Ask Sam Mailbag: Questions about Daniel Theis, trade reflections, Jalen Suggs, and more

Sam Smith reacts to yours takes and questions as we enter the final month of regular season basketball
by Sam Smith
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Paul Siekert:

The Wizards announcers are full of praise for Daniel Gafford and think that trade benefitted them considerably; they are winning since acquiring Gafford and that he has had a lot to do with that; if they're right, is this just another case of the effect of new surroundings, or did the Bulls somehow fail to evaluate Gafford accurately and use him properly?

Sam Smith:

To use the familiar vernacular, Gafford is what he is, a smallish, athletic, quick twitch big man with no discernible offensive game who is a solid role player off the bench. Nice kid, so good for him. It helps playing with Westbrook and Beal for all those lobs. He did a lot of the same stuff for the Bulls, offensive rebounds with his jumping, dunks in traffic. But also mixed in were those four-point and three-rebound games. He's been good for the Wizards, averaging about 10 and 6, though scoring in single digits three of the last four games. The point for the Bulls was to upgrade with bigger guys and veterans in Nikola Vucevic and Daniel Theis going forward. Gafford wasn't going to have much of a role with those guys around. It seems to me the Bulls also are better off. So if it helps the Wizards, I guess that's the point of trades: To not only help the Bulls. Washington is 11-2 since the trade, though I think there's more to it than Gafford. Of course, if the Bulls are watching Gafford and Chandler Hutchison from home in the play-in game it will be a tough one to swallow. But were either the future for the Bulls? Don't get caught up in schadenfreude. The Bulls have to take care of their house, as it were.


Daniel Theis

Wayne Warner:

What is the current thinking on:

1) Required contract (amount & year & comparable) to sign Theis. What other teams will have interest. He is certainly a great fit with the Bulls. Is Young's salary what he will get?

2) Expectation for an offer to Markkanen... will it be anymore than $12-$14M for 3-4 yrs?

Seems that Bulls can afford and useful to retain both Theis & Markkanen while have Vucevic and Young under contract already so this gives them 4 bigs. Felicio contract finally expires but still will have Aminu for lots of DNP.

Sam Smith:

There's going to be considerable financial gymnastics this summer for the Bulls because there are so many hurdles to confront and personnel pommel houses to mount. I'm also not sure what that means, but I do love saying pommel horse. We've seen from the draft with the somewhat surprise pick of Patrick Williams that top executive Arturas Karnisovas is both creative and mysterious. Especially to reveal his thinking. Or location. Jerry Krause would approve. The Bulls with the Vucevic traded still have the possibility of creating almost $40 million in sap room. Which basically would require losing all the unrestricted free agents, Satoransky and Young, who are on contracts not fully guaranteed, no first round pick and Markkanen. Al-Farouq Aminu, whom the Bulls had to take in the Vucevic deal, hasn't made the rotation. He's got a guaranteed year left, but the Bulls could use the stretch provision to create some contract and extend payments. Felicio, Temple, Valentine, Theis and Green are the free agents to come off the books after this season. Arcidiacono is not guaranteed for next season. One big issue is the large cap hold for Markkanen as a restricted free agent which would deeply cut into whatever cap room the Bulls project. Until a decision is made on a free agent, a projected salary is included for a team's cap total. There's also the timing of using Bird exceptions for players like Theis to go over the cap and whether Zach LaVine wants or is interested in an extension this summer, which would require cap room. So there's no way to even guess. It would seem difficult to retain both Theis and Markkanen, though there are ways. I suspect the roster will look vastly different once again, basically the third different roster in less than a year with the opener, the trade deadline with Vucevic and Theis and the summer. My short answer could have been I have no clue. But I didn't get many questions this week, so I thought I'd stretch it out a little.


Patrick Williams

Art Alenik:

Re Patrick Williams: I never like the idea of starting rookies unless they are phenomenal, esp. these days when they're mostly 19 yr. olds. He didn't even start at FSU, so how's he supposed to be ready to start in the NBA, much less guarding All-Stars most nights? Lauri & Wendell weren't ready to start either, nor Coby.

