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Ask Sam Mailbag: 02.10.17

Just read an article that if Tai Gibson were to be traded his current
value would be a first round pick. I don’t see his value that high
unless he agrees to an extension with the team he’s traded to under the
table.
Randall Sanders

Sam: Agree, which is also why I don’t think he’ll be traded. No. 1 picks have grown increasingly in value with the new labor deal and the new
built in difficulty in obtaining top free agents. Not only finding your
own, but having players on manageable contracts for several years is
more crucial now, and that comes from first round picks. No one’s giving
up a No. 1 pick for a two-month rental. OK, the Cavs did for Kyle
Korver, but that’s because GM LeBron doesn’t care about the franchise
beyond his next few years. Unless they agree to sell it to him cheaply.
Which I’m sure we’ll hear one of these days, or that they should.

As for Taj, and I know this all depends on economics, but if it were up to me I’d bring him back on a new contract next season. Of course, it depends
on his market, but he’s only going on 32, hasn’t played all that much in
his career, and is such a valuable player, person, leader, team guy that
his type of player could be more difficult to replace than almost anyone
on the roster. You want people like that around all the time, and not
just we media people because no one is more stand up and engaging on the
entire team. I look around the East at power forward and I don’t see
many better. Probably Love, Millsap, but not by much. Serge Ibaka? I’d
rather have Gibson. The Morris twins? I’m happy with Gibson’s physical
presence. I’d have taken Jabari Parker, but terrible news. Thaddeus
Young? Ersan Ilyasova? Patrick Patterson?

This is one of the top three
or four overall power forwards in the East and having one of his best
seasons, growing with his shot and I’m believing he gets it out to
three-point range. If the Bulls go whole turnover, OK, but you don’t
find many like Taj, one of the Bulls great low draft picks ever. If you
are keeping Robin Lopez, and he has a long term deal, I like the way
that tandem plays. Can you do better?

I was watching the Knicks and Clippers (dont ask me why) when they swung
to Oakley getting tossed.

I have never seen 7 security guards so scared but I also don't think I
have ever seen a more sad sight during a game than watching an absolute
legend getting tossed from an arena during a game.

10 years the Oak man was the Knicks enforcer - how did it end up like
this?
Mike Burling

Sam: I guess we all have to weigh in, which is what makes the NBA so great. Really, in what other sport does this happen, though I wince a
bit on this one. Obviously, there is so much he said, they said. I will
just say what I know about Oak, who is one of my favorite people since I
began covering him more than 30 years ago: Oak tells it exactly like he
sees it. He’s not politically correct, and can be his own worst enemy.
He says the things, sometimes, that will get him banned, as it has from
the Knicks with brutal criticism of management and ownership, and even
with his buddy Michael in Charlotte when Oak was an assistant coach
there and they had to quietly dump him because he was violating the
labor moratorium by being honest with media and potentially costing the
team $1 million fines in multiples.

I remember covering the 1999 labor
lockout. Oakley’s first big contract was about to go away if the players
didn’t settle that day. Barkley in the meeting makes a big speech
basically at the end of his career about standing up to the league and
you’ll are cowards and Oakley basically beat him up. I probably wouldn’t
have wanted to settle the debate that way. Remember, that’s the Barkley
who once body slammed Shaq in a game. Oak’s critique of Tim Floyd’s
coaching cost him a $50,000 fine from the Bulls, the only team fine I
can recall for telling the whole truth that accurately. I don’t know
what happened, and the Knicks seem sure they have the independent
witnesses to back up their contentions of Oakley’s erratic behavior, and
maybe to them it was and not to Oak. I just have never known Oakley to
fabricate events even when they made him look bad.

