Ask Sam Mailbag: 02.08.19
Sam opens his mailbag to answer your questions about the Bulls and other stories around the NBA
What the heck are the Bulls doing? Otto Porter was not the right move. $28 million for 2 more years after this season for Otto Porter is a joke. This trade makes absolutely no sense from any angle I look at it. It's basically Gar/Pax saying we can't sign any impact free agents and aren't even willing to try because we can't land anyone. So instead of saying we failed later, we just will make this senseless trade to avoid having to try to bring in an actual star. Best case Otto Porter makes the Bulls a little better, and they win a couple more meaningless games. I don't care if it's morally right, the Bulls should be outright tanking and getting the best shot at potential superstars because they don't have the interest or ability to bring any over in free agency. Ok, Markkanen and Carter should not be untouchable. They are ok, but not superstars, they aren't the leaders on a championship team. Lauri is overrated. A player that size should be driving to the basket, not thinking he's the next Kyle Korver. Plus he can't play defense. Ok, I'm done before I have a nervous breakdown over this!
Sam: OK, at least you're not a Lakers fan sure you had Anthony Davis and instead have a team filled with guys who pretty much now hate LeBron and have awakened Ball's nutso father. Yes, you got that big forward you were dreaming about. Welcome Mike Muscala. I haven't been the biggest fan of Otto Porter, though this also could be a scenery change. We'll get to see. After all, how excited would anyone have been about Tobias Harris a few teams ago? It sometimes takes a team or two, and Washington was generally regarded with their locker room disputes even when not threatening to shoot one another a mess with the Wall/Beal animosity and then adding Dwight Howard. They didn't have to try to imitate the federal government, but I guess you get sucked in there.
Porter pretty much was tasked with standing around waiting for John Wall to stop dribbling and then shoot. So we'll see if there's a there there. It's worth a look, and you are correct and so are the Bulls. They admitted to you (and us) the free agency fantasy was just that. Bad teams are not a location unless they have multiple slots, and even then it's a big gamble. The Bulls had that chance in 2010 and went for it. They got Carlos Boozer. Good, but not who you wanted. The Knicks are taking that risk now. Look at a team like the 76ers. They have not been able to sniff a free agent because they were so bad so long. Free agents don't go to rebuilding, and the Bulls acknowledged honestly that they were not going to play that dishonest game.
The message is about getting incrementally better until an opportunity arises. The Rockets plan was to build around Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. And then someone dumped James Harden on them. You can't plan for that to occur, but it does. You have to be realistic in the midst of that and build toward competitiveness. As much as fans and media see sports as championship or go 0-82, it's still a year long entertainment business. Competition is entertaining, and the Bulls had to begin to get back into that business. It looked like they were heading there this season until swamped with injuries. But it also gave them some time to see what they didn't have: Shooting and a wing scorer.
Portis was terrific, fun, a good guy, all the hustle elements the Bulls liked to talk about. But a secondary priority, the Bulls decided. You don't lock up a reserve when you have several starting positions unfilled. And now the Bulls are spending too much money? If the Bulls could land Kawhi or Kevin or Kyrie, I'm sure they would. But why pursue the exercise we all know would be futile just because of where they are, Year 2 of rebuilding. Who thought Curry and Thompson were the core of a title team? You fill in positions, add talent gradually and see what you have. Don't worry; no one is untouchable until it's obvious they are.
I like this trade. We were weak at SF, and everyone can use a 3 and D player in the modern NBA.
I'm bummed to see Bobby go, but Bulls would have had to pay him this summer in the $18M - $20M range. Is that worth it for a bench player? He will be fine and will still have a great NBA career, and I think Carter Jr. will fill that role very nicely next season. I liked Jabari, too, but for whatever reason, it just didn't work out.
Time to move onward. I'm looking forward to Zach driving and kicking to Lauri and Otto at the wings. The trade was an upgrade for us.
Sam: I know some of the call in radio crowd and basement twitter group is angry because, well, THIS IS NOT A CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM! But I will say most of the comments I've received aren't as critical since most of my readers are more capable of complete sentences—have to be with as long as I write—and understand there is nuance to transactions and circumstances and not all world problems can be solved in 140 characters. There's probably some legitimate comment that the Bulls were frustrated about being a .500 team with Jimmy Butler, so why are they trying to be a .500 team again? Valid, but that's how it works. The next level after lottery isn't trophy. There's some community ambivalence about Zach LaVine, but I think he's really good. It's also one reason it's tough for some players to be in Chicago. What, he's not Jordan! Next! Zach's an elite, world class athlete with skills. He'd have been the best player on that pretty good team with Hinrich, Gordon and Deng. Markkanen's very good; perhaps he'll be almost great one day, but he needs a better point guard, which the Bulls are hoping Kris Dunn becomes, and some more strength, which he seemed to have before having to miss almost half the season hurt. Yes, sounds like an excuse, but it happens. The Bulls with Porter potentially look a lot better than they did with three players who are 40 percent three-point shooters and not being undersized at almost every key position. Enough of the David Nwaba syndrome. It seems like a step forward toward competing. That's a decent day's work.
