Ask Sam Mailbag: 03.01.19

Is this the Bulls team we thought that we would see in November?

Gorav Raheja

Kris Dunn drives to the basket

I still don’t know and understand what Bulls fans, coaches and media are looking for in a point guard? Take Saturday’s Celtics game as a perfect example. When you have the Zach & Markkanen Show playing along with Lopez like he was (making Boerwinkle proud as Stacey King puts it), what type of stats are you looking for in the point guard. Ryan was playing well so there was really no need to bring Dunn back in. So, what are people looking for ?
Randall Sanders

LeBron James at the Staples Center

Is LeBron going to retire soon?  I can picture him still trying to be the focus even after he retires.  He doesn't make all teammates better. Ask Bosh, K Love, Wade and Irving.  He didn't make any of them better.  Arguably, Bosh and Love became much worse. LeBron blamed them for most everything.  The Lakers? When they win, LeBron praises himself. When they lose, he'll say the hiccups were expected because his teammates are so young and inexperienced. Basically, he blames them.  I try to avoid watching his interviews.  It's all about him and it always has been.  If the Lakers don't make the playoffs this year, he'll blame the inexperience of the young players. He'll say they need to realize every regular season game counts. As if they don't know.  If they make the playoffs, he'll credit himself and he'll say that's why Magic brought him there. Why do players want to play with him? Why would players want to play on the Lakers knowing LeBron won't support them when times get tough?  Has he made Ball, Ingram or Kuzma any better?  Hopefully he doesn't teach them how to play defense.
Victor Devaldivielso

Dwyane Wade celebrates after a game-winning shot

I think Dwayne Wade is a great player, but my memories of him are always muddied by his one year in Chicago. Talking "guys need to step up" and about how "young guys need to learn how to win." I remember Kobe being like this at the end too, and now I see Lebron pulling the same business. I always end up feeling bad for the young guys. Is there an older great player who doesn't fall into this trap? Dirk? Tim Duncan didn't do that. A nice correlation would be to compare how quietly a guy goes into retirement vs how much of that silly stuff they pull. I wish Lebron wasn't talking like he's doing now. It makes me lose respect for him... mostly because I think he's really wrong here in blaming others.
Alejandro Yegros

Zach LaVine gets big air for the dunk

Looking at the top 20 point guard in the league, all of them are so-called attacking/scoring point guards. Isn't that supposedly the role of a shooting guard? In that case, Bulls could legitimately move LaVine at point guard if Bulls could acquire players that can bring the ball up. Do see that happening?
Peter Jimenez

Robin Lopez hook shot

Robin Lopez is the perfect veteran to have on a growing young team. He'd be my 2nd priority in free agency after looking for help at PG. What are the chances that the Bulls use some of their 20 some million in cap room to bring him back, and what do you think a contract would look like?
Ryan Schlanser

Antonio Blakeney goes to the hoop

Not only am I a fan of the Chicago Bulls, I am also a fan of the G-League affiliate Windy City Bulls. Last year's two-way players Antonio Blakeney and Ryan Arcidiacono lit up the G-League. Blakeney was the leading scorer in the entire league (by a huge margin) and Arcidiacono was the picture of stability, good ball handling, and good decision making. I found them so entertaining that they, in fact, became my favorite professional basketball players playing the game today. I was thrilled when both got signed to the Chicago Bulls for this season.
Arcidiacono has impressed the coaching staff with his high quality play (that reminds me a bit of Kirk Hinrich) and has earned himself some minutes in both the starting lineup and off the bench. What I learned last year watching Blakeney in the G-League is that he is a big time scorer. I was convinced that he could be instant offense in the big league. He reminds me a lot of Billy Ray Bates of the Portland Trailblazers from way back when. However, while Paxson and Forman saw his potential value signing him to the Chicago Bulls roster this year, the coaching staff have never really given him a chance. It's obvious that if there isn't a coaching change, Blakeney is going to toil at the end of the bench for the remainder of his contract.
From what I've seen, I am confident that Blakeney can be a high impact player in the NBA. He just needs to be signed to the right team. And the Bulls aren't it. I was surprised that he wasn't traded before the trade deadline. Do you predict Blakeney will be able to sign with another NBA team when his contract with the Bulls is up?
Rikki Lee Travolta

