Ask Sam Mailbag: 04.27.18

Sam opens his mailbag and answers readers' questions

How about a top 10 of what happened in the 1st round. Start off with Derrick Rose outplaying Towns, Blazers imploding 

Mike Sutera

Sam: Rose isn't No. 1, but you could make the case he was the most productive Minnesota player in the series. He averaged 14.2 points in 24 minutes and was the team's best perimeter shooter at 50 percent, had a better plus/minus than any of the starters. Taj was the only other Minnesota players to shoot above 50 percent. Jimmy and Wiggins led at 15.8 points and Towns at 15.2, though all averaged more than 32 minutes. So that was a pleasant shock for many of us. It's been a great first round. I generally love the first round because there are doubleheaders (or more) basically every day for two weeks. With games that matter a lot. That's where your letter teams have catching up to do. Players don't experience those kinds of games. You'll notice the 76ers now have almost no one from the teams that accumulated all those losses. Last year pretty much until the Bulls gagged it up without Rondo the first round was a bore with fairly predictable results. Not so this season and not just because of the Pelicans surprising sweep. Though not that surprising. That every single ESPN predictor had the Trailblazers was the surprise given the Pelicans had by far the best player in the series.

My highlight from that series were Davis showing how much the Pelicans need to forget about resigning DeMarcus Cousins because now we got to see Davis with some help (Rondo and Mirotic and an improved E'Twaun Moore) and without deferring too much to the moody, selfish, non defense playing Cousins. Mirotic also was a first round highlight with big plays and showing he can be a legitimate third option on a top team. Good for him. The 76ers are in my top 10 not just for winning the series relatively easily, but showing they could get to the Finals. They're the best team in the East thus far. LeBron has been a highlight—or perhaps lowlight—for how much he has to do to keep his team just competitive. It's hard to see them beating the Raptors (I'm assuming they beat Washington) and then the 76ers, who should run over Boston or Milwaukee. The Thunder is noteworthy for winning a game with just two players scoring in double figures. They have far more talent (we think) than the Jazz, who play better, smarter and harder. It's difficult to imagine a scenario in which Paul George stays or to not understand why Kevin Durant left. The Rockets despite winning in five look awfully vulnerable. Though Harden and Paul have had some moments, they've both come up short too often in the playoffs again and with some aggressive opponent defense, which Minnesota doesn't play, they are not on the level of the Warriors. I'll accept Kawhi Leonard is injured, but I'm pretty sure he's cleared to sit on the bench. It's difficult to see the Spurs as a playoff team next season. The Raptors are teetering between relying too much on Lowry and DeRozan again and forgetting about Valanciunas, which they didn't do the last game. But there are alarming signs the way they've played and then there is that Boston-Milwaukee Game 7 Saturday, which is good, between teams which aren't very good. Good for the 76ers. And perhaps the Bulls. What, you can't beat these Wizards, Bucks, Heat? Or be close? The playoffs should at least be within reach again in the East.

Would Bulls management consider taking a huge risk by drafting a player who's coming off back surgery that hardly played regardless the huge upside?  I see some mock drafts having Bulls selecting Michael Porter Jr. at #6 if he's available but I just can't see this happening as history has shown that Bulls rarely take players that was hurt before the draft. Last time they took a risk on taking a player with a huge upside they ended up getting burned with Tyrus Thomas who's a total bust and out of the NBA.

