Kris Dunn dribbles the ball in a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers

Ask Sam Mailbag: 01.25.19

Sam opens his mailbag and answers your questions about the Bulls and the news around the NBA

Sampled Dunn some more. Yep. Passed way better on the glide after separation. Gets where he wants with his left hand, but likes to distribute off his right hand. Letting him get downhill on you is a mistake. Sets up his assists with his mid-range game. That can in general work, and it works for him lately. The one exceptional thing that Dunn does is press coverage beyond the arc. Don't know if he's indifferent about it, but when he lights it up, it's hard to remember someone that's nastier. He's not as deft as Cheeks or as cunning as Bruce Bowen. He lacks Richard Hamilton's endless energy. He's got hands like Clyde. The thing I like about him is that he plays over his feet and is reaching less. On Zion Williamson, ESPN sure adores him. He's what happens when they're catching their breath from the LBJ tape loops. I'm not a believer. Look. He's unusual. Really, really small sample size we're talking about though. Marcus Fizer was a big dude, too. Not saying he's anyone but Zion Williamson, but who exactly is that? history says good chance some guy outplays him that's taken twelve positions after he comes off the board. Does anybody ever look at these re-draft web pages and put things together? So, agree that it's wait and see if he's got knife and fork disease, for starters. Tractor Traylor became Aircraft Carrier. That happens, too.

Pete Zievers

Sam: That, to me, is the big question in this draft: Williamson and how he plays in the NBA and the kind of player he can be, and the Bulls needs if they get lucky. Getting the No. 1 overall pick is a very good thing. But sometimes it's a curse, like in 2007 when you couldn't pass Greg Oden as the next version of Chamberlain and Russell, and Seattle (soon stolen by Oklahoma City) became relevant with Kevin Durant. It's not so much that the Bulls have power forwards, which Williamson most looks like for the NBA even listed 6-6 for now, because if he's what he's supposed to be, a transcendent star, then move over everyone else because there is no one like that on the current roster. Though Markkanen will be better than he has been lately. Much better.

In Dunn you've described a capable NBA starter in need of a very strong backup for a reasonable tandem. Can he surpass that? After all, he still will not have played a full NBA season for the Bulls after missing the first two months this season. But if the point guard from Murray State is also elite, well, you might be a lot better off having the point guard. You need more than capable in the backcourt in today's NBA. Consider Anthony Davis. He's better than Williamson. But his teams never can do much because he cannot make plays for himself and others off the perimeter, where the NBA changed the rules and officiating to favor the guards.

Look at all the best teams in the NBA. What's in common is a guard/small forward who can score and make plays: Harden, LeBron (he's basically everything), Curry and Durant (seven foot guard), Kawhi, Kyrie. Antetokounmpo? Not sure what he is, but he has the ball a lot and scores. There are some exceptions. Well, one, Embiid. You can put together an orchestra like Denver and be good in the regular season, but you need that great, creating and scoring guard. Williamson surely is never going to be that. These guys are freshman teenagers, so who really knows. I haven't seen Morant play. But I know dynamic, athletic guards who can shoot and score in bunches when needed is the current version of the NBA center of the 60s, the NBA point forwards of the 80s like Bird and Magic. How do you win? A great, great guard seems the formula these days. But it takes great confidence and self assurance and limited access to social media to pass on everyone's No. 1. Portland would have endured media and fan hate for months if they'd have passed on Oden. Can a franchise do that in this era? The No. 1 pick may not be such a slam dunk as it has seemed. Better do some really good scouting.


Over the history of the franchise, the Bulls have produced some really good teams. Outside of the championship teams, they were a few seasons where they made a playoff run and could have possibly gotten to the Finals to win it. The teams that stand out to me are the '75, 89', 94' and '11 teams. What is your rank on Bulls teams that could have won that 7th?

