Ask Sam Mailbag: 09.28.18
Sam is back to answer some of his readers' questions about the Bulls and the NBA
I have a different "What".... What is going to be the
personality of this bunch of guys? Some groups are tough, some groups
run and gun, some groups have a flair for the dramatic. Some groups
drive you nuts to watch them. What personality does this group wind up
with? I get the feeling that either this season and team is going to be Hoiberg's masterpiece or his undoing. Unlike last year, at least some NBA talent at every spot on the floor. Couldn't say that last year, especially with Markkanen an unknown.
Second unit might have some fun moments and hopefully will develop a personality of their own. If Carter gets defense figured out second unit won't be a total sieve. Portis and Holiday give them a little attitude, Payne a little flash, Valentine a little dash.
Sam: There's going to be a lot of talk—and angst—about defense, but the problem is fairly basic. The Bulls were a terrific defensive team under Thibodeau because they had terrific defenders, four players in Noah, Butler, Gibson and Hinrich who were all-league defenders and cameos from guys who were good defenders for a time, like Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik, Brian Scala…OK, forget that last one. But you get the point. Kris Dunn could be an all-league defender at some point and perhaps Wendell Carter Jr.. But the latter is a 19-year-old rookie likely coming off the bench. I don't believe despite the community dread that guys like LaVine and Parker are hopeless. They'll hear enough criticism when things go badly. They're prideful enough to have become stars previously. That pride should make them competent. There just aren't many defense first guys on the roster as there was with Noah, Butler, Hinrich, Gibson, et al. It seems obvious the identity Fred Hoiberg wants to create—and the way he's always wanted to coach—is offense oriented. Hoiberg talks constantly about pace and push and speed. The prime players he has, especially on the perimeter, in Dunn, LaVine and Parker fit that style. Markkanen's adequate defensively, but not making any all-defense teams and off the bench there's not much defense to consider beyond Carter's potential. OK, the Warriors have a good defensive group, but the Rockets often haven't and have been working on 60 wins. Highly competitive teams like the Bucks, Wizards, Nuggets and last season's Cavs gave up a lot of points, also. Yes, they have offensive stars. If the Bulls can develop one or two with consistency, it should work.
It's the Who question from your column... repeated a zillion times in the press conferences. Along with 'What's the pecking order?', which is
essentially the same question. Pax, Fred and at least one of the players gave you guys the answer – different guys will step up on different nights – that is true of most great teams. There's usually one guy the fans think of as "the man", but watching the games, greatness always takes "a village". Like Phil says, the strength of the wolf is the pack. Cannot argue that MJ was "the man" on that team. But what I noticed in those 6th games of the Finals, is that he was often already exhausted and a little beat up, not always playing at his prime... and double or triple-teamed whenever they could catch up with him. Scottie or Horace or even Rodman sometimes did more, though Jordan always made key plays. My point is that we want a team where different guys step up each game. They can double-team "the man", but not the whole team. It's not so much about "pecking order" as "pick your poison". Double-team at your own risk.
Sam: And to buy that winning lottery ticket and find a Mickey Mantle rookie card in the attic. C'mon, can that also be an ancient reference? No, not attic. Look, every team talks about this equal opportunity blueprint where every player is as valuable and talented as the next so the defense cannot gang up, as you note. It was the formula that eventually worked for the much overhyped (at least in New York) 1970 Knicks and the concept Phil Jackson wanted to bring to the Bulls, and then the Lakers. The theory behind the triangle offense is everyone has an equal opportunity (Jordan generally spit those words out), and thus the defense cannot overload. But reality is there's not equal talent, and not equal sacrifice, and some guys need the other guy to be more talented so they have fewer people watching them. It helped the Bulls had Jordan and Pippen and the Lakers Shaq and Kobe. The Warriors come fairly close to the model, but, of course, they are an historic multiple championship dynasty team. The Bulls seem a bit separated from that for now. Sure, everyone would love them to have five guys capable of excellence on offense, if not all with defense. After all, Steph Curry generally gets beat off the dribble by Riley Curry. But the Bulls are just at the beginning of that process. They're trying to find one guy who can reliably make plays. That's, I believe, what we all were getting at during media day. Not so much who's going to be all-pro, but do you have someone yet?
