Ask Sam Mailbag: Questions about DeRozan, Lauri, Summer League, and more

Brodie Larsh:

Any thoughts, surprised or takeaways from Summer League?

Sam Smith:

Happy to be at a basketball game again. Not so thrilled by the continued excess caution of the NBA that keeps everyone so separated. Though I understand it's their business and they have to err on the side of lockdowns or be relentlessly second guessed. But now that we are looking for germs and viruses all the time we're going to find them. So if we have to live with this, can I ever speak to Billy Donovan? Oh, you meant the Bulls. I probably was most impressed with Marko Simonovic. Not that he was the best player there for the Bulls. Obviously, that was Patrick Williams for his three games. And not that Marko looks like an NBA starter, at least not yet for the Bulls. He's going to have difficulty on defense (yes, like about 90 percent of the NBA players) and doesn't play in the air much. But I was particularly impressed with his desire. There were several times he made mistakes or turnovers and immediately put his head down and attacked the basket. He looks like a serious competitor with decent skills to shoot and handle the ball and really runs the court like Noah. I'd feel comfortable putting him into the game as an end of the rotation guy or injury/load management substitute. The Bulls had a smart plan to basically use the first few games of Summer League as a basic training camp for Williams to force him to handle the ball, make plays and shoot. He tried, showing flaws with ball handling and shooting off the dribble. But he tried. He also looked like a veteran compared to most of the Summer campers, though younger. You could see it wasn't easy for Williams to play that way because it's not natural. He's one of those you can see would probably rather be a good teammate than a big star.

That's no problem for now with LaVine, Vucevic and DeRozan. Which will be the issue for Williams again. All those guys like to shoot. Can Williams be a little selfish and get his to occupy the defense? Or will he return to being deferential? Ayo Dosunmu got a chance to get the ball once Williams left after three games and Devon Dotson suffered a sprained ankle. Dosunmu probably would be best served playing in the G-league this season both to get playing time (too many guards ahead him) and needing a lot of work on his shot. He plays more now like version of Patrick Beverley, physical, but not quite Beverley level, defense and irritation. Dotson has a really impressive feel for point guard and plays with a high IQ seeing plays. He's a natural, but with a questionable shot. Though it looks better than Ayo's, who did improve at Illinois. I thought Ethan Thompson had some moments with shooting and might be worth a G-league look. Maybe Troy Baxter for some dunking entertainment.

Robbie Robinson:

After watching the Summer League games it is apparent that Lauri Markkanen is a valuable piece to the 2021 roster. There is no one on the current 15 person roster better equipped to play power forward and or back up center. Thus he is not expendable. If he stays healthy playing with the new assembled cast he will receive added opportunity because the floor will be spread and or open depending on the offensive sets on the floor. Also consider this, Markkanen's defensive posture will not be so easily exposed because Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso are very good help defenders. The other reason for keeping him is there is no better alternative productivity wise available at this juncture in the free agent season.

Sam Smith:

My guess is the Bulls may feel the same way. I do. I don't see any great reason to run away from Markkanen. OK, he's not going to be what you projected— or hoped—a few years ago. I've heard talk of draft picks, but the new management with my agreement appears not to see the draft as a priority. And that won't mean as much as Markkanen can this season even if he's been quoted saying he'd rather start over elsewhere. He's a good guy and a good teammate and never would be a problem. So maybe you lose him for nothing. It's OK; you can use the money to get someone else. Markkanan's qualifying offer of $9 million is about the average NBA salary these days (my apologies to everyone who played before 2000 for mentioning that). That's a cheap addition for, as you note, a seven footer who can backup inside positions and shoot 40 percent on threes. Those guys tend to make about double that, the various Bogdanovics and Bertans. You can't trade a free agent on a one-year deal, but things change in the NBA. Maybe he has a great season. Maybe he can't live without stuffed pizza. That's a heck of a guy to be able to bring off the bench as a ninth man. And as an unrestricted free agent he'd certainly be motivated to have a good season. And he might even have a very good one. After all, with all those scorers now you figure Markkanen would be the guy they drop off to help defensively elsewhere.

