Ask Sam Mailbag: 01.04.19
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to answer readers' questions.
I'll start off by saying nothing changes if nothing changes. I would like to see some changes. I was thrilled to get Parker. At the time the legend Of Chicago high school basketball was second on the team in scoring behind Zach Lavine. Suddenly Portis comes, Hoiberg is gone, and apparently so is Jabari. Teams seem willing to put up with a player who seldom scores as long as he plays defense, so why is it so hard to stick with a guy like Jabari who can score? I don't understand why we're not playing him at all. The kid is bound to have limitations after two surgeries. If his defense is suspect, don't coaches teach anymore? Tell him, show him, teach what you want him to do on defense. What did they see when they signed him for $20 million a year that they don't see now?? The starting lineup and the rotation has made no changes either. Holiday still starts even though he struggling. Carter still start even though he always gets into early fall trouble. If he came off the bench he could watch and learn for six or seven minutes and then go in against their subs not their starters. I suppose like anybody else maybe we are setting the stage to get Zion. What a huge huge huge move that would be for the Bulls or anyone who would get him. If we are trying to get lottery and first round draft picks, I get that. But I would also like to see a team that would make that guy want to be here.
Sam: And you wrote before the Orlando game, so it's without as much rancor. It's pretty obvious now that Parker isn't playing after they substituted Benny the Bull, the Red Panda and the quick dress lady into the game ahead of Parker Wednesday. Actually there is change despite what you note; just not the sort of changes you would like for now. We see this often, and it recently occurred with old buddies Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. They signed long-term contracts. And then managements changed in both places with a new philosophy, and nether played for two years until they basically were released. Jabari likely still would be playing with Fred Hoiberg, who wasn't thrilled with Jabari's defensive transition, but accepted, as you note, the tradeoff with his offense. But Jim Boylen has made clear he's coaching differently, focusing on defense and inside/outside offense (in theory) and a more deliberate pace and measured offense. Plus, Parker also apparently is being used as something of cautionary tale to the rest of the team. Play this way or don't play at all. So the team Parker was hired for no longer exists. The Bulls anticipated it to an extent with the one year guarantee. After all, Deng and Noah had four-year guarantees. Though your suggestions also illustrate the complex issues of starting over again with the same roster without a training camp. You say sit Wendell Carter Jr, but that means start Lopez, who presumably is not part of the team's future. So they really shouldn't want to do that. Felicio? Not as a starter, I presume. Maybe dip into the G-league from the smoking hot Windy City Bulls (six straight wins) for some guys to look at if they're not playing Parker? And now with Justin Holiday traded I suspect we see Chandler Hutchison a lot. I don't fully get why Parker is on the active roster, anyway, if he's not playing and apparently not going to. Though what you hit on clearly is the enigma wrapped in a riddle and all that. There's still a lot of sorting out to do, and the three everyone hopes eventually add a Big prefix just started playing together a week ago.
Let's give credit where credit is due! Garpax just acquired two borderline NBA players and two second round draft picks for Justin Holiday. Justin Holiday is an ideal teammate, a model citizen, and a smart player. So Memphis hit the jackpot if they're looking for a Scalabrine type for the end of the bench. If they're looking for a basketball player, they should keep looking. In 22 out of 38 games this season Justin Holiday shot below 40% from the field. And he shoots 7 threes a game! This is a man that can single handedly bring down your team shooting percentage on any given night. I, for one, am glad he's gone. But I'm sure Boylen is crushed and trying to find creative ways to play Robin Lopez at the 3.
Sam: Let's not be too hard on Justin since he did also learn to play the guitar on the road. Plus the guy made himself into at least an NBA specialist, and no one much thought he could in Europe, the G-league and a half dozen teams. You know he's got to be moving into Graceland, or at least heartbreak hotel with his guitar. I can understand that Boylen was trying to make his coaching case by winning some games, but he was playing Holiday way too much. In fact, the Bulls seemed to run a curl screen play to shoot a three on top for Holiday out of timeouts more than for anyone else. Enough of that! Management doesn't dictate to coaches who to play—or isn't supposed to—but they can get rid of guys being used too much. It's time for Hutchison, shaky offense and all, to play, and play more as he was playing well the other night in Toronto and then sat out the end of the game. Now you assume Hutchison will start, and whether it looks like a run to the lottery, it's the right thing to do for where and who this Bulls team is now. I'm assuming Lopez is next unless he starts making threes like his brother.
