Ask Sam Mailbag: Sixers loss reactions, fan trade machine proposals, and more

Ateeq Ahmed:

I'm excited about the 2nd half of the season. Any predictions?

Sam Smith:

There's a reason I don't have a betting app. Like I told my wife before Thursday night, no Embiid and Simmons, no problem. Good she never listens to me, anyway. Let's take a look at my preseasons predictions. MVP: LeBron. I'll stick with that based on Anthony Davis' health. Rookie of the Year: LaMelo. Good one. Sixth Man: Caris LeVert. He got traded and ill. But he's back. So not too late. Defensive Player: Marcus Smart. Still could be. Heart of the Celts. Most Improved: Michael Porter Jr. A chance. Coach: Stan Van Gundy. Oops. All-NBA first team: Curry, Lillard, Durant, LeBron, Embiid. Still a chance if Durant ever plays again. Third team all-NBA. Kawhi, Zion, Jimmy, KAT and Zach. Not bad on the last one. East: Bucks, 76ers, Nets, Celts, Raptors, Heat, Pacers, Wizards and Bulls 9th. Actually not too bad, if not that hard. I'm staying with Bulls 9th. Should be worth a look if the Thursday night start wasn't a harbinger.

Brodie Larsh:

This Sixers game is pretty humbling. All this talk of a playoff push and finally have everyone healthy, and still get handled by Philly's B-team. They need a hype man. A player that gets everybody excited and fired up, somebody with a lot of attitude. I watched the Grizzlies-Wizards last night and Valanciunas had a great game and hyped everybody up. They were a really fun team to watch once he got going. I'd offer Joakim Noah a contract just to have him be that guy on the sidelines, and help teach the young bigs something about passing, defense, rebounding, and hustle.

Sam Smith:

There's a sports saying that you aren't as bad as you look when you lose or as good as you look when you win. We certainly hope that's the situation with the Bulls following that awful restart. Something stands out to me again with these Bulls that Billy Donovan has addressed in various ways this season when asked, the phlegmatic nature of so many of the Bulls regulars. I agree that you need to have some emotion, or should. Hey, it's a game. I know they all say it's a business, and it is. But it's also a fun business. I do believe all those Bulls guys care. They are high character people. That I believe having been around them, but it is disappointing to see the business like attitude a but too often. I think rookie Patrick Williams will be an excellent player, but I really dislike his dispassionate approach. I know he's gotten some credit for this cool-under-fire attitude. But you need some Draymond Green. Sure, he also can be a problem and I know he's not always the favorite of the coaches and management because those explosions are not limited to the court. That's the "problem" with some players like that. Some teams like taking a chance with those guys. Remember, teammates were fining Noah for his outbursts when he came to the Bulls. I remember a classic game in Orlando, a loss when Noah was a rookie when he was barely playing and was awful when he did and lit into Ben Wallace and some other regulars in the locker room after the game. By the way, it doesn't work unless you are playing, and contributing in a big way. Jo's better off at the beach with his kid. Zach LaVine has some of that fire. You could see even against the 76ers when things were going bad a few times he just turned his head and rammed his way to the basket. It's just not in the personality makeup of most of the starters and young players to be emotionally dynamic. I know they care, and they seem like terrific people and have talent. But, I agree, sometimes you need some jerkiness in there.

Alejandro Yegros:

Two months ago I asked you what's going on with Wendell with making good defensive plays and his minutes not very high. You answered "Wendell looked pretty passive." Against the 76ers Wendell played 15 min, even though he started pretty good (6pts and 5ish rebs in that first stint). He just looks a lot like he doesn't enjoy himself. I think he's emotional, but keeps it on the inside. He looks unhappy from my virtual therapist's living room here.

Sam Smith:

Wendell is one of those guys. As I haven't been within 30 miles of him for the last year I have no idea about his contentment quotient. Though he has mentioned several times in the Zoom calls we do regularly with players—and Donovan has mentioned it, as well—how much he faults himself for mistakes or poor performances and allows them to linger. So perhaps you are correct. He's generally one of those unemotional young guys the Bulls have, oddly all three front court starters, which perhaps has something to do with the pattern of slow starts for the team if they're not making threes. The difficult part is like with Markkanen, these last 10 weeks are something of his audition for the new management given his injury earlier this season. Donovan said the foul trouble and the game getting away caused the minutes decline. But you could see Donovan searching for someone else. And Carter did draw a technical foul, so there's emotion. Or frustration. He's not growing, it doesn't appear, which is why Donovan has urged him to use other abilities, like shooting to draw his opponent away from the basket. Carter obviously is hesitant to shoot threes, but he also seems less physical in fighting for his space than he did when he came to the NBA. I wonder sometimes if the so called "drop" defense concepts the team has employed has contributed to his hesitancy. He has a very likable personality. I've seen him smile; not so much in games.

