Ask Sam Mailbag: 05.10.2019

Sam opens his mailbag and answers your questions about the playoffs and other stories around the NBA
Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks shoots the ball against the Boston Celtics during Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on May 8, 2019 at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
by Sam Smith


Tom Golden:

Anyone who thinks the NCAA tournament can hold a wet noodle to these playoffs either doesn't know basketball or likes watching paint dry. This is the best basketball I ever remember. Every game is incredibly good. The NBA has so many superstars and great teams this has been a basketball junkies dream. I can't even tell you who is going to win it all, but I'll bet you dinner it won't be GSW. I love every team left, and am expecting this era to rival any time in NBA history only because there are so many great teams, not just a few elite teams


And I know you wrote me before Durant got hurt. It's been as terrific a second round as we hoped for; even with Milwaukee-Boston going the way it did so we could now make even more fun of Kyrie. It's true; unless you are gambling or in a betting pool or working on analytics formulas for calorie counts, you'd probably watch C-SPAN before you'd watch college basketball. The coaching is awful, the officiating dreadful, the players starving because the NCAA rules often don't let them have food and the court side fans and NCAA mucky mucks so incredibly fat from being fat cats that it's difficult to even see the court when you're there. But seriously, folks, these have been some incredible NBA playoff games with amazing closes, evenly matched with terrific performance and yet further proof of how great NBA players are. And without LeBron. Imagine.

The top prospects of the 2014 class pose on stage during the 2014 NBA Draft at Barclays Center on June 26, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

Kirk Landers:

I was interested to see your columns on the best 5-8 picks. Your comments about Jamal Crawford and the 2000 draft made me curious, so I looked it up. You weren't exaggerating. Jamal may have been the 8th pick, but the only guy taken before him you might have wanted on your team was Mike Miller (#5), and the only other first rounders who had significant careers were Hedo Turkuglu (#16, Sacramento) and Mo Peterson (#38, to Houston).

Ironically, the two other notables from that draft were in the second round: Michael Redd (#43, Milwaukee) and Edwardo Najera (#38, Houston).

If ever there was a draft that was a cautionary tale about building through the draft, that was the one. Do you recall a recent draft (last 10-15 years) that had as few buzz-worthy players in the run-up to it as this one? How did it turn out?


As Jerry Krause painfully found out, just being in the lottery with draft picks doesn't guarantee any success. Like the 76ers with Embiid, the Bulls hit with Scottie Pippen at No. 5 in 1987 (Rod Thorn selected Jordan in 1984), but there were plenty of misses. Like everyone else had. That's the fallacy of the draft and the easy public and media second guess. Most everyone gets a lot wrong. You can't look back and pick the should haves. But you just have to hit big once, like the Bucks with Giannis and then you can be a genius. That 2013 draft with Giannis, by the way, was brutal with Anthony Bennett No. 1, Victor Oladipo No. 2 but not making it until his third team and then the likes of Otto Porter, Cody Zeller, Alex Len and Nerlens Noel for the top six. It wasn't much better in 2014, though the 76ers got Embiid No. 3, if having to wait about two years. Andrew Wiggins was No. 1 and Jabari Parker No. 2, which is a good starting point since they were almost as promoted with unlimited promise as Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. Parker, of course, suffered two ACLs. Wiggins got a max contract and remains with minimum energy. I also recall the incredible buildup in 2017 with everyone promoting this amazing can't miss Markelle Fultz. And, you know, Lonzo Ball. It was a strong draft, but the consensus then was you had to have one of the top two picks to really be sure.

Deputy Commissioner, Mark Tatum awards the Chicago Bulls the number seven pick in the 2018 NBA Draft during the NBA Draft Lottery on May 15, 2018 at The Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, Illinois.

Peter Toluzzi:

I've seen this table a number of times now for the likelihood of NBA Draft outcomes for the Bulls. Can you explain why 6th and 7th are the two likeliest outcomes for us?