Christopher Billingsley

Sam: First, thanks for a question not demanding I fire everyone in the organization. And where are the stores that sell tar and feathers. I believed the '91 Bulls would win the title; well, at least once they got to the playoffs. We all agreed at the time Portland was the big favorite that season. Yes, everyone picked against Michael Jordan back then. I never felt the '94 team had enough, and many even around the Bulls believed that even with Jordan, the Rockets were a problem because even with Jordan Houston had a winning record against the Bulls in the early title seasons. Hakeem was unguardable by those Bulls, but as much was Vernon Maxwell, a defensive oriented, athletic 6-4 shooting guard who was, well, to be gentle, erratic. There were better defenders, but no one competed with Jordan like Maxwell, who eventually was just about kicked out of the NBA for brawls with teammates and fans. Even the best players often were intimidated by Jordan; never Maxwell, who used to goad Jordan with trash talk, Jordan's specialty, bait him, try to fight him in an era where more of that was allowed. Jordan would get his points, but Maxwell occupied him like few others. It was something to see. Plus, as we knew from Phil Jackson's end game shooting choice, Scottie Pippen wasn't enough of a finisher. The truth is Jordan perhaps sort of knew. Each three peat ended on top and probably wouldn't have the fourth time. Don't fans always want the great ones to leave on top? Anyway, the one that most should have won was the '75 team that blew a 3-2 lead in the conference finals with Game 6 at home and then lost Game 7 in San Francisco. It wasn't a great team with fewer than 50 wins, but veteran and tough with scorers in Chet Walker and Bob Love. The Warriors went on to sweep the Bullets in the Finals, and even with Wes Unseld, those Bulls were too tough. Next was the 2011-12 Bulls. That near five-game loss to LeBron Heat in the 2011 playoffs was just the preview they needed. They were deep, tough, big, ready and with a star in Derrick Rose to match any in the game then, and even LeBron. I know that team would have made the Finals. Beaten the Thunder? Maybe not, which put them behind the '75 team. The '89 team was fortunate to get out of the first round amidst internal turmoil that led to Phil Jackson's hiring. The '90 team was good enough, but not quite ready like the '11 Bulls.


I miss the Jordan years especially the every other night aspect of the playoffs. What a blessing that was and what farther from it we are now.

I am a John Paxson fan. I loved the Notre Dame teams he played on. Basketball was awesome then. Besides the 3 point line, posse's, and skyrocketing salaries what do you think has been the biggest change in the NBA from then to now?

PS. Is it time for Jerry to blow this whole thing up and fire everybody? Paxson, Gar, Boylen, etc. The kids are getting so traumatized they might never recover.

Dwayne Corry

Sam: I've always written that rebuilding sounds better in theory than it is practice because you can change the channel and they have to live through six months of losing and condemnation and daily question about why. You know: Why did you lose? But if you win, what was that about? You're ruining the draft pick! In other words, as the old saying goes, if you spend too much time listening to them you'll be sitting with them. This is Year 2 of what everyone pretty much signed up for, a three to four-year project. The 76ers, who are most copied for this, did it for five years, three of which were fewer than 20 wins and one other fewer than 30 wins. Year 2 for the Bulls is heading toward half way. If you start again, you might start the clock again for another three to four years. Consider that.

The greatest change in the game has been a change that sounds great and maybe is not so much. The change in rules and officiating has allowed it to become a "small" player, or guard dominated game compared to the traditional notion to favor size. Those of us who were not so tall felt that wasn't totally fair before, so perhaps this is more democratic. The guards, especially with the ball away from the basket, are the most protected, thus most favored. It's also why, stop comparing Harden to Jordan. Or even Jerry West. They did that when the rules favored the big guy. Mike D'Antoni and the Suns figured this out before everyone else, but like it or not, you better shoot threes now, have dynamic scoring and passing guards and build your game around speed, aggressive attacking and shooting. I remember talking to the Suns scouts back then. I'd ask about some dominant big guy, like a Greg Oden type, and they said they'd love him, but if you are building a team for D'Antoni, you can't have those players on your team because Mike won't play them. So while best talent available is a reliable method in the draft, you also need to start considering what, as a team, you are trying to accomplish and how, especially if the talent level is close.


Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics drives against Jaron Blossomgame #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half at TD Garden on January 23, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts.

No one is talking about Jaylen Brown to Chicago. Why? He's perfect for us. While everyone's all high on Zion Williamson, we should unprotect our first-round pick to the Celtics right away. Get in the ear of the organization for me, would you, please? You've got to love Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Jaylen Brown, Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr. as a starting five, right?