I have been a strong supporter of Portis since his rookie year. He has grown/evolved much for the better but I find it difficult to believe that he prefers a role as 6th man to being a young starter on another team. Yes, I have read the reports of his statements but it seems to be an irrational position for an apparently solid rational player.
Sam: It's likely what management is considering as well. But as Phil Jackson used to say, the pretty girl gets kissed; everyone does not get treated the same (hey, I miss Phil). If the Bulls and Portis don't agree on an extension before the season—and they have negotiated—then Portis could find that offer and position elsewhere. No one would blame him. What he has to measure now is that risk of perhaps taking less for the guaranteed money now, like Taj Gibson did, or playing it out and risking injury or a dry market with bigger name free agents. After all, Jamal Crawford still remains unemployed. The Bulls have Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., likely as the future power forward and center. Portis does not project better than either. Plus, the Bulls have Kris Dunn eligible for an extension after this season. There's only so much money you can spend and still be in position for a potential major free agent acquisition. So everyone doesn't get paid perhaps what they would like to. It's under that life isn't always fair category; though we still are talking millions annually here. The players sought and deserve the ability to create and seek their own market. Sometimes it doesn't help your career, like for Ben Gordon when he left the Bulls for about $10 million more per year (surely understandable), but quickly as displaced on his new team as he fell quickly out of the NBA. After all, this is the best time of your life for a player and you want to enjoy it. Portis has earned a nice role with the Bulls. Management and teammates seem to appreciate him; he seems to like Chicago, and it's not a bad place to be. Plus, when you are recruited, it doesn't mean it's a guarantee once they have you. Ask all those college quarterbacks who transfer. Portis could sign on as a starter and then it's up to them. Then there's the existential question of how much money is enough versus how much you enjoy your lifestyle and your job. Not everyone takes the last dollar. Portis' will be an intriguing negotiation to follow.
The Bulls enter training camp with a bunch of names I've never heard of.
Ryan Arcidiacono has also been brought back. Although he may be in the G-League to start the season as could Alkins. What will the Bulls do with Walton and Cleveland?
Sam: The Bulls have made a point of noting they are two deep at every position: Lopez/Carter; Markkanen/Portis; Parker/Valentine; LaVine/Holiday; Dunn/Payne. Which doesn't leave a lot of playing time elsewhere. Guys get hurt, of course, but that seems like the rotation without injury. Hutchison seems like he'll be brought along more slowly than Carter and spend some G-league time. Blakeney has been the guy a lot of fans have adopted as the guy—Hey, if Hoiberg played Blakeney they could have won by 50!—who would have been the difference. There's always one. But backup point and shooting guard aren't exactly the strongest spots, so the Bulls are taking a look at Walton, the Michigan point guard who played some for Miami last season, and Cleveland, who made every three he attempted for Atlanta last season. Which was three in the last four games. Hey, you never know when someone can break out. Always worth a look.
Zach Lavine reminded me of Ron Mercer a lot last season. Do you think this is a decent comparison. Their numbers at this point in their careers are very similar.
Sam: The Bulls sure hope not. At least the Mercer they got in 2000. Jerry Krause obviously remembered the Mercer of 1997. Actually, Krause thought he was drafting him. Krause was convinced in 1997 that the Bulls were breaking up after the 1997-98 season and wanted to trade Scottie Pippen to the Celtics. Boston had been dumping games the previous season to get a shot at Tim Duncan. The Celtics lost the most games, but fell to No. 3 in the lottery. So Rick Pitino went star shopping. Pippen was his target. Krause envisioned a rebuild around two athletic and skilled wing players, Mercer and Tracy McGrady. But managing partner Jerry Reinsdorf rejected the plan and the Bulls finished off the second threepeat. Krause began that rebuilding after the 1997-98 season, and saved his money for 2000 when Duncan and Grant Hill were among the free agents along with McGrady. But the Bulls being at the bottom were unappealing and could only land Mercer. But by then his elite athleticism had diminished from injuries. He never was a three-point shooter, but a mid range scorer. He averaged almost 20 points with the Bulls in that 2000-01 season, but it didn't come easily. He continued downhill and was out of the NBA by 2005 after two seasons with the Bulls. He was part of the Jalen Rose trade, but rarely played for the Pacers. After leaving the Bulls, he had seven starts in four years. Coming out of Kentucky and going to play for his college coach in Boston, Mercer was a skilled and athletic player like LaVine, though not quite as athletic and not as good a shooter. He declined swiftly and as a Bull was nowhere near the talent of LaVine.
