The Bulls fight for a loose ball in a game against the Grizzlies.

Ask Sam Mailbag: 03.09.18

Sam opens his mailbag and answers readers' questions

Bulls warned for tanking. This is ridiculous. They are playing former lottery pick Vonleh, who they have to evaluate before the summer, Felicio who is on a 4 year deal and Payne coming off injury. Instead of RoLo, a player who is valued not more than a 2nd rounder on the market. Instead of Justin Holiday, on the first multi-year guaranteed of his career at 29. Instead of Grant who is not even a PG but was forced to play there. I am extremely anti-tank and actually pay to watch the Bulls on League Pass and I am not offended at all by what they are doing. There is nothing to play for, so let's see what some kids can do. They were honest. I get what they are doing, and I don't think it's disrespecting fans. The best players are playing, and playing a lot. The team is competing nearly all the time, they never quit. I am more than happy to see the league taking a stand against tanking, but they cannot treat this like what the Sixers were doing. Hinkie was allowed to make 82 games a g-league tryout, and they allowed it for more than three years. Now that awful tactic has gained supporters and they are randomly punishing teams for the slightest percieved tanking. It's a shame. It's not the way to counter it. You have to strongly condemn and take action against those who really do it, not make a mockery of it by issuing warnings and fines all the time. That way you send the message that tanking is widespread and that you get away doing it.

Cosimo Sarti

Sam: I agree; Hinkie is Shoeless Joe. He should be banned from the NBA for life for the dishonest travesty he produced. But it's like being the guy who retaliates. They usually see and respond to the second guy. Clearly, the league has had enough of this. Witness the fine for Mark Cuban and the lottery change for next year. The irony, of course, is many of my emails are from fans upset that the Bulls might win more games putting those starters back in the lineup on some basis. The Bulls were not warned and singled out by the league, as I understand it. The Bulls apparently had told the league about what they were doing and with Dunn, Markkanen and LaVine playing with Nwaba, which actually had been a lineup having reasonable success, there wasn't some big objection. It hardly seemed like being uncompetitive. It appeared to be doing this thing as honestly as possible. The uncompetitive part just seemed to be the way they played against Boston; not with the lineup. Then what I gather is someone in the league office realized, hey, those rules we put in last summer about resting, we can apply that in the instances of competitiveness questions, which everyone keeps bothering us about. And shouldn't we be filling out NCA pools? It's not like because you work for the league you know the right thing to do. Like the rest of us, you figure it out and make it up as you go along. So I think it was like one of those light bulbs going off over the head of a cartoon figure: Hey, we can enforce the resting rules--which we basically did so LeBron and the Warriors would play on TV and we've had enough with Pop--and apply them to teams with curious rotations. It seems the Bulls were caught in a league overreaction and merely were trying to be good students even if the teacher was unclear about what was going on. Sort of like the sergeant in the army: Doesn't matter if I'm right; it's what I say. It's not all encompassing as several teams apparently are using analytics to identify their worst lineups and put them out at the end of games. I think that's what Dallas did Friday when the Bulls rallied. But it doesn't always work as guys also can make shots and the Mavs then beat a better Denver team. The Bulls apparently immediately complied without any objection because I think they felt comfortable that they were not doing anything terribly inappropriate and were just, as you say, really wanting to take a longer look at some guys while also playing their best players to open and close games, which was in the spirit of competition. Sitting the two starters probably made it stand out, though Lopez often didn't finish games and Holiday is hardly a starter for many NBA teams. So, OK, play them a little. It's wasn't going to vastly change the plans since the real goal even with the changed starters also was to determine how guys played with Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen. And the way they gave up against Boston likely emphasized it. To me that's the major concern. If Dunn, Markkanen and LaVine cannot summon the competitiveness because of what's going on around them, they may not be whom the late Dennis Green might have figured they were. Though despite the huge blown lead, Wednesday's win over Memphis was encouraging (OK, not the toughest opponent), but the three came back in when the game almost seemed lost and made tough and winning and desperate plays at big times to keep Memphis from taking a lead. And they seemed genuinely embarrassed by the Boston game. I think Markkanen had more dunks than in any game. But it has to be a habit for those three and not an aberration. Excellence is consistency. I suspect the Bulls still will play their Vonlehs, Felicios and Paynes plenty; just with everyone else playing some as well. The Bulls apparently just tried to be open about it. Sometimes people would rather have a cloudy day instead of being shown things clearly. One other thing. I don't have a problem with the league mandating to teams, and they should do it more, like when the Cavs show up as they did last year for a Bulls preseason game without their top 10 players. They still charge admission. No team is more important than the league. It's why the federal government trumps states' rights. Everyone has to stand for one thing, which is the game. If you disparage and don't respect the game, you damage everyone.