Ryan Smith

Sam: No one maybe talking about it because it's crazy talk. I do like the lineup, and I'm sure Danny Ainge likes it even more. Jaylen Brown, having his poorest season and under siege from local fans, for the No. 1 overall pick? I doubt you would be very popular with your fellow Bulls fans. Obviously, no one generally gives up the No. 1 overall pick. There have been draft day deals of the top pick, and Boston did pretty well last time with Fultz to the 76ers. Though it was just a swap of a few spots. When these deals have been done lately, everyone comes away with a high pick. There was Chris Webber for three No. 1s that included Penny Hardaway. The last time I remember the pick going and no pick coming back was the famous Roy Hinson to the 76ers, who didn't want a rookie, to Cleveland for Brad Daugherty, which stopped that practice for years as No. 1 picks became more valuable. And that didn't go very well. Now with a top heavy draft this year, even if they are teenagers, no franchise could survive that sort of move unless it was for a Durant level star. You might get Brown much more cheaply as Boston has to begin to unload some of its duplication one of these days.


Lauri Markkanen #24 of the Chicago Bulls shoots three point shot against the Atlanta Hawks at the United Center on January 23, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. The Hawks defeated the Bulls 121-101.

I get that "rebuilds take time", that we've had horrific luck with games missed due to injury, eyebrow-raising hires like Jabari, a coaching and seemingly a philosophy change. But, looking at the Hawks game, it seemed that the biggest difference between the teams (leaving aside Trey Young is the real deal) is that the Hawks were playing together. They moved on offense and defense as a unit; they were playing for each other. The Bulls are simply not doing this, maybe at all. I don't think "Kris comes down, partially brushes his man off a screen, ducks into the lane, and tosses up a 13 footer" constitutes team play. I would say the same thing about Zach's (Boylen-encouraged, granted) assault on the basket lately -- especially when, as expected, he attracts a crowd, and then fails to dish off.

I give a bit more credit to the play that frees Lauri for a time-after-time wide-open 3. I'm confident that, the more they run that play, the better Lauri will shoot it, and the less open he will find himself. But that would be basketball. I'd expect Lauri and the team to make adjustments to how they set up the freeing-up to lure the defender farther away from him, or for him to roll to the basket instead. Over and over again, we see a Bull receive a pass, his defender "get up into him" as both Thibs and Fred used to say, and rattle him, ... and we see that Bull back off, pass back further out, essentially cave to the pressure. Isn't it fundamental basketball that when a guy crowds you on defense, you blow past him -- the two most likely results being an open path to the basket or a foul? Why don't we ever see this? Why do we keep seeing the Bulls big man defending a pick-and-roll, sag off the guard instead of showing hard? Why do we keep seeing opposing players swoop in for offensive rebounds. Is this just going to take longer for this group to gel?

Chris Granner

Sam: Did you know there are bobbleheads Friday. No, look over there! Spoiler alert: Here come some excuses. I do hate these emails after a loss, which is making it more difficult because they seem to lose every Wednesday and Thursday. And, OK, Monday, Tuesday...Well lately, anyway. It's been a difficult stretch, and I guess the point is management has made a point—publicly and regularly—that they are not measuring by wins and losses. It's been so subtle in a way that it seems to have slipped by. Yes, I know there's a difference between losing and losing competitively. But if you are losing that competitively, you probably are closer. It's been a complicated period because coming off all the injuries, which essentially starts the season again, there's a new coach with a new philosophy. And while management hoped it would lead to some different priorities, it's still exceedingly difficult for a young team undergoing rotation changes with personnel being traded to play as a unit. It's why we hear so much about these, "good for 28 minutes, 32 minutes" things.

There was talk after the Atlanta loss about their movement and shooting, and why don't the Bulls do that. There was much talk under Fred Hoiberg, who was a favorite of mine, about defense and perimeter play. When anyone comes into a new job—basketball or otherwise — they'll do something different. Boylen has decided to go with more paint penetration first on offense and then fan the ball out. It seemed to work well for Phil Jackson in the 90s. There is always more than one way. The Bulls are among teams attempting the fewest threes. Along with the Spurs, Pacers and Clippers, a West contender the Bulls play Friday. But it is something that these Bulls players aren't turning on one another or anyone else, and seem determined and appropriately disappointed. I understand it's not much fun to watch if it doesn't make for a more competitive product. But players like Dunn still are on trial; so is Portis. Carter was, and LaVine and Markkanen have been trying to find their place amidst a midseason u-turn. It doesn't happen in a few weeks or a month. And, after all, though he is older, Boylen is a rookie NBA coach, too. This was supposed to be a 30-win type season if there wasn't a coaching change and major injuries to most of the starters. So there's been a stumble. Some building projects are delayed for, you know, factors out of our control. And some they're trying to get right.


