Ask Sam Mailbag: Questions about Draft Lottery, Coby, CP3, Jordan, and more

Sam Smith returns with a full mailbag as the NBA Draft Lottery approaches in the coming days.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
Draft 2021 | AT&T Bulls Draft Coverage

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Ask Sam makes a triumphant return for Tuesday's NBA Draft Lottery. And the reviews are in:
"Who's Sam?"
"Ask What?"
Actually, I also was part of the epidemic of injuries overwhelming what's been a mostly terrific playoffs with Anyone's Guess finally in line to be the next champion. Getting up from my desk, my cat didn't give me space to land and I suffered a sprained ankle. Better get taped next time. So that Ask Sam will be available these next few months when events occur. Next question!
Wendell Carter Jr. and Nikola Vucevic

Randall Sanders:

Just read an article that said the Bulls gave up both their 2021 & 2023 1st round picks in that trade. I thought they only gave up the 2021 pick (top 4 protected). That's normally not the Bulls way of doing things but this is new management.

Sam Smith:

I'd often mused, as I have a tendency to do, about wishing the Bulls were more bold in player transactions. I know all the best players come from the draft because, well, all the players come from the draft. And the Bulls have had success hanging on to their first round draft picks, like that Jordan guy and Derrick Rose. But the lottery has not been kind in recent years. The new guys saw an opportunity to get an All-Star—and they believe they have one from the draft in Patrick Williams, though probably several years away—and you know you have to give up something to get something. So Tuesday we'll find out if they pulled off a coup with that deal. Or not so much Magic.

I have a lot of faith in the addition of Vucevic moving forward, if not quite as a final piece. It's the next star, or at least great talent, everyone has been seeking from those drafts and all those losses. If the Bulls don't get to keep the draft pick this year, Orlando probably gets No. 7. And we know about that. Teams cannot trade consecutive No. 1 picks, so then the Magic would get the Bulls No. 1 pick in 2023. If the Bulls get to keep the pick this year, then Orlando gets the Bulls No. 1 selections in 2022 and 2024, though there's protections again; top three, I believe, in 2022. I think it keeps rolling over top 3 and top 4 for a few years. But if it does, it means the Bulls are at the top of the lottery the next five years, which probably means clear-the-decks personnel, staff and player changes and me checking out those online resume help services.


Lauri Markkanen

Will Pennix:

We are approaching the 1-year anniversary of the end of the GarPax regime. I was looking at the recent draft pick history of the Bulls and realized that there are only 3 players remaining on the roster that were drafted by GarPax (Markkanen, White and Valentine). It is likely we will see 2 of them and possibly all three of them shipped elsewhere this off season as well. Take it a step further, it is quite possible that the only remaining player on the Bulls roster from the previous regime will be LaVine come next season. That has to be one of the quickest cleansing jobs the league has ever seen. I am curious if this is a result of poor talent evaluation on the part of the previous regime or are AK and ME building a new culture by eliminating the memories of the old? It is hard for me to believe that AK and ME could not identify another player worth keeping.

Sam Smith:

It looks like Coby White's injury assures him of a spot moving forward. You have a good point, though it's hardly uncommon with most significant business changes for the new bosses to try it their way. They seemed willing to give the guys on the roster a chance, but it's difficult to have a new toy and let someone else play with it all the time. I'm sympathetic in the sense that the community had become impatient with the rebuild project and also was looking for change perhaps more than development. It didn't work out this season for reasons I assume they're examining, but with change like that you get some time. Of course, once you make major moves like the Vucevic deal and give up draft picks, the clock starts. Plus, LaVine, who's proved worthwhile from the Butler trade as a star level player, heads into his free agent season almost demanding a playoff spot. So the pressure begins. He has to see reasons to resign. The big miss seems to be Markkanen, who for whatever reasons regressed again and whose fate remains the major roster question of the offseason. Skilled big men who shoot like Markkanen can thrive and excel in the NBA and have on successful teams like the Jazz and Hawks. Can he with the Bulls? Does he want to? Do they want him to? We'll find out this summer. They obviously are determined to put together a team in their image relatively quickly. Though we're not quite sure what that image is. There's talk about toughness and being more physical, but then the biggest first move was for Vucevic. Though I believe the league is skewing more toward offense. The clock begins for them this summer.


