Ask Sam Mailbag: 04.20.18
Sam opens his mailbag and answers readers' questions
You should trade these 2 garbage first round picks to San Antonio for Leonard. The odds are high the picks will be garbage. A number 8 and 18 ain't gonna produce Michael Jordan. Think about it go for something proven. That would basically true up the Jimmy Butler trade for the Bulls.
This lineup would be awesome:
Sam: It certainly would be, though the deal would cost the Bulls at least Dunn and probably LaVine as well as one of the picks. First, the Bulls are going to get a very good player with that first pick. Even if doesn't move into the top three. Maybe not immediately given these still are teenagers, and no one is sure how exactly the top 10 is going to break down. But all the speculation lately—the Bulls now have No. 6 with no changes—has a group from among Jaren Jackson, Michael Porter, Collin Sexton, Wendell Carter, Trea Young and Mo Bamba being available when the Bulls select. All those players look like they can bring something good to a team, and that's before the two Bridges, both of whom potentially fill a wing need for the team. The Bulls also have No. 22, and you never know who'll be there. Those generally are reserve rotation players, at best, with the occasional, but rare, breakout. Another starter from the draft and perhaps a free agent and that's a nice jump into next season with the development of Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen. Kawhi Leonard. Wow! We haven't seen this in San Antonio since the days of Coby Dietrick. Actually, he was OK; I just liked writing his name. Leonard basically was an MVP candidate. He not only has blown off the Spurs for almost an entire season, but now he refuses to even come to playoff games. That is shocking and unprecedented stuff. And that's with dysfunctional franchises. Whether he can play or not remains his issue; but he is medically cleared, at least, to watch. Did I write, Wow! Of course, I believe you were one of those condemning Derrick Rose for not playing soon enough in 2012-13 less 10 months after ACL surgery that LaVine sat out 11 and a half months with and no questions asked. Which still was less than some other players. So here's the deal with Leonard: The Spurs, as unlikely as it seems, could offer him the super max contract and he'd likely return. But hard to see them investing $250 million in him after all this. There's no way they get full value now with this defiant act. But one top 10 pick and two players working their way back to becoming NBA starters isn't close to full value for a top five player. Here's the rub: Do you cash in two starters (or even one), plus a top six pick for a player you are going to have to pay $200 million right away or else he can walk on you after next season? A player who won't even join his team for the playoffs? Who has not only Gregg Popovich, but Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker furious? Would you take that risk? Someone will. If Leonard is traded, you assume it's east. The 76ers have a top 10 pick and a Fultz to spare. Miami likes to take chances, but the don't seem to have much. Boston? Would they give up Jayson Tatum? They have a possible lottery pick next season. The Bulls historically have not been the big risk takers. And this would be a heck of a risk. But there's always a risk if a huge talent comes on the market. It doesn't happen often. He wouldn't be on the market if it were a safe chance. I assume the Bulls at least kick those tires, as it were.
Kawhi for Wall? Rare that two teams both want to trade all-star/superstar level talent. Might be able to get something of similar value to Kawhi.
Sam: And then another. You can see the Wizards finally ready to break things up if they lose to Toronto in the first round. There's obviously some disconnect there with Wall, but he is still a star player. Knee problems, though. My guess is the Spurs most want high picks to begin their course of action again. Two straight decades in the playoffs with Manu and Tony about done suggests it's time. But what a summer it could be: LeBron, Paul George, Chris Paul (Houston goes out early and who knows), Kawhi, Wall. And will Detroit move Drummond? What does Toronto do if they cannot get there now? After all, here come Boston and Philadelphia. The window likely will close for the Raptors after this season. Cousins? Anyone taking a chance? Enes Kanter can help a good team. The Knicks aren't. Melo? Oh, him. Almost forgot.
If we pick 1, 2 or 3, then I'm looking for a star. Sixth or later, I just want a good player who will eventually be a starter. With luck, you may find a future star (like Butler). Of course, you might find a Donovan Mitchell too, if you're smarter than the other GMs. But you can't count on that.
