Ask Sam Mailbag: 11.16.18
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to answer readers' questions.
Assuming no additional serious injuries, the Bulls should be near full strength about December 25th leaving fifty or so games remaining for the season. There has been some true excellence and leadership from LaVine, very high expectations with the accruing experience of Carter and the positive performance of Hutchison and even Arci. The welcomed demotion of Payne and Felicio from the rotation is addition by subtraction. We might even hope for some modest decision improvement from Blakeney and a reduction in isolation play. This group reportedly is the type of coachable young and talented personnel Fred wants to match his preferred style of play. That's a lot of assumption and speculation in the preceding statements but yet reasonable projections. Fred finally has had some talent flexibility and exerted some welcomed direction. It would seem that the final fifty games would/could/should be a definitive measurement of Fred's future with the Bulls.
Sam: It sounds sensible even if it's not. I know we're all anxious to see those guys play and together—just like we said a year ago—but I hope you're not suggesting some winning streak just because they are back. Considering that all those other teams will have been together for two months and most with veterans who have played together for more than just this season. It's going to be training camp all over again without the benefit of practices since the Bulls in early January also have their longest Western Conference road trip of the season, five games over 10 days against all top playoff teams. Let's not suggest that somehow starting from scratch two months into the season is some ideal gauge. Against teams who didn't have to. There are many ways to analyze a team, and, wins always are the final factor. But how about development? Did you think a year ago Arcidiacono and Blakeney were NBA players? One has become a starter and the other a regular in the rotation. Sure, partly because of injuries, but neither was drafted, which means the NBA said they were doubtful NBA players. They are NBA players and have gotten much better with the Bulls. LaVine is playing the best he ever has, and though I attribute much of that to his work, he did so also working with the Bulls and coming in early this summer. Wendell Carter Jr. has played much better than scouts anticipated and continues to improve working with the Bulls. Yes, some have regressed like Felicio and to an extent Payne, who really never was better than he is now. But Bobby Portis also is much better than anyone anticipated for a player taken in the bottom third of the draft. That's perhaps a fairer judge. And, sure, the Bulls are coming off an ugly loss in Boston. But a much better Jazz team lost by more points the same night to a Dallas team that struggled to hang on to beat the Bulls. And the Warriors against Houston were blown out looking awfully disorganized and disinterested. Could Steve Kerr be in trouble? Those games happen, perhaps more so in this wild, three-point shooting world. For the most part, these Bulls players have tried hard, have attempted to follow the directions of the staff, have responded after poor efforts, have improved their defensive numbers from the first few games and been mostly competitive for a team rated by bettors to win one game thus far this season and starting only one player who played regularly last season. Everyone in sports is measured by the record, as we understand. But I've seen plenty of positive measurements in what the staff has done.
Turns out the soap opera is not ‘As the Butler Turns'. Draymond Green was benched for a game, allegedly for calling out Kevin Durant repeatedly and, some say, for questioning his commitment to the Warriors. Yelling Heads are screaming that KD is outta there this summer, or that Draymond will be traded… or both. I have a little take on this myself; In short, it'll all blow over. KD & DG will be mad at each other for a while and eventually talk it out. Now, we know that Draymond has lost his cool before. At OKC, he called Steve Kerr out so loudly that people in the hall outside the lockers heard it, and he wasn't suspended for that. Why now? I don't think it's to placate KD so he'll stay. I don't think GS is choosing sides (with KD). It's possible that this is simply “one time too many” for Draymond. It has to do with what happened just before all the yelling, and I would have suspended him too, maybe for more than one game. Final play of the game & GS has one chance to win it in regulation. Draymond effectively threw the game because he didn't want to give the ball to Durant. Talk about ‘crossing the line'. Who cares what he said?
