Ask Sam Mailbag: 01.05.18
Sam opens his mailbag and answers reader's questions
Interesting to see what will happen with Niko as there seems to be many reports he will be moved when he can be traded now his stock is up. If this is to happen do you see it being for picks or expiring contracts to free up cap space?
Sam: That's been the popular rumor and widely speculated around the NBA since the fight and Portis' suspension. This Bulls season was to be about accumulating as many draft picks as possible for one year since the lottery odds change after this season and basically no one was untouchable but the three players from the Butler trade. But has some of that changed with the team's improved play the last month? If you have a potentially lethal pair of seven foot forward shooters who both can play inside and outside, do you cash in for a draft pick, presumably a 19 or 20-year-old, and not a top talent given no one is giving up lottery picks? And basically no one moves up substantially to the top five with two lower picks. So have things changed? We all are anxious to learn in the next month with the new Feb. 8 trading deadline. But more complicating is making a deal. Sure, you probably can get a draft pick for some Bulls players. But the issue is matching a salary since few teams, like the Bulls, are under the salary cap. So a team you trade with has to give you back almost an equal amount in salary to absorb the player you send. There aren't a whole lot of one-year deals teams are willing to give up, and the Bulls certainly don't want to take on multiple year contracts to ruin their flexibility for free agents. It's one thing to say you want to or can make a trade. It's not as easy to do so.
We agree that even a #1 draft pick is still a gamble ... or maybe a ‘project' who will take a few years to blossom. We've already been through that with Niko and are just starting to see rewards. What are we? Foster Care for young hoopsters?? We may still get a lottery pick, albeit a later one. Do any Bulls know Paul George? If so, it might be time for some ‘casual friendly conversation'. Not tampering, of course ... . No, never that. As my wife always says, "Let's burn that bridge when we come to it." The way Niko is playing right now, he's definitely worth the $12.5MM (and probably more). We have him locked in at $12.5MM for another year. By this time next year we'll know if Niko is a star worth paying even more, or still up-and-down. And by that time, Markkanen will truly be ready to replace him if we can't negotiate a reasonable salary. Trading Niko now is like selling a bag with a rock in it that just might be a diamond. Nobody's paying you for Niko's potential, so you're almost bound to lose. Gar/Pax Bulls don't even have to say they were wrong. In fact, they were right about Niko! It just took four years to pan out. Taking that idea one step further, Gar/Pax should actually be getting accolades right now. First, they picked a coach who nobody (incl. me) had faith in, and he's got them playing great team ball. Then they traded Butler, and seem to have gotten 3 good players for him. Looks like they were right about Dunn too! Next, they signed a few scrubs and rejects with some potential, in the hope that 1 might be a ‘find'. Nwaba qualifies, maybe Holiday & Grant too. So, yes, maybe they're better than they thought they'd be at this point. That's not a bad thing! If nothing else, they've saved the season for me. The Bulls are actually fun to watch.
Sam: That's why this may be the most intriguing few weeks since the LeBron/Wade recruitment of 2010. No one really thought Carmelo was going to mean a championship. So what do you do? This season was supposed to be about patience, developing and adding young talent, tryouts for whom to keep and who might yield more draft picks. So why not stick with the plan? It looks like they'll only have to for one season now the way Dunn and Markkanen have come so fast. But then again ... . Though Mirotic and Markkanen haven't produced those super analytics playing together yet, consider the possibilities of two seven footers with that sort of shooting ability, pretty good rebounders and decent defenders. Heck, it's not even clear the Warriors would be good defending that. Throw in a point guard who defends and a super athletic, two-time dunk champion shooting guard (anyone seen one of those around?), backcourt athletic ability with front court size, all your upcoming draft picks, plenty of salary cap room to come ranking among the most in the league when all the top teams don't have any. Well, maybe patience means not doing anything. This is not an easy choice. Both make sense. Neither seems wrong. How to decide? This is what I know about public and media reaction to your team: A third are for one thing and a third for the other, so whichever you do one third will say they warned you. Then there's the other third that just wants you to fail. All executives should remember the example of the Chicago Cubs, which all media here points to now. I recall during that horrific rebuilding the condemnation, the here we go again, it's a curse and they can't win and these are idiots who just know losing. And then when the Cubs succeeded, all those critics used one line or sentence to say, well, guess I was wrong and then write the rest of their columns or the rest of their talk or TV shows extolling how smart the Cubs were and it should be a lesson and model to all the other franchises. Follow your instinct because they only celebrate the success; not the correct path.