If Porter is still there, I'm glad it's not my call – big risk/reward scenario.
I'm conflicted about Trae Young. Scores lots of points, but shooting % is not so hot. Similar with passing – very nice 8.7 assists/game, but also 5.8 TO's. Seems like he's productive, but not very efficient. Watched some film; He has moves (like Steph, sort'a) and can shoot the ball, but he's also tiny. Really don't know how he'll end up.
Sam: And that is the conversation going on in the executive offices all over the lottery NBA these days; and they also really have no idea. It's their job to have an idea, which is why they do all those tests and ask them, If a plane is about to crash into the arena with four seconds left and they are trailing by one, shoot or save Benny? The problem with most drafts without LeBron is you have no idea who'll be a star, if anyone. Ayton, the consensus No. 1 from Arizona, seems the only one all the NBA guys pretty much think is the closest one to maybe he will be a star. In reading these many mock drafts—by experts who may or may not know—and talking with gms, I've heard many different 2s, 3s and 4s. Some like the Slovenian Doncic. Duke's Bagley was No. 2 all season, but some question the perimeter game and while he's not Okafor, Okafor did become prehistoric in about two seasons. Bamba, the skinny center with the way long arms, is in most top 5s, but I have my own doubts as he's really, really thin. Young was 2 or 3 a few months ago and now generally 5-10. He's the same guy with less makes later in the season. Really, that's how someone is judged? Porter is really, really interesting because coming into the college season he was probably No. 1 as the LeBron-est wing. Then back surgery. He came back and played against advice, so good for him as a competitor. But he played without explosion, so now bad for him. So even if he is considered healthy, after all, back surgery at 19. Of course, so did Scottie Pippen with disc surgery after his rookie year and it worked out. Sexton? But the Bulls have a point guard. Do you get into that and upset your best players all summer? I'm assuming Ayton, Bagley, Doncic top 3, or maybe Jackson. I see Porter with a chance to slide; same with Young, Sexton and Wendell Carter, ranked top 10 by most. Yet, I'm not sure Texas A&Ms Robert Carter isn't better than Carter. After all, as you note, none of those brilliant NBA executives thought Mitchell was a top 10 guy. Of course, neither did the mock drafts or the ESPN TV draft night guys. Until he was. The draft is the classic exercise where you are judged after the results are in. Good luck with that. Just because it's your job doesn't necessarily mean in this case you know better. If you really could predict human behavior so well, you'd be doing a lot more important things.
Just watched Rockets - Wolves Game 1. Wow. That kid is something else! No, not the bearded one. They were telling him to retire more than once this season. He has a bone spur in his ankle. LeBron kept Josè Calderon over him. They were mad at Thibs in Minnesota for signing him. He twisted his ankle again a couple weeks ago. Then come the playoffs and he's out there playing significant minutes, guarding the league MVP and getting buckets. Derrick Rose has dropped our jaws a lot, but this game is near the top of my list. With all the adversity that always seems to hit him, I really don't know how he keeps fighting through it. I see why Thibs is praising him now more than when he was MVP. Where would you rank this game among your top D-Rose moments?
Sam: I rank it with good for Rose; maybe he gets to still enjoy something of a career. I've long felt badly about the treatment Rose got here from some, so I root for him. Actually, I'm rooting for Niko, too. He was more the sympathetic figure; victim, actually. But he did all he could, which Derrick did. It always seemed to me Rose should have been the bitter one given the way his career trajectory so dramatically changed and he had to endure those years of rehabilitation to continue to play. That's not someone who didn't want to play or without a high threshold for pain. Try three years of rehabilitation from major surgeries to play in the NBA again. So I rank that on the decency meter of good for him.
