Ask Sam Mailbag: 10.26.18
Sam opens his mailbag and answers your questions about the Bulls and the NBA
My excitement for this season was as high as it had been for years, thinking about a competitive non-tanking Bulls team with young and hungry players. The injuries have caused me to feel a little down from that, but hopefully BP is something minor and everybody is back by December to see how this team can really be utilized. There are times I want to criticize Hoiberg but he just can't catch a break with a full healthy team to really see how everything is progressing.
I forgot that Lavine is only 23 years old! I know it's just 3 games, but wow who can question Gar/Pax about that trade and signing him to that contract? The one thing that worries me about these guys is the tendency to play one on one too much. Do you think some of them are just more worried about their own situation and trying to impress and this will become a problem throughout stretches of the games from here on out?Jon Kueper
Sam: There's a bit of a Carmelo issue, which is good and bad. It's good to have someone with the talent of a Carmelo Anthony, but you may need someone who can direct things enough that the ball moves more. That has, at times, been an issue with this group, through Parker played his most unselfishly this season (we forget just four games) against the Hornets; even to the point he and LaVine worked well off one another in pick and roll and were equally unselfish. The weakness this group has is while they might work well in two-man games, they don't get the ball moving around often enough so that the defense has to chase multiple players. Of course, there's no reason to believe they should never having played together. Virtually all the teams they play against have some sort of established core with maybe one guy added. These Bulls with injuries and personnel changes seem to start over every two weeks. The way Hoiberg talks, it sounds like they do it in practice, but then, understandably, they revert to their comfort zone in games, which is more isolation. I think you do need one guy like that, who can be a star making plays when you need them, what Derrick Rose did, Jimmy Butler, and you see now players like Harden, Antetokounmpo, Durant. They're not so unselfish. LaVine is morphing into that player, and that's the most important first step to be a contending team. You cannot without that guy. What the Bulls have had trouble sorting out is Parker and Portis preferring to play that way as well. And then everyone developing trust that if they give the ball up and move and get open, will it come back to them? You can't develop that with new lineups just about every third game with all the injuries. So that's a work in progress. I will apologize for comparing anyone to Carmelo, which actually was once a good thing.
OK Ok... Payne had a good game. I am gonna give him a shot. Looks like we need to add someone off the G - league to cover for Portis.
Sam: Sometimes it only takes one game? Until the next one, right? Yes, I'm sure you've been in a community wide chorus of disdain for Payne. The Bulls should keep him if only for what a great rap song you could make with the rhymes for his name. Now if he can only make five threes a quarter? Though the Bulls are probably day to day when they deign to strain being on the wane about Payne. I think I saw Gar after Wednesday's game asking Payne to recite, "the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain," and then shrieking, "By John (Pax), he's got it! I think he's got it!"
Though the Bulls did bring in two more point guards of all sizes in the last week or so with a water buggy scooter and lanky octopus. Payne is pretty much who he was the day the Bulls traded for him, a former low lottery pick with potential who was worth a look because of his ability to push the ball and make a shot. Though Payne has protested, it seems likely he's been scarred by the community outrage to his presence. It began almost immediately as more a reaction to trading Gibson and then, I suspect, he became passive trying not to make mistakes to stay out of the firing line. Even in preseason he impacted the game slightly less than most reporters. But then to start the season, he finally looked like a desperate player, being aggressive to the basket, diving on the floor for loose balls, fighting through screens and pressuring. Having some shots go in helps. Playing off the ball with LaVine seemed to work. Two guard? He's capable of being a capable backup point guard if he retains a competitive edge and aggression, which he's often lacked. He hasn't once the regular season started, and with Kris Dunn out at least another month the Bulls should find out if the look was worth it. Though Arcidiacono with a better shot, if not quite the quickness, should keep him alert pushing him as well. Neither looks like a starting level NBA point guard, so the real question remains whether Dunn can truly be the one, and being healthy for him might be a skill.
I liked what Fred did running Payne at 2 with LaVine handling. I'm sure he reads and hears what people say, so well done Cam Payne, way to bounce back.
