Ask Sam Mailbag: Reactions from wins over Washington, trade scenarios, and more

Sam Smith responds to your reactions over the Bulls' pair of wins over the Wizards and more.
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Chris Granner:

They're playing like the '70 Knicks.'
This is what Thibs meant by "next man up."
Don't go for the fake Wendell.
I can't wait for Milwaukee.

Sam Smith:

Sam: The passing and movement were very encouraging against the Wizards. Wizardly for the Bulls, as it were. Though it's something we've heard asked for before. If not often seen. Give Donovan some credit that the message has been getting through so quickly without much training camp. Finally having all those veterans not on the injury list is helping. Though I doubt anyone on the team would know the name of anyone on the '70 Knicks and would be surprised Clyde Frazier the broadcaster was a player. OK, maybe Thad and Templ Smithe.


Zach LaVine

Brian Tucker:

At least we are better than the Wizards! Yay for winning streaks!

My questions are about how the season will play out. We play better with the veterans mixing in the lineup with the youth. With guys in and out of the lineup due to injury and safety protocol, this has perhaps been necessity rather than by design. It's definitely entertaining with the vets ballin' and a really nice mix of players. I stay hopeful that this team can be successful. In Billy we trust!

Anyway, I think having a solid veteran big may be the element this team is missing to maximize this roster's potential. Could adding someone be an option?

So while gaining assets and shedding salary is the obvious thought to build our future, a lot can be said about having continuity throughout the season, and maximizing our present potential could be best for developing our young talent and teach winning ways. If I'm not sure how many more 20 win seasons I can handle watching; how must Zach feel?

What do you think about playing this out and maybe even being a buyer (of a veteran big) to possibly get a playoff spot versus selling off and pretty much assuring us another lottery pick?

Sam Smith:

I will be interested to see how management responds, say, if the Bulls get into the top six or eight toward that early March break. I've been convinced with just the Garrett Temple one-year deal free agency that this season would be just the shakedown cruise. Get some credibility by playing better, competing more often, winning a few more games and perhaps being a play-in team. But don't take your eye off the real prize, which is getting into this much better lottery, especially with being able to get a player like Patrick Williams this year and seemingly eight or nine good players in this draft. And the next one is supposed to be much better. I like that strategy even if it's not something they could admit. But even if you add a veteran big (Robin Lopez? JaVale McGee? Dwight Howard?), are you a top four team? It would seem not, though the way this Covid thing is going who knows. Still my guess is they stay the way they are in analysis mode all season since as we suspected, this team appears to have been an underachiever.


Luka Doncic

Elijah Humble:

What's up with all the blowouts? All five games on Christmas were blowouts or at least comfortable wins. Every game I've sat down and watched has been a blowout, and there's the historic Clips blowout down 50 in the first half, and then the Heat vs. the Bucks with the ridiculous amount of 3s, so it's good teams getting beat up. Feels like an odd trend, when most of the bubble games were tight and competitive. I wonder if it'll be more common with fatigue as the season wears on with the travel

Sam Smith:

It's a true season for an asterisk. It's probably going to be as close to the 50-game 1999 season as any when the eighth place Knicks were in the Finals. The Orlando "bubble" was a compressed time when teams could eye a short sprint for a chance to a win a title. Not so short now with a rush to get started prematurely so the league could get the Christmas TV games. I don't blame the league because there was such a big TV investment. But you had guys playing late into the bubble playoffs who you know didn't want to start that early, so they are mailing in some games, playing sometimes and sometimes not. You had guys out a long time with no chance to work out because of the virus shutdowns coming in out of condition and out of shape and overweight with also a short training camp. Then you have a spate of early injuries, many flukes, but still a warning to teams to rest players and for players to perhaps back off a bit. And the Cover absences and contact tracing, which seems awfully arbitrary what little we know about it.

You also usually had a period early in the regular seasons when players began to make an All-Star push for the team. But this season there's no All-Star game. Which could benefit the Bulls some as teams in all seasons generally try to make a good early start impression and then begin to relax some. With a new coach pushing the players and a team basically on audition, the Bulls should be one of the teams not having entitled veterans who can float through games and take rest periods. So perhaps they catch some of those better teams easing through the first few months. This should change after the March break with the weather change and the idea of a sprint then for playoff positioning. Until then your daily 50-point deficit may not be such an aberration.


Wendell Carter Jr.