Like the trade a lot as Bulls now have a veteran good small forward and signed up to use their cap space. Now though only have one power forward on roster - do bulls have a G-league player to promote or do they need to just pick up a power forward that is released or bought out? What are your suggestions for rotation the rest of the year? Hoping that Bulls keep Lopez to field a team worth watching in 2019 plus to help young players mature / develop
Sam: The paradox is the deal does seem to make the Bulls better, which also means they should win more games this season, which also means, OH! NO ZION? And I hate using capitals. That's a contradiction the Bulls have wrestled with. Many point to the 76ers and their felonies over almost five years of throwing games. And look now. They are a Finals contender. But that was one pick that hit with Embiid, which could have missed also given his health issues for two years. Most of their No. 1s missed like Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Furkan Korkmaz and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, the latter now with the Bulls. They hit on a big one and could build, like the Bulls did with Derrick Rose. Most of the time it doesn't happen, like with 10-year rebuilding teams like the Timberwolves, Suns and Kings have had.
Again, the reason the Bulls can't lose too much is they have better talent than the Knicks and Cavs. Though to ease some concerns, the Bulls look like they'll lose plenty these last two months. Manipulating it is dishonest to your fans and the game. Those that advocate it have character not worth considering, anyway. They're likely to remain among the bottom four in records with teams like Atlanta, Memphis and Orlando separating themselves with fewer than 30 games left. So the Bulls should get a good player; the best player always remains the product of luck.
No one has anything bad to say about Bobby, though the Bulls did offer eight figures last fall after Bobby was basically in the playing rotation one season. The team had different needs. Bobby's a reserve four. They most needed a wing three; there is a difference. Bobby was more four/five; so Porter in this NBA can play some power forward with his size at 6-8 and shooting component, more three/four. Depth isn't exactly the Bulls biggest weakness these days. And as difficult as the daily losing continues to be (much easier to say rebuild than live with it), it is just a year and a half in with another draft and maybe $20 million in salary cap too, which could mean at least two more new players this summer.
Finally! That's what every Bulls fan is thinking right now. GarPax finally made a solid trade deadline move! Otto Porter JR. Is essentially the exact player the Bulls need. He's young and overpaid yet still very useful as a spot up shooter and an ideal wing defending partner for LaVine.
I even like the TLC trade, the Bulls have picked up a couple of young athletic wings that can play defense. Essentially, doing exactly what they needed. I'm stunned. In a good way for once.
Parker and Portis becoming Porter is excellent asset and cap management.
Hope they also free Robin Lopez and let that good man play on a playoff team!
Sam: You could tell from the Bulls' comments they are ambivalent about Lopez. There's probably a side which would be fine with letting Lopez find a better team to finish the season. But this is a larger issue that the NBA needs to address and which hurts teams like the Bulls. Some of the better teams have been talking with agents for months advising them they'll pick up their player on a buyout, so not to pursue a trade. So teams with losing records like the Bulls get shut out of trade possibilities. And then they should allow the player to go to a better team when their chance to make a trade and acquire something was taken away? I understand sympathy and good intentions, but why facilitate a system that has worked to hurt the Bulls? Why would fans of the Bulls advocate for that? After all, they're still playing Lopez and paying him. Hardly unfair. I know people always say the Bulls don't do anything; actually, they've made more moves than most lately. I guess the better complaint is they don't make enough moves that lands them league MVP candidates.
I'm still pretty shocked by that trade, on several levels. Mostly, it's that $20-million-plus for Porter seems like a cap buster for years to come...or is this just the new reality in the NBA?
The other thing is, Bobby Portis seemed to be developing into someone special coming off the bench. I understand your points about signing him as a free agent, but he seems to be to be as solid as Porter for 30 minutes a game. I guess the point is, Porter plays a position of more need.
How many $20-million dollar players do competitive NBA teams have on their rosters? If it's three, and Otto Porter ends up being our third, is it reasonable to think the Bulls would do any better than the Wizards have done with him as #3?