Atlanta Hawks

Brian Tucker:

As teams get eliminated and the rumors and offseason hype only grow, we can pick up a lot of ideas for the Bulls to build a champion. The big-picture idea I am contemplating these days is building complete teams around stars. Looking at the Knicks/Hawks series it was clear that the Hawks were the more complete team and that their talent was just going to overmatch and crush the Knicks, which it did. For the Knicks I'm not so sure they will be such a sought after free agent destination. There is not a star player in place, nor a complete roster. Randle is good but he struggled, and Rose, bless him and the nice series he had, cannot carry a team. Let the Rose reunion rumors reach a fever pitch! It's a tough call whether we should be going for a third star this offseason vs. a deep roster. I guess the best argument for having a big 3 is that good veterans will come play for cheap to fill in quality depth once their contracts are bought out. I think the Hawks team is pretty well-rounded and talented with a star-quality player so they have a chance, especially against a hobbled Embiid.

Sam Smith:

The Hawks have surprised me, of course since the coaching change. And without Kris Dunn! But what it also emphasizes to me is the increased importance of offense in the NBA these days. Yes, if you go to a game you can still chant D-fence. But your team better be able to score. A lot. There are elements of defense left in the NBA. But not much. The NBA mostly has legislated it out. And teams have cooperated with their "systems." Though the Bulls history has been about shaping defensive oriented teams for success, especially the 90s dynasty, the NBA has changed drastically. And as much as I don't like it, it still produces great games, like in these playoffs. Yes, too many threes. But I digress. The NBA has almost eliminated perimeter defense and players have taken advantage by throwing themselves into defenders to get free throws. Then teams have enabled their players by the switch on pick and rolls, which has become almost exclusively the offense of every team. The theory is sound that there's less advantage from the screen. But then come the mismatches and the biggest, slowest players retreating into the lane. And easy jump shots or floaters. So then they take out those big, slow guys and the game gets smaller and quicker for even more points.

I know the Bulls before and also since the management and coaching changes talk about toughness and defense. But their personnel, at least for now, is primarily offensive oriented and not particularly physical. I don't think it's a bad thing. I know you can have some better defensive players, but scorers seem to tilt the balance. The Hawks vs Knicks is a good example. The Hawks mostly play a team of weak defenders, like Young, Gallinari, Bogdanovic and Huerter and seem to be having success. Perhaps not ultimate, but the Bulls need to take that first step first. I don't believe they have interest in Rose and as third stars go, there's ample unrest these days, as always. So someone could surprisingly come available as Harden often has. But I don't see that path available to the Bulls this summer with their limited salary cap availability. If they cash in to use the cap room, then they'll mostly have to blow up the depth. That's another storyline.


Zion Williamson and Stan Van Gundy

Mike Sutera:

What a day. Stan fired. Should be his last NBA gig. Cuban playing with fire with Doncic with the front office dysfunction? Torn ACL for Leonard? Knicks supposedly have interest in Portis reunion.

Sam Smith:

Talk about that unrest. Which teams always watch for to consider the possibilities. Perhaps the best way these days of getting a star is an unhappy one. AD, Harden, LeBron. There were dreams about the Clippers losing and Kawhi being disenchanted and longing for cold weather again. The Clippers suddenly look better, and with his injury you assume he's taking his money where he is. Cuban, as always, is playing with fire. Like when he broke up his 2011 champs for no apparent reason and decided Steve Nash was done. Before he won two MVPs in Phoenix. We all assume Doncic signs his max extension because you always take the money as quickly as you can for the first one. The New Orleans stuff is interesting with the latest being Zion's family is unhappy. Bad etouffee? There's obviously some dysfunction there, and perhaps some desperation to fire Van Gundy so quickly. Brandon Ingram as been quieter, but supposedly equally unhappy the way the franchise has lurched to accommodate Zion. Who I don't think can lead you. Sure, he's exciting and explosive. But he gets his shot blocked constantly, doesn't shoot well and isn't the natural perimeter guy for this era. Fans love him and you assume the Pelicans will be all in. But these guys seem like long term dreams for others since they haven't signed their first big deals.