The math of the three point shot is understood but yet there are times when that focus actually seems too boring to watch. Yes, Curry and a few others are extraordinary and their skills are acknowledged while positional rebounding slides. But, has the focus on the three point shot swung too far for the more typical team? There is a certain excitement about using the clock, searching for mismatches or the great pass for an easy two point score. It's fun to watch Lauri as he can be diversified in his attack. Working inside has value in creating space for the three. At some time if the percentage of made two point shots increases with an occasional foul kicker it should increase to equate or exceed the three point math. Hopefully there is an adjustment that will occur.
Sam: I assume you're also over 50. We all yearn often for the way things were. Even if memory can block out the complications and inequity. I also wince at the full court drives with the player about to shoot a layup who throws 25 feet away for a shot. Evolution is natural, and credible. And inevitable. The rules in the game have changed dramatically over the years and the smaller people should be grateful because, in part, it gives us the chance to believe we, too, can play in the NBA. The game's elders have basically enforced a game that is appealing in many respects, is higher scoring and—as was needed in the 1950s with the clock and physical play rules and in the 1980s and 1990s when the Knicks and Pistons were kept out of prison only because they had playing jobs—necessary given that the nature often has been to devolve into physical confrontation. I don't love the three-point flinging, and still have my doubts about the Rockets in a short series because as they showed in Game 1, sometimes the shots don't go in and when you keep shooting them you become less dominant. I've always been a believer in dealing with the situation as it is and adjusting to it. But there's been no change that success will come with ability, sure, as well as effort and commitment. The ones who try harder no matter the subtleties generally prevail. And on another topic, enough with all that switching on defense. Guard your guy!
There's this report that the Bucks are blaming Jabari and that he's jealous of the Greek Freak. Didn't they offer him $18 million?
Sam: Looks like lots of changes to come in Milwaukee if they are out in the first round, a series many had seen as an upset if the Celtics win because of all the Celtics injuries. I wouldn't be planning on Giannis leaving quite yet, and with their new arena and practice facility coming in, the Bucks should be one of the better jobs this summer. You assume interim Prunty is out with a first round defeat. Interims rarely get a good chance. Parker is a restricted free agent and guys almost always take the money on a first free agency. But a lot of uneasy stuff seems to be going on. Parker went off some to ESPN Thursday, also adding that the coach doesn't seem to like him. There have been rumors all season of a fissure there with he and the organization, though supposedly a lot was with Jason Kidd, who was fired. A report like you mentioned sounds like management putting some stink on a guy, perhaps to scare off other teams to make a better deal. But there are those two acls and Parker hasn't done much in the series. Though as he points out, he rarely plays. But he has looked healthy. Another interesting guy to watch this summer. Aren't these playoffs over yet so we can get to free agency?
So Wade's (Game 2) night is not a huge surprise to me, that's what they playoffs are about, but don't think we will see too much more from him. How about Rondo? Made for the playoffs? He had the Bulls up 2 games on Boston last year and now he's a big part of the Pelicans hot start, will be interesting to see if that continues, but good for him. I don't think I gave his game enough respect when he was on Boston but once I saw his effect on the Bulls I see why a team can grow with him there.
Sam: Rondo is actually the best player in the NBA in the playoffs, undefeated the last two years. Of course, it wasn't too long ago, like before last season, when he was lucky to even get the deal with the Bulls. He'd lost a lot of currency around the NBA with the Dallas dismissal thing and then even though getting a lot of assists in Sacramento, losing. It looked from the beginning he was going to be pretty good for the Bulls, though the mix wasn't very good with the three so called alphas (named by Rondo) anxious to hold onto the ball, which Rondo needs to do to be effective and help his team. We really didn't see Rondo's true effect until Wade got hurt and was out of the lineup (remember when Rondo was benched mid season). Then in the playoffs Rondo seemed almost to intimidate the players on his former Boston team. And with Brad Stevens, that's been a really tough team. So what if Rondo wasn't hurt? The Bulls beat the No. 1 seed and are on the way to the conference finals? One step from a championship? Maybe they'd have made a run, but Butler, Wade and Rondo had no long term future with the Bulls. But good for Rondo and good for Niko. Really good with Niko with 30 Thursday. Wow! Those Pelicans are a fun team, but if they get through I don't see them without any bench able to beat the Warriors even without Curry. Though if Curry doesn't play, hey, maybe it could be a little interesting. For those looking for free agent Anthony Davis, it's less likely he'd leave New Orleans with finally some success. Holiday and Rondo, best backcourt in the series? Looks like.
