Ask Sam Mailbag: 05.31.2019

Sam opens his mailbag and answers your questions about the Finals, the Bulls and other stories around the NBA
Pascal Siakam #43 of the Toronto Raptors shoots the ball against the Golden State Warriors during Game One of the NBA Finals on May 30, 2019 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later


Brandon Evans:

So am I missing something? The casual fan gets a pass, but what's with all the talking heads completely dismissing the Raptors. A couple of things :

Siakam is a really good defender and last I checked Giannis isn't on GSW.

Unless Boogie comes back in pre-injury, NBA Finals shape, GSW has no 1 that can stop Gasol in the paint if Nurse decides to play through him (which is what I would do)

What Gasol presents as a passer and post player hasn't really been displayed. Kawhi Siakam Lowry flying around off the ball could be scary. Slowing down the pace by using the paint but still getting the ball movement for possible 3s and easy mid range is how they win. I know, easier said than done.

Lastly, as a huge fan of defense the 4th qtr of Game 6 was thrilling. Toronto was playing out of their minds. They have length, activity, effort, switchable guys at all positions, and Lowry is not Kyrie on D. Steph is going to have to work for drives to the lane. Their team defense is REAL. (And for all the complaints, how bout a S/O to the refs for letting both teams play. I'm sorry, but playing defense and being physical sound like two things that go hand in hand and it made for great basketball and to a lesser extent, TV) I'm going with Toronto in 6 if KD doesn't play. And in 7 if he doesn't til game 4.


See, they do need Kevin Durant. This missive came to me before the start of the Finals, so at 0-0 it's worth discussion; even at 1-0 Raptors. I picked Warriors in 6 and am sticking with my story. But a lot of people got fooled by the way the Warriors beat an overachieving Portland team basically missing its two best big men (Enes Kanter played with a separated shoulder) and with probably the worst front line in the league. Really, who would you rather have Markkanen, Lopez and Porter? Or Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Mason Plumlee/Meyers Leonard? Whoever they are. Yes, that was a conference finals starting front line. I'll still be surprised to see the Raptors win.

I still can't figure out how the Raptors beat the 76ers. But no one is invincible, and several "invincible" teams have lost in the Finals. It's why they play the games and all that, as we hear. I remember many "invincible" teams that lost. The '89 Lakers were 11-0 going into the Finals and were swept, though Magic got hurt. The Celtics' winningest season even was 1972-73 and then John Havlicek was hurt during the conference finals and the Knicks went on to win the title. I reminder the great Kobe/Shaq/Malone/Payton 2004 Lakers who lost in five to the Pistons amidst one of the great meltdowns ever. So stuff happens. I'm surprised, though only somewhat, the Raptors are in the Finals because I could hardly ever recall a seventh game when everyone but one player ran away from the ball, and the team won, that being Game 7 against the 76ers.

The story of the Eastern Conference finals was which star would be better since neither team had a second All-Star. Yes, I know, Khris Middleton, but he's a collateral advantage. As we saw in the playoffs, he's merely a very good player. He had at least 20 points in one of the last eight playoff games and twice in single digits in the last four even as they were triple teaming Giannis. But good for Toronto, and good for Leonard after his mysterious last season with the Spurs. I didn't see how even without Durant that Toronto can score enough (of course, I also didn't see it against Milwaukee) and against a Warriors team with defenders to match and a superior coaching staff. But you had it right, at least in Game 1, with Gasol and Siakam. Still, we all hope for a long series because Zion doesn't play again until July. By the way, when the Bulls won their first title in 1991, by far the overwhelming national consensus—yes, even with Michael Jordan—was a first time finalist Bulls weren't beating the veteran Lakers with Finals star Magic Johnson. There was a short-lived all-sports newspaper then known as the National. After the Bulls lost Game 1 at home, they devoted an entire column to my pick of the Bulls winning and how provincial we in the Midwest were and how little real basketball we understood.