How does one truly value NBA trades? Initially, I disliked the Butler trade mainly because the Bulls also added the 16th pick. Looking at the Twolves for whatever reason that player has not played. In the short run Bleacher Report is still saying Chicago is the loser in this trade. Currently, with the recent development of Dunn and contract considerations, I would say this is not the case considering Lavine has yet to play. As a fan, I would like a playoff run for development sake yet I want hopes of an eventually good team. Lopez to Cleveland if they have a first-round pick they need the help of defense. This could help Chicago open up maybe more minutes for Portis. Bulls don't get a huge pick but maybe a top ten they could be a playoff team next season.
Sam: Top 10 pick for Lopez? We love Robin, but with an extra year on his deal and not a three-point shooter, his value isn't that high around the league. He's great to have, but almost a luxury the way the game is played now. But at 29 and a guy who looks like he could play the way he does for five more years, having a career year and a hall of fame teammate, I don't see the urgency to trade him, anyway. Especially if you aren't getting much. Of course, we know it only takes one team to establish value we hadn't anticipated. Yes, I know we all love to keep score, and it's a good idea for the games. But this subjective scoreboard regarding trades is basically ridiculous. It doesn't matter what the other guy did as long as you got what you want. The Butler trade was widely condemned out of general ignorance because one guy is an all star and the others are not. Great analysis there. It's much more time consuming and can cause headaches to consider the ramifications and circumstances. The Bulls were dead ended. They had no way to add a high level talent to Butler. They tried. Remember, Wade and Rondo were considered that. Their path was blocked. Conversely, Minnesota had an urgency the Bulls didn't in having missed the playoff for the last 12 years. I've always believed if you get what you want and it fits your vision, it doesn't matter what the other guy got. Minnesota was not doing the trade—and it was justified they shouldn't have given they were giving up three potential starters—without No. 16. You couldn't let the deal die for a No. 16 draft pick. Which rarely even translates to a starter. Both teams did well, which also is positive because then they won't hesitate to deal with you again. That was as good as it gets.
The next 10 games are not that hard. We have the Mavs next who haven't been bad but we can take them. I could see us winning a shocking 7 of the next 10. At worse 5.
Sam: This is a very confusing season. I'm not quite that optimistic, though I have been on the surprised side all season. Will Zach be back in that time? Someone traded? We saw it took weeks to get into a regular rotation, which has been in place a few weeks now. Can Dunn be more consistent and stay out of foul trouble? Is Mirotic hurt? Can Portis be consistent? Heck, can just about everyone but Lopez be consistent? De-fence! Do the Knicks and Pacers owe them one? Aren't the Warriors part of that 10? Really, who's a better sports story in Chicago this month than the Bulls? They're back!
Was there ever any chance the Bulls would've traded the #7 altogether - what ended up being Kirk Hinrich? Were the rumors true that the Bulls wanted to trade up in the draft to grab Anthony, Bosh or Wade?
Sam: Of course they did; that's the point. Teams always want to trade into the top five. Teams with top five picks basically never give them up. The few times teams have done so has often been so bad for them that it's scared off other teams. So if you think the Bulls—or anyone else—can load up on No. 1 picks and trade into the top five, forget it. The draft is ever more important now and the promise of the top of the draft, albeit often unrealistic, so important to each team's fan base that no one dare give up those picks for fear of losing their job quickly. You can survive picking a bad No. 3; not trading it and having that guy become a star. Think back to the Bulls moving up to No. 5 in 1987. Scottie Pippen. Ooops, Seattle was still trying to trade for him seven years later and almost did for Shawn Kemp that June. Forget O.J. Mayo and Kevin Love. Those were both top five picks and an eight-player trade. As Mel Brooks famously said in the movie, Blazing Saddles, when the politicians were debating what's best to do for the public, "Gentlemen, we have to save our phony baloney jobs." Brooks obviously was a student of American history.
That was a bizarre decision to sit Mirotic... tank is on?
