Ask Sam Mailbag: Questions about the Draft, free agents, LeBron, and Larry Bird

A diverse range of questions in this edition of Sam Smith's mailbag.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

Sean Leary:

Here's a fairly realistic draft day scenario for the Bulls. At this point it's looking more and more certain Minnesota is going to take Anthony Edwards. Golden State is obviously looking to trade out of the two spot, and probably have little interest in the Knicks' lottery pick, but I could easily see there being a multiple-team trade in which the Knicks end up with the two pick, Golden State gets a veteran player to help with their championship push, and the third team ends up with the Knicks latter pick and maybe a player or two. I bring up the Knicks because it's also obvious LaMelo Ball's meddlesome father keeps repeating that he wants his son in New York. This year, due to the Warriors' desire to trade, and the Knicks' annual desperation, he may get his wish.

So, Ball goes two to the Knicks. Obi Toppin seems to be a natural pick for the Hornets at three, since he gives them the inside scoring which they lack. And so, there we have the Bulls at four, with a choice between the impressive James Wiseman, the promising Deni Avdija, and the rising Tyrese Halliburton and Onyeka Okongwu. If you're GM, who do you take, and, if this scenario plays out, who do you think the Bulls will take? Plus, how big of a reach would killian hayes be at 4? Hayes seems very thoughtful and mature, even at 19. something about him, the way he carries himself and expresses himself thoughtfully, reminds me of Luol Deng.

Sam Smith:

I guess that's what Karnisovas meant when he said this draft is better than the general consensus and there are many good players. Or at least several difficult decisions trying to extrapolate who in three years will make he and the team look good. I agree it seems most likely Minnesota selects Edwards No. 1. He's generally regarded the top ready talent, and they have a need for a shooting guard. The Warriors are expected to use the pick to enhance their Curry/Thompson/Green championship window. The teams that supposedly have the most interest in point guards are the Pistons at No. 7 and the Knicks at No. 8. And perhaps the Bulls as a long shot at No. 4. Which had led to the speculation about the Knicks and LaMelo Ball, which has included his father and fans lobbying for New York. Though I have my doubts Thibs sees Ball as a defensive anchor to begin his quest in New York. But Ball supposedly has star potential, and New York likes that. The complication in that recipe is Tyrese Haliburton, the post-Curry type point guard whom the Warriors are rumored to like. Would he be there if they traded down to No. 8? How about at No. 7?

I'm guessing the Bulls pass on the point guard with many more obvious needs. Assuming it goes as you suggest with Edwards No. 1, a point guard at No. 2 from a trade up and Toppin, which is only possible since Charlotte has even more needs than the Bulls. I'd probably favor Wiseman. Though the Hornets have no size and also could use a defensive presence like Wiseman. Which to me makes a more difficult choice since the conventional wisdom for months has been Edwards, Ball and Wiseman 1-2-3 in some order. I speculated the night of the lottery the Bulls would take Avdija. He intrigues me with his versatility and I believe his shooting will improve. He's clearly a worker and has been getting better. Though he seems the riskiest because of his age and limited play in top leagues. Toppin seems safer, if also another power forward with a more limited ceiling. But perhaps with more toughness, something the Bulls have lacked. Maybe Hayes could grow into a three-guard rotation with White and LaVine. Maybe the Warriors won't trade with the Knicks. The Knicks could get a point guard trading to No. 4 and maybe even get Ball. Then the Bulls take No. 8 and perhaps get a look at Kevin Knox or Mitchell Robinson. As thorough as the new Bulls management group is, I suspect we'll hear a dozen rumors among the hundreds of transactions they may consider.


Doc Rivers

Jeff Lichtenstein:

With Doc have been considered for a coaching job and do you think he would've been a better fit?