Sam: Fred is innovative and demanding; it's just that he has a new lineup every week. He's been playing both LaVine and Parker more to advance the ball and make plays, which both like to do. The Timberwolves tried LaVine at point guard when he was a rookie, and it didn't work that well. Of course, he was a rookie. It's something more common in the NBA now because of the way the game has evolved to guards making the plays and scoring. No one knows how to make a post pass anymore because no one wants anyone to make a post pass anymore. Too bad.
After the fight and suspensions of Chris Paul and Rondo, I saw a bunch of tweets, statements, etc from the parties involved. There was even a tweet from the Rockets GM that basically expressed his belief that Rondo was a kettle, calling the pot black. While I think all of this is just fun entertainment, I can't help but think this could open the door to players and GM's exchanging jabs directly. I know people are entitled to their opinions, but is it really necessary for a GM of a professional sports team to weigh in as much as he does? Does the NBA have a social media policy for individuals with such high level positions? Critics can say what they want about Bulls management, but they would never put themselves in a bad light like this. Lastly, I'm sure you have a ton of questions about Zach, but I'll just say this - I think the way he is handling being the team's "go to guy" these first few games is refreshing. Seems like a smart guy with a good attitude.
Sam: That Rockets GM isn't very popular among his colleagues, which generally is regarded as jealousy because he's had limited success and is credited for the inspiration of that 76ers "process' with his protege, Sam Hinkie. One thing that makes the NBA so successful is that willingness of its players to engage one another, speak out and have opinions on just about everything. They are more authentic than any athletes in sport and show you who they are and how they feel, their plusses and minus more than any. Which is another of the appeals of the NBA that is going to make it the nation's most popular sport, especially now with the NBA embracing gambling. I assume the NBA quietly tells the GM to shut up some since no one asked him. And LaVine, I think you are correct, is proving to be a gift, a potential star scorer and star personality who by far already is the most articulate, approachable and conversational player on the team, welcoming to teammates, media and the staff.
By the way, that little kerfuffle this past week in Dallas about him supposedly questioning the coach was so innocent and overblown, a situation where the media actually was responsible and toned down what really wasn't anything, though several overreacted. And not just media. I was there. It was more a stream of consciousness from Zach after another disappointing loss. I took it more as saying, "Someone do something, including me!" It didn't to me seem aimed at the coach or anyone in particular even with him saying something about play calls. Sometimes you say stuff when people are pointing recording equipment at you 20 minutes after a game after 10 people watched you dress; you may not always articulate precisely. Zach isn't a blamer and excuse maker. If it were me, what I might have said about play calls that night was, "They included passes, right?"
Actually, I'm mostly still confused about Zach earning, I think, about $20 million a year and wearing jeans with rips and tears. I've been thinking of asking if he needs some shopping help or if they're just getting damaged in delivery. Got to watch those internet purchases. He might try Men's Wearhouse.
Yes Tony and Manu retired but they were hardly major contributors anymore except spottingly and without their best player the Spurs barely, barely missed the playoffs. And you add another 20+ scorer to the mix and you bet against Pop to miss the playoffs? What were you thinking?
Sam: First I'm thinking that I still don't see how Popovich and all the kings horses and all the kings men could put that cracking egg together again. I was surprised they did as well as they did last season. Popovich always has been great adjusting to the league's trends, going from his post game with Robinson and Duncan to Parker and Manu and three-point shooting. I don't know if he's got two three-point shooters on the roster with all his guard injuries. Just Belinelli. It's not only the Bulls. Talk about your narrow margin for error, like with the Bulls. Aldridge, Gay and DeRozan are not great athletes who play mid range games in a tough conference with high scoring, athletic play. Popovich always does wonders, but I don't see how their talent matches any of the top eight. I do remember that Bulls 0-9 start, and the Bulls have blown past that already. It's just that we can't seem to get a look at what they have with now probably three of the top six or seven and four of the top eight out. To digress, do the Spurs really play for eight? Remember, the Spurs were among those inventing tanking when they brought Dominique Wilkins back from playing in Greece at maybe age 45 to get a shot at Tim Duncan. It worked, and 20 years later...maybe time to start again? They have some interesting trade chips.