Mike Sutera:

People can say offense is fun to watch but I would love to hear about the ratings for that Bucks game in the 2nd half. If you were not a Bucks fan were you still watching that game? The NBA game is so un-fun right now. Just run and pull up for 3. No play calling, no passing, just get across the half court line and fire away. The mid-range game is a thing of the past and don't get me started on the demise of the prototypical NBA center. Also don't get me started on centers jacking up threes. I never minded bigs like Ewing/Hakeem/Robinson shooting from 15-20 feet but this is ridiculous.

Sam Smith:

Well, at least Wendell looks like he's done with that for a while. I understand the theory that if the center can make threes it will open the court by taking a presumed rim protector away from the basket and providing better driving lanes. Though with players like Carter, it's not who he is. Doesn't that famous football coach say, Be You. Wendell's been much better being Wendell, screen and dive, mid-range shots, which Donovan seems fine with, and then feeling better about things. You never really know who people are, but Carter has given some hints about being a lot more introspective and sensitive than you might imagine. What do you know, basketball players are people and money doesn't make you immune to life's vagaries. Who knew? With Wendell feeling better about himself he played better. He can work on the three next summer. But you are correct about shooting those threes and I think that's been another factor that has led to more blowouts. You're on or you're not. So keep shooting them. You miss and the score mounts quickly. Too much of the game lately has been a bastardization of the Warriors game, which wasn't as much three-point shooting as advertised. Durant, especially, and Steph if you crowded them were fine stepping in and shooting or going to the basket. Playing quickly the twos added up. Now it can become a pop-a-shot exercise, and you know most of those games are not close.


Patrick Williams

Longgiang Le:

Do you think Williams is a good power forward - they have him listed at SF. Hope he can learn to play the post like a 4. I hope Williams and Lauri develop more post game.

Sam Smith:

There's a lot of interchangeability these days with all the switching on defense teams do (the Wizards really are bad at it, by the way), but I still believe in having a position even if it supposedly is a position less game. So it's a story within a story for Williams and Markkanen, who on some level probably are being judged against one another. I see Williams with his size and the way he moves more of a this era power forward. He had his best moves in the Tuesday win along the baseline and looks like he could be a strong post-up player with his heft and soft shooting touch. Markkanen has been more forceful inside than anytime last season, and though it's been another freak injury, albeit minor, it is another pre-Covid stuff. Can his body hold up? I assume the Bulls are measuring that given the sides could not agree on an extension, though the Bulls reportedly did make a serious offer. So it's not like they are ceding power forward to Williams. Maybe Williams does become more adept with the ball and can play the wing. He had a tough time against a quicker wing player like T.J. Warren. There's plenty of time for both in this season of hoop SATs, Shooting, Assists and Turnovers. And that so many are trying to make an impression could make the Bulls one of the more motivated teams, at least this first part of the season.


Billy Donovan

Mike York:

So NBA said Warriors went over the 5 second inbound on that final call. Now can that be challenged? Could have Billy challenged it on the spot after the 3? Never seen it done I don't think.

Sam Smith:

Because it's not permitted regarding challenge. Counting is personal.


Simi Shittu

Matt Crook:

Do you think teams ever bring players in just to increase revenue? For example, I'm a U.K based Bulls fan and we recently had Simi Shittu with the main squad preseason, he had a fairly decent 3 games and myself and my fellow British Bulls were looking into ordering Simi jerseys but he was waived. Do you think teams have ever kept hold of players who weren't particularly in their plans but knew they'd get an increase in revenue from having them on the roster?

Sam Smith:

Can't say I ever heard of that, not that Simi was going to have a jersey even if he made the team. I guess you still can order the jerseys specially made. It will be a collector's items. I'm sure he appreciates the support. He did surprise me and might have stuck in other circumstances, but the Bulls basically had all those guarantees and the lack of a roster spot. Meanwhile, poor Satoransky. If he didn't have symptoms or a positive test again he's never going to speak to anyone the rest of the season.


Thad Young

Brodie Larsh:

Timberwolves get Thad Young and Tomas Satoransky. Bulls get Ricky Rubio and Ed Davis. Who says no?

Sam Smith:

Arturas. I don't believe yet the Bulls really want a point guard to control the offense. I think in this test period they want to see if Coby can and how it works if others try. Not that they don't want to win—I believe they do—but they seem to rather prefer to test the players they have, especially the young ones, to learn their capabilities and then decide who fits and how with whom. And then go looking. I've never been much of a Rubio fan since I want a scorer at that position, or like Chris Paul someone who can score if you need it, if not all the time. So I say no, also.


