Ask Sam Mailbag: Questions about Joakim Noah, Training Camp, and more

Sam reaches into his mailbag as we get closer to the start of the NBA 2020-21 season.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

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Brian Tucker:

Now do we have to wait until 2024 to win a title with Anthony Davis, or do we go ahead and win 1 or 2 before then with this fledgling dynasty?

Sam Smith:

And then there were... two? Well, this should at least reduce the number of trade and signing proposals I get. And the canard about hime. As I often drone on, the Bulls got plenty of free agents. Just none named LeBron. And so predictably, Davis did sign a long term deal with the Lakers. I'm shocked; shocked, I say. LeBron signed on for two more years and most believe Giannis will sign that supermax with the Bucks in the next few weeks and then perhaps Jrue Holiday won't opt out. Hayward signed with the Hornets long term, Kawhi loves Southern California so much he won't even live in LA and stays in San Diego. And then there's your next $30 million free agent, Kyle Lowry? The Bulls are in position to be perhaps the leader in potential free agent spending next summer depending on a potential Markkanen extension. But like his Nuggets did in adding Paul Millsap as their big free agent, I see Arturas Karnisovas operating more organically, through the draft and trades and signing support free agents like Millsap, and like he did this summer with Garrett Temple. Free agents, as much as fans and media often fantasize, aren't the panacea unless they're named LeBron. But I believe you can get James Harden if you want. The Bulls could put together an impressive trade package that I believe Houston would jump on immediately. I know they say they intend to go forward with Harden, but what else should they say? Yeah, the guy's an egotistical ballhog. Anyone interested? Getting a star and first guy in that pecking order always is the formula for NBA success, if not always a title. Houston's had a great run. Take a chance with Harden? The Bulls could use a star, but then so much for that Donovan ball and player movement plan.


Joakim Noah

Art Alenik:

I just read that the Clips will probably waive Noah, and Bill Duffy says that's probably the end of his career. Do we have any exception $$ left? I'll bet Jo would take $1-2MM to be player/coach (mostly coach) for the Bulls. He'd be worth that much just for the inspiration. But he's also a very smart defender, who learned it all from... Billy Donovan. I say player/coach because he still may be able to give you a few Minutes of good defense in spots. But mostly, I'd want him working with all of the bigs on defense & passing….and most of all, I'd just like Jo back with the Bulls. Remote possibility, or total pipe dream? Worth it just for the LeBron insults.

Sam Smith:

Total remote pipe dream impossibility. Jo spending another winter in Chicago? I don't think so. Especially since whenever I see pictures of him lately he's somewhere in Hawaii. Jo pushed himself to get back after serious injuries for the last gasp chance to be with a title contender. Not to blame Jo, but it was obvious from the playoffs the Clippers had big internal issues which were discussed again in an Athletic story recently. But it was clear from the playoffs the blue collar guys who so overachieved the previous season and seemed so bonded resented the superstars taking over. It is a more common dynamic than fans realize. Fans lobby for that free agent superstar. And while a star is the only reliable ticket to a championship parade, the mix is difficult unless everyone agrees to fall in line behind the star and let him make the new rules. Kawhi and Paul George obviously were load managing themselves last season with their long and frequent absences. So you tell the other guys to hold down the fort and we'll take over in the playoffs and be the stars? At one time Jo might have had enough clout and voice to step in and help. No more. He went to LA in a last shot at being on a title team, missing from his pro resume. Many also don't realize how difficult an assistant coach's job is for what is a lot of money for the rest of us but not so much for being in the NBA. Assistants generally work much harder (and longer hours) than the head coach in preparing for games, scouting, working out players. And then crediting everything to the head coach. Not that Jo's ego is a problem, but after more than $100 million of NBA earnings and an insouciant craving for life experiences, I can't see Jo in the film room breaking down Luke Kornet's post moves. Let's just have our memories.


Joakim Noah

Jason Kuang:

I'm sure you're typing this up for an article already, but wanted to ask what your favorite story about Noah from his Bulls days? Miss those Thibs Bulls and am excited to see what he can do for the Knicks.