Playoff Rondo is undefeated in his last 5 playoff games. Do you think we would have made it to the conference finals last year if he didn't get hurt ?
Sam: Here's the obvious flaw in all that. Rondo could never be Rondo with Butler and Wade, both of whom like to control the ball. Wade wouldn't have taken the buyout if Butler wasn't traded. But also there was severe friction between Wade and Rondo. It was classic late in the season with Butler and Wade during those informal shooting sessions after practice by themselves and every other player on the team on the other end shooting with Rondo. Rondo probably did the Bulls a favor getting hurt last year. Certainly worked out for him.
You need a big shot and the 76ers Simmons is such a liability. Doesnt want to shoot. Simmons cant shoot the 3 like Dunn, but at least Dunn has a mid range J. Simmons has nothing. Cant attack all the time in the slower half court playoff game. Don't get me wrong. Simmons is amazing, i am just saying even Dunn who doesnt shoot 3s well at least has a decent midrange game. Simmons has neither.
Sam: I believe Simmons will be OK. His stroke is good; so I'm not sure what's the issue. He did beat the Bulls this season with two free throws at the end. The guy is amazing, I agree. Like with Magic, you wonder why guys won't pick him up sooner the way he can get inside, but he's so big and strong. I know the 76ers had a lot of weak opponents and several, as we know, trying to lose, but to go on that streak without Embiid was impressive. Simmons has established himself. He's going to be great. He's a tough guy who you can see doesn't take any crap. I agree Dunn has a good mid range game, and I wouldn't let him speak with anyone on the analytics staff. It ruins players to shoot shots they don't shoot well. We saw Derrick Rose try to force himself into being a three-point shooter and it didn't work. All this spacing stuff often is a tease. You penetrate; that draws the defense and opens the court. Penetrate for the layup; no layup, pitch out. Not wide open, swing, then swing for a better shot, a pattern that also requires Bulls improvement. Another pick and roll maybe, penetrate, swing, swing. There's time without all that dribbling. The Raptors got better at that and look at them. You'd hardly say they have extraordinary talent. LeBron never has been a reliable three-point shooter or a great threat from there, and he's done OK. Dunn needs to be a more aggressive guy who gets inside and is a strong threat to finish. He acknowledged he didn't do that well enough, and there's not much reason as strong as he is. The irony is Markkanen is the one who attacks the basket hardest of the three. I got that one wrong. Dunn still plays a loose game too often with too many turnovers on too risky passes. But he does have the skills to be really good. Could be a great defender and that would make the Bulls a much better offensive team. Transition makes finishing strong a lot easier. You hope Dunn will eventually have the impact on the game that Simmons does. There's a chance, which is the encouraging part.
I haven't counted, but there sure to seem to be a lot of ex Bull players in the playoffs. Mirotic, Belinelli, Crawford, Wade, Butler, Gibson, Rose, Rondo, Gasol, Johnson, just to name a few that come to mind.
Sam: Just enough for an eighth place team. No Tony Snell? OK, still eighth. Mike Royko, the great columnist, used to do this annual column at World Series time predicting which team would lose based on the ex-Cub factor. The more ex-Cubs, the better chance that team would lose. Royko never would believe what the Cubs have become. If we were looking at it as an ex-Bulls factor, the Timberwolves would be in trouble with five, including Aaron Brooks. The Pelicans have three with E'Twaun Moore, but they're doing pretty well. The favorites for the title are the Warriors, Rockets and Raptors, all without a former Bull. Just means the Bulls are keeping the good ones?
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.