Ask Sam Mailbag: 01.19.18
Sam opens his mailbag and answers reader's questions
I can't believe this is happening to us again. Once again, the Bulls are too good, too soon -- and this year (just like 2009) will guarantee this team never wins a title. In 2008 we got extremely lucky and got to draft D-Rose #1. The next year, we went 41-41 and were eliminated by Boston in the 1st round. We would then draft Taj in 2009, a nice pick - sure. But if we had been a lottery team with top-5 pick potential for just one more season, we would have had a chance at Steph, James Harden, Blake Griffin, DeMar DeRozen. All franchise altering players at the SG and PF positions, which were our biggest holes when we consistently lost against Miami. Everyone knew we were one player away. But we never got there. Because we got good -- one year too soon.
It's now happening again. We found a franchise piece in Lauri. We have all-star talent in LaVine, perhaps even Dunn. But this year, we'll likely pick somewhere in the 8-12 range and miss out on Ayton/Doncic/Porter -- our last franchise piece, who gets us over the top.
In 5 years when we look back and wonder why we never made it over the ECF hump and beat Boston in a series (who by the way, will have a top 5 pick in this year's draft). We'll look back at these franchise-crippling wins delivered to us by Robin Lopez, Justin Holliday and Niko and we'll know why. The curse of "Too Good, Too Soon" lives on.
Sam: I never quite know how to answer this particular woe-is-me-if-they-can't-win-a-title-tomorrow-I'm-just-playing-video-games mentality, which doesn't make any logical sense. To use your example, if the Bulls got the best player in the draft, how were they going to be the worst team in the league to get the best player in the draft again? If they were fortunate in the lottery to get a star, they were going to get better. Do kids still write, Duh? As for the guys you name, DeRozan was a No. 9 pick, Harden traded once, Curry No. 7 and Griffin never out of the second round playing with a perennial first team All-Star. I don't get this mentality that improving is a negative. Look, the Bulls made a great trade, acquired a draft pick that got them Markkanen, who could be an All-Star. LaVine, who also has All-Star potential and maybe Dunn as well. So if you use players who have star potential, how exactly are you supposed to be among the worst teams in the league? And if you are among the worst teams in the league, that means the players you acquired aren't very good and have little chance of being stars. It's easy to cherry pick in retrospect. So how come you don't mention the No. 2 pick in DeRozan's draft, Thabeet. Or Tyreke Evans No. 4 or Ricky Rubio No. 5 or Jordan Hill right before DeRozan? Just about every team would have taken those guys before Curry. Maybe not Rubio, but the others were considered pretty straight forward. Similar with Curry; he was regarded to be a tweener, too slow for point guard and small for shooting guard with bad ankles. The Warriors almost traded him instead of Month Ellis. Bulls fans should be celebrating the team landed three players who can be legitimate top NBA starters and still likely to be in the lottery. Donovan Mitchell and Bam Adebayo were nice end of lottery picks last season. Kyle Kuzma was 27; I still hear fans bemoaning the disaster of passing on Jordan Bell in the second round. There's talent to be gotten once you have a base. I fail to see how it's better for fans to collect top picks for four or five years of misery. Sure, it would be great to have a top three pick in this draft; but if you probably are eligible for that you are many years away from .500. And while those players you mentioned look like top talents, as 19-year-olds you're still looking three to four years before they can help a team toward there playoffs. This is Embiid's fourth year, for example. Plus, if Markkanen were in this draft class, would he be No. 1? Probably. And the Bulls have him.