Larry Logan:

What are you predicting for the trade deadline? Unless they can get a young prospect and draft pick for Thad, I'm guessing a minor move if anything. Something for JaVale McGee? Maybe trade for a solid backup facilitator like trading Satoransky for Rubio.

Sam Smith:

I don't see anything unless something big falls in their laps, like some team citing economics and wanting to dump an All-Star with a long term contract. Karnisovas said before the season he prided himself—among other things—on his patience and that this season remained more about analysis and evaluation. Since that isn't done yet with the injuries to Markkanen and Carter and the fact despite all that the Bulls still are in the middle of the bottom playoff race, it doesn't seem like there's any sense of urgency. I'm not sure what the rules are, but I don't see any team taking on a player with personal issues, and frankly I think Satoransky is better than Rubio, who still almost seems afraid to shoot. With Markkanen and Porter coming back, that's enough guys to work into a rotation. I don't see that they need more reserves.

Eryk Velasco:

What about Otto Porter ($28.5 million) and a 2nd round pick for Andre Drummond ($28.8 million) to get into the playoffs and beyond?

Sam Smith:

I'm printing this as a public service for the sixth consecutive week.

Brian Tucker:

In this hypothetical situation, the Warriors don't really like how this Wiggins situation is panning out for them and would like to get out of the final couple years of his contract. After their hot start together, the honeymoon period seems to have faded into the same reasons Minnesota was fine trading him. He's a good ballplayer, but not 30 mil good. If you were AK, would you take a Wiggins for OPJ deal? Or would you just prefer to get what you can out of OPJ for the rest of the year and start from scratch with that money in free agency?

Sam Smith:

I'm among those who like Wiggins more than most, if not also at that price. I know the motivation (or apparent lack of it) remains the main criticism. Which wouldn't fit so well with the players the Bulls currently have. He's listed as a small forward, but I see him more as a shooting guard who's not a great shooter. With two seasons left after this at more than $30 million a year to wipe out what cap room the Bulls might be able to create, I'd pass even if he's a talent. He doesn't address the point guard and center positional questions the Bulls most have. And what fun would free agency be with no money to offer anyone? Maybe you don't get anyone who'll average 20 points like he usually does, but you have to try.

Joseph Austin:

I have 2 trade ideas and I would like to know which one is more realistic.

Houston gets: Markkanen & Porter, Jr.
Chicago gets: Oladipo & Eric Gordon
Dallas gets: Markkanen and OPJ
Chicago gets: Kristaps Porzingis

Sam Smith:

Is there a 3? Porzingis with all his injury issues with more than 30 mil a year the next three years? You wonder if Dallas is getting anxious. Plus, I like Markkanen at least as much. Oladipo seems set on being a free agent this summer and again, Gordon doesn't address any needs that Coby White wouldn't younger and less extensive.

Ryan Carpel:

What do you think of this trade idea? Reason I am proposing it is Zach will want a max deal which I am not sure Bulls will want to do. Plus Shai isn't really a drop off in talent at all. Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen for Al Horford and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Sam Smith:

I have confidence in the Bulls retaining Zach, and it seems to me Zach prefers to be here based on everything he has been saying. I guess we'll find out, but what if Gilgeous-Alexander wants to play out his deal figuring if they wouldn't pay Zach…SGA is really good, and I guess the main point would be why Oklahoma City would want to move him on a manageable rookie contract with a team not going anywhere yet. I know, details, details. Though it is refreshing to know there are still some who insist on trading the team's first All-Star in four years. By the way, Horford is pretty high up on that worst contract list. Talk about playing out your career. Horford's name doesn't come up in buyout speculation for obvious reasons with two $27 mil seasons after this, and I don't like to spend anyone's money. But isn't that a guy who could finish well somewhere else, like maybe Boston?

