LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts during Game Seven of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on May 27, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ask Sam Mailbag: 06.01.18

Sam opens his mailbag and answers readers' questions

JR, never change my friend, never change

Mike Sutera

Sam: That was a heck of a game for a series I frankly wasn't that excited about given the odds and the frequency, and a heck of a surprise. And, yes JR will live in NBA blooper infamy for that brain lock of thinking the Cavs were leading when he got that offensive rebound on the Hill free throw miss. Though as Cavs coach Ty Lue said afterward JR might have (probably would have) missed the follow. That's also the price you pay for having someone erratic like that on your team. But LeBron has no one to blame for that since he leaned on the Cavs when no one else was much interested to give JR that big contract extension after they won the title in 2016. Though for all those over the years who have said LeBron gets all the foul calls, well, you can't say that anymore. Maybe you can make the case like the NBA was immediately trying to do after the game to defend the officials by saying LeBron was still moving a bit on that overturned charge call. But to have it called an offensive foul on the floor (haven't we always heard unless it's conclusive evidence you stay with the initial call?) and then reversed to a pair of free throws to enable the Warriors to tie the game with 36 seconds left basically saves the game for the Warriors and hurts the Cavs and LeBron as badly as you'll ever see in the last minute of a Finals game. Frankly, I'd forgotten you could change that foul call, a rare exception. I thought they were just going to look if LeBron was in the restricted circle. He wasn't. Block/charge is the most difficult call to make, but to make it and then change it in favor of the home team that's losing in the last seconds is the sort of stench that is really bad for the NBA. The obvious issue is selecting one foul call to review, and at likely the turning point in the game, when there were so many others in the game that could be considered questionable or erroneous. Can we actually feel sorry for LeBron James?

I have no doubt that LeBron will be the most valuable player to either team in the Finals. What's the chance he could be picked MVP if the Cavs lose? Ever been done before?

Al Alenico

Sam: Once. The first time they awarded a Finals MVP in 1969, Jerry West won after the shattering seventh game loss by one basket when Lakers coach Butch van Breda Kolff got into a fight with Wilt Chamberlain and refused to put Wilt back in the game in the last six minutes with the Lakers making a huge comeback. It was an historic game as it was Bill Russell's last and much discussed in the fabulous NBA history book, Hard Labor. LeBron's clearly the best player on the floor, but if his team loses in anything fewer than seven games it would be difficult to see them voting the MVP from a defeated team.

Al Horford #42 of the Boston Celtics boxes out JR Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics on May 27, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.

I think (Boston) fell in love with the arc and expected them to start falling again ‘any minute now'. They should have won the game, and they might have, with a better plan. Should have run the offense through Horford. He was doing fine in the post & he's a good passer; would have opened things up for their shooters as well. Stevens is young. I still think he's a good coach, but he'll need to learn from this one. Great game by LeBron, but Boston might have overcome that by going to the hoop.

Art Alenik

Sam: I guess everyone said that about the Rockets, also, but they were much more the three-point shooting team than Boston, first in the league in attempts, while Boston was missing its most prolific three-point shooter in Kyrie Irving while Houston was missing its biggest mid range shooter in Chris Paul. Plus, Boston was playing a much more vulnerable opponent. Houston's opponent was pretty good, and had their three best players at full strength. They should have won. I think we now can see why the coaches weren't as enthusiastic about Brad Stevens for top coach as the media. I agree Stevens is a fine coach. But that could have been one of the poorest coached seventh games ever. Boston was younger, more athletic, deeper, more versatile; Cleveland was one of the league's worst defensive teams. Yet, Boston allows them to get into a slower game in which James' 40-some points are half the offense rather than the 35 percent they should be. They allow the Cavs' older players to not have to move on defense but stand around, LeBron as well. It's a defensive team that struggles moving side to side, but no one's driving the ball; not even making them defend for 15-20 seconds with the quick threes. And with Love out Boston has the size and more scoring, so they also should be able to drive (no Cavs rim protection) and get on the offensive boards. Still, standing around shooting threes without their best shooter. You're never going to hear one of the TV commentators who are former coaches question a coach compared with a player. It seems only players and referees make the mistakes. Now to Stevens' credit, he doesn't go along with all this genius stuff about himself; he seems well grounded and a competent coach you'd want for your team. Rarely does a coach have as much impact as fans or media want them to or believe they do. But that seventh game was as poor as a team could approach that sort of situation against a vulnerable opponent. Forget Boston's youth and inexperience, and, of course, LeBron was great again. But that game was there easily to be had if anyone had realized, hey, we're not shooting that well since a lot of not so good shooters are shooting; maybe we should try something else.