Everyone was saying how they wanted the Bucks youth. Now they are very quiet.
Jabari will be lucky if he comes back to be Ron Harper from his later
days.
Bob Ding

Sam: The Bulls know better than anyone how they feel. The Bucks were
doing it exactly the right way, as were the Bulls before Derrick Rose’s
injury. Yes, they’ll probably begin to blame the Bucks at some point if
they fall into mediocrity without their second on the one/two punch.
What do you mean you don’t have another Jabari Parker on the roster!
That’s bad management! Which is why championships are more about good
fortune than good planning. The Bucks did everything right, made the
right picks, paid the right players, got in the right position, and now
they’re going wrong over events they cannot control and cannot bail out
of because they owe the player money, as they must. It’s not unlike the
condemnation of the Bulls. Sure, you lost one of the best players
perhaps of this generation, but why don’t you just get someone els

Why not just play Valentine at point?
Ryan Carpel

Sam: They’ve got Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant and Rajon
Rondo, and so you may also say they don’t exactly have the true point
guard they’d want given shooting limitations for some, passing for
others. Valentine has elements of both, and I think he has a good feel
for the game and can make shots even though he rarely has lately other
than in that Washington game and in Canton or Erie or somewhere. The way
the Bulls play with Butler and Wade controlling the ball so much,
Valentine probably can play “point guard” because they don’t really have
the position filled as you’d like it to be for the future. So the
tryouts continue. I assume he’ll get more of a look.

Has Phil Jackson finally Phailed? Yes they are referring to Phil as
“Phailed Jackson" in New York. The “Fire Phail" chants have been heard
at the “World’s greatest Arena”. What is your take on the Knicks? I am
also intrigued by where Rose will end up next year. He seems to miss
Chicago and the Rhondo experiment seems over. Is it possible Derrick
returns to Chicago IF the price is right? Rose, Butler, Wade, Lopez and
Gibson make a formidable starting unit.
Bruce Roberts

Sam: As much as everyone knows I like Derrick, they’ve all moved on and
I think it’s best for both sides. Derrick will always be measured here
against what he was, and that’s doomed to fail, and the Bulls will
always remember what he could no longer be, and that’s not ideal.
Derrick has had a good season and what people forget is what he’s doing
now is what we always thought he’d be, averaging about 18 points and
five assists. He just had one of the most offensively challenged rosters
in NBA history with Noah, Ronnie Brewer, Keith Bogans; sort of the 76ers
with Iverson and four guys to fetch the ball. So Derrick took off and
scored. I actually remember blowing off fans writing me in Rose’s rookie
year asking if he could be league MVP and saying it was impossible
because he never could score like that.

Sam:OK, once I was wrong. Oh, Phil.
No, he hasn’t failed. He just hasn’t succeeded. They won’t see it that
way in New York with the media and fan base’s historic knowledge being
the last thing they saw. This dance with Carmelo Anthony has been
classic Phil, going directly first and apparently finding out Carmelo
won’t give up his no trade, so then taking angles. Anthony is a terrific
talent, or generally was since he’ll be 33 soon and never has taken too
much care of his body. Ownership gave him that no trade deal—and I’m not
unsympathetic to Anthony since he bargained for it, got it and deserves
to have it enforced—but Phil wants to build a different type team. He
tried to make the right moves around Anthony, a scoring point guard on a
short term deal and defenders in Noah and Courtney Lee. He brought in a
highly regarded coach in Jeff Hornacek who was a coach of the year
almost every year in favorite until he was fired. They haven’t meshed.

Sam:Criticism is not just pointing out someone failed, but explaining what
you would have done differently that would have succeeded. Phil took
over a team that had basically given up all its No. 1 draft picks but
one, and he got Porzingis with that one. Not bad. He signed free agents,
made a big trade for a star scorer, got a good coach. He actually did
what they all were shouting about; but when it’s not working they all
say he should have done, now exactly what with Anthony refusing to
budge?

Melo to Bulls? They're already hard to watch as it is. I sure hope that
there's no way that this could happen.
John Jenkins

Sam: It’s such a ludicrous notion that I don’t think the Bulls were even
upset that it was a rumor or speculation. So you paid big money for
Dwyane Wade after his best playing times. OK, it’s worth a shot for a
year or two for his championship experience and history of success, his
connection to Chicago, community connection and willingness to cede to a
better younger player in Butler. Now you’re going to pay way bigger
money for longer for a guy just about as old, probably in poorer shape
who’s had basically no team success, no connection to the city and who
still sees himself as the Man? So some think the ball stops too much now
with the Bulls? Wait until you’d get a look at Anthony.