I have to say I'm pleasantly surprised by this Bulls Team. Could they really make the playoffs? Some would say they should tank but if you look at this team they may be rebuilt already? Maybe the trade with Minnesota wasn't as one sided as it seems? We need a small forward but other than that I think you let these guys grow together. Mirotic is iffy, kind of thinking the Bulls keep him and ride out the year see where it goes. They can always trade him or Portis at draft time if they really see someone in the draft they really like. Playoffs? Are we talking Playoffs??? Maybe
Sam: I don't see the Bulls making the playoffs, but I surely did not see anywhere near this. Obviously, the Mirotic issue is big now, but it appears to be playing out as usual with teams interested in trades holding out to the last day to see if they can get a better deal and more and more players coming on the market. There seems to be an economic retrenchment going on in the NBA like in baseball with teams looking more toward draft picks (baseball with the Cubs and Houston rebuilds from the bottom) and valuing those picks much more than ever. I've always found NBA general managers curious in this way, actually acting like corporate business people in squeezing out the last dollar to "win" the deal. I always feel if you are getting what you want, let the other guy feel good. He might be more inclined to deal with you again or maybe even help you out. But these guys tend to bargain down to the last minute to squeeze out the most. So maybe you add a second round pick. Big deal. Oh right, Jordan Bell could be there. So it appears we'll go down to the deadline regarding Mirotic and perhaps others, which at least this season is earlier, Feb. 8. Again, this cavalier "tanking" notion doesn't make sense. The coach gets fired and the players can't get deals if they lose; so why should they? Management could be out if their deals fail. So they're all trying to win and if they succeed then they'll start losing games? How does that work? There are teams now losing like they are heading for those top picks, but would you rather have the roster and be where teams like the Kings, Hornets and Magic are? And if you add a top pick to those rosters, how far do you think you are away from the playoffs? Call me unbalanced and an iconoclast, but I still believe winning is a good thing in sports.
I know all trade ideas get shot down but what about this...
The Cavs are desperate and Lebron wants a ring now! The Cavs know they need to get it for him or he is gone at seasons end.
Cavs get - Lopez, Mirotic
Bulls get - their first rounder, Fryre, Korver
Portis becomes our 5.
Fryre off our books next year, another high first rounder and all we suck up is a low 8 mil a year in Korver for 2 yrs.
As has been well written, Lebron doesn't want to build for the future so he wants the Cavs to use that first rounder chip, not hold it. They get too players who can score, get a starting center and Mirotic can rebound.
Sam: Bang! That was a shot. I know ESPN would have no NBA coverage without LeBron, so his fate and future and team remain the top story every day. And yes this season has been a lot about the speculation of what the Cavs could/will do to persuade him to remain in Cleveland. And he may, though the way they have played it's no certainty they'll be back in the Finals. Yes, the defense is terrible, but I still have them as the East favorite given they have that LeBron guy. And Isaiah Thomas will get into shape and I still think Derrick Rose will help them. No one really believes the Cavs will give up that Nets pick unless LeBron assures them he'll remain, and he won't tell them. What the Cavs don't hang on LeBron, at least publicly, is they're in the difficult personnel position they are in because they caved into him and paid over market to all his buddies, like Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith. And now can't dump those contracts. So how could they trust him and give up a probably top five or six pick? They won't. Plus, the talk about a pick that valuable has been about players like Paul George, big time difference makers, and not players who have been marginal starters this season. And though Mirotic has been better on defense, neither he nor Lopez would answer their big defensive issues. Of course, the Bulls would love to have a lottery pick for any of their players other than Markkanen, Dunn and LaVine. But so would just about every other team in the league for anyone but their top three. That was your trade idea going down in a smoking heap.
In your opinion, Why are the Bulls not trying to get Lauri more into the offence. Run some plays for Him? He is clearly the best player on the team and should at least get 20-25 Shots a game.
Sam: Sometimes it becomes an issue, like the first half against Miami, and then they adjusted after halftime and he got 10 shots in the second half. Perhaps they could, but they've been one of the league's highest scoring teams shooting the most threes with the among the best percentages this month. Offense doesn't appear to be the issue.
Is there something to that Bucks and DeAndre Jordan rumor?
Sam: The market never seems to shrink for a guy paid $20 million who cannot make a free throw. I thought it was the Cavs for the draft pick. Or was it Austin Rivers to the Rockets? By the way, that was a tough Martin Luther King Jr. Day for the NBA after the players made their pregame speeches about King and non violence and then were supposedly racing through back halls to get at one another. Not a big deal, really, as NBA fights now are usually, "Hold me back. Hey, I said hold me back!" Just not that day. Anyway, Jordan could be a big name to move given he's mentioned in so many places, though that's $22 million and $24 million the next two seasons, and I don't think Mark Cuban is interested anymore. Finances have become a bigger issue lately with teams less likely to take contracts and more interested in seeing how the free agent and draft shopping is. It doesn't seem like the Clippers are going anywhere, and that owner has been very quiet this season, which suggests there could be a shakeup as Jerry West also has been quiet with his move into a management/advisor position. There are a load of famous names on the market these next few weeks with teams like the Kings, Magic, Suns, Grizzlies, Hawks and Hornets expected also to be seeking draft picks. Plus, this draft is, like last year's, being hyped and thus scaring teams about giving up those picks. If it occurs, it's usually more likely in June when more teams are in the market and teams know they can't win because they didn't.
