Ask Sam Mailbag: 01.11.19

Given the Bulls are more or less healthy now, didn't most of us expect and hope they'd be doing a little bit more winning? I know that at this point there's no shot of making the playoffs, so they'd prefer to end up with a bottom five record in terms of the draft, but I'm sure the players on the team still want to win. There are of course mitigating factors like the change in coaches, trading Holiday, etc. But what do you think all this losing means about the status of the rebuild? Is it going to take longer to get back to the playoffs than many hoped? Or do you think maybe this group just needs more time to improve via maturing as players and playing together? Is here a viable core here for a perennial playoff team (I see no sign that there is yet for a championship contender so that's not what I'm asking about)?

Cameron Watkins

Sam: It's a reasonable inquiry especially considering I, too, was among those who believed Vegas had it wrong and taking the over on 27 was a lock. It's why also I don't gamble. And I did always suspect some wise guys were really responsible for Lauri's elbow. I'm in for $500 on mitigating factors. I know we view injury as an excuse and that next man up thing, but without offending too many people, let's admit it's not a deep roster. So Antonio Blakeney isn't exactly a replacement for Lauri Markkanen or Kris Dunn. Whatever the circumstances of the coaching change were, it's very difficult for basically the core of your team to return from injury and almost everything they heard about a "system" was changed. Short answer is no, it's not really realistic to expect this should be the team we were anticipating coming into training camp since that philosophy hasn't come with them. But I do believe that level of talent is there and more like one of those NFL situations of worst to first (though not first right away) that the Bulls have some really good talent, should get some more in the draft, will get a quality free agent even if his name doesn't start with a K and the Bulls have more talent than the Heat, Nets, Hornets, Pistons and Magic, that Fab 5 in the race for the last three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Last to sixth?

Would or could Jabari Parker go to the windy city Bulls. If for nothing else but for playing time and showcase. If he plays with the WCB and scores at will, It would at least show that, he's not playing, because of health. And therefore would be valuable to some team limping down the stretch, looking for some points. He would easily be the most talented guy out there that a team could bring in with a double/double game, that they wouldn't have to give up anything but future considerations to get. a player that has the potential to catch fire ala JR Smith.

Tom Offa

Sam: Veteran players like Parker cannot go to the G-league without their approval, which clearly he would not give especially since one of the issues, I believe, is Parker sees himself as the best player. Not so much on the Bulls, but in the NBA. I like that players are confident, but there appears to be a fairly large disconnect between each side's view of the other's status and effectiveness.

Got to play Jabari, with trade deadline coming up in a few weeks. If another team is considering adding him, they need to "see" what he can now do, especially in all the aspects of his recovery from injury. With the stated "youth movement", although Jabari is still "young", it just does not appear that he would have a significant role with the Bulls unless there were additional injuries to the new starting five-some "core". Depending how Chandler does over the next few weeks, Jabari could be reinstated as the starter at Small Forward. It also makes sense, with the large $ "investment" that the Bulls made for Jabari, that he gets "one more good chance" before this season ends.

John Ingvoldstad

Sam: It doesn't appear like it's going to occur, but I'd probably go with your view, especially with the new trading deadline less than a month away, to give him a look at least to see if someone might be interested. The guy can score. But I actually think the Bulls are taking the majority fan view here. While it doesn't look good with the summer expenditure for Parker, they are saying the future and their core players are more important, and the message to them can't be to reward someone who isn't playing defense at the expected level and isn't that engaged with the team. I assume there are mitigating factors, but you hear about an unwillingness to join the group. I don't believe it's any of the rumors about a confrontation with Boylen since Parker doesn't seem to say much to anyone. I believe it's the establishment of standards and a standard of play and defense and accountability and messages to the team universe. The decisions appears to be we're not going forward with him, so why risk—not to say he will—upsetting the standards we are putting in place and at least so far he hasn't embraced?

Maybe it was time to move on from Hoiberg, and maybe Boylen was the right choice. Ok. Two months ago we were complaining about poor defense, now we're doing the same with the offense. I suppose it's the volatile nature of being sport fans, and also kind of normal with a rebuilding team. But, there's one thing I really do not understand: why do you have to guarantee Boylen the job for next year too? Maybe he's good, but let him show he deserves the job. It's about accountability, isn't it? Or am I missing something? Also, I've read multiple reports about the fact that ownership doesn't want to pay for three coaches. Yes, three coaches seems too many, and yes, they do what they want with their money, but an average coach costs what, like your 8th or 9th rotational player? You're paying 20 million to a player sitting at the end of the bench.