Now that the Rockets are out after having gone through a remarkable regular season what changes do you see coming to the Rockets? It seems like they have these all-stars in Harden and Paul and then overpriced pieces that somewhat don't fit in on that team such as Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, and Trevor Ariza.

Last season's draft...it was the Bulls' Butler on the move north to Minneapolis. Do you see any potential All-Stars headed for a lottery team on draft day ? Kemba Walker? John Wall? Andre Drummond? Carmelo Anthony? DeMar DeRozan? And ESPN had a mock draft live on TV".

  1. Ayton
  2. Doncic
  3. Jackson
  4. Bagley
  5. Bamba
  6. Carter
  7. Trae Young

I almost feel as it the top 5 are set in stone however I do think that there will be some interest in having Memphis (4) deal the pick and that's something that ESPN has also rumored.

Tom Plonowski

Sam: LeBron to Houston? That's been the rumor all season and it seems like it fits more so now than if the Rockets had gotten to the Finals and then likely won the title. We're also still assuming the Cavs lose to the Warriors, though Game 1 going the other way would have at least made it somewhat questionable and more intriguing. LeBron always has these things planned out well in advance despite what others say since Miami and his return to Cleveland seemed pretty set in his last seasons. It's become pretty obvious in Houston that Harden can't carry them in the playoffs; that's why they missed Chris Paul so much the last two games. He took over in the second half the last two games they won emphasizing the mid range game more and also taking control from Harden, who always becomes loose with the ball late in games. LeBron fits right in now with a loaded team. Paul and he are close and Harden can play off the ball more in the playoffs instead of all that isolation dribbling. LeBron likes company he knows, like Wade, and Golden State is becoming more worn out and vulnerable. What a coup for the legacy to end their run.

On another question, I agree we'll hear a lot of those names at draft time. I assume the Suns, Kings and Hawks go with picks since they have nowhere to go. Memphis is the one at 4 because of the return of Gasol and Conley. I believe Toronto would want a player; same as Washington, though I can see Beal a more likely trade possibility. The Pistons and Hornets with new managements could start over, so Drummond or Walker are more likely. The Spurs with Kawhi also remain a great curiosity.

Last week I had Jackson Jr. to the Bulls, but I did say I could be changing weekly. If all three bigs are off the board, I think I would be more likely to select Young than the Bulls. I can see Young in a three-man guard rotation with Dunn and LaVine; perhaps not great defensively, but with all three able to make plays with the ball, shoot (as Dunn improves) and share the 96 minutes reasonably well. Sorry, Cam. Young isn't Steph Curry because no one is, but he has the chance to be a high scoring impact player. I know he had trouble late in the season, but the NBA can't do the box and one on him like they did in college. If it went that way, I think the Bulls might take a chance on Porter. I saw that mock draft list ESPN did, and they had Porter 15. He'd have to come to his workouts in traction to go at 15, I'd say. I still assume Porter moves into the top 5, and if he does a big will be there for the Bulls. If there isn't and Porter red flags on health, then I'd say the wing man from Villanova, Bridges. Again, subject to change.

So another finals loss for LBJ. MJ will be happy. For the LBJ era in Cleveland all it resulted in was one title. Kinda disappointing.

