Paul Millsap #4 of the Denver Nuggets goes up against Bobby Portis #5 and Cristiano Felicio #6 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on March 21, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.

Ask Sam Mailbag: 03.23.18

Sam opens his mailbag and answers readers' questions

Are we there yet? I respect and trust Gar and Pax, but watching the last two Bulls games (Knicks and Nuggets) hurt my eyes. It was like watching a pickup game at the YMCA, especially on defense. Instead of waterboarding our supposed enemies, maybe we could make them watch these games. If that doesn't make them suicidal, we can charge them a $100 per "contest." All this to get the 8th pick instead of the 9th? Who's worth this torture?

Kirk Landers

Sam: Sigh; alas, I know. It is brutal and for everyone involved. Look, these guys in pro sports basically spend their entire lives competing in front of everyone trying some way to win, to gain an edge, to succeed, to be asked what it feels like. And then to be in a position where defeat is welcomed. OK, not so much by the players and coaches, though the coaches obviously are in on it, and trying to both entertain your fans and put your team in position to be an attraction to come. The 76ers sort of pulled it off, but no one was allowed to mention them for four years anywhere between Trenton and Wilmington or never again be permitted to eat a cheese steak in public. As I've written, the Bulls played two thirds of a worthy season and did accomplish a lot in getting LaVine past the hesitation, Dunn past the bust label and Markkanan so good we know where Finland is on the map. That's a good season. But something has to be done about this losing for draft pick position. We never understood the depth and depression associated with it until going through it. It is painful because you want to judge everything on success and competition. You can't figure out how to lose every game by three points. The Bulls have mostly done impressively this season to compete so fiercely until recently. Perhaps they'll be judged negatively by being too good since there now is such a thing. But you can't be one of those Memphis, Sacramento, Atlanta type teams this season and get as much out of it as the Bulls have. I'm not generally a radical since I don't like ending conferences and reseeding and all the tricks so that some Western team finishing ninth with a better record than the team eighth in the East gets in the playoffs. As I always write, the only true way to end the losing on purpose is substantial commissioner fines based on what's obvious. And we know when it's obvious. But here's my radical solution: Everyone makes the playoffs. You shorten the regular season to maybe 60 games. The revenue is made up in the playoffs and everyone screams the regular season is too long, anyway. You seed like the NCAA, but then reseed after every round so the low seeds can't sneak by easily. I still like keeping it East/West to ease travel and balance the schedule. Then everyone has a chance for the top picks. You give the lesser teams a greater chance in odds, but not by much. Yes, a great team may get a great player occasionally, but it still happens, anyway, as Boston is doing. But the incentive to lose games is substantially reduced and the competition increases to remain competitive because that upset chance always is there, however slight. Plus, fans love the playoffs. Adam, it's yours. Run with it.

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts after a play against the Toronto Raptors on March 21, 2018 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio

I'm gonna go off topic a bit here, and not talk about tanking or the draft. With this being a "Summer of LeBron," do you see any smart salary cap casualties that the Bulls should try to poach from one of the 4 teams that he's supposedly considering? The first one that jumps out at me would be Eric Gordon. He seems to have finally come into his own, and would be a monster coming off the bench and running second units, and being allowed to shoot as much as he wants. Another thought would be taking back Lu's contract, and charging a tax of Kuzma and Josh Hart. What do you think?

