Pete Johnson:

Do expiring contracts have any trade value? I'm thinking of Porter ($28.5 mil), Felicio. Kornet, Arci, Valentine, Temple and even Lauri. It's some time to the trade (presumed March 25) deadline but none of the above is probable to return.

Sam Smith:

Not anymore because the big money free agents all resigned. I guess they have some value if a team is having financial problems with the absence of fans and just wants to dump long term debt. But without the big LeBron, Giannis, Kawhi, etc., to chase by getting under the salary cap, there's no need to take on expiring deals.

Mike Sutera:

According to a report, The Knicks and Clippers have interest in trading for Derrick Rose. Tom Thibodeau coached Rose with the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves, while Ty Lue had a brief stint coaching him with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Rose was linked with a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers last season. Rose is on an expiring contract with the Detroit Pistons.

Sam Smith:

Good for Thibs. Former Bulls will always be employable as long as he's in the NBA. Though I assume Rose wants to get with a contender. If he wanted to be with a losing team, I'd assume he'd stay in Detroit where he is popular and now enjoys living and is close to Chicago and his family. The Nets make sense on a buyout. Probably the 76ers since they really don't have a point guard backup. I doubt the Lakers.

Ateeq Ahmed:

Stacey said Denzel might arguably be the Bulls' best passer. I agree. His midrange game is nice, too. He just needs to stop taking the quick threes. What about him playing PG and Sato SG? Denzel is a big body and can defend.

Sam Smith:

That's probably a little bit more short term than the Bulls are thinking. I would like to see what Denzel could do if he were a point forward for a long stretch since he has a high basketball IQ and is an excellent shooter. He does fit the profile of the kind of player the Bulls could use at small forward if he were a little bigger and quicker.

Mike Worth:

Robert Covington has been the biggest bust acquisition of the off season for any team. They gave up 2 future first for this guy?

Sam Smith:

Well, they're not lottery picks; unless the ‘blazers really collapse. Which could happen with Nurkic and now McCollum out. The Bulls see them again Saturday since their best win of the season, the 20-point comeback. Lillard is going to be firing them up after yet another close loss Thursday. The ‘blazers have hung in there just over .500, though trending poorly with a negative offense/defense. Covington has been in concussion protocol recently, but he was one of the reasons so many were predicting a breakthrough for Portland this season, and why it's not occurring. His shooting and scoring has been the worst of his career, and by a lot. He seemed an ideal fit as a modern stretch four type. But his acquisition has turned out to be a stretch. And thus still making Carmelo relevant.

Danny Waegemaekers:

I have a question about fouls. Maybe it's only me but why is it a Def. Foul Instead of a off. Foul when a player on purpose jumps in to a Defender. On some occasion i think it is even dangerous for the Defender, like on a three-point close-out?

Sam Smith:

It is, to me, also one of the cheap tricks that's been applauded as clever gamesmanship. The NBA finally has made a little acknowledgement with the verticality at the basket thing, but the protection of players on the perimeter has gotten ridiculous the way, as you note, offensive players not so much make contact first but jump into defenders. It's like the one the Bulls fall for all the time trailing a player over the screen when he stops and you brush him. Then he flails into a shot and gets a three. Though one of my major objections is the charge call, and even the way Thad Young gets so many. I don't believe it's defense if you jump across the lane to stand in front of someone. Backpeddle and stay in front of someone and get run over. Charge! The Jerry Sloan way! I get it that there is so much switching now in these faux zones. But running halfway across the court to jump in front of someone is not really defense as much as it's applauded.

Chris Dellecese:

Is it me or is the league becoming unwatchable due to all the complaining? every possession there's someone waving their arms and griping about either the foul that was called or the one that wasn't called. It happens every trip down the floor there aren't many things baseball is better at, but at least in baseball you get tossed immediately for arguing balls & strikes. Why couldn't the NBA adopt something similar? or are the refs (and by extension, the league) OK with the constant complaining? What would you change?