Kieron Smith:

Who do you see as being the next pick for either PF, C, or a combination of both? Sterling Manley, Simisola Shittu, Paul Millsap, DeMarcus Cousins?

Sam Smith:

Millsap is the interesting name and perhaps having received that big free agent contract a few years back when Karnisovas was in Denver he wants to reunite. Or give him a thank you in Chicago. Of course, the Lakers want anyone close to 40, so they'll make a pitch. He probably can get some money returning to Denver, which probably could use the help. If the Bulls could get him for a veteran's minimum, he'd be great to have as still a clutch player and a tough competitor.

Matt Chilewich:

What's up with Lauri Markannen and the lack of news? Are we stuck waiting on the consequences of the investigation or is the team just in a stalemate with him? I read some interesting articles from in-the-know basketball writers who said defenses caught up to his game and he simply can't beat anyone off dribble. Which is easy to see.

Sam Smith:

Hey, I'm in the know! And I know defenses have not so much caught up with him as some ill-timed injuries and the setbacks from the Boylen Benching. Lauri can be a little bit sensitive and accepting, and instead of giving it the You're Not Benching me, Jerk! he basically goes along with some stuff for the good of team harmony. Sometimes a player can be too good a teammate. Lauri needed to be a bit more demanding at times instead of accepting his role. You know when the coach is yelling 'don't shoot, don't shoot,' and then you make the shot and get the ‘good shot' thanks. Sports requires some initiative and then you blend that in. Lauri too often seemed defeated by the circumstances. He tried to play through injuries and always came back sooner than he was supposed to. He never quit. He was never a player to beat you off the dribble as much equipped for this era's play with his size and perimeter shooting. He still has that and you bring him off the bench with some defenders like Tony Bradley and Alex Caruso and it seems to me he can be a valuable role player. Or get a lot of space with those starters. And for now, it's all about this season. I like that new management is elastic and willing to adapt more than lock into long term plans. Sports is too fluid not to be flexible.

Ken Detterline:

Two teams talked about in the Lauri trade front: Dallas and Minnesota. Dallas has that $10M trade exception, which I'm sure they'd want to use, but doubt Lauri wants to sign for. Regardless, Kleber ($9M) and Finney-Smith ($4M), ideally both, would make so much sense and fill out an really nice ten man rotation. As per Minnesota, knowing they just depleted their assets with the Beverly trade, I'm still really interested in Jarred Vanderbilt. Young, high-octane PF (position of need) who can run, crash the glass and dime. Perfectly ideal for our backup squad and might slide nicely into our $5M trade exception for Theis. In that scenario, that would just be the Bulls signing him and the Wolves refusing to match, as he's a RFA. If this were involved in a trade for Lauri though, are there any restrictions to a RFA for RFA trade?

Sam Smith:

Minnesota had some interest when they had Rubio, whom they believed the Bulls might be interested in before the Ball signing. Rubio went to Cleveland, so I assume he'll be redirected again. I don't see how Minnesota can do a deal with what they have now. And there's no way the 76ers are taking draft picks. The Timberwolves for now still seem focused on trying to land Ben Simmons. Don't see that, either. The Dallas rumor has been the most prominent regarding Markkanen. You are correct there's no way Markkanen is agreeing to their trade exception after rejecting more money from the Bulls last season and making almost that this season as a free agent. And it doesn't make sense for Dallas to give up two rotation players and defense for Markkanen, who plays similarly to Porzingis. I'm still guessing Markkanen remains a Bull for another season. You can't trade a free agent on a one-year deal.

John Leichenko:

I don't know why I thought you weren't a fan of DeRozan, so I could be wrong again, but here goes …I think you are not a big fan of Ken Faried, but he is tough, rebounds, and available. Kurt Thomas for this Bulls team?

