Ask Sam Mailbag: Questions about new Bulls roster, style of play, and more

Sam Smith returns with his mailbag as Bulls training camp is in full swing
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

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Will Pennix:

I am astonished by the assembly of players AKME have been able to put together for this season. I noticed a trend in the resume of the current roster. Of the 14 players currently under contract 5 of them have direct ties to LA: LaVine (UCLA), Ball (UCLA, born in Anaheim), Derozan (USC, born in LA), Vucevic (USC), Caruso (Lakers). 5 of them have a direct connection to NC/VA: White (UNC, born in NC), Williams (born in NC), Bradley (UNC), Dotson (born in NC), Green (Radford, born in VA). 2 of them have a direct connection to Vegas: Brown (born in Vegas), Jones (UNLV). Ironically the odd man out is Dosunmu who is the only native Chicagoan. Do we have a potential east coast/west coast division in the locker room similar to the hip hop war of the 90's? I make this point to illustrate the lack of insurmountable flaws I see in this roster. The Bulls may not have the true superstar power of the Nets and Lakers but I am very optimistic they will finish top 3 or 4 in the east. The 2004 Pistons were able to overcome their lack of superstar power why can't the 2021-22 Bulls?

Sam Smith:

You also may have too much time on your hands. Though I will admit I'm rarely aware of the current trends in Hip Hop. But we do agree on the roster construction. I feel like it's better than basically pretty much everyone is suggesting. Which does concern me some since sometimes you're too close and believe things are better than they are. Though when teams haven't done well in recent years they're generally dismissed until they do well. Similarly with players. It's why players generally make the All-Star game a year late. If you haven't, it doesn't seem you can until you do. Both Steph Curry and Damian Lillard were examples of that year later. Same with teams like the Suns. Now everyone has them top four. Last year hardly anyone had them top eight. Same roster. The sense is it may take awhile for this Bulls team to come together with so many new players. I don't think so given the veterans they have. The newly-constituted 2004-05 Bulls started 0-9 and won 47 games. I see this Bulls team in that high 40s and maybe 50-win category, too, Which would be top four or five. So far I don't seem to have much company in my projections. and those darn gamblers get it right too often. They're saying 41.5. Let's just not say the Bulls want to emulate the Pistons.


Ben Simmons

Daniel Slesnick:

Rumor has it that Ben Simmons requested a trade to Chicago. I like what we have and if I was in charge I'd stay away from Simmons. But I can understand the argument that more stars are better than less. So out of curiosity I fired up the Trade Machine to see what a Simmons to the Bulls trade could look like. This is about all I could figure out without giving up any of our 4 best players: Simmons for Coby, Pat, Jones & Brown. Does Simmons, with his combination of talent and baggage, even make the Bulls any better?

Sam Smith:

We'll never quite know with the new management since Karnisovas is even better than Krause in hiding his intentions. But what I heard about this is Simmons's "people" apparently asked for a trade when they were IN Chicago. Not To Chicago. During all the pre-draft stuff when executives get together. That makes more sense. Now that said, I like Simmons more than most. I never got all this crazy stuff on it being some felony passing up a dunk since I watch guys drive to the basket eight times a game and pass up a layup to throw it to someone 23 feet away in the corner. It's also what makes the NBA great, that there's always one of these dramas going on. Holdouts have become rare in the NBA, though they were once common. Dick Motta in 1975 said the Bulls lost the title because two players held out and cost the team home court advantage. No, he was not a player friendly coach. Simmons—at least give him credit for that—is standing by his word. He's not playing for the 76ers. And it's much easier to hold out in this era given Simmons collected $30 million last year. The 76ers are holding out for a lot, which they can for now. They'll eventually have to fold and take a good guard who can shoot, like D'Angelo Russell. Simmons doesn't seem to be pushing himself to fill out a Big 3. He's just 25 and seems to want his own team, like Giannis, to build around him and put up with a few years of losing. If I were Oklahoma City, I'd give them Gilgeous-Alexander and a bunch of their picks, of which they have plenty, and maybe even Lu Dort, which might interest Billy Donovan to give up his grandchildren and first born. I used to get a lot of trade Zach mail for Simmons. Not anymore. Zach's better because he can shoot. Big thing in the NBA these days. The Bulls without first round picks from trades and without giving up LaVine aren't getting Simmons. I certainly wouldn't. Plus, we also know Simmons is someone not afraid to not show up.