Bob Ding

Sam: Well, it isn't over quite yet, but none of us can figure how the Cavs can win this series, especially now after having that Game 1 before the replay review. But if the Cavs go onto lose that would be a sixth loss in the Finals for LeBron. Which would mean he was better than Jordan last week, but probably not this week and maybe falling behind Kobe.

Jordan Bell? Yeah, i would do that deal all over again, a guy who just stands there on offense afraid to do anything. And how about that Celtics game? Nate Robinson, oops. Rozier, killing them. So keep Smart? I'd draft Brunson. They have a lot of questions regarding the PG spot. Would keep Rozier as backup to Kyrie and let Smart walk and draft a pg and groom him to be the eventual backup. Kyries knees the biggest issue. Maybe sign Rose on the cheap?

Bob Suter

Sam: I think the Bulls fan base may finally be over that one; it's fairly obvious why the Warriors with three great scorers wanted a guy like that (maybe to replace Green some day if Green costs too much) and why he made little sense for an offensively challenged team like the Bulls, who desperately need scoring; or, at least players who know where the basket is located. There were rumors this week Boston is trying to unload Rozier and some other stuff to move up in the draft. Yes, he's probably a good backup and you need that with Kyrie's injury history. Yes, Derrick makes some sense, but I don't see a market for Smart in this free agency with so few teams having money. Nice guy to have on your team, but he can't shoot or score. Overpaying guys like that only get you fired.

Jaren Jackson Jr. #2 of the Michigan State Spartans shoots a three pointer during a game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Breslin Ceter on February 20, 2018 in East Lansing, Michigan.

Just read your article on the three big men (Wendell Carter, Jackson & Bamba ). All three of the players seem to be a nice fit for the Bulls which leads me to my question. If you were the GM, If all three players happen to be available when the Bulls select at 7th, Which would you choose ?

Randall Sanders

Sam: Well, Bamba is in this week and Carter is expected to be in soon. All of which means little since the Bulls never had Markkanen in. Last week, I had Jackson Jr. falling to the Bulls at No. 7, so if the three did I would go for Jackson Jr. given his outside shooting ability. He's been the highest rated of the three, so it's no great inside observation to say I'd take him. The consensus these days remains he goes top five, though I still question given their rosters whether teams like the Hawks, who drafted big last year, the Grizzlies with Gasol and Dallas not wanting a project and the Magic needing a point take him. Jackson is more the project than Bamba and Carter because he is so young and had so little college work compared to those two. He might not help a team much for two years, though the Bulls are in no great hurry for now, it seems.

So... Mikal Bridges... is he better than Tony Snell? Rodney Hood? I worry that he is Tony Snell, Part 2. Tell me I'm wrong please! would you go one of the PG over Bamba? Cant figure out Bambas fit as a "modern center".

Joshua Levin

Sam: That is a legitimate question with Bamba and one I raised in my story about him coming in to see the Bulls this week. The view is his defensive impact will outweigh that, sort of like with Drummond. Of course on second thought, the Pistons haven't done that well with Drummond. I think that concerns the Bulls as they do want to join the modern NBA. So, Bridges? Like there is one Curry, there is one Snell; few NBA players ever have been that sleepy on the floor. Though I can see why you'd wonder as Bridges hardly stood out at Villanova. It does happen in a lot of college programs, which are over controlled by the coach and system oriented and low scoring. Plus, Jalen Brunson was so ball dominant. I believe Bridges is a good team player and went along, to his credit. But the Bulls will have to make sure if they are interested if he's really the competitor.

Head Coach Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors looks on against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semi Finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 5, 2018 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

I totally agree with Toronto over the firing of the coach. Here the Raptors were the #1 seed heading into the playoffs, and in none of their games did they offer up a challenge to Cleveland.

