Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder shoots the ball against the Utah Jazz in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2018 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Ask Sam Mailbag: 05.04.18

Sam opens his mailbag and answers readers' questions

It's May and the playoffs so far are pretty interesting. I'll admit to you that I am not a fan of what is happening in the NBA in terms of fans and player interaction. What is your thought on the Westbrook confrontation from yesterday? Another question which I have for you is what are your thoughts on the fights taking place during the playoffs. ...it seems like every game I turn on ...fight. Is it just me or is this year's playoff campaign more brutal than any other? 

Tom Plonowski

Sam: Just quickly, there have been no fights in the playoffs, nor particularly physical play. Look at some clips from the Bulls/Pistons of the 80s. And then check out the 60s in the NBA. One of the nicknames for pro basketball players has been cagers, the reason being the players once played in cages because the game was so rough the viewers were in danger. And then I went outside and marched with the women seeking to change the Constitution for the right to vote. Ah, but I digress. As for Westbrook, and not so much for the interactions, but this summer may be the Thunder's last chance to save the franchise by trading Westbrook. Westbrook certainly should have been at least fined for that interaction with the fan, who from all the reports wasn't saying anything particularly offensive. Though I will agree with Westbrook that players hear some of the most vile stuff in Salt Lake City. I'm not exactly sure why given the makeup of the city, but it's always been a place for some of the ugliest signs and shouts. Sort of like Philadelphia West. The irony, of course, is Westbrook is one of the most vile characters in the NBA when it comes to media/fan communication. The NBA is a wonderful community when it comes to personal relations. Like in any society, there are exceptions, and one is Westbrook, sort of this era's Rasheed Wallace. Some players don't understand the great majority of reporters are not there to be friends; just to pass on their words to their fans. Sure, there'll be the occasional criticism, but rarely ever regarding anything but their play. Especially in Oklahoma City, where they once even had to apologize to Kevin Durant for hurting his feelings with a newspaper headline about his play. Yes, Westbrook continues to act miserably to everyone, which gets to why the Thunder have to trade him now. Not because of his media attitude and not because they lost in the first round. More just the value that Westbrook has now as he'll turn 30 in November with, remember, three last knee surgeries, and the way he's thrilled but also devastated the franchise with his unique play. Let's get out of the way he's a great player who plays with a fury rarely seen in sports. Blame all the coaches you want, but it will be clear as Paul George soon makes his exit and likely Carmelo Anthony with a buyout afterward that you could put together a championship team just with the players Westbrook has chased out of Oklahoma City with his blinders sort of play.

I don't believe he's a bad person at all; just completely unaware of anyone else with his play. Remember, when the Thunder went to the Finals it was with James Harden mostly playing point guard and Westbrook off the ball, which he hated. The story was ownership didn't want to pay Harden, but I've always believed he also wanted to get away from Westbrook. It became obvious with Durant, though he seemed to really tried to stay; now likely it's George. And look at Victor Oladipo freed from Westbrook's influence. Westbrook still has a lot value; I'm sure. The Lakers if they cannot get LeBron? They're might make a bid for Kawhi Leonard, but George figures to go there. But mores there are probably enough desperate teams who've missed the playoffs for so long they'll take a chance on a star like Westbrook with a package of players that could give the Thunder a quick reset. The Suns with the No. 1 overall pick? They've got enough kids to add some. The Magic, riding a disastrous last five years also with plenty of draft picks on the roster? The Kings also with lottery picks and young players. Billy Donovan can coach. Just not Westbrook. Westbrook night not listen to any coach. Not that he refuses to—I'm giving him the benefit here—but he may be incapable the way he sees the game and plays. The Thunder could almost rebuild on the fly. After all, with Westbrook doing historic things they couldn't win 50 games or a playoff series. And now likely will lose their second best player. How about Westbrook with Devin Booker? Maybe the draft pick and Josh Jackson? The Kings' pick and De'Aaron Fox? The Mavs pick and Dennis Smith? Give Dirk one more chance to be in the playoffs? The Bulls pick and….Wait, I'm not sure I'd want that guy. Though he is a lot of fun to watch. Tough call.