Sam:As for the money issue for Porter, it is a lot. But the Bulls have mostly players on rookie contracts, which don't cost as much. You have to spend at least $100 million to meet league salary cap rules, and overspending it on any free agent because you cannot get one of the half dozen top players isn't an answer, either. If you remember 2010, the teams that didn't get LeBron and Bosh, and yes Boozer, gave big contracts to John Salmons, Travis Outlaw, Amir Johnson, Josh Childress, Wes Matthews, Richard Jefferson and Mike Miller. Then when there was the big cap expansion, most of the top free agents were Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Evan Turner, Evan Fornier, Chandler Parsons, Tyler Johnson, Hassan Whiteside, Solomon Hill and Marvin Williams. All received contracts worth more than the Bulls now owe Porter.
Try to remember what really is a free agent in the NBA. Everyone wants the top four or five, who basically gravitate to their friends and high level current winning situations. Why fool yourself now if you realize it's not possible and try to get closer to where they might be serious? The salary cap for next season is about $110 million. The luxury tax kicks in at around $130 million. So a team should easily afford five $20 million players and be able to fill out a bench without going into the tax, which really is about what most teams view as the cap. The Bulls remain under, so retain the flexibility with Porter. And it's just two more years, which then potentially opens money for a top free agent if the team has advanced toward where the roster could be more appealing regarding veterans. Remember, everyone has a plan. Which doesn't much matter until you get lucky.
The killer part of the trade is it takes us out of reach free agency. Maybe odds were so low and with not exactly a players type of coach, maybe no one significant was coming here. Then again, if we win Zion Draft, maybe Chicago looks nicer than Milwaukee in free agency?
Sam: Actually, getting the No. 1 pick is generally a free agent curse. As soon as the Cavs did and took Andrew Wiggins, LeBron demanded he be traded or wasn't coming back. Top free agents do not want to play with babies. Now, it's not a reason not to want the No. 1 pick, which you do. It's just not a plan to attract top free agents. Those guys ran from the 76ers until those kids starting getting All-Star recognition.
Bobby Portis, your best scorer off the bench traded just like that? I just don't get it.
Sam: And it may look worse Saturday when the Bulls host the Wizards and Portis and Parker are fighting for the ball to get 40. That's the point—off the bench. Year 2 of rebuilding still means a dearth of starters. We all like Bobby and his ethic, and he may be Sixth Man of the Year some day. The Bulls just felt they needed a starting small forward. Chandler Hutchison is not it yet and free agency isn't big on that position in the section of the store where the Bulls have to shop now. You generally have to give something good to get something good.
This has been the most interesting trade period I recall for any period. It will take some time for the NBA fans to digest the very significant changes in team philosophy and strategy going forward. A few weeks of dynamic change have really altered the league landscape. And, it's not over yet.
Sam: How 'bout that NBA. Usually these deadlines pass with lots of speculation and little activity. This week was a pleasant exception. And also a reminder that there's a lot more going on than known to the naked eye. Really, how many of the actual transactions were even speculated about? It was a week of Anthony Davis that ended with Harrison Barnes, Otto Porter, Greg Monroe, Avery Bradley, Nikola Mirotic, Markieff Morris, Markelle Fultz, Tobias Harris, Nik Stauskas and Kristaps Porzingis. What it mostly suggests that while we believe we know who'll be the NBA champion, no one has any idea who'll be in the Finals or whom Golden State has to beat to get there. It's perhaps the most interesting level playing field in years just below the best team. The East playoffs should be terrific with the arms race of the last week, and the main regret in that playoffs is that none of those teams are in the Western Conference since after Golden State, the next four best teams probably are in the East. At least for this season until Kyrie and Kawhi decide what's up and where. It probably was the biggest trade deadline day since Don Nelson in 1997 initiated a nine-player trade. The East rocks again!
I take two main things away from the PORT-is, park-ER for PORT-ER (see what I did there?) trade:
Durant & Leonard have said "no, never" to the Bulls;
Management has softened on Wendell as a full-time 5, and see him playing some backup time at the 4 with Lauri, or with some other configuration -- making Bobby's time on court less valuable long-term, especially with the gaping hole at the 3.
Sam: I credit the Bulls this time for not pursuing an empty fantasy. Look, it doesn't matter what you do if you're not winning. If you are winning they'll forgive pretty much anything. So the point is to do what you have to do for the long run to be in better position. Maybe if you had two slots so he could bring his best friend Kyrie or whomever that may be. But now Dallas got in the mix, also, and the major markets have multiple slots and this was setting up as a brutally disappointing July after this kind of season. Better to feel good about summer. I'm not fully sure how the Bulls see Carter other than seeing him as one of their two top players going forward. Not necessarily two top talents, but a player they want for life, or at least his playing life. They love him and his attitude and makeup. He sees himself as a power forward as well as center, so there's perhaps another spot to fill in that front court. The Bulls do say the picture is hardly complete.
