Sean Kilpatrick #0 of the Chicago Bulls goes up for a dunk against the Charlotte Hornets on April 3, 2018

Ask Sam Mailbag: 04.06.18

Sam opens his mailbag and answers readers' questions
Should we now call him Sean Kill-draft pick?

Mike Sutera

Sam: Well, you could say the Bulls have a good eye for overlooked talent. Perhaps not superstar talent, but they may have a heck of a bench. Now they just need some more starters. If you were to put Nwaba and Kilpatrick together, wow, you might have something. Kilpatrick has been pretty impressive in being able to walk right in and score, and, OK, not against the best teams, but they were generally playing starters when he played his best. I believe Nwaba returns for next season and I can see Kilpatrick, even at 28, having a chance. I do believe this finagling with the competitive aspects was a one-year aberration and the Bulls will be trying to get into the playoffs next season. Markkanen, Dunn and LaVine all have said they expect that, and with a lottery pick no matter where and perhaps a free agent, you can't compete with the Pistons, the Wizards, the Bucks? OK, maybe the 76ers are a few steps ahead and the Celtics, but maybe LeBron bolts West and maybe the Raptors flame out early in the playoffs again. And Kyrie is hurt yet again. You play for the playoffs to start. It's not, despite what many in media and the public suggest, a title or try to lose every game situation. Remember these win totals for Michael Jordan's first five seasons: 38, 30 (injured), 40, 50, 47. Not playing for any titles with the best ever. Sort of playing for seven or eight most of those seasons. Hey, Zion Williamson or R.J. Barrett? Looks like you just have to watch Duke next season to figure the 2019 draft.

Omer Asik #3 of the Chicago Bulls and Ryan Anderson #33 of the Houston Rockets are seen before the game on March 27, 2018

Whatever happened to Omer Asik?
Didn't we trade for him?
Haven't seen him anywhere

Dan Schiller

Sam: He's on the end of the bench. Tall guy. I like Omer, but I guess I understand. He was the settlement of the Mirotic deal to get the draft pick. The Bulls had to absorb a salary. Ironically, it's a guy whom they were furious they couldn't keep a few years back. But it's been a curious path for Asik, who went from Rockets building block with Jeremy Lin (yes, they were the master plan until Oklahoma City dropped Harden on them for no good reason) to injured to ill to dormant. Once an idol, and then just idle. He makes $11 million this year and $11 million next, so like Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, he doesn't say much. And since he isn't part of the Bulls future plan, why play him instead of someone who is? I understand that. The Bulls would like to use his contract as an expiring deal next season—like with Robin Lopez, though they wouldn't mind keeping Lopez—to get something. So maybe play him some the start of next season so teams can see if he can do something. I like to talk with him. Funny guy. He says he's over the long illness they couldn't diagnose until it was discovered he has Crohn's disease. He works out and practices with the team, says he's in great shape and, well, he understands. He's been a good teammate, supportive, on the bench and, well, waiting until next season. Though I would love to hear one of Stacey's Asik and Destroy calls again.

Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz shoots the ball during the game against the LA Clippers on April 5, 2018ll

We'd probably be best team in East right now if we kept butler and drafted Mitchell.

Ryan Carpel

Sam: Or not. Which again is why it's not fantasy basketball. Much easier to do those kinds of transactions. Often media and fans cherry pick these sorts of possibilities, so let's examine this one: Mitchell went No. 13 in the 2017 draft. Denver probably made a mistake trading him, but, after all, they did get a No. 1 pick and Trey Lyles, a former lottery pick who averages in double figures now. The Bulls really didn't have anyone like that to give up. Remember, Mirotic was a free agent without offers. How would you have felt giving up Portis and No. 16 to move up three spots? Most everyone misjudged Mitchell, but he was known by then to at least be late a lottery pick. The Bulls had No. 16, and he was going to be taken before then. But here's the other part: Opportunity is life. Mitchell went where they said, 'It's your ball, so score, take every shot and nobody is taking you out of the game even as a rookie.' They'd lost Hayward and didn't have a scorer while adding a passer in Rubio. If the Bulls had kept Butler, did you see him saying to a rookie, ‘You take the shots and I'll back you up?' Then if Butler stays, Wade isn't giving up $8 million to buy out his contract. So he's also staying. Maybe Rondo then returns also given how close that first round was and there's no other point guard still on the roster without Dunn. Now Mitchell is standing in the corner waiting for passes in a slower game to shoot threes. And he's not a standstill three-point shooter. So now maybe he's looking like a bust and, hey, you gave up Portis and a No. 1 for him? Are you nuts! No, the Bulls really didn't have much of a path other than the one they took. It's time to look ahead, not back.