Victor Oladipo #4 of the Indiana Pacers goes to the basket against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Seven of Round One of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 29, 2018 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio

The column on the history of #6 picks. It injects a dose of reality into our collective fantasies about the forthcoming draft. On the other hand, for those of us who need to cling to hope, it's fun to look at the players who got drafted after #6, too. Especially in some of the more recent drafts, it's interesting how many of the outstanding players came later in the process.

One of the most dramatic examples of that was the 2013 draft. #1 (Anthony Bennett) washed out, #2 (Victor Olidipo) has just emerged as a star, #3 (Otto Porter) has been a solid starter for several years. After that,the biggest stars in the draft came at #10 (CJ McCollum), #15 (Giannis Antetokounmpo), and #27 (Rudy Gobert).

The other thing is, these guys are so young, it takes three or four years to figure out who's got it and who doesn't.  A lot of the stalwarts from the 2014 draft are just starting to play now (Embiid, Wiggins, Parker) and some are still learning the game (Exum, Gordon, Vonleh and many others). Looking at that year, in particular, makes you realize that today, it's not only drafting the right people, but it's also having the coaching and support program to grow them.

The kick in the head is, some of these guys don't start to blossom until the end of their rookie contracts, at which time owners have to pay through the nose for everything they did to develop the player. I bet that causes some head-shaking in the league's board rooms!

Kirk Landers

Sam: Which always confused me about why fans continue to support this idea of players being able to come straight to the NBA or the one and done. It's terrible for the NBA. I understand why colleges may want to opt out of it, as the recent Rice report suggests. But teams and their fans are the losers with drafting kids so young. Sure, some make it, but the majority take three or four years, at which time you have to pay them big money when most haven't produced much, and certainly not gotten your team anywhere. Because it's a younger NBA with so many of these kids, many can have an impact sooner, like Tatum in Boston. But how good would these kids be after two or three years in college? And more fun to watch after having followed them in college. Then your team has them on a multiple year rookie contract. It was the positive with that Philadelphia Deception. They stashed away players—injured or overseas—for a few years, thus giving them a chance to grow, often without running that rookie pay clock. The team just had to take the hit of the paying customers leaving for four years. They did get lucky with Embiid recovering from serious injuries. Some don't. If Greg Oden did, Portland would not be where they have been. But also that list is instructive because no top 10 pick in this draft is any guarantee, but more so because they are so young. Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler made a lot of on-paper sense. They looked like Shaq and Garnett. But you never know with teenagers. They became Mel Turpin and Brad Sellers, at least when they were with the Bulls until Chandler averaged a double/double in his sixth season when was 25. The Bulls didn't have time to wait, and he wasn't Buck Williams until then.


As you showed, it's really a mixed bag at #6.  Bird doesn't count - would have gone higher if he hadn't stayed in school another year. But it's not because the talent is all gone by #6 – not even close. When you look at all of the exceptional players who were passed up at #6, it simply proves what we've been saying all along – good scouting is more important than getting one spot higher on the board.

Of course, luck is a factor too.  Even the best scouts can't always tell which teenage boys will grow into NBA players.

A few stray comments on past drafts…

How did Rod Thorn not know that MJ would be special? OK, nobody knew he'd be the GOAT.  But Kevin L. was jumping for joy, and I heard a lot of buzz on MJ long before the draft.

Not sure I'd have taken Curry and Chandler, but can't fault Krause for picking Curry.  He could have been a very good player – a little smaller than

Shaq, but also more athletic. A healthy heart and a few more grey cells, and Curry would have been a big star.

Scott May was a huge mistake.  I met him on Pratt beach (a few blocks north of Loyola) the summer before his rookie year.  He was playing pick-up with some Loyola guys on a cement court by the beach.  Very nice guy!  But I noticed when he walked away that there was something wrong with his hips.  He sort of waddled like a dog with hip dysplasia  Not a good sign.  