Zachery Miller

Sam: I wrote last week in Ask Sam about perhaps some team being able to get Brandon Ingram and take on Deng's contract. I wouldn't be much interested in Lakers' draft picks since they don't have their first this season and if they can get two free agents like LeBron and Paul George, as often speculated, or two good guys, their picks could be in the 20s for years. Many say they'd never give up Ingram, though with LeBron and George both wings I wouldn't see why not. How could you tell your fans you gave up a chance at those two to keep Brandon Ingram? But would you do it to get Julius Randle or Kyle Kuzma? The Lakers have said no such thing about either, but would they be enough for you? The teams that have been rumored lately (changes to come) as LeBron free agent destinations are the Rockets, Spurs, Heat, 76ers, and the Lakers. I don't believe LeBron would go to the 76ers, though I'm sure the 76ers would take him as would anyone else. If the 76ers need to offload some salary, I'm sure plenty of teams would take Embiid. Yes, you give up a lot of your franchise control when you have LeBron, but it almost guarantees you with a good core a chance of playing for a title. What's one more soul sold. Gordon has been wonderful off the bench, but he turns 30 this year and has had a lot of injuries. Don't think I'd be interested. Now if New Orleans wanted to clear some space by giving up Anthony Davis. I know, no chance, obviously. The thing with LeBron is you never can tell. Miami was basically on no one's radar in 2010 and then he's there. Of course, no one sees him going back under Pat Riley's Rules and with Wade in such decline. But Miami does have a lot of interesting supporting players. And LeBron still has some championships to get he counted off there. And somewhat better seafood than you get from Lake Erie. And he could carry Wade two more seasons if he misses having a buddy around. A dark horse could be Portland so he can keep saying he wants to win one for "the Land." You assume free agent Chris Paul will be back with Houston, but Rockets GM Daryl Morey always has loved the next thing more than the thing he has. I could see him trying to cash in Paul to get LeBron. LeBron and Harden. That's 40 free throws and 80 complaints per game. It's another reason why this could be an amazing summer around the NBA with so many unplanned possibilities since there are several teams with cap room to absorb a contract and much on Magic Johnson now that the Lakers have recovered enough to make that so called next level move. He wasn't up to it as a coach. Can he be as general manager? Especially with Jerry West across the hall with the Clippers? Let's get this Finals over so we can get to the real fun.

Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls drives to the basket during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on March 15, 2018 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee.

Put your GM hat on for a minute. If you were running the Bulls would you rather start Holiday or Lavine given the rather large difference Lavine will. Get paid? Wouldn't those resources be better served going after a true #1 star? Personally, I don't see much of a talent difference here. Yes Lavine is an incredible dunker but both are defenseless! I think Bulls might need to put all their eggs into attracting the best free agents. And put Lavine on the back burner. He hasn't proved a thing to me except he's fast, shoots 3's and plays very little defense.

Ryan Carpel

Sam: I don't believe Gar ever wears a hat, though with his haircut he might give it a thought. LaVine, eh? Though I guess I can understand after 24 games playing mostly limited minutes why you'd give up on a guy. Surprise, LaVine is not LeBron. Or even Kobe. I can't deny it's going to be an interesting negotiation this summer, but I expect LaVine and the Bulls to agree to some sort of reasonable deal that makes sense for both sides. I agree LaVine hardly has established himself as an elite star. But he has, at least to me, demonstrated he's worth investing in. Who are all these free agents, by the way. After the player option guys who are picking their spots like Durant, LeBron and Paul George, the aging Chris Paul, the injured DeMarcus Cousins and the wacky Isaiah Thomas, who exactly are we talking about? The top potential free agents after them and I doubt you'd want Thomas are DeAndre Jordan (opt out but making $22 million so wants more and can't make a free throw), Clint Capela, Aaron Gordon, Jabari Parker, Tyreke Evans, Derrick Favors, Carmelo Anthony, Avery Bradley and Brook Lopez. Nice players. Sure, there are free agents to add to a good young core, but not to remake your team around. I'd be sticking with Zach and want to see what he could do playing, say, 41 games with the team. Though he hasn't shot well with the Bulls and likes to shoot, I've been very encouraged the way he's played without hesitation and with speed. Do you think the Bulls would be interested in a free agent 6-5 shooting guard who's one of the league's best athletes if you didn't know his name?

Cameron Payne #22 of the Chicago Bulls goes up for a shot between Nikola Jokic #15 (L) and Will Barton #5 of the Denver Nuggets at the United Center on March 21, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.

I know it's 11 games, but Cam Payne has the highest PER, best 3pt %, and best plus minus out of the pg's on the team. Is there any takeaway from that (other than at least he's not a complete trainwreck like he looked last year)?

Alejandro Yegros

Sam: I'm going first with the not complete train wreck. But like with the guy who is done with Zach, we tend to make instant judgments because, well, there may be new tweets to read. Or is it those app pictures that disappear quickly so you have to decide if they're worth looking at. Good for Payne given the untenable situation he was placed in of going to a team where no one wanted to pass to him because he was viewed as a management plant after one of the team's most popular players and a veteran was traded for him and then he was gifted playing time without earning it even as the team was in contention for the playoffs. What's a kid to do? Fan bases tend to like one guy to hate when things aren't going great and he became that guy. Is he a future star or even NBA starter? Probably not. But he was a late lottery pick, a good ball handler and OK passer who is pretty good getting to the basket. He can run a team and be a backup point guard, which Jerian Grant says he can do as well. I'm not sure where the Bulls are on them, but at least there's a legitimate choice if they choose to go that way. No, he's not a bust.