Sam Smith:

And that's the new NBA. I'd say probably he starts Friday against Milwaukee as the Bulls likely will get a break with Giannis Antetokounmpo seemingly out after aggravating that ankle injury Thursday. Bobby Portis probably moves into the starting lineup with the Bucks playing three guards. But with 10—and then nine—games left, I'd like to see Markkanen get the rest of the starts. We know plenty about Patrick Williams by now, and he's a fixture for the future. We should by that measure know Markkanen, but with Markkanen in and out as a starter this season it's still difficult. Pay him, trade him, release him? I've never previously envisioned him as a small forward, but Billy Donovan has been creative and says Markkanen's generally done well. I'd like to see him finish the season there. Markkanen has been more aggressive taking advantage of mismatches and I wouldn't even mind seeing him on Khris Middleton Friday. Markkanen moves reasonably well for a seven footer and has bothered some of the quicker guards with his size. Plus he can score, which Williams doesn't. It seems no coincidence the Bulls start virtually every game slowly with Coby White the only player who can create his own shot with Vucevic. That will change once Zach LaVine returns. But the Bulls really could use more scoring if they're starting Garrett Temple and Theis. I thought the point Donovan made about Julius Randle Wednesday was sagacious. Four years into his career, Randle was an undersized big man who didn't defend well. And then he became a team anchor and All-Star. He's been featured with the Knicks, which certainly makes a difference. I'd be wary of moving on too quickly from Markkanen. Sentenced to the bench halfway through this season, he's been dismissed by many fans as lacking a defensive component and toughness. But there's not many players with his size and that smooth shooting stroke. Placed in the right environment you could regret losing a player with those skills. Donovan says even if the Bulls don't reach the play-in game, these coming games are a similar test. It seems like it would help to see Markkanen in a more prominent role in those games. Unless the Bulls already have made up their minds. That's another one of those no idea. Perhaps we can get an idea watching his use these last few weeks.


Vooch and DeMar DeRozan

Ryan Carpel:

DeMar DeRozan is listed as Knicks top landing spot. What do you think about acquiring him? I read he's more of a playmaker now in the mold of Ron Harper the Bulls had.

Sam Smith:

Though Harper was listed as a point guard in the last few title years, he was the third or fourth best facilitator among the starters. Of course, his knees were past much usage. I know DeRozan has put up impressive assist numbers this season, but they seem more system oriented with the Spurs and not so much natural. The Bulls have facilitators like that with Thad Young, LaVine and Coby White. Even Temple, Satoransky and Williams. The Bulls could use one of those guys whose main job is to find and enhance the other guys; not someone who it's his part time job.


Lauri Markkanen

Brodie Larsh:

How would you feel about a sign and trade of Lauri for Marcus Smart? Smarts a free agent after next season. I only see it happening if Boston feels they can't afford him when he becomes a free agent after next season. There's really only a handful of free agents that would be viewed as starters, and theyre almost all either restricted (i.e. Ball and Collins), unlikely to leave a good situation (Conley and Kawhi) or will likely go ring chasing (Lowry). TJ McConnell might be the exception. Not sure if he would start but TJ, Coby and Zach would make a great 3 man guard rotation.

Sam Smith:

Well, there goes Lauri? I'm a big fan of Smart and despite what Ben Simmons might think, I have Smart as the better defender. He's not the classic point guard in the mold of a free agent like Mike Conley. Lonzo Ball's name comes up for a lot of teams with the Pelicans seemingly anxious to play their other point guards. Lonzo seems more an uptempo, push guard compared with an organizer and shooter like Chris Paul or Conley. You never know what a team is thinking a la the Theis and Vucevic acquisitions. Smart seems such a big part of their team and a vital leader. A true baller, as Derrick Rose says. It's a big compliment. With Smart playing on a reasonable contract for this era, I don't see Boston in much hurry to make a change. Of course, Theis didn't, either.


Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine

Jacob Henry:

Hopefully the Bulls keep LaVine out the rest of the year for "precautions", so he doesn't feel the finale of another awful season. The Vuc trade is not looking great. Those two draft picks and a ton of cap space look a lot more meaningful than two more years of good offense and bad defense. If they were going to build around LaVine wouldn't it have made more sense to pick up a defensive Center? A guy like Nerlens Noel would have been ideal. Brooklyn looks decent with Claxton. The Celtics look much better with Williams. Wizards are playing great with Len. Spurs playing well with Poetl. Anyone more mobile and longer than Carter Jr but similar in play style.