Art Alenik

Sam: Too bad Jonathan Kovler didn't check with you. But always good to hear from anyone who witnessed the Scott May era. Rod Thorn did know Jordan would be really good—we all saw that Olympics and the Spain coach saying how everyone come down and he stay up—but Rod had pretty much been picking high scoring guards who scored more than Jordan, like Reggie Theus, Quintin Dailey, Ronnie Lester, and they were either failing or with Theus shooting and losing. So Rod was being cautious. Eddy had that heart episode at the end of the 2004-05 season when the Bulls were flying down the stretch as one of the league's hottest teams with nine straight wins. Curry at just 22 was breaking out and the Bulls seemed certain to give him a huge extension. Then came the heart episode and the ensuing controversy when the Bulls wanted Eddy to take tests. Eddy didn't want to; he was worried about privacy invasion, the Bulls about Reggie Lewis. Eventually Curry went to the Knicks and had one dominant season before Mike D'Antoni showed up with his perimeter game and Eddy endured unspeakable personal tragedies and continued a habit of questionable spending and associations. He was an amazing athlete for a man that size; just a victim of a lifestyle a teenager cannot always handle in the NBA. It's also a warning to the coming end of one and done. Some kids will be done too quickly. Ah, the memories.


Carmelo Anthony #7 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives past Derrick Favors #15 of the Utah Jazz due to the block by Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first half during Game Six of Round One of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Vivint Smart Home Arena on April 27, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Instead of asking "Will Carmelo be voted into the Hall of Fame?" I'll ask the same sentiment a different way: has there been another perennial All-Star player in the past thirty years (my timeframe) who has engaged in as many "I'm not about winning, I'm about me" moments as Melo? Getting himself out of a winning situation in Denver to go to a worse situation, signing contracts that left his teams with little room for signing good players, not getting along with players who take his spotlight, and now "I'm not coming off the bench" in OKC when he's barely a replacement level player now. Maybe Melo is actually par for the course, so would love to hear your ranking of him in the "Me-First" All-Stars.

Alejandro Yegros

Sam: I wonder if the Bulls knew and would have signed him that summer he reupped with the Knicks. Phil Jackson knew when he said that summer the Knicks would be good with 'Melo or without 'Melo. Jackson translation: Please leave. But Anthony fooled James Dolan twice, first when he demanded that midseason trade to the Knicks that then GM Donnie Walsh opposed because they could get him as a free agent that summer without stripping their roster, and then when Dolan forced Phil into the Anthony no trade that eventually sunk Jackson. Phil also wasn't wrong to ask about Porzingis. No, you didn't know he'd be seriously hurt, but he always was fragile and it was a better guess with him than many. All-Melo? I'd say Tracy McGrady belongs. Long time first round and out expert. There's a fine line on that stuff since you have to be somewhat selfish when you are a star; you have to shoot the ball a lot, which takes away from others. It's that make people better debate. Sometimes you make others better by shooting a lot. But you better be really good at it, like Michael Jordan. Very few great scorers didn't look for theirs first other than the rare exceptions like LeBron, Bird, Tim Duncan. Was Kareem me first? He shot a lot. But you wanted him to. So there's varying degrees of this discussion. And McGrady is going into the Hall of Fame this year. Anthony will, as well. Iverson had to be on the list, but Larry Brown understood and built a great team around that individual play. Elvin Hayes was in that group, but finally succeeded to the surprise of many by being paired with one of the more unselfish ever in Wes Unseld. Paul Pierce was one of those guys until Garnett showed up. Stephon Marbury was one of my favorites for that when he famously demanded a trade because teammate Garnett got a bigger raise and now might get more shots. Then Marbury wrote “all alone” on his sneakers in New Jersey. Which worked better in China with the language differences.


I see Jamal Crawford opting out. We all knew he was miserable.

Bob Ding

Sam: It does seem it wasn't what Jamal was expecting. I saw that Jimmy Butler said they had to retain Crawford, but I don't see how with them well into the luxury tax already as Wiggins' contract starting at $25 million through $33 million in 2023 kicks in next season. The interesting one is Jimmy Butler, who has an opt out to become a free agent after next season. Can they afford to give him a big extension? And this is with Towns making $8 million next season eligible for an extension. That's a team looking at a tens of millions of dollars in luxury tax penalties in coming years. Talk about being North (of profitability?) Yes, Jamal is 38, but he has rest for his legs from this season. Does he make sense for the Bulls? He's a reserve who really still can shoot and seems in good shape. He's not likely asking for much if he actually does opt out. It's just rumor for now. He's considered one of the better teammates and a class team guy and in the community. And an original Bulls draft pick. I'd be interested. Of course, I don't have a team, which does pose a problem.