Well, we all know the famous 12.5% chance that would land the Bulls with the top pick and Zion Williamson. Past that, here are the percent chances that the Bulls land the listed pick:

  • 1st: 12.5% chance
  • 2nd: 12.2% chance
  • 3rd: 11.9% chance
  • 4th: 11.5% chance
  • 5th: 7.2% chance
  • 6th: 25.7% chance
  • 7th: 16.7% chance
  • 8th: 2.2% chance


I'm equally as baffled since I'm not sure why there's a greater chance two teams would pass the Bulls than one, meaning those 5th and 6th picks. Of course, if the Bulls are not Nos. 1 or 2 we'll probably be turning to an NCIS Secaucus rerun by then. Though I barely pay any attention to odds and those sorts of percentages since I had a 99 percent chance of not getting into an accident leaving the car dealership until someone ran into me on the way out the door. The odds, curiously, quickly shifted to 100 percent. There's a reason they call them odds. They're for the people who are really screwed up.

Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors walks off the court after injuring himself against the Houston Rockets during Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 08, 2019 in Oakland, California.

Michael Bagnuolo:

With the injury to Kevin Durant Wednesday, is it possible that we've witnessed the beginning of the downside of his career? Perhaps an overreaction, I understand, but a player that is going to be 31 in September, has a lot of miles on his body, and seems to have just suffered his first 'old man' injury. You know how sometimes you bend down to pick something up and go 'Ow', or walk up some stairs and suddenly feel a sharp pain in your knee? All he did was jump up for a shot and go back down, without contact, and he managed to hurt himself. I'm pretty sure he's going to need to do that several thousand more times before his career is over. After this, we can't be sure he doesn't hurt himself again doing the same thing. It made me think a bit about the much hyped KD and Kyrie to the Knicks scenario. I understand that signing them both to max contracts is probably a good thing for the Knicks, given the other options like doing nothing, but are they a little closer to 'be careful what you wish for' then is currently being considered? I see Kyrie as someone that isn't as good as he seems to think he is and has as a best skill the complete inability to make any of his teammates better and KD as a player going forward that might start missing more games than just for future 'load management' purposes. I don't think many teams would turn down the opportunity to have either of these players but I wouldn't be surprised if the pairing of those two doesn't become the ticket to an elite team that most seem to currently think is the case. 


We can only hope, eh? None of us is quite sure what this mild strain thing means since teams generally as as open with health data as Coke to Pepsi. I'm pretty sure, first of all, that everyone would take a chance on Durant as they still would with LeBron despite his so called “old man” injury. A lot better than the Achilles many feared for Durant or certainly an ACL. The Warriors have talked like Durant will return for the next round assuming they are there, which they shouldn't be if the Rockets are who they complain the officials don't let them be. But they certainly blew what might be the series when Durant went out and they tied that game and even took a lead and then basically lost every loose ball and James Harden and Chris Paul turned into Playoff James Harden and Chris Paul, which is a lot different than Playoff Rondo. Perhaps that's harsh, but it was stunning to try to look for Harden on the TV screen with Paul dribbling the ball all over the place and getting nowhere. It turned out Harden was wearing a red and white striped shirt and beanie. Without Durant and having decimated their bench as they have, the Warriors are going to have problems finding points. Remember, it was the Rockets last year saying if only Chris Paul didn't get hurt. OK, Durant is much better and more important and just as hurt. Let's see what the Rockets can do before we begin to bury them again. Most everyone who goes to the Knicks becomes cursed. Maybe they won't.

Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets looks to pass against the Portland Trail Blazers during Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on May 3, 2019 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon.

Gorav Raheja:

It's good to see Jokic get national recognition. He's a wizard with the ball. Do you put him up there with the best passing big men to play the game? Does Kyrie's performance change things for him?


I thought we were saying that passing thing about Noah. And we did about Tom Boerwinkle in the 1970s. Maybe me. Bill Walton was a pretty good one, as was Arvydas Sabonis, though he did so more out of the post and we never saw his best since he came to the NBA late and after surgeries. Pau was pretty good also. And Sam Lacey with the Kings in the 70s.