Kris Dunn #32 of the Chicago Bulls drives to the basket against the Phoenix Suns on March 18, 2019 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.

Renee Carlson:

The Bulls Brass has stated they believe the team needs the point guard position to get better. Kris Dunn needs to pushed. So I believe a proven veteran point guard needs to be brought in to compete. Drafting a 19 year old won't cut it because the team needs to improve dramatically this season. BullsNation is impatient. I would contact OKC and dangle the 7th overall pick plus the 38th pick for Dennis Schroder and the 21st pick. OKC is $16 million over the luxury tax cap for 2019-2020. Schroder's salary is $15.5 million for the next two years. Since OKC is over the luxury tax, again, I believe they pay a penalty on top of the overage. Bulls get competition at point guard and OKC gets some financial relief and a chance to retool. With the 21st pick I would take a chance on Luka Samanic, who is 6-11, can shoot and appears to be able to move pretty well and even drive to the hoop. I believe he would be a nice addition to the second unit.


I'm sure the Bulls are grateful for the two million strong scouting staff known as a part of the Bulls fan base. On the list of AOTKSs (Another Other Than Kris Dunn) comes Schroder as well. He seems less likely because the Thunder is pretty stuck if they intend to remain competitive. Their issue is paying Westbrook, George and Adams a combined $97 million next season and—yikes!—$104 million in 2020-21. Maybe they do flinch about the payroll for a first round playoff team as they did in off loading James Harden a few years back. I liked Schroder last summer when the Hawks were making him available, though the Bulls felt his 29 percent three-point shooting then wasn't enough of an upgrade. He did improve last season, but he's about six foot and not a great defender, and I doubt enough of an upgrade that it would be likely. Though I'm sure the Bulls and the Dunn camp welcome the suggestions.

Rajon Rondo #9 of the Los Angeles Lakers lofts a pass over Kris Dunn #32 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on March 12, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.

Terrance Crowder:

What about bringing back Rondo. I like Dunn and think he could really good with a little more time and Rondo was great with the young guys and can still play. Wouldn't he be perfect to mentor someone while still being a valuable contributor to a team trying to learn how to win.


It's such a sentimental fan base; which is also nice. I thought the problem was Dunn wasn't a good enough shooter, that he is a good defender, but the offensive component didn't match this era's NBA. So Rondo going on 34 next season? Mentor is a nice concept, but it's really more about production. You know, he's been there and done that and it's likely the Bulls have moved on.

Dennis Smith Jr. #5 of the New York Knicksdrives against Ryan Arcidiacono #51 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on April 09, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.

Nicholas Hill:

The latest I've heard is that White and Garland will be gone before the Bulls pick. Who even knows if either of those guys would be a real upgrade over Kris Dunn? There are plenty of other options if the Bulls really want a PG. For example, I've seen a lot of people proposing to trade the #7 pick for Lonzo Ball but I had another thought. The Knicks seem pretty confident they'll land Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and maybe Anthony Davis. Where does that leave Dennis Smith Jr.? Why not kick the tires there? Offer the 7th pick and see if they bite. That would probably be the most athletic backcourt in NBA history. The worst thing that can happen is they say no and then just draft the best player available.


Smith is an interesting case, as most Smiths are. He had the ACL before coming into the NBA and has had some nagging knee and other injury issues. Plus, things went very bad in Dallas when they drafted Doncic and began featuring Luka. Smith went into a big snit and apparently demanded a trade because he decided he didn't want to play shooting guard. There were questions about skipping practices and such and questionable injury absences. Of course, he is a point guard who doesn't pass much. Which sort of suggests he wants to control the ball to shoot it. And he's a poorer three-point shooter than Kris Dunn. Yes, sometimes you have to take chances on talent, and Smith has talent. I'm not excited by No. 7, but I'm not sure this is where I'd like to take my chance.

Assistant coach juwan Howard of the Miami Heat looks on during the game against the Sacramento Kings on February 8, 2019 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California.