What is your prediction on what the bulls do with:
Parker - will they trade him out for something? Or hold until the end of the season and not renew? Gee the Bulls management handled this situation terribly. Should have sugar coated him and played him but from the bench. Now we have driven his value to rock bottom.
Lopez - see no logic in a buyout. Might as well clear him at seasons end
Holiday - also Rock bottom value and don't see a valuable asset to trade him out for his 4.5 mil
Portis - the best of the bunch but we have probably seen his ceiling. Hopefully offer him a lesser contract than earlier or a higher salary (12 mil/yr) but on a 2 yr deal. I was so excited at the start of the season. Now we'll be looking at a no.5-6 pick in an average draft.
Sam: At least no New Year's resolutions. I suspect they work out a deal with Portis. Having two injuries like he's had and missing almost half the season probably has been sobering for him. I suspect he'll be a bit more accommodating in negotiations. And he'll still be wealthier than any of us ever are. So no feeling sorry. Parker's fate seems determined. Holiday is no longer a part of the team, as anticipated given the likelihood he wasn't part of the future plan, and Lopez figures to be next. Perhaps Lopez could return at a reasonable price given he's a popular teammate and a tough guy with size. Though he may not want that mentor role quite yet. He'll be more difficult to trade given he makes $14.3 million and the Bulls would have to take back that much salary. Lopez didn't much like the post-All Star last year of seeing the kids. He wants to play. But does it make any sense if he's not going forward? Wendell Carter Jr. ended up with just 13 minutes against Orlando, which was probably an aberration. That's not likely to happen again. I didn't think he played that badly; or at least not so poorly as to stand out among others. He dealt with it amazingly well for a 19-year-old, and though he has had some issues with all these huge guys he's had to play, he's also suffered because the Bulls haven't been emphasizing offensive options for him. They will. The other side of it is understandable. There's a new coach and he wants to win some games to show he is deserving. That's certainly natural. Plus, he wants to win some games and make a point (defensively) in the name of that culture thing.
You want your young players in close games and have a chance to develop habits when the game is being contested. Yes, it would be great to get a top college kid. Really, really great. But it's hardly guaranteed with the bottom three teams having the same odds for the top pick, about 14 percent. Even if you have the fifth poorest record, you have a 10.5 percent chance for the top pick instead of 14 with the poorest record. Is that worth throwing away an entire season? Though with these trades the Bulls may be more so on that path. It is coming time to keep Carter and Chandler Hutchison in games and perhaps get a look at some hungry G-league guys. The move with Holiday assures that if you are not part of the future group, it's time to start making changes. Here come the kids! But it remains a balancing act with the messages the new coach and management still want to send. It doesn't happen in just a few weeks without a summer and a training camp.
How much will dunn make with his new contract? 15 million a year? We always hear “what the team and he agree he is worth" but that doesnt equate to good business. See felicio and jabari. Terry rozier is in line for 15-20 million. Dunn isnt that yet but there are a lot of similarities....rozier shoots the three better and dunn has more length though. Imo hes the most important part of this rebuild....he plays defense unlike lavine or markannen. He also carries a ton of risk due to his inabilities to score in the past. Will the bulls give him market value?
