Ask Sam Mailbag returns - questions on former Bulls in "The Bubble", Jay Williams, and more

You have Chicago Bulls questions and Sam Smith has his answers.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

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Mike Sutera:

Are you done with Ask Sam for now?

Sam Smith:

Not yet. I'm still trying to get past my anger, disappointment and literal cancel culture of the NBA for eliminating the Bulls and the seven others from the rest of the season, though I assume the Warriors are OK with it. Talk about precedents. It's still making me wonder whether in future seasons as teams are eliminated from the playoffs — the logic the NBA manufactured to decide those last eight teams should not play again this season — the NBA will send them home; fishing as the TNT studio crew explains. It would save travel and hotel costs. It's also starting to seem as if those teams will not get an opportunity for some sort of team competitions. The players' union has been raising questions and probably is correct. You can't offer the level of protections the 22 teams are getting in Orlando and then tell players from the other eight to be careful, which has seemed like the plan. So if the Bulls don't play again until at least December and possibly longer as there supposedly are considerations for a later start if there is a vaccine and fans can enter arenas, then there has to be conversation. Ask Sam.


Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot

Guy Danilowitz:

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot fouled out with 26 points on 12 shots in 31 minutes in an official nba game?

Sam Smith:

There goes another potential league MVP the Bulls let go, eh? And though many fans were angry with the team this season and were ready to move on, TLC is another great example of what the Bulls are missing. Cameron Payne is shooting more than 50 percent on threes and averaging about a dozen points in fewer than 20 minutes in four straight Suns wins to start. A year ago you could buy T.J. Warren, which the Pacers did from the Suns for cash and even got some second round picks in return. Now he's one of the stars of the league as he broke out to start the preliminary bubble/campus/frat house games averaging 40 points in three opening wins and shooting 60 percent on threes until Payne's Suns shut him down Thursday. The Pacers aren't winning any titles, but especially with this high scoring/casual defense series of games players have an opportunity to put up amazing numbers. So what does it mean? Most general managers are not much smarter than most fans. They tend to be most influenced by what they saw last. So suddenly Payne and Luwawu-Cabarrot look like actual NBA players despite our recollections. And Warren looks like an All-Star. More valuable in trade? A confidence boost that carries over? While players from those eight missing teams get forgotten about. Perhaps they'll feel overlooked and more challenged and thus became more driven and committed next season. We can only hope. But it's never a good thing when everyone is talking about the other guys. Have I mentioned the NBA really did those teams a disservice?


Jay Williams

Kevin Burns:

What do you think the career arc of Jay Williams would have been had he not had that unfortunate accident? Coming into the league I recall him having been described as, "Allen Iverson in a three-piece suit" which is a lot to live up to. I also recall in his rookie season measuring up to Jason Kidd with a monster 26/14/13 triple-double stat-line, which was impressive. But then, didn't Michael Carter Williams rip one off in his first game ever? Who knows. But, what do you think his ceiling/floor with the Bulls, and how it may have changed their course? Digressing, I'm tired of the ethnically-loaded, "The Finnisher" for Markkanen. (as a footnote, I can only compare the "Greek-Freak" and ain't that a tough act to follow?) Since he's a long-range guy, I submit "The Markksman."

Sam Smith:

We'd go with that with Lauri if he began making more shots. As for Jay, he's becoming a bigger star in broadcasting than he ever would have been in the NBA. Not that he didn't want to try and deserved the chance. I can't imagine what he went through to see your career over like that. He had to know it that fateful night. His motorcycle accident was the kind of thing that makes you sick like Derrick Rose's knee injury. Derrick was able to reinvent himself in basketball; Jay obviously could not. He did have that big game against the Nets, but he regressed as the season went on. Of course, it's difficult to judge anyone in the Tim Floyd-coached miasma of those years. Only a few of the Duke stars carried their stardom to the NBA, in part, because Krzyzewski did such a good job of creating shots for an individual player, like J.J. Redick, too. I was enamored with Jay in that draft, perhaps in part because I knew how badly that team needed a point guard. Yes, they need a lot of stuff. Jay was more a small shooting guard without a great shot. He wasn't Iverson athletic and likely would have had a nice career as a marginal starter or good sixth man. He deserved the chance to experience it. But he's had an impressive climb as a sports analyst and actually becomes one of the primary hosts of the ESPN radio morning show later this month. He's taken a couple of cheap shots over the years at the Bulls, which surprised me given they paid him when then didn't have to because he violated his contract riding a motorcycle. Though maybe that was the training he needed for talk radio.


