Ask Sam Mailbag: Questions about Theis, new rotations, offseason free agents, and more

Sam Smith responds to your reactions on the new-look Bulls and more.
by Sam Smith
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Harri Ahola:

You ok with the new starting five? Did this fulfill your expectations? I think the reality is we are still very bad... Thad has no 3 point game. Will that be ok? Lauri needed? Defence? Lauri can move better in the perimeter. Neither are blockin shots. Lauri vs Thad. Where is the difference? Please show or tell me. Start Lauri or TY? I want to be positive. Is it likely Donovan can find a "killer" rotation? Zach may not be the best player anymore; is he OK with that?

Sam Smith:

That about covers it. It's apparent there is no new starting five with injuries, new players, bad sleeping posture and various idiosyncrasies. Billy Donovan sounds like he may experiment with matchups and rotations the rest of the season, though as he always says it doesn't matter that much since there are changes throughout the game and different guys finishing. Lauri started again after the one benching, but he didn't finish. Defense has become the big issue for now, which for me probably means starting Daniel Theis with Vucevic. I still prefer Patrick Williams as a power forward, but there doesn't seem to be an ideal shooting wing player. Once Zach returns for scoring, maybe Williams at power forward—I thought how he blocked Ayton and was beat by Booker demonstrated Williams' strengths to the team—with Aminu for defense also at small forward. I don't believe they are bad as much as unfamiliar. I'm actually looking forward to seeing who works with whom. As for Zach, he really is about winning. Like everyone—and I mean everyone in the world!—he wants to have individual success and accomplishments and be acknowledged for them. But he's one of the better team people I've been around. Strong family people often tend to be like that. He's the last guy I worry about. I actually don't worry about a lot of them, but that's a different question.


Lauri Markkanen

Art Alenik:

I think Lauri's days as a Bull may be short. He responded exactly the wrong way to being benched; He became more passive, just as he did when Boylen challenged him. Good kid and lots of talent, but little interest in D. A big change like this mid-season is always difficult. It's even worse this year with the compressed schedule and even less practice time than usual. I'm sure we won't see the new Bulls at their best until next November... and by then, there may be more changes.

Sam Smith:

The Lauri conundrum will be one of many big stories of the offseason. It's a common theme, that he's not what you wished but he may be more than you can afford to lose. We're done making the Dirk comparisons, but perhaps not Galinari, Bertans and Bogdanovic. Big guys who can shoot that well—and Lauri is an excellent shooter—have a lot of value in the NBA. Probably to the Bulls, also, who aren't the greatest with three point shooters to catch and open the floor. Will Markkanen be too expensive? Will he get a big offer sheet? That he's the Bulls free agent means they can exceed the cap to sign him. Though he faded some late against the Suns, he did make a big fourth quarter three out of a timeout on an obvious play and hit the boards a lot harder. I don't believe Hutchison's loss will come back to haunt them. Markkanen's could if it leads to that.


Zach LaVine and Billy Dononvan

Brian Tucker:

I imagine AK is keeping his eye out for a veteran point on the buyout market. I sure would be. I doubt he's looking at bigs after that 2nd trade for Theis (which was an excellent trade). So obviously Drummond is not happening. I'm so happy to not be clamoring for him. More because of what we do have now! The point guard buyouts are slim thus far. I'm not necessarily looking for a big finish to this season. There was this whole pressure for the young core to find itself and make it to the playoffs to prove they are an up and coming team worthy of attracting a bigtime free agent or two. Now with the roster turnover having started earlier than anticipated and having more of a balanced-aged core in place for a future run, the pressure is kinda off. This allows for a subtle shift from developing so many young individuals to developing team chemistry. And getting to focus more on Pat and Coby's individual growth. I have a hunch that Wendell took up a lot of time and effort in that area. Realistically though, I still believe this team will come together to win enough games down the stretch and get that playoff spot. Because at the end of the day, the talent on this team is now more legit, even with the glaring weaknesses that remain. Even amidst this current losing streak, it just feels like we're winning. So I am keeping calm.