Do you think the Bulls have any shot at Kawhi Leonard?  If the Bulls get a top three pick, would you trade both first round picks and maybe someone like Robin Lopez for Kawhi?

Steve Schnakenberg

Sam: I loved your spelling so much I left it; Actually, I don't edit readers' questions. I have enough to do with my answers. This will likely remain a weekly question until into July. For most teams. I generally answer these the same way. Everyone likely has interest in Leonard. But here's the rub: He just sat out basically an entire season with injury, declined to even join his team in the playoffs, appeared to be criticized by two of the better teammate guys, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, and because he can opt out after next season would require you give him a $200 million long term contract before you even see him play again. It probably would take more than you suggest, more like both picks and Dunn or LaVine. Would you take that chance?


Here's my projected 2018-19

  • Dunn / Grant / Payne
  • EVANS  / Holiday / Nwaba
  • PARKER / Valentine / Zipser
  • Markannen / Portis
  • JORDAN / Asik / Felicio

This squad would look pretty good if we can get a top free agent. Assuming we resign Nwaba and trade Lopez for future picks. Could we score Deandre Jordan and Jabari Parker? If we grabbed Tyreke Evans as well we'd be top 4 in the East just like that!!

Matthew Mikulice

Sam: What, not LeBron and Paul George, too? I don't even know whether the Bulls will be active in free agency this summer as many have pointed to the summer of 2019—the Bulls seemed to imply that last summer when they traded Jimmy Butler—as the time to pounce in free agency with their young roster. Remember, LaVine and Dunn still haven't played full seasons for the Bulls and are in various stages of recovery and development; Markkanen, as well. There hasn't been much market for Lopez given the lessening of importance of a mid range shooting center. It's unlikely with few teams having salary cap room that they'll spend it on the 30-year-old center. So by my calculations, and even if the Bulls were able to trade Lopez for a draft pick—again, which is highly doubtful—if the Bulls entered free agency this summer they'd basically have room for one of those guys. And, remember, Parker is coming off two ACLs. Jordan will be 30 this summer and can't make a free throw, yet a shot, and Evans going on 29 has averaged 39 games a season the last three years because of injuries. I wonder whether a young Bulls team would be interested in any of the three.


Hey, just wondering why bulls chose to keep Portis over Mirotic? Currently it seems like he is better, had a great series. Was Markennan a factor?

Darren Rowe

Sam: Hey, none of your business. Oh, wait, that's not how this works There were a lot of factors, which did include Markkanen. He's clearly their starting power forward. Mirotic made it clear he was likely to leave as a free agent if he didn't have a chance to start. Was it worth the risk of losing a guy for nothing? If he were a lot, lot better than Portis, maybe you take the chance. But Portis really has embraced the reserve role, which also costs you less money, thus putting you in better position to add other players in free agency. I think Mirotic has potentially a higher ceiling, though I don't see him as an All-Star. Portis is not as athletic and not as quick, but has improved his shot dramatically to, I believe, close in on Mirotic's skill level. There was the fight and Mirotic and Portis being somewhat uncomfortable. Oddly, not on the court. That darned Mirotic maybe cost the Bulls a top three pick with that seven-game winning streak. But even without that clash, Mirotic's contract negotiations last summer went about as well. So he took a short term deal and made it pretty clear he wasn't committed long term. I think he's very good, but was he good enough that you'd probably have to move Portis to accommodate Mirotic (after all, there wasn't playing room for all three at power forward), and then pay Mirotic much more money and then wonder how well he'd commit to a bench role after saying he didn't see himself coming off the bench, and not have him looking to leave? Would he be one of your featured two or three players? He saw himself that way. Plus, with Portis having less value there was no way you were getting a first round pick for him. I like Mirotic, but certainly understand why the deal was made and probably, though reluctantly, would have done the same thing even as I liked Mirotic more than most. He wasn't going to be part of a Bulls Big Three.