Stanley Johnson

Doug Uding:

I see we added, what are called a couple defensive specialists in Alize Johnson and Stanley Johnson, and Tyler Cook as well. Stanley Johnson, I've had some idea about. Tyler Cook shoots his free throws at about 20% lower than his field goal %. He needs to get with Rick Barry and start shooting his free throws underhanded. I saw Rick Barry interviewed on ESPN. They, of course, asked him about his unusual free throw style. He brought up a story that he worked with a well known, but poor free throw shooting, NBA player over one Summer. By the end of the Summer the player was shooting his free throws really well. But when the season started, the player reverted back to his old free throw shooting ways, because he told Barry he was embarassed to shoot underhanded. On Alize Johnson, my first impression was "Wow, he looks just like Jimmy Butler." Then I saw his PER. His PER is 6 points higher than Jimmy B, two years before Jimmy entered superstardom. And that year JB's PER was like .2 off of Kobe Bryant. OK, maybe i'm dreamin big here.

Sam Smith:

This is the time for big dreams. They're still undefeated. Of course, better watch out Tuesday for the Lauri/Denzel revenge game. I've heard Rick tell that one before, and it's true. I think he tried to get Shaq to try, but one reason some of the big guys tend to shoot free throws poorly is they don't like to be stared at: That lifetime thing about how's the weather up there. Of course, Wilt did try underhand and still was 50 percent. I'll admit I'd never heard of Alize. And I watched the Pacers. He does bear some resemblance Jimmy, but I suspect he'll have a lot of the issues Jimmy had early on with the Bulls. No place to play.


Lonzo Ball

Joe Tanner:

What are your thoughts on the Bulls playing style this year? Donovan slowed it down a bit last year with the addition of Vucevic, but with DeRozan, Ball & LaVine in the starting lineup, it seems like moving back to a more uptempo style is the best call.

Sam Smith:

And that's what Billy said to start training camp, and in theory he was correct, that Lonzo is best in transition and Zach and DeRozan can finish. But every team in camp says they'll run. Then the season begins and everyone gets back quickly on defense (hardly anyone goes to the offensive boards anymore) and players begin pacing themselves for the playoffs with back to backs and all that. I'm sure the Bulls pace will increase because it slowed so much after the big man acquisitions last season. But teams that run generally do so out of half court defense with turnovers. Lonzo's the only Bulls starter in the top 100 in steals last season. Plus, it's a process to get players like LaVine and DeRozan accustomed to bringing up the ball to release to take the defense with them. It took the Bulls years to get Jordan to do it, which is why Scottie Pippen became so valuable. Finally, Jordan began to trust someone so as not to go back for the ball all the time. Though that's a lot of responsibility for Ball. It's why if I were the Bulls I'd run my players hard in camp like Auerbach used to with the Celtics. As I recall, they didn't scrimmage the first week of camp. Of course, collective bargaining rules don't allow those two-a-days anymore. With a soft first week, this Bulls team could get off to a quick start, and if they work to be in better shape than anyone they can get a jump on a lot of top teams with issues (76ers with Simmons, Nets with Kyrie, Bucks short offseason). Confidence and momentum even in the NBA can breed success. Because this Bulls team has some potential flaws in lack of rebounding (which makes transition more difficult) and defense with the starters, they could outrun the weaknesses if they are committed. It's a big commitment few teams ever are able to accomplish. That first week might actually tell us a lot.


Alize Johnson driving during Training Camp

Tom Plonowski:

I really like Johnson & Johnson. I've been a supporter of acquiring Stanley Johnson in years past, although he still has not panned out. I feel like Alize Johnson is the better signing here. He had some nice performances. He is a power forward, undersized, but a power forward. I hardly consider DeRozan and Jones Jr. wings, as I think they are natural two guards, but if you are playing run and gun in spurts that's where high flyers like these guys can be utilized well in those small lineups. My question here is how does White fit into all of this when he returns to play? I get teams put up a lot of points these days, but with Vucevic, DeMar, LaVine - all those guys will likely average 20 plus points per game, and you will have Ball and Williams chip in at least ten points and more a game. That's over 80 points coming from the starting line up alone. Minutes will also be an issue with the depth. The Bulls could move along with the trade exception with a player like White. I wonder what the Bulls could ask for in return and what they'd be looking to fill?