Sam:Look, I know he’s still a great scorer, and he’s better than the shooters, or guys
who are supposed to be, than the Bulls have. But there are also
unintended consequences, like all you’d have to give up to get someone
else’s best player and how he’d fit with what you have. Plus, Anthony
makes $28 million two years from now. Remember, also a serious knee
surgery a few years back. Maybe payback for the Knicks signing an
injured Joakim Noah for long term? So basically this would be your
roster for the next three years with no chance to add someone else. And
you’d probably have to give up your best draft picks to get him. Plus,
let’s not forget when Anthony had the chance to join a Bulls team that
really did have a chance to win a title he said no to return to New
York.

Sam:Why exactly would he now be waiving his no trade to move his
family, which he says he doesn’t want to do, to live in a city he
already rejected as inferior to New York, and his buddy Wade with an opt
out after this season? And by the way with his trade kicker of 15
percent you’d be giving him maybe another $4 million or so on top of his
contract just to come here and do all he’s done for the Knicks. Now what
would that exactly be? I know I’ve got dozens of reasons why it makes no
sense, but you probably did read it on the internet.

A couple years ago, I recall you saying that opportunity and landing
with the right team aren't major factors in an NBA player's success or
failure, that it's talent and determination. I keep wondering about
that. Certainly, for great talents that's probably true, but what about
young guys coming in the league who are talented but not exceptional? Or
anyone getting drafted by Sacramento or some of the other franchises in
organizational dysphoria?

At the moment, I'm thinking of Jerian Grant in
this context. The more he plays, the better his stat line gets and the
more effective he is in games. He couldn't get playing time in New York,
and not much here, either, until the last month or so. It looks like
he'll have an NBA career if he gets enough minutes to develop his game,
but what if he'd been buried on some other team's bench? It seems like
there must be several players drafted each year who enter into
situations in which they can't succeed...though perhaps the Development
League will help get them a second chance.
Kirk Landers

Sam: Did I say are or aren’t? I’m sure I said are. I do have a typos
problem at times. I probably said great talent will assure success or
something from a Spiderman movie, but, sure, if you are not a great
talent, and basically not selected in the lottery, opportunity matters a
heck of a lot. The Chicago kid I’ve seen with the Windy City Bulls,
Alfonzo McKinnie, is better than a lot of NBA players. But he wasn’t
drafted, so teams have all these first round picks they’re paying, and
while he’s good he’s really maybe not that much better or a difference
maker. So you hang onto your end of rotation or bench guys since they’re
not playing much anyway.

Sam:One thing I’ve always believed is it helps a
lot to have an NBA position. Jerian doesn’t quite. He’s really not a
true point guard given he’s not a facilitator and he’s not quite the
shooting guard, but it seems closer to that. Though they have Dwyane
Wade there, and Jerian’s not exactly Klay Thompson. Jerian has gotten
some regular playing time and seems like he’s earned more. He’s played
well. He is one of the better scorers in limited playing time,
aggressive with his shot, but more off the dribble, which compounds
things since Butler and Wade are best that way, and too many guys
pounding the ball stops things. So he doesn’t fit the greatest with
those guys, but fits less off the bench since he’s not the facilitator
Rondo is. Yes, talent is most important because if you have major talent
they’ll find a place for you. The right team helps; being really good is
much better.

The Bulls need to trade Doug McDermott to somewhere where he can
actually get some playing time. He's the last guy off the bench at this
point and still the team's best shooter, by far. Terrible luck for Doug
losing playing time to guys that can't shoot 40% from the floor.
Yuriy Fomin

Sam: McDermott’s been a topic of media conversation lately, his playing time down the four games this month to about 15 minutes and seven points combined the last two. He’s in a shooting slump, though still with the
best shooting percentage for threes on the team. I’ve written about his
home shooting being poorer, I’ve believed, because he presses a bit much
to please the home fans. But he hasn’t had a great road trip. Coach Fed
Hoiberg said he had yet another great shooting practice, but Hoiberg did
add the test is to bring it to the court. Obviously, McDermott doesn’t
always, and, yes, he isn’t always the benefit of a team with guards
looking for him. It’s the problem with the point guards the team has;
just not many natural facilitators. I’m holding onto him. And while it
keeps being mentioned the Bulls gave up two lower first round picks to
move up for him, neither has done well and you just can’t get enough of
McDermott’s skill. It took Kyle Korver a while and a few teams to find a
spot. Remember, Bulls fans weren’t too upset to lose him, said he didn’t
come up big in playoffs. You don’t give up to easily on a player who can
shoot like that in this NBA. Even if they aren’t going in now.