Sam Smith:

As for Thibs, it's going to be a frustrating season. The Knicks have by far the worst roster in the NBA. And based on the assistant hirings, it seems Thibs had little to do with many of them, which is going to make for a dysfunctional staff. Maybe they like it better that way in New York. Thibs could really help them if they get him talent since he is an elite coach. But it looks to me like they may be setting him up to fail with Mike Woodson looking over his shoulder as an inevitable replacement. About Jo. There was Noah's famous paean to the fans which was one of the best things I've ever heard from an athlete to explain the relationship. "I feel when I come to the game and see the guys selling newspapers on the street and it's cold outside, he sees me driving and he's excited. He's like, ‘Let's go Bulls. Get it done tonight.' I feel I play for that guy. I look in the arena when the team calls a timeout and see this guy who looks this big jumping up and down. That's the guy I play for." There was that winning steal and dunk in the third overtime against Boston in the playoffs, a Defensive Player of the Year award, top five in MVP voting, a hustle player with the worst shot this side of Charles Barkley's golf swing, the only guy to play defense an entire All-Star game. Irwin Mandel, the Bulls genius salary cap expert and chief financial officer for decades, kept seven game memento balls in his office, six for the championships and another for Noah's Game 7 in the 2013 playoffs when the Bulls were playing merely for the second round and an injured Noah who wasn't even supposed to play carried a decimated Bulls team and dominated the Nets with scoring, rebounding, blocks, hustle and the cliched heart we always ascribed for him. It was was of the greatest performances in franchise history from a player not supposed to do that. I doubted the gangly collegian with the bozo hair style when I first saw him play for the Bulls. He became everything you hope for your team.


Joakim Noah

Jay Burger:

Do you think the Bulls will/should retire Joakim Noah's number?

Sam Smith:

I don't think they will, and at least for now they should not as there's a growing list of those who deserve it more. The Bulls haven't been very interested in recognizing the past that way, and this isn't a good season to do so without fans. Maybe the new guys will intercede. Horace Grant and Toni Kukoc for their roles with the franchise and the championship seasons (no, not Rodman who was a mercenary and has a jersey retired where he became a Hall of Famer in Detroit), Chet Walker from the 70s Bulls and Artis Gilmore for the late 70s/80s. Both are Hall of Famers who spent significant time with the Bulls. And Norm Van Lier, who represented what the fan' believe the franchise should be about. So perhaps it could be awhile to get around to Noah, but in Noah's era Derrick Rose always was the better and more decorated player.


Garrett Temple and Bradley Beal

Mike Crosswell:

As a recovering Wizards fan, I'm happy to see three former Wizards good guys on the Bulls – unselfish, team oriented players. And also a former Tar Heel. I'll be rooting for them. o you have any judgments about which NBA teams are stronger or weaker on team chemistry and character?

Sam Smith:

The Wizards? Though I've never been much of a Westbrook fan, what a great trade for the Wizards. I can't imagine how John Wall is going to coexist with James Harden, though Wall does pass better than Westbrook. Not sure anyone really can play with Harden, either, the way he pounds the ball. And while the reports are Wall looks healthy, it's difficult to imagine him enduring a season after serious knee, foot and Achilles injuries. Difficult to play with those lower extremity issues. Yes, Westbrook has had some knee surgeries, but the Achilles is the worst. I fear for Klay Thompson's career. Suddenly the Wizards left for dead have some young shooters and Bradley Beal to put around the intense Westbrook and thus making the East a lot stronger. As for chemistry and character, it seems difficult to top Miami these days. Heck, they even got Jimmy to embrace the young guys.


Gordon Hayward

John Petersen:

It might be argued that the Wizards want Westbrook to fill the stands but with the virus it's difficult to grasp the logic. Advantage Houston. What was the motivation for Boston to do a sign and trade with Gordon Hayward and the Hornets?

Sam Smith:

Like Gandhi told me, "Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress." Yes, OK, Fred Gandhi. The other one said it first? I don't get what Houston is doing—Houston, we have a…,OK, enough of that one—but it seems like everyone has left for a space walk. It can't be coincidence the coach, GM and all the main guys they traded for in recent years wanted out of there. It can't be just the humidity. As for the Celtics, yes I know Ainge still is a genius. But whatever happened to all those draft picks from the Nets trade that were supposed to mean four titles? Don't blame Danny. Draft picks sound much better than they play, for the most part. It's generally a while before you see many in the conference finals. I never understood why Hayward wanted out of Utah, where they loved him and he owned the ball. Sure tough injuries, and then his high school college sweetheart coach makes him fourth option. Put him in, coach! With a year left and Hayward obviously ready to leave, I guess it made sense to get something. And like with Al Horford, getting a free agent doesn't necessarily equate with winning ultimately.