Sam: Isn't it great the Bulls don't have those All Stars to have those problems? You're right about it all blowing over. I saw a lot of this with the 90s Bulls. Look, Bill Russell was mad a lot and barely was on speaking terms at times with Bob Cousy for years. I actually remember when Russell unfriended him. You should have seen the reaction then. It is one of the challenges of too much success, though you'll sign on for it. I remember in 1997 when the Bulls were going for threepeat No. 2 and Scottie Pippen declared on a Bulls trip while he was injured that he'd never wear a Bulls uniform again the way the team treated him and you know where they could shove their uniform. And then hugging on the way to another championship rally. Like Green, he was a bit on the emotional side as also a guy who did a lot of the stuff that wasn't as glamorous and didn't make you as popular. I expect Golden State to be there again. But you'd be in trouble on those national TV show since you actually seem to understand what's going on and have some depth to your analysis. You can tell by the Be Like Draymond tryouts going on quietly with the Warriors the last few years. You know they have no intention of resigning him when his contract expires after next season. The latest applicant has been Chicago's Alfonzo McKinnie. It's why they were so excited by Jordan Bell and we've seen Kevon Looney and Patrick McCaw. Draymond has been the centerpiece of outrages for years that wins have neatly tranquilized. Hey, look over there! It's Steph! And, by the way, the Warriors are not a dynasty without Durant. Yes, Curry is more their MVP this season and they've looked pretty ordinary with him out lately. But what truly separates them is the addition of Durant with his skill and size. He's LeBron-like in a way. Though Durant is less Warrior than most since he's more comfortable in isolation. It's a credit to Steve Kerr the way he's made that work so well. But it probably upsets Draymond. I've always felt Durant would stay around another season to get a year in the new San Francisco arena. But maybe two championships and Finals MVPs is enough. Maybe too much traffic there. Not a lot of places seem to make that much sense for Durant other than an historic franchise that's won multiple titles consecutively that now has young potential stars and starters at every position but small forward. But aside from that obvious logical Midwest destination, does Durant really want to be LeBron's caddy? Be the other guys in LeBron's arena? In that New York dysfunction? Back home in DC wondering how to make as much money as John Wall? But it's just one person's decision and then when he makes it we'll say, “Oh, yeah, I see now.” Could there be another Decision TV show coming?
In a little over a year's time, the Timberwolves essentially traded Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and Laurie Markkanen for...Dario Saric and Robert Covington, with a brief and forgettable playoff appearance to boot. At this point, would you even trade LaVine straight up for Jimmy Butler? How 'bout Markkenan? For all the criticism we tend to lay on Bulls' management, it looks like they at least got this one right (plus they also indirectly landed Wendell Carter Jr. in large part due to last year's Butler trade).
Sam: Now now, no I told you sos, especially since back then most were not so happy. I don't believe anyone thought the Bulls were a serious contender with Jimmy—after all, once Rondo was hurt he and Wade couldn't get the team one playoff win with three of four at home—but Jimmy at the time, and maybe still, was the best player in the deal. And we all are told the team getting the best player wins. It hasn't worked out fully for the Bulls yet with Markkanen and Dunn having injury issues again for a second season. But even without Jimmy's drama that we all know is such a relief not to endure, it was clear then the Bulls path was closed. They tinkered with a rebuild the year before but decided to take one more shot with Wade and Rondo. Oh well. There really was no path to contention no matter how you looked at it given Jimmy isn't your LeBron/Durant/Curry/Giannis type. As good as Kyrie? Probably not, though good. If he stayed, the Bulls were on the hook for the John Wall-like $45 million annual salary, and then you can't add much around him. That Jimmy apparently tried to sabotage the Timberwolves to get his way only takes the pressure off whatever occurs with the trade. We still think it looks really good for the Bulls, but those guys have to play. LaVine is playing great, even better than most imagined, and playing hard. Though you now run the risk of wearing him out too soon in the midst of the losses. If you have to take the losses, so be it. It's not about this week or this month. LaVine is too important to the future. It might be time to ask him to pull back some. The guy really competes hard and does all he can to help the team. I'm constantly amazed at his fearless play. It might be time even as badly as things are going to give him a break.
How do you rank the east after the Jimmy trade? The East doesn't seem so bad for being called the Leastern Conference. I would love to see a small market team like the Bucks make it out. They've put together a great team. Long armed good athletes and Giannis is a superstar. Was Charles Barkley considered a good defensive player in his time ?