Tom Choi

Sam: Well, Tyrus wasn't hurt. I agree the Bulls appear to have been scarred by the Thomas pick. They didn't have top 10 picks basically making the playoffs every year, but they did mostly make safe picks, skilled guys and not many athletes with McDermott, Portis, Valentine, Teague, Snell. They made some great picks, like Jimmy, who is athletic, but not a great athlete; similarly with Noah. But I think that's over. I think they realize they have an athlete gap, and making LaVine a big part of the Butler deal suggests that. Especially with Dunn, also. I believe they would select Porter despite the surgery and coming back less than brilliant, though he did try, which is a positive. I just don't think he'll be there at six. Of course, the Bulls could move up to the top three in the lottery. I assume like everyone else they'd take Ayton first. Probably Jackson or Bagley afterward. I'm not sure how they feel about Doncic. He's not a big time athlete, but he could be an ideal wing, their greatest need, with his multiple skills. I assume they'd take him. Ahead of Jackson or Bagley? Not sure. I think Porter would go fifth. I've heard talk Orlando needs a point guard trading Elfrid Payton, though you'd say they needed one when he played. But Jeff Weltman and John Hammond from Milwaukee run the Magic now, and they were the ones who took the reach for Giannis. They're too far way for need to matter. Then what would the Bulls do at 6 or 7? The top players after that group are supposed to be centers Bamba, Wendell Carter and Robert Williams, guards Trea Young and Collin Sexton and the two Bridges. The Villanova Bridges is supposed to be slightly better. He fills that wing need, though doesn't look like much of a playmaker who can put the ball on the floor and create his shot. Take a chance with Young, who was Steph Curry in December? But not an athlete. A center as Lopez isn't long term? I'm guessing for now a Bridges. But like those football mock drafts that change every week even though nothing has happened, there's plenty of time for more changes.

Have you written your spring article on which draft picks could be right for the Bulls in June?? I'm still thinking about the NFL Draft... so I haven't gotten to the NBA.

It's amazing how so many players are top picks then don't realize their projections (Jay Williams, Michael Beasely.... How's Fultz doing this year? I agree evaluation is tough. That vision is what separates some of the brilliant GMs who are visionaries from the pretty good..... and then of course you have your incompetent GMs too.

Who knew Steph Curry would be as good as he became? I think visits and watching players in person can be very helpful -   Knowing who they are as people can be as insightful as studying who they are as players on the court.

LongGiang Le

Sam: I'm not a football person, but I thought the draft for the Bears was interesting as it relates to the Bulls. Stay with me. There was so much talk about quarterbacks, so I actually started paying attention. The, let's say, iconoclastic Oklahoma kid who was No. 1, is he another Johnny Manziel since he's not too tall? Drew Brees? They can only hope. Not many six footers become the great quarterbacks. The one who looked the best to me—again, I rarely watch college football—was the UCLA guy who went to Phoenix. He looks better than the Bears quarterback, who does seem pretty good. But that UCLA guy looks like Dan Marino or Troy Aikman. But the Bears committed to their guy. You don't bring in a guy at the same position with a top 10 draft pick after you invested so much in a guy. I get it. So does that mean the Bulls pass on a potentially great point guard, shooting guard, power forward? That's the really interesting part of the draft. Also, I agree, judging teenagers is difficult. Getting rid of one and done makes it worse. The Bulls found that out in the 2001 draft with Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler. And so did Michael Jordan drafting Kwame Brown No. 1. You just can't tell when they are 18. The NBA needs to enforce an NFL-like situation in which players aren't eligible to play in the NBA until at least two years after high school. Playing pro ball is not in the Bill of Rights. Every private business has the right to protect itself. It's why accounting requires you pass the CPA exam, law that you pass the bar exam. Kids can make money: Go overseas, play in the G-league. There are opportunities. They just don't belong in the NBA. And they should not be eligible for the draft until after at least two years after high school. The NBA doesn't want you, high school grad! Jay Williams was hurt. Stupidly, sure, violating his contract, which, by the way, the Bulls fulfilled even though they didn't have to. Fultz was hurt, too. He still could be really good. Beasley got kicked out of rookie orientation for having drugs with him and naked women in his room. That may have been a tip off. As for the visits, I'm not in favor. Don't get to know them too much. Judge them for the way they play, not what they say.

Fun watching the old Bulls and DRose is doing fine. What is Kevin Harlan's preoccupation with calling him Reggie? Good on him (and Thibs) for playing well.