Zach LaVine

Alejandro Yegros:

I know you won't criticize Zach, and I like Zach too. I'm not even doing this for mailbag; I'm just doing it to get it out. But against Golden State, Zach's decision-making in the 4th was so routinely bad. He was the Zach that people complain about: early shots for no reason, missing open men (except the one time to WCJ roll. It's unbelievable to me that he's been in the league 7 years and he's still so tunnel-visioned. The difference is that Zach isn't actually great. His 4th quarter stats last year were shockingly bad. I know you can say "well, he's in a bad team, he has to do it etc." but that's just not true. Curry shoots crazy shots but he also willingly passes the ball in the 4th quarter.

Sam Smith:

Sorry, you write to me you can get posted, if not posted up. I understand the dynamic of the imperfect player with a bad team. It's like the Bears football with Trubisky. He's not what everyone wants him to be, so every play gets micromanaged as if no other quarterback throws a bad pass or interception or makes a misread. The definition of great really is if you're with a winning team. I believe Zach has the chance to be great, and great players do "un fundamental" things. That's what being great is about, taking risks and chances and why those things end up on highlights. Was it a good shot when Jordan drove and shot over his head with his back to the basket? It was when he was playing with Pippen, Grant and Cartwright. Great players believe they can do those things. Zach does as well, which is why he scores 20 on bad nights. I'd rather have a guy who tries and believes than one who wonders if it's possible. Sure he's likely imperfect, but you already saw when it came down to the end in a game that mattered for the first time Donovan drew the play for Zach against the Warriors. It didn't take Billy long to find out.

I think Billy also is going to help Zach, and Zach has been a willing learner. For some reason Boylen didn't like him, which makes it an uncomfortable position when he's also your best player. Now it's a blank slate again and I liked the way Donovan is telling Zach to do things more quickly, to attack the basket, to start the game offensively as Zach did against the Wizards Tuesday. Zach was better Tuesday in those areas you are concerned about, especially because they won. He also made a huge defensive stop against Westbrook Thursday. Passes look better when the receiver scores. Zach hasn't always had the best receivers. Jordan didn't for a long time, so he shot a lot. Remember, that was a guy who averaged 17 points in college. I actually thought even against the Warriors Zach was looking for Wendell a lot off screens, and I liked the way Donovan had he and Satoransky as primary playmakers late against the Wizards Tuesday with Coby off the ball. We make too many judgments and say, well Coby's not a point guard. But when the game is played well with the movement Donovan is attempting to enforce, you can have others make plays. Like we saw Thursday. Zach and Satoransky can trigger offense reasonably well enough. And Coby can make plays off their plays. The Bulls don't have a player LeBron or Harden to dominate the ball, score and set up others. Maybe they will eventually, though such players aren't easy to find. Zach gives them a lot that's hard to get otherwise.


Tomas Satoransky

Bill Burck:

The Brooklyn Nets have legitimate title aspirations in 2021, aspirations that took a hit when Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a partially torn ACL in the season opener. He gone! Would Arturas be interested in trading Tomas Satoransky for Spencer Dinwiddie and the Nets 2021 first round pick? Anyway, sure the Bulls would love the number 1 pick and Cade Cunningham, but there's a lot of basketball and an NBA lottery between them and that fate. Why not help that case by moving Sato now? It also gives them the chance of convincing Dinwiddie to exercise his player option for 2021-22.

Sam Smith:

Perhaps the NBA doesn't want Satoransky traded by continually putting him in these protocols. I doubt if the Nets would give up a first for Satoransky even if it's not a high one. Though with Durant and Kyrie both coming back from surgery I'm sure there's no way you'd get their first without it being lottery protected. And with it supposedly being a good draft I think other teams in addition to the Bulls probably know that. A reserve guard rarely gets you a first round pick. And as much as I've always valued Dinwiddie more than some others—I profiled him several times when he went to the G-league with a what's he doing here angle—that is a second ACL. I doubt the Bulls are using their future salary cap space that way if he were to opt out. Though I also would opt in if I were him. Of course, I would have taken the money if I were Lauri even if he'll probably eventually get more. I'm among those who still think anything in eight figures is a lot of money. Even when there's more on the table, as it were. You never know when those table legs will collapse.


Kelly Oubre

Sergio Kalet:

Oubre really doesn't fit with the Warriors.
Oubre and Wiseman for LaVine and either Carter or Lauri.
Bulls get a great piece in Wiseman to go with Williams and White 3Ws.
Warriors get a second scoring option in Lavine and Lauri or Carter as big man they can space floor.