Carmelo Anthony #7 of the Houston Rockets looks on during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on October 2, 2018 at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama.

Most people seem to think the Bulls will waive Carmelo Anthony in order for him to become a free agent before the trade deadline. But, since the Lakers are supposedly so interested in acquiring his services, shouldn't the Bulls try to trade him instead and get something out of the deal? After all, the Lakers are in desperate need of shooters and we are talking about a potential HOF here -in steep decline, I know - but still. If not the Lakers, what other teams would be interested in Melo and would also be willing to trade some interesting players to the Bulls? Or should play Melo now that parker is out. We have nothing to lose.

Mauricio Villanueva

Sam: The Bulls, me and Bobby McGee, eh? Jabari suggests he should be able to return Friday, which, true, would be the dream front court of 'Melo and Jabari. Ah, what a season this would be. I get the point: The team is losing, why not go for some entertainment? There's something to that, but not exactly consistent with rebuilding. The transaction was similar to the previous Michael Carter-Williams one in which the luxury tax team, the Rockets, sought to reduce its penalties, which can multiply in future years. Several rebuilding teams with low payrolls were in the bidding, so the Bulls were able to negotiate a payment, sort of for the trouble. The theory is it gives the Bulls additional money when there are later transactions and they are closer to contending. So the Bulls have made clear they cannot bring in Anthony to play. It wouldn't make much sense since he hasn't played in months, and thus would take weeks to get in some shape. The trade deadline is Feb. 7. I assume if you could get something, Houston would have. A release seems most likely. I can see him being very valuable to a playoff team when the game slows some and a big shot maker can win a game, which can turn a series. Though there's a lot of speculation about the Lakers because of banana boat crew member LeBron, the 76ers make a lot of sense since they need shooting. Maybe the Spurs; heck, they once tried Glenn Robinson late in his career. Portland needs a bench guy. Maybe the Warriors since they plan eventually to field a team of 15 future hall of famers with two in G-league two-way contracts if only for the parade.


DeMarcus Cousins #0 of the Golden State Warriors handles the ball against the Washington Wizards on January 24, 2019 at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC.

What do you think if the Bulls could sign Kemba (3-4yrs, 25-30 mil per or more) and DeMarcus (1yr, 20-25mil 2nd year team option ). Could it work? Would the players take those offers? Would this make them contenders in the Eastern Conference? I love adding a true alpha and closer in Kemba and with DeMarcus a true alpha in talent. DeMarcus's obvious health and attitude risks are mitigated.

Burt Amos

Sam: It sounds like something if it weren't for the people. Everyone seems to think Walker wants to be in Charlotte, and with becoming an All-Star starter I'd find it difficult to believe Michael would let him get away. Especially after all those years as a player in Chicago saying as an owner you had to take care of your best player. Anyway, I weep for the next team to sign Cousins. He'll be great with the Warriors like Rodman was great for the Bulls, but then when he gets to his next stop where he doesn't respect anyone, the shoes are coming off.


Derrick Rose #25 of the Minnesota Timberwolves attempts a shot over Josh Hart #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Staples Center on January 24, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.

I know you have answered this question at least 50 times but, do you think the Bulls have a chance of re-signing Derrick Rose? I think his game now would work with Zach and Markennen. less pressure not having to carry or be the face of the franchise. I think he can be a good veteran piece to take this young Bulls team.

Randall Sanders

Sam: Those are good points, and with Thibs out in Minnesota, he may not want to return or they might not want him back. Though Rose is exceedingly popular in the Minneapolis community—and among NBA fans, we have learned, from the All-Star fan voting—that I expect the Timberwolves to make him an offer.

Rose's return and play has been one of the great NBA stories in years, from MVP, to basically out of the game, to scoring 50 points and winning shots. He's been one of my favorite Bulls, as readers probably know, but I also would like to see him in a great place for him. I've talked about the challenge to Kris Dunn of further emerging or the team needing a dominant point guard. As you suggest, that's not Rose anymore. But his name is so big in Chicago, and though many cynics doubted it with his injuries, he does love Chicago and loved being a Bull and loves to play. Which made him a divisive figure because he didn't articulate as well as many demanded. Talk about never walking in someone's shoes. Anyway, I could see the Bulls might be interested as backup point guard as it is far from settled. And Derrick has been a mentor in this incarnation. I could see why Derrick would be interested depending on the summer's market. Again, it's something else to watch in what should be a very intriguing offseason for the Bulls. The draft, free agency, Derrick Rose! Don't jump ship quite yet. Maybe it not be sinkin'.


Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls moves against Jeremy Lin #7 of the Atlanta Hawks at the United Center on January 23, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois

I flipped on the Atlanta game just to check the score and it was disgusting. That's how the Cleveland game was, too, even though we won. I've been reading comments by Bulls fans today about why the team lost, and for once, I'd have to say almost everyone is right. The Bulls lost because they did everything badly. Atlanta won because they did a couple things adequately. All in all, it looked like a YMCA pickup game with tall players.

Rather than blame these performances on the coach or management, I'm stuck on the idea that there's some good talent here, but our guys really just don't know how to play the game at the NBA level yet. It's not because they're dumb or the coach is incompetent or they lack talent. The key players are young and haven't figured it out yet. I wouldn't give up on them yet, though I do think those of you who have to go to every game and stay to the end should get combat pay. Meanwhile, I'm hoping they can pick up another player along the way who can prove to be a catalyst for their talent to emerge.

Kirk Landers

Sam: I know the game with Atlanta looked bad, and losing at home to a losing team by 20 is actually really bad. But let's also remember these teams were having that happen to them against the Bulls since when the Bulls beat Cleveland Sunday, it was gleefully pointed out by many how the Bulls were only perfect against the losing teams like Atlanta. I agree the Hawks were more enthusiastic, seemed to be enjoying the game more and were moving much swifter and with more purpose. A big first quarter lead helps. The Hawks aren't a finished product, either, but the Bulls, again, have pointed toward this offseason for several personnel additions. I'm willing to take a look.


I am 81 years old and have been reading you [it seems], the entire time. Every week, I can't wait for Friday to get your latest views. But, your "Ask Sam" columns are too long. They have too much good stuff; they take me too long to read. Have you ever considered doing two columns a week, each about half as long?

Joe Lavely

Sam: I couldn't resist answering this one. I get kidded about this often, that my stories are too long. Though, c'mon, you're 81? What else do you have to do? Again, I couldn't resist. Though this does give me a chance to explain. I hear often of the short attention span of millennials and successor generation X, the effect of the internet and Facebook and Twitter and news briefs and this busy, busy world. Now, perhaps I can understand the Bulls are not quite as compelling this season, which is why I (and many, many other writers) try both to educate while entertaining.

It's not just about the game or the event; it's why many of us make historical references, use allusions and literary devices, expanded vocabulary, humor (at least when it works). The point is if you dare take some time to read more than a tweet, perhaps you'll never be the president, but you have a chance to learn more about things you may not have thought about or figured you weren't much interested in. Damn, ended in a preposition again. OK, maybe you should have stopped reading one or two sentences before. Though since you did send this in 32-point type (I get it as I usually use 18 or 20 and can't figure out how all those kids read in 10 and 12), it probably does take you a bit longer. But I saw you were in Minnesota. Really, you don't have time? C'mon, no one ever goes out there 'til June.


In your column you wrote that Jordan was a good interview pre-championships. Did fame change him? I thought he kind of got arrogant after the 2nd or 3rd championship and was definitely different after he came back. Didn't seem like the practical joker/love of the game same guy as when he first arrived. But I live near the Jupiter/Palm Beach, Florida. A few months back, I dropped my wife off at the movies and parked the car. I'm walking along this quiet sidewalk to the theatre and in front of me is this 6 foot 6 guy lifting his knee to kick his wife in the butt several times. Both laughing. Just having fun. I passed them up and sure enough it was MJ. Kind of an odd reminder that athletes are just humans. Nice to see that he hadn't lost that jokester side and it was authentic.

Jeff Lichtenstein

Sam: So there he is. Thanks for the anecdote. Michael felt under siege and betrayed in 92 and 93 (by me, also, with the Jordan Rules), but more so the gambling stuff and media piling on and New York Times ripping him for going to Atlantic City in the playoffs and Sports Illustrated and then the unthinkable of some media blaming him for this father's death. So he withdrew, but not that much. He just made his media sessions more formal, the access more restricted. But he still had that glint in his eye; you could still see the joy and playfulness, especially when he came back in '95. Even talked to me one-on-one in some interviews. Though I think he's still mad at Sports Illustrated. I love that story; good for him. All the money in the world can't always buy that.

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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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