Greg Young

Sam: Happy ending? Maybe it's not an ending. I know there were all sorts of mixed feelings about Rose, and even about Thibodeau. Rose just wants to, as he often says, “ball,” and good for Thibs for giving Rose a chance when few would and for both for Rose showing not only that he still has some stuff, but helping the team. Though maybe I shouldn't note it—after all LeBron never comes out of games and continues to improve—but Rose looked like the only one on that team with fresh legs. I loved that Minnesota team for who they had. But I have to admit that watching the Timberwolves in this era can be somewhat painful with all the play calls and isolation. I think it's going to be a truly intriguing summer there, and the ultimate issue for when a coach gets full control. It's the conflict they cannot avoid. Yes, there's some sense to being able to select your own team because of the way you want to coach. But you also then have to deal with them within the constraints of a salary cap. Coaches generally have no idea how the cap works, generally don't care and went into coaching because they couldn't pass algebra or economics. If ownership and management won't pay their guys, it's management's fault. OK, now it's on Thibs. Butler is eligible for a maximum extension and so is Karl-Anthony Towns. Wiggins already got one. Is Thibs going to come up with two more max extensions for a team that was out in five in the first round? It's one thing when the Bulls were making some playoff runs with one guy, Rose, with a max deal. But three? In that market? Which isn't exactly that big. And then how are you augmenting a bench that's somewhat weak? Not that Thibs uses it much. Actually, he did some this playoffs with Rose and Jamal Crawford. The Timberwolves have some promise, through Butler again with some knee issues may suggest he's not as invincible as he often has seemed. Is it a crucible summer for the Timberwolves? Not because of how far their talent can go since with Towns and Wiggins, there are very big possibilities. But will they make the commitment to three players with those sort of max contracts? It's one thing, like the Warriors, when you have titles. Its another to explain to the owner when you still don't have a first round playoff success.

Joakim Noah shooting the ball.

I could totally see Luol Deng and Joakim Noah joint the t-bulls next year.

Ryan Carpel

Sam: Obviously, the Timberwolves—or anyone else—is taking on their $18 million annual deals. But with both basically having spent last season in exile in their red shirt seasons, it's likely that there finally will be buyouts this summer. Like Rose, I believe both have some left and can help a team coming off the bench. They've certainly had time to rest their legs. That's two more interesting players, if not game changers, who can help some team.

Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls drives against Taurean Prince #12 of the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on March 11, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.

I think if the Bulls resign Lavine it should be as a Sixth man having Holliday as the starter until the trade deadline.  The signing should one be no more than $54 million which is higher than Butlers offer a few years ago because of contracts going up but lower than recent deals because Lavine is still an unproven talent.  Look at Wiggens hurting the Wolves in that massive deal.  Lavine is not a defensive player and takes too many shots away from other offensive players potentially stunting growth from others.  That is why I want him to be the sixth man plus it may help develop some ability to maybe get us a lower  1st round pick say 25 for Holliday at the trade deadline.  I see the Bulls dealing him and Lopez for 2nd rounder's or in a package for late 1st round pick.  Now if Lavine becomes too expensive I just say let him go he is not worth it.  Chicago's rebuild my need a 2nd straight year of lottery picking which for me to say hurts.  I think this years unexpected 7 games win streak push our expectations.  That doesn't mean over pay Lavine.  This team needs the ability to push for a playoff appearance in 19 yet flexibility in cap room is also important.

Kevin Franzen

Sam: Ouch. He's better than you suggest, but it's also a good wakeup call for him. The community still wants you to show it. Yes, I understand the pressure a salary mistake can make on a team. But with the Jimmy example, the Bulls problem was they went too low at first and then had to pay way more. So I suspect with LaVine about to be pretty healthy, I believe they will offer him a healthy contract. Max? Probably not because, well, he hasn't been healthy. Or great. And no one else will. Also, he'll have a chance, like Jimmy, to bet on himself. Though I'm not sure why you would coming off an ACL with a chance to guarantee lifetime money and be still young enough to be under 30 and a free agent again. So I expect something gets worked out. No, LaVine's not going to the bench; no, Holiday is not better. Hardly anyone in the NBA is a great defensive player. It's want to and I'm confident LaVine will want to and be fine. I thought the coaches did a good job this season with defensive accountability. LaVine will hear to of he's not on board. He's a high level athletic talent, and the Bulls need more of those guys on the court longer; not fewer. LaVine's not a star yet, but he could be. He was on the way to averaging 20 for Minnesota and having 35 and 40-point games. Probably the best individual games for the Bulls last season were Markkanen in New York and LaVine against the Timberwolves. I agree the Bulls will push for a playoff appearance in 2019, and that's only going to occur relying a lot on Zach LaVine.

Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors drives on Jrue Holiday #11 of the New Orleans Pelicans at ORACLE Arena on March 14, 2016 in Oakland, California.