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

So it's come to this: the Bulls have what should be a pleasant late-season rally and win three straight, but we're all disappointed because it undermines the tank. The lottery system is broken as you say, but, before we open it up to all 30 teams, I wonder how you'd feel about one or both of these possibilities.
1) Keep a weighted lottery, but give each team additional "ping pong balls" for each win after it's mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. That way every team would have something to play for every game; they'd either be competing for the playoffs or trying to win for better lottery odds. The worst teams, being eliminated earliest, would have the most opportunities for those 'bonus' wins.
2) Create a "draft cap" that limits the frequency for any team to be drafting at the top. That is, make it impossible to plan for these 3-5 year Sam Hinkie processes by preventing the same teams from drafting in the same place every year. To pick the arbitrary number of 7, a team that drafted number two in one year couldn't draft any better than number five in the next. Or, to spread it out over three years, a "draft cap" of 10 might mean anyone drafting number one overall one year would not be able to draft better than four and five in the next two. That would limit the number of teams in full tank mode and compel more of them actually to be competing.

Joe Kraus

Sam: Those are interesting proposals and probably better than the NBA's flattening out the top picks for next year's lottery. The problem is general human dishonesty. Of course, once any of this were implemented, teams would hire analytics specialist to take advantage of the odds, anyway. Either you have a moral belief in the sanctity of sport or you will do anything to gain an edge. I understand that's celebrated in sports, stealing signals and petty stuff, flopping for a charge, LeBron's anguished looks. All part of the game, I understand. Which is again why I most prefer a relatively unbiased judge like the commissioner, who can hand out those $1 million fines maybe limited to one per week. The league can pick some good charities to benefit people in need who will do well instead of teams, and then we'll see how much trying to gain a slight edge is worth and if you are willing to compete on a true level playing field. The whole idea behind this equality in the draft was to help the unfortunate, to balance the playing field. Like I've written before, with what's gone on they don't deserve the benefit anymore and it's fine with me to go to a 30-team lottery drawing every season equally weighted. Hey, the Lakers drafted Worthy after having Magic and Kareem. Maybe it wasn't fair, but it happens. Guys get hurt, and in this era they change teams. Greatness doesn't always last that long.

 Head coach Fred Hoiberg of the Chicago Bulls calls a play against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the United Center on February 9, 2018

I like that Bulls are closing with wins I'm glad for Hoiberg. He deserves a break.

Pete Zievers

Sam: Coach of the Year? Probably not, but look at what he's had to deal with from the Portis/Mirotic one rounder and then starting the rookie Markkanen with Dunn out hurt, and then LaVine being worked in as Mirotic was back and then on the way out and then Lopez and Holiday out while working in a half dozen guys who joined the team midway through the season. The Bulls have 27 wins and I think have been favored in six or seven games this season. All the preseason estimates were for 20 or 21 wins, and that was with stability and health, and those regulars playing all season. We always like to judge coaches on how hard the players are competing and not giving up; well, all you had to do was watch the last three games with two of the three teams with far better records than the Bulls, one in the playoff race, and all three playing starters down the stretch and being outplayed by the Bulls' guys. So maybe some cynics are upset about the failure to pursue losing. But here's a guy in Hoiberg who never once has complained about the personnel circumstances—I almost would loved to have seen Thibodeau going through this here for the perverted sport of it—but instead has gotten the players ready every game. They've basically competed hard and just about every one of them has gotten better with a team closing in on almost 50 percent more wins than predicted. Sounds like what coaching awards should be about.

 Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs handles the ball during the game against the Denver Nuggets on January 13, 2018

Hello from Cyprus. An interesting season comes to an end. The big question though is "what's next"?
Do you have an indication on the management's plans and direction? Will they try to improve that team faster during free agency or they will continue this root?
Is there any chance that will be interested on Kawhi Leonard? As I understand he wants to move to a big market.

