Ask Sam Mailbag: 02.16.18

Sam opens his mailbag and answers readers' questions

Last night we beat Orlando and I was as down as I have been with any sports moment the Bulls have had since Drose got injured. I wish I was joking. I know you're super anti-tank, so I think me (and many other tankathoners) could use rousing Sam Smith oratory on how winning and landing the 8th pick is not the worst that could happen.

Alejandro Yegros

Sam: I have to take this to a moral level and hope you and your fellow tankers (is that for the toilet tank?) aren't offended. This is a matter of character for me as well as the reality. Michael Jordan, too, but we didn't arrive at the conclusion the same way. Rarely did we; but that's another answer. When Jordan was injured in 1985-86—yes, all Chicago basketball is referenced against Jordan, BM and AM: Before Mike and After Mike—with his broken foot, he was anxious to return to play that season. Heck, he wanted to play three weeks later. It was the genesis of the feud that was on and off with Bulls management for years when the Bulls were concerned with legitimate medical evidence that Jordan faced a career ending situation if he were hurt again that season. Was it worth it? Managing partner Jerry Reinsdorf raised an image of Russian roulette or a poison pill with a pistol with 10 shots and one bullet or 10 pills and one poison; something like that. Jordan said that meant there was a 90 percent chance nothing would happen. He'd take the odds. Jordan said he was interested in competing and being with an organization that believed the same way and if they were playing for a draft pick—which the Bulls really weren't; doctors scared the crap out of them—then he didn't want to be part of that organization. I'm sympathetic. Sports is about competing. If you accept losing for any reason, to me it means you'll accept it not only in your sport but in your life, and if you try to cheat the system to better yourself in that manner despite the impact to others then you'll cheat on your spouse as long as you don't think you'll get caught and steal if you believe no one is looking. The system is set up to give lesser teams a chance. The Bulls happen to have better talent than, say, the Magic, the Kings, the Grizzlies. To be fair, why should the Bulls deserve a better draft pick? Are those communities less deserving of success? If cheating the spirit of the game is the best way to get there, is it worth it? Perhaps I'm being somewhat overdramatic or excessively virtuous. It's just sports, right? But in a country that often seems to be losing it's moral compass these days, why not start at home? Maybe you can't control all events, but you can influence yours. I like the way the Bulls have handled this, even if I expect to see way more after All-Star of some of those guys who haven't played much. The Bulls are saying they invested in players and they need to see them more to make a better judgment. That's fair, though it likely will lead to more losses. But I also doubt they'll stop playing LaVine, Dunn and Markkanen. Which differs from what dishonest franchises like the 76ers did in offloading players as soon as they believed they would help them win games. I won't get into debating the top picks in this draft. It's always better to have the top pick, but I also don't see the generational talent like a LeBron James or Kevin Durant. Of course, we didn't know Durant was. And we can examine the top teams now and see them led by Curry picked seventh and Thompson picked 11th, Chris Paul picked fourth, Paul George 10th. This season's rookie of the year looks like the guy picked 13th. There's always talent into the first round and the Bulls will have their lottery pick, wherever it may be, and likely a good pick from the Pelicans. There's free agency; perhaps another lottery pick next season. More important to me is that the Bulls appear to have a core of top young talent from the Butler trade. If Markkanen had stayed for a second season at Arizona, he might be the No. 1 pick in this draft. Also, remember if the Bulls had been losing all those games you hoped for you wouldn't think much of LaVine, Markkanen and Dunn. I believe the Bulls are doing this the proper way, which is to insist on competition and excellence. Jordan forced that 1986 team into the playoffs and they were swept. But they began to understand better about competition and building momentum and a culture of success (they had that word then, too). A year later in the draft with the No. 8 pick the Bulls traded a future pick and swapped one of theirs to get to No. 5 for Scottie Pippen and then used their No. 11 pick for Horace Grant. It proved to be a championship formula. Without sacrificing their dignity, their morality and their conscience and without insulting the game and the fan base.

Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls looks on during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on April 7, 2016 in Miami, Florida.