Luol Deng #9 of the Los Angeles Lakers runs up court during an all access practice on February 12, 2018 at UCLA Heath Training Center

Hasn't Luol Deng been healthy and inactive for the Lakers all season long? Why didn't the league get involved with them if the Bulls warrant league involvement for sitting Lopez and Holiday? I read there's a rule you can rest one healthy player a game, so maybe that's the loophole, but even so, shouldn't sitting a healthy player all year long when he's able to play be something the league should address if it's not a disciplinary issue?

Chris Feldman

Sam: Remember, these are very arbitrary "rules" pretty much made up and adjudicated based on what day it is and who is doing it. There's only one remedy for the lack of competitiveness with some teams. Everyone has a proposal about equalizing lottery odds and play in tournaments and all sorts of things that cannot respond to the basic nature of humanity, especially in the NBA, that winning and individual success transcends morality, decency and fairness. It's why you have a commissioner to protect the best interests of the game. Like baseball did in the early 20th Century with the White Sox World Series scandal. There's a famous Supreme Court case about pornography during which Justice Potter Stewart said he wasn't going to ask for a specific definition, but he knew it when he saw it. Similarly, you know when you see it that teams aren't trying to win and are trying to lose. Adam Silver sent a warning shot with the $600,000 fine for Mark Cuban for just saying the team was better off losing. So you see regulars not playing down the stretch or lineups geared to lose, it's a $1 million fine for the first offense and then the commissioner keeps adding to that. Owners will make sure their management adheres pretty quickly. The problem is in the proof; though it looked bad that the Bulls suddenly benched two starters, they were starting and finishing with their their best players. Would that be a violation? Probably an issue as it became and a remedy as the Bulls responded. Adam Silver sent the right message with Mark Cuban and if he continues to deliver similar messages, no teams will be trying that anymore. But, again, you stumble upon an exception. Since Deng never has played this season, it probably would be a bit over the top to order a team to play him now. The Lakers aren't trying to lose. They don't have a first round pick. They basically cut a guy, but are just seeing if they can get something for him. I can see that the league would let that one pass. Memphis sat Gasol the fourth quarter Wednesday against the Bulls. But they were better without him because they went with a smaller, quicker lineup. You can basically always see what a team is trying to do. A strong commissioner is the best response.

Lauri Markkanen #24 of the Chicago Bulls blocks a shot by Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics

You've seen the Color of Money and the Hustler right? Missing shots on purpose is something athletes have been during for decades.... You were probably an up and coming young journalist when the Boston College point shaving scandal happened in the 70s.....If you are "one of the chosen one" - one of the "made men" .... i.e. Markennan, Dunn, Lavine..... guys that the current management have tied their legacies or tied their credibility to....It's not hard to imagine that a GM may have "private conversations" with his "babies"... players that he is committed to for the long haul and say "OK. Here's what the plan is......."

