Ask Sam Mailbag: 10.20.17

Sam Smith opens his mailbag to answer readers' questions.

I know its one game, but Lauri just relegated either Mirotic or Portis to the bench. They have to give this kid 30+mpg for his development.

Rocky Rosado

Sam: I assume that was the relief for the Bulls coming out of the opener, in which they actually were looking OK until that gruesome group opened the second quarter and were uncompetitive. It is understandable; after all, you are not as a team expected to do much, and then two days before the opener after all the games and practices you lose two regulars who played all preseason and suddenly you have to play a rotation and lineup that you never saw in preseason. We won’t see that one again, and I suspect Hoiberg will be taking out Lopez or Holiday sooner and getting them back in with the reserve group. I think Dunn is close to playing again, so that will help. It did appear, though nothing was official yet, that because of Markkanen’s status as the top draft pick and a key piece from the Jimmy Butler trade that he was going to get the backup minutes at power forward. Which meant one of those guys was going to slip behind him, and it appeared to be Portis the way the preseason was going. Though until something happens, nothing does, so it could have changed. And then, well, that happened. Portis is due back when the team goes back to Toronto for the last time this season Nov. 7. Good weather planning, anyway. With Mirotic out an extended time, it looks like the growth of a rookie has been speeded up and it seems likely that Markkanan will have the starting job and if he plays reasonably well will keep it. For now. Which can be another uncomfortable complication. You are not supposed to lose your job with injury, and certainly not this kind for Mirotic. But then what if Markkanen is playing consistently and well? You could take him out of the starting lineup at some point. After all, he’s just 20. But Wally Pipp supposedly had a headache and needed a day or two to recover. And Lou Gehrig played so well replacing him the Yankees never took him out of the starting lineup for the next 14 years. The Yankees didn’t worry about that unwritten rule.

Ok that first half was a disaster. Denzel and Jerian are not play makers. Thank God for Felder. Lauri had a solid debut after some first quarter jitters. Has long ways 2 go but I was impressed. In the 2nd qt there was like two or three straight plays with Chris getting the ball on the perimeter, he should never be out there. Pondexter looked terrible like most in the 1st half but than looked respectable in the 2nd. I would like to see Felder and Bakeney together in the next game. Valentine should be like CJ and do nothing but be a spot up shooter.

Bob Ding

Sam: And away we go. Such are the games for a team with that roster. Felder does look like he’s going to push his way in there, like a Nate Robinson. Even D.J. Augustin, who the Bulls were saying saved that post-Rose injury season a few years back. Grant is trying, evidence the assists, but he is a natural scorer first and you can see it makes him somewhat uncertain trying to do what the team needs from him compared with what he does best. Perhaps Valentine settles into that shooting role. He has quietly shown he can be relied upon with his shot improving, but it will take having a true point guard or playmaker to get him more shots. You can see Blakeney is at times lost on the court, especially defensively. But the guy really can find a shot every time.

There’s been this debate among the media members at times of where the team will have more trouble, at least now with the injuries and suspension. I’ve said offense and others, like my colleague Bill Wennington as we discussed it at halftime Thursday, have said defense. First, I believe there never has been a young team in the history of the NBA to play good defense. So that seems like a lot to ask. And the way Hoiberg wants to play, faster with more scoring, it’s that much tougher to play defense and keep scores low. People mistake low scores for defense. Thibodeau played slowly with a lot of isolation. That produces lower scores. The NBA is going the other way; Golden State is the ultimate example. Sure, they defend, too. But that’s why they win 70 games. Now you have to have scoring because teams are going to put offensive bursts on you at times and no one can stop them all. So I agree that I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Blakeney to take a look since he’s going to have some of those games where the shots finally do go in. You can’t measure statistics when a guy gets in for five minutes all the time with a shot or two.

I just read about the Portis/Mirotic incident. I think Portis has to go. Off the team, no 2nd chances. I only know what was reported, but trash talk is just talk. A punch to the face that breaks a jaw, causes a concussion, and requires surgery is unacceptable. No suspension. He’s done. There have to be huge consequences. Mirotic has basically no chance now to prove himself the year. I don’t care if he charged him or whatever, you just can’t do that to a teammate. No matter what happens there’s going to be bad blood. Of course I don’t know who’s siding with who in the locker room, but I have to hope most people realize that walking away or a tackle or something would have been the more adult thing to do. I’m so disappointed in him. What’s you opinion?

Grant Moja

Sam: What is clear from what everyone said is it crossed the line, a phrase pretty much everyone used. First, I’ll say I would not get rid of Portis and, in fact, would pick up his fourth year option. He made a horrible decision and is being punished, but as a first offender I see no reason even despite the severity for further punishment. There’s way too much instant demonization in this era of being offended by what someone said. Yes, this was beyond words; it was sticks and stones. But there’s too much of this instant demand to try to ruin someone’s life as a result. This social media-inspired philosophy of hate continues to divide our society merely for spite. It’s incredibly damaging.

