Ask Sam Mailbag: 03.15.2019
Sam opens his mailbag and answers your questions about the Bulls and other stories around the NBA
If I didn't know any better, I would think that the Bulls would prefer not to get the number 1 draft pick. I believe that they feel their biggest need is at point guard and they definitely can't pass on Zion if they had the top selection and draft a point guard. So drafting second and beyond would take the pressure off having to draft a player who don't really address a need. Of course if you have a chance to draft a player like Zion and what he's projected to be you worry about fit and need later. Do you feel that a point guard such as Morant would help the Bulls rebuild more so than trying to fit Zion in especially since they have Otto Porter?
Sam: It's the question for after the lottery, but with 12.5 percent odds for the first pick compared with 14 percent for the three teams with the poorest records, the Bulls are right there to get lucky. They're obviously not going to share their sentiments about the top pick yet should they get it, and their history has been not to draw any conclusions until that last week before the draft. They really do a lot of research. Even in 2008 when they had the luckiest day in franchise history to get the No. 1 pick with less than two percent odds, they had not made a final decision to select Derrick Rose until that last week. After all, can you be certain about any 19-year-old from what you know now?
I sense where you are leaning and I'm kind of with you. Passing on Zion leaves you open to a lifetime of criticism and perhaps a golden parachute without a cord to pull. The public consensus, at least, seems to be he is the next in the line of Wilt/Kareem/Bird/Magic/Michael/Kobe/LeBron, and if you blow that your franchise takes years to recover. That said—and this clearly seems counterintuitive—if I had the No. 1 pick, I'd probably take Morant, the point guard. I'm not predicting bust for Williamson as I think he should be a big scorer in the NBA with his physical abilities. But the way the NBA is these days, dominance comes from the guys who make plays. I think Zion will be hindered some playing taller players and that he probably has to play inside, at least for now. The Bulls have a pretty good bunch of that. And even if Zion projects higher than Markkanen, Markkanen shoots much better and is taller. But Zion probably would have to be a power forward for the Bulls with Markkanen as a perimeter center, which he can play in this era, though he'll need to be a lot stronger not to wear down as he has been lately.
Wendell Carter Jr. was supposed to be sixth man this season, anyway. The Bulls even with Markkanen healthy with LaVine and Porter aren't scaring anyone quite yet. So it's not like the Bulls are loaded and can't use Zion. But a successful team really needs a great point guard who can shoot, make plays and finish. I don't watch enough college basketball to suggest I am an expert. But the NBA people I've talked to seem to believe in Morant. My guess is if the Bulls get the top pick, like everyone else, they'd take Zion. It's not like he'll fail. Though that is a tremendous amount to torque on the body with his weight and explosion. You would like to know how much the human body's joints can absorb. Though we only seem to find that out afterward.
If there was a choice today between the Bulls overall situation including draft position and current roster and the Hawks with their roster and the Dallas pick as well as their own, which team would you choose? No complaints as in two years the Bulls have done well with the Butler trade, Lauri and Carter picks and the Otto trade but to my eyes in this hypothetical, the Hawks are better positioned going forward. It could really be an interesting contest in future years as both teams evolve and ascend.
Sam: Well, Michael vs Dominque was a lot of fun for a while. And most thought when Jordan was drafted the Bulls wouldn't pass the Hawks. The Bulls and any other team say—players as well—that all you can worry about and control is what you do. So the Bulls have been making incremental changes, and it's hard to argue with the foundational moves of the Butler and Porter trades.
Atlanta is an interesting comparison, though the larger picture is that a lot of teams have been rebuilding in recent years and eventually it begins to become clearer. The Hawks have a couple of very good young players with Trae Young and John Collins, and though they were widely condemned for the draft swap that got Dallas Doncic, the Hawks could have two lottery picks this season. The Dallas pick they got with Young is protected top five for two years. The Mavs currently are fifth worst and sliding and if one team other than them moves up, the Hawks get two maybe top seven picks in a reasonably good draft. Zion seems a heck of a fit with their roster, and then, as you suggest, you might be chasing the Hawks. The larger point is in the East teams like the Magic and Nets also are making significant strides with a young core and the Knicks seem to believe they will sign two elite free agents this summer. I have my doubts, but stuff happens. The East is becoming substantially more competitive and getting into the playoffs isn't going to be a matter of just having reasonable talent.
It seems that after the four overtime game against Atlanta, Laurie has lost some juice. He looks tired and his game is showing it. This is a problem with young players, it takes a while until they get the physical part. This makes the rebuild through the draft more difficult since aligning these kids careers to peak at the same time is not easy. For instance, Zach Lavine is already in his second contract and going towards his best years. But Laurie (not to mention Wendel) is 3 years behind. Even if they get Zion, the Bulls may be two more years from playoff contention.