Sam Smith:

You may have read some of my responses to fans noting DeRozan's increased assist totals and he could be the point guard. No, I counseled (gently, of course), he was a wing. Not the guy to sign for point guard. Now he will be that small forward for the Bulls and my No. 1 offseason pickup. Scorer/alternate ballhandler, which is ideal. Faried is no Kurt Thomas. Thomas was an enforcer for that great 2010-11 Bulls team that had some of the most memorable games with LeBron and Miami. Faried after two years out of the NBA played on the most fun-to-watch Summer League team, Portland with Michael Beasley, Emmanuel Mudiay and Antonio Blakeney, the latter former Bull leading them in scoring. Faried led them in rebounding; he's a hustle, run the court guy. Which is basically like Simonovic. Faried's a good veteran who lost his place in the NBA when forwards had to shoot. I'd probably stick with Simonovic.

Ateeq Ahmed:

Was looking at the released upcoming schedule. No national TV games for the Bulls on Xmas day?! People would rather watch Atlanta, NY and Boston? That doesn't sound right. Sometimes it feels like the NBA hates our team. Maybe I'm being too dramatic...and biased.

Sam Smith:

There's still Eastern/LeBron bias in in the NBA-TV/ESPN world. But the Bulls haven't been in the playoffs for almost five years, so it's understandable. I believe Vegas, which is generally ahead of TNT and ESPN, has the Bulls on par with the Celtics and Hawks for now and ahead of the Knicks. But the Knicks are a Christmas tradition because the Christmas games basically began with Knicks games in the 1940s. I had just started smoking, which you could do in the arenas then.

Cameron Watkins:

The Bulls have traded away many future draft picks in order to try to win right now. As you and the readers pointed out, this approach is very different from what Bulls management has done in the past. But I didn't see anyone mention the reason that most management groups or GMs don't take this route: it is very risky in terms of job security. I am not saying Paxson and Forman necessarily thought that way, but in general, as long as you have a young player with a lot of potential, you can make the case that you just need a little more time to build the right team around him and for him to mature and develop and then you'll win big! Just look at the Bears with the trade for Justin Fields. Management and the coach were supposed to be on the hot seat there but when you draft a much-hyped quarterback and then commit to sitting him for a year, you buy yourself some time. When you trade draft picks for veterans, it either works or it doesn't, right away. All of that is to ask, if these trades don't lead to immediate success, do you think Karnisovas could be in trouble? Whether that's true or not, I have to imagine (without injuries) everyone is hoping for at least the second round this year or else it would be seen as a failed season, no? Or do you think just making the playoffs for the first time in five years would be enough.

Sam Smith:

I should add first that while I answered quite a few questions last week questioning the moves, there isn't much to say to questions that were more endorsements. The majority of responses I've gotten from fans have been encouraging and supportive of what the team has done this summer. Though your cynical approach is not particularly rare. I've heard it as a plan in many organizations. It reminds me of the scene from the Mel Brooks movie Blazing Saddles (yes, I have not been to the movies since 1994; too much talking in the audience). The Brooks character is the governor (Gov) of the territory and with reports of violence he tells his cabinet they need to do something, "Gentlemen, we've gotta protect our phony baloney jobs." Sure, that's also a plan. After all, all the good players come from the draft. OK, along with the bad ones. The Cubs and White Sox have had success doing it that way lately. It's not a flim flam. But I have also heard it planned out that way to extend a contract. So good for the new guys for not sentencing us to another draft era. Had the Bulls, as I have often noted, got Jordan/Rose fortunate with Zion, Luka or Ja, Karnisovas still probably would be visiting Jamal Murray in rehab. To his credit, he recognized we've suffered enough and is trying to win. It doesn't mean they have to. The East is much better with perhaps 10 teams that deserve to be in the playoffs and three seemingly considerably superior to the Bulls. Though there seemed several superior to the Suns in the West this past season. There are injuries and things happen. The Bulls' moves were to make the playoffs and advance. Sometimes it doesn't work immediately. They believe it will, If it doesn't, it's also not a one-year era. The Bulls have changed management teams twice since current ownership group in 1985.