Sam Smith:

I'm pretty sure Zach won't see it that way. We never get any real information on this, but I can see him back in a matter of days. The Bulls are in a hole now, but Washington finishes with mostly road games and the Bulls need only tie having the tiebreaker. Having Zach back should change the offensive offense. Vucevic has been everything promised. He's got a remarkable gift for scoring and is producing under great pressure playing with so many players who cannot create on their own. He's scored inside and out and while he's not quite Anthony Davis on defense, he contests shots well and is a presence. I think the Bulls are fine at center, which was the main goal. Certainly, it would be a disappointment not to reach at least a play-in game. But that big picture is to fill some needs, and center was a big one, perhaps the biggest. Now they've got a real guy. If the Bulls had one of those guys you mention, I believe most fans would be demanding someone like Vucevic. And enough with the 19-year-olds. That's not what this is about anymore.


Jalen Suggs

Lex Grey:

The Bulls top draft target has got to be Jalen Suggs, right? Would a package of Coby White, Lauri, and a future unprotected first round pick be enough to get it done?

Sam Smith:

So speaking of 19-year-olds... I wasn't too impressed with what I saw in the NCAAs from most of the presumed top picks. Still, the Bulls can't trade picks for maybe five years because they're tied up from the Orlando deal. The only way they'd have a shot at a player like that is getting into the lottery (losing in the play-in tournament or not getting in) and getting a top four spot with the protection for this pick. Then it rolls over to next year and two years after and so on. You don't control your draft picks when another team has a claim to them. That's how they'd get someone like Suggs, in the draft, if he actually were a target. Though you don't see many teenagers becoming leaders of veteran teams. I'd rather see the Bulls get a veteran (maybe young veteran) point guard. As for such a trade, no one basically gives up top lottery picks for guys who another team sent to the bench after starting. And keeps their job, anyway.


Coby White

Mike Freeman:

The Bulls looked against a tough team in Miami. And more than anyone, Daniel Theis was in the middle of it. Why do you think Boston let him go?

Also, in watching the Bulls and other NBA games, I'm bored. Not just by the Bulls play, but the predictability of the NBA. I've always agreed with you that the pro game is better than college. Now, I'm not so sure. Drive and Kick, Drive and Kick, Drive and Kick has taken some creativity out of the game. Half or more of the league has easy three range, especially from the corner. I agree with Popovic who said the 3-pointer is ruining the game.

What do you think the league should do to make it more exciting? I am for moving the line back and canceling corner 3's.

Sam Smith:

For all those times many—mostly unfairly—condemned the Bulls for financial reasons, perhaps no one committed more financially during this season than the Bulls. The Celtics badly still need Theis, but they made the calculation to get under the luxury tax penalties. The Bulls took on Theis' salary. Similarly, the Magic curiously also decided to save money and basically dumped most of their roster even as injured Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac were supposed to be back for next season. The Bulls took on Vucevic's $20 million plus through 22-23. Can't say they're not trying. As for the NBA, there has been some alarm with the sometimes predictable play (you know, like college always is) perhaps an existential crisis awaits. I'm not quite there, and I think come the playoffs the high level quality will show. The pandemic has obscured a lot with the absences and illnesses and injuries from the short offseason. So teams perhaps have fallen into some traps of taking the easy way out at times. But I suspect there is come change to come, which is common in NBA history when the game lagged. The pop-a-shot three-point shooting contests from arc to arc aren't what the game needs more of. Like baseball with the home run/strike out ethic. I think Donovan has been one lf the better coaches in trying to maintain more variety of play. He just needs some more players. But there need to be some changes again, and the NBA generally has been good about doing that. The owners have routinely rejected this for years, and perhaps it's impossible the way arenas are formatted. But Adam Silver takes chances, and what surely leads to a lot of the current stagnation is the size of the court versus the size of the players. At 94 by 50, it's both lacking some length and width to accommodate more creative play. It's been about that size throughout the history of the league, though I recall some games the Knicks played in the 1960s in an armory that was smaller. Also, it was common in the 1960s into the 1970s for teams to play neutral site games where the courts weren't always quite regulation. The issue is pushing high paying fans farther back from the action and thus diminishing the potential value of those expensive court side seats. Though extending the court would create more of those sideline seats perhaps making up for the price changes. It's been suggested previously at times as the game becomes quicker and taller. But I wouldn't be surprised this time to finally start to see some action. A longer court also could change the arc for those easy three-point corner shots that require players to stand around and wait. The game does need to evolve again. It may be coming.

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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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