Coby White

Joe Caruso:

Why is the media so fixated on who's the starting "point guard" and why are coaches so reluctant to answer the question? Not every great team even has a traditional point guard in the John Stockton or Magic Johnson mode anyway. Maybe a "floor general" is a more appropriate position of need? Scottie Pippen, LeBron James, Jamal Murray, Steph Curry, James Harden, Giannis, Donavan Mitchell can be considered primary ball handlers who the offense moves thru. So why does it matter if Coby White is technically a "point guard"? It seems like there's some mystical honor and responsibility if you're dubbed with that position title. I'm not comparing Coby to those guys, but hopefully you get my gist.

Sam Smith:

Otherwise we couldn't fill out the All-Star ballot. Remember Jerry West? As a player? He was a shooting guard. Who led the NBA in assists. His "point guard" later was Gail Goodrich, who couldn't dribble as well as West. We used to call them guards and forwards; not points and small and power, so perhaps we're getting back to that. Cousy was a passer, but some of the top guards of those eras, like West and Robertson and Archie Clark and Lou Hudson, Dave Bing, Calvin Murphy and Isiah Thomas were big time scorers. It enables us to give out more awards, and you know Americans love to honor themselves. I'm excited to see how it works with Coby and Zach and who and how they figure it out.


Otto Porter

Alejandro Yegros:

When Donovan was asked about concerns, he said Otto's health is the "most important aspect" for the season. However, whenever I hear Bulls answer a question like "who has impressed you with work ethic or play or showing up" the name Otto Porter Jr never comes up. If the most important factor is OPJ's dependability, sounds like it's going to be another long season. Should I start looking at 2021 draft prospects? I hear they're good.

Sam Smith:

They are supposed to be good, but again they are teenagers. C'mon, enjoy the season. I really do think it will be a fun one to watch, good health permitting from both injury and virus. Donovan hasn't been as certain about the starting lineup as the rest of us have, though we probably don't have as much input as he does. What I took from Donovan's concerns was perhaps Otto won't start. After all, what's Porter going to say as an upcoming free agent. When it gets down to it, he's usually a team guy. It might be a time to give someone else a look. There's not much camp or preseason to make a true judgment. Maybe throw the rookie in there? After all, they're not exactly playing for home court. And by then the NBA could be back in a bubble, anyway. Maybe Hutchison is who he says he is now. It's not like anyone but Zach really has earned a starting spot after last season.


Billy Donovan and Mo Cheeks

Bobby Grbevski:

It seems to me the Bulls will attempt more threes next year. They were 11th last year in attempts, but at the bottom in team three-point percentage. Now, if the Bulls can improve their three-point percentage and stay healthy, and based on the moves Arturas made it seems he prioritizes shooting, do you think they make the playoffs? I don't believe there's a player here that will be hesitant to let it fly, expect maybe Carter Jr. who by the way looked very good in shooting practice the other day and I believe Donovan will urge him to shoot the ball more than Boylen did. I do expect this team to improve defensively and be more disciplined on defense under Donovan and Cheeks. The East have gotten better, especially with the Wizards now being in the mix for the playoff spot as well.

Sam Smith:

That's right, be a three point maker team more than taker. They did increase their number of attempts last season, which we often criticized Boylen about. And actually Donovan's teams haven't been that adept with the three, though that's part of having had Russell Westbrook. I agree about the defensive discipline, though Boylen's trapping schemes had the team top 10 in defense before injuries. He wasn't doing everything wrong! I had the Bulls fifth last season. Don't ask me.


Doug Collins and Michael Jordan

Vince Gerace:

Growing up in Chicago and being a Bulls fan from their inception, I remember when Doug Collins was the Bulls coach, he would make substitutions and would practically substitute all 5 players. With the Bulls being as deep as they are why don't they try to do the same thing with the emphasis on a constant motion offense (Steph Curry). This would give the players the energy to work a constant motion offense utilizing their athleticism with idea of creating easier scores coming off picks, etc. Playing as almost two teams would give them the ability for each team to gel together as well. What they may lack in not having a true number 1 would be offset by their depth. I think they'd wear their opponents out. Watching the Bulls there's too much standing around on the offensive end which limits their shot selection.