What's your take on Niko? He was an excellent rookie, and he had a very
good second half last season after a first half marked by (what I
thought was) an ill-advised placement as a SF and then the appendectomy.
But this season he's often looked invisible or bad. He seems like a very
nice guy (which is often the kiss of death, as in Snell). Do you have
any behind-the-scenes take on him?
Alejandro Yegros

Sam: I’m sort of working my way through what’s wrong with the roster. I think the rotation roulette has troubled some guys, though it’s hard to
blame a coach for trying something different when what you are looking
at isn’t working. I generally get the sense with Mirotic, who is a
thoughtful and intelligent guy, that he also thinks a bit much, like
about being a free agent, like about trade rumors, like about everyone
saying he shoots too far away or isn’t close enough, should put the ball
on the floor, don’t put the ball on the floor, pump fake, no don’t pump
fake. He wanted to win that starting job, and then didn’t, and then
there were changes with the guards he played with and didn’t, and while
a coach tries to settle on the heart of the roster, there are so many
moving pieces. I still think there’s something there as here’s a 6-10
guy who can shoot, put the ball on the floor, defensive rebound.
Sometimes you find yourself thinking about it all too much.

What is the deal with Anthony Bennett? He's kind of a cross between
Elton Brand and Draymond Green. He sends so talented but it seems like
no one wants him. Is he the kind of guy that needs the ball to make an
impact? Is that the problem?
Victor Devaldivielso

Sam: He probably was overdrafted, though it was a poor draft and everyone had him top 10. He is a bit smallish without the defensive
component those guys had, especially Green, and let himself get out of
shape and going into a bad team that had no idea LeBron would be coming
back. And then when you wear that bust label it can bring you down.
Though when I consider Bennett, and he obviously didn’t work out, it is
one of the ways I think you can build in this era without blowing up
your team and starting again in the lottery. There are a lot of first
round picks for whatever reason who don’t make it right away or just
need time, but teams don’t have much time to be patient with these kids.
So they start moving around. Like Chauncey Billups, whom the Pistons hit
on as his fifth team. Usually, there are good reasons teams give up on
guys, but sometimes teams just come to hate a guy for not being who they
want him to be. Kyle Lowry bounced around plenty; Tyson Chandler. There
are guys who were so called first round busts who might work with you.
It’s not easy and a risk, as the teams who tried Bennett found out as I
think he’s now in Turkey. But there are guys out there.

I think the main issue for the last 2 seasons is that the Bulls do not
have a clear vision, a clear direction of the team's targets and the way
to reach them. A couple of years ago they maxed out Jimmy making a
statement that the plan is to move from the Rose era to the Jimmy era
which in my opinion was the correct decision. Then they fired Thibodeau
as they believed that he was running out the players and was too much
focused on defense. In my opinion the first part was completely
justified as you can see the careers on Lu, Noah and Rose and others
after all those minutes under Thibs.

They handpicked Fred Hoiberg as they liked the style of play he had in his college and his "laid back" attitude. They waited for years to bring Mirotic from Real Madrid and
traded 2 first round picks for McDermott. All those decisions were
correct in theory... but what did they do after to support those
decisions? They brought Wade and Rondo to swallow minutes. In the
shooters' era the team has limited shooters. Do you really think that
the management has a clear view of where they want the team to go?
Stefanos Panayiotides

Sam: You actually kind of agree with their plan, moving on from the
former group because of age, injury and overwork. That’s what they did;
but they just did it. Remember, it was less than a year ago they did so
with last summer’s departures of Rose, Noah and Gasol. They didn’t have
a formal plan then, and really couldn’t have because no one knew the
ramifications of the new collective bargaining agreement, which was
signed in December. Now we are finding out it’s going to make it more
difficult to sign top free agents. So all teams have to do some
reassessment. But the Bulls were a serious contender and free agent
player for six years. That just ended last summer. I saw a chart in The
Tribune this week that said the Bulls were basically tied with Boston
for the best record in the Eastern Conference since the 2003-04 season,
which was when LeBron arrived.