Sam Smith:

Calm is good. Though I believe your points are salient. Not so much the pressure is off because they do want—and probably need—at the very least a playin game or two to experience that. It also helps to at least be mentioned among that top 10. Which also is one reason the buyout market probably is out. The main one is they have so many new players now not playing and as they repeat no practice time and lots of games. So it makes little sense to add someone else. Plus, it's not likely players looking for a playoff run are going to take a chance on a team hanging onto 10th. Not so much the schedule turns in April into May, but the Bulls get so many more games against the group of teams they are contesting they could make up three or four games easily (of course or go the other way) and move up a few spots. Toronto is the curious one with a roster far superior than its record. Could Hutch with the Wizards knock out the Bulls? Oh no!


Goran Dragic

Fred Robinson:

Considering the fact that the Miami Heat just traded for Victor Olidipo it is not lost on me that they also opted to keep Kendrick Nunn and Goran Dragic. Is there a possibility Dragic is available this summer and what scenario could bring him to the Bulls? Nikola Vucevic and Daniel Thies in particular would be a perfect fit for Dragic's skill set. I can also envision Patrick Williams' game flourishing with him at the point. My intrigue derived from the fact that Dragic's play elevated Hassan Whiteside's game to near All Star recognition. He is 34 years old and certainly could not be viewed as a long term solution. But because he is on the downside of his career I submit he might be a cheap option.

Sam Smith:

I'm not sure how cheap. The Heat has a $19 million option on him for next season, though you assume the trade for Oladipo suggests that deal is done. I long loved Dragic's play even if he really doesn't fit what the Bulls needs. He's a tough, hard playing guy who makes clutch shots and gets to the basket. But more of a smaller two than a one, which is Coby White's job.


Spencer Dinwiddie

Victor Devaldivielso:

If Spencer Dinwiddie recovers well... He has a player option for 21-22. I would imagine he would opt out since he'd be coming off the bench for the Nets. Do you see the Bulls being interested? Or is it not worth pursuing him because of his history of injuries?

Sam Smith:

They did have faith in him when no one else did, though not enough as they let him languish with the Windy City Bulls while they tried out other point guards. His story and recovery have been remarkable, and he's not too old. You figure there's no future for him with the Nets, who can just do buyouts the rest of the run until the league bans that biased practice. He's more of a scorer, but I do like him to run a team. I wouldn't be opposed to taking a chance, though with the ACLs, off course, it would be a risk. Plural ACLs while possible, aren't great. He's a heck of an interesting guy the way he tried to open bit coin investments into himself. Maybe he and Vucevic could explain it to me.


Arturas Karnisovas

Wayne Warner:

Any insight on AK thoughts on readiness for Marko Simonovic to be on roster next season

Sam Smith:

No, other than with Denver eventually deciding between Jokic and Nurkic and his first big move to get Vucevic, the Bulls are investing big in European bigs. I haven't seen him play and Karnisovas hasn't spoken about him at all. Given his size and the way he plays, he reminds me most of a Mirotic type of player, and given his age I don't imagine he's destined for the Bulls for at least another year.


Orlando Magic NBA Draft hat

Steven Monk:

Are draft picks overrated in the NBA? I watch a lot of NBA and it seems like most teams are littered with first round draft picks that aren't useful. Either they are 19 years old and learning the game because they were one and done in college or they have been in the league for a few years and never really developed as their teams had hoped. NBA guys are talking excitedly about the Magic getting the Bulls' first round draft picks in the future and those picks seem like an unlikely crap shoot to me. Maybe it's better to pay more for an established player.

Sam Smith:

Draft picks are somewhat overrated when they are not LeBron or Durant. When they are, they are very good things to have. Remember, every great player at one time was drafted. It's just the long odds that are the problem. A draft hit like the Bucks recently for Giannis or the Bulls with Pippen can carry an executive for a decade. But most of the time it's hoping for the next great one. Just as an exercise, take a look at say the top 10 picks in eight drafts from 2010 to 2017, the latter perhaps long enough back for a player to make an All-Star team. That's 80 players. You've got two franchise players, Embiid and Anthony Davis, though perhaps it's a stretch with Davis as the Pelicans rarely made the playoffs with him. Then perhaps a dozen second tier franchise players, All-Stars but not huge winners, like Ben Simmons, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Brandon Ingram Jalen Brown, Karl-Anthony Towns, Bradley Beal, Jamal Murray, Julius Randle and Jayson Tatum and some players who have since broken down like Kemba Walker, DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall. Still among 80 players that's maybe eight to 10 All-Stars, or about a 10 percent chance of a top 10 pick being an All-Star. Maybe a three percent chance of getting a transcendent star. It's why I liked what the Bulls did. The draft is a lottery. You try it for awhile, but then you better find a job.