Sam Smith:

I'm hopeful about the Johnsons, though more for the baby powder jokes. Donovan made it clear last season he likes a tight, consistent rotation of nine and maybe 10. So there's the five starters and Caruso. Then you need some size, perhaps Bradley. White would make eight with room for one more regular with full health, of course. Which we know never occurs. But in many respects White could be one of the team's most valuable players. Donovan likes to mix lineups in rotations, so the starters won't stay together all game. But as much offense as the starters potentially have, the reserves without White might not be able to combine for 10 points. White could be crucial with all the bench units as a designated scorer and shooter, and I don't see the Bulls looking to move him. Unless they could get a scorer like Coby White.


Toni Kukoc

Marc Dadigan:

Of course, Kukoc would be a better fit in today's game as a stretch 4. But after watching a bunch of old mid-90s games, do you think Phil really used him to his full potential? I came away from a lot of games thinking Kukoc should have had the ball more.

Sam Smith:

Well, he did finally make the Hall of Fame. And the Bulls will honor him late in October, so it's worked out. Phil actually knows he didn't use him to his full potential. When I told Phil that I was going to Toni's Hall of Fame enshrinement he told me that he fears Toni is still mad at him for bringing him off the bench (Toni wasn't). Phil knew, but he also knew like with Horace in the first three peat that Toni was one of the tougher guys (media generally mistake toughness in sports for the physical side) and he could yell at Toni to make a point to Scottie and Toni wouldn't be affected. Similarly, Phil understood—and his understanding of human nature was perhaps what separated him as a coach as it does with Popovich and did with Auerbach—he could plug Toni in at various spots to help the team. Toni did start some 100 games those three seasons with Rodman's and Pippen's absences, and he subtly was part of that first ever "Death Lineup" the Warriors and Steve Kerr adopted when Toni substituted for Longley. You just had to be paying attention. But don't feel badly; it took the Hall of Fame a long time to figure it out as well.


Ayo Dosunmu

John Chenko:

Is Ayo Steven Bardo? 6'5" athletic defends not a great shooter, never made it in the league

Sam Smith:

Oh yeah, that. Bardo was more of a support player, though it obviously was a far more talented Illinois team. True Bardo was the top Big 10 defender, but didn't have the ability to run a team like Ayo did. Bardo actually shot pretty well, but wasn't a scorer to create and get his shot in the NBA. Though Ayo's shot needs work, he seems to have a knack for running a team and dictating pace that works well in the NBA. Not quite Chris Paul, but there's a talent there. Bardo just didn't have that one great NBA skill to carry him. But he did play professionally for a decade.


DeMar DeRozan

Pete Zievers:

DeRozan says all the right stuff and I believe he means it. But LaVine is a well meaning guy and I'm sure back in the day Sherman Douglas and Ronnie Lester meant well, too. But none of those guys could find an open guy in traffic with Madame Helga's psychic powers much less with what they played with. Nice players are nice players but Larry Bird and Isiah are Larry Bird and Isiah. Bulls better not be expecting DeRozan and LaVine to do much more than finish. Good news here: both those guys can finish and DeRozan gets to the line, too. That's good stuff. The real trick here is to see if Vucevic can distribute. That would help - they need that second pass with this group. Maybe Williams will grow that way. I believe he's got some buried talent in that area; maybe the game was just too fast for him as a rookie.

Sam Smith:

I'm not going to break this to Billy as he seems so happy. We're going now with that DeRozan had his career year in assists thing and that Popovich, of all coaches, decided Zach should be a facilitator in the Olympics. I agree you either are a point guard/forward or you aren't; they don't teach that. So that's why they got Lonzo. And Caruso. I do believe the Bulls spent too much time in recent seasons trying to force players to think pass who never had that much occur to them. Thus the turnovers. Donovan without quite being as blunt as you are has suggested the same thing, that Zach and DeMar get out and run the lanes. It was said in the guise of enhancing Lonzo's game. And I'm not worried so much about potential defensive deficiencies since I see this team as a Nuggets circa 1980s that's going to outscore most teams and just isn't good enough for the elite, as those Nuggets weren't. But those teams averaged about 49 wins in making the playoffs 10 straight seasons. I'd take that for now.


Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic

Brodie Larsh:

Do you think right now is the 1st time an international team 'Team World' could challenge or beat an all USA Team? Team World would dominate the paint. Team USA has more shooters. What would your top 8ish for each side look like? World could roll out Luka, Gilgeous Alexander, Siakim, Giannis and Embiid with Jokic, Simmons, and Wiggins? off the bench USA would probably roll out Curry, Beal, Lebron, Durant and.. Anthony Davis? With Levine, Dame, and Towns? Off the bench

Sam Smith:

Now that would be a Dream Team matchup. The 1992 Dream Team was nice for American egos, but it hardly was the greatest team ever with Bird broken down, Magic still fighting HIV and out of basketball a year, Stockton instead of Isiah and Clyde Drexler still unable to dribble and look up. Plus, Europe was at war with the best teams, like Yugoslavia's, broken up and not competing. They've done this USA vs the World thing in the rookie game for a few years, as if that matters. But now the worlds, as you note, would have the league MVP, Finals MVP and Most Exciting Player, though the latter is not an official award. Though pairing Embiid and Simmons could give the U.S. their edge back. Actually, that's the midseason tournament the NBA should play instead of its plan for some sort of elimination thing.


Arturas Karnisovas

Jay Burger:

I have been really impressed with the new management regime's willingness to make big moves and create a new culture. I always found it odd that Chicago, one of the NBA's largest markets, has not historically been a FA destination. I attributed this mostly to the weather, because as a diehard Bulls' fan I couldn't imagine a player not wanting to join the organization. As time goes I wonder if this lack of FA signings a byproduct of the GarPax culture? They were both acolytes of Jerry Krause who was known for his ambiguous, secretive, some would say combative relationship with players and coaches. Did GarPax bring that same philosophy to the organization and word gets around? Were players just not interested in crappy management that operated in what has become an antiquated management style?

Sam Smith:

I've been impressed also, and I especially love that new management broke up the youth movement (I never get when teams brag about being the third youngest in the league. That's a negative to me). I know we're always fond of demeaning and diminishing who went previously, but it's a high bar for the new management. The last time the Bulls invested seriously in free agency they won 62 games. It's also an urban legend Chicago cannot attract free agents. The Bulls have been certainly in the top 10 franchises, if not top five, in free agent acquisitions in the modern era. They just didn't get the all-NBA, MVP free agents (LeBron, Kawhi, Durant); and they didn't this summer, either. Carlos Boozer was as accomplished as anyone the Bulls added this summer, an All-Star and Olympic gold medal winner who led his team to the conference finals. He just wasn't LeBron or Wade. Ben Wallace, now a Hall of Famer, was coming off four Defensive Player of the Year awards. Who knew he'd decide to retire when he joined the Bulls without letting the rest of us know. Pau Gasol was being recruited by the Spurs when he chose the Bulls. Actually, what Paxson and Forman did in 2010 was similar to what current management did, building a roster with talent. That prior management added Boozer, Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson, Omer Asik and Kurt Thomas and led the league in wins with one All-Star. I'm not suggesting they will again, but it's the despot's Big Lie (tell a falsehood often enough people will believe it) to say the Bulls never attracted free agents of this current level; they often have. The difference with this management was the trades to give up first round picks like for Vucevic and DeRozan (which became a sign and trade) which the prior management never did. I applaud the new group for its creativity and daring and believe the Bulls will be better than most suggest. But don't dismiss the building projects when Paxson first took over (47 wins in his second season) and the reboot after one missed playoffs (consecutive years leading the league in wins with a boatload of free agent signings).


Joel Embiid

Mike Sutera:

Sixers ownership needs to clean house. Top to bottom. It's over. Rebuild. I think after this season Joel asks out. They held on to Ben too long and they can never get back enough value to make them competitive

Sam Smith:

A process can become a problem. It does seem they are teetering. Which may be why they are holding out on Simmons. Maybe pick up on those picks from the Thunder? Embiid did sign a long term extension, but we know how much those things mean. Obviously, it's all about Embiid there, and he could be reaching a point of frustration with his recent Simmons comments (we should have kept Jimmy; ouch), a losing record in the playoffs in four years and never out of the second round. That's what Rivers was brought in for. If this season comes apart, there could be a reassessment. But while Philadelphia was pretty patient with that first rebuild, it doesn't seem like another would be that popular. A Sam Hinkie return?


Patrick Williams

Art Alenik:

I was a bit surprised on media day to hear all the talk about Pat Williams' (lack of) conditioning, but maybe that partially explains his "passiveness" last season. "Fatigue makes cowards of us all." Accredited to Lombardi, but he stole it from Patton. Hey, we can only hope it's more a matter of conditioning than mind-set.

Sam Smith:

It was a point of emphasis in Summer League, too, as the assistant coaches who ran things there were pretty blunt about his problem with sustaining last season. Of course, then they let him stop playing after three games. I can't say I noticed it a lot last season as he was third in minutes played and first in games. My sense was it was more his nature to be a facilitator. After all, who doesn't complain being a sixth man in college when you are one of the nation's top recruits. He apparently didn't and embraced it. I think it's more how he sees the game, but I guess he could have been tired. He didn't get a Summer League or much of a training camp with the late start. And he was the youngest player in the league much of the season. The problem now is with an ankle injury it's hardly ideal for getting in top shape. Maybe he should read some Patton, who once explained, "Attack, attack, and then attack some more."