Sam: The East's the Beast! But last part first: No. Even Barkley these days admits he should have at least tried. He didn't. But with Jimmy moving East, Embiid and Giannis among the MVP leaders and Boston loaded and Kawhi perhaps on loan I assume we are done with the reseeding-for-the-playoffs nonsense. You can easily make the case now the top five teams in the East are every bit as good as the top five in the West. Well, assuming Durant and Green still are fighting over the ball. The West is deeper at the bottom, which does make the day to day competition somewhat more difficult in the West. The West has no Knicks, Hawks and Cavs, and, OK, but just for a few more weeks, Bulls. The Suns are worthy of that quartet and perhaps the Kings eventually fall back to reality, though if you keep adding good young players you do get better. Like I'm sure Thibs is saying now, “We are not a 14th place team.” Orlando will drop in the East after a similar spurt to start last season, and Washington will move up as John Wall drops the post game triple scoop ice cream sundaes. So the East will have a competitive top eight, and if you think you are as good as Washington and finish 10th in the West, well too bad because you wouldn't make the top seven in the East, either, most likely. The East is back! Though it does complicate Zach's All-Star hopes.
I'm giving myself permission to think that maybe the Timberwolves are going to come out of the Jimmy episode in good shape. I've always had a lot of respect for Covington's and Saric's games, and watching them against the Pelicans, it seemed to me they fit very nicely with the Wolves. Covington especially brings toughness and outside shooting to the starting five, without Jimmy's baggage and ball-stopping. Saric gave Randle and Anthony Davis a lot to worry about when he came off the bench, and seems like a good counterpoint to the combination of athleticism and inconsistency of some of their young players. And hopefully Jimmy will find a home in Philly. We'll see about that--it would help a lot if they could also add a three-point shooter, because that's not the strongest part of Jimmy's game and they seem to need that. Still, they could be a nasty defensive unit, and that can still win games in the playoffs.
Sam: There you go, win/win. Thibs is getting beaten up for the trade after Jimmy's hostage crisis and the 76ers playing SWAT. As I've written, I don't believe that rumored four No. 1s deal was true. And Miami always seemed unsure about having Richardson in the deal. Even if they did, I think Thibs did OK. I, too, like Saric and felt he was being underutilized this season in Philadelphia. He's somewhat similar to Sabonis in Indiana the way he isn't used often enough. Covington is a tough Proviso West undrafted overachiever who has forced the NBA to take notice. Thibs can work with those kinds of guys to have some depth. But more so it takes the stain off Towns and Wiggins. Wiggins has gotten most of the negative response with Jimmy's antics, but he's better than given credit for. He just needs to be treated differently. Plus, Towns should be a star. I believe he will be. Jimmy unquestionably made them better last season, but those kids need some freedom to breathe and I believe that will make them better in the long run. Playoff team? Maybe not this season, but I believe they'll be better to watch. As for the 76ers Jimmy disaster, well not this season. Jimmy's smart and he's going to play ball as long as he's a free agent. There's a natural issue with he and Ben Summons because both need the ball to be most effective. But Jimmy is smart enough now not to make a fuss. He can be exceptionally charming and committed as the Bulls know. And good. I believe he will be, accommodating both Embiid and Simmons, commending their toughness as he already has, embracing the city that is anxious to embrace him back. Jimmy's I'm the hardest working, toughest Texas cornpone humble stuff will go over great in Philadelphia, which likes a guy a bit out of favor. And Jimmy will make plays in the fourth quarter and has to be defended, which should help Embiid. The 76ers should be good and it won't matter what Fultz does. Now if you pay him some $200 million as he turns 30 before next season, well, that too could be interesting.
Eddy Curry. Where is he today? He really wasn't ready to play right out of high school. Hope he has gotten a good life for himself.