Toni Kukoc

Jeff Lichtenstein:

I didn't remember the last time the Bulls didn't pick in the first round. I looked up and the last time was 1990 and don't remember who they traded the pick to or for. Kukoc was the 2nd pick of the 2nd round. I remember they renounced Travis Knight in an unusual move.

Sam Smith:

The Bulls have been one of the teams that values firsts more than most. And given that's how they got Jordan and Derrick Rose you can understand. The Kukoc draft, though much maligned at the time including by Bulls players, was one of the great draft coups. Kukoc will certainly be a Hall of Famer one day. I also don't recall the first that season. Maybe it was a swap to get the high second used for Kukoc as there were all sorts of odd salary cap rules for international players then. The Travis Knight story is perhaps the most unusual, maybe in draft history. During the title years, Phil Jackson and especially Tex Winter, the latter a famed collegiate coach, did not want draft picks on the team. Winter always counseled Jackson, "You win with men." Plus the Bulls were always picking near the bottom of the first round. So it became more an academic exercise for GM Jerry Krause to perhaps find a steal like Kukoc. They took Knight in 1996 and released him shortly after the draft instead of giving him the required three-year rookie guarantee. You don 't see that much. Imagine the social media take on that one. Anyone seen Jordan Bell lately? But who was criticizing the '96 Bulls? The story of that pick was the Bulls wanted a player from Houston, which was selecting No. 30 right after the Bulls. The Bulls had word if they selected the player Houston wanted at No. 29, the Rockets would make the deal. So the Bulls staff tried to figure out whom Houston wanted. The consensus became Knight. Wrong. So he was cut. The Bulls, nevertheless, still did OK in 1997 and 1998.


Kyle Lowry

Martin Skelly:

I really like what the Bulls did at the trade deadline. Its a shame they maybe didn't have an easier run to kick start the new look team but I'm sure things will click when LaVine gets back. I was just reading about Kyle Lowry and as a free agent in the summer (?) do you think he could be tempted to play for the Bulls for a couple of years? The fit seems too good to be true with contracts, LaVine and Vooch, and filling the gap at PG. whats your thoughts is this just a pipe dream?

Sam Smith:

I'd certainly be interested. I've always been a big Lowry fan. He's sort of the Sugar Ray Robinson of basketball, the toughest pound for pound. Good team guy, can make a three, knows how to run a team. Big game player, at least lately. It obviously depends on cost and his interests as a free agent. Again, Toronto's direction with their team president also a free agent complicates things. Lowry's one of my top point guard free agents along with Mike Conley and Lonzo Ball. I saw some reports Dennis Schroder was possible. I suppose anyone is possible, but he's more of a scorer. Tough guy, good player, already turned down $21 mil for four years. Wow.


Al-Farouq Aminu

Stian Nordvik:

Coach Donovan has left Aminu out for the last two games despite a near guarantee 10 points and 7 rebounds from him in limited minutes. I base this on the fact of the player he was in Portland and the last games he had before being traded from Orlando coming back from injury. I did watch Portland a lot when he was there, and he was by far their 3rd option scoring. He is a very good player, might be our best power forward in front of Young and Markannen. The lack of offensive rebounds are together with turnovers and the lack of man to man defense the reasons the Bulls are not top 4 in the East. With Markannen and Williams at the 3 there should be a position for Aminu at the 4 with Young. I know this is a stupid and unessessary question, but as I have no good answers as to why Aminu is not playing I have to ask you. Are they tanking?