Joe Kraus:

As a Michigan fan as well as a Bulls fan, it caught me off guard to see the Wolverines name Juwan Howard the new coach. Then I thought about it, and it didn't seem quite so strange. In college, mostly by association with the Fab Five -- and even then, maybe as much through their hip-hop fashion as through the way he actually played -- I remember him as a flamboyant guy. As a pro, though, I think of him as a smart, steady, un-flashy contributor. What's your sense of what to expect of him as a college head coach? He's replacing an understated, system-first guy in John Beilein. From what you've seen of Howard in the last several years as he moved from the rotation to the bench to behind the bench, are we going to get more of the Chris Webber/Jalen Rose teammate or the quieter vet who won't be all that different from Beilein?


We know Juwan well from Chicago Vocational. He's always been a quiet leader (it seemed to me there was plenty of noise around him at Michigan), a hard working, responsible player, popular teammate and loyal organization person. All good qualities, but can he recruit? And how does living a moral and ethical life square with the soul you often have to give up to work in college? I don't follow college ball much, and you may have noted some disdain I have for the NCAA. Juwan strikes me as a credible choice, but so was Chris Mullin at St. Johns. It's a tough environment to work with often ridiculous expectations. As for the Cavs hiring a coach going on 67 this season who never has worked in the NBA, well, I will say Michigan made a better choice than the Cavs for their respective teams.

Jalen Lecque #3 shoots the ball in traffic during a scrimmage during Day One of the 2019 NBA Draft Combine on May 16, 2019 at the Quest MultiSport Complex in Chicago, Illinois.

Rocky Rosado:

Would the bulls be interested in taking flyer on Jalen Lecque with the 38. At 38 I'd believe with he'd be worth a flyer. I'd be a low risk with potential high reward. He has wow type athleticism. He's the NY high school prep star that will be turning 19 just after the draft. He had the highest vertical of the draft class. Stands at 6'4" with a 6'9" wingspan. He plays like a baby Westbrook. I would say he has just as much potential as garland who only played 5 games in college or any other point guard not named Ja Morant in this draft. Also, I think if the bulls are going to spend money on a point guard the guy I would target is Malcolm Brogdon.

Kris Middleton is a free agent as well. I would think Middleton is more of a priority for the Bucks than Brogdon, so I don't think they would match a strong offer sheet. Another guy I would be very interested in bringing back at the right price is Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic is a +/+ on both sides of the ball. He could play with either Wendell or Lauri in the rotation. There's no denying that when Mirotic was playing opposite Lauri the bulls were actually winning. They were a mismatch nightmare.


So how does he last to 38? I'll admit I rarely pay any attention to the second round of the draft, which was why I was also so amazed at that Jordan Bell frenzy. Sure, I understand about selling a draft pick and this notion about saving money versus adding players, and yes there are occasional second rounders who make it big, Nikola Jokic especially for now. But, seriously, if you are looking for second rounders to save you in any way that's a big problem. The Bulls basically finished the season with a roster of second rounders playing, and I'd rather not see that again. It's great when you have a hit, but I'd rather include the pick in trade. The odds of lottery picks hitting big are long enough. As I've mentioned, I believe the Bucks are all in on Brogdon as part of their core. They'll pay Middleton, but his playoff performance proved just who he is, a very good player who is an All-Star only because he plays next to Antetokounmpo and not as good as Zach LaVine. Niko is the interesting one. You're right: When he came back from the Bobby Bump, he and Markkanen with Dunn were really, really good. His parting with the Bulls wasn't that great, though he hasn't said a nasty word. He didn't distinguish himself in the playoffs and was benched. I'm a Niko fan. It will be interesting to see if the Bulls still are.