LongGiang Le

Sam: As ridiculous as that is and sounds, I know people actually believe those conspiracies. It's amazing how many crazy government conspiracy stories circulate and people believe them, repeat them. Russia and the U.S. election? It's not like no one is checking. If it happened, we'll eventually know. Not that I have been everywhere, but I worked in Washington covering Congress and the White House, I worked on the staff of a U.S. Senator; I've been around sports for decades. What I am certain about is no one I've ever met is smart enough to pull off a good conspiracy. Working with newspaper editors assured me of that, also. With all the leaks that go on--another reason I love the NBA--and especially in government given there are so many career employees who cannot be fired (OK, that's another issue), there's no way you could ever sustain a real conspiracy and then keep it quiet. And then would it be worth it to you given you probably lose your million dollar a year job and reputation and maybe never work again? Yes, David Stern was going to give up his career and reputation so he could get a draft pick for the Knicks. Sure, I can see that. I cannot recall ever knowing a player who cooperated with management. But that's only in the last 50 or so years. I'm not saying they work at cross purposes, but the recent Blake Griffin thing is a great example. Wooed endlessly to return after they traded Chris Paul, he was traded in a few months. Going in a different direction. And to Detroit! So they obviously never consulted him. Players know this. So Zach or Lauri or Kris without a no trade or any real long term guarantees are going to agree to lose games not only so perhaps the Bulls can get a better player to replace them, but maybe someone better so they won't even have to pay them and maybe send them somewhere else in a lesser role? Sure, that makes sense. Players may end up not playing as well as they could if they see a situation that appears hopeless; thus you have that sort of performance with the Clippers for decades. But players coordinating with management to diminish their own performance so management can acquire better players? No player--nor coach--in the NBA is trying to lose, but there is a loser in every game.

Luol Deng #9 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots the ball against the LA Clippers on October 19, 2017

Thibs has got a heart after all. If he picks up Lu or Noah the Wolves will get a bunch of the Bulls faithful on board

Mike Burling

Sam: I saw Portis already commented about the Timber-Bulls. Thibs might if they didn't cost so much. I'm not sure what it will mean, though I don't see how any Bulls fan isn't rooting for the Timberwolves. This is Jake in the Blues Brothers. Sure, Thibs was part of a title team in Boston, but those 2010-12 Bulls were his greatest run, a team he knows should have, could have and probably would have won a title. Heck, why not with Derrick if only to enable Taj to be even happier. Derrick coming off the bench in a reserve role, which I see no issue for him at this point given he understands it probably was there or nowhere, makes it a situation where it's just upside for the 'wolves. Maybe not Jamal Crawford, but IF Rose plays well, fine. He can score. He doesn't, he sits. He's not likely to protest. If the Timberwolves get Jimmy back, as he says he will, they can do some stuff in the playoffs and Rose would love to at least be around that atmosphere again. When I saw him in Cleveland preseason I asked him about a limited role. He said he was just so happy to be with a team that could make a long playoff run he didn't care when he played or how much. What got so lost with Rose was that he just loved being around success. Let's not forget how much he sacrificed in scoring in high school and college to enable team success. I'm not sure how much he can add or even play after playing so little this season and with a legitimate ankle injury. But at least for his mental well being, it's good to be around a team and I don't see why with another summer and the right situation he cannot have another productive run. Though I probably should have told him if he were waiting for after the winter to go to Minneapolis and the month started with an M, it meant May. And things obviously have changed between Butler and Rose. Back then a lot of the issue was Jimmy's ambition and his frustration with his lesser role. He became jealous of Rose, which I saw more as perhaps a misplaced competitiveness. Derrick didn't deal in that much. He just, as he said, was a hooper. What he meant was he just wanted to play ball. Remember, he wasn't a scorer when he came to the Bulls, but became one because there was no one else and Thibs set it up that way. Jimmy wanted a part of that, which is what made him the guy who went from 30th pick to all-league. You don't do that if you always accept what people tell you, and they were telling Jimmy he was a defender only. When Derrick was hurt and then attempted various comebacks it was clear he couldn't do what he did before. He tried and seeing the opening Jimmy grabbed for the throne. Coups are common around the world, sports and otherwise. It was Noah who played some palace guard, challenging Jimmy with who-are-you sort of questions. Jimmy wasn't as good as he believed and Rose wasn't as good as he wanted to be. Noah, unsurprisingly, sided with his buddy. Because the team wasn't talented enough anymore, the resulting split wasn't that unusual. Jimmy won out, but then he wasn't good enough with what was left and added. And so the Bulls are on a new path, Jimmy is the top guy in Minnesota and Derrick is a guy just trying to continue to hoop somewhere. I don't see why there would be any issue, and I don't think if Thibs thought there was even the slightest chance he would have taken the chance.

The lottery drawing begins inside the lottery room during the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery at the New York Hilton in New York, New York

Can you explain how the 2019 lottery will work?