I'm sure that you are getting a lot of these proposed Mirotic trades since it is no secret that the Bulls are shopping him for a number one pick. It seems that teams tend to value the unknown of a pick more than the known of an existing player. At best, the Bulls would likely get a mid to late first rounder for Mirotic, even though his impact on the game, salary and age would indicate that his value should be much higher. I'll skip the demand for a first round pick and throw one more trade option out to you that I think should be of value to both teams: The Bulls trade Mirotic and Felicio (and possibly a second rounder) to Milwaukee for Parker and Teletovic. Milwaukee slightly reduces its roster cost and gets Mirotic as a power forward now (rather than waiting a year for Parker to recover) along with Felicio as a rotational center. I think that Mirotic with his size and stretch forward abilities would fit Milwaukee as a power forward better than Parker. Parker presents both risk and potential, compared to the known and significant potential in Mirotic.
Sam: I get these Parker suggestions every few weeks or so. It's not unreasonable, but for now the talk continues to be they still want to give him another chance to play with Antetokounmpo since they were coming so fast together and as we recall beating last year's Bulls by 30 every time they played. Though the Bucks certainly could use shooting.
With Blakeneys two way contract, is it a two year deal? Also will he become a restricted free agent at the end of his contract?
Sam: Blakeney is on a two-year two-way contract, which means he's committed to the Bulls through next season. The way he's scoring, I expect to see him on the NBA roster again this season. Nwaba will be a restricted free agent after the season.
Justin Holiday. This guy is a keeper. I knew when Lavine would come back this guy would not feel like he had to do everything on offense. Now hes letting it come to him. I would keep him past next season as he can start or come off the bench as he has no ego and seems like a loyal guy.
Sam: I'd actually like to keep several of the guys mentioned in trades. As I've stated, I'm old school and actually prefer teams I watch to win games, as crazy as that seems to many. The Bulls really have wonderful chemistry and coaches around the league have been coming in regularly and saying how much action they run on offense and how much the players are engaged. I know things can change when guys get paid or lose spots, but this group has been so professional with guys like Lopez and Holiday. You see the Warriors, and they have these kinds of role playing veterans as support. Lopez isn't an old player; Holiday seems comfortable with almost any role. They are both such good, positive, friendly, group oriented team guys. I know the Bulls are 11 games under 500, so it's not like you are breaking up a contender. But good people who work hard can improve together while adding the right teammates.
Is it possible that the Bulls are 1 off-season away from competing for the top spot in the East? I hate to give GarPax credit but going in to the off-season this group will have 2 elite players in LaVine and Markkanen, a potential all-defensive team PG in Dunn and depth at every position. Are they really this close already? If so, why trade Niko?
Sam: Well, Boston looks pretty good with Hayward coming back. I certainly would not have said so two months ago, though I always believed—and wrote last June—the trade was a very good one for the Bulls in the spirit of that's the way you build—with three lottery picks. They just happened to get them all at one time. That seemed like a good thing. But the East isn't overwhelming. Actually, neither is the West other than the Warriors. With the salary cap flexibility and growth likely from a 20-year-old and a guy in his second season after ACL, which is when the injured players make the bigger jumps, it's not unreasonable with some luck. I would doubt top spot lacking the experience, but there have been some quick turnarounds in recent seasons, like with the Rockets. Will someone step up into an All-Star starring role? That's also what it would require. But at least they are starting to have the players for whom you could make that case.
Mirotic is proving to be valuable off the bench. I don't think we should trade him unless we can land a small forward to add to the lineup. The only trade that somewhat makes sense is with Utah for Favors and a #1. But, Favors isn't of much use to us since Portis does what he can do and shoot 3's. What are the chances of us going and trading for Paul George or signing him as a free agent?
