Ask Sam Mailbag: 11.09.18
Sam answers your questions about the Bulls and the NBA
Your Pelicans game report certainly sums up your positive view of Carter. I'm happy to enthusiastically agree. It's still very early but he probably would go several slots higher in a redraft and, as you noted, could even be in the rookie of the year conversation. It will be interesting to see how the bigs play together when Laurie and Bobbie return and how Dunn adjusts and hopefully evolves.
Sam: If it's about rebuilding/retooling/resetting then it's about incremental steps. It's not supposed to take as long as baseball because there basically is no NBA minor leagues for the best players, but it does take awhile because the top draft picks are so young. That's really what's most impressive about Carter, that all those cliches about the game going too fast and the rookie wall and rookie mistakes don't seem to apply. He's probably already the best on the team at playing fundamental position defense. Which also makes my point that with defense it usually is either you are or you aren't. You rarely become that. Though the GM survey named Carter for maybe best in five years, he doesn't have the athletic talent of some of the top players, like DeAndre Ayton, of course. The Al Horford comparison still continues, and Carter could be picked last when they pick the All-Star teams in three years. Which would be good because he'd be an All-Star. The Bulls would be fine with last pick. If the Bulls, indeed, got the next Al Horford it's been a coup.
I was wondering why Robin has been so left out. There is no way anyone has played so strongly that you couldn't give this guy a reason to take a shower. He is good for at least a couple of minutes. Will we continue to play roulette until Dunn gets back. It seems to me that though he has the least "talent/size", Arch is the best point we have to run Fred's system. The worst thing he does is hesitate when he has his shot, don't you think that will come with the more time he gets?
Sam: I would not be surprised as you saw in the second half of the New Orleans game to see both Lopez and Arcidiacono playing more. Hoiberg has stated it remains about competition, so it wouldn't be surprising or unreasonable. You're upset? Play better. It's a more difficult scenario with Lopez. He's obviously not a part of the future team, and Felicio, like him or not, has two more years after this. So play Lopez to steal a game of two? Or try to force feed Felicio the playing time even if he doesn't produce so perhaps you get something out of him and develop him because he will be here a few more years? The latter from afar makes sense, though I do understand the immediate frustration when Lopez helps you more winning today's game. Tough choice for the coach. Much easier second guess.
Why does Hoiberg keep starting Cameron Payne when we all know if he really isn't a point guard? It's very clear that Ryan Arcidiacono is not only a better at running a team but a natural PG.
Sam: Part is you have to play someone through their highs and lows and for some sustained period to learn whether they fit and who they are. There's an expiration date on that; we just don't know it. We are starting to see Arcidiacono more, and who would have imagined that a year ago? And clamoring for him. Arcidiacono, though, strikes me as one of those coach favorite types who loves to please, like Doug McDermott. They actually listen to what the coach says and try to do exactly that. Spoiler alert: Very few NBA players are like that. But that's how you generally become an NBA player. With your imagination and lack of fear in trying something different or taking a chance.
Arcidiacono has started to take his shot a bit more. He is a committed defender, a really hard worker without telling you about it—coaches said at Windy City last year he was in the gym day and night every day—and good running a team. Speed limits him, which is why he didn't make the draft cut. But he actually worries about setting up teammates, moving and passing, which is not a general concern with the lineups the Bulls have had to play lately. Sometimes it's OK, like with Blakeney. He's in there to shoot. If he's missing, he comes out. It's OK. Though I do expect to see Shaquille Harrison some as with the additions of Harrison and Tyler Ulis it seems apparent that the backup point guard position remains a chorus line type audition. Lots of high kickers coming through. Just waiting for someone to distinguish himself.
Left from the class of '01:Parker, Pau, Zbo and Tyson. I was never the biggest Chandler fan given I was a kid when he was drafted and I was so excited for him to become the next KG based on all the hype during that draft and offseason. Given his rough go in Chicago due to his young age and the bad roster he carved out one hell of a career. A key factor in an unlikely Championship team in 2011 to a defensive player of the year award. Happy for the guy. But what's going on there? Is LeBron gunning for Luke Walton?