How much of RoLo's struggles have to do with the new rules changes, and how much is it just age/diminishment? I've seen that other defense first guys (like MKG in the Charlotte game) are having a hard time as well in getting called for lots of fouls as well. At this point, RoLo looks like he'll be out of the league next year, and he looked far away from that last year.
Sam: I think what many overlooked with the win over Charlotte is the apparent transition from Lopez and to Hutchison. Though Hoiberg won't obviously commit to that and will change again some, I can see Felicio—not just because they invested in him—but because he is more agile playing more center, and Hutchison because he's more a part of their future being force fed now and playing regularly. It probably leaves out Lopez, and certainly when Markkanen returns and likely a February chance to go to a contender if no trade. Hutchison should begin to get regular minutes with his size and defensive potential and the occasional amazing dunk with Blakeney perhaps better for that instant boost role rather than a regular tour.
An important aspect of being a good General Manager is having the skill of a fortune teller. How do you predict a player is going to be a star or a bust. I have wondered what kind of fool John Paxson was believing Cameron Payne could play in the NBA. After last night that storyline is on hold. It is not easy predicting the future. Another storyline lives on as a candidate for the worst trade ever. How could Brian Colangelo take Markelle Fultz over Tatum and, yes give up a possible top five (2019 Sacramento) pick? It is early but I do not see even glimmers of possible greatness in Fultz. What does your crystal ball tell you about Markelle Fultz's candidacy for worst NBA trade ever?
Sam: I'm sure I can come up with a few others since Wilt, Kareem, Oscar, Barkley, Harden and Bill Russell were traded. I don't watch college ball, but most every GM I talked to that season was raving about Fultz, a 6-5 guard with a sweet shooting stroke (I know) who seemed ideal for this era. What didn't make sense for them was that Simmons looked like he had to be their point guard with his own shooting hitch. Talk about a team needing a shooting coach or shot whisperer. I don't give up on 20-year-olds, especially being put through what he has been there. Though it was perceived on TV as support, I was embarrassed for Fultz the way the home crowd cheered his every move and shot. It reminded me of the mocking support for Scalabrine that essentially was saying, 'We know you're crap.' Actually, Scalabrine was a pretty good player. You don't become a second round NBA draft pick with no game. He liked that interaction with the fans and dealt with it better than most anyone I've ever seen. As a Knicks fan growing up, I remember those chants for a bench player named Nathaniel Harthorne Wingo. He had talent, but he was greeted like that same fan pet, which was insulting. I hope Fultz gets past that and deserves the cheers for his play. Not the worst deal yet. Tatum still hasn't gotten Hall of Fame admission.
There was a report over the weekend the Cavs told Korver, JR, and Frye the organization was going young. After a bad loss and 0-3 start, Lue was ready to reverse course and Kevin Love says vets who 'know how to win' have to play
Sam: They really could use someone like LeBron. There's a bad ending coming there. Look, they had to pay those guys for LeBron. It's the Damn Yankees deal: You sell your soul to the devil for what he brings; they got a championship out of it. I'm sure they were fine with the deal. Now they have to start again. So while everyone keeps looking at Jimmy Butler and Minnesota, that's another team with some interesting trade chips. Of course, they've got some crazy salaries, but $7 million for Korver for a contender should be worth a look.
Kris Dunn out for 4-6 weeks, Bobby Portis...ouch! I really feel for Fred Hoiberg. Is he a good coach...well no one could truly answer that, and that's no fault of his own. It's hard to think of another coach who has had to deal with more injuries to his key players on top of multiple roster overhauls as Hoiberg has done in his first 4 years at the Bulls. And it hurts even more with these 'false starts' out of the gates, which essentially compromises the season from the start. In the end a coach is judged on wins and losses, but in Hoiberg's case, you hope that Bulls management continue with their support of him and show even more patience. Hopefully the fans do also. Andrew Robson
Sam: As we famously say here, you are what your record is. But I don't know how anyone can judge Fred here with four entirely different rosters to start each season and this amazing series of injuries. It was bad with Derrick Rose, but basically everyone else was healthy with some additions. Fred deserves credit for handling this with grace and class, never bemoaning his fate, blaming anyone else, screaming for roster changes as many coaches here have and did (like Tim Floyd despite an avowed rebuilding plan) and having an upbeat and professional attitude every day. Plus, he's been decisive and forward thinking with his moves this season, taking out Parker when his fit with LaVine and the starters in preseason was awkward, going to Hutchison to give him a look, not quitting on Payne despite the community rage, apparently meeting with Lopez enough that his playing time reduction hasn't been an issue and giving everyone chances. Anyone for another candidate for Chicago mayor? Fred's already had a vote and has the title, if in another state.