Stefanos Panayiotides

Sam: Much of it has been Greek to me. Sorry, couldn't resist. I doubt they really know at this point given the concentration on the draft, and still the hope of a Derrick Rose-like miracle to get into the top three. I guess the Arizona center is pretty good, but I don't see Rose talent in this draft. I do believe this season with the hope for losing while trying to improve and play hard has exacted a price on the entire organization. I sense a never again sort of attitude, so I would not be surprised if there is also a dip into free agency. Leonard? I doubt it for several reasons. One is the major risk that here's a guy who basically sat out the entire season and seems at odds with what's generally been considered the most stable organization in sports. And then wants to be paid $200 million. For what he did for them. Of course, you don't generally get a shot at players like that unless there's a large risk and some big reason. My guess is it costs something Markkanen, Dunn and the Bulls lottery pick. After all, that was what the Bulls got for Butler, and Leonard is better than Butler. I don't see the Bulls willing to go in that direction on that big a gamble at this time before at least seeing what they got from the Butler trade for a season.

As one of the biggest whiners about the Bulls' play at the end of March, I'd like to clarify a couple of things. First, I don't mind if they tank. Second, I don't mind if they play guys trying to find a place in the league. What I was objecting to was how horribly the guys on the floor were playing.

That seems to have changed in the past week. Granted, it's not like watching the Warriors or Rockets at their peak, but even when the #6-#10 guys are on the floor, closing the game, the ball moves on offense and the feet move on defense and the team plays hard. That's great entertainment, win, lose or overtime.

And while it would have been nice if they could play hard and lose their way to a #6 or #7 draft choice, it doesn't look like there's a lot to separate the players projected to go between #6 and #12. They're all teenagers and athletic and don't know who they are as men yet.

Kirk Landers

Sam: This was the paradox about this season with the demand and hope and promise for a top 3 pick and thus worst three record. But the Jimmy Butler trade was good one, yielding productive players with Markkanen one of the league's best rookies. Then the team makes some signings that are reaches and Nwaba is surprising and now so is Kilpatrick, and they play hard and compete, which is what you want. And Dunn gets a lot better and so does Portis, which is what you were asking for. So if you have motivated players and some others with talent after making a good trade, you're going win some games. Especially when you instruct your coaching staff that the players better play hard. If you didn't make a good trade, you'd have lost more games. But if you hadn't made a good trade, everyone would have wanted to know why you didn't keep Butler. You also don't get so many losses when you are trying to teach winning and have it stick and it's working and your players evolve and improve. We know like this season, 13 could be better than 2, but it's difficult to determine until you begin to play and they at least turn 20 years old.

The "Michael Jordan was forced out of the NBA for gambling" issue has arisen once again. This time it's your former colleague, Skip Bayless, claiming as much without any proof whatsoever. If he was suspended, why would the league pick an arbitrary number like 82 games for one year, and 65 the next? Why not a two-year ban? Billy Hunter was terrible at his job, but I'd have to think even he, as head of the players' union, would've taken issue with his marquee member being suspended for an arbitrary number of games without consultation with he and the executive membership Not to mention, reports about Jordan's gambling continued well after the so-called suspension -- just no more late nights in Atlantic City or tee times with nefarious characters being reported. Would Bayless and other proponents of the conspiracy theory contend that his second retirement was a second suspension? Ridiculous.