Why are the Pelicans playing the Warriors? Lowest seed plays highest seed in each round. So assuming Rockets win vs Wolves, it's 1 Rockets vs 6 Pelicans and 2 Warriors vs 4 Thunder or 5 Jazz. What am I missing here?

Tudor Stanescu

Sam: We regular observers do take things for granted sometimes. The NBA does not reseed after each round, though many have suggested it. The NBA playoffs are a bracket like the NCAA tournament in which in the NBA it is 1 vs 8 and 4 vs 5 in one bracket and 2 vs 7 and 3 vs 6 in the other. The theory—which doesn't match for this season with so much parity—is the 1 seed should get the benefit by playing the weakest team first (though we heard regularly because of injury the Wizards and Timberwolves were not typical 8 seeds). Then the next two teams, theoretically 2 and 3, square off for the right to play 1, which presumably has the easer path playing 8 and the 4-5 winner. Toronto if they survive getting LeBron next goes against the theory. There's been much discussion about a 1-16 playoffs, though I am against that not only for tradition—and I can sing from Fiddler on the Roof, if needed—but if you can't get into the top eight, too bad. That's not a high bar. Sorry Denver. Plus, Washington with a poorer record is as good or probably better than the Nuggets. I assume the NBA keeps the system. It's certainly working well this season.

Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards drives to the basket against C.J. McCollum #3 of the Portland Trail Blazers during the game on January 16, 2017 at Verizon Center in Washington, DC.

Solve everyone's problems:  CJ McCoullom For Bradley Beal A long offseason for OKC?

Bob Ding

Sam: Of course, that still leaves the Trailblazers guard heavy. I know getting swept like that is tough, but that seemed more like a management loss. Don't blame the coach and players. The owner, who is one of the richest people in the world, again cut payroll to limit luxury tax penalties, like the moves with the Nets and the Bulls. And the GM made some incredibly poor high priced signings a few years back with the salary cap spike. Terry Stotts, Lillard and McCollum bailed out all their mistakes time and again. But if the Wizards don't make it through, yes Beal could be a victim in what could be this amazing summer of star address changes. The Spurs supposedly long have had interest in Beal. Manu may retire. Green has faded. Kawhi and John Wall could be pretty interesting. Again, another huge game for a team's future. If the Thunder cannot get through this series, can they hang onto George? Will Melo ask for a buyout? Is it the end for the coach? This first round gets better and better.

 Antonio Blakeney #9 of the Chicago Bulls dunks over Darrell Arthur #00 of the Denver Nuggets at the United Center on March 21, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.

The Pax comments and others focus on the off season goals for Lauri, Dunn and Levine.  Could you please dissect and comment on your views of the areas of needed improvement for another trio of Nwaba, Blakeney and Payne?  Is it reasonable to think that Nwaba and Payne could develop offensively and Payne and Blakeney could be average or better defensively?  Of the group which has a ceiling higher than what we observed this past season?  What are their constraints?


John Petersen

Sam: Now you're really asking me to work. They all seem like end of the roster/rotation guys. I think Blakeney has the highest ceiling, though may never get close, and Payne could prove the most useful. They're all great stories for the way they've come from rejection with Payne's brutal treatment when he came to Chicago, it not being his fault he was traded for one of the most popular Bulls and then was hurt. Nwaba had to write his own application to the NBA and basically pay to get into the G-league. Blakeney also was undrafted with an amazing ability to score. Blakeney has the sort of athletic ability on the break hardly anyone with the Bulls has. But he's often so anxious to please and perform with limited minutes he never can find the right gear. Can Nwaba develop a reliable shot? Probably not. He can get better, he's tough, plays hard and is a great teammate. You like guys like that on your team. But assuming you have stars. Which is why there's so much talk about Dunn, Markkanen and LaVine. If one or two cannot become stars, the Bulls need upgrades at the bottom of the roster. You can be a high level competitor without a transcendent star. See the Toronto Raptors. Teams have won championships with very good talent, like the Pistons and Mavericks of the 2000s. But when you have a team like that, you need to be deep with talent. Those three have not reached their ceilings. If someone can break through, it's perhaps Blakeney.

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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