Sam Smith:

It's been a common what if lately with Rivers' surprise dismissal. Of course, so was the departure of Billy Donovan. It's quite the profession. Not much security and plenty of blame. The compensation seems worth it as Rivers already is in Philadelphia. Having cycled through Walker and Pierce, Garnett, Allen, Rondo, et al, and Leonard and George, at least he's not going to witness anything he hasn't before with Embiid and Simmons. I know there's the happy ending of Doc finishing where he started, back on Madison Street where the kid from Maywood was peering through the fence get into the old Stadium. Though I do think it worked out right. I don't think Doc at this stage after supposedly leaving Boston because he didn't want to be involved in a rebuild (or retool) wanted a hope-we-make-the-playoffs team at this stage of his career. Doc's about to move into 10th all-time in coaching wins and turning 59 this month could eventually surpass Don Nelson for the most NBA coaching wins alltime.

Billy Donovan never coached an NBA team without a guaranteed future Hall of Famer. Until this season. My sense is he wanted that. Donovan was impressive in Oklahoma City constantly retrofitting to the desires of his divas. It's a cautious balancing act and doesn't require quite as much teaching. I think Donovan missed that and probably is a better fit now than Rivers for the inexperienced roster the Bulls have. Perhaps in five years when Doc is closer to getting that record if the Bulls haven't gotten to C yet.


Marc Eversley

Andre Saw:

I hear a lot about Karnisovas and the things he is doing in regards to the Bulls. Even in your mailbag, its all about A.K. I know he is the main shot caller but what exactly is the job of Marc Eversley? I only hear his name mention every now and then and it is usually in the same breath as Karnisovas. If I am not mistaken, The GM usually picks the coach and draft picks. This just seems like the Karnisovas show with Marc just there along for the ride.

Sam Smith:

Not any more. You've missed the changes in the corporate world, which in recent decades has added various levels of management. And NBA teams valued in the billions are the corporate world. When Jerry Krause was putting together the Bulls championship teams, he was the General Manager. His assistant was Jim Stack, who mostly scouted and was an advisor. That's what Eversley is with a very nice title. That's what all NBA general managers do, Gar Forman as well. The former General Manager is now the Executive Vice-president of Basketball Operations, at least with the Bulls and various titles elsewhere. Karnisovas is inclusive and, I'm sure, delegates a lot and consults a lot. But he picked the coach and he'll pick the draft choice and he'll decide on the trades.

It's all our fantasy ball dream jobs. There is a lot more hand holding to do in this era, and the General Manager gets tasked with that, as often unpleasant as it is. Agents have swarmed sports like swarms of locust, though it's a bit easier to relate to the locust. General managers generally are putting out those fires, assuring agents and others their player is getting enough shots and touches and is first in line when the food comes down and gets a massage when he wants. It's often a much more difficult and frustrating job. General Managers tend to do more of the contacts, feeling out other teams about trade possibilities and then reporting back to the chief. And you get a really good parking spot.


Wendell Carter Jr

Daniel George:

Curious to see who you think stands to benefit most from our new coach? I'd like to think that a healthy Wendell can really stand out as a solid defensive stopper, with a strong pick and roll game with Coby/Lavine. I like that he never had OKC overshooting the 3 ball, forcing it like so many teams.

Sam Smith:

We've pined for the Wendell comparison to Miami's Bam Adebayo. While I don't see Wendell quite as athletic, I think he's a better shooter. If allowed to shoot. Which he wasn't let season. Of the various misuses we identified with the Bulls roster last season, none was more egregious than with Carter's talents squandered. True, he was injured again. The team did commit to a system of deep perimeter shooting and good soldier and teammate that Wendell was he went along. Perhaps he shouldn't have. Is it better to be a good teammate than say anything when you see yourself being so poorly treated? On bad teams as the Bulls were players often devolve into individual gripes. Wendell to the credit of his character stayed away from that. But he showed weeks into his rookie season—and in Denver with likely Karnisovas watching—how much offense and shooting he could provide if given a chance. Hoiberg was willing to; Boylen was not. In reviewing the roster, my guess is Karnisovas even with Markkanen's troubles sees the lack of involvement for Carter as the biggest potential correction. Carter is good and smart enough to even run the offense through. His long distance shooting stroke looks good, though I see him more in that Adebayo-type role in a league with very few offensively dominant big men. I'd say if you are inclined that way, maybe a few bucks for Most Improved since the NBA now endorses gambling. Unless he gets traded first.


