Ask Sam Mailbag: Questions about Bulls rotation, trade proposals, Lauri Markkanen, and more

Alejandro Yegros:

I know I'm the 100th person to ask you about this, so feel free to ignore. Harden for LaVine and one from Lauri and Carter, plus some picks? How do you think that package ranks?

Sam Smith:

Good for Houston; not so much the Bulls, where Harden probably would return to his holdout. I know these things are fun for fantasy considerations, and I used to come up with them all the time. Though not quite this unrealistic.

You may have noticed the depressed and unappreciated guy making $41 million this year supposedly added some potential trade teams to his list of the Nets and 76ers and now Bucks and Heat. You'll notice no Bulls. Or Knicks, or Pistons, or Kings, or Hornets or Thunder or Spurs. Being an attraction also is about being attractive, which the Bulls are hopefully heading toward. But hardly there, especially with that second class non-bubble status this summer. Though the more salient point with Harden vis a vis the Bulls is basically everything Karnisovas and Donovan have talked about since the day each was hired, passing, movement, team play, unselfishness, would be moot in the face of Harden's dribble, shoot and flop game. It probably wasn't the biggest reason, but I assume part of the reason Donovan left Oklahoma City was to begin coaching again instead of having superstars take a look at the sideline and ignore him. Sure, Harden's a talent and he'd make the team better. Maybe even guarantee eighth place. But he's demonstrated with that isolation style he's easily defended in the playoffs. Not to say the Bulls will do better without a talent like his. But then everybody else gets to stand in their place and better make a shot. Is this what we've been waiting for?

Bruce Roberts:

There is something wrong with someone making $44 million dollars per year refusing to go to work or work at his/her full potential. Harden appears to have the leverage to force Houston to trade him. If Houston does not trade Harden and he doesn't want to play or plays and compromises his game it ruins this season for Houston and delays Houston's restructuring. Harden's not wanting to play for Houston makes most NBA teams suspicious that if they trade for him they would have the same problem as Houston has now. Harden appears to have the leverage in this situation. I believe this is bad for the NBA. Is there any way to prevent this?

Sam Smith:

The pendulum has swung in the NBA into the players' court, and I am as a longtime worker sympathetic to workers no matter their pay grade. Though I am anxious to see if anyone falls for Harden. Sure he's talented, but his talent is diminished by his refusal to play as a good teammate. He clashed with Chris Paul, and clearly it was your turn/my turn with Westbrook. Report card: Doesn't play well with others.

I don't see any team offering Houston anything substantial in relation to Harden's perceived value as a former MVP. I really only see Houston with the potential to cash in with picks and young players and perhaps take on a short term bad contract. Porter, Young and three firsts? That's the kind of thing that makes more sense, but then it puts Harden in a rebuilding environment. And he may as well stay in Houston for that. I can see the Rockets being stuck with him this season. It's actually $41 million this season, so he'll report because as Latrell Sprewell once explained, you have to feed your family.

Mike Kibler:

What is status with Denzel Valentine?

Sam Smith:

It came as somewhat of a surprise the other day, but it seems he sustained what is being called a mild hamstring strain. Since those can worsen easily, the Bulls are being cautious. Yes, heard that one before. It's discouraging, though more so for Valentine since it seemed he impressed at the September mini-bubble and won out over Kris Dunn for a qualifying offer. He's had a history of injuries with the Bulls, so it's a disappointing start. But as we get to say now, it's early. And he did say he thought he could play next week in Oklahoma City.

Wayne Warner:

Which Bulls players get DNP in most of the early season games? Seems that guard minutes are LaVine, White, Sato & Valentine so bunch of DNP for Ryan A & Garrett T.

Forward minutes to Otto, Williams, Hutch, Young & Markkanen...or does Hutch get squeezed out?

Center minutes to Carter & Gafford so DNP for Kornet & Felicio... or does Kornet get minutes so Bulls can audition him for a trade... or does Kornet earn them with his 3 point shooting and not as big a negative on defense with no hard blitzes?

Is there any possibility that Markkanen plays the 5 to allow more minutes for Young thus reducing minutes for Gafford?

Sam Smith:

Media began to address that with Donovan going into the home exhibition opener Friday night against Houston. My guess has been Arcidiacono, Kornet and Felicio are 13, 14, 15 out of the rotation until there are multiple injuries or illness. Donovan said he'd go nine or 10 deep, and that's likely White, LaVine, Markkanen, Carter and rookie Patrick Williams. You assume Porter, Young and Satoransky round out the top eight with Valentine, Temple, Hutchison and Gafford fighting over one or two spots. Valentine and Temple are out now with injury and Temple's Covid. So they start late, though as their only free agent and Donovan liking those kinds of players, Temple could have an advantage. This is more a Bulls shakedown cruise, but there are obvious gaps, like size at center—where Gafford could help—and playmaking at guard, where there really isn't a good answer. Donovan has emphasized passing throughout the lineup to compensate. I wonder about Porter, who clearly is among the most talented when healthy. But if he's not in the team's long term plans as an upcoming free agent, why play him much, especially since it seems it would be at the expense of Hutchison. It would seem Hutchison, Gafford and Valentine have to do some early impressing to crack the rotation.