I know you're going to say "players/coaches don't tank"... and I agree. But Mirotic is easily your best player this year, and to sit him for that long looks really bad. Heck, it looks really bad to keep bringing him off the bench, when he's better than Lauri.
Sam: You mean the only rookie to score at least 30 points in a game last month? I received a load of emails this week that sitting Mirotic—who we see now does have some back problems—at the end of the Portland game was proof of the conspiracy (yeah, we caught ya!); the Bulls are tanking! I hate that word/expression, by the way. It comes from the 19th century when swimming pools were called tanks and became part of boxing vernacular about taking a dive to lose the fight, falling down, diving (into a pool); and somehow got to basketball to define the 76ers. Anyway, the coach would not do that and the players never would. Of course, the players won't because most of the players on the Bulls roster are playing for their NBA careers. How about trying to explain to another team or negotiate with lower averages and note you were helping the team lose to get it a higher draft pick so they could select a player to replace you because of your low scoring average. Similarly with the coach, who if his team loses shows he's not developing players, not advancing the program. Give him a five-year extension and maybe he goes along. I'm not seeing that. Sitting Mirotic was perfectly understandable and the why a coach never wins unless his team does. Hoiberg was faulted in Washington for not having Lopez in the game late and losing those key offensive rebounds. So he stayed with Lopez late and was faulted for not having Mirotic instead of Lopez. Markkanen has basically been as effective as Mirotic with range shooting. Plus whatever occurs with Mirotic, Markkanen is the future power forward. He should be playing. And, by the way, he has made several game winning shots already.
This Bulls team is certainly proving to be a wild ride. Like most others, I didn't see the flurry of wind coming after the 3-20 start. Even the recent losses we've had have all been winnable with one or two plays being the difference between the W or L. This highlights a perfect example of what is possible in competing and why supporters should always get excited about every season - the possibilities and the unknown. The rest of the season will be very intriguing.
Sam: I recall at the beginning of the season people sympathizing and saying what a boring season it would be for me. There are seasons with a lot of losses, but barely boring ones. Though when there was panic about the wins a few weeks back blowing the lottery pick, it seemed all they had to do was rehire Tim Floyd. But I digress. I was writing early in the season about how you embrace each season for its personality. Even the Floyd ones, yes. Now in addition to competitive level, there's development, personnel decisions, injury return and scouting about the draft and free agency. Rarely do seasons even with top teams end in a championship; as Phil Jackson often told his team, embrace the journey. They are all different, but rarely without intrigue, entertainment and expectation. This one has been abundant with stories. And it seems like many more to come.
It seems like we can be confident in Hoiberg's ability to help players improve their shots. You see how he helped Dunn and Lopez improve their shots. You also see how he helped Lauri, Nikola and Denzel bounce back from slumps. Do you think we can use this for players with low value because of poor shooting? I think we can offer something for players like Justise Winslow, Stanley Johnson or Mario Hezonja.
Sam: It's encouraging that players are improving, and Fred was a league shooting champion. But I think I'd prefer to go with the guys who already can shoot. But I will say that Coach of the Month award to Dwane Casey was stolen from Fred. First of all, with everyone pissed off trying to get through customs, they play worse in Canada. And Casey has one guy lined up in the early All-Star voting to start and another in the top 10. The Bulls not only aren't going to get an All-Star, but we're not even sure anyone on the roster got a vote. That 10-6 December was just two games behind Toronto's 11-3 with a roster in which you could make a case you'd take four of the five Toronto starters. Coming from a 3-17 start to that turnaround with a team seemingly built to lose was one of the great coaching months ever. And real coaching; not just riding hot players, as Toronto, for one, did. Once again, globalization conspires against the American worker.
I was trying to figure out who Lauri Markkanen looks like. His nickname should be Eddie for Eddie Haskell from the old Leave it to Beaver. What do you think?
Sam: We've got Markkanen confused enough already thinking you get to start in the NBA because your teammates beat up each other. Not a comparison to the Chucky of 50s sitcoms.
Can the Bulls win a championship with Markkanen as centerpiece? How high is Markkanen's ceiling?
Sam: I asked him and he said eight feet, but he does sometime bump his head when he goes on tip toes.
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