Kieron Smith

Sam: I really believe that was less a case of what happened in the playoffs, which was significant, than the general manager long looking for an excuse to fire Casey. It's just that Casey had been doing too well since Ujiri was hired. Casey had been there two years when Ujiri was hired, and then Toronto made a 14-game improvement as they traded Rudy Gay for a bench. But DeRozan and Lowry were there already. Then the Raptors took off to be the winningest team in the East, averaging 54 wins for four years. Ujiri had no excuse to bring in his guy as coach. The 2018 sweep was the Raptors first true misstep and gave the GM, which is not uncommon, the chance to avoid public rebuke and remake his own coaching staff. I doubt Casey told the players anything different than when they beat everyone but the Cavs, but DeRozan and Lowry, sorry, are just not a championship backcourt. Casey accompanied them as far as their talent would realistically go. The players and GM usually stay after that.

Joel Embiid #21 reacts during Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 9, 2018 at the TD Garden inBoston, Massachusetts.

Do you think that the breakout of Joel Embiid and the threat of what may come will cause teams in the east to go after a player like Mo Bamba? Will they look at him as a must have to matchup with him for years to come or is it still a wing dominated league?

Steve Schnakenberg

Sam: I guess that's theoretically possible, through I still think the Boston model with more speed and versatility will be predominant. That Bamba isn't likely to be an offensive threat could complicate things regarding a player like Embiid. Perhaps someone like Jackson Jr.? But Embiid is just so good. It's like saying you needed to draft someone to match up with Jordan or Magic or Curry. You just have to beat them other ways.

Would you do this deal?
Lonzo Ball and Luol Deng For Mike Conley?
So: Conley, George, Ingram, Randall

Bob Queen

Sam: That's Memphis again and it does make some sense for them to try to unload Conley and Gasol, though coming off yet another injury it probably will be tough to move Conley and that massive contract. Magic Johnson's summer could be one of the more interesting. Obviously, we've heard all the Paul George and LeBron rumors, though I don't see LeBron going to the Lakers given the talent limitations of their roster. LeBron would want a new team to be more loaded, everyone presumes. It's interesting that the local Lakers' fan community has become enamored with their young players and isn't demanding a breakup of the roster. My guess is they end up keeping the group and supplementing it with Paul George. And keeping Lonzo for now as he isn't in great demand even as his father has quieted.

How do you think Pistol would perform under modern rules? Three point line and no hand checking.

Adnaan Hamid

Sam: You can raise the hand checking question with so many from an era of guys who drove the ball. Maravich was a marvel to watch, one of the greatest showman the league ever has produced. I know fans come early to watch the Curry dribbling thing, but there was no one, even Magic, who was more magical and with more flair with the ball than Maravich. It was tough to succeed with him given he was so into the show and had so enamored the Hawks owner they ended up breaking up a team that could have won a title to accommodate him, one of the lost potential dynasties of NBA lore. Pete was great fun. I recall going to Madison Square Garden and seeing him in the NIT when he couldn't get his team into the NCAAs in college even though he was averaging about 45 points. I think they once went back over his college tapes with a superimposed three-point line and said from where he shot he would have averaged 60 points with the three-point line. He had found a role with the Celtics off the bench at the end of his playing career and actually made three of the four threes he took in Boston in his last season, which was the second of the three-point shot. His career three-point percentage in two seasons was 67 percent. Analytic that!

What are your thoughts on the Bulls signing Donte Ingram post draft to the Windy City Bulls as a 2-way player? After watching Loyola's magical run he hit the big 3 to beat the Miami Hurricanes. He has a 41 percent 3-point average and looks like an Nba player at 6"6. I doubt he gets drafted but could see him as a real diamond in the rough. In the potential mold of a Nwaba/Blakeney.

Ryan Carpel

Sam: The Bulls have plenty of G-league two-way players; I believe they need more starters. I really can't say much about Ingram since I only watched three or four Loyola games and never saw him play. I can only recall seeing the team chaplain on TV during those NCAA games.

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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