Sam: Many of us—OK, me also—believed the Bulls this season would be a team still in mid-March, like Charlotte now or Orlando and even Washington to an extent, with hope for making the playoffs. No, not quite getting there, but playing meaningful games to perhaps the end of the month. That belief vanished with Markkanen, Dunn, Portis and Valentine not seeing the court until December plus a coaching change and Markkanen acknowledging in December he was maybe 70 percent ready and cautious in December. We want these players to be ready, which is the paradox of the draft. The history is top draft picks generally equal success. The reality is that in this era when they come to the NBA so much sooner and so much less fundamentally prepared they are several years from making the impact players like Jordan and Bird did when they came into the NBA after several years in college, playing for USA Basketball, in structured programs, or, like Larry, considering a career in waste management after transferring. As wonderful as Doncic has been this season, Dallas is next to last in the West. And he's playing with an All-Star center much of the season. I wouldn't write off the Bulls hopes for next season quite yet, but I'd recommend patience over disappointment.
I don't care what Boylen says. There is something wrong with Lauri. It's not just that he's missing shots. He's not rebounding and doesn't seem to have his usual energy. Flu? Allergies? I wouldn't call Lauri ‘frail' exactly. He just needs to push weights and fill out to NBA proportions. Honestly, most of them look like body-builders these days. For that matter, I think Zach could use some more upper body strength, Carter too, of course, and maybe Otto Porter. It's probably a matter of youth, but the Bulls seem to have a lot of players who could use some time in the weight room.
All it takes is time & a lot of hard work. Bulls fans (and probably lots of other team's fans) need to take a chill pill. The Bulls are very young, and even though the rebuild is going quite well, they'll take some time to mature. Lauri & Wendell are kids, and even Zach has plenty to learn. Otto Porter looks pretty mature, but at 25, still probably hasn't peaked. I suspect Hutchison is a sleeper, who may surprise everyone in about 2 years. The way they played in February probably got all the fans excited. I can see that; Me too! But March has been a reminder that it's all about consistency, not about your best game, or your best month. The way I see it February was a look at how things can be, more than where they're at now. It was a sneak-preview of good things to come.
Sam: This era's social media/internet culture in which information is delivered to you instantly—and pretty soon after that your purchase and lunch—probably is merely a reflection of what most come to expect of their diversions. Sure, rebuild, we love the draft, the way to go. But, c'mon, it's not like I've got the time to wait. People always joke with me about the length of some of my stories, and especially the length of the Ask Sam. I always wonder just what else everyone is doing. OK, working at your job. I'm fine with that, though everyone seems to be on their phone when I'm at an office these days. But otherwise? Publishers say they're not reading many books. They're cutting cable. What are they all doing? I heard people now are mad at Facebook. So where is everyone! I think you have it better that February was a trailer and not a blockbuster. It was an indication of some possibilities, though the definition of greatness in sports (maybe everything) is consistency. It's not the 50-point game. Tony Delta and Dana Barros even had them. It's the 25-point game every time. Basically, only Zach on the Bulls roster can come close to that, and he's still working on it. We've seen some very good signs, but not enough dependability. So they need experience, vitamins, wisdom and perhaps some luck. And, please, no more four overtimes!
The bench without 30 points + per game from Portis and Parker. Next season the 3 spot will include Valentine and the developing Hutchison, not to mention the potential Zion Williamson. The bench lost all its energy, rebounding and much of their scoring without Portis and Parker. You add some defense to the starting, but lose most of your bench scoring for years to come and give up a lot of salary cap to. That is what I do not understand about the trade. Lopez maybe will be gone in the summer, so now the Bulls needs to get a very good big man who can rebound at both ends, but with the money they have to pay Porter, do they have enough to pay for it?
Sam: I think we mostly agree the Otto Porter Jr. trade was a good acquisition given his shooting, his maturity and size for a position they needed. Since Portis and Parker were 30 points from the bench, we figured there would be a hit, and there has been. The Bulls reserves get dominated basically every game. I think they out try every other team's reserves, but there's just not enough scoring talent. Arcidiacono, Harrison and Selden play hard, work hard, do all the heart, Bulls-across-you-chest stuff you can ask for. But it's also why Boylen said the bench is under scrutiny this last month. Hutchison and Valentine should help, but you have to create a starting five before a bench and the Bulls appropriately have attempted to do that.
Curry vs Durant. I know Durant is great and a first-ballot HoF. I know he plays both ends of the court. But I've watched the GSW a lot and I've always felt (and believe the record bears it out when he's out) that they'd miss Curry more than Durant. Besides the fact that Curry can still obliterate the other team often, they would miss the way he plays. Without Curry, over the long haul, I think Durant would revert to old iso-ball habits that would diminish that team. In other words, in offering a silly debate: I'd rather have Curry over Durant.