Bob Ding

Sam: It's the most recent in the attempt to make losing for a higher draft pick less attractive. Because ethics and morality are sacrificed in sports for so called gamesmanship (being able to cheat without being caught) it probably is an insoluble issue. So the best the league probably can do is make fewer teams interesting in pursuing that route. But, remember, all leagues try to equalize the talent, the playing field, with the view that it's healthiest for the game to have more teams with a chance. Of course, geography and wealth can change the equation. But it's always been generally agreed that the fairest method is truly to help lift up the poorest. Isn't there some Bible verses about lifting the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump? That supposedly was written about the Clippers and then the Sacramento Kings, I read somewhere.

Here's a chart:

Lottery rank Previous odds at No. 1 New odds at No. 1
1 25 14
2 19.9 14
3 15.6 14
4 11.9 12.5
5 8.8 10.5
6 6.3 9
7 4.3 7.5
8 2.8 6
9 1.7 4.5
10 1.1 3
11 0.8 2
12 0.7 1.5
13 0.6 1
14 0.5 0.5

Brook Lopez #11 of the Los Angeles Lakers and brother Robin Lopez #42 of the Chicago Bulls battle for rebound position at the United Center on January 26, 2018

I really feel bad for Robin Lopez these days as he simply is a victim of circumstance. Having said that, what is up with Robin and Brook that they can't rebound? They each weigh 270 lbs and stand at 7 feet. Robin's averaging 4.7 and Brook 3.7 per game. Even if you combine, they would not make it into top 15. What a shame! Brook just played 35 minutes, scored 27 but had 0 rebounds! How is this humanly possible? They should each be able to average 10+ rebounds per game just standing.

Bambi Choy

Sam: You'd think. Things have changed more for Brook, who when he isn't benched these days is shooting a lot of threes and thus outside. Plus teams have gone to a lot of this switching even with big men, a defense, I think, that is a big mistake. So these big men end up in this ridiculous mismatches on guards and are away from the basket. Though the larger issue with the Lopez guys is speed and acceleration. Their movement, as you may have noticed, is more deliberate. Neither reacts quickly to the ball, which is what the great rebounders do. It's why some of the greatest rebounders ever, like Russell and Rodman, were not the biggest guys. Rebounding is a lot the reaction to the ball. Plus, teams emphasize more these days because of the pace and three-point shooting to immediately get back after a shot. So you see fewer players going for offensive rebounds or even long, loose ball rebounds on offense because they are so anxious about retreating. And it takes lumbering big guys longer to run back.

Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls drives against Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics at the United Center on March 5, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois

Lavine seems to have a difficult time letting the game come to him. He seems to be forcing the action. Wouldn't it be best to keep the ball in Dunn's hands and have Lavine move a little better without the ball? Lavine seems to just set up outside, drive, and force up a shot or pass off. Perhaps the Bulls should be setting up some back screens for him.

William Kochneff

Sam: I know media get bored with a losing team without any playoff hopes. Who roots for lottery odds? I've noticed a theme lately in the questions to players that is becoming that same one we've heard around the Bulls before that essentially comes down to Who's the Man? It's another one of those really you know it when you see it things. This is a get accustomed season, so there's really not much to it yet given LaVine has been back maybe a month or so and Dunn has been so in and out with the finger injury and concussion. Then Markkanen was out with the family issue and then there was All-Star break. But the fact is none really have excelled to that point to claim such a position. They've all shown reasons why you might be optimistic about a future with those three players. I excuse Dunn because this is his first season as a starter, which he wasn't even when the season began, and LaVine is just back after 11 months out with the most serious of injuries. Considering the expectations, I'd say both have well surpassed them and been better, certainly, than I believed. Hey, I was predicting 18 wins. And Markkanen is 20 with a year in college and the U.S. But none to this point play particularly hard on a consistent basis. Markkanen perhaps comes the closest, but he does't have the ball in his hands often enough to make plays like Dunn and LaVine. Dunn has been commended for these good games after bad games, but he shouldn't be having so many indifferent games where he commits two quick fouls, often silly ones, and sits down. He'll play casually--I know, it looks more so that way because of his long arms and the languid way he plays--and LaVine will go into these periods where he stands around waiting for a shot and when he doesn't get one he'll shoot the next one no matter what. When he was upset about the Boston loss and put his head down against the Grizzlies, that was some good stuff. Look, no one expects them to be a manic Russell Westbrook. Yet; you can hope. But there just hasn't been enough consistency of effort. They have these runs of five or six minutes where you see the possibilities and are amazed at the talent. Plus, each embraces big moments, which is a big thing. None seem to run from the responsibility of a late game play, which is not uniform in the NBA. It's a big deal to have players who want that. But then Dunn throws three passes at Lopez' shoe laces and LaVine fires up some off balanced three you have noticed. Markkanen goes long stretches without getting the ball and then forces up a contested three. It's much less at this point who is the man than whether they can help one another and begin to each play a more complete game. Until then, they are promising, but just other men for now.

