Ask Sam Mailbag: Zach LaVine's leadership, trade deadline ideas, respect for Chet Walker and more

Sam answers your questions about Zach LaVine's succes, the NBA trade deadline and more.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later


Michael Carson:

I watched the Bulls play live against the Wizards last Saturday and watch highlights of all of their games. They have great guards, a very good center and DeRozan excelling as a small forward.

They struggle on the glass and against big teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers. Should they trade for a power forward or tall small forward (Harrison Barnes or Jerami Grant)? If so, who should they trade?

Sam Smith:

I'd been getting a lot of suggestions for those two along with Houston's 6-foot-10 Christian Wood until, you know, the other day when Wood decided not to go back in a game and apparently didn't like an assistant coach correcting him. Which may be the largest issue in this issue about the Bulls apparent need to be larger. I do think a lot of these high paid, high scoring guys, like Grant, are out there to be gotten for not much more than picking up their money. Which is generally in the $20 million range beyond this season and—true it's not my money—but seems a lot to me for offensive-oriented fifth options.

And at a time maybe your best player, Zach LaVine, is about to be an unrestricted free agent. Potentially bust up your team to take a chance at now?

I do believe Zach wants to stay, but Wood is a potential cautionary tale. Sort of like the old Supreme Court obscenity definition—I know it when I see it—chemistry and culture are hard to define. But you know when you see them.

On the Bulls now it may be as good as it's ever been. Heck, DeRozan even went to Champaign for Dosunmu's jersey retirement. Ten degrees, central Illinois on a Thursday night? Joakim Noah would rather be in Cleveland. It's not fantasy statistics. It's real humans working together, and it could get worse with a bad addition. Is it worth the chance when it's going so good?

Even beyond the record? Arturas Karnisovas from his first media conference emphasized how patient he is. It hasn't seemed like it the way he turned the franchise around, but we now take his word for anything. I'm checking the sun rising west. He's talked patience and growing every time he's met media and again with the team's radio station this week. He's not easy to figure since he never says much. And he was bold last summer.

Though my sense is he eschews the headline deal and perhaps fills around the edges with a buyout or minor addition with also the knowledge that the NBA plans to have another season after this and the Bulls will be part of it.

Jordan Bell dunking as a member of the Golden State Warriors

Jordan Bell dunking as a member of the Golden State Warriors

Chris Granner:

I had to look up "delicious irony" just now…and confirmed that "Bulls Sign Jordan Bell" was the example given. Amazing how four years can make what so many regarded as a draft-day gaffe seem sensible. Gar-Pax appear to have not underestimated Mr. Bell's value.

I had forgotten we drafted Jordan at 38, same as Ayo. I have way higher hopes for Ayo. Only question I still have: Is Jordan here now because the NBA relented in some way on the "hardship" question of Patrick's availability yet this season? Or just for day-to-day COVID/roster management?

Sam Smith:

So six NBA stops later with three more in the G-league...I believe the NBA permitted the signing so he could apologize for trash talking the Bulls in his rookie year about selling the pick (which hardly is uncommon with second rounders) after seeing he was the sort of player who shouldn't say much. The Bulls didn't actually give up on him; they selected him for the Warriors, who thought they had another Draymond Green, a second round steal, instead of another Steve Green.

It was a foolish fan and media emotional reaction, but more like what you see with the NFL Bears these days, the poisonous atmosphere with defeat that has resulted in the media and public feeding hate off of one another because of the losing.

At that point, like with your opposing political parties, whatever they did was wrong and everyone hated them for it. And you can stick that!

Bell seems like a decent guy, whom I assume is around just for practices. He did afterward run around to collect DeRozan's game winning shot basketballs, especially important in Washington where you know it was so cold last week when the Bulls were there the congresspeople actually had their hands in their own pockets.

Zach LaVine driving against Isaac Okoro of the Cleveland Cavaliers

Zach LaVine driving against Isaac Okoro of the Cleveland Cavaliers

Art Alenik:

I think it's unfair that DeMar DeRozan gets more ‘juice' than Zach LaVine. I get it that he's the new guy and his arrival coincided with the Bulls' resurgence while Zach has been here. And I get it that many fans and media did not expect him to be this good, or fit in so well next to LaVine. But it's not like Zach, Nikola Vucevic and Lonzo Ball are chopped liver...and the bench has been outstanding too.

Sam Smith:

Though you may have hit on perhaps the biggest reason why this season has been so successful. Many of us have been saying—especially amidst I recall even a year ago getting a bunch of trade Zach for Ben Simmons suggestions and even reading in media that the Bulls had to trade him rather than risk losing him in free agency—that Zach's better than you think, that the Jimmy Butler trade was a success even with the disappointments of Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen because of Zach.