Shouldn't it matter that we end up with a player who's going to do what Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah, and even Jimmy Butler once did,(get us into the playoffs per season, and had us look like contenders each time)? The fans don't seem to mind us losing games? Now that sounds totally odd. If I'm going to a Bulls game at United Center, I'm not going there to watch my team lose, but rather win. And if they do lose, not by many points in the process....meaning they tried their best, but wasn't able to either block the last shot, didn't anticipate opponents hitting their free throws, or wild shot didn't go in unfortunately.

Kieron Smith

Sam: Yes, the paying customers. Oh, them. That's the other responsibility and obligation a franchise has. It asks its fans/customers to pay a lot for a performance, which is what athletics is about. It's another show featuring the best talent in that field, in the world. We go to watch the best perform whether in drama, art or sports. Not every show on Broadway has the best performers, but every performer and every show place has the responsibility to do it's best for the most entertaining performance. Sports teams have that responsibility as well. You cannot guarantee or assure ultimate success, as in a title in sports, but you can do the best you can with the players you have. Every paying customer deserves the best show you can produce. And, yes, Noah was picked ninth, Gibson 26th, Butler 30th; Deng ninth, too. The Bulls needed one transcendent figure, and that was Derrick Rose. Maybe they already have that kind of player in their midst and merely need some more support. Let's see.

Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers drives to the basket against the New York Knicks at Wells Fargo Center on February 12, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I'm writing just to ask if you could please explain once again to tank enthusiasts that it is not possible to lose games with good players and no internal problems or injuries. I've been reading insane stuff these days. People criticize management (which is not perfect but I feel has done a great job since last summer) for the Butler trade, then the three kids turn out to be good and they criticize management for not tanking properly. You want good players and you want to lose games? What is this nonsense going on? I feel the Bulls could have fought for a playoff spot if not for the initial stretch with Dunn, Portis, Niko, Nwaba and LaVine out. They are playing .500 ball since December even with LaVine working to get back, Dunn's injury and the Niko trade. This is a team that could have earned a low playoff seeding, how on earth are they supposed to get the #1 odds? And some argue that the Kings, Suns, Magic and so on are better positioned for the future, because "the bulls are stuck in mediocrity". Well, if mediocrity means having a young team playing with effort that makes you want to watch all the games and cheer for them, then I hope the Bulls are mediocre forever. I think that the firing of Sam Hinkie started all this nonsense. I would have loved to see him go through with his insane plan and fail so that people could realize that there are no shortcuts, processes or anything like that. And that it's not championship or bust. The process is just declaring you want to lose, trading for picks with teams that are actually trying to entertain fans and selecting injured players so that they can't help you win straight away. It's easy to look smart when you are judged with a criteria that is opposite to the rest of the league. I just hope the Sixers end up not having any kind of success or this madness will never end, especially among young people and guys who love analytics. It's a sickening mindset, the draft should be a consolation prize, the real fun is when your team wins!

Cosimo Sarti

Sam: Getting a little worried about my email with this sort of rational stuff leaking in. Though I'm not rooting against the 76ers because Embiid is just so much fun. He's the essence of their team and his selection had basically nothing to do with what they were doing. Just naturally fell into him having a bad season.

 Bobby Portis #5 of the Chicago Bulls reobunds against the Toronto Raptors at the United Center on February 14, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.

As of today the Bulls are looking at the 8th and 16th picks in the draft with Utah in my estimation of fighting NO for swapping the last west playoff spot and maybe they move up to 15th. Like you I am not a fan of tanking for a better draft place and evidence in the unlikely can show some value in lower picked players like Golden States Curry. Greek Freak was selected 15th and Kawhi Leonard two players that would be a steal in any top five selection let alone at 15. So with this mini All Star break I hope the Bulls focus on developing players to win as much as possible and see how many games they can win to work on building the team with always a winning attitude. They need to see what is the ceiling on the young guys and see what is the risk reward for signing an extension on Levine as currently he seems worth one yet with spending curtailed I would say one around the scale of Butlers as he is still unproven on the knee and not a defensive player at all. Then this summer two selections and some minor roster moves and this team is back to 8th playoff seed with money to spend in free agency in 19.