Justin Holiday #7 of the Chicago Bulls attempts a free-throw shot against the Sacramento Kings on February 5, 2018 at Golden 1 Center

How do the Bulls decide who shoots a technical? I feel like I've seen 7 different players shoot one, and sometimes it looks like it's first guy to want it.

Alejandro Yegros

Sam: It was easy when Jordan was there; he shot them all no matter who may have been a better percentage shooter. And if you tried to get there first, he was taking you out. The Bulls have some pretty good free throw shooters led by Markkanen, though in games Holiday probably has been the best under pressure. The issue with them has been the most aggressive--getting to the ball first. The team mandate is the player with the highest shooting percentage from the line is supposed to shoot the technical. But it often becomes who gets to the ball first. The percentages are not that different, so sometimes a player will say he needs to work on his rhythm and take the shot. Markkanen doesn't seem like someone who demands the ball--at the line or in games, as we've seen--and since the players basically get along and there isn't anyone who outranks or overwhelms the others and they appear to like one another, no one usually objects. It's a form of leadership, and there really isn't anyone yet with this Bulls team because, obviously, no one qualifies as an elite NBA player. I'm not sure what the percentage is, but they seem to miss a lot of technicals. Nwaba and Felicio, though, don't seem to be volunteering.

Blake Griffin #23 of the Detroit Pistons shoots the ball during the game against the Toronto Raptors on March 7, 2018

If the Pistons fail to make the playoffs is Stan relieved of both positions? He built this team, hes coaching them and if you cant make it to the playoffs in the East than clearly ur not doing a good job. Besides Ish and Reggie no one has really developed under him.

Mike Sutera

Sam: Perhaps Friday is the final test. They're just about out, and if they cannot beat the Bulls at home, uh oh. But Robin and Justin are starting. Here come the Bulls? It doesn't look like the Pistons can make the playoffs, and especially because the Heat and Bucks look like seven and eight and likely won't fall that far. There have been rumors all season that former agent Arn Tellem, who has been on the business side, is ready to slide in like Doc Rivers losing his management role with the Clippers. I can understand a coach wanting to pick his own team. Actually, my experience has been the coaches I've known are much better talent evaluators than the GMs. But the reason the coach/president thing basically doesn't work is because the coach becomes too emotionally involved in winning each game. Most GMs, especially these days, are basically investment bankers working mathematical formulas. The coaches know the game better. But they cannot avoid that daily grind and making decisions that will help them immediately. And they have no concept of money and budgets and thus how the salary cap works or should. So they inevitably buy too many players or pay too many because they have to coach them and they have no time to watch college kids and don't pay that much attention to opponents and if a guy has a good game against them he becomes much better than he really is. Stan's a good coach; it's tough to do both jobs. Also, you can see some issues like with Griffin, who seems devastated to be in Detroit. Sure, the Clippers double crossed him, but that's the way things can go in sports. You sign for the money; not the location. Griffin had an impressive game the other night in the overtime loss to the Raptors with big plays down the stretch. But you can see his heart isn't much in it. He plays casually a lot and his rebounding numbers are amazingly bad, averaging five the last three games, one more than a dead man last week in 33 minutes against Miami. In five of the last eight games, he's had fewer than five rebounds. Heck, five rebounds should hit him in the head even with Drummond around. They'll be among the talk of the past season. Where Griffin goes also could be a story.

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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