Serge Ibaka #9 of the Toronto Raptors and Marcin Gortat #13 of the Washington Wizards jump for the rebound in Game Four of Round One of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 22, 2018 at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC.

Lopez is so valuable to us. If you want an example of why just look at the Wizards with Gortat. You don't think they would love some vet leadership from a guy like Robin? Gortat from what i can see is a terrible teammate who is always so quick to throw guys under the bus. 

Mike Queenswurst

Sam: Is this John Wall again? What an amazing summer, as I often say, with so many stars potentially available or changing teams. No one wants Gortat, but someone would want Wall or Beal. And if Toronto loses to the Cavs, their window is closed. Hello, Canada's Andrew Wiggins. Coming home? The Raptors seemed in that excruciating game one loss to tighten up and revert to that isolation play again, limiting the bench, not attacking a tired Cavs team. With Boston hurt, Philadelphia inexperienced and the Cavs shorthanded, the window was wide open for the Raptors to get to the Finals. Not next year with Kyrie and Hayward back, the 76ers maybe even with LeBron, for even not. So maybe Toronto after three or four misses begins to retool, also. And now down 2-0 and playing with seeming disinterest or nerves going to Cleveland, looks like I also got that one wrong. Did pretty well in the first round picking New Orleans; not so good now picking the Raptors and the 76ers to run out the Celtics. Oh, right Lopez. I believe the Bulls see that same thing despite the occasional fan demands for a trade. Lopez just turned 30 and if the Bulls don't end up moving up in the lottery and able to grab a top big man, I can see them wanting to not only keep Lopez but bring him back after his contract expires following next season. I'm not big on that great locker room guy thing. I feel I would be, too, but I can't play. Lopez competes, can make a mid range shot (they also count) and is reliable. You can do much worse.


The 3 has ruined the game? Yeesh. Just look at OKC. 3 3 3 3. So boring and just not smart basketball 

Mike Sutera

Sam: We all have to evolve, though there are fewer lob dunks than threes and fans seem to enjoy them more. Why not give four points for that instead of just for making a longer shot? But it has opened up the game for smaller people, which I have long been for. More so 50 years ago, but, oh well. I know I coulda been Steph. Like anything that becomes successful, it gets copied. The problem is many who are not so skilled at it embrace the idea, it becomes advocated by the mathematicians and then takes away from the variety of the game. It's shocking to so many of us to repeatedly see players with potential dunks—even big guys now-eschew that for a corner three attempt. That's all the coaches must talk about, so there has been negative aspects. It's also why I believe the Warriors will win again and the Rockets really aren't that great a threat. And not because of the Game 2 loss. Once you make those threes tougher with better defense in the playoffs, you become too one dimensional. The Warriors, true, don't go inside to a post big man. But their movement routinely has them going to the basket and into the paint. Houston relies way too much on all those jumpers, and there's just too many games they won't be falling. A team like the Warriors has a better chance of overcoming a bad shooting game. It's why when the Celtics get healthy they'll be a more serious challenger to the Warriors. Though, geez, how many guys do they need to lose before really being in trouble?


Somebody must tell Lavine that attaching something heavy to his back using a belt and pulling like a horse pulls a wagon is asking for a serious back injury.  I just saw a video (below the link) of Lavine doing exactly that.  This reminded me of Loul Deng doing the same thing during a summer just to show back issues during the next season. I have back problems, so I am aware of incorrect postures or bad exercise methods. Here is the link.

William Blanco

Sam: I'm not much on medical advice since my residency. Which was at a residence. But I did take a look at LaVine's post. Not sure why people take pictures of themselves exercising, but I'm not sure about a lot that goes on these days. It looked like he was working pretty hard—on second thought, I am thinking of showing myself working that five-point weight—but we also have no idea what everyone else is doing. I have to assume, especially since he will be negotiating for a new contract this summer, that he has checked to see that what he is doing is safe and helpful. Not all backs and back problems are alike. Like me, I'm guessing you also won't be playing in the NBA anytime soon. So we'll assume for now Zach knows what he's doing. And if it doesn't work out, John Ligmanowski always can use someone to help pull those heavy equipment bags.

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

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.

Related Content