Sam: So, Jerry Krause was sort of correct. But patience wears thin, and Krause was on his last chance then after blowing up his Elton Brand draft. Tyson was advertised as the next KG with Eddy Curry the next Shaq, which was good for the justification of trading 20/10 Brand, but not so good for their development. And then Tim Floyd looked at them and said, "I have to win games now to get an extension." And so, boom! Then once Scott Skiles came in with his lack of general patience, which he was hired for, Tyson had no chance. It really wasn't until his sixth year and then playing with a Hall of Fame point guard in Chris Paul that he had a chance to become who he really was. Which wasn't Garnett because he really had little offensive game and was more Cliff Ray or Marvin Webster. Ben Wallace? The Lakers are his seventh different team with a couple of stops in Dallas. He made an Olympic team, he made an All-Star team, he has a championship ring. It's a heck of an NBA career. He also happens to be a terrific person, family and community minded, open and welcoming to fans, media and teammates. And how nice for him to finish his career back home in Los Angeles.
The Bulls were in too much of a hurry then to wait, and that was understandable with those disastrous post-championship seasons. Tyson was great, but a great role player. When he finally got cast in the correct part, he was able to excel. Often that takes longer than teams would like. Oh, yeah the Lakers. Don't blame LeBron this time. It looks like he picked his final destination and has plenty going and understands his legacy is way beyond the next Finals. This is all Magic, though general managers meet with their coaches a lot. Magic is impatient, as many former players-as-GMs are, and he was as a player. Remember, he asked for a trade in his third season because he didn't like coach Paul Westhead's offense. Westhead, of course, was fired (sadly for the Bulls to become their coach) and broadcaster Pat Riley became the Lakers coach. See Jimmy, it's not new. Magic wasn't too popular for awhile afterward and was well down in the All-Star voting that season even though he was the West's best guard. Magic recovered. Though when he left playing after his HIV diagnosis and returned eventually to coach he gave that up pretty quickly, also. Magic's got a lot going on in his life. Now, Magic's on the hook for the Lakers future. He got LeBron, which was huge, but he messed up by letting Paul George go to Oklahoma City. He could have made the trade with Indiana, but chose to save young players and wait. Oops. Now we'll see if Toronto can persuade Kawhi Leonard as well. So Magic needs to land someone really good to join LeBron. Is Jimmy Butler enough? He may have to be. So Magic likely is a little anxious about presenting a better product for recruitment. Remember, he said if he didn't get it to work quickly he'd leave. Luke's on Magic time now.
I think Hutchison is developing nicely. He really moves well on the dribble, snaking his way to the rim. And he defends. Best snapshot the other night was him ripping a board away from some Knick. He's going to be a good one – maybe our starting SF in a year or two. And I would like every Bulls fan who complained about Zach LaVine's contract to take a look in the mirror. Imagine if the Bulls had agreed and let Zach go to Sacramento? How would you feel reading those box scores? You'd be screaming that the Bulls blew it again and calling for Pax's head. Instead, we have a future All-Star to build around. So before your next rant against the front office, take a step back and realize what a terrible mistake you'd have made given the chance. Zach does have the talent and the attitude to become an All-Star, or even a 'franchise player'. And I love the fact that he always mentions his own mistakes. You can tell he's focused on perfecting his game.
Sam: Being a fan is a love story. It means never having to say you are sorry for some really bad criticisms. Let's not get too much into I told you so, though. But it was surprising to me how anyone was suggesting not to match. Like what else were you doing with the money? But I also understand being a fan. It's often looking for the next thing, which is why free agency speculation often is more interesting to many than the actual season. And draft speculation gets even more attention. Now I'm getting mail about trading just about everyone to Atlanta, Phoenix and Cleveland for the hope of drafting someone from Duke not named Krzyzewski. Though this season the NBA begins flattening out the odds for the top draft pick with the teams with the three poorest records getting the same No. 1 odds of 14 percent (down from 25) and No. 4 12.5 percent. No. 4 today would be the Bulls with virtually the same odds as the worst three teams. So losing exceptionally isn't going to guarantee say a hill of beans or a hill in Jerusalem. As for Hutchison, I'm still with the it's early group since, well, it is. You can see teams playing way off Hutchison for his hesitancy to shoot. He has those long, graceful strides that are reminiscent of Scottie Pippen in the open court, and in Pippen's rookie year when he was 22 like Hutchison he didn't start a game because he couldn't outplay Brad Sellers and shot 17 percent on threes. What Hutchison really has going for him is an enthusiasm and desire to compete and improve. He seems like he'll be a keeper.