Art Alenik:

It's actually hard to overstate Zach's All Star case. He's an elite player, having an historic season. If the Bulls were just a little better (and they will be), Zach would be the talk of the league (and he should be). The Bulls' record in Jordan's first 2 seasons was 37-45 and 40-42. I remember a few saying he couldn't lead a team or make his teammates better or some such nonsense. Nobody wanted to trade him. Eventually, everybody will acknowledge what Zach is doing, and I still don't think he's peaked (maybe offensively, but not all-around). If the Bulls can develop their young players and build around him, we could become a perennial contender, maybe see another title. And Zach could end up in the HOF... seriously. I'm putting on my Billy Donovan hat now; This is what he needs to work on. TO's: Relatively few of them are on passes. Some happen when other guys are out of place or the offense stalls. But most (it seems) happen when he gets his dribble too high or drives into traffic. That can be corrected. DEFENSE: He's greatly improved there, but still not as consistent as he can be. The entire team still need work on team D. DECISIONS: Zach's shot selection and general decision-making have also improved, but he still has lapses. How to attack different defenses. In fact, that's another thing the whole team needs to do. It'd be nice if they learn how to maintain leads and not need buzzer-beaters, but the reality is that they often let down and make the endgame too ‘exciting'. I know that Zach – and the whole team – are already working on these things. Just what I see from the armchair.

Sam Smith:

That's the benefit of being a coach or a fan. Or a media critic: You get to tell them what they did wrong after they did it. I wish I could call up the correct word for every situation. But I often can't and even thinking about it awhile I often miss. I've always said it's why I preferred newspapers (or whatever media is now) because you get to correct your mistakes quickly because there's another chance tomorrow. It's why you hear players talking about there's another game coming quickly even after a tough loss. Not that they don't care. They do more than most believe. But sports and sportswriting—with a big physical skill gap between the two—require the baseball closer mentality of being ready for the next time because you can't do anything about the last time. It's difficult for competitive people, and even Jordan figured it out. The best ones are the ones who don't much recall the wins, but can tell you every moment of the losses. Because they expect to win, so it's not as important to them as it is to you. They kick themselves about the losses because it always comes as a surprise. It's also what's great about sports, that it's imperfect and retains almost daily opportunity for improvement and change. They're working on it, to be sure, but never expect perfection. At least that's my story and sticking with it for now.

Matt Chilewich:

Can you help me understand the value of the expiring contract in the NBA? Otto is on books this year for like $27m and Felicio for $8m. Why is that valuable for the Bulls? Why would it be valuable to another team? I've never studied the NBA salary structure, salary cap, etc.

Sam Smith:

They used to be valuable. They are not anymore. At least not this season with a poor free agent class this summer. Say LeBron or Durant or Lillard or Luka were a free agent. Then you trade your players with long term deals—and they may be good players—for players like Porter and Felicio with expiring contracts, which then the team acquiring them can let them go and open up cap space to sign the big free agent guy who won't sign with you. So called unappealing destination teams have done that in the past to build as well as they could while the teams like the Lakers offloaded salaries. The Lakers famously did that to open space for Shaq in 1996. The Bulls tried in 2010 for LeBron, actually giving up a first round pick so the Wizards would take Kirk Hinrich, who was one of their best players. It's doubtful LeBron was going anywhere but Miami. But you wonder. The Clippers with Donald Sterling still owner foolishly believed they had a chance for LeBron. So they turned down the Bulls offer to just give them Luol Deng for nothing. If they'd have accepted Deng, the Bulls would have had enough space to sign LeBron, Wade and Bosh and pair them with Rose and Noah. Seriously, would LeBron have rejected that? The Clippers, of course, got no one, and certainly no one close to Deng's talent for another decade until they got Kawhi. See how different recent history could have been.

Dave Gilchrist:

Since we likely can't get Luka Doncic, I noticed Nikola Jokic only has 2 more years remaining under contract after this year. He's popular, but not as popular as he would be in a bigger market like Chicago. Do you think we could actually be an odds on favorite for him to change teams with Karnisovas presenting the opportunity when the time comes?

Sam Smith:

I'm not sure that's a productive exercise since you may as well name just about every player in the league you like with a contract that expires in the next few years, as most do. Maybe get rid of everyone on the team. Have 15 minimum level free agents and then buy Curry, Lillard, Doncic, Kawhi and Jokic. After all, why wouldn't they all want to play together? And since everyone seems to like Karnisovas, how could they refuse? Actually, Jokic seems pretty popular since he got more All-Star West frontcourt votes than everyone but LeBron, meaning more than Kawhi, AD, Paul George and Zion. Considering that, I might worry more about Zach going to Denver for the popularity.

Brady Queen:

Kyle Lowry telling everybody he's being traded?

Sam Smith:

Sounds like he didn't tell the ESPN guy who was saying it since he denied it; though denials around trade deadline like the draft doesn't mean much. The Raptors are hard to figure hanging around in the standings with the Bulls, a lot of guys out injured and virus related, but with a historically aggressive management and playing their home games in a foreign country (to them). You can see them doing something big. Lowry is something of their heart and soul guy, but with a big number and an unrestricted free agent. He's what Philly is most proud of when they say a Philly guy, a tough player who challenges you. There's been talk of him going to the 76ers, who have Ben Simmons, and who you certainly don't want off the ball. Lowry still seems too good to be a reserve. Maybe a Thad Young type mentor/producer at 35 later this month? Even if not much gets done, this should be a heck of a two weeks for rumors, substantiated and otherwise.