Sam: Pretty much everyone but LaVine is on a tryout given he has a long contract. I suspect given Dunn's injuries and just settling into a regular role almost midway through this season, they'll treat him like Portis and make him an offer and then see if he wants to go to market. I support players who do that since it's their long and hard-earned right. It worked for Butler and not so much for Portis. Maybe Gibson could have gotten a little more money when he accepted the Bulls offer without becoming a restricted free agent, but as a conservative investor, I believe you're best guaranteeing that first set-for-life contract. The Bulls do what every team does: If you want a guarantee early, you have to give up a little. It's good business and fair for the players. Though the larger issue with Dunn remains, as you say, whether does his defensive abilities outweigh his offensive deficiencies? For now with Boylen you'd say he fits better, though he remains a bit too much a ball control guy who doesn't score enough. He needs to become more of a regular offensive threat even if it's not shooting threes. He's getting to the basket better, but he still doesn't get to the free throw line enough for a ball control player. I'd still be uncertain how much of an investment to make. Which also is an issue the Bulls have. How can you establish a player's value if he's never been in a playoff game or played in meaningful games?
This season is becoming so frustrating. I actually miss Hoiberg and Randy Brown. Is Boylen going to start coaching based on the players he has or continue trying to force this style that he's dreamed and understandbly waited for. However you have build your scheme based on the players you have, including Jabari Parker. Zach Lavine is not turning into John Starks (93') over night. But they owe the fans an apology if they are trying to lose games.
Sam: Randy will be pleased to hear. He's really dropped out of sight. Maybe not all fans based on some of my mail. I don't think in just a month with a coaching change the future is clear. I do know the Bulls don't want to hopelessly lose games, but it sometimes happens that way. Of course, they'd like a good draft pick and it's pretty likely they'll miss the playoffs and be in the lottery. I know it's popular among some segments of the community to go for the see-you-in-June strategy. But there's still much to be worked out, especially among LaVine, Markkanen and Dunn. It's clear LaVine and Markkanen are the scorers among this group, and I'd focus on LaVine as my No. 1 guy. I know some believe Markkanen has greater potential, but he doesn't create his shot and get to the free throw line like LaVine can. Dunn just doesn't do enough yet to occupy or upset defenses. Markkanen does mostly with stretching the floor with that beautiful shooting stroke. But it appears the elbow injury and two months out set him back. He seems less aggressive than he was the latter part of last season getting to the basket and initiating contact. Some of that obviously is the change in offensive philosophy since when he came back Boylen was taking over. LaVine basically was the offense until then with Markkanen, Dunn, Valentine and Portis out.
I know some see flaws in LaVine with his shots and passing, but I actually heard a lot of the same stuff in the 80s with that Jordan guy; you know, takes selfish shots, doesn't move the ball enough, makes turnovers. Yes, but he could score. No, Zach isn't defending like Jordan, but Zach can score. He can get to the basket better than anyone on the team, creates contact the best, has an excellent shooting touch and can make tough shots and plays for himself better than anyone on the roster. One of the issues the opposition has been taking advantage of has been the rotations. The Bulls lately have employed too many non-shooters when Markkanen and LaVine haven't played together. So the ball swings, but then ends up with Shaquille Harrison or Lopez or Hutchison. I'd force feed LaVine more shots because with Markkanen standing on the perimeter more, LaVine is really the only one who is getting to the line, making those tough shots and whom defenses fear. Then you get others going since Zach will pass. I can see things then becoming somewhat less frustrating. You're trying to develop a star, and LaVine and Markkanen seem the closest now.
In your story on Wendell it's notable that he views himself as a power forward and “short" at 6'-10". It's doubtful if Lauri would ever evolve into a real five if that is even desirable and Portis also seems to be a better fit at the four even at 6'-11". This seems like your power forward comparison to a Kennedy rush hour traffic jam. There have been references to Wendell as a version of Al Horford but do you recall examples of a successful Lauri & Wendell type combo? They are certainly not the Houston Twin Towers. I note that Davis of NOLA also is also listed at 6'-10" and as a four but he seems to be a better leaper/jumper and, for comparison, is a much more experienced six year vet. Ongoing do we need a Lopez type or even Lopez who is only thirty and a helpful vet? Do we wait for a true center in the draft, sign a less expensive free agent to replace Lopez or even trade?