Nikola Mirotic #41 of the Milwaukee Bucks shoots a three-pointer against the Toronto Raptors during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on May 19, 2019 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Gorav Raheja:

Do you consider "experience" in the NBA to be more important than other sports? Lots of analysts were saying the Bucks had no chance because they had no experience and have never been in this position before. But you sometimes randomly see a MLB team or NFL team end up in the championship and sometimes win it all. Also, do you know why Niko was benched in the second half of game 5 and all of game 6? He had been playing pretty well prior to that.


Experience is important if the shot goes in. If Kawhi's shot didn't bounce in against the 76ers, then we would have had to come up with another reason, like more talent. Generally the reason experience is pointed out is because those are the best players. The young players get weeded out and then those who are left are the ones with "experience."

As for Niko, actually he wasn't playing very well. His three-point shooting was awful, below 20 percent in the conference finals. He had an awful playoffs, averaging fewer than 10 points and shooting below 30 percent on threes. I've gotten a lot of mail about Bucks restricted free agent Malcolm Brogdon and if, like the speculation with Oklahoma City, the Bucks might have to let go someone. I can see them not picking up the option on George Hill and letting go Mirotic. They got Brook Lopez cheap, but I don't believe his market will be that big given he still is an eye of the beholder fit in this era. The Bucks could retain Pau Gasol, who'll be recovered from surgery, plans to keep playing and does a lot of the things Lopez does. I suspect Brogdon is one of their keepers.

Adam Garcia:

Why are the Bulls never mentioned as a prime free agent destination? It gets old, cuz we have a good thing going on we always sell out! The fans are loyal andn while harsh it doesn't stop people from going to Philly as Bryce Harper chose Philly over Chi town n they are the hardest fans to please! If we had Kawhi we could have a great starting 5! Markkanen, Porter, Kawhi, LaVine n Dunn with Carter, Valentine, Arcidiacono off the bench, could be nice! I know I'm dreaming.


This is an old and frequent charge that free agents don't want to come to Chicago—as if they go to New York, for example (they have not), or basically anywhere but where LeBron goes—but the Bulls this summer simply do not have enough salary cap room to make an offer to a top free agent. You need more than $30 million in salary cap space, meaning at least that amount below the salary cap, and the Bulls even if they trade their draft pick will have perhaps $22 million. Which still should be good enough to add a high quality player or maybe two.

Rui Hachimura #21 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs drives against Jarrett Culver #23 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the first half of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Honda Center on March 30, 2019 in Anaheim, California.

Zacharia Tharakan:

What are your thoughts on Rui Hachimura? The more i watch his games against top opponents this past season, the more i'm convinced this guy is Kawhi 2.0. I really want him to be available at 7; we can sign Rozier and have Otto come off the bench for us. Rozier, Lavine, Hachimura, Lauri and Wendell look really good.


Can't say I've heard the Kawhi comparison before. Though you can go on the one that Kawhi was selected 15th and Hachimura is expected to be selected between 10 and 20. The comparison I heard was Antwan Jamison. Not bad, though they never compare guys to guys who didn't make it. Not that he won't. He will have a huge media presence as the first player from Japan to likely be a lottery selection, and media from Japan will be very interested. He's considered somewhat of an undersized four, and actually I think the Bulls would be more interested—not that they are as far as I know—in the other forward from Gonzaga, Brandon Clarke, who is more athletic. If you are right, a lot of teams are wrong like with Kawhi.

Chicago Bulls shooting guard Kirk Hinrich, no.12, rests during the Los Angeles Clippers 121-82 victory over the Chicago Bulls at the Staples Center at the Staples Center on November 24, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

Brodie Larsh:

What is Kirk Hinrich up to these days? He'd be a great assistant coach to bring in if we keep Dunn.


I think Kirk actually is doing some ambassador work for the Bulls, though I believe he's living close to family in the Dakotas these days. His father was his high school coach, and I believe Kirk eventually may transition into coaching. We speak occasionally and he told me he's coaching his daughters. He'd be a high level addition to any coaching staff given his knowledge of the game, pro experience and popularity with players. We agree. He's the kind of assistant who would make any staff and team better.

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