Parker Lerdal:

Whatever happened to Jamal Crawford?

Sam Smith:

We all were surprised he never got the call last season as the youngest looking 40-year-old. And now it seems the end, also, for other old friends like Tyson Chandler after an amazing 20 years and Kyle Korver, though I expect someone will sign him up late if he wants to play. Everyone needs shooting, and all that. Jo also. I see Pau is trying to return with the Lakers. And, by the way, they cheated Oak on Dancing with the Stars. You talk about questionable votes. Oh yeah, Taj. Wonder if Noce still is playing.

BJ Loha:

It's great to see all the guys engaged and buying into the new regime. There's a totally different energy than last year. I understand it's part of their job to promote optimism, but I got a good feeling of sincerity from most of them. Are you a bigger believer in our chances after witnessing all this? I also find that there is a lot of graciousness and keeping things easy between the media and players. I don't know how Gafford didn't flinch and just answered the question about his fouls. The NBA is certainly in a class by itself way beyond any of the other pro sports leagues. I always wondered if it was due to smaller roster sizes and smaller courts creating a more intimate environment for everyone to more comfortably and freely express themselves.

Sam Smith:

I've always believed NBA players are the best athletes to be around not because I am around them, but because they are the most sophisticated. Sure there are your Westbrook, Laimbeer, Rasheed bores. But because NBA players are exposed to media and large crowds at such a young age as well as the earlier than ever recruiting process, they develop a worldliness, urbanity and independence we generally don't see in other sports like the militarism, stealth and misdirection of football and the diffidence and defensiveness of baseball with the system of playing through years of podunks. Similarly with hockey and the lack of teeth for communication. Plus now with the rewards so big in basketball, there is if not as mature a group of players a general decency and kindness in appreciation of the rewards possible. Sure, some like Harden forget by being caught up in themselves. But in large part NBA players are the most accommodating, candid and straight forward in professional sports. It's another reason I keep coming back, though I get called gramps a lot more than I once did.

Mike Hasemann:

Doesn't this Bulls offseason remind you at all of the Bears? The only thing they did to fix it was bring in a new OLine coach? And then they told us it was fixed? Seems to be what the Bulls are trying to get away with this year. They are going to run this back with what was one of the worst teams in the nba last year. And they've done nothing to help this team talent wise this year at all?

They drafted a project with the fourth pick so even though the kid can't be judged, he's definitely not going to help much this year. They did nothing in free agency. And they made no trades to speak of to at least try to shake this team up. So don't we have to assume this year is a wash and the Bulls management is looking to add one more piece in next year's loaded draft and then use their big stash of cap space next year and maybe some rebuilt trade value of their other players to remake this team? But should we be ok with just throwing away a season as they appear to be doing?

Sam Smith:

That's not exactly a bad plan if that's it since it's just one season, shorter at 72 games and without fans and who knows if we'll get through it, anyway, with the vaccines not available into next year. I'm not saying they're doing that, but if they were it would be difficult to blame them. I believe the Bulls will be much better—if you've heard this from me before move on—because of the coaching professionalism. It's apparent with Donovan. He does tend to go on at times like a basketball 101 session, but the truth is many of the players need that because they never got that as one-and-done and see you after the season is over collegians. They don't teach in college, by the way. They learn in the pros as perverse as that seems. Organization matters in the pros, but also a plan. Players generally want two things: They want to know you know what you are talking about, and they want to know how you can make them better. So they can make more money and all that. I believe the new coaching staff understands that and is going to be better at it with a definitive plan. Plus it's a show-me year for most of the roster, a sort of game-after-you-fired-the-coach season in which most of the roster is trying to prove themselves to the team or to the league for new contracts or playing time. There are some holes in the roster and perhaps some conflicts to come. And, by the way though I'm not expert in football, didn't that Bears thing have something to do with the quarterback?

Mike Sutera:

Now Paul George signed an extension. Career loser to me; no big deal.

Sam Smith:

And then there were... are there any free agents left? This appears to be somewhat pandemic induced as well since most of the top free agents seem to be resigning with their teams as they apparently survey empty arenas. Yes, these guys can add, also. But it's also why this long cry of where are the free agents and why don't they ever come to Chicago is so difficult. There generally aren't many, and now Anthony Davis and LeBron have resigned. Gordon Hayward to Charlotte. Paul George is in. Giannis seems next, though he may be wavering. But let's not get too carried away. He's leaving a title contending Milwaukee team, if he does, for a better team. I would resign if I were him and then if it doesn't work out he can call Harden for advice. Could this be the summer of DeMar DeRozan and Andre Drummond?

John Sutfin:

Always wondered: Do the Bulls fly to Milwaukee or drive?

Sam Smith:

They do drive, many on their own though the team provides a bus. But now with a new coach and management things could change. I understand these are celebrities and rich and famous and all that, and NBA players, as I have said, are generally approachable except for the biggest names. But it is head scratching sometimes on the road to see the lengths teams go to avoid walking. I know in Memphis the Bulls are among many teams that stay in a hotel literally across from the arena entrance perhaps 100 yards away. Everyone loads onto two buses to drive to the arena. Though as it's near Beale Street, which isn't the most sanitary place I've been, I guess I can understand.