So recently, I have read some articles about the Bulls listening to offers for anyone who isn't Lauri or Wendell. If I've interpreted this correctly, it means they are listening to Zach LaVine offers. Does it mean he could potentially be traded even though we just signed him for 4 years or is this more of checking out his worth in the market?
Sam: Well, if you're on a team out of the playoffs, and well out of the playoffs, you know anything is possible. But that report was inaccurate if only for the reason that Zach has a first year no trade in his contract and could not be traded. So, no, the Bulls really could not be looking to trade him because Zach was the only one who could trade him. When John Paxson spoke after the trade he most emphasized four players, Markkanen, Carter, Porter and LaVine. Of course, things change if a better talent comes along in a deal. It's a business, right? It would be a major mistake to me to lose LaVine because while LaVine can do some of the stuff those other three can do, none of those three can do what Zach does given his athletic ability. Can't teach that. If you are losing Zach, you better be getting someone capable of averaging 25 per game. There aren't many of those guys around. Zach's hardly perfect, and at times leaves you wanting more. Good luck finding that elsewhere.
Allowing bad teams a chance to draft 1st has generally been a good idea. It creates some parity and therefore keeps the league competitive. Competition is entertaining. However, in the last few years some teams seemingly lose games on purpose. This can be achieved by disrupting continuity. Firing coaches, changing philosophy and not playing your best players are ways in which management can lose games but argue they are trying win. This is bad for competition and not entertaining at all. Gar/Pax have claimed they do not want mediocrity by continually making the playoffs without a real chance of winning a championship. An eighth seed never gets top draft picks so they are destined to remain a team without much hope of ever winning a championship. It seems obvious that the Bulls management is trying to lose games. What can be done to make teams try to win games?
Sam: Actually, they were not trying, which was the problem and why some shakeup was needed. Now, a lot of that was because of the injuries, which led to so many of the changes. I believe the Bulls were sincere coming into this season about being a competitive team that at least still was in playoff contention in March. Now the conundrum is the losing. Intellectually, they probably should because of the draft. But it is morally and competitively wrong and I doubt they pursue that intentionally. Though the Porter deal deserves a reasonable look, he's still Otto Porter. He'll take some adjusting, so the Bulls aren't likely to take off yet. And then we'll see if they continue to play Lopez or go for the young guy, Felicio thing, like last season. Anyone seen Sean Kilpatrick? The NBA lessened the odds for the top draft pick, and they'll go farther in the next few years. But like in the other sports, once you are out of it and as long as there is a draft that appropriately favors some leveling of the competition, losing generally is the best plan. That never will change. Really, you want the Warriors to have a chance at the No. 1 pick? Though I know we all see this coming with the Lakers' mess. They slip barely out of the playoffs and, Oh, what luck! The Lakers get No. 1! That would need some investigation.
I know that you just spoke a lot in your last mailbag about the Anthony Davis drama, but I think what is bothering people the most is not that Davis requested a trade, but that it comes immediately on the heels of the Butler and Leonard debacles, which have left a terrible taste in everyone's mouth. I actually think that Davis has gone about this the right way. He is well within his rights to walk after this season, and he has merely let them know that he won't resign. I don't see any of the Butler drama in this situation. Butler's behavior was appalling and one of the most unprofessional temper tantrums I've ever witnessed. Now that the rant is over, I guess my question is I cannot remember this type of thing happening as frequently as it has this past year and I was wondering if you could point to reason you think this has become the go to move of the players? Is it poor management? A fluke with these three players? Or is this going to become a regular annual occurrence? I understand that one team's loss is another's gain, and that's the business, but at what point does a player begin to burn his future bridges with such behavior (mainly Butler and Leonard)?
Sam: Not in this NBA. Plus, the fans and media love it. And the league. Really, who gets more attention than the NBA? Heck, another Super Bowl like that and next year they'll hire NBA trading deadline for the halftime show. As I mentioned last week, these scenarios are not new with Wilt, Kareem and Barkley among those stars to have forced their way out with trade demands and then going onto championships or Finals in every case in their new place. And then they were celebrated. It's a zero sum affair. Someone wins every transaction. The difference now is the money, which means it will be a regular occurrence. Players like Davis get their first big extension so young with the one-and-done and soon to be again direct-from-high school that they'll still be in their mid-20's and set for life and the lives of their great grandkids, So they can "sacrifice" on a contract as a free agent (taking one year fewer guaranteed) to partner with a buddy or pick a new place. It's just a new landscape for doing business, and everyone has been put on notice. They're not leaving to play soccer. They'll still be in the NBA. It's certainly a lot better than when owners squeezed them and kept them tied up in onerous situations. Power to the people! OK, very wealthy people, but still.