Tom Thibodeau sits on the bench

I remember you writing an article during the winter of Thibodeau’s rookie year where you described the baby Bulls being excited about reversing the decade’s long road trip of death.  Noah’s comments especially stood out to me then.  That turned out to be the turning point for a generation of Bull’s teams. Your Zach and Lauri article felt very similar to me, with LaVine sounding like he might really enjoy this being a winner stuff and something he was energized to work hard to repeat. Noah back then said something along the lines of... We learned that we can win.  We learned that winning is fun, and we all agreed we want to do what it takes to have more fun.
At the time, I viewed the turnaround as the result of one thing. Thibodeau realized the starters needed Deng for his defense. The second string needed Deng for his offense and defense. Thibodeau came to this conclusion after trying to get Deng rest many ways and losing substantial leads in all of them. I am convinced all these pieces fit together. Thibs solved the problem with a simple solution. Play Deng 48 minutes a game. The Bulls started winning. This is where Thibs acquired the taste for playing starters heavy minutes and the players acquired a taste for playing heavy minutes in order to win.  It also explains the end of Thibs career as a Bulls coach.
It seems relevant to me, because we seem to be in a similar spot where our current coach is telling players that the path to winning is playing harder for longer. Despite early resistance, they seem to be coming around. Boy I would love to have Rondo back on this team to feed that.
Doug Parr

Lauri looks to attack

I think Markkanen's run of stellar play is neither an anomaly nor a “hot streak.”  He’s just healthy at long last.  I’m not seeing any reason he can’t be a perennial All-Star (assuming good health).  He doesn’t seem to be one to rest on his laurels (“Lauris?”), and appears committed to working hard, and continuing to build his strength, conditioning and game.
Mitch Tobin

Zion Williamson celebrates after a big play

If the Bulls won the lottery and were offered Dennis Smith Jr. plus the Knicks number one, or Collin Sexton and the Cavs number one, the Bulls would be insane not to take it, in my humble opinion. Or if the team who wants Zion has the #2 pick, they can still get Morant and another #1. I think this is a year we may see Holy Mount Zion traded as the number one pick.
Abe Rotbart

I don’t understand why so many fans would pass on Zion because they are worried about fit. You fit the team around a once in a generation player.
Even if Zion flops, which I doubt, you can never be the team that passed on him. Morant and Barrett have much higher chances of being average players, at worst Zion is a poor mans Charles Barkley and at best he’s a 1.0 the likes of which we’ve never seen.
Wendell Carter projects to be a very good NBA player but he would obviously come off the bench and you’d start Lauri at C, since he is 7 feet and start Zion at PF. I’m surprised this would even be a discussion. Zion would anchor the defense like Draymond Green.
Bulls probably draft no higher than 4th anyway and this is all a moot point.
Sundeep Shah

Anthony Davis pregame

I think we try for AD if we get the #1 (Zion) and trade him with Carter and picks to get AD. Assuming we don't get Zion I think we resign RoLo for $5 million as he has been a great vet and solid big man over this run and we will need one to backup Markkanen and Carter. The other move I like is bringing back D Rose. It's a great story but it's another great veteran presence who has been through all the ups and downs and help Zach especially moving forward. 
Jack Donnelly

Markakenn throws up three fingers to celebrate

I know this is a stretch but I think Lauri Markkanen has a lot of similar traits to Kevin Durant? What do you think of locking him in a room for a month with Karjalanpiirakka and Kevin Durant highlights?
James Dahlin

Zach Lavine drives to the basket

Earlier this season there was expressed concern about LaVine’s “fit” with Lauri and the team.  His recent evolution as both a defender (at least at times) and in assists has been extraordinary and a credit to him and the coaches.  He sacrifices for the team and has become a very valued complement to Lauri and now Otto as well.  All the pieces are not yet in place but the three are providing solid hope for the future.
It’s too early to declare success on the rebuild especially with the wild dynamics of other teams, potential injuries and the missing ingredients.  The Bulls needle is however pointing up.
John Petersen

Bulls team walks on the court

I’ll start by saying that I really like the way Gar and Pax have been building this young core with talents. The future looks bright with Zach, Lauri, Porter, and Wendell. I would love to have Arch, Harrison, and Rolo back next year, and Chandler will have a positive impact from the bench, hopefully Denzel comes back stronger. Now the lottery pick will be an important move this offseason. I get it that creating that winning culture and team chemistry is important as it will translate to next season, but wouldn’t it be a good idea to sit some guys for at least 10+ games to secure a high pick?
Now if they get lucky and get the first pick, they have to draft Zion. I think a lineup with Zach, Porter, Zion, Lauri, and Wendell would work. They can play Lauri at the four on the defensive and and Zion at the four on the offensive end and not too much dribbles from Zach as they pass the ball and create quickly.
But if not I would go for Ja Morant if Phoenix picks someone else. Now let’s say they get the fourth pick or lower wouldn’t it be good if they pick Darius Garland? He got injured but he is good shooter and quick, I would like to have him if we don’t get Zion, Ja, or RJ Barrett.