Terrell Bryant

Sam: I guess the most amazing part of this question was that you were able to find where Bayless is on TV these days. Of course, it's ridiculous, but I give Skip this, like Laura Ingraham, Ed Schultz, Keith Olbermann and Ann Coulter: They're pretty smart in figuring out how to trick the public. Ever hear the phrase, ‘There's a sucker born every minute?" It's mostly attributed to P.T. Barnum in the 19th Century, though he probably never said it, but applies primarily to Americans. You can get people angry and reacting by saying something stupid or crazy that might sound true and play on their prejudices, but isn't true. Skip's good at that. I recall when he came to The Tribune as a columnist he called me under the guise of checking with the people already there—a good policy—but mostly seemed to be trying to provoke me into some crazy theory he had on Jordan. I can't actually recall what it was. I recall just saying something like, you're the columnist. So you write it. Increasingly in this divided era with so many talking and screaming people on TV, it's become a market to be outrageous—Coulter's friends always say she doesn't believe much of what she says—and provocative and not worry about accuracy and mostly stoke anger, outrage and resentment. Skip's terrific at that and it's made him a premier commentator and wealthy, I assume. Good for him. He pulled off what we used to call the American Dream. As for the Jordan kicked out of the NBA, yes, with all the morality in sports over profits and advantage, sure, the NBA decided to rid itself of the stain that was Michael Jordan's gambling to protect its integrity and high moral standards. Andrew Jenks does a podcast called What Really Happened for The Rock, the actor. I did one with him about Was Jordan Banned?. He does a good job on background if you'd care to listen.

 Lauri Markkanen #24 of the Chicago Bulls shoots over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist #14 (R) and Marvin Williams #2 of the Charlotte Hornets at the United Center on April 3, 2018

Well this has turned out to be a disappointing season with the last 6 weeks being outright painful. Fun for a while but what have we learned? Markkanen (7 pick) is better than advertised, LaVine is a starter but style is unknown, Dunn might be a starter, certainly a high rotation guy, Lopez is Lopez and then what? Portis and Valentine rotation guys, Nwaba probably, Payne and Grant back end if anything same for Vonleh. So really other than Markkanen upside and LaVine seems healthy, we learned not much. I have enjoyed the odd, humorous victory as it shows guys still want to play. The difference between 5-8 pick seems immaterial.

So in the end, I don't think we learned much, don't know how the "big 3" will or will not play together and I fear next year will be the learning year where 2 new draft picks won't make much difference. Is this reasonable or can you talk me off the ledge?

Greg Young

Sam: Well, you actually did a good job of justifying the season. They found a legitimate power forward starter and backup and thinned out the position to where it's solid. They found a point guard when none existed since Rose and that they have a healthy shooting guard. They have a bench and a penchant for competition. And they'll get two more first round picks. Not a bad season when you consider it that way. Thanks.

 Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls handles the ball during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on March 15, 2018

I'm asking your honest opinion here. I hear Zach Lavine say the right things a lot. He talks about putting in the work and all that and it's great. But I remember Wade talking about defense all the time and not doing it. When I watch Lavine plays, he seems remarkably noncompetitive on the defensive end. I feel more confidence in Dunn improving because he does "have more dog in him," as kids say. Do you really project this as a guy who will improve into an impact player?

Alejandro Yegros

Sam: I'm going with the being 22 thing. He has the basics, which is most important. Denzel Valentine or Bobby Portis cannot be because they don't have the athletic explosion he does. So LaVine could. That he talks about it is a good thing because it means he sets his goals there. Defense is want to, not knows how to. Most anyone can defend at a decent level by trying. I agree LaVine didn't try much this season, which I'll accept as coming back from the worst of knee injuries and doing so impressively, for the most part. The team appears committed to him, and he talks openly about being one of those stars. So it's up to him. If he doesn't get there, he only need check the mirror.

Nikola Mirotic #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans reaches for the ball during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on April 4, 2018

There were comments that Niko hurt the Bulls draft status with the winning streak at his return to his efforts in NO. Looking again in his last ten games he is averaging 24 minutes and shooting 32% with 6.4 rebounds and 9.2 points. NO has now lost four in a row and only one game up for the playoffs. It's doubtful many Bulls fans regret his departure now. He always has been streaky.

John Petersen

Sam: Well, he did shave his beard and get 25. Imagine if he shaves his chest hair. I had my doubts about the trade given the way he was playing with Markkanen on his return, but he always has been such a tease. Given the one-year deal he was on after asking for so much money last summer and facing another summer negotiation with him and that possibility eliminating other free agents and the only thing consistent being his inconsistency, well, I hope he does well, but it's difficult to say the Bulls future will be damaged without him.

Jahlil Okafor #4 of the Brooklyn Nets puts up the shot against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center on April 3, 2018 in Philadelphia

The New York papers say Jahlil Okafor's rotation exile could spell his end with Nets.