My quick take is I like it for 2 reasons: Bulls being realistic about cap space and ability to lure a superstar (KD, Kyrie or Kawhi) and the reality in today's NBA is you need 3pt shooters; bulls need to take more and Porter can and will shoot em...Tobias Harris etc are great but maxing out on a guy at that level almost guarantees mediocrity.
Sam: The ironic part was during this season when fans asked me about free agency, I'd say the Bulls aren't getting those big guys you note, but I'd often mention Harris as the kind of player who would make sense and be realistic, though you'd have to pay him $30 million or so long term over four years because of so many teams with cap room and five guys who make that difference. But I'd do it. I thought it was OK to do as you'd get incrementally better, which is the realistic goal for now.
I know, I know, everyone wants Durant and Leonard, but you'd be fortunate to get Tobias Harris, who is a top 10 free agent. Porter is in that class. They got him. I can't say I ever heard anyone say about Porter than he's no Tobias Harris. Performance also is about opportunity. Maybe now for the first time Porter gets it. I don't know Porter's ceiling, but Harris for the first time in his career is being featured in an offense. And became a near All-Star. Before that in places like Orlando and Detroit—and you probably didn't even know he was three—he averaged about 15 or 16 points and you hardly knew where he was. $100 million man? Pay up. Somebody is going to this summer.
"... and isn't particularly adept at switching on screen/roll, the basic defensive philosophy of most NBA teams these days."
When you say stuff like this, I wish you would explain what it means; I should know but I don't; what does switching on screen/roll mean?
Sam: We do speak in shorthand in sports, and perhaps we should do more primers as we all fall for the easy terminology. Though I do try to stay away from the stupid stuff like load management and scoring the basketball, the latter which is similar to, well, scoring. So thanks for the chance to explain. Actually, I do try to explain plays and strategies. I haven't done it as much the last two Bulls seasons for apparent reasons.
I have the ball and you are guarding me.
Next to me on my right my teammate sets a screen (basically a block to divert the guy guarding me).
I dribble right past my teammate who sets the screen, which is standing in place and me trying to move around him without leaving space for the player guarding me to get "over" and stay in front of me.
So I won't have open space for a shot, the opponent guarding my teammate who is setting the screen "switches" to guard me.
And the guy guarding me "switches" to guard my teammate setting the screen.
That is called switching the screen/roll. What teams then try to take advantage of is the guy guarding me is smaller. So when he switches to my generally taller teammate setting the screen, my teammate should have advantage to shoot or drive to the basket. Or I will have an advantage because the opponent guarding the screener usually is a taller player and then maybe I am quicker and can drive by. Though most of the time I see the guards dribble between their legs 15 times and then shoot a fadeaway three. Which generally isn't an exact part of the strategy.
What was it that Einstein said? The definition of insanity is trying the same thing repeatedly yet expecting different results (close enough). Why do the Bulls do all that switching on defense? It doesn't work! I'm telling you it cost us the game in Charlotte (and probably many more this season). Who in his right mind thinks it's a good idea to end up with Markkanen trying to guard Kemba Walker? All it did was put Lauri in foul trouble and let Walker rack up 37 points. And it makes guys lazy. I miss man defense; that is, actual defense. Stick to your guy, fight through the pick, and give him hell. All right, thanks for letting me vent.
Sam: You need to write to Paul Siekert, whom I think is equally confused.
When Lopez makes a hook shot and Stacey King compares his form to that of a former Bulls center, please suggest that he drop the name of Don Kojis—the original Bulls center.
Sam: I'm just pleased to get a Don Kojis mention. Don was a great rebounder, one of the best in the history of Marquette basketball and the guy with Guy Rodgers who basically invented the alley-oop back door dunk. Plus, he was a pioneer in NBA free agency as profiled in the Hard Labor book. Yes, it was my book, and I highly recommend it since you'll learn about Kojis and the Kangaroo Kram and the game's history and how this free agent madness all began. It's a slow sales season. Actually, the original Bulls centers were Len Chappell on opening night and Erwin Mueller most of the season. Not surprisingly, Jerry Sloan led that team in rebounding. Also in floor burns, taking charges, technical fouls and frustrating the top scoring guards in the NBA. That was a heck of a fun 33-win season. Thanks for mentioning it.
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