Derrick Rose #25 of the Minnesota Timberwolves shoots a lay up against Chris Paul #3 of the Houston Rockets on March 18, 2018 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Can you imagine the stories that would be written about Kawhi Leonard if he were a Bull? I mean, D-Rose was torn to shreds from some of these morons who think they know what it's like to be in someone else's shoes. I still get upset thinking about the disrespect shown to Rose in his hometown, especially to a man his age at the time who gave the most basketball excitement to the city since MJ left. So Leonard is barely getting any criticism, or is he being criticized more in San Antonio? I still think D-Rose, if he had a healthy 12 or 13 year career even, would have been the 2nd best Bull player ever and even a top 25 player in NBA history. I'd take a healthy MVP Rose over an MVP Westbrook any day, and I know I'm biased, but am I crazy for saying that?

Jon Kueper

Sam: Yes, if only. Rose was, indeed, on that path and though most people assume things only as they are, being the youngest ever MVP does mean something. It was not the greatest time for Chicago fandom, though I believe it was driven more by some elements of the media and a lack of compassion not only about health (you know major surgery is only when it's about me and minor for everyone else), but taking away the chance to be extra drunk for a few nights and scream about being number one. Second city, your knee. Though the Leonard thing is amazing in some respects and could, talk about your culture changes, create an entirely new one in San Antonio, which has been the blueprint for franchise excellence these last few decades. Leonard, first of all as I found out to some extent, is not who you think he is. Or probably not. Of course, no one truly knows anyone they watch on TV or in the arenas. But I was witness to Leonard as perhaps he may be. He never talks much and always has been viewed as this merely quiet and nice, shy great talent, sort of Tony Snell as an All-Star. So I'm at one of those USA Basketball tournaments where they don't have traditional locker room interviews for media. They have what they call "mix zones." It's a designated area, sometimes behind a fence or an open circle where players mill about and reporters ask questions. I'm waiting for another player since I know Leonard is always a pain to speak with. But he's there, so I decide to watch to hear what he'd say knowing it's not usually much. A kid comes over who looks like he's from a college and asks some generic question. Leonard stares at him hard, looking down, obviously, and says he doesn't talk. But he's in the mix zone, so the kid tries again, politely, I should add. Leonard stares and says sharply, "Didn't I say I don't talk!" The kid obviously was devastated and walked away. Leonard apparently was waiting for a teammate, but then he left. You cannot judge anyone on any one moment, but it did reveal a side few see. Now you read teammates are trying to get an explanation from him--yes, imagine if that were Rose, who seemed to have universal teammate support--and there seems a disconnect with Popovich and a distance with the team. With Gasol aging, Ginobili in his last season, Parker heading there, is Popovich going to ride this through? Will they try to trade Leonard? Is he who we didn't think he was? Drama in San Antonio? Whoda imagined?

Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves shoots the ball during the game against the LA Clippers on March 20, 2018 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Why is the Timberwolves defense so bad? I understand they don't have the best defensive players but they are terrible. Does Thibs defensive strategies still work in this NBA? Has he been doing anything to switch it up and be effective?

Gorav Raheja

Sam: If they could get a more defensive oriented coach like Vinny or Fred, maybe, eh? I know, bottom five in defensive efficiency, opponents field goal percentage. Say it ain't so, Thibs! Thibs liked a lot of credit for those early 2010s Bulls, and Thibs was an excellent defensive coach when you had excellent defensive players. Consider that Bulls team with Noah, Hinrich, Deng and Butler were all-defensive team players are one time. And Taj Gibson should have been and with defensive specialists like Ronnie Brewer and Keith Bogans. Now, yes, Thibs has Jimmy, but Towns doesn't much like to defend. Neither does Wiggins even when Thibs asks nicely. We know Jamal won't and there are some European guys around and Teague and a lot of new players. Thibs also hasn't done a great job adjusting to the way the game is played now, faster and more wide open. His teams played slow on offense, which enables you to set up better defensively. He still tries to form that interior fort around the lane while teams swing the ball around for threes, which makes running guys off the line much more difficult. But don't discount the Timberwolves. Thibs has done a terrific job putting together a lot of talent. If Jimmy comes back and is healthy and they can get something from Rose, who looked great before, yes, going out again with that sprained ankle, I wouldn't be surprised to see them upset someone not named Golden State. Probably not Houston, too, but I'm still not persuaded about Paul and Harden in the playoffs and all that begging for calls.

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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