Michele Morandi

Sam: Well, nothing is guaranteed. As Fred Hoiberg also found out. I do expect Boylen to be the coach to start next season, and it's not unreasonable given management has openly stated the rest of this season is not about wins and losses but getting players in position in development to go with a group of new players to be added this summer. So how to make that judgment. I can see management not wanting to send a message to the players that this is a substitute teacher. So pay attention! Plus a half season with players just returning from injury isn't exactly a level playing field for long term judgment. Management says it likes what it hears and sees from Boylen regarding defense, accountability and rugged play. So what would they see in a short time that would change their mind? I hear the thing about not wanting to pay multiple coaches and while it's a talking point, I don't think there's anything to it. As you note, they make some major expenditures. And while I don't know Boylen's salary, I don't think it's substantially different from what they owed him as an assistant, anyway. So if they wanted to make a change coach finances would likely be no part of it. I think they believe Boylen is the right coach for where they are now.

Fun year keeping you on your toes as it were. Different idea is to Go Big like the Bucks (did I say that?). Start RoLo at Center and move Carter to the 3! Rotate Portis and Parker from the bench. Bulls are playing too many guards.

Lawrence Joy

Sam: Wendell has said he seems himself more as a power forward, though positions are so interchangeable in the NBA these days and a player faces huge guys one game and quick guys the next that positions are not as static as they once were. But you hardly want Carter on the perimeter defending guards. Lopez doesn't seem part of the team's future. And though it's not always directly addressed, winning games with hybrid lineups this season appears not to be a priority. I also don't expect some of the current guards to be back.

Why doesn't Jim Boylen ever play Wendell Carter Jr and Robin Lopez together? Isn't Carter Jr talented and mobile enough to play PF even though he's list as a center?

Tom Choi

Sam: I'll admit I have a hard time these days keeping up with the rotations given the frequent changes. Given Robin's presumed limited future with the team, he has been playing Carter some with Portis or Markkanen, which makes sense. Carter has played mostly center, but some power forward at times. Again, those positions change more than ever like shooting guard and small forward.

I thought the NBA determined years ago that one couldn't get a shot off in less than 0.4 second, and the only way one could score with less time than that was via a tip-in. I recall an exercise involving Trent Tucker of the Knicks, who had one of the quickest releases at the time, in which he shot multiple times on an otherwise empty court so the NBA could time his catch and release. Is my memory correct, or is this just another example of my "remembering" things like my being a halfway decent softball player?

Peter Millburg

Sam: I did remember it that way as well. I was at the Tucker game when he made the winner with .01 left and the NBA made up the rule. I did recall it as you needed at least .04 to catch and shoot, but the NBA assures me it's .03. But you can't also turn as Zach did.

The optimist in me believes a quick turnaround could be possible.

Everyone is talking about the Lakers and Celtics for AD, but am I crazy to believe we could offer the best package come draft night this year? We will most likely have a top 5 pick, Wendell Carter Junior, Lopez's expiring deals and future draft picks to choose from. Heck, we could even take on some bad salary. To me this is equal or better value than any package the Lakers or Celts could do. Well I guess hope dies last.

Sven Ruppert

Sam: Davis will be the big name on the market, but only if he turns down the extension offer from the Pelicans. That's a long way off since the Pelicans also seem to realize he's a pretty good player and aren't going to give him up easily because no package is going to be close in value. The Bulls issue is a lack of stars and draft picks being so young few have much major impact for a few years. At least two of three from among LaVine, Dunn and Markkanen plus what you suggest might be the starting point if the Bulls were involved. Consider how much the Bulls got for Jimmy Butler. I guess my question would be would you make the same offer if the Bulls draft pick was for the Duke you know who guy?

Jimmy Butler a max contract player? Plodding on offense, holds the ball. As he gets older and slower, defense will start to lag as well.

John Leichenko

Sam: But maybe they'll like his personality. It's been some year for Jimmy, and he doesn't appear to be helping his bargaining position. But I've found NBA executives tend to be fans with bigger paychecks. If the 76ers make a deep playoff run and Jimmy does well, the community pressure will be too much to ignore. All those themes about teamwork and heart and accountability and hard work and unselfishness mean much less than winning. It is comical the way Jimmy suggests he's all about winning, but we have often found in our country some people believe what you say more than what you do. Maybe Jimmy's on to something.