Bob Ding

Sam: I'll admit I was hoping the Bulls would take a look at him. I don't fully get what has gone on with him, though it does speak to the issue about that best player available draft. The 76ers spent top lottery picks on he and Nerlens Noel while having Embiid. The Bulls play the Nets twice Saturday and Monday, mostly, it seems, for 7th, 8th or 9th worst record and the lottery odds. But I am interested to see Okafor, who'll be an unrestricted free agent. I understand the game has passed away from him to perimeter oriented and with many teams shooting all those threes, who does he guard? And, yes, we hate two pointers now. But with those soft hands and good footwork, he still looks like an NBA player to me.

Kris Dunn #32 of the Chicago Bulls handles the ball during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on March 15, 2018

I know it's early but, why do some of these mock drafts now having the Bulls going after Point Guards ? What's the feel with the team about Dunn? I thought before the Injuries & the " Youth-Movement" started, he proved to be the Bulls future fixture. So far, this draft seems to be filled with guards & power forwards (Which I don't see as a major need on the team.) We need a small Forward. Your thoughts on either of the "Bridges" From (Villanova or Michigan State) ?

Randall Sanders

Sam: Yes, small forward is the position most open, but if you had Dunn would you have passed on Rose? Best player available? Teams usually say and do that, and in this NBA it's not so position oriented. Plus, because a guy is top 10 doesn't mean he's an NBA starter. Maybe eventually. I can see Young as a Lou Williams or Jamal Crawford type. You need shooting in this NBA. Everywhere. Plus, if LaVine decided to work on his defense, there's no reason why he couldn't play small forward with Dunn and another scoring guard. So I don't worry too much about position. I don't see how that matters all that much when you still are trying to win 30 games, anyway. I believe the Bulls are committed to the three guys from the Butler trade as starters for next season and all will be starters no matter what they do in the draft and free agency. I believe they'll try to get a small forward, or wing player, as we say these days. But I don't believe a team without a whole lot of NBA level starting players can afford to pass on someone who is capable of starting and perhaps starring in the NBA no matter what position.

 Shaquille O'Neal, Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, and Magic Johnson are honored during the NBA All-Star Game as a part of 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend at STAPLES Center on February 18, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.

I recently came across the Old-Timers Game (perhaps more respectfully known as The Legends Classic) from the 1988 All Star Game. Holy cow is this a fun idea. How is this not part of NBA All Star Weekend anymore?

The dunk contest goes through its ups and downs (every 5 years we have a good one, and the announcers declare that the "dunk contest is back").

The actual All Star Game hasn't been truly competitive in several years.

Is there any doubt that if we booked MJ, Barkley, Zeke, Magic, Dream, Shaq, Bird (if his back allows) and others to play that this wouldn't be the event to watch for the weekend? In this age of nostalgia - it would be a huge hit. Can Kareem still play? Let's find out!

Yoni Solomon

Sam: I recall covering that game and writing about the two ACLs, and the Achilles tear. And then never having to write about that game again for appropriate reasons.

An overhead view of Kris Dunn #32 of the Chicago Bulls standing on the court during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on March 15, 2018

I just want to ask, Kris Dunn is a 24 year old NBA player now so everyone thinks he does not have much upside because of his age. Do you think age as it is, is a flawed indicator of upside? Kris might be 24 years old but the guy did not play much basketball in his first two years in Providence. So practically, his body is not as spent as the other 24 year old payers out there.

Plus I don't agree with this upside being determined based on age. Guys go through their careers differently. Some peak at an earlier age, some does at later stages. If Kris becomes a threat from three, I think he can be the engine of our offense in years to come.

Melbert Tizon

Sam: That's one of those draft things you hear from all these genius NBA executives who often somehow all have the same draft lists in the same order—really, how is that possible?—and then five years from now we'll look at those same 30 players and they won't be in talent anywhere near the order they were selected. I find these days this paralysis by analysis NBA draft in which they spend way too much time on idiot stuff like Rorschach tests and those crazy jumping drills and measuring their reach and the size of their hands and how fast they run when no one is chasing them and what they'd do if they found an apple in the street with a diamond inside. But far be it from me to hurt the national economy and the jobs of so many gifted analytical experts. LeBron's 33. Would you give him a five-year contract? I would. Because he gets the ball in the basket. A lot.

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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