Zion Williamson

Ben Yedor:

What about a tourney where the lottery teams play and the winner gets first pick, runner up second, etc? Would eliminate any value in tanking.

Sam Smith:

After the NBA basically shut down the losingest teams, perhaps that will be the best remedy for tanking. You lose too many games? OK, we're not letting you finish the season. Perhaps the NBA was ahead of me on that one. Regarding your suggestion, I can just hear that conversation: Wendell, now we want you to kick some butt in this tournament so we can get a higher draft pick and a player to replace you.


Jimmy Butler

Thomas Golden:

The more I see of Jimmy and how he's consistently demanded 100% effort, the more I believe he'll win someday. The Wolves and Sixers were kids having a good time and let's face it, Embiid is never going to win anything, he makes Shaq look high strung.

Sam Smith:

I've always been a believer, especially regarding free agency, to find a place where you are most comfortable and enjoy life. In other words, why does anyone ever go to New York in any sport? Miami sounds pretty good to me, post virus more so. Though a Timberwolves team with Towns, Wiggins, Taj, Derrick and Jeff Teague and then a 76ers team with Embiid, Simmons, Redick and Tobias Harris seemed like teams with Jimmy that had better chances to win than this Miami roster. But the Heat have been good and tough this season, well coached and with surprisingly good young talent. So I guess we'll still see. I'm a lifestyle believer. Winning requires a lot of luck. You can't guarantee winning as much as you can a good life and environment. I'm big on 80s temperatures in January and stone crabs. One curiosity about Jimmy is he seems to be most comfortable when people are threatening him. Buzz Williams did and he succeeded. Thibs did early in Chicago and he grew into an All-Star. Thibs didn't in Minnesota and Fred Hoiberg and Brett Brown didn't, either, and Jimmy left. Jimmy knows Pat Riley will give it to him. Jimmy seems to have found a home. We'll see how much he chose the chance to win a title. It seems more lifestyle and general competitiveness for now. Which does work for me.


Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan

Art Alenik:

I don't think we can make any assumptions, either from the Bulls' history or Denver's. In fact, I hope we can't! I'd like to see more balance between offense & defense... and more 2-way players. Most recent champs have been offense oriented teams, but ones that could clamp down on D when needed. The same way people focus on the offense of the MJ-Pippen Bulls, they also overlook the Warriors' defense. And most of the very best players excel on both ends, or at least can play lock-down defense when they need to (i.e. LeBron). I don't think you can win the NBA as a defense-first team these days; not with the prevalence of 3-pt. shots. But I'm not sure you ever could. Can you remember an NBA champ that was a low-scoring defensive team? But I do believe that in the end – after all the 3-pt. bombs have been launched – the team that can lock-down for a few crucial possessions will win. We (esp. Bulls fans) talk a lot about who's going to take the last shot. We should pay just as much attention to who's going to get the last stop. Perfect example from Game 6 in the 1998 Finals; Everyone remembers Jordan's "gooseneck" last shot, but he really won the game for us when he stole the ball from Malone. If Mailman scores on that play instead of MJ, game over.

Sam Smith:

Is this a chicken and egg thing again? I think it was the egg, but I often get it wrong. So that's the question: Can Zach, Lauri and Coby learn to be stoppers? Can you teach that? Wendell probably can learn to shoot threes as many big guys have these days. Plus he has a good stroke and I suspect he would have shot more this past season if they weren't yelling at him all the time to find someone in the corner. So that's where Kris Dunn comes in. Can he learn to shoot threes faster or more efficiently than Zach or Coby can learn to lock down? Though we should refrain from making Jordan comparisons. Which still is something of a problem in Chicago. Like with LaVine. Who isn't judged inferior at shooting guard in Chicago?