Ben Yedor:

In the hypothetical, the Bulls second unit looks like they could be a defensive juggernaut. Would you ever consider starting the second unit against a high flying team then bringing the scoring guns out when the opponent goes to the bench. Similar but different to what some MLB teams do starting closers now and again.

Sam Smith:

Well, that would be innovative. And no one ever believed you could do that in baseball. Until somebody did that; and then more tried. I believe Don Nelson would have tried something like that. The Bulls starting group is somewhat defensively challenged with LaVine (who was better on the Olympic team), Vucevic and DeRozan, and two are at wing positions where the scorers are. So you're saying, perhaps Ball, Caruso, Troy Brown, Williams and Bradley? And Dosunmu to sub? Probably not enough scoring there in a league that gives the benefit to the offense and often doesn't much allow players to defend. It was obvious watching the Olympics with the USA players getting bumped and basically stopping the first few games expecting a foul call. None came and they eventually adjusted. The NBA said this season they will begin to clean that up where offensive players jump into defenders and get the foul call. It's about time. I don't believe Zach, DeMar and Nikola would begin to cry if benched, but Donovan is more a traditionalist. I wouldn't expect him to try something like that. They say the NBA is a copycat league, so until someone wins trying that or Nelson returns for a cameo coaching experience now that pot is legal in most states, I don't expect many innovations of that sort. Though I like the thinking.

Mark Schweihs:

Moving the $9.7m contract of Al Farouq Aminu is the most under-appreciated transaction league-wide in the free agency period. Now there is not a "dead" contract on the Bulls roster. It is constructed nicely with talent on the inside, outside, offense, defense, young, veteran. What is missing? Bill Cartwright?

Sam Smith:

Will check if he still can give them eight good minutes or elbows a night.

Longgiang Le:

Did Toni ever dislike or hate or resent MJ or Pippen for the way they beat him up in the Olympics in 92?

What a journey for Toni: from the guy Jordan called the "kid" in the 90s to now a hall of famer.

Sam Smith:

Well, Jordan is appearing on stage for Toni at the Hall of Fame (along with Jerry Reinsdorf) Sept 11, and Jordan rarely does public appearances like that. So, of course not. The 1992 Olympics competition with Kukoc was obviously puerile on the part of Jordan and Pippen, though I recall Jordan sort of going along to support Pippen, who was upset about his contract and felt the Bulls should be paying him more and not pursuing another player overseas. It's been much retold over the years, though now with expanded salary caps and celebration for executives who pursue talent overseas it would not have been an issue. The two did make it clear their pressuring of Kukoc was aimed at trying to embarrass GM Jerry Krause, which he wasn't. Kukoc's signing was a Krause coup. The best thing about it and what says a lot about Toni was Kukoc honestly never knew what they were doing. He'd played against box and ones and pressure before because he was so good (you know, a Hall of Famer), so he thought they were just playing the right way. Toni never took it personally, and Pippen especially embraced him as a teammate. I'm looking forward to being at Toni's enshrinement in Springfield and will be writing about it.

Peter Zievers:

I think folks' reservations about DeRozan and defense might be a little overdone. He's a little older and he was never going to compare well to Leonard. But when he played for TOR they relied on him and Lowry to make things go. I also would doubt that Popovich would just let him ride because he's not that kind. DeRozan isn't a make or break talent but he's solid and I think he shows up to play. These days not every player does. And you're right... he is a playmaker just not to date an especially spectacular one. He'll take advantage of mismatches generated by defenses skewed to LaVine and Vucevic. Let's not underestimate that. If folks expect offense to flow thru DeRozan it ain't happenin'. If they expect a professional job done I think such folks will end Bulls games happier. I can see a consistent offense in this group while not quite up to the standard of the Rose/Noah group.