Sam Smith:

That certainly would be a good idea with no draft pick. Yes, there's some protection and if the Bulls miss the playoffs and get lottery luck they still could have a relatively high pick, I believe. But that's really, really, really long odds. No, Billy Donovan made clear early playing Young, Satoransky and Temple so much he believed experiencing winning was his development plan. Again, Billy's in the lab. If Aminu was Portland's third option that does explain why they never went anywhere. If he shot better you could play him at small forward, but there's still a bunch of those at power forward with Markkanen, Theis, Young and perhaps Patrick Williams. Donovan has been trying out Troy Brown. With team defensive inadequacies, Aminu could be next since while Donovan has been worrying about the defense, he's been playing more offensive oriented lineups lately. Maybe we'll see some Theis with Aminu. It's fluid and with just three games I assume Donovan has much more of this to experience. I agree with what he's doing. Sure, try to win the games, but see how it works because there is time to make a run in a few weeks if they don't get buried.


Malcolm Brogdon

Dan Timmerberg:

Would a Brogdon trade still have been feasible for the Bulls even after upgrading the bigs?

Sam Smith:

I recall fans writing me and saying the Bulls should sign Brogdon and I was saying sure, but no way Milwaukee could let him go. I said something similar about Orlando and Vucevic. They were both wrong. But you never know what teams are thinking, what owners have told them about the luxury tax or salary cap, what doctors have said. Brogdon was red flagged in his draft for foot issues. Again. I wouldn't see why Indiana would move him. But he still has two more years at more than $20 million, and the Bulls don't really have anything to match that anymore without some sign and trade deals that don't seem feasible. Yes, there I go again.


Lauri Markkanen

Frederick Ong:

I was so happy last week hearing the news of the Bulls trading for Vucevic. I believe the Bulls will be a much better team even though they are struggling right now. How much do the Bulls exactly have to offer a free agent this coming offseason? Please detail the different scenarios and possibilities regarding cap space. Most especially please explain how Markannen's situation/scenarios will affect cap space. I believe it has become a much better time to be a Bulls fan.

Sam Smith:

Well, it's complicated. A lot is. With taking Vucevic for Otto Porter, much of the cap room has gone. The Bulls still could have enough for a significant offer to a player, but it probably would require declining Arcidiacono's option and a buyout out of either Satoransky or Young or both. The two have guarantees for next season at about half their contracts. The cap is set at about $112 million for next season, and with all those guys the Bulls are at about $100 million. Obviously not enough for a big time contract. And that doesn't include Markkanen, who can be brought back above the cap as the Bulls own free agent. Then timing of deals comes in. And then there's the possibility LaVine will want an extension this summer, which would require cap room. The team's core for now seems to be LaVine, Vucevic, Williams and White. Their combined salaries for next season are about $56 million. The Bulls had to take Aminu in the Vucevic deal, which adds about another $10 million. That's $66 million. Young and Satoransky combine for another $24 million if both are kept. Now you may not have enough for a free agent. And that doesn't include free agent Temple or Theis. And then if the Bulls do get their draft pick, that's another $8 million, though they are working hard not to. The short answer is I believe they'll have room for a significant addition. I have no idea how they'll figure it out.


Coby White

Stanley Quinn:

They are 3-7 since benching Coby... I've been kicked out of so many Bulls groups cause I'm a *blind Coby fan*... I told everyone that benching Coby was a bad move. Why would you bench Coby after averaging 20 points in like 9 straight games .... i think they should start Coby again.

Sam Smith:

Anything is possible the way things are going with Donovan's experimentation. Coby has missed the last two injured and I'm not sure of his status for Friday. Markkanen came back to starting and so could White. If he makes shots, limits turnovers and scores, he'll play. Donovan has been consistent about that with everyone. He hasn't started a full season yet, so no one is completely judging him. But he doesn't see the floor well yet for point guard and still plays in too much of a hurry. But I do believe he's a big part of the core moving ahead.


Daniel Theis

Guy Danilowitz:

Would love to see Thad starting with Vooch, Lauri, Sato and Zach. Then bring the kid Williams off the bench with Theis up front and White, Temple, Valentine/Brown in the backcourt and wings!

Sam Smith:

Trade roulette has mostly become lineup roulette with the deadline passing. Thanks for all the ongoing suggestions. I've been in favor of Theis with Vucevic. I haven't much liked Williams at small forward because of his limited willingness to move around. I've heard from fans in the past saying Lauri at small forward, which Donovan tried. I didn't think it went too well. Worth a look, however. Maybe Aminu? Is Temple ready yet?