With Dunn gone, You have to start Lavine at point guard and until Markannen comes back Jabari should start as the second ball handler: Lavine, Holiday, Hutchinson, Parker, Wcj.
I hope the Bulls give Harrison a chance he's Dunn with less offense and more likely to defer to Lavine, which is the right thing to do. This season should be all about finding a way to make Lavine and Markannen a dynamic duo and finding out who else can fit a role. Parker will become a great 6th man if he accepts it because his defense will simply not allow him to start.
Sam: It seems like they are inching toward something like that with Hutchison getting more time and a role and maybe ready for three when Markkanen returns. I'd say that wasn't on the agenda this season, but now with a slower start likely with all the injuries, there could be a lot more experimentation. The problem is that usually leads to more losses. No one thinks they learn that much losing. And, already, you're benching Cam after his best game ever?
Is it too early to tank? Haha just winding you up.
But in all seriousness it will be interesting to see the direction the Bulls take when they hit January. I've liked our effort so far and loving the growth of Lavine (hope he keeps it up). Plus I'm very interested to see what we are when Markenhan returns, but will we be 3-12 by that time? We always want to push to be competitive but landing in that 9th seed with a 1st round pick of 10-20th doesn't bring you that game changer. Well rarely. Free agency is never a friend of the Bulls so it does come down to the draft. I wonder if it's a PG we'll be after.
Sam: And so we continue into unexplored territory. The Bulls were serious about trying to strain out as many wins as possible this season, but I really don't know what you do now missing so many main rotation players for a month or more to come. You know it's always best player available in the draft, which it should be, but if they do get to midseason in a poor state, do you back off? I'm not saying that word. And then can you, really, because LaVine is so good, and he's not backing off, nor should he, and Markkanen will be looking to reclaim his season. Sort of like when Mirotic came back and the Bulls won 10 of 12. You couldn't ask him to quit, and you had to play him to establish the value. So I'd say play to win and hope the rest of the league maintains the appropriate dignity and respect for the game to do the same. One thing in that favor is most of the teams recently throwing games need to win now, or don't have picks, like the Kings. I really don't see anyone truly giving up but maybe the Cavs and Hawks.
For the past two years the Bulls have drafted one spot behind the Magic. The Magic selected Jonathan Isaac in 2017 and Mo Bamba in 2018, while the Bulls got Lauri and Wendell. Obviously we have yet to see the Bulls picks play together. So based solely on the limited sample size and the expected upside, which duo would you rather have moving forward?
Sam: I do think the Bulls got that right because I have Markkanen the best of the four, and in the draft it is all about finding one guy in every three.
Regards to Jabari Parker. Are his minutes a concern at all to you? I would not have expected him to be playing so few minutes, even if he continues to come off the bench. He has played 24-25 minutes in every game so far. Obviously, he has not looked great despite putting up an efficient 20 points. But, they did give him $20 mil this year with the hope of him breaking out and becoming a potential piece for the future. Playing 24-25 MPG is not enough to get an idea in my opinion. And, these minutes are coming with Lauri out. When he comes back, do you see this number dropping? I would have expected him to play around 30-35 minutes to be honest.
Sam: I believe Jabari is with you. Obviously the rotations have been trouble with the injuries. It seems to me more a fit issue, though against Charlotte Jabari looked good with LaVine for the first time. It being the fourth game, it's probably not a big problem. We probably can give someone three games to adjust to a new team. Jabari made little secret of his dislike for a bench role and the playing time. He should get plenty of starting time now with all the power forwards hurt. Hoiberg always has been consistent on if you play well, you play. He's got his chance. It's up to him.