Is Tom Thibodeau still considered an elite coach in the NBA? How hard will it be for him to find another job in the league?

Gorav Raheja

Sam: How's that go about only being as good as your last win. Thibs probably isn't considered in so much demand now with the sudden parting in Minnesota under what seems a similar situation as toward the end with the Bulls. Thibs has some habits that perhaps are annoying; it seems Bill Belichick does as well. It's probably Butler who cost Thibs his job more than anyone the way Jimmy tried to blow up the team for his own agenda. But Thibs came in with a mandate to get to the playoffs as quickly as possible (check), get an All-Star (check). His methods can be grating at times and his personality isn't always exactly what you'd consider warm. But he's committed to the game and works at it and knows and studies it, and many are not. He'll be out awhile while still getting paid two and a half more years—based on his dress I don't imagine money is a Thibs priority—but I expect he'll get another chance because his teams always have been successful on the court. He won't get to run another team, but he's a coach and you could do worse.

Is it fair to compare Chandler Hutchison to Nikola Mirotic, who was traded for the rights to draft Hutchison?

Cory Kadlec

Sam: Sure. Sports isn't about fair, anyway. Mirotic certainly is a much better player now, but there always are ancillary issues in these things; and even when your players are not throwing punches. The Bulls with Markkanen felt they had to make a power forward choice between Portis and Mirotic. They couldn't pay and play both. Mirotic indicated in difficult negotiations in the summer of 2017 he wouldn't resign. So, simple, he was the one to go. You know, get something rather than lose him for nothing. The Bulls got a low first round pick, which usually means a prospect and a project. Hutchison has a chance to be good. Starter? Maybe. But because of all the injuries and a shortage at small forward with Jabari Parker not working out, the Bulls have had to force him into the lineup and now starting. He's not ready, and probably needs to be in the Gleague for awhile to gain some confidence. I don't see how he gets a chance to develop taking so few shots and not being involved much as the team tries to sort through LaVine/Markkanen/Dunn/Carter. Hutchison appears to have unique athletic talent; he needs confidence from repetition and success. He can't get that now in a lineup with the core players of the team's future. And the G-league isn't a demotion anymore other than the lifestyle. It's becoming a true developmental league where first round picks often play.

We lost to Indiana but we got our first glimpse of a team with pieces that could work. Lavine acted like the alpha dog dominating early. Lauri backed him up as our no.2. Dunn played the point with those assists but scored some too (perfect game). Then Wendell with a nice almost double double. That's all we need from him. The low down is the SF position which Parker was meant to fill but hasn't. Hutch I just don't see it with him other than some hussle from the bench. Not a starter. Add a Sf who can stretch the floor, hit 3s from a kick out from Lavine or Lauri and also plays some D then this team could be a top 4 in the east. Of course you'd also need Portis as our 6th man, keep Lopez for leadership, keep Blakeney for bench scoring. Hutch and one other solid player on the bench. Then the last spice to the pot, 2 yrs of time. Now lose every game (this year only) at the buzzer and you'll be right for 2020. Here's hoping.

Andrew Brown

Sam: There's kind of the rub. There's a there there, more so than the Knicks or Hawks, for example, so the Bulls are going to win some games. It's really an uncomfortable position. In the long view, we all agree, it's best to get the highest draft pick. But on a daily basis you want to see development and bigger games like you saw against Indiana. They're one of the better teams, so as the Bulls schedule turns to Atlanta and Cleveland and New York and Memphis and Detroit and Washington and they're going to get some of those wins. The coach understands the long term goal, but he surely wants to show he can lead a team to wins, and the players certainly have no stake in losing games and deflating their statistics and value. So how do you feel about another No. 7 pick? They have been working out OK.

Justin Holiday seemed like a team player and good model of working the hard way into a decent contract, so good luck to him. Getting 2 draft picks, even if they are 2nd rounders, wow, I'll take that even if it may not turn into anything special. But the reason to celebrate is the exit of Cam Payne. I know, not like he was a bad guy so shouldn't be too happy as he is a human being, but wow just not having to watch him play as a Bulls player anymore has me a little excited.