Sam:So it’s not quite like they were the
Knicks, Nets, 76ers or Wizards. They were contending in some form, but
like Eastern teams in the 90s against Michael or Western teams in the
80s against Magic, there wasn’t ultimate success to be gained,
unfortunately. So now you try to figure out a new path, but you can’t do
it in five months. Sometimes teams bottom out; not just the 76ers. Look
at the 80s Nuggets, who were a dynamo against the Lakers year after
year, but couldn’t break through and then won 11 games one season. It
takes awhile to even begin in a new direction and to even figure out
what it is. The Knicks are working on two decades of that. That’s why
Rondo and Wade was understandable: Short term deals while you are still
playing for something—when guys play for nothing they become losers as
we saw with the early 2000 Bulls—and see what you have, which they have
been doing.

Sam:It doesn’t suggest a firm rotation, but it’s difficult to
balance the rotation of a competitor with the needs of a team in
transition. It’s easy to say have a plan, but most plans I’ve seen are
based on getting lucky. LeBron returns, then you can trade your future
for Kevin Love, Kyle Korver and Channing Frye. Jimmy’s a start, but
darned if anyone can tell yet with the Bulls in less than a full season
since they broke up their team what the next finished product will or
should look like. And remember the huge money last summer was spent to
get the likes of Harrison Barnes, Evan Turner and Chandler Parsons.
Those were your $100 million free agent players. Was it a mistake not to
invest your future in them?

It's true that only a few Bulls have distinguished themselves, and that
we have a lot of raw young guys. But I still think you have to decide
on a rotation, or none of those guys can become consistent. The way
it's going, when they get on the court, they're not used to their
teammates, they don't know their exact roles, and now they're probably
playing 'scared' that if they have a bad stretch, they might not see the
court again for 4 or 5 games. Nobody develops their game or plays their
best without some consistency. I understand Fred's dilemma.

MCW handles the ball well, but can't shoot or defend 'waterbugs. Grant can
shoot and defend better, but has no point-guard skills. Denzel is
smart, passes and can shoot, but is a little slow on D. But you have to
make some decisions on who to go with, and use the others as best you
can. I guess we'll have to wait and see what the Bulls do this summer
(or can do this summer) to give Fred a better roster. At this point, I
don't know if we'll have Wade or Rondo back. Wade seems frustrated and
Rondo can't be happy at having been benched for 5 games after leading
the NBA in assists last year. I just hope we can keep Taj in town. I
think he'll get some juicy offers. Or maybe they'll trade Butler and
start all over again... So which guys do you think are 'keepers'?
Art Alenik

Sam: I’m guessing Jimmy remains a keeper, though when you are a .500 team no one is absolutely untouchable. Though it seems short term
thinking, I think most of the NBA thinks that way: We’ll see what
happens in the playoffs, or if they make it. It’s amazing how much
things can change with a good playoff run. Or none. I agree in theory you
want to have a regular rotation and that buttresses the player’s
confidence and, ergo, his production. In theory, anyway. But when they
don’t produce all I hear is how could the coach not make a change. Not
that those who write me are the most knowledgeable, but they do watch.

Sam:Fred’s made clear if you play well regularly you are playing; unless you
are Jimmy and Dwyane, who are playing, anyway. But you better have them,
at least for now. I personally think Wade opts in and I think they hang
onto Rondo as his salary may be good to use for trade purposes after the
season. He was always slated basically for one year, but he really is,
despite what we thought coming in, a real leader for the young players,
maybe the team’s best, and certainly loudest voice in practice. You have
to earn your keep, as it’s said, and I think the post All-Star push and
playoffs, if there are, will show us who they’ll keep.