Jeff Bensen

Though I understand the reasoning/analytics for an organization choosing to "tank" in order to gain a higher draft choice, I am personally staunchly opposed to it. In sports, you play to win. Period. I don't care if you end up with the 9th-16th pick in every draft forever. You play to win. Besides, if you draft well, then picking outside of the Top 5 doesn't mean you can't find a great player. Take the top 10 players in the league today: Lebron, Durant, Curry, Davis, Giannis, Kawhi, George, Harden, Embiid, & Jokic/Lillard. Only half of them were taken in the top 5 picks.
From what I can tell, tanking hasn't proven to work either. In the last 20 years, teams like the Celtics, Nets, Sixers (obviously), Knicks, Wizards, Suns, Kings, Clippers, and Wolves have all been guilty of (quite blatantly) tanking. Not one of them has won a championship after tanking. Moreover, the only 2 teams in that group who have had any sort of consistent regular season success are the Celtics and Sixers. And I'd argue that the Sixers' "Process" experiment has actually failed, being that of the 5 Tank years ('13-'17), three of those high draft picks failed miserably in Philly: Noel, Okafor, and Fultz. Of the 2 that hit (Embiid and Simmons), one is a walking injury-waiting-to-happen, and the other can't shoot outside of 10 feet. Meanwhile, the true MVP of the Celtics' success is Billy King.

Paulie Giuntoli

Jersey patch following the death of Johnny 'Red' Kerr and Norm Van Lier

Writeup on Johnny Kerr and Van Lier:
For some of us, that early 70's team is as immortal as the '85 Bears. The Lakers, Celtics, and Knicks were really tough, all of them loaded with great players.  Gosh.  Jerry West.  Wilt.  Cowens and Havlicek.  Clyde.  Reed.  Amazing players.   A whole lot of superb basketball providing amazing source material for a little kid to learn from.  Even though the ABA raided players (eg, Rick Barry), it provided an outlet for an entirely different game.  The Doc.  Ice.  Issel.  Artis.  The Whopper.  Captain Late.  Super John. Dampier.  Doug Moe.  Crazy uniforms, big hair, lack of restraint especially in the joy department.  The 80's were great, and the 2000's have seen some pretty professional marketing.  I wouldn't trade the early 70's for any of it. Tiny at his most awesome. Lacey.  Goukas. John Block.  Don Kojis and his weird free throws.  Jimmy Walker mixing it up with Sloan.  Curtis Rowe and Love.  The amazing/never duplicated Dave Bing.  The vastly underrated Dandridge or Lucious Allen chest to chest with Van Lier.  I was a little kid with zero idea of how good I had it.
Sloan.  Van Lier.  Love.  Walker. Boerwinkle.  Weiss.  Cliff Ray. Kennedy McIntosh.  Howard Porter.  Gar Heard.  The Bulls showed up so let's go, snarling and defiant (some louder about it than others).   Today, the players are so skilled.  Big guys doing little guy stuff (LBJ, Durant) and little guys doing big guy stuff (Westbrook, Lilliard).  Big guys shooting bombs (Nowitzki) and little guys punishing the rim (Rose, now LaVine).  In some ways, it's a pretty amazing time for basketball.  Credit to today's game, credit given to today's players. Today, they just don't compete like they did then, though. Litany of reasons, not pointing fingers, just pointing it out. Does John LaCarre read the same as Robert Louis Stevenson?  of course not.  Both wrote page turners, but got there different ways.  Those teams back then?  You saw it with large, pretty or ugly or the many shades and hues in between.  All of it naked as hell right there to see and when as a little kid you played in your own clumsy way on frozen nowhere playgrounds but in permanently etched games, your face rent in bitterness or exalted in victory for those moments of competition.  And you in that ephemeral instant came to a fully distilled empathetic congruence.  They were pros.  For some of us, every bit a part of our identity as Dick Butkus or Ron Santo or Aparicio or Tony O.
Pete Zievers