Sam Smith:

I think despite those first few games the Warriors are satisfied enough with Oubre to keep him unless they get a really great offer. Losing their only big guy and a potential future big man star hardly seems so great. Without Klay they're not a title contender anyway, and you hear more lately they might be more inclined to move Draymond Green and get into the lottery again than going the other way. There seem to be too many good teams ahead of them.


Daniel Gafford

Frederick Ong:

I like the idea of trying out Daniel Gafford as the starting center. I believe he will fit very well with Coby and Zach. I think Wendell Carter is a better player than him but he could shine better in the second five.

Sam Smith:

It's an appealing notion, especially after the second Washington game. The Bulls have a lot of skilled talent; no, really. But they're one of the more unathletic teams. Gafford gives them that special, bouncy athletic play and rim protection they can't get from Carter or really anyone else on the roster. But I still think this group does best scoring first and Carter helps with that. Donovan has been rotating out Markkanen early in the first quarter to bring him back as a center and Thursday took out Carter early to give him a reminder to play harder. He did. So starting doesn't really matter that much the way Donovan is willing to rotate players and playing time. And knowing Gafford is looking over his shoulder might push Carter more than just dropping him. But Gafford is a nice look with those guys.


Patrick Williams

John Stuercke:

I know it's too soon. But next season, could you imagine having Patrick Williams as point forward? He used to be a point, and can dribble well. Beginning last season, I have said that Coby and Zack play the same position. Zack is our best player. Get something for him while you can. He will want to play for a winner. I don't see the Bulls becoming that soon. Trading Zack allows a full trial for Denzel, who never really got a chance. As you said. He did it in college.

Sam Smith:

I haven't seen that yet with Williams, and it is five games! C'mon, kid, take it seriously! I believe these are the things that will make this season so interesting: Who will play where and when and why and for how long. Again, I'm not so quick to move on from Zach, who has been playing better defense and making better decisions. Why have him do that elsewhere?


Wendell Carter Jr.

Piotr Dawlidowicz:

My question relates to Wendell. I am all for him expanding his offensive game and being utilized in a number of ways. Having said that, why immediately the three point shot? I get he has been practicing it and has the green light, but what's wrong with a mid-range jumper as well. Why abandon that shot all together. Keep the defense honest and hit a few 15 footers off the role just like Kurt Thomas, Taj Gibson, and even Noah did from time to time. Not everyone on the roster needs to be a 3 point shooter.

Sam Smith:

Thanks for apparently sending this first to Wendell. He seems to have gotten the message the last few games. Be who you are. It's what got you here.


Otto Porter Jr.

Alex Rose:

I must say I'm pleasantly surprised about Otto Porter. He's playing well and hard. He's good. It's too bad he no longer looks like his slim Washington self, but even as slow as he looks, he's still really big, skilled, and smart.

Sam Smith:

I think Donovan has it right with Porter, who is going to drift in and out of good performances as that's been his history. Unless the Bulls schedule the Wizards a lot more. He's probably not going to be able to be the player the Bulls envisioned when they traded for him because of the injuries and the lack of conditioning he probably couldn't do much about during the Bulls hiatus since March. But he's smart and can shoot and knows how to play. You figure he'd bump up against the offense of LaVine, Markkanen and White as a starter, if not Thursday when he was lead scorer in his first start. A message? He probably needs to play off the bench as the Bulls seem to be putting together a reserve unit that needs one of those cool nicknames like Jurassic Five. Rookie Williams fits with the starters as a hesitant offensive player more committed to defense for now. Plus, Porter probably is more like the so called modern power forward in his current form. With so many free agents coming off the market, his demand after this season may become more than he (and we) imagined. He's a useful player and still worth Portis and Parker.


Coby White

Kent Hyun:

Is the NBA trying to inflate the balls on purpose to create more lively action? And turnovers. There seemed to be something about that ball that had both teams struggle. The Bulls to me looked amazing out there. Even if they play to their competition and it brings out the best of them, those are still fun games to watch even if they lose. This Bulls team has heart and we're just seeing signs of it.

Sam Smith:

Another NBA conspiracy, eh? With Satoransky being grounded again for perhaps standing next to a Covid sign who knows what is going on this season.


Zach LaVine

Gorav Raheja:

Bulls were a last second made three away from being 3-2.

Sam Smith:

Or 1-4. Like in life, it's what did happen and not what could have. Either live with the reality or live in escapism. I guess whatever helps you through the day, or the pandemic. And happy better next year to us all.

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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