Kevin Franzen

Sam: I think that actually sounds like the plan. And the hope regarding non lottery talent. The interesting part the rest of this season will be trying to make a determination in who else should be part of this. Grant, for one, has surprised me of late with his offensive play and aggression. Cameron Payne footsteps? Portis' shot has been better than I figured it would be, but he does take it a lot and quickly. But it's been going in. There probably still will be a lot of losses, but not nearly as many as we all expected.

Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls dunks the ball against the Toronto Raptors on February 14, 2018 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.

LaVine looks like a max player to me, and he's only going to get better. Why have fans come to the united center if the object is to lose games? There were a couple of times last night (Timberwolves) when LaVine went around defenders like Gale Sayers on the run (and Sayers didn't have

to dribble). And while he's mostly been looking to score, when he does pass, it's usually a smart one & right on the money. Also knows how to run a break. My guess is Grant or Holiday don't get that ball back to Denzel for the dunk.
Potentially, I think he's better than Butler. Not as strong/tough and not as good a defender, but much faster & more athletic with better shooting range. If that sounds crazy, let's check back at about this time next year.

Art Alenik

Sam: The financial aspects will be discussed this summer, and that's not usually a conversation I involve myself with. I recall the outcry to lock up Rose (unlike locking up Hillary) for the duration with a max contract until a year later it wasn't so supported. Those are difficult decisions to make about young people, so we'll leave it to them. But LaVine has shown some impressive stuff in less than a month after being out a year. There's some there there.

Omer Asik #3 of the Chicago Bulls watches from the bench as his teammates take on the Minnesota Timberwolves at the United Center on February 9, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.

Do you think the Bulls would consider buying out Asik's contract either this year or next, and use that roster spot for a younger talent?

Abram Bachtiar

Sam: Well, they've got plenty of young talent; perhaps too much these days to give everyone a chance to play. I haven't even seem Omer around and I talked to him quite a bit in his first Bulls stint when our languages didn't even match much. He's obviously not playing much, or at all, though I suspect the plan is more to get him into his final season when teams now are back to trying to get one-year, expiring deals (see Lakers) for free agency. He got paid, so good for him, but between injury and illness it's too bad as Omer could have been a heck of a defensive center.

 Markelle Fultz #20 of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots a foul shot against the Boston Celtics at the Wells Fargo Center on October 20, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Did you read that Fultz article? Crazy. Never herd of a player losing his jump shot. I remember Rick Ankiel forgot to throw strikes and kept throwing wild balls but never this.

Bob Ding

Sam: It's one of the strangest stories and even more so how little attention has been paid to it until some media lately given he was the No. 1 overall draft pick. We've heard of these things in baseball, like 70s pitcher Steve Blass winning in the World Series and then can't throw like Ankiel; Steve Sax not able to throw to first base, Chuck Knoblach. I didn't see Fultz in college, but he was a pretty close to unanimous No. 1 pick the way I heard things leading up to the draft, and then the one game in summer league his stroke looked so pure. There's so much in that story of outside advisors and the 76ers all over the place and the kid not doing himself any favors staying away from everyone. I really hadn't seen him shoot, or what passed as shooting in preseason when he did play. All I remember is hearing players confused about what they were seeing. They'd never seen anything like that before. I don't even know how you relearn to shoot.

Isaiah Thomas #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots the ball during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on February 15, 2018 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

What do you make of the Lakers' moves? Do you see LeBron coming to L.A. this summer? I do think so if the Cavaliers do not come away with a title. I think LeBron will consider coming to the Lakers although I do think Paul George will become a more serious candidate.