2013 NBA Draft

James Henry:

This year draft reminds me of the 2013 NBA draft. There was no for sure #1 pick. I like some of the potential of the top 5 players. But I feel the Bulls should trade up. They should trade with the Warriors. They are unsure about their pick as well. Bulls trade WCJ, Otto and the 4th for Wiggins and 2nd pick. They take a look at Wiseman. Warriors would still be able to add a young player through the draft. On the Bulls end, I don't see any free agent coming to Chicago in 2021. So grabbing Wiggins to add to that core wouldn't be so bad. Lavine and Wiggins have a great friendship and history dating back to Minnesota. With that 2nd we go with Deni or Toppin. I think Toppin would give the Bulls some toughness we don't have. He would help Markennen as well. He is a decent threat to shoot from the outside. Giving the offense more space. You can teach position when playing defense. You can't teach effort. Toppin will give you energy and effort. He averaged 20ppg 7rebs 2ast. He will contribute immediately. I know we need some playmaking, but there will be plenty of guards that fit that bill in the 2nd round. Then again we just keep Dunn.

Sam Smith:

What, you didn't like Anthony Bennett No. 1? Otto No. 3? That's right, Michael Carter-Williams was rookie of the year. But Giannis was No. 15. It's an idea I haven't heard much and is somewhat appealing, though I do think Wendell could have a breakout as I suggested above. I like Wiggins more than many. For all the alleged indifference, he does have a career scoring average of 20 points, is just 25, basically never gets hurt (if he's so indifferent why did he only miss one game his first four years in the NBA?) and at 6-7 can be a wing player with Zach and Coby White, which would be a heck of a young, offensive lineup. His three-point shooting is adequate and has been about 36 percent when he attempted more. Though I think I'd take Wiseman more in the model of the Warriors with a defensive seven footer around all those scorers. I agree that this future free agent notion of someone like Davis or Giannis is a fairy tale that no one in the new management has encouraged. Wiggins has plenty of potential risks given the sometimes unfair label of indifference and lack of playmaking. But sometimes it takes a guy awhile and being the No. 1 pick at 19, traded immediately to a bad team and then again is disruptive. Sometimes you have to take a risk, especially if you think you won't get the player you really want at No. 4. This is going to be really interesting.


Otto Porter Jr

Alejandro Yegros:

I see nobody talking about Otto. The guy is still young, and when he has played (even the first few games of last season when he was clearly hobbling), the Bulls are always better. Any word on how he's looking in the bubble training camp? I might be the last guy still hanging on to 2018 Otto.

Sam Smith:

Marc Eversley spoke about him some the other day in Marc's media session and said Otto looked good. Though everyone looked really good last September in those workouts, too. Since there are no games, which is patently unfair to the Bulls, it's difficult to determine anyone's level now. Porter's been a massive disappointment, though little fault of his with injuries. Eversley did suggest perhaps he wasn't in the best condition last year, which has changed. I won't be cynical and mention it's a contract year. Did I just do that? Yes, Porter will play out his final season whenever the NBA gets back to it. Though the point is it should be good for the Bulls. They should finally get the best of Porter. You're correct that as soon as he arrived in trade the Bulls had their best run of that season, winning five of six with Otto providing a pair of 30-plus games. Though he would shut down the last 11 games, presaging the 19-20 season he basically missed. Has he slowed from the leg injuries? He's really versatile and has a nice shot, though he, like Wiggins, has a career reputation for not always being engaged. Of course if he didn't, the Bulls never could have gotten him for Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker. With his hefty salary, he'll likely be with the Bulls this season. And they could see a highly motivated Otto Porter Jr. Which has been a productive player in the past.