No offense to Jimmy, who has found his home, but he couldn't deal with players of better ability, especially in Philadelphia and to an extent in Minnesota.

The way Zach, whom many decided was a selfish scorer, has accommodated DeRozan and allowed him to flourish has been one of the best things about these Bulls.

How often has anyone seen that, a great player (All-Star, Olympic gold) stepping back to see someone else take over the fourth quarter play and closing? Sure Wade with LeBron, but that was LeBron. Not DeMar DeRozan (no offense to him, either). There was Zach urging DeMar to get 40 against the Lakers when DeMar had 38, celebrating the winners and the attention shifting to DeMar. Many doubted Zach when he continued to say all he wanted to do was win, and then scored a lot and lost. See, he wasn't kidding. There have been great scorers who have come to new teams having great scorers, but they usually defer for success, like Earl Monroe to the Knicks, Bob McAdoo to the Lakers, Mark Aguirre to the Pistons.

The critics also said they wouldn't fit; Zach has made sure they have. He's not even leading in shots taken. Zach deserves to start the All-Star game, also, but probably won't. Surely he'll be added as a reserve, and I'm sure he'll be the first cheering for DeRozan. That's what you call a winner.

Ayo Dosunmu

Ayo Dosunmu dribbling against the Boston Celtics

John Peterson:

Some say Ayo Dosunmu can be a solid rotation player but where? He is smart, coachable, can pass and distribute some, decent or better on defense, can score in limited situations, from Chicago etc. and a team player but not a true point and not a shooting guard. The Bulls seem to value him as a clear solid upgrade from the subs/bench of last season but does he have a regular spot in a nine man rotation?

Maybe with more experience and development he is behind Lonzo Ball after Coby White is traded. Ayo seems to be a very worthwhile NBA player in comparison to the Denzel and Arch and a notch above Harrison but perhaps still not a Bulls fit. You like White as a sixth man but that already is the Caruso slot.

White has started to play well and AK may find someone willing to overpay. The Patrick Williams story is very incomplete but he does not currently project as well as initially expected. No flashes. Given our experience as fans it seems guaranteed that AK will act in a significant way before the February deadline. He seems to have a special insight and ability to get what he wants.

Sam Smith:

I'm also curious to see what occurs with Dosunmu when the Bulls are healthy/recovered. And because I don't see them trading Coby White.

Or, at least, I wouldn't.

I've read that a lot, and, oh, also in your email. That's where I saw it. Coby may not be sixth man, but seven is valuable, also. Though Alex Caruso has had a few good scoring games, Coby is the scorer off the bench as we've seen lately who'll also make things a lot easier as Billy mixes lineups.

We've seen how Billy takes out DeRozan early to return him with reserves. And now having Coby seemingly finally recovered from that surgery he's been that scoring threat who potentially gives DeRozan a lot more space. The Bulls obviously like Dosunmu with good reason, and he's had some really good defensive segments. But I agree Ball and Caruso will do what he does best, and you can't have someone out on the court for those long stretches without scoring when you're also playing the hustle guys like Javonte Green and Derrick Jones.

Too many guys to play? That's a good thing. I can see Dosunmu eventually as a good backup point guard with his size and toughness, but he really needs to learn offense. Again, I think he needs 35 minutes starting in G-league games in sort of a force feed offense like they tried with Patrick Williams in Summer League.

I assume Ayo gets that this summer. But once the roster is complete again and Billy likes a nine-player rotation—and sometimes as he says nine and a half—and size is the elephant in the room issue, I suspect it becomes tougher for Ayo to get enough time to justify sitting around watching all the time. Patrick Williams? Wasn't he Kawhi a few months ago? It seems to me worthwhile to bring him back at some point and check to see if he still is or can be.

Lonzo Ball taking a floater

Lonzo Ball takes a floater.

Jake Henry:

Fred Van Vleet is on a run. He should be an All-Star. Would the Bulls rather have VanVleet or Lonzo? I love Lonzo. For most teams I would take Fred. His defense is just as good. His passing is worse. Shooting better from deep. More scoring off drives. But something about Lonzo's fit with this team says no. I would rather have Lonzo.

I'm a big believer in chemistry. And Lonzo is the perfect fit with Zach and the bench guys. VanVleet's help defense is elite. He gets his hands on more balls than anyone in the league and is never out of position. But for this team Lonzo's length adds a dimension that does not show up in stats.