Coby White

Ateeq Ahmed:

Read about Coby's injury and shoulder surgery. Expected to be out 4 + months. Feel bad for him. Does this mean we are full steam ahead for a PG search? I know you are a big fan of Conley, and I like him too. A great facilitator, leader and seems like a genuine person, but I just worry about his injury history. I'm imagining you telling me that injuries can happen to anyone at any time, and that is an undeniable fact. But he has had many and an older player may not recover as quickly, resulting in more time lost. I wouldn't mind Lonzo but he might be too pricey. I read some online stuff that talked about Colin Sexton since the Cavs have Darius Garland. I like Sexton a lot, but he's a scoring guard and I'm sure management is looking for a pass first PG. Can't wait to see how the summer unfolds.

Sam Smith:

I'm also interested because what little we've learned about Karnisovas so far is he says he's deliberate, and then he lights the fuse. He seems to have things in mind that no one even seems to speculate about. Point guard was a priority pre-Coby injury, so, of course, even more so now. Especially with that summer of development lost for White and him probably not even being ready to start the regular season. It's a tough injury.

I've mentioned Conley a lot not always for acquiring him, but someone like that. Yes, Chris Paul, but he's taken. And came back from when almost everyone dismissed him. The Suns are a great example. They had a big-time, All-Star level supposedly empty stats scorer who never made the playoffs. Then Paul showed up and they're maybe about to play for the title. With a roster not that unlike the Bulls, at least now. Big center, lots of role players. Players like Paul and Conley make such a difference because not only do they get the ball to the right guy at the right time in the right place, but they can score. And what do you know, you can win games shooting a lot of mid range jumpers. Amazing! Maybe you'd say someone like Rubio or Rondo, but they can't score enough. You have to score at that position, too, in order to keep the court and driving lanes open. Forget Sexton which apparently a lot of his teammates would like to. Shoots too much. Plus small. Zach gets blamed for turnovers, but that's because it's not natural and he's doing too much. Just like Devin Booker was until this season. Point guard is a priority. Getting the right one is the difficult part.


Zach LaVine defends Chris Paul

Larry Brodie:

Just saw an article speculating that Chris Paul is going to decline his player option this year and look for a longer term deal. How can we get him to the Bulls? Can players be grouped together in a sign and trade? Lauri, Thad and Satoransky for Chris Paul? I suspect Phoenix would rather just have the cap space and go after a different, younger PG like Lonzo. How heavily should the Bulls pursue Chris Paul if he's seeking $100 mill over the next 3 years?

Sam Smith:

I doubt he's declining his option, or that anyone is extending his deal for $100 million. State Farm will make that up. Three years ago no one could believe Paul got that contract and it looked like it would be an albatross with his injury history. He obviously changed a lot of minds. And perhaps is on the verge of changing his legacy and having his greatest playoff success ever with a team where he's perfect, where exactly is he going? Could you imagine the outcry in Phoenix to take on someone like Ball, who is good and delivers the ball, but has no experience with success or really how to run a successful team. It's one thing to make a move on him for a team like the Bulls or Knicks with no classic starting point guard, but to replace Chris Paul? I expect Paul to try to get by on the $44 million he's due next season.


Daniel Theis

Ron Goldberg:

In this polarized political climate it is hard to read news without shaking my head. So I read about sports. But then I read the Bulls are interested in resigning Daniel Theis and I scream. What am I missing here? Trading for Vuc meant your 5 spot is taken care of 36 minutes a game. Theis is a 5. He was shoehorned in as a 4 after the trade and the Bulls were completely unwatchable. Also they went from a solid 8th seed to out of the play in game so unwatchable basketball wasn't even successful. This isn't 1996 when 2 bigs could grind the half court game both ways. It was an embarrassing misstep for the new coaches and front office and they want to repeat this horror by paying 8 digits to a clear backup 5? Again, what am I missing?

Sam Smith:

So you're against? I know Theis was popular with many fans—I guess not all—for the toughness thing. Though I personally am not sure he's a priority for next season. He could be a five the way the NBA plays these days with smaller, more versatile bigs. I think a team like Boston could use him. But as you note center is taken for the Bulls. I tend to think Patrick Williams is the ideal power forward for the Bulls with his size and shooting ability. I don't see that he defends the perimeter as well as he does the bigger guys. Which means the Bulls also need an active wing and a point guard. Which isn't bad, two of five positions. I also think Theis will price himself out of the Bulls market with point guard and wing larger priorities. It's not a universal belief, but as I said I think his brand of physical play without enough scoring component isn't enough in fashion these days. You see guys like Jeff Green and various Morrises with a bit more athletic ability having more success at that position, assuming the Bulls even need it with Williams.