Sam Smith:

I don't expect the standing around from last season, but that concept doesn't work in the NBA, and certainly is less likely this season with expected quarantine absences and the expanded rosters the league is allowing. One of Doug's problems was he was smarter than most of his players. He saw plays and situations developing multiple sequences ahead and would adjust plays and players for that. The players often couldn't keep up, and often didn't care to. Rick Pitino tried to bring that to the Boston Celtics. They told him to take it back to college. As nice as it sounds, NBA players don't do the relay race lineups. The season is too long, there are too many games in too short a time. And it leads to injury. College seasons and games are shorter. And especially now more than ever with highly paid free agents who often set team agenda or warn they won't come if your team plays like that, no one would even try. It's also why Curry and Thompson were so unique and special. It's why you can't copy success. They're successful because they're special. Everyone tried to get a 6-9 point guard to match the Lakers. They all failed because there was one Magic. Similarly, you can't shoot like Curry and Thompson, who grew their games passing and moving and shooting. Remember when Thompson took like 13 dribbles to get 60 points? You either are that or you're not. Billy Donovan is going about this right, examining what they are and adjusting to that.


Patrick Williams

Mike Sutera:

Do you miss being at camp?

Sam Smith:

Not so much training camp since they stopped letting us watch practice a decade ago or so, but I will miss being at the games. I agree with the NBA's policy to insure the best health possible, and frankly I never felt all that comfortable watching the players dress. It truly is a bizarre ritual. It seems for this season—the NBA insists only this season—media isn't permitted at training camp. Media can attend games sitting upstairs instead of courtside or nearby, but without any face to face interviews and even if you are in the arena all interviews by video Zoom. So I'll be home. The fans won't be quite as well served because of the absence of the side comments and peculiarities and peccadilloes that go on around a team, the color that make up its rainbow. It's a small price to pay for now. I haven't eaten this many meals at home since fourth grade.


Patrick Williams

Joe Kraus:

I remain excited by the pick. After all, how often is it that you can draft the guy who drafted Shaq and Penny? That said, I was looking forward to a second coming of Kawhi Leonard type player, someone who could own the perimeter and step into the most obvious small-forward hole on the if-everyone-pans-out starting lineup. I am hearing now, though, that Williams projects more as a power forward, meaning that we might have to settle for Tim Duncan 2.0. If Williams is mostly a four, can you see a lineup where he works alongside WCJ and Lauri? Does that seem a viable frontcourt unit over the long haul? Or, as a tea-leaf reader, should I start wondering which of those two "veterans" is more likely to get moved?

Sam Smith:

Now if this Pat can write a hundredth as many books as that Pat at least he'd have one. For the younger generation, the original Pat Williams was the Bulls GM who built the great early 70s Bulls teams starting with literally bringing Chet Walker with him when Pat came from Philadelphia. Pat was a Bill Veeck acolyte who I think wrestled a bear, or maybe that was Ben Bentley. Pat eventually lost a power struggle to Dick Motta who went on to destroy the team with his abrasive personality and Pat went on to found the Orlando Magic and beat the NBA lottery in consecutive seasons, swaggering riverboat type that he is. We like to project positions in this alleged positionless NBA if only for point of reference. What, should we just call them basketball players? Karnisovas described Patrick like Jerry Krause once described unknown Scottie Pippen, high school point guard, growth spurt, long arms, draft surprise. In Arturas we trust for now, so if he says he'll eventually be a wing defensive forward who can score, why not? I do expect the season long analysis to lead to roster changes next summer. Which ones depends on, you know, the season long analysis. So sit back and watch. Finally.


Taj Gibson

Mike Queensworth:

What do you make of Taj still being unsigned?

Sam Smith:

Jo and Taj-e-woo in one week? Say it ain't so.