John Rallis:

Raptors get Otto, Markkanen, Hutchinson and a first round pick (top 14 protected this year).
Bulls get Lowry.
Obviously, we would need assurances Lowry would resign for another couple years.

Sam Smith:

I've always admired Lowry also for being one of those tough, emotional guys you love to have on your team. He was the classic NBA scouting mistake judging—cliche alert!—the body size instead of the heart size. Practically, I'd say if a player like him whom you liked was about to be a free agent, why would you give up anything? Just go get him after the season. You couldn't get such assurances legally during the season, so that would be a big risk, your first round pick and Markkanen for a two-month rental. If I were a player away from a title, maybe. The Bulls don't seem to be even if I'm still optimistic after Thursday. I probably would pass. Yes, he does that well, also.

Frederick Ong:

I am so happy with emergence of Zach as an all star and the overall improvement of the team. I am somewhat disappointed with the unavailability of both Otto Porter and Chandler Hutchison. What do you think about targetting Kelly Oubre as a free agent acquisition. He fits the Bulls timeline.

Sam Smith:

He's a nice hustle player with an edge you like, though I couldn't figure out why he got that contract of about $15 million per. He's a poor shooter. Not as bad as he was against the Bulls in December (no one is), but as a wing player he really can't pass or dribble that great. You mean other than that?

Thomas Golden:

I'd like to see Lauri with fifteen pounds on him. Wendell, is a back up center, we would not win in the playoffs against the Bucks, 76ers, whoever Drummond plays for, Sabonis, Vucevic. I like him but center is our main priority. As far as I'm concerned this is 1989 all over again, and I'm going to enjoy it just as much.

Sam Smith:

That season is not exactly a precise comparison since the start of the ‘90s Bulls probably was Game 5 of the '88 playoffs when Phi Jackson started Scottie Pippen for the first time all season and his addition probably saved that deciding fifth game against the Cavs. And then Michael's Shot, of course, in '89 when that first round loss could have led to some major changes at the time, and actually did with a coaching change. I think a lot of Lauri's career arc changed that 2018 preseason with the elbow injury. That was the time we all were remarking about how much definition there was on his body. He actually looked strong. Not exactly rippling, but at least me wishing I ever had that definition. He then sat out two months and I've basically never seen that look again. For he and Carter, these next 10 weeks could define the rest of their Bulls careers. Hey, 1989 was when Horace broke out.

Mike Sutera:

Who would be in your Hall of Fame along these finalists. Cooper, Bosh, Pierce, Wallace, Hardaway. Bosh and Paul, mentioned most, would have never won a thing had it not been for the creation of the super teams.

Sam Smith:

It's a funny thing about that. You like to think a player who earns his way into the Hall of Fame would do so anywhere. But what if Scottie Pippen, who never was a very good shooter or big scorer, was selected in the 1987 draft by the woeful Sacramento Kings, who were chasing him in that draft (the Bulls beat them by one pick moving from eight to five) and a team destined for years out of the playoffs. Improving your defense to lose by 10 points instead of 20 doesn't make many notice. Say the Celtics didn't pull off maybe the greatest trade ever in 1980 and get Kevin McHale, who was about to spend a decade out of the playoffs with the Golden State Warriors instead of playing with Larry Bird? It does matter who you stand next to. Maybe they get in on the Tracy McGrady model of continually exceptional statistics amidst annual team failings. It's not the easiest route and not the most common. It perhaps isn't fair, but it's the ingredients that produce the great meal. Pierce and Bosh became parts of great championship teams, and they did their parts. They wouldn't have won titles without LeBron and Kevin Garnett, but what matters is what you did and not what might have been. I've made the comparison with the Jordan Rules. I'm fairly sure had my idea to select a team in 1990 to write a season long diary about was the Kings, I likely would not have sold nearly as many books. Or perhaps any. Good luck plays a big part of any success. But then you have to do your part. Those players did. They'd also be my first two in among that group. Though I'm still hoping most this year for Toni Kukoc. He's more deserving than either in the wide, wide world of basketball. Which is the mission of the Naismith Hall of Fame. It's not the NBA Hall of Fame. And by the way, Red Kerr? C'mon, already.

Mike Queen:

Game winner for Tony Snell. Could last night get any worse?

Sam Smith:

So that's where he is.