DeMar DeRozan

Omar DeJesus:

Do you think Bulls will try to sign Derozan?

Sam Smith:

No.


Denzel Valentine

Jay Choi:

Satoransky is a reliable back up PG while Coby White is better suited as a scorer and should play the same role as Ben Gordon used to. To me, Denzel Valentine is the best passer on this team. He can handle the ball, directs fastbreaks well and possesses that general feel of knowing who's open. Plus he can shoot the 3 to stretch the floor and plays good defense. I just feel that we've yet to see his full potential as he's never received consistent minutes.

Sam Smith:

I'd also like to see Valentine take a turn at small forward because he can deliver the ball and score and moves well. I don't believe he address those defensive issues as much as you do. Valentine has bounced in and out of the lineup and rotation perhaps more than anyone this season. So you sense Donovan likes something about him as he keeps bringing him back, and Valentine had an excellent game against the Suns. That little runner/floater in the lane is a heck of a shot. Donovan's tried a lot of stuff. I know you are suggesting point guard, but I'd like to see Denzel at point forward/three. That might also be worth a look. So Billy?


Nikola Vucevic

Joseph Austin:

Clearly, Vucevic will be the best, most skilled big man the Bulls have had since Artis Gilmore. Based on his career averages, how long will it take Vucevic to statistically supplant Gilmore as the Bulls all-time, or best center?

Sam Smith:

Artis did make four All-Star teams with the Bulls before still making two more after being traded for Dave Corzine. In six Bulls seasons before a brief cameo in 1987, Artis averaged about 20 and 11 with more than two blocks, twice led the league in shooting and made an all-defensive team. Vuc has a ways to go.


Nikola Vucevic and Al-Farouq Aminu

Silas Oliveira:

No chance then making the "playoffs" (10th). That's all I've been hoping for for the last two weeks. By the time this team gets going, it will be too late to recover any meaningful territory. If those two Orlando players coming to the Bulls are so good, why is Orlando in such a bad shape then? I hope I'm wrong.

Sam Smith:

We've still agreed long way to go, toughest part of the schedule, bad time to change half the roster. Still, the East below the Bulls hasn't been that challenging and there are a lot of shaky teams ahead of the Bulls like the Knicks, Hornets, Hawks and Pacers. I still believe six is hardly out of reach. But we'll take a play-in.


Jabari Parker

Ryan Carpel:

Kings dump former No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker. We should dump Felicio and pick him up. Cheap scoring option off the bench. No defense but better than Felicio.

Sam Smith:

Thanks for the good laugh.


Stan Albeck

Doug Uding:

Other than he a was coach of the Bulls in the mid 80's, I didn't remember Stan Albeck and probably didn't know, in the first place, anything about him. I did remember about Jordan's load management, but didn't know about the testiness involved after he came back to the team. Stan was a better coach than I remembered. Now that our team has "reloaded", I wonder how long it will take for them to gel? My gut feeling was that if these trades were made before the season, this would be a 52 to 54 win Team in a 82 game regular season.

Sam Smith:

That's the Bulls plan for next season, I'm certain. It actually doesn't seem inconceivable, but we all have been optimistic before. So Stan? He was an excellent coach who had no chance with the Bulls because of the circumstances. But this should tell you something about him. After Stan died, one of the first condolence calls the family received was from Michael Jordan. Stan's son, Jon, had basically been his caretaker for years. Michael told Jon that he was grateful for Stan the way he always had Michael's back. Jordan also said he's not sure he ever would have reached the heights he did if not for Stan. Jordan told Jon Albeck he was grateful for the kick start Stan gave Jordan's career. Remember, this was just another rookie of the year now out basically an entire season. So what? Seen that before. Then came the playoffs with Boston and that 63-point game against the league's best team and most of its best players. Haven't seen that before. Stan was instrumental in Jordan scoring like he did the way he set the offense the latter part of the game. Jordan understood. Now this was no ordinary second year pro. Sixty-three in the Boston Garden! Against maybe the greatest Celtics team ever. Michael now was really in the Air. Stan Albeck played a major part, and Michael never forgot.

Got a question for Sam?

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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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