I don't understand why Deng signed up for Thibs again. I am sure there was interest elsewhere. Deng should have waited for a contender.
Sam: I'm not as sure about Noah depending on what he and the Knicks work out, but I think Deng still can be good. Should obviously be rested. In Miami, he became a reliable stretch four and three-point shooter. I know all the Bulls with Thibs is a joke, but I believe Deng, Gibson and Rose all will be helpful and depending on what they get for Jimmy, with Towns and Wiggins I still see them being a playoff contender.
Apparently players were practicing more in Chicago this year. The four months would seem an ideal opportunity for further recovery for LaVine but also growth and development for players like Carter, Blakeney and Valentine. Any insight or predictions on who's skills might have benefited from the off season of work or is it wait and see in the games? what's the Bulls best defensive team on the floor?
Sam: Everyone generally looks good in training camp. I guess except Dion Waiters. Media doesn't get to see any of the Bulls practices, and there's stops and starts once camp starts. But from those two weeks of scrimmages when everyone participated, it sounded like LaVine stood out the most. He seemed the most confident and assured, was the word, plus explosive and finally back to being the player who was winning dunk contests and having 40-point games before his ACL injury. Parker figures to be a bit more uncertain off the second ACL, but close to where he wants to be. I see some of the others trying to find a fit and LaVine somewhat ahead in believing he knows where and how it all comes together. The best defensive team on the floor may be the one that scores the most points.
Isn't it time the Bulls retire Paxson's number? Strangely, I've never heard anyone talk about it. 9 years as player, championship shot, asst coach, announcer, 15 years as GM. My guess is a strong rebuild will create some noise on this matter but I think it's already deserved.
Sam: And now the Markkanen trade? The LaVine trade? John, yes, has become a fixture in team history, if not an immortal. I think he might say he'd deserve it if they gave him more shots and the refs stopped calling all those bad fouls on him. The Bulls from one of the more historic franchises are conservative when it comes to jersey retirements among players. There are only Jordan, Pippen, Jerry Sloan and Bob Love. I believe you could make a case for more given Chet Walker and Artis Gilmore are in the Hall of Fame, though they played half their careers or more elsewhere. Same with Dennis Rodman. Maybe Horace Grant as one of the original championship Big Three, but also half his career elsewhere. So I can understand in some sense not wanting to dilute the honor. Then it also opens the door for the what about, like what about Norm Van Lier or MVP Derrick Rose or Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah or longtime Bull Kirk Hinrich or…I don't hear of any immediate plans for any number retirements. Markkanen in 2033?
Really interesting to hear Jimmy has requested a trade from the TimberBulls; I guess we can finally put the "who won the trade" debate to bed.
Sam: That's probably why the Bulls have done well to pass on that question. These things always are apparent; no I told you sos ever are needed. I thought it was a terrific trade from the first day, and not because I write on the team's web site. And not just for the Bulls. It also made a lot of sense for the Timberwolves. They were too young and needed a veteran All-Star. Like when the Bulls took my advice and traded for Jalen Rose. It didn't work out because Jalen decided he didn't want to be with a rebuilding team and basically gave up. We'll find out later, as we did with Jalen, why Jimmy is so upset. It was the right move for the Bulls to bring in a veteran high scorer to go with their kids—Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler— just as it was the right move for Minnesota to bring in a veteran scorer with their kids (it also didn't hurt back then when the Bulls were seeing signs of Ron Artest's unraveling). As an aside, I was surprised about the whining from some media and fans about how the Bulls needed also to keep that No. 16 pick. And just because Justin Patton is injured for a second season doesn't mean the Bulls did well because it didn't mean they would have selected him. Just as that simplistic logic that they would have had Jordan Bell if they hadn't sold off that second round pick. Without the swap of picks, the trade would not have been made and not made enough sense for the Timberwolves. The Minnesota franchise missed the playoffs for a decade, Thibs brought them immediate relevancy, which was why he was hired. Sometimes—often, really—things don't work out as planned. Thus far for the Bulls, they have in that transaction.