Sam Smith:

I noticed from your email that you are from Cleveland, so you know it well as LeBron starts complaining about decisions when he drives into the parking lot. "That's too close to the soda machine!" It is epidemic, if not anything new. Players always have complained about calls, though perhaps not quite with the frequency. Though I do recall my favorite player when I was a kid, Oscar Robertson, in a LeBron-like way. I don't recall Oscar ever believing the foul was on him. It used to be dealt with better since the officials were permitted to have a more casual relationship with the players and engage in more dialogue. There's some now, though not as much to work out the differences and explain. The NBA wants its officials to be more disconnected, and the league does hold its officials to greater scrutiny than before at a time they don't want players being harshly disciplined. Which I understand. No one wants anyone ejected. Maybe Dwight Howard. I wouldn't say unwatchable. Look at it as training for their later careers in movies.

Kirk Landers:

Is it just me, or are there an unusual number of teams who are doing better on the road than they are at home? I know it's early, but I was comparing the Bulls' road record to the other teams, and I was surprised to find quite a few who, like the Bulls, prospered more away from home. If it's true, I suppose playing in front of empty gyms is a big factor.

Sam Smith:

There is no home court advantage without fans, which we saw in the Orlando "bubble" and a team like Miami with so many young players able to get to the Finals. There could be similar aberrations this season, though the NBA is counting on vaccines and herd immunity to open arenas to many more fans by playoff time. The NBA more than any game is an energy game (hockey is, but they're wearing too much armor to hear much). A supportive audience—patrons if you are in Augusta—supplies energy. There's this notion that officials are influenced by a home crowd and home teams generally get more foul calls, and maybe some is the case. But it's more that the energy transforms into more aggressive actions, which result in more foul calls for the more energetic team which is being more aggressive. And then there's the road. Teams in big cities like especially New York and Los Angeles schedule a lot of weekend early games. The reason is they know opposing teams' players will go out late and then not be so alert the next morning. These are kids, after all. Miami, Atlanta, and then Chicago, too, are late night favorites. The home team has an edge because visitors like the nights in those cities. Now players have to stay in on the road. It levels the playing field.

Wayne Warner:

"Bulls strength in depth". Seems to be really smart to use vets off the bench... make me think of the Spurs - same approach by Pop. If this is truly a year of development & evaluation- hope that Bulls don't trade any vets....don't need any more draft picks and young players

Sam Smith:

The vets are an interesting element because I'd think they are the most tradeable. In the sense that they are the most ready for playoff situations and are not generally in the team's future even if some could return. None of the main ones have full guarantees for next season, and Porter and Temple have none. The contract amounts in eight figures make it unlikely, but players like Thad Young are players that could win a playoff game for someone. They don't seem like buyout candidates, however, so I do think the roster pretty much remains as it is.

Pete Zievers:

I remember screening someone loose for a clean look.

Sam Smith:

Donovan often has talked about the need for better screening. I like that as another of those annoying fundamentals so many ignore. I love that (OK, hate) there's even a term now, brush screen, for setting a bad screen. And don't get me started—OK, get me started—on boxing out. It's amazing to watch late game situations with someone standing at the basket just expecting the ball to fall to them. It is what Donovan has been getting at. Sometimes it seems too simplistic to me, but when you're basketball experience has been AAU and one year of college, it is possible no one ever mentioned to you to get in front of someone—between you and the basket—when the opponent is taking a shot.

Michael Freeman:

Donovan Mitchell is an all star and should be a great player in the league for a long time. But I'm tired of the lionizations of him, and others, while Zach is ignored. I hope that as the team improves, Zach will be recognized as the all star he is.

Sam Smith:

This is the year. No, really. It has to be for Zach. He's top 10 in points, among the top guards in rebounds and steals, one of the leading shooting guards in assists, shooting 40 percent on threes, defending well and remaining responsible for late game scenarios with a much improved team. And being the go to interview after every loss. Though the competition has improved in the East with the Brooklyn Three. It's no longer a stretch to find the last few East All-Stars. Some very deserving might be left off. Like James Harden, Malcolm Brogdon, Gordon Hayward, Jerami Grant, Bam Adebayo, Nikola Vucevic, Khris Middleton and Ben Simmons. OK, Harden's really not deserving with that Houston act. So here's my very, very early East All-Star 12 with voting beginning this week. With two months to All-Star time I may make some changes. Not Zach. He's overdue. Starters: Bradley Beal, Jaylen Brown, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and Joel Embiid. Reserves: Jayson Tatum, Trae Young, Collin Sexton, Domantas Sabonis, Julius Randle, Kyle Lowry and Zach LaVine. Slam dunk!