Sam: Talk about your star crossed guys without stardom. I'd heard that Eddy settled down with a wife and kids and has been kicking around the edges of basketball, playing in China briefly and then I'd heard he was associated with that made-for-TV basketball tournament last summer. His name also came up with the Big3 old timers league, but I don't think he played. I read a few years back when Eddy spoke at high school how he said a huge regret was not going to college. I know, for Bulls fans, too. Eddy is such a nice guy who experienced such tragedy with his girl friend and a daughter murdered. Eddy's had financial problems, which he contributed to as I recall he'd bought a dozen cars when he was with the Bulls. He was the nicest kid, but also what's wrong with sports the way it celebrates these kids so immature and unprepared for being a professional, pays them extraordinary amount of money, and who can really say no, but then expects similar production and sophistication. Eddy wasn't ready, and it all was compounded by a Bulls team too dependent on him growing up faster than he was capable. Sure, some kids never get ready, but it's also why I'd much rather see the NBA have an age or college experience limit. Of course, we're well past that as high school to pros is closing in on us again. Eddy Curry is your poster for what happens too often.
I liked the story on Archy. I hope he can be a Berea type story, Us little guys (5'7.53221) have got to stick together. He's a player, no matter how tall, has an instinct you love to watch...and hope can rub off on everybody on the team
Sam: He's one of those reasons I really enjoy the G-league. You talk about wanting to see guys play hard; well, they certainly do there. It's true there aren't a lot of NBA players there, and certainly no All-Stars, though maybe an occasional exception. They are more like how we might be or think we would, guys who are grateful for a chance and despite not being at the top level basically appreciating the opportunity and determined to show you they're worthy and will work for it. Arcidiacono is a wonderful example, a kid who the coaches at Windy City told me you couldn't keep out of the gym, who was jumping in that awful I-90 and Kennedy traffic to help out at an Advocate Center workout on short notice, who worked relentlessly with Windy City coaches like Charlie Henry and Jannero Pargo and then one-on-one with Fred Hoiberg all summer and did get better. He did get a chance, and he sure looks like an NBA player now when two years ago you could hardly find anyone other than his college coach who might have thought so.
Is there any chance we see Tyler Ulis get some playing time with the regular team soon?
Sam: I doubt it since he's been injured and hasn't been playing for Windy City. I'm not sure what the problem is, but he'd have to get some games with Windy City before getting an NBA callup, I'd assume. And by then Kris Dunn presumably would be back. Plus, Arcidiacono has shown he deserves that backup spot for now.
How do you pronounce Arcidiacono?
Do you think Chicago might be a sneaky free agent destination next summer with them possibly opening up a max slot. With the all-star play of Zach and Lauri and with Carter Jr. and Dunn, another star like Durant (I doubt if he would sign but we can dream) could take them to another level.
Sam: It's probably the plan. A? B? C? The Bulls are going to be in position, and remember they have an option on the second season next year for Parker and his $20 million. Though Parker has been a disappointment thus far, it's still as LaVine recently noted 67 games left. And Parker was a No. 2 overall pick and it's less than a year since he's back from a second ACL surgery. Look, the Bulls would have been thrilled to get him in the draft a few years back. So there's still time, and he does have an uncanny ability to score. There's just those, err, rough spots. The Bulls should be in position to bid next summer, there will be a lot of big time free agents and not so many teams with the salary space to accommodate them. Chicago's a great city, it's an historic franchise, and, I know, yada, yada, yadda. Heard this before?
Who is rookie of the month so far? Trae Young?
Sam: It's probably Dallas' Luka Doncic, especially because the Mavericks have done so much better and he's been in the middle of so much off it as a shooter and playmaker. I'll admit Young has been better than I thought he would be. I thought he'd be pushed around more and unable to get his shot off enough, which actually was what we all thought about Steph Curry. Young is no Curry, but he can make plays. No. 1 pick Ayton is the only rookie averaging a double/double, though his team also has had little impact. I'd say the order would be something like Doncic, Young, Ayton, Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley, though the latter comes off the bench. And dare we say it, for a better team, yes your Sacramento Kings. The Bulls seem very satisfied with Carter and his progress. I doubt they have any regrets.
I'm sure that a lot of fans are currently disappointed with the Bulls' start to the season, but I really believe that the front office has done a remarkable job of rebuilding in a short period of time. Which of these young trios would you rather have: Tatum, Brown, Rozier...Embiid, Simmons, Fultz... or LaVine, Carter Jr., Markkanen?
Sam: Well, since it's now Butler instead of Fultz, the Bulls probably still are third. But it's a very good start for the Bulls if we ever get to see them start.
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