Jokic is terrific, though I still don't have him a top 5 MVP candidate as some have suggested. I've noted the Nuggets even take him out for defense at the end of games at times. OK, Harden doesn't defend, either. Jokic is very skilled, and obviously more so than anyone imagined since he was a second round draft pick. Players like he and Giannis still let you know how poor NBA international scouting remains. With Jokic it's his lack of athleticism that's made it the surprise he's become so good.

Something I have failed to understand because he is so un-athletic is why teams don't pressure and trap him out of the backcourt. I can't understand why teams let him dribble up and establish a high post position, from where he is lethal as Denver essentially runs one play. He's not that adept a ball handler to beat pressure like that. Though in this era big men are better passers because of the way the game has changed. After all, Durant is a seven footer and at least as good a passer. Meanwhile, playoff performances are exalted or condemned beyond reason. Making one or two crucial shots can have someone lyrically described as a star while a weak performance engenders your sort of response about Kyrie. It does have an inordinate impact, which often suggests many of the people who run teams aren't any wiser than those who criticize them for the way they run teams. So playing with Michael Jordan gets players like Luc Longley, Jud Buechler, Steve Kerr and Scott Williams giant contracts. And then what do you know, making two clutch shots in the playoffs doesn't exactly extrapolate. Conversely with a poor performance. It doesn't change who you are. Kyrie will be in exceptional demand and my guess is he signs with the Knicks, which has been rumored around him for years and most speculated about now.

Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors shoots the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers during Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on May 9, 2019 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Brandon Evans:

If Kawhi stays in Canada and Durant joins him, shouldn't that be a championship? At least EC champs? This question may nullify my 1st question, but what in the world is up with Kyle Lowry? After watching 3 games of this EC semifinals, I'm feel confident that Toronto should have traded him and kept Derozan.


Lowry making $31 million this season and $33 million next season—I know, I can't believe it, either—obviously was not tradable. He's the kind of player who was long underrated until he became way overrated, basically a small, physical guard who really isn't that much better than Patrick Beverley except for shooting range. The Kawhi conundrum is more interesting. Given he's so quiet and abhors the spotlight, perhaps staying in Canada fits him better than other players and maybe he does stay which would be bad news for the Bulls. Does Game 7 Sunday decide it. That's always been the speculation. But he's the one guy about whom you'd never know because it's unlikely he tells his agent or family what he's thinking.

Many have speculated the Clippers because it's close to his San Diego home, but being a guy who was offended by San Antonio and left and thus left the potential to make tens of millions of dollars more there's no way of guessing what he might do as a free agent this summer. There's no way Durant, who loves the attention, would join him in Toronto. Toronto! Durant has been much speculated going to the Knicks. But the way the Boston series ended and Kyrie's apparent disconnect from the team, the young players and much of human reason, my speculation is it's he and Jimmy Butler who end up with the Knicks and Durant finally comes to his senses and remains with the Warriors. They would be the Knicks kind of addition as well, sort of a Carmelo 2.0. Good enough for a lot of attention, but not any ultimate success. But you know Jimmy wouldn't be much bothered by the New York media. You tell Thibs to get lost, how's a bunch of nebbishes giving you problems?

Jimmy Butler #23 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts along with James Ennis III #11 at the end of the second quarter of Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Toronto Raptors at the Wells Fargo Center on May 9, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Art Alenik:

Not sure what the dynamic is there in Philly, but I absolutely agree (as does anyone watching) that Simmons – not Butler – s/b running the offense.



They decided to let Simmons play in Game 6, and he finally got into the game. But while there's been so much attention on Embiid and whether he's ill or not, the most curious thing to me in that series has been why Butler and not Simmons has been handling the ball so much. Jimmy can do plenty of stuff off the ball; Simmons can't. If he doesn't have the ball, he's not worth much. With it, he's amazing. What you hear is that Butler has the coach so intimidated that he's given in to Jimmy's demand to be the playmaker, also. Jimmy's been terrific in the series, granted, though they are going to Toronto for a seventh game. Jimmy is amazing. He basically ended Hoiberg's career his first year when he accused him of not coaching hard enough. He pushed himself out of Minnesota that got Thibodeau fired after Thibs went all in for Butler, and Brett Brown appears frightened to explain who needs to be the point guard. I'm not sure whether it will be good or bad for the 76ers and Jimmy has been awfully good. But you have to hand it to Jimmy. It's been a long time since the league has had a player/coach that successful with three teams.

Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts during a game against the Toronto Raptors during Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on May 9, 2019 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Pete Zievers:

I used to play a lot of basketball and I remember thoroughly enjoying quite a few of those trips up the floor.  It doesn't compute with me that someone wants a day off from playing basketball. It's maybe not rational and at gut level, but something about that I'll just never get. Sorry. Forget the dollars and the lifestyle, that's deeply secondary. Maybe it's why Embiid resonates when other perhaps more accomplished players don't seem too. It's apparent that Embiid is having a good time out there, no secondary agendas. I hope it stays like this for as long as it can. The honesty communicates. Yeah he's in and out, and when he's in he's up and down. But he has such a good time! Something about his game says "basketball like it should be".


Game 7, 76ers and Raptors; it just keeps getting better, eh? Embiid has been getting a lot of stuff, though it being Philadelphia players tend to take a lot more than many places. He's shown up sick several games in this series, and I was glad to see he and the 76ers bounce back enough for him to get a break. I, too, love watching the guy because he does seem to have so much fun. When you are losing that gets taken the wrong way, of course, that he's not serious enough. We demand our players only concentrate on work! You know, while we play video games on the computer at work and break early for a beer. Embiid's got the right attitude about all this, that it should be fun. They all say it's a game, but he seems to mean it. You root for someone like that. I know I do.

Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics tries to move against Ersan Ilyasova #77 of the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum on May 08, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Jim Hecimovich:

I wanted the Bucks to beat the Celtics so much that I watched even the blow-outs until the last whistle. So, Brad Stevens is a genius, but he's 27-29 now in the playoffs. Kyrie declared himself genius and a great shooter. I won't repeat the stats, but he shot something below 30 percent in the Bucks series. And Danny Ainge is a genius too for fleecing the Nets. All that genius only to end in a "gentleman's sweep."  So, my questions to you are: 1) Assuming Kyrie's gone, and they trade Tatum and Brown for a shot at AD, they'll have little left unless Hayward's game returns because they'll need a point guard and a star, and that's nothing if Horford leaves too (kind of like Kobe coming to the Bulls for all the players who made the team good in the first place); 2) Is Kyrie a cancer? Did he leave the Cavs because it was becoming clear to him that he was persona non grata in the locker room?; 3) If Kawhi stays in Toronto, Giannis stays healthy, the Pacers get stronger w Oladipo's return and some free agents, do you think the Celtics championship window has already closed?


This is also what's great about the NBA the way we get to dance on their graves after five pretty good months and 10 bad days. To disappoint you, I don't think it's the end for the Celtics. Though that window isn't as wide open as it once appeared. It is the end of the Anthony Davis fantasy, and it's not exactly that Kyrie signaled he was gone, but you can get those No. 11 jerseys pretty cheaply at Quincy Market.

Celtics still have a very good core with those Jaysons, Gordons and Jaylens and enough players and draft picks to do something. The point about Stevens is interesting as I never saw him much differently than I did Hoiberg. Stevens was mostly quiet on the sideline, preferred college sets, was not particularly confrontational, friendly, well spoken, the kind of person you wanted around your organization, and when he got an intractable problem player like Dwyane Wade or Kyrie Irving who was capable of splitting the team, there wasn't any particular accountability. But with all those draft picks and guys like Al Horford in free agency who were the veterans who could lead in a locker room compared to, well, the Bulls didn't have many of those guys under Hoiberg, Stevens did a lot better. Perhaps the Bulls have one now in Otto Porter Jr. Those guys go a lot farther than their point totals. Remember, Stevens was down 0-2 at home in the playoffs to Hoiberg until Rondo was hurt and the team had to depend on Wade, who'd spent much of the season alienating the young guys on the roster as Kyrie did as well. Hey LeBron, now I know what you mean about dealing with those young jerks. What, you meant me? Stevens is a very good coach, but there are only a few truly great ones, and he's not that. Still, I'd keep him around as it's tough to find great ones.

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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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