John Wall

Larry Brodie:

Any thoughts on who could possibly trade for Wall? I've seen Wall, Kevin Porter Jr. and picks for Simmons but I don't know. Send him to Cleveland for Love and Rubio?

Sam Smith:

I forgot about Wall. Looks like he could be on one of those Al Horford stay-at-home seasons. I was actually pretty good in economics because the old comment is true that if you lined up all the economists in the world end to end..they would not reach a conclusion. It's an ideal discipline since no one ever is right. That said—and I admit sometimes I'm not as sensitive about feeding your family as I should be— but here's a guy who's collected (I'd hardly say earned with all his injuries) $200 million in NBA salaries. I know he's owed about $90 million these next two years, but what, not enough? I had my differences with Dwyane Wade, but to his credit he took a healthy buyout after Jimmy Butler was traded to finish his career the way he wanted. It's worth it. It's easier for me to say, but I'm sure the Rockets would take back $30 million or $40 million and Wall could get back to playing. He'd still be getting $25 million a year. And he could finish his career having some fun. Instead of smiling at his bank statements. True, sports careers are short. But in this era there is enough money after a few years to support several generations. You never can replace the games. Wall showed he still can play; too bad if he can't think straight.


Adam Silver

John Leichenko:

No player VAX mandate? Seems to me Silver is making a poor choice here. I hope he changes his mind.

Sam Smith:

There is a common misconception to blame only those in charge at the time. I know, the buck stops here. Though most people prefer it stops there. What we are best at is blaming someone after the results are in. Start a war and throw in a tax cut and watch the economy tank. Right, blame the guy taking over. I get it. You buy a used car the other guy destroyed, but you have to fix it. It's now your responsibility, but not your fault. But blame is an American tradition. You'd think the most knowledgeable people were the ones who call radio shows. It's surprising how many sports team executives and political parties overlook them when looking for expertise. Bud Selig and baseball were blamed for the steroid mess. But it was the players' union using its collective bargaining leverage that prevented testing until Congress got involved. And now players are offended and want to keep out Clemens, Sosa and Bonds from the Hall of Fame as cheaters? I'm generally sympathetic to unions having been on the receiving end as an employee all my life. But I never get defending the five percent of membership over the 95 percent. And so it is with the NBA and the players union. Be clear: Silver and the NBA desperately want vaccines required. Vital for business and all that. Remember last season games called off, players sidelined for weeks. The players union, as in baseball, is the obstruction, protecting the five percent instead of the 95 percent. I understand the need to also protect helpless minorities—as if the NBA has many of them—but what about the greater good? After all, you never can please anyone. A sports union once again is doing a disservice to its membership, if not the game, as it did in baseball. Bud Selig and the owners got the blame then, so maybe they're relying on that American myopia to blame the guys in charge no matter who is responsible. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, hardly a career management sympathesizer, wrote an opinion this week arguing to vaccinate or kick them off the team. So it hardly seems like a radical suggestion. At least Adam Silver and the NBA are on the right side of history.


LiAngelo Ball

Valente Gonzalez:

Is there a chance the Bulls sign LiAngelo Ball to the Windy City Bulls? Since he didn't make the Hornets training camp. I know we have a ton of guards on the main roster, but maybe he can develop more in the G league, also in case of injuries. Plus Lonzo would be excited he's close by.

Sam Smith:

I missed that, though I suppose it makes some sense as he could room with Lonzo and save the Marriott hotel money in Hoffman Estates. He actually looked NBA possible in Summer League. I assume someone gives him a ball.


Sundeep Shah:

There is a lot of chatter about the Bulls and a lot of people talking, criticizing and pontificating about their ceiling being a barely playoff qualifying team. Everyone seems to be missing the point of making these moves: It wasn't to win a championship. These moves were made to become a relevant big market franchise again, given that ESPN, TNT, NBA radio, Slam, the athletic and all major NBA media outlets seem to be breaking down the Bulls roster at every turn it seems to me the mission was accomplished! The Bulls are relevant again no matter what happens this season and that is a huge win.

Sam Smith:

That's a good way of putting it. If people are finally noticing, even if it's to criticize and second guess, that's better than being ignored. First step.

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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