Kristaps Porzingis

Tam Vito:

Does this deal make sense?

Jalen Brunson + Kristaps Porzingis + 2025 1st-round pick for Markkanen (sign & trade) + Young + Satoransky

Sam Smith:

I get the theory in that the Mavs seem unhappy with Porzingis (it seems mutual) and he hasn't been a great fit with Doncic. I'm not a Porzingis fan because I do believe he will continue to break down, and at 7-3 standing outside the way he seems to prefer is not a great idea. I do like Brunson, whom the Bulls passed on a few years back when he looked like he could be a good backup point. He's small and not a great athlete, but smart with a good shot. He's probably more of a scorer. The Mavs could have interest in Markkanen, who would fit Doncic better, I think. But that's a heck of a big money risk on Porzingis for a guy who doesn't play much. And with Vucevic, I wince at the speed (or lack of it) for that front court. I'd rather keep Young.


Vasilije Micic

Art Alenik:

Short off-season and compressed schedule. I'm no fan of load mgmt, but it seems clear that the game being faster & the bodies being bigger (& heavier) puts more strain on them than in the past. And everybody tries to fly around like MJ. Even back then, you'd see teams get tired at the end of back-to-backs. That's why I advocate for a shorter season (w/ the play-in games). Not only do you get fewer injuries, but the players are less fatigued and each regular season game becomes more important. Also, I've heard rumors about the Bulls trading w/ OKC for the rights to Vasilije Micic (27 yr. old Euroleague MVP – 6'6" PG). Have you heard anything? Could just be the ‘logical' AK-Europe connection fueling a rumor.

Sam Smith:

So you're with LeBron? We know because of TV rights fees and players eager to collect their max deals no one is shortening the schedule. Some guys were going to have the shorter offseason coming out of the bubble, and playing in the Finals will do that. But blaming the schedule for sprained ankles and hamstrings is like blaming your sunburn on having to commute to work. I'm not qualifying this by saying I'm not a doctor. These injuries happen so frequently because guys don't play enough basketball. They seem like rubber bands tightened and tightened through building their bodies and things snap. I understand bodies are bigger and stronger and players have to be in better condition to respond. But their bodies are now so taut it seems like these strains and sprains are inevitable. Wilt and Russell used to barnstorm all offseason to play pickups games. There used to be a series of summer All-Star and playground tournaments. Players played all year. Their hamstrings seemed much stronger. Just a theory. I read about Micic, too. He supposedly will come to the NBA is he's promised starting. He reminds me mostly of Satoransky; the Bulls have that. The draft report on him used Jose Calderon as a comparison.


Ben Simmons

Mike Queensworth:

Ben Simmons is a pathetic offensive PG. A guy making 30 mil a yr cannot give you double digits? He makes 96-98 Ron Harper looks like a big offensive threat.

Sam Smith:

And it wasn't too long ago I was getting loads of mail to trade Zach for him. I checked. Turns out it appears most was from 76ers management.


Oscar Robertson

Brodie Larsh:

I just watched an interview you did, mostly about Jordan and the Last Dance. Toward the end you said Oscar is the greatest point guard of all time. Do you think he would average a triple double in today's NBA? Is Westbrook a good comparison? Usually when Oscar is brought up anymore its only to compare his stats with Westbrook. Whose some other habitually underrated players from the past?

Sam Smith:

Westbrook is not a good comparison since Oscar played with a much higher IQ—maybe highest ever—and was a great shooter who also was a classic passer. Westbrook is a numbers guy with his energy, which is impressive, but nothing like Oscar.

It's difficult to compare stats. The modern argument is the talent wasn't as deep so it was easier to score then; of course, the other part is a shot is worth 50 percent more points now than it was then. When your defender could legally hold you while you were dribbling. It's become almost impossible to even have that conversation anymore because of the simpleton nature of much media and this hot takes thing. I understand it because the idea is to create debate whether you believe it or not. But it does pay much more than any of us ever earned giving our consideration to both sides. So they may be a lot smarter than we were. Chris Paul has a good game and he's a top five all-time point guard? What would they have said after Walt Frazier getting 36 and 19 against Wilt, Elgin and Jerry West in a Game 7 with his team's best player injured and Frazier the best defender on the floor? Or the wizardry and passing of Lenny Wilkens or Guy Rodgers, classic point guards. Or even John Lucas, also pure pre-drug. There was so much excellence. Donovan Mitchell wins a game and he's the best in franchise history and James Harden is the greatest scorer ever? It goes on and on depending on the previous night's result.