Sam Smith:

DeRozan is that sort of underrated guy because he's quiet (even in Toronto it was Lowry getting the attention), his play isn't highlight stuff, and then he has 24 points and you're not sure he was even in the game. He's a pro and knows how to play the game, also valuable with showing up. Though I believe the offense will be better than with that team. Even Zach isn't as spectacular as Rose was then, but more efficient (Derrick also didn't get to the line more because he was so quick to avoid contact like Zach does). It will be safer to sit behind the basket with Noah not shooting. Thibs isn't one for praising himself, but I remember after that season we were talking and he said, I can't believe we won 62 games and I started Keith Bogans at shooting guard 82 games. With today's rules and these players, I'd concentrate on offense. They're going to score.

Mike Sutera:

Now Monta Ellis wants to pursue a comeback, too.

Sam Smith:

That's one of the great what if stories because at the time in Golden State, Ellis was probably their most popular player. Steph Curry's career was in question because of ankle problems and resulting surgery. The year of the Ellis trade to the Bucks for a center, Curry played 26 games and averaged 14.7 points and the Warriors weren't sure he'd ever be right. Ellis was averaging 22 for the Warriors, and the judgment was they couldn't play together. Warriors fans were so angry they booed owner Joe Lacob at the Chris Mullin jersey retirement ceremony and Rick Barry took the stage to castigate them. No one was sure about Curry's health including the Bucks. Eventually, the Warriors reluctantly (despite what they might say now) decided to retain Curry instead of Ellis. Good luck Monta, who did average about 18 points in a 13-year career and last played in 2017.

Enrique DeAnda:

Ayo dropped in the draft because he is mostly a mid-range type of player. Doesn't shoot many three pointers but is still effective. I can't help but think that DeRozan is the perfect mentor for Ayo! Thad was a great mentor for paw, so I'm hoping DD might do the same for Ayo!

Sam Smith:

One thing I liked about Ayo at Summer League was how anxious he was to learn and study and implement that, and you could see how he got better at Illinois. He got better each game in Summer League, so I believe he can do so once he's playing against NBA competition regularly. He seems like someone, though, who needs to play through his education.

John Petersen:

I read a net blurb dated 8-9 that the Bulls renounced their free agent rights to Valentine and Felicio. What "rights"? I thought as of Monday, 8-2 they were unrestricted free agents. This ties into the trade of Temple and Theis, both unrestricted free agents. There is something technical here and an explanation would be helpful.

Sam Smith:

Teams have the so called Bird "rights" to even unrestricted free agents, meaning they can go over the cap to pay them, which might benefit a free agent. Teams generally don't do that when players are unrestricted. There are way too many exceptions. Felicio, yes, still is playing basketball. In Germany. See, and everyone thought it was just the Bulls. Valentine remains unsigned, but someone is going to get a bargain on a player who can do some things.

Scott Taylor:

In an ever improving East, especially at the top, do you see the Bulls being a top 4 seed? I've seen some odds come out, with the Bulls being pegged around 39-40 wins! Seems awful low to me and I'm not even trying to crown the Bulls for anything yet. Bulls have to be good for 45ish wins right?

Sam Smith:

I've been notoriously wrong on many of these predictions in recent years, but now I'm serious. I really do believe the Bulls are good enough to finish fourth. I have to offer a disclaimer about injuries, adjustments of new personnel, Covid and new strains to come. And that this is Year 1. I'd say 45 to 50 wins. They should believe they are a 50-win team (now that there are 82 games again) with three starters being recent All-Stars and a deep bench. It really does look like a very good team, the best the Bulls will have on the floor since 2011-12. The only teams I see I'm sure are better are the Nets and Bucks. I believe the 76ers are fragile with Embiid and the Simmons stuff. And otherwise the Bulls matchup roster wise with the Hawks, Heat and Celtics. Though the Knicks, Pacers and Hornets could be better than expected. The Bulls are good enough to be four/five and in the 45 to 50 win category. If they miss the playoffs, I grew up in Brooklyn where we had pennants on our walls that read, Wait 'til next year.

Ask Sam will resume during training camp in October.