Sam: I agree; the Bulls appear not to be a finished product yet. Remember, there's the upcoming lottery, free agency with perhaps $40 million or more available and players who will come as they are building it. There will be future drafts and trades and free agency, and by my count maybe leaves eight players on the current roster who probably will not be here next season. Wendell will, and I'm still satisfied that even if he doesn't get taller, being 19 years old he will get stronger, smarter and more skilled. I recall Wes Unseld doing pretty well at center against Wilt, Kareem, Reed (who also wasn't particularly tall), Nate Thurmond, Walt Bellamy and Bill Russell (who also wasn't that tall). Wes, by the way, was about 6-6. There are many ways to be effective at center in the NBA. Wendell just hasn't tried many yet. He's not an offensive priority compared with Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen. But he's a keeper.
What are the chances Kevin Durant shocks the world and signs with the Bulls next Summer? I'm thinking of LeBron's 2015 return to Cleveland. Maintaining his legacy and building a career narrative seemed to be the main reasons for his return to Cleveland. Sure, he won the two rings in Miami, but he cemented his legacy and became universally beloved by winning in 2016 for his hometown, blue collar, long-suffering, Midwest city. This came after he was perceived as selfish and preferring the easy way out by teaming up with superstars. Analogous to a KD-to-Chicago scenario perhaps? He still needs a championship that is uniquely his own, as I see it.
Sam: And LeBron just did say that made him the greatest player ever. I'd have dismissed the Durant scenario, but if Durant can then claim being the greatest ever—really, to paraphrase Jordan, it's a lot easier to make Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving a champion compared to Ryan Arcidiacono and Cristiano Felicio—maybe that's something we hadn't thought about. But seriously I assume the Bulls will pursue top, elite free agents. All they can say is no. But despite the community negativity about the subject, Chicago is one of the three elite metropolitan areas in the country, a franchise with a championship legacy, great facilities, convenient with the arena and practice facility, a major world sports market and pizza that looks like cheese and tomato sauce on Wonder Bread. OK, other than the pizza, a world class place.
I am really sick & tired of the Boo-Birds. Today (reading comments after the Orlando game) I ‘learned' that Boylen is not an NBA coach. He's too negative & pessimistic and can't inspire players… so we need Hoiberg back. I also found out that Zach needs
to pass to Lauri and let him take all the shots, or we should get rid of him. (Last night, they both played 28 minutes. Lauri was 6-12. Zach was 6-10 w/ 3 assists.) And of course – as we already knew – Gar/Pax have to go. (I agree. They lost that game. Neither of them scored or rebounded even once.)
Sam: It is much more difficult to write my Ask Sam after a loss like that which follows several days off. Happy New Years! Perspective is more fleeting. Though they probably won't admit it, I'm sure Bulls employees read some of those fan comment blogs, too. For now I think the abiding belief is that, ‘Well, it's better than if they weren't upset and didn't care.' Caring is good; disappointment is inevitable when you are going through a rebuilding. The same people who call for tanking for a draft pick all season also watch the games and break down the mistakes and losses like the team is contending. It's part of the fan experience. My wife is a big fan of the post game Bears shows during which no matter the amount of the victory, there's relentless outrage to get rid of the quarterback. With the Bulls not doing as well, there isn't as much post game of that sort. But basketball analysis is fair, positive or negative. It's part of the job in sports. As long as it's not personal, I don't see any problem with questioning what anyone does and why. They should be asked to respond and everyone deserves a chance to have their question answered. It's why I answer all my mail; I don't answer Twitter because I can't figure out how it works and it's used by too many subversives. Write me at the Bulls and you get a response. That comes from my years with the Tribune. I know there was no internet then, but we experienced a similar level of anger and stupidity. It didn't come as an attachment to the internet. It's part of the human soul. I always disliked the way the newspaper editors often condescendingly dismissed the public. Hey, we're the First Amendment! Of course, some were rude, but most just wanted an answer. So it's no surprise in some cases why the media becomes a monolith and is condemned as it is despite it being just a bunch of not particularly special people with merely a different skill. Ah, basketball C'mon, where else in the world can the boss get away with—and be asked to—scream at employees throughout the work day and visitors get to boo the workers' results as they occur? This is not a normal business, so it doesn't draw a normal response.