LaMelo Ball

Zeryk Velasko:

I hope my beloved Bulls won't draft LaMelo Ball. To me the way I see him play since his Euro experiment, he's kinda lazy, play lackadaisical. Besides the game now has evolved to a shooter's paradise.

Sam Smith:

He did score 92 points in a high school game. I agree LaMelo is the big risk at the top of the draft. The speculation continues to be the Knicks trading into the spot, though I don't see Thibs on board with that. And even if he's not GM this time, Thibs wields a lot a power with a long term relationship with new management and a long contract. If there's no great deal, the Warriors could just select someone who fits for them now and in the future and then the Bulls could have that Ball decision at No. 4. At least they'd finally get a game on TNT again.


Montrezl Harrell

Mike Sutera:

There was a national media report the Bulls are expected to pursue Montrezl Harrell. Not sure what to think about this. May be pricey. There also was a report saying Kawhi said the Clips should have signed Dwight and they would have been better with Dwight than Harrell.

Sam Smith:

Well, Kawhi still is there, so perhaps Montrezl is not. There's clearly some changes to make, and you always got the sense simmering below was the way Doc Rivers had to accommodate Leonard and George at the expense of the overachieving fun group he had the previous season. We like to believe the fiction, or are told to, that with a chance to win players will sacrifice and do what's best for the team. Not! Always believe them when they say it's a business. Montrezl was among the free agents and you could see they didn't like the new guys working half time. The Bulls only have a salary cap exception, which figures to be less than Harrell wants. Of course they could do a sign and trade, though I don't see how despite how physical and scary he can be a 6-7 forward/center who cannot shoot is such a great idea. Though it also depends on how you'd build that sign and trade if it came to that.


Zach LaVine

Johnny Meissler:

I love LaVine and think he's only getting better every year but quick question: I know that this draft isn't perceived as being too strong but would you trade LaVine and Kornet to Minnesota for James Johnson, Jared Culver and the #1 pick? It gives Minnesota a big 3 with LaVine, Towns and Russell and would give the Bulls the #1 and #4 picks and they could pick up 2 of the best 4 players available. It also would help with their cap situation in 2021 as J. Johnson comes off the books. Seems like they could have more of a Celtics like offense with White, Culver, Sato, Porter, Hutchison, Ball or Edwards, Avidja….keeping Markkanen, Carter and Gafford manning the forward/center spots.

Sam Smith:

I believe the new management is committed to Zach and I have made no secret of my belief in his abilities. Though it sounds good for Minnesota, I'd guess they view Edwards as similar to Zach, if not as mature. And Zach has just two years left on his deal at perhaps three times the price Edwards would cost them. There's no urgency there to make a huge jump and they'd be guaranteed five years with Edwards versus perhaps two with Zach. Often there are many more factors and variables to trades than just what you believe it might look like on the court.


Michael Porter Jr

Jo Morrison:

What an exciting time for the Bulls! It is also very crucial. Thinking about some of the ideas regarding the number 4 Pic. keeping in mind the relationship of our new VP with the nuggets I have some thoughts:

What are the chances we could send number 4 pic, porter, and a future pick to Denver for Michael Porter Jr & Plumlee? That way we could keep Carter and Markkanen. I would also be OK with offering the same plus one other pick or role player like Thad Young to Dallas for Porzingis, Hardaway and Curry.

In both scenarios we're getting some young guys that can contribute right away. We would be offering something reasonable And getting some good additions.