Glen Taylor told inquiring executives Butler "is available" and that owners or general managers "should contact Taylor himself if necessary" to discuss possible deals. This is crazy, especially with what Thibs has been saying. I read somewhere that owners are going to stop giving roles to a single coach/manager
Sam: Actually, that's really the biggest message from this Butler scenario. It never has been a good idea to allow a coach (or players) to make personnel decisions for all the reasons most everyone always has known, that coaches and players, as they should, are committed to winning basically the next game. An extra long view is the end of this season. The Clippers sent Doc Rivers back to coaching and the Pistons sent Stan Van Gundy back to being a baseball fan. The Timberwolves could do worse than allowing Thibs to finish out his contact as coach only. That's where he excelled; not making personnel decisions, and not in math. It unlikely after this that any team again allows a coach to run the organization. Unless people with lots of money who know nothing about basketball and little about organizations become owners. Oh, right.
Does the Butler mess in Minneapolis help the reputation of the Bulls' management team around the league? It sure seems to be helping among the national fanbase from looking at the comments on articles.
Sam: Probably until the first two-game losing streak.
I'm sure you haven't gotten any of these yet: Lavine, Dunn and next years top 3 protected #1 for Jimmy. Seriously what do you think happens with butler?
Sam: The deal that makes sense to me immediately, especially because that Clippers owner seems anxious to DO SOMETHING, is Tobias Harris and a pick (the Clippers have plenty of throwins for salary) for Jimmy. Jimmy to LA, Minnesota gets a young small forward who with Towns and Wiggins still can make a playoff team with who they have. Done! You hear Miami now, and Pat Riley loves to pursue talent on the outs, which is a good strategy. But Wade in his final season, Whiteside and Jimmy in Miami? Start the latest reality show. You ready for some more drama?
How about Jabari Parker for Jimmy Butler? Isn't Chicago a "major market?"
Sam: You're joking here. Right?
The national NBA writers who ridiculed the Bulls for the Jimmy Butler trade are strangely non-judgemental about the blow-up in the Twin Cities. I feel bad for all involved. I fear that the young twosome the T-wolves are depending on simply lack the drive and professionalism to compete at a high level. If that's true, the franchise is going to be saddled with $70 or $80 million a year tied up in two guys who will always be good enough to get paid, but never good enough to win anything. Ouch. Either way, I hope Jimmy ends up in a good situation, and that his body holds up to the wear and tear. I also hope the Bulls' youth corps develops fast, especially on defense. Wendell Carter looks like a great addition in that regard, and he seems to have the tools to perform at a high level on the offensive end, too. Most of all, we need you to start doing basketball columns again. If I watch another inning of baseball my eyes will shatter, and I recently learned that the golf season is over. Who knew there was a season for golf
Sam: I am back again, so good for me, good for the Bulls, and thanks for everyone for waiting. I'm not amazed at what's gone on with Jimmy in Minnesota, though I also am. He's got several friends among the Bulls office staff—he really was close to a lot of the worker bees and does have a blue collar appreciation mixed with that Hollywood craving—and we'd been hearing almost from when he got to Minnesota last season some vague issue with Towns. That never sounded like it would end well given Towns is a better future prospect than Jimmy. We know about Jimmy's famous moods that some days left everyone tip toeing around him. And that the work ethic thing was a bit of an exaggeration. After all, who tells you all the time how much harder they work than you that really does it? I'd say Portis always worked harder; he just wasn't as good, so you take Butler, instead. Anyway, it amazes me that Jimmy couldn't just suck it up for one season and become a free agent. The team obviously was better with him and why not try to make a run? It's not like from what I saw he loved many of his Bulls teammates. But he excelled on the court, which was what mattered. He really was always a guy with excellent attendance, which makes this all the more curious. He was a hoops junkie. I don't understand him holding out in a pout. I support players' rights, but also contracts. I'd force him in to camp or fine him the maximum every day I could. Hey, you think Omer would do something like this? Though I, too, hope Jimmy figures it out. He's had too good an NBA story to have an unhappy ending. Now I've got to go and watch the Ryder Cup. C'mon, who doesn't love four ball?
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