In my opinion, a good coach makes adjustments defensively and offensively within and between games to optimize the team's chance of winning. Players that don't play sufficient defense, turn the ball over repeatedly, and don't hustle or pass the ball deserve to be benched in my opinion while giving others a chance such as Shaquille Harrison. Also who coaches the defense on this team? I am not happy with the defensive coaching since Thibs left (at least he knew how to coach defense even if he was clueless about offense).
Sam: I would like to address the myth that Thibs was really the entire defensive line for the '85 Bears. It's not to denigrate Thibs because I still believe he is a good coach despite the mess he's helped allow to fester in Minnesota, and he was an excellent and ideal coach for the Bulls in 2010. He was the perfect guy dedicated to preparation and discipline for that team. Exactly what they needed. But remember, Thibs' Timberwolves are last in the NBA in defensive efficiency this season and were among the poorest in the league the last two seasons. Three seasons isn't a small sample. It wasn't because Thibs became a bad defensive coach. You can only coach who you have, and Thibs now has a lot of players who are young and who never were taught defensive principles, but he needed them to succeed or felt committed to them. In Chicago, Thibs had a roster filled with defensive guys and Derrick Rose. It was not unlike Larry Brown with Allen Iverson and four guys to rebound and defend, and that got a team with four starters barely ranked in the top 100 players into the Finals.
Thibs had four role type players who became all-NBA defensive players with a Defensive Player of the Year. He had Noah, Deng, Hinrich and Butler. And physical, defensive reserves like Kurt Thomas, Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer. Heck, you could have picked two league all-defense teams just from that roster. It's like getting the rock in the shape of The Thinker and being asked to put in the eyes. Johnny Bach was the great defensive assistant for the champion Bulls. When he was head coach of the Golden State Warriors in the 80s, they were one of the league's worst defensive teams. Because his star was Joe Barry Carroll, known as JBC whom many said meant Just Barely Cares. Then it became a small shooting team with gunners like Purvis Short and Sleepy Floyd. It was much easier to have a good defense when he coached Jordan, Pippen, Grant and Bill Cartwright.
I'll take some Jabari hate back: watching him is about as enjoyable as watching Wade in his Bulls year (that means "not enjoyable at all"), but he is giving the team offense and some rebounds when we're missing our top two PF's. He's not the problem. There, I said it. Having said that, I can't imagine Fred wanting to play him when Portis and Markannen return.
Sam: Ah, the rub. That scenario is setting up as one of those that you don't want to look at but won't be able to turn away from. I understood Hoiberg saying he'd play Parker at small forward because Parker seemed to be one of the team's five most talented players and we all have heard about this "positionless" NBA now where everyone can play anywhere, which isn't exactly true, though it sounds good. So, yes, what happens to that power forward when two power forwards return? I don't believe it's going to be as big an issue as it seems. I think the positionless thing the Bulls are thinking more about is four/five, that Portis more so, but Markkanen also can play some stretch center.
It actually sounds better on paper since while we weren't looking there are some really big and really good centers around, like Embiid, Jokic, Drummond. Heck, even Steven Adams, Whiteside, Kanter. So the Bulls are not going to be able to play smaller/thinner players like Portis and Markkanen at center that much. Perhaps Lopez plays more than we all thought. Maybe they need Felicio more? Though I seem to be contradicting my own argument as I go through this. John Paxson said in a radio interview when the season began that Parker's conditioning needed some conditioning, and Parker now seems to be moving better. He has a nice shooting touch and is pretty good inside, especially with mismatches. He's going to walk into scoring double figures every game. It's not something the Bulls can easily dismiss. I think the Bulls will experiment with some of those smaller lineups trying to get teams to match down to them. It seems to work for the Warriors. Size is not dead in the NBA, but skill remains transcendent. Having too many players who can produce is not one of the Bulls main problems.