Tom Plonowski

Sam: I know ESPN and the NBA radio network cannot go a half hour and not get the shakes unless they discuss LeBron and the Cavs. I'm making it a monthly. Could the Finals be overshadowed by LeBron speculation given we still can't see someone in the West beating the Warriors, assuming it's them. The second place at All-Star break Warriors, by the way. Remember, the Bulls at the end of each three-peat didn't have home court advantage in the Finals. The logic says LeBron should remain in Cleveland because it's not in the West (a minute there tells you that), so it remains the best chance to get back to the Finals every season. Assuming, of course, the Cavs do, but the Raptors actually have been impressive. Not just by sweeping the Bulls this season. They've effectively abandoned their isolation style not only for Warriors-type movement, but defensive pressure, especially off the bench. Of course, teams don't play much bench in the playoffs, but the Raptors may have something unique and could give the Cavs an interesting run. Lowry and DeRozan have too often come up small in the playoff big games. Them or because there wasn't enough around them? This season should be a good test. I'm not sure what to make of the Lakers because I don't believe they do, either. Maybe Paul George goes there, but it was a major miscalculation not to get him when they had the chance before the Thunder did. Once your steady spends the weekend with your best friend, well, things can change. The Lakers even with LeBron don't appear to be the serious title contender, but I'm not sure LeBron's legacy needs any more luster and the kids may just feel enough of Akron and Cleveland. I get that.

Former NBA players Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant are seen at the game between the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics in Game Four during the Eastern Quarterfinals of the 2017 NBA Playoffs on April 23, 2017 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois

The bulls are not known for retiring Jersey numbers but who do you think will be the next Jersey to be lifted above the Rafters of the United centre I'm thinking Deng. Jo. And even rose they did play there heart's out for the bulls and have never been the same player since they left ok Rose had injuries and we will never know what would have happened if he didn't. What do you think or am I just mad?

James Leadbetter

Sam: I do believe that's a franchise blind spot. I know retiring numbers has nothing to do with where a team and franchise is going. And perhaps credit to the Bulls for not taking the easy way out to draw a crowd with a bunch of ceremonies, especially earlier this season when it was difficult to watch the games. Not necessarily the most deserving, but given the fixation on more familiar times, I'd say the most deserving and overlooked has been Horace Grant. He played seven seasons with the Bulls and was part of the Big Three of three titles and was there from the ground up in the trial by fire getting through the Pistons. It wasn't a cuddly ending when Grant went to the Magic and they celebrated on the United Center floor in beating the Bulls in Jordan's 1995 return. But Horace is back working as a team ambassador and of all those guys, he's by far the most active and engaged with the community and the franchise. The most deserving and overlooked in franchise history for number retirements are Chet Walker and Artis Gilmore, both Hall of Famers. Yes, they earned half of that with other teams, Walker with Wilt and the champion 76ers and Artis in the ABA. But each was a multiple All-Star with the Bulls and elite players of their eras with the Bulls. Both were part of terrific Bulls runs, Walker more so. They have the credentials, though are not so much known to Chicago fans. Sorry, never Rodman. Only three seasons with the franchise and he missed almost a full season of games with injuries and suspensions. Norm Van Lier was a more prominent Bull, and he did some goofy stuff, too. If some want iconoclasm, go with Norm.

Antonio Blakeney #9 of the Chicago Bulls dunks the ball during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers on January 31, 2018 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon.

Bulls clearly aren't trying to make the playoffs this season. So why not give Blakeney some playing time over Justin Holiday to see how he can fit in with this team the years ahead? Holiday's gotten plenty of chances this season and has not proven that he's more than a mediocre player.

Bambi Choy

Sam: Your wish is coming. How do you feel about Felicio, Vonleh, Payne, Zipser and Arcidiacono? I suspect we'll be seeing plenty of them these last 25 games. But it doesn't necessarily mean losses. Blakeney has some obvious flaws in defense and team play, but he may be as good a shooter/scorer as anyone on the roster. He had one great quarter in his earlier stint; but it was amazing with 16 points in a few minutes. He was the star of workouts before the preseason games, and then when they started didn't get to play much and when he did he forced up shots knowing he wasn't getting many. If you leave that guy out there a few full games I wouldn't be surprised to see some 30 pointers. He strikes me as that lack of conscience Gerald Green type, whom the Rockets seem very happy about lately.