Jon Kueper

Sam: And then if Cam can come back and haunt the Bulls with the Cavs and lead the Cavs to a win over the Bulls, all the better, eh? First I hope the Holiday deal on one level finally gets us past the prediction of the end of the franchise that was the sacrifice of Jordan Bell. The Bulls got two seconds back for whatever that's worth, though I heard Paul Zipser may be coming back to the NBA to haunt the Bulls. The picks are good for what Jerry Krause used to call the "vig" in a deal, the extra stuff that enables you to maybe make a trade. But let's not want the Bulls to be building with second round picks. It's a league of stars. I had no issue with taking a shot with Payne. It didn't work, so you move on. They weren't about to rehire Taj as much as we all would have liked with all the young forwards, and neither were they going to pay McDermott. So take a chance on a lottery pick point guard. Didn't work out. Don't hold it against him. He always tried.

I am not sure a small forward are the biggest need for the Bulls the next few years. The reason is that Wendell are struggling mightily against the dominant centers in the league, and despite the 3point era there are a lot of them around. I believe Wendell and Portis would be wreaking havoc coming off the bench as they will rebound very well on the defensive end, and playing indide outside on the offensive end. The Bulls should use their free salary cap to sign Vucevic from Orlando this summer, and use their draft rights for a small forward to compete with Hutchison for a starting place next season.

Stian Nordvik

Sam: Well, that was a heck of a career for Wendell. It was great to have him all that time. I agree there are some very large men that Wendell has difficulty with, but not a lot of them are offensive options for their teams, and I believe as the offense becomes more sophisticated the Bulls will have Wendell in many positions in which he has matchup advantages. Vucevic has been a double/double guy for several years who gets dominated by big centers and whom the Magic have tried to trade for several years. Now they're not sure because he's playing better and used better by a better coach. I can see the need for an athletic big man as a backup center in certain matchup situations, but the priorities to me more are perimeter shooting and a playmaking small forward who also can shoot. I'm good with Wendell.

If given the option, would you eliminate the 3 point line? Shooting 30% from three nets you more points than 40% from two as well as the low percentage long twos that disgust coaches. With the increased percentage from 3's, I see nothing but what Pop sees when he looks at the stats. Do you think eliminating threes would fix the game, or at least make it a fair situation that decreased make probability as you went out instead of some arbitrary line that adds another point?

Clint Youlden

Sam: What happened is in plain sight the NBA decided to change the game to a 6-5 and under league. Not exactly by size, but by emphasizing three-point shooting and by rules changes to limit contact above the free throw line and the zone defense. The NBA ruled without a press release that it didn't like a big man dominated game and wanted games to be dictated by guards. I never believed in the idea that you should be rewarded for a longer shot than, say, a good pass or difficult shot. If you wanted to be more accurate, you should award an extra point, say, for an assist instead of a point. It's obviously more difficult to get assists than points. The most points in a game was 100, which was in that game was 36 baskets. The most assists in a game was 30. The highest scoring averages usually are in the 30s, representing at least 15 baskets and the highest assists average in a season was just over 14. It's not a size advantage like blocks. So why not an extra point for an assist, which may be more difficult to achieve, and also is an aesthetic of the game. But the NBA believed its product would be more successful and popular if it diminished the value of center play, or at least enhanced the value of guards and long shots like a carnival game. But it difficult to argue with them given the success of the game. But enough with the James Harden greatest scorer ever thing. He's getting three points for shots that previously counted for two, I figure he's averaging just over 20 per game in 1980s numbers. He's Purvis Short.

Who are the Chicago Bulls All Stars? Zach LaVine? Lauri Markkanen? Kris Dunn? Other?

Kieron Smith

Sam: The Bulls could use other, as well. Zach is the only Bulls player getting votes this year, seventh among guards in the recent voting results and unlikely to be added to the team this year because of the Bulls poor record. The All-Star game is in the United Center next year. So it would be a good time. Zach has a chance, but the Bulls need to transfer more offense to Markkanen and have been moving toward more of an ensemble approach to offense for now. No Harden, Westbrook or Antetokounmpo factor. So then you have to win more games. I can see them near that .500 mark next season like many felt was possible this season. If so Zach would have a chance next season, I'd guess.

Zach is shooting .502 on 2-pt. shots and only .353 on 3-pt. shots.