Sam: Me and the Warriors, too, I suspect. They hold this against Durant, and the Warriors won a big game for them this week in Houston with Durant out. Their record is far better playing without Durant than playing without Curry. And Curry scares you more with his ability to get on that run of threes that defines the Warriors. But if they were not able to get Durant, I don't believe they would have won the last two titles after losing to the Cavs. I doubt they'd have been to both Finals. Which is what has made them a dynasty, that they had that second MVP player to go with the best face up shooter in the game, an amazing combination. Most around the NBA seem to believe Durant will leave as a free agent. New arena next season, great team. Doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but you saw how angry and anxious to leave Scottie Pippen was that last title season. Things happen we don't know about, people get tired of people, emotions take over, and we have seen that Durant can be a trifle sensitive. His departure should be good for the other 29 in the sense that it would level the championship playing field and it once again would be difficult to pick a champion in the preseason, or at least the Finals, as we've done most of the last five years. Curry is retiring a Warrior. So you know their belief.
With Demarcus Cousins becoming a free agent, what kind of salary will he be looking for. And should the Bulls consider trying to acquire him if they have the cap space?
Sam: A lot. No. With Durant, Kawhi and Kyrie this summer's free agency could be more impactful, if less sensational, than even 2010 with decisions all over the place. Cousins gets forgotten about because of his Achilles injury last year and now in a lesser role with the Warriors, though he had his best game Wednesday against the Rockets. We always say it only takes one, but it's tough to believe, at least now and depending on what occurs in the playoffs, that Cousins will get a long term deal. He may be on the edge of the Bulls financial range for a short team deal. Though as we saw with Jabari Parker saying it's just a one year guarantee isn't so great because it can drive your team crazy for that one year.
What usually happens is someone like the Knicks gets shut out in free agency and to make a splash and recover gives a big deal to a guy like Cousins. I can see a scenario like that. Cousins as we are starting to see still can have dominating games. He is an amazing talent. But he's never played in a playoff game and I've long believed he's more trouble unless he's with a great coach or players who he respects. Like with USA Basketball or now with Steve Kerr and the Warriors who have won multiple titles. He's like Dennis Rodman in that respect. He played for Chuck Daly and with Isiah and the Pistons. When he went to the Spurs, Popovich was a beginning head coach and David Robinson was being dominated by Hakeem Olajuwon. So Rodman went nuts because what did those guys know about winning and why would he listen to them? If Cousins isn't in that kind of atmosphere, he's probably reverting to the pouting and outrages and scaring the heck out of everyone around him they'll say the wrong thing and set him off again. He always was an indifferent defender, and now as we've seen with Golden State, he's poor because of the after effects of the injury. No offense to Boylen and the players the Bulls have, but Cousins would take one look and decide he's not listening to any of them and you better get me the ball because I am shooting all the time and I'm not giving it to you losers.
Apropos of nothing, if you had to create a starting five of the most underrated but truly great players to ever play, what would it look like? People in today's media still recognize Oscar, Jerry, Russell, Wilt, Kareem, etc... I am talking about the truly great players who never seem to be mentioned much anymore. Here is mine:
- PG Lenny Wilkens
- 2G Rick Barry
- SF Dr. J
- PF Elvin Hayes
- C Moses Malone
Sam: It's a provocative question and a good list. Is it most underrated or most unappreciated? Probably one leads to the other in whichever order. I'd quarrel with the inclusion of Dr. J, Julius Erving, given he's probably overrated in the inexact definition of both terms because he never could get his team past the finish line until they got Moses, and then they did so immediately. Which enhances Moses for your list. Julius was dominant in the ABA when no one saw him but heard about him. Because he wasn't a good shooter, his impact in the NBA when the leagues merged was somewhat less, though his reputation never faltered because of his graceful dunks. Barry is a good one because fans never appreciated how truly great a scorer he was with all the controversies of jumping back and forth between leagues. Lenny, yes, and probably because it was another era. I never was a big Elvin fan, so I'm among those somewhat responsible. I've had him mostly among those individual scorers who took care of himself. Lots of points, less results until joining a team guy like Wes Unseld. There's someone unappreciated. In some sense Kareem was underrated because of the way he was so, so dominant at a time the NBA wasn't very popular, it's players viewed as militants in a polarizing era. Kareem was amazing, but so anti-media the effect was to diminish what he did. Similarly one of the most underrated players to me was Mark Aguirre, an uncanny scorer with one of the best post games ever who had such a defiant attitude with the media and a coach who hated him in Dick Motta that Aguirre should easily be in the Hall of Fame and keeps getting invited to Springfield, Ill. Isiah Thomas is on my list for his brilliance overshadowed in that great 80s era by Jordan, Bird, Magic and playing with several escapees from the penitentiary. Well, Laimbeer, at least. Elgin Baylor gets mentioned often among all-time greats, but because there was no TV then people have no idea how great. Some of my favorites on a list of unappreciated I'd love to see play again are Terry Cummings, Alex English, Mark Price, Billy Cunningham, Dave Bing, David Thompson, Bobby Dandridge, Chet Walker, Sam Jones, Gus Johnson, Hal Greer and I'll think of more.
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