Lauri Markkanen

Brian Avers:

I'm a little surprised to feel alone on this - but I believe it was perfectly obvious that Markannen quit on Boylen after that big Game 1 I'd argue to check the tape: he came out aggressive & dominant, showing us everything - he stung his shoulder somewhat, but during that game and through the first several it became painfully obvious that Jim Boylen & Company had zero capacity and/or interest in using Lauri in the offense. I'm never the guy calling for a coaches head, but not only was Boylen's entire approach visibly disastrous - the best player on the team quit on him. I love Lauri as a player, and I think he was justified, frankly. I'm old enough to remember when guards could actually feed the big man with a measure of touch, if not generosity. I believe AK saw how woefully misused Lauri was last year, along with WCJ. I indulge his frustration because I've experienced it in my own life. I'm mostly an actor and the dynamics of my business has parallels to basketball, especially on stage where you have a director (coach) with leads / stars who deserve their extra rope, yet the whole cast (team) needs to be on the same page in order to thrive. Often if the stars and cast are good enough, you can survive bad directing to put out a solid-to-mediocre story, but it's never great. There are very talented people who see right away that this isn't going to work, and they just kind of drift. I always envy the Lauri types. They keep their cool, they let other people act out, self sabotage, draw the attention while they maintain friendships, keep moving on, and when leadership changes, they have success with a different group. This could all add up to a great Bulls year, in my view. Maybe not a playoff success yet, but one of those "good story / team on the rise" type situations. Here's to Bulls romantics everywhere.

Sam Smith:

I suspect Markkanen would argue that, though you are correct (and have a long memory from a short time ago) that it looked like All-Star Lauri to start the season. It's not encouraging if he did give up, which I'm not convinced he did, because that would suggest lacking the will to endure difficult situations. We've all bad bad bosses (and directors), but you need to rise above that and owe it to yourself to produce a great performance. Whatever the situation, I believe Lauri will get a full chance to show who he is now with an attentive coach and discriminating management. There'll be no excuses after this season. It was time for a change, as the ownership obviously agreed. I also agree they'll be better, or at least where the talent suggested they should have been last year, though—excuse warning here—there were those injuries.


LaMelo Ball

Brendan Greeley:

Why does it seem like pundits are always seeking ways to rip Michael Jordan? Charlotte paid top dollar for a former All-Star. Gordon Hayward plays both ends and could end up being great for them. How is $120 million for Hayward and no players worse than $105 million plus giving up Myles Turner and Doug McDermott? How is it worse than $85 million and Kelly Oubre for 2 years of just as injured and much older Chris Paul? Will the Suns be better? Probably. Will they get out of the 1st round? Doubtful. Will the Hornets be better? Definitely. Possibly an 8 seed. Plus, we saw tape of LaMelo when surrounded by subpar players down under. Maybe having Hayward will keep Ball from launching 40-foot bricks. 


Sam Smith:

You're right as many condemned the signing. I don't. The Hornets have made some poor signings and drafts, and there's some of the normal put-him-in-his-place backlash when you are universally called the greatest. Ali was hardly the favorite then he became. But it was worth the risk to me for the Hornets. Hayward clearly wanted a chance to be a more dominant factor and free agents don't much go to Charlotte. Unless vastly overpaid. Yes, you can always get decent free agents for star salaries. Hayward has had a bunch of injuries, but they were not the ACL/Achilles disasters. He's skilled and never relied on great athletic ability. I'm surprised he (or Boston) didn't want to work out something in trade/signing with Indiana, which clearly wanted him. In terms Jordan best understands these days, he finally didn't shank and end up with a double. He striped this one.


Arturas Karnisovas

William Blanco:

If Albert Einstein was alive he will say: "Arturas, your are crazy man!" To me, bringing the same team is not that crazy as people may think. The plan is clear. Evaluate your current roster and if it doesn't work (as expected by most) your are in a position to possibly getting Cade Cunningham plus you will have cap space to spare. My only suggestion is that they should extend Zach Lavine for at least 3 more years. Without the extension, he would leave the Bulls on 2022. Also his trade value diminishes.

Sam Smith:

He might not have as he also never actually said what he's most attached to: "Insanity Is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Einstein despite rumors to the contrary was relatively interested in also inventing the basketball front office, for he did say; "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." And "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new." And "A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be," that actually being good coaching advice. I considered him less a genius for his theories, which I couldn't understand, but I have lived by what I consider his most profound moment, when he observed: "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."


Billy Donovan

Fotis Dorizas:

Well adding a lottery pick this year, that will need 3 years to develop to a team, that has been a lottery team for the last 3 years. Isn't going to be competitive. While, I like Billy. He doesn't walk on water.

Sam Smith:

Jeez, can't we just enjoy the week or two before we have to start adding up the score?

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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