Noah Vonleh #30 of the Chicago Bulls handles the ball against the Toronto Raptors on February 14, 2018 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.

As an Indiana alum, I'm hopeful that Noah Vonleh will come to life here. It's easy to talk yourself into with his pedigree. But, I think it's much more likely we traded for the PF version of Joe Alexander. Also, I watched him play several games on tv during his 1 year of college and can't really remember anything about it.

Joe Guest

Sam: Ouch, that one may sting. But that's what you get when you start for most of two years in the NBA and no one can really remember seeing you play. I don't believe he has much future with the Bulls, but it's on him to show otherwise. After all, this Bulls team can be like a chorus line audition. They can always use a dancer who has some new moves. I haven't talked to Vonleh and only saw him at the end of that Toronto disaster. The opportunity is there. I think he'll get a chance, though what's probably working against him is the modern NBA idea of a power forward; you better shoot the ball. He doesn't seem to own that and looks maybe more like a backup center. OK, kid, let's see what you've got.

Joakim Noah #13 of the New York Knicks handles the ball against the Golden State Warriors on January 23, 2018 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California.

I was hoping to get your thoughts on what's happening to our, once great, Joakim Noah. I feel really bad for the guy, with the situation he is in. I know people will say he's a professional and shouldn't cry with a 72 million dollar pillow. But for a guy who wore his heart on his sleeve every single night for the Bulls, it is heartbreaking to see him end up like this. I still think he was a great fit for the Knicks triangle offense, as a high post passing big man, but the team and coaching staff never really knew how to make the triangle work with all of Melo's iso-ball, effectively making Jo redundant. I hope he's able to get back on his feet.

Daniel George

Sam: My sentiments exactly. Yes, we'll all get past the sadness part given he's had a great NBA career, a decade in the league, made money, which we don't think he needed as much as some, became the face of a franchise that could have won a title without a jump shot and just about every skill associated with professional basketball. Did he even dunk? But nobody articulated more through his manner, words and actions what you wanted in one of your favorite players. Those were some great times. See, they are possible without winning a title.

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers dunks against the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 13, 2018 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

I'm a little skeptical about this trade deadline deal that Cleveland just pulled off. How did they get four more than serviceable, young and athletic players with giving up so little? All the players they shipped out, we're having horrible seasons or towards the end of their careers. This was definitely the most vulnerable a Lebron led team was looking and in jeopardy of not making the finals. Then out of nowhere this trade happens to almost certainly get Lebron back to the finals, which we know the league wants. They didn't even have to give up that Brooklyn pick. By the way didn't the Bulls offer Mirotic to Utah for Rodney Hood? Which was way better than what they got for him in this deal.

Carl Reynolds

Sam: The Bulls did not offer Mirotic for Hood. Utah didn't want to talk big contract with free agent Hood this summer and the Bulls with so many young players soon to come up for deals weren't about to do that, I'd say. How would that have made sense? If they could have paid someone, they'd have paid Mirotic. In this NBA, you can pay maybe three or four guys at most with those big deals and still have a team. The Cavs were in a unique situation in trying to persuade LeBron to stay and so willing to take on those long term contracts (Jordan Clarkson) without demanding a draft pick and instead giving one up. So good deal for the Lakers. You could see the Irving deal wasn't working. Not so much for Thomas, who only recently became a distraction, but Jae Crowder never could fit in and take some of the responsibility, especially on defense, from LeBaron. That was the disappointment in the deal, which was about the Brooklyn pick primarily. The Lakers cleared the space and if they get LeBron, well, they probably would have cleared the cap space another way this summer. The Kings after making all those crazy veteran signings also realized they'd made mistakes, and no one else in the league really was taking those deals, and Cleveland wouldn't have if it were about trying to keep anyone else but LeBron. So lay off the conspiracy web sites. The league is probably just as tired of seeing the Cavs mess up another Finals as the rest of us are.

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