And he is also an elite defensive player. Both should get All-Defense votes.

Sam Smith:

Van Vleet is a tough one, though with the Raptors again looking like they'll exceed executions after losing Kyle Lowry and forgetting they have Goran Dragic, VanVleet would be deserving. Especially as an undrafted player. Talk about your amazing careers.

In the first All-Star returns at guard where DeRozan was first and Zach fourth, VanVleet was 10th. Trae Young likely gets added with James Harden, which is four guards.

It will be close. You figure the coaches add Bradley Beal and they'll want to add someone from the Cavs if they continue to play well, probably Darius Garland. VanVleet should be right on the bubble, and this year as long as the Raptors stay in the seven to 10 spot I'd say give the little guy some love.

Chet The Jet Walker

Chet The Jet Walker

Steve Gledhill:

I just read Chet The Jet's Legends Profile on Chet Walker's career stats are so consistent. It's hard to believe that Bulls ownership at the time placed pride over priority (winning) and would not try to replace Walker by trading him when they wouldn't pay him. So, with total disregard for its fans who pay to see what had been winning team, the franchise became a loser seemingly overnight.

Good for Chet that he had the relationships he had and was able to pursue another path for his life.

Sam Smith:

Chet did make a remarkable career fake, sort of like his late game moves, going into the production business without any background. And actually winning a pair of Emmys.

I still speak with him often. He's had a lot of physical issues as you might expect for an 81-year-old former athlete in that play-or-get-released era who grew up picking cotton in Mississippi. Chet was always dignified and demanded his rights, and when the Bulls balked, he simply retired rather than take what was a lot of money at the time, but less than many others of less talent. The Wirtz ownership wasn't exactly player friendly.

I'm hoping the new management team when it has a chance settles into some franchise history and recognizes the contributions of Chet and Norm Van Lier with their jersey retirements.

Kevin Love

Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers

Kyle McGill:

Can a team restructure a players contract midseason to fit for salaries to match in a trade midseason?

I would like the Bulls to trade for Kevin Love and I'd give up Coby white and Derrick Jones Jr. to get him but their salaries only combine for $15 million while Love has a salary of $31 million this season.

So, could the Cavs restructure his contract so it matches up with us in a trade?

Sam Smith:

No. And it's a good thing because I doubt Kevin Love could get through the practices. Love's had a remarkable career for a guys swapped on draft night for O.J. Mayo. And saved the Warriors dynasty when the coaching staff basically threatened to quit if he was acquired for Klay Thompson, which some in management or ownership, the rumors go, were pushing for. But no more.

He's in a nice spot with the Cavs, 18-20 minutes off the bench for some shooting, though if he weren't making all that money I assume they'd rather be without him. And another year at $28 milion. Wow! The way Billy Donovan likes to play with speed and defense I doubt he'd get into many games.

You don't have to match salaries exactly as there is maybe a 15 percent fudge (not sure if they changed it) on matching. Love makes too much and delivers too little for anyone to take on his money, I presume.

Coby White layup against Wendell Carter Jr. in Orlando

Coby White layup against Wendell Carter Jr.

Sam Carter:

For the first time in 25 years I really like the Bulls roster and don't see any need to change things up this year.

Is there any move that you would like to see the Bulls make or are you happy the way it is? Also do people realize that Coby White is actually younger than Ayo?

Sam Smith:

C'mon, 25 years? That 2010-11 team with Derrick Rose had the best depth they maybe ever had. Hol dat! That is a good point about Coby that even I—yes, even me—forget, and certainly fans.

That Coby is still developing and growing and can score like that. We tend to forget when players come into the NBA so young that they are so young. That Coby had to learn under the daily media scrutiny that kids like Ayo never had.

Heck, Dosunmu was wearing a mask before you even had to and everyone loved it. I can't predict a title, but I also can't predict it's not possible. So I'll hold.

Franz Wagner

Franz Wagner of the Orlando Magic

Rodrigo Pahati:

I do not understand all the stories and rumors of trading Coby White. The three glaring weaknesses from stats and the eye test are the Bulls are near the bottom of the league in bench scoring, dead last in 3-point attempts, and near the bottom in rebounding.

Coby rounding to form can alleviate the first two issues. AKME showed he can play the analytics as last year's team had deficiencies in free throw attempts, point of attack defense, turnovers, and Zach needing clutch time help. This team was not built by gut feeling but with purpose by AKME and everyone brought in checked a box. Coby rounding into form checks the boxes for bench scoring and 3-point attempts.