Now, I’m not minimizing the attack or damage done to Mirotic, but you give a guy who has had an exemplary record a chance. Also, don’t be fooled by this teammate chemistry thing. No one works perfectly with everyone in the office. It’s your professional responsibility to do your best at your job and I’m confident both can do that even if I doubt they will ever talk much again. Perhaps I’m wrong about that, but we’ll see. I’m not sure what exactly led up to all this, but the accepted “trash talk,” to me, also is a huge issue that somehow is routinely accepted. I believe it has a lot to do with the violence that occurs in our society. I don’t see how just because you are in a game you can separate out when someone is calling you names, insulting your level of play, rubbing in excellence. It’s unseemly to me, and unnecessary. That it leads to violence on occasion should hardly be a surprise. If someone is demeaning you during an NBA game isn’t that you at your job? How is that different from someone in your office repeatedly calling you incompetent in front of everyone? I’ve heard alternate versions of who was trash talking, who was bumping, who was warning, and, after all, that’s between the two and hardly unusual in a competitive scrimmage, especially with players fighting for playing time and their futures with contracts since neither is guaranteed beyond this season.

Whatever the circumstances, yes, I agree, Bobby did need to pull his punch.

I expected the Bulls were expected to be a team with some fight in them but this is not what I had in mind.

Guy Danilowitz

Sam: So far the team hasn’t quite seen it as a joking matter.

If reports are accurate in regards to the Portis/Mirotic incident, I have a few questions:

1. Will Mirotic be fined/suspended for his part in the incident? (Please don't tell me surgery and recovery should suffice - especially if he was the aggressor.)
2. Where were the coaches and teammates when all this was going on?
3. What does this mean for Portis' future?

Anthony Reed

Sam: Well, Mirotic is missing enough games. No one has been clear about his part. I wouldn’t be surprised given everyone, including Robin Lopez talking about both being to blame, that there could be a fine for Mirotic at the appropriate time. After all, he’s still facing surgery and this is a painful thing to go through. You have to feel for him. The coaches were watching and the teammates were playing. Like I mentioned in my story about the incident Thursday, it’s a cheap second guess to suggest this could have been/should have been avoided. There was talk this has gone on in a competitive nature for a season or more. Then just by that, you’d have to be shocked there would be a punch thrown. After all, if guys went at it for a season or more and nothing happened and nothing had been going on off the court, like some skirmish you hear about on teams, then why this day with the rotation and lineup already basically set would anyone think this would occur and with a punch? If anything, you’d figure if the guys went at it a year or more and then it was settled who was starting and off the bench and they both started preseason games and the coach made clear it was a competition at all positions for starting, why would anyone by any stretch of the imagination think there would be a fight now?

It’s basically a cheap shot second guess to suggest someone should have stopped it. Coaches routinely love to see guys go at it hard. That never gets broken up, and especially with two guys with a history of it, why would you now? And, plus, Mirotic, if anything, has been known in the NBA for his lack of aggressiveness. How could anyone seriously believe they were under attack from Nikola Mirotic? As for Bobby, people forget. Ron Artest beat up fans. So did Stephen Jackson, now a TV commentator. Jermaine O’Neal tried to kill a guy on the court. They all went on to productive periods and Artest is now said to be coaching material and beloved. Bobby will be fine. It was bad, sure, but we are talking about one punch in a split second. Bobby’s basketball issue is he seems to have not advanced as a player despite a serious work commitment. That would be a problem for his future in the NBA.

It appears that the Portis swing on Niko was an act of frustration.  Apparently Portis worked very hard over the summer in an attempt to win the starting 4 spot.  Suddenly it looks like he is #3 at power forward as Niko is selected to start because of “chemistry” and the rook will get serious minutes.  As you may recall, I have long preferred Bobbie over Niko because of his effort, skill  and basketball IQ.  There is a chance this ends Bobbie’s future as a Bull which would be sad.  Fighting is unacceptable especially against a team mate but there is something to be said for spirit of which Niko has not shown any to these eyes.  We don’t as yet know the circumstances of the unacceptable swing but it obviously was a mad Portis

John Petersen

Sam: That seems like a reasonable read of the situation. I can see Bobby having been unusually frustrated to have fallen behind, especially a rookie who hasn’t played in the NBA. But I understand as the seventh pick and in the Jimmy Butler trade the team wanting to see Markkanen on a regular basis. And players have to understand rookie lottery picks coming in are going to get preference for the investment the team has made in them. You have to then be better than them. Bobby hasn’t always been given a great chance with all the guys being brought in like Gasol and then Felicio and sticking with Taj and pushing for Mirotic to start and trying him at different positions. But that’s the fate of a player picked outside the lottery. It’s the basketball is not fair thing. You have to prove to be better than the favored guy. It happens all the time at everyone’s job; has happened to me plenty. Someone comes in as a favorite of the boss and no matter how much you do and contributed, you are old news and everyone likes to try out the new toy. And you have to adjust and work at it and produce excellence, often beyond the person ahead of you, to begin to get noticed again or get back the job you previously had. Bobby is a wonderful player to have because his attitude usually is so great, committed and welcoming. But sports is a production business.

Wish I could get to see Dunn sooner. Not expecting greatness right away.  Expecting tentative play right away. He needs to find a big he can trust.  Then if he can bond with one of these youngsters, you have the makings of a trap.   When he gets out into the open floor, promptly to the rim young man but keep the peripheral vision going for the wings slipping baseline under the guy picking up the ball. And know where are your spot up guys. Then get them the ball.  Practice your touch, pass them open.

Pete Zievers

Sam: You looking for an assistant coaching spot? Though everyone is anxious to see LaVine, as I’ve mentioned many times, I think Dunn could make this deal a big winner. I think we know LaVine, assuming health, is going to be really good. And Markkanen because of his shooting and apparent lack of concern for poor performances will fill a role. Perhaps sooner than we thought. He maybe won’t be a super star, but he should be a very valuable player, especially in this scoring/shooting era. If Dunn can just run, run a team, run to the rim, make just enough shots. No one expects him to be Derrick Rose. But if he can be who he sounds like, tough defense, aggressive play, physical, fearless, then the Bulls will have a ready made core and be a lot closer to where they want to be than they are. But he needs to be that guy you’d like to see.

One of the disadvantages super teams have like the Cavs & Warriors is that they have to let go potential diamonds lost in the hay (players) because of cap room or simply no availability on the current roster for them. On the other hand, rebuilding teams like the Bulls can take advantage of those opportunities. Therefore, what do you think about the Kay Felder Signing ?. Reports say he’s a good shooter and above average defender in spite of his size (5-10). Do you see him as a potential Nate Robinson type of player on this Bulls team?

Randall Sanders

Sam: I’m not sure what opportunity he will get, though with a team with the Bulls’ expectations, it would seem there should be no automatics. And it looked like after the opener, he already was in the process of at least nudging aside Archidiacono. I like the pickup of a guy who may be a nice surprise, and it’s, to me, one of the reasons I didn’t understand all that angst about moving the second round pick. I don’t know who the Bulls would have picked, though I don’t think they were interested in the guy Golden State picked. Paxson has said the four or five guys they liked were taken. It’s an eye of the beholder part of the draft, if not ecumenical. But Felder certainly is just as good or better now and as young as second rounders from this past draft. The point at the start of a rebuilding is there are going to be two years of tryouts and a swinging door of players. So your undies in a bunch about some second round pick is really silly. Though it did give me a chance for the first time ever to write “undies in a bunch.” So thanks.

What’s with the Spurs starting lineup; looks terrible. Yes Did you see the Bucks have been shopping Henson. Henson only has a yr after this. Its not a bad deal and he is still young. Interested?

Mike Sutera

Sam: And then they beat the champion-to-be Minnesota Timberwolves on opening night. That’s your shaking your head team and while I don’t believe coaching means as much as most people do, it does with the Spurs. What’s so unusual and special with Popovich is that he remains so demanding. And because of his success and tenure, it’s unquestioned. I love to watch him during games after even plays which were successful giving it to someone coming off the court for a lack of a defensive move or a commitment to hustle on the other side of the court. Plus, Popovich as he demonstrated with LaMarcus Aldridge, is not afraid to admit things were his fault, rare among coaches. Which is different from the junk when coaches say they have to be better. They usually are lying and blaming the players.

Popovich was specific in the way he dealt with Aldridge and said he was all wrong. He is unique, and unique means there aren’t many ever like that. Red Auerbach was. Some others. I’m not sure there are any others like that currently working in the NBA. These are generational specialists, like Jordan or Bird or Russell or Oscar. I saw those rumors about Henson, which still are rumors for now. I believe he has two years after this at about $10 million a year. I’m fairly sure the Bulls are not pursuing those sorts of players unless they are star types. The Bulls seem to be holding cap room for now to perhaps take on a contract that gets them a good draft pick. Where they are now, that seems to make the most sense.

How about:

BULLS - Tyson Chandler, Jared Dudley, Troy Daniels, 2018 1st overall pick.
SUNS - Robin Lopez, Kris Dunn, Cristiano Felicio, Bobby Portis, 2018 2nd round pick.

Tom Plonowski

Sam: I’d give it some thought, though I probably wouldn’t give up Dunn, and certainly before I’ve seen what he can do. Remember, this guy was pretty special  a year ago coming out of college. I’m fairly sure the Suns, who look like the league’s worst team after that opening night home disaster loss of almost 50 points, aren’t giving up that pick. And they’ve already got a lot of guards. Try again.

Playoffs is a reach for Orlando. You should place a big wager in Vegas if you truly believe that. 32.5 wins o/u. Miami is 44.5. I wouldn't bet either line. It reminds me of your Pelicans third in the West prediction a couple of years ago. I saw the Magic in Milwaukee last year. Jonathon Simmons and Terrance Ross minus Ibaka are not bringing 12 more wins.

Jake Henry

Sam: But I did have Houston second last season; and who else had that? Nyaah, nyaah, nyaah. These are just educated guesses for fun and discussion before the season. Check that gm survey sometime and compare it to what really happens. And they get paid a lot. I believe I had Orlando eighth, which is hardly 44 or 45 wins in the East. Maybe 10 fewer. I think the Magic have vastly underachieved with their roster because of the dysfunction since the Scott Skiles resignation. I don’t see top four, but they could be eighth in the East, which in this era is hardly a great accomplishment. Of course, I may be incorrect for what is that, the second time ever?

Thunder at #2 in the West?  Wow.  I just don't see how those three guys are going to fit together, though they of course are all very talented.  But I'm not sure Westbrook and Anthony could stop Paul Zipser if they double-teamed him.  And now Paul George is going to go from being the number one option virtually his entire career to the third option on offense and the only one of their big three who's expected to play defense?  There's too much talent there for them to be bad, but I see more of a four or five seed. I was surprised how high you have Minnesota.  I have faith in Thibs, at least for a few years at a time, and Butler certainly will help.  But we haven't seen Butler be great on an above-average team yet.  Do you think he can play enough team ball?  Offensively his greatest strength is one-on-one, though who was he passing to on the Bulls the last couple of years?  Seems like he'll need to play more team-oriented offense if the Wolves are going to improve that drastically. Will he be open to deferring to Towns and passing to Wiggins?

Cameron Watkins

Sam: All good questions I’m sure Thibs will hear plenty of. I’m interested to see as well. I believe Jimmy could, but there are a lot of moving parts there, and for some reason you hear concerns about Towns and his place and attitude. Seems like a good kid to me, and the most talented guy on that roster. We will find out. Houston got off to a great start with that win over the Warriors, though those ring night losses are not that uncommon. TNT still has them 80-2. It’s too soon to say, of course, but that Harden/ Paul pairing got off to a bad start, and Paul is one of the more non compromising, difficult-to-get-along-with guys in the league. The Clippers are looked happy in their opener. Paul missed the second game and has seemed like a supportive teammate for now. Again, we’ll see. We’ll see Oklahoma City next week in the United Center. Westbrook really isn’t a point guard with a feel for the court, but you get the sense he’s a guy who really wants things to work and will try to figure that out. There are a lot of teams that are going to have to outscore you; they do have the guys who should be able to. Again, it’s good viewing for this season because we know so little about so many potential top teams, which is rare. And the curse of the East: Geez, Gordon Hayward and now Jeremy Lin. Maybe Justin Holiday can make the All-Star team.

I am a basketball fan first and a Bulls fan second so my interest this year is in watching how an implosion might occur in a franchise.  I enjoyed Hoiberg’s shoot 3’s when you are open and move the ball around offense.  Stark contrast to the T’Wolves last night where Butler was actually walking up the court without the ball.  Wait he used to do that here. I will confess the Portis/Mirotic kerfuffle has made this almost to the stage of a can’t turn away car crash.  Yes fights happen frequently.  Yes teammates don’t like each other. Yes fighting for playing time.  But putting someone in the hospital is a bit of overkill.  Yes they are gigantic human beings but really.  Just as I never realized Asik was a less than perfect teammate until he left, I’m sure there are two sides to this story.

The more interesting story is: Is this another example of Holberg coaching like he has college kids instead of grown men?  In watching an implosion, there is generally not much left.  Are Holberg and GarPax getting to close to the widening gyre???

Greg Young

Sam: I don’t think so, but I am proud to be the first sports writer to have “widening gyre” in my column. Thank you for that. As I hear everywhere I go, there just isn’t enough Yeats in sportswriting these days. Though I always thought it came from the Robert Parker “Spencer” novel.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand.

Wait, that isn’t about this coming Bulls season, is it?

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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