After a game like last night, hard not to think “Man we suck right now." But Jim is now 4-5. Extrapolate to 82 and that almost makes the playoffs in the East. Break up the Bulls?
Sam: Actually 5-9 since Boylen took over, which translates to 29 wins. They'd won four of the last eight before Wednesday. But they had been showing signs of a disciplined, defensive-oriented game which, even if not always aesthetically pleasing, was producing problems for some good teams. But when playing that way you have to be “on" more often because there are fewer easier shots and less margin for error on defense. Phil Jackson always talked to the team about looking ahead in five-game segments. Win those five, or four, and then go onto the next. In other words, don't look too far ahead, but realize we're playing a season. The Bulls have talent in Markkanen, LaVine and Dunn. The rest of this season has to be about bringing it out.
I love to recognize former Bulls from previous teams and several years ago. These players are still having long term careers and often have found more success playing roles elsewhere. I feel like the Bulls have missed out on opportunities to keep some of these very quality players to build around for extended periods of time and keep a positive reputation around the league. The players that come to mind are:
Tyson Chandler (Never should have signed Ben Wallace and TC is still playing)
Jamal Crawford (Moved on too quickly)
Ron Artest - Needed more time to mature
Tabo Selfalosha - Prime prospect
Roger Mason Jr/Matt Bonner (Spurs years)
Omer Asik (Rockets- should've matched)
Kyle Korver (All star w the Hawks, still playing)
Tony Snell (Nice reserve role shooter)
Spencer Dinwiddie/DJ Augustine (perfect Backup PGs for right now)
Taj and Derrick (The ultimate fan favorites and quality guys
Jimmy (I understand moving on from him)
Trades occur but I feel like Gar Foreman and John Paxson have not been able to fully maximize the potential of the careers of these players and this could've changed the course of our franchise then having to go through the multiple rebuilds and find other guys. Otherwise they Gar/Pax don't bother me. They are excellent at drafting quality players.
Sam: Well, how would you feel about Oklahoma City's Sam Presti, who traded James Harden for some reserves and lost Kevin Durant for nothing? And even Jeff Green, who isn't horrible. Talk about blowing your chances for a championship. I got some of this when the great Spencer Dinwiddie had a big game against the Bulls a few weeks back. I always lobbied for Spencer, but he's a marginal starter. And basically is about everyone else on your list. Elton was perhaps the best (other than Rose and Butler for understandable reasons), and Krause's theory was right that you couldn't win ultimately with him. Of course, he couldn't make the playoffs with what he did instead. The point is you need stars to win. While you mention a lot of good players, basically none were even All-Stars, and when they were like Chandler more of a role player. Carlos Boozer was basically more successful than just about everyone on your list. The Bulls still are working on stars; I'm thrilled those guys had careers as most were good people and good players. Often players need a different landscape or role. Some guys I recall traded were Nate Archibald, Charles Barkley, Dave Bing, Dave DeBusschere, Elvin Hayes, Earl Monroe, Lenny Wilkins, Nate Thurmond and Robert Parish, all of whom had top 50 careers. It's about stars.
I seem to be suffering from a malady predominantly seen in Chicago Bulls fans/players, "Basketball Whiplash." In a period of a few days the Bulls go from emphasizing an uptempo, fast-paced offense to a slow-paced, walk-up emphasis on defense. We hire Hoiberg to help us join the popular, uptempo, 3-ball trend. We hire Jabari Parker hoping to ignite his offensive skills to fit this offense as he appears to believe that emphasizing defense is outdated. We are waiting for key players to return from injuries to see if this is going to work. Just before the players return Hoiberg is fired and Boylen is hired. We go into reverse emphasizing defense and a slow tempo basketball style. Jabari Parker is out of the rotation. Players appear lost in this abrupt change in philosophy. I wonder if you are also suffering from Basketball Whiplash?
Sam: Change isn't easy for anyone. Really, when they keep asking you to change your password. Who really remembers?
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