Sam Smith:

I'm fairly sure a team just out of the conference finals and another believing it's close aren't enamored of going back high in the draft. Of course both proposals are unrealistic; sorry. I've gotten several from fans regarding Porter, who I'll acknowledge many Bulls fans were urging the team to take in 2018 when the team drafted Carter. It was the kind of ideal selection a playoff team like Denver with a high pick and a good roster could make as a future since they didn't need him for the two years he was expected to be out. Many of those medical reports at the time were that it could be longer. It was a risk you can't take in the top 10 coming off 27 wins. Carter's had some unfortunate and unexpected injuries, but still could be an excellent player. I feel it was a good pick. Porter looks like he's going to be their third scoring option, an ideal perimeter shooter in a perfect situation as a third option. The Bulls were in search of first options even if Carter isn't, either. No one's getting Porter out of Denver. Porzingis likely isn't going anywhere, either, but his injury history is setting off a lot of red flags these days. Even Luka can't do everything


LeBron James

Art Alenik:

Considering the rosters, Giannis is Most Valuable to his team. But if we're playing a pick-up game, who do you pick first? My point is that LeBron's currently the best all-around player on the planet. The LA roster is much better top-to-bottom, which is why they'll probably win it all in the end. I'm not arguing that LeBron s/b MVP, but here are two considerations: Watching AD's buzzer-beater, you can see it wouldn't have been possible w/out LeBron attracting two defenders. I remember it happening to some extent w/ Jordan too. You can see it in the MVP awards. Jordan got his first one in '88, when he also won everything else but a ring. He won again the 1st two title years, but not the 3rd, because everybody was "used" to his brilliance (and maybe tired of the Bulls' dominance). He won next in '96, but not in '97 because the novelty wore off once everybody saw he was back to ‘normal MJ'. Then he won it in '98, when everybody knew it would be the last dance. I don't watch LeBron very often, so he still impresses me every time.

Sam Smith:

I agree; he seems like a good player. I favored Giannis for MVP for similar reasons. As I've argued many times, I'd much rather have Zach LaVine than Khris Middleton. Giannis getting the league's best record with that roster seems to actually make him an easy choice. But I also agree with spreading it around; not that it is much this year with Giannis back to back. But he'll never get another. The award is not for best player. Then Jordan should have had about 10. He was even when his team wasn't winning. But often someone else is more valuable to his team than you are to yours. Off course I'd rather have LeBron on my team. Everyone in the league would for one playoff series even if LeBron doesn't win them all. But Giannis was more valuable to that team than anyone in the league. Robert DeNiro may be the best actor, but he doesn't deserve every Academy Award. Though it looks like LeBron is on the way to another Finals MVP, and Michael treasured them the most. Not much sympathy vote on that one.


Larry Bird

Dan Crews:

Whom would you rather have at SF; Bird or LeBron?

Sam Smith:

It becomes more difficult as the championships and honors (even if they're not all MVPs) pile up for those of us with the longer view to continue to elevate Bird. Larry was better than LeBron at a few things. Perhaps what stands out most that makes LeBron wanting at times is his distaste for being the finisher. LeBron sort of invented the star making the right play mantra, which didn't much exist until he came along because the best player generally wanted and took the last or game deciding shot. LeBron gained critics by often passing on that to, of course, an open teammate. Most were open since three or four guys generally were guarding him. We've also seen a hesitance from LeBron to force himself to the free throw line to win a game because he becomes uncomfortable with those pressure free throws. Like Shaq he likes the spotlight, but he's also never liked it when everything around him stopped and it was turned directly on him during the game. We've seen it again in these playoffs even as he seems on the way to a fourth title. That was the way we graded stars in the past. No one ever thought to say West or Oscar or Bird or Jordan didn't make the right play when they took the last shot. We said Magic did because he had Kareem. And when Kareem wasn't there, Magic famously scored 42 points in a deciding Finals game. Better often is a relative and ephemeral judgment. I'd certainly prefer Larry to finish the game for me because he was a much better shooter and more creative passer. I'd rather have LeBron to get me there. How's that for the ambivalent way out?

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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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