Sam: With Paul George having pushed his way out of the Midwest talking only about Los Angeles, nobody much believes he's heading anywhere but there unless the Thunder make a strong playoff run. With the Jazz sliding in the standings, key players still injured and now five games out of the last playoff spot, it pretty much makes no sense for them to trade a No. 1 pick, and that seems to be the consensus around the NBA. One issue with Mirotic remains he is on a one-year deal, though the Bulls do have a second year option. I'm fairly sure he believes he could and should be a starter, which he probably was going to be with the Bulls before the fight. He's obviously not starting at power forward for the Bulls anymore. He's not a small forward or center. Players often leave teams to pursue a starting position, and if the Bulls believe Mirotic will do that it would be shortsighted to hang onto him when perhaps they could get a draft pick, though not in the lottery, for sure. It will be an ongoing story to the trade deadline and the draft if it comes to that. Though he sure looks good for now coming off the bench with Portis to support Markkanen. But teams often have to make tough decisions with rosters. And we do believe the Bulls will have at least one high draft pick coming in this June and have money to pursue free agents. You can't play everyone.
Let me get a disclaimer out of the way here first: I am not in favor of full on tanking as the 76ers have done. I don't think that's the direction the Bulls should have gone in or should go in.
You wrote that the Bulls will be farther under the cap than most teams, have an intriguing young core and thus free agents will pick them. I remain skeptical about the free agents, though agree the Bulls will be set up well to make that pitch. We simply haven't seen it happen with this team for whatever reason. Just sticking to this Bulls regime, ignoring the infamous 2000 rejections, the only really big free agents to come were Carlos Boozer and Ben Wallace. Boozer was basically out of suitors and he and the Bulls were each others' only choice. Ben Wallace, I assume, realized before most of us that the downside of his impressive career was upon him and jumped at his last chance for a big payday. And then there was the Wade thing last year, but that was desperation on both sides. I'm not trying to argue over why James or Wade (the first time) didn't pick the Bulls, I'm just saying we can't assume any big names, to the extent they are out there, will pick the Bulls based on recent history. I pay as much attention to this stuff as I possibly can from my perspective as a fan and I honestly believe weather is an unbelievable big deal to these guys. I can't say I understand it, but it seems to be the case. If it's not warm, they ain't coming. Maybe that's the real reason why they drafted the guy from Finland.
Sam: If only there were more players from those short daylight countries. Lauri loves the snow. I take exception with this supposed conventional wisdom the Bulls don't get free agents. They actually have been one of the most successful franchise for free agents; just not named LeBron. Wade never was a free agent then. Boozer was a top five free agent that summer and actually did better than others. He was an All-Star, Olympian and averaged a double/double. Would you take a guy like that now? Would Bosh have done more without LeBron? Ben Wallace, like him or not, was the top free agent that summer. He was a four-time Defensive Player of the Year. Like to have a player like that now? The Bulls got Pau Gasol when the Spurs and Thunder were after him and the Lakers tried to get him to stay. The truth us there rarely are great, young free agents on the market because your own team can pay you more and players almost always want to lock in that first big contract before getting hurt. What would have happened to Derrick Rose if he had hot signed that extension early with the Bulls. Players notice that. Look at some of the teams that recently have gone big for free agents, like Portland, Denver for Paul Millsap. The Clippers. Yes, the Celtics got Gordon Hayward. We'll see what his impact is after the unfortunate injury. But they also had his college coach; a unique situation. Like anyone from Iowa State? Durant? OK? You need a recent title to get him. So who are the teams getting all these free agents? Miami? Phoenix? Good weather there. We'll see what the Lakers come up with. The Bulls have a history of paying big and pursuing the biggest names. They didn't get Carmelo, and maybe they were lucky they didn't, but he wasn't looking anywhere else and has since said he regrets not having taken the Bulls offer. Here's the thing. You can't pursue a free agent if you aren't under the salary cap. Only a few teams are; the Bulls are one. If you are a free agent, the history has been it's important to go to a team that can pay you instead of one where you only can eat lunch outside.
Got a question for Sam?
Submit your question to Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.