Kris Dunn remains a what if. What if the Bulls brought Derrick Rose back next year? All of this is contingent on him continuing his current pace. Why you may ask? Yeah, the backcourt defense would be awful but no one is playing defense in the NBA anyway. He could potentially recruit Kevin Durant. If I remember correctly, they are friends and former summer workout partners. Older DRose probably now realizes the importance of recruiting. Plus no NBA team wins a "ship" without a two five player. It's not like to Bulls are above such a move. They brought back Scottie Pippen after torching management and he's an ambassador now.
Sam: True, we do forget feuds in the NBA. It is a very mature world despite the occasional evidence to the contrary. Of course, the way Derrick is going now they might not have enough money to pay him. Obviously, it's great for Rose and no matter the attitude from some here previously, it's hard to not appreciate Rose's story and comeback. Actually, Derrick was close with Westbrook and he isn't going anywhere, and I believe Durant left Oklahoma City mostly to get away from Westbrook. Plus, I think Derrick always has made it clear he'll play with anyone and it wasn't his job to decide whom. I actually prefer that quaint notion about teamwork. I agree that we don't know yet about Dunn, and hopefully he's not out too long so the Bulls can find out. But no matter what they decide, I'm sure their future at point guard relies on someone much younger than Rose. I also believe there's enough "been there, done that" for Rose regarding Chicago, New York and Cleveland. Probably Utah, also.
Even though the record doesn't show it, I actually believe the Bulls are going to be very good in the future. The thought of having a lineup of Carter Jr., Markennen, Hutchinson, Lavine, Dunn could be very good defensively in spite of Lavine. I actually think the bulls should look to trades to gain more draft assets. Parker could be a valuable piece at the trade deadline to flip for a 1st rounder. Jabari Parker+Justin Holiday to Memphis for Chandler Parsons + unprotected 2019 1st round pick Robin Lopez + Bobby Portis + Cameron Payne to Phoenix Suns for Ryan Anderson + 2019 unprotected 1st round pick.
When was the last time the bulls enticed an A+ free agent to come to Chicago. The reality is they don't, so the bulls should be looking to use their cap space to take on salaries to gain more draft capital in what could be a deep draft. The move also frees up playing time for players that will be apart of the future. I'd like to keep Portis but I'd trade in a heart beat if it meant gaining a potential lottery pick in this year's draft.
Sam: LaVine, Markkanen and Dunn for Duke's starting lineup? Can't we at least get Bobby back before trading him? I get the point about the concern regarding free agents. But there are a lot of big names like Kawhi, Jimmy, Durant, Klay, Cousins, Kyrie, Kemba, and there are only two teams in Los Angeles. I know the Bulls have been disappointed before, but there are possibilities. I understand about taking on the money, but I'd rather take the free agency chance. Those No. 1s in the salary dumps, when teams do that which isn't often, generally are well protected and can extend two and three years away. No one's trading you an unprotected lottery pick next draft no matter how much money you take. Denver did a salary dump last June with a protected pick. You want an unprotected pick? Throw in Carter Jr.
We have reached the blossoming of Chicago basketball. The seeds were planted via the Butler trade. Beautiful plants are growing. Wendell Carter Jr.'s development, unmistakable glimmers of excellence from Chandler Hutchison combine with sparks from Blakeney and Arcidiacono and waiting in the wings are Dunn, Valentine, Portis and Markkannen. Throw in the star power of LaVine and voila, you can envision a future contender. The threats to the garden are real. Injuries, lack of growth, bad trades, bad lack of trades, bad chemistry, etc. But for now, I can envision beauty. The question is how do you keep the garden growing. Too many plants can stunt growth. It is early in the season, and after we get our injured players back should we ask if Jabari Parker needs to be weeded out to allow others to grow? I want to like Parker and want him to succeed. You can see he has talent. So much young talent and what to do?
Sam: There will be growth in the spring, I agree. Growth has its seasons. It's now their fall and winter. Then we get spring and summer. There will be growth as long as the roots are not severed. Then all will be well in the garden. You can watch it on TV. Call it chance.
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.