The rebounding and defense was supposed to come from Patrick Williams who hopefully can come back at the end of the year. Ideally the Bulls can get a buy out candidate or a lower level trade since they still have the $5 million trade exception from the Daniel Theis sign and trade. I don't see a big splash trade in the future but this front office has proven to be aggressive.

I also just watched the Bulls/Magic game and I believe the Magic got Franz Wagner using our 1st round pick in the Vucevic trade.

Nothing against Vuc but Wagner looks like the type of player that the modern day NBA is all about-length, perimeter handles, shooting, driving, and playmaking.

I think I'd rather have Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr., and our 2023 first round pick back over an aging Vuc whose contract is expiring in a couple of years but where would our deficient rebounding be without him?

Sam Smith:

See, you came around. Of course, we can't say they would have selected Wagner, who looks awfully good, but perhaps not as much as he likes to shoot for this Bulls team. The point even as Arturas Karnisovas preached patience was also with adding DeRozan that it's now, or close to now. Enough with the babies, which I fully endorsed (they didn't ask, but I was ready). Eventually they all start to play for their next deals and the rebuild is a mess. And the Bulls needed a center.

Maybe there are better players than Ball, but they also need a point guard. Positions, or at least skills, matter. As for Coby, averaging 17.6 points per game and shooting 47 percent on 3-pointers with an almost 3-to-1 assists to turnover ratio the last seven games, I am getting fewer of those suggestions. But not zero.

Mo Bamba

Mo Bamba of the Orlando Magic

Joseph Austin:

Would it be a far fetched idea to do another deal with the Orlando Magic? This one would involve Mo Bamba and one of the Wagner's. Bamba might make more sense for the Bulls?

AK seems to to have a magic touch with overseas players? Pun intended. Perhaps the Bulls could take Terrance Ross as a substitute? I'm just trying to think of cost effective possibilities considering the Bulls trade capital limitations.

Sam Smith:

I have had some suggestions they trade for Wendell Carter Jr., which I'd like to hear how Magic management would spin that one. I sort of get why Orlando traded Vucevic since they weren't winning a title with him. Wendell was the reward and you don't get to explain to management they need to be patient five years while you rebuild when you dump the guy you traded your best player for. And Bamba's not replacing Vucevic; plus he seems more bust potential to me.

I like Ross, but not for the $12 million salary next season off the bench/limited role he'd play. Not moving to the G-league, the Magic probably also don't want to be considered the Bulls feeder system.

Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving

Will Pennix:

With the vaccine requirement at the United Center, does this include the players? Is city hall anticipating a playoff matchup with the Nets? Kyrie Irving would be restricted from playing in any of the games if the restriction does apply to the players.

Sam Smith:

I've thought about inquiring with the city, but they seem to have a lot of other distractions these days. It's not an NBA thing, but the way this has been is that in the cities where they have these restrictions, like New York, visiting unvaccinated or "immunized" players are eligible because they are not residents/taxpayers and so the city doesn't have responsibility for them.

I know, ridiculous. In some other cities, like I think Boston, they created rules exception zones for entertainers or they'd have to shut down just about all the arts. I guess we'll find out Wednesday when the Nets, 0-2 against the raging Bulls, are here after playing in Portland.

Unless the mayor is at the door checking cards, I suspect he'll be able to play. But you know you can't watch unless you have had the two vaccines. Like most else in these times, we are applying logic selectively.

Mike Muscala

Mike Muscala postgame interview

Paulie Giuntoli:

Was curious if you thought the Bulls would make any fringe moves around the edges at the trade deadline. I love this team and am so impressed already with what they've shown. If they face Joel Embiid in playoffs, that's a lot of pressure on Vooch.

I like what Tyler Cook & Tony Bradley have given us so far, but do you see AKME trying to get a cheap stretch big man off the bench? Mike Muscala perhaps?

Sam Smith:

Now that's an interesting guy and more like the kind of addition that makes sense to me, though the Thunder is tough to figure out since they appear to be trying to establish a record for most draft picks. Three-headed monster, circa 2022?

Ryan Arcidiacono

Ryan Arcidiacono playing for the Maine Red Claws

Mark Kollar:

I saw the captioned clickbait headline: Knicks sign former Bulls star. Could it be that Cristiano Felicio has been lured back to the NBA?

Nope, the Bulls "star" was Ryan Arcidiacono, one of my favorite players but maybe not quite a star. Is the current bench simply that much more talented? Few seemed as effective even at the end of our current bench.

Sam Smith:

He's back! Hopefully it's not the end of his era. I kept telling him to shoot more.

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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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