Zach LaVine

Adam Garcia:

Don't want to nitpick, but I'm going to do it anyway. LaVine is the most frustrating franchise player I've dealt with in my whole 34 years of being a fan. He has amazing hops, great speed and yes I know the new NBA frowns on midrange/long 2's, but why doesn't he drive in more?? Yes he's capable of hitting 13 3's in a game, so would Ben Gordon if he played now! He would have made more, even Hinrich! What he needs to improve on is yes, now comes winning with the stats. What is going to improve that is letting go of that "hero" ball mentality. He knows this is his team and it scares me that he can't trust others. Many times he takes a bad shot in crunch time! Improve your decision making and if you're only down 1, don't try a step back 3 please.

Sam Smith:

That's what I mean. Let's look at it this way: If Scottie Pippen were drafted by Sacramento, which was chasing him as hard as the Bulls (if less successfully), would he have become an all-time top defender on a team that never was .500? Is it then his fault the team isn't winning? I understand the frustration aimed at LaVine, which I mostly attribute to the record and reject your thesis. As great as Jordan was — and actually better than Zach — he played for losing teams his first three seasons. Then general manager Jerry Krause complimented him with the ideal teammates in the defensive oriented Pippen and Horace Grant. The Bulls have tried with additions like Otto Porter Jr. and Thad Young, but it hasn't worked out mostly due to injuries. So we say why can't Zach lift the team if he's so good? Often you don't appreciate what you have until it's gone. You know, like with Cameron Payne. Zach shoots a high percentage on threes and is among the leaders at his position in both assists and rebounding. Turnovers, too, OK, but that's also what happens when the defense knows it's you. My view about success in sports always has been: More talent, good; less talent, bad. As for the forced stepbacks, perhaps you need to watch James Harden some.


Nikola Jokic

Peggy Flynn:

I think you really missed the boat with the 10 teams you mentioned to watch in Orlando. You definitely should have included the Denver Nuggets since Karnisovas played a significant role in putting them together. If you required a former Bulls player to be on a team, you could have mentioned Gary Harris who was a Bull for a minute or so before the terrible McDermott trade.

Sam Smith:

By the way, it really wasn't a terrible trade. It's just one of those big lies, something said a lot so people come to believe it. Not so great for Denver, either, these days as Harris has fallen off their radar with injuries and his poorest season since his rookie year. And they flipped Nurkic because Jokic didn't want him around for one of the Plumlees. Not that I also wouldn't do what Jokic asked. But trading two non lottery picks 16 and 19, for 11, a lottery pick, generally is the right thing to do. You'd do it again. Talent wins. The Bulls needed shooting. McDermott was the best shooter in that class and Thibs was a big McDermott fan. Just didn't work out; it happens. But it was the right move. Would the Bulls be any better with Harris, a poor shooting shooting guard (33 percent on threes the last two years), and a Plumlee? Answer: Don't think so. Taking Jokic in the second round. Yes, that would have made a difference. I‘d go for that.

Perhaps the more interesting cheap shot second guess is about Michael Porter Jr., who also has broken out in bubbleville. The rookie (drafted in 2018) has been on a big time scoring run the past week averaging about 30 the last three games. The Nuggets took him last in the lottery at No. 14 knowing he had back problems and couldn't play for at least a year. Basically two since he rarely played until this week. If he were with the Bulls, it would have been two inactive years and what would you be saying? It's the kind of risk a good team with an acquired extra draft pick can take. The Bulls in that draft took Wendell Carter Jr., and he still has a chance to be an excellent player. Karnisovas is said to be a big fan. The Bulls needed to form a team. The Bulls weren't in position to guess. And sorry if I am repeating myself here, but another reason the Bulls being left out of Orlando is so harmful. In the casual defensive play in bubbledom, what would you think of Lauri Markkanen averaging 26 and 14? Like he did for about a month last season. You know some Bull would have put up huge numbers. Actually, the way Porter plays, erect with a good shot, reminds me of Nikola Mirotic. Talk to Bobby Portis about that.

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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