There's decades of underrated point guards because hardly anyone in media today saw them play. Rick Barry, for example, may have been one of the greatest around players ever, a brilliant shooter, passer, rebounder and solid defender who was the smartest guy on the court. The problem was he always told everyone. Even a guy like Michael Ray Richardson, later overtaken by drugs, could do so many amazing things. Bill Walton before maybe 36 surgeries could play just about every position on the floor as good as any All-Star at that position. Pete Maravich took your breath away. Earl Monroe did things with the ball that could be a Las Vegas magic act. Who knows how many more threes Lou Hudson would have made than Steph Curry if they let him shoot beyond 18 feet. Or Calvin Murphy. And if there was a three-point line. And remember this, Elgin Baylor averaged 38 and 19 one season playing games just on weekends off because he was in the Army commuting to games without any practice or adjusting to his teammates. And playing against teams led by Wilt and Bill Russell winning 50-plus games. Did you notice the other day with everyone going wild over Durant's great 49 points that it was only second to John Havlicek's 50-something without, by the way, any threes to jump the scoreboard faster. Imagine what they'd say about John Havlicek? You know, Boston's third or fourth best player.


Michael Jordan

Keanu Reeves:

Given the need for Bulls fans to shift our attention away from the team at present...some questions for you in your role as official unofficial league historian:

  1. Any truth to the rumor that MJ started shaving his head mainly because the barbershop he'd hit would immediately become a scene, and he was looking to avoid that? Or was he just going bald? This is important for me to know as a bald man.
  2. When did the 'general pop' of Chicago start to understand what the Bulls and the city (and the world) had in Jordan? I assume there was a core contingent of fans that were going to be at the Stadium anyways, but a more casual fan probably isn't getting too excited for a number 3 pick, and UNC had lost in the Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen after that 82 championship. By the way, I still have my McDonald's cups where Rodman's hair changes color when you add ice - will sell to you if the price is right. The 90s are cool again, so it would lend you some serious cred with the young folks.
  3. Hakeem vs Robinson, 93-94. Dream won the championship in the end, so fair play with him being the MVP. But was this controversial at the time, and did you think the voters got it right? Looks like voting was relatively close overall (889 Dream vs. 730 Robinson, though 66 vs. 24 for 1st place votes) but the numbers, and particularly the advanced numbers, seem to put Robinson comfortably ahead. Notably Robinson led the league in PER; Win Shares; Offensive Win Shares; Win Shares per 48 mins; Box Plus/Minus; Offensive Box Plus/Minus; and Value over Replacement Player. Dream did have the edge in basically all defensive metrics.

P.J. Founier:

All vital questions. It's also why I am convinced there never can be a second to Jordan (plug: There is no Next). He changed 2,000 years of male fashion. It never was cool to be bald. Until Michael. Seriously, combined with the basketball no one can ever match that. LeBron can get a dozen titles and it won't compare. I'm pretty sure Michael suspected being so close with his dad, James, who lost his hair pretty early. He once told me the story about taking home economics classes in high school (yes, he really could sew and did iron his clothes his first few seasons in the league) because he was not confident about his appearance and didn't believe girls would find him attractive. I suspect the early warning about the hair loss had something to do with it.

We've all heard the stories of the draft day (mornings then) and Rod Thorn warning everyone to go slow and you don't turn around a franchise with a shooting guard who averaged 17 points. But Jordan was the American star of the Olympics in 1984—I remember the Spanish coach saying how everyone went up and came down, but not Jordan, that he stayed up—and when he made a game winner in his third game and scored 45 in his ninth we all began to get the idea this was different. Not necessarily title different, but like Payton and Ernie Banks and Billy Williams, just really great stuff to watch. I believe I had David Robinson, which wasn't popular when Hakeem outplayed him in a classic conference finals. But I always believed Robinson would have been a seven-foot Bill Russell with a better roster. But the Spurs roster was ill-conceived and much weaker than Houston's, so Robinson had to become a scorer, too. I believed he really was a better defender than Hakeem despite the computations. Better hair, also. OK, just as good.

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

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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