When he goes to the rim, he probably shoots about 55%. OK, so on a given possession, Zach's best chance to score points is to take it to the hole (and he is pretty amazing at that). You can understand the coach wanting him not to 'fall in love' with the 3-pt. line, when he's most successful driving. But you also have to consider that a 3 is worth an extra point, so .353 from the arc gets you as many points as .530 an 2-pt. shots. (Zach's effective FG% is currently .510.) We saw what happens when the Bulls shoot 18 three's and the Nets take 46... even though we shot better from the arc (39% to their 35%). These days, you have to make some 3's to stay in the game. But the bottom line is that Zach needs to be able to score, as they say, "from all three areas" to be his most effective. And he needs to find his shots & make those decisions on the court.

Art Alenik

Sam: It's an interesting work in progress with LaVine that is new with the coaching change and, understandably, why it's not exactly a seamless transition and why the players are adjusting. Hoiberg wanted the players taking those threes quickly (though he rarely had them all healthy) and throwing the ball ahead and moving. Boylen dialed that back in the interest of developing defensive habits and a foundation, and Zach is really the biggest test case/victim. He's been asked to change his approach perhaps more than anyone, to pass up some shots to drive. Which he was doing a lot early in the season, though with few others available to play. Boylen has leaned on the paint-first and flair out approach for threes instead of the pull up and fire threes under Hoiberg, and that's a big change and, I believe, why the threes have dropped some because many are both unaccustomed to and not adept at making those passes. Part is the lack of enough three-point shooters to staff the perimeter, and then being able to find them amidst changing rotations as the new coach learns his personnel. Two developmental seasons in one isn't easy.

Can you please explain why Houston traded Michael Carter-Williams to the Bulls, who waived him, instead of waiving him themselves? I know it's probably some rule but it's hard to understand the reasons for that!

Carlos Neves

Sam: When you waive a player his money stays on your salary cap. But to make a trade there has to be some value attached. Houston was only trying to reduce its luxury tax penalty. Which meant trading Carter-Williams and taking back nothing of current value, like a draft pick. The Bulls didn't want to give up anything of value, so they applied punitive protections, which are permitted. They likely eliminate any transfer of a pick in the future. But you cannot be sure now; so it's legal. You can include up to $3 million in a trade, so the Rockets included enough money to pay off Carter-Williams and, as they say, a little something for the effort. It wasn't exactly just a favor as the Bulls made some money by basically selling their space. It's a fairly common transaction in the NBA, and if the Bulls didn't do it there were several teams lining up to do so. It's more of that unfortunate American system of having to have money to make money.

LaVine is a finisher. Dunn's game is more complex. Watched him closely vs. Indiana. He's so long! he struggles to just pop the ball out from a stand-still or from a standing dribble. I'm starting to think he doesn't see the game that way. There's times when he just can't hit the target off the dead run which for him really limits him. He shone in the Indiana game in half-court when he got past his first step and had momentum towards his spot on the floor. His eyes are up and he's visibly more relaxed after he gets the initial separation. He was then hitting guys all over the place. Last year you could see that he grasped offensive movement and scheme, he just wasn't delivering a catchable ball. Sometimes that's still true. The question is: what's he gotta do to get to where his delivery matches his awareness? He's a pretty reliable mid-range scorer. He's more of a point-forward/Paul Pressey type distributor as opposed to a Mo Cheeks/Rondo/Stockton set up guy or even a Harden/Steve Nash s/r guy. If I'm a defender, I jam the hell out of his dribble. Dunn doesn't play well in real close spaces out on the perimeter. You've noticed that he's a high-usage guy. The hard part for him about Hoiberg getting the can is that Hoiberg's offense had way more opportunities for Dunn to catch the ball on the move with more space before he's into his dribble which lately seems to be showing as his comfort zone.

Pete Zievers

Sam: It's a good analysis of the continued adjustment that occurs with the changes of coach and players coming and going. As John Paxson has said many times, it's not so much about winning and losing now as who they are, how they fit and what they will become. Dunn can be a head scratcher. He has some unique abilities with his defense and two-way game, which isn't common in the NBA. And he will make some standing threes. But he doesn't match the latest model of the shooting point or ballhandling guy who makes so much difference. He's been hurt a lot, so we've never really seen a sustained run. He's had great stretches when he disrupts the opponent's offense and fills up the box score. But then he'll have languid periods of paused play. Both he and LaVine are good. The Bulls are trying to figure out the how good part.