Brian Tucker:

When the Bulls are successful this year, and I believe we have the playoff potential given the raw talent on the roster and Billy's winning history, what could it mean to the old regime? Can Gar or Pax feel better about themselves? Obviously they could feel good about the roster talent they were able to assemble. I guess if you hit big on drafting at least one star with a low 1st rounder, you get a rep for having an eye for talent. I heard Gar got hired in New Orleans. And so he makes sense for a team with several upcoming likely low first rounders. Or it's simply that he has experience and can lend helpful advice to their young GM? Either way, it didn't take long for him to find a new job. Good for Gar.

Sam Smith:

I never fully got all the vitriol directed at Forman, especially because so many top sports executives don't much speak with media. It probably hurts when you have a guy like the Cubs' Epstein in the same city with the media so fawning of him you cannot compete by any comparison. The Bulls made some good draft picks during Forman's tenure when Paxson was his Karnisovas. They built a team that was a legitimate championship contender after one that was a 50-win fighter. Two good, independent runs is more than most have in two decades. Just that LeBron didn't like the neighborhood. The Lakers were basically irrelevant when he decided to save them, missing the playoffs a Tim Floyd level six straight years, a fall nowhere close to the Bulls ever had under Paxson and Forman. It was time, and the Bulls appear to be trending in a positive direction. But Forman clearly earned respect around the NBA. That was quick to another job, which likely pays more than his critics make at theirs.

Jeff Lichtenstein:

If the Bulls finish .500 or better and individual players reach their potential under Donovan and Arturas, shouldn't Paxson get the bulk of the credit?

Sam Smith:

Posthumous Executive of the Year? Though he is doing well, he assures me. Finishing .500 or better is still several months away, and let's not get too optimistic in training camp before anyone has gotten hurt, ill or lost a game or missed a shot. But as much as most refuse to believe it, the changes really were initiated and pressed by Paxson. Maybe they would have occurred, anyway, though many around the Bulls have noted what the reaction would have been if Paxson and Forman drafted Patrick Williams. So maybe it was time. But as you note most don't recognize it, and walking away without being pushed isn't as easy as most suggest. After all, what great athlete or political figure actually has done that? Buy that pay per view yet for Tyson's next fight? The Bulls did make the right draft picks with the picks they had the last four or five years. They failed to get Zion lucky. Pushing yourself out on that account is a rare admission and action. It shows you the kind of character Paxson has which you knew of him as that player who helped win multiple championships with some of the most clutch shots in franchise history. He always said he was about what's best for the organization more than what's best for him. How many people do you know—or have even heard of—like that?

Guy Danilowitz:

I must say this is not the Bulls news of Temple having Covid I had hoped to wake up to this morning and I still think this was an excellent under the radar signing. I have always liked Temple from when he was a talented but less-heralded teammate of Tyrus Thomas at LSU. With all the fan complaints about losing Kris Dunn, Temple to me is cheaper, more experienced, a better leader and almost as good on D and was maybe better in his prime. Wishing GT a speedy recovery looking forward to seeing him in a Bulls uni!

Sam Smith:

Actually, I didn't realize he played with Tyrus. What, he couldn't have tipped us off?

John Rallis:

Bulls need a point guard. Who says no: Clippers send Pat Beverly. Bulls send Thad Young, Tomas Satoransky, 2 future second round picks.

Sam Smith:

You know, the team that needs a point guard, the Bulls. Beverley is an older Kris Dunn. You can tell they're going for shooting. And the Bulls lately are saying they don't need a point guard and can make it up by emphasizing passing and movement like the Warriors. After all, Steph Curry fell to No. 7 in the draft because he wasn't a point guard. It can be done. Though making 40 footers helps.

Randall Sanders:

I've read a report that stated that Markannen has put pressure on his agent to get an extension done before the December 21st deadline. Considering the Bulls future cap space and their past luck with signing Top-Tier Free Agents with their available Cap Space, I think it would be in the best interest to try to strike a team friendly deal now. Problem is, what is a realistic offer for Markannen at the moment? Does a 4-year 68-70 Million Dollar extension now sound reasonable?

Sam Smith:

Agents usually get in the way of these things the way, as they say in the business, they will fight you to the last drop of their client's blood. Given the uncertainly with Markkanen's play last season and whether Patrick Williams is a power forward or if Wendell Carter is, I'd probably wait and see what I have, save the cap room because even if there aren't free agents you can absorb a big salary of an unhappy star, and we know there are many (or some). Plus, the Bulls can match after this season as Markkanen would only be a restricted free agent. It would seem to me it would take Markkanen coming in at too low a price for his representatives to accept to work a deal before this season. He seems comfortable taking the challenge of proving himself. Like Jimmy; bet on yourself. The Bulls should get a good season out of him if he does. I'd prefer to leave that carrot out there.

Mark