Jabari Parker is playing a little better every game. BTW. if all of Jabari's petulance leads to him playing better, I'm all for it. I understand him blowing everybody off, because he's had nothing but negatives from the press & fans since he was signed. I know that makes your job harder, but Zach talks enough for both of them... and so fast you can hardly understand him. He must have the metabolism of a hummingbird. With all those guys down, we'd better just enjoy watching Zach ascend, and hopefully, Jabari come back.
Sam: I thought even though Parker had 20 points in Dallas it was his worst game because he looked everyone off and kept dribbling into shots. He made most of them, which eased the concern, but it led to the loss with everyone else detached. He had 20 points and, unsurprisingly, led the team in largest minus while on the floor. That changed for whatever reason against Charlotte. He was really good and team oriented, setting good screens, moving the ball, moving himself enough. He's never going to defend that much with a lack of lateral quickness, but, sad to report, no one's playing much defense in the NBA anymore, so don't obsess about it and focus on him or LaVine. With the rules changes on perimeter contact and the court so stretched with three-point shooting and so many teams shooting so quickly, the definition of defense is changing. It's basically going to be trying to make a play in an end game situation, which the Bulls did to beat the Hornets. Great defense by Zach LaVine! Best defender of the season no matter what went on before.
Maybe the injuries will give Parker more enthusiasm for the all around game figuring he'll play more. He's skilled and can contribute. He has a sophisticated offensive game and wonderful overall feel. It doesn't appear his knee has been an issue. So we'll get a chance to see. I assume he starts Friday with Portis out a month or so. Where the heck is JaKarr Sampson now?
You're right about Zach; but the job is not more difficult because of Parker. Some guys don't want to be bothered; it's OK. It's their prerogative. Parker never is Rasheed Wallace nasty. Just detached. But there are so many good guys in the NBA, open, friendly, personal. LaVine is one of the best. What Parker doesn't understand is how much it eventually will hurt him; not the media. If you're a star, no one cares if you never speak to anyone and burn books. LeBron could not do a media interview for a year and be recruited by everyone. Notice he does them all the time and more than most. He understands, especially now with this personal branding, how much it helps him off the court. It also helps players without off the court income like LeBron because if a team is undecided between two, maybe you get the job because at least they see you'll be good in their locker room. That stuff matters to teams. They ask around. So if one or two guys don't feel like doing interviews, there always are a dozen who are delighted. And then when you have someone like LaVine, you don't even notice who isn't. It was like Jordan with the Bulls. Scottie or Will Perdue might be in one of their funks (just joking, Will). But who even noticed with Michael regaling everyone, approachable, friendly, interesting, engaging. And he was usually scoring the most points. Zach's becoming like that for this Bulls team, so affable, enlightening and gracious you sometimes wonder why you are talking to anyone else.
Someone on the Bulls needs a raise. Ryan Arcidiacono, Cameron Payne and Kris Dunn have all developed into much better players under the Bulls. I think the opportunity Payne is getting to play is going to be huge for him this season. When Dunn returns, Payne will be more confident.
Sam: I'm hoping they save the money for free agency; though maybe the biggest question coming into the season when no one was hurt was could Dunn develop into that elite point guard to match the potential of LaVine and Markkanen? It will be an even bigger question when he returns.
This just popped into my head: after MJ's final retirement as a Bull, I read that MJ was interested in joining the Lakers and had sent feelers to Shaq, but the latter wasn't interested. It sounded bogus to me and even more so knowing that Phil had reportedly wanted MJ to join the Lakers as a mentor to Kobe, with the former declining the invitation and eventually joining the Wizards.
Sam: I can never recall Michael wanting to do something in which he didn't have control. Joining the Lakers to support Shaq didn't sound like any Michael I ever knew. Did you mean Michael J. Sweetney?
Despite losing Portis, Dunn, Lauri, and Denzel, I think the silver lining is that Carter, Payne, and even Hutchison will get lots of playing time. Plus Parker and Felicio now get the chance to prove that they earn their contracts. I think the team will grow and become even better from this - kind of like how Jimmy got good after Deng was out and Thibs was forced to play him. What do you think?
Sam: I think if only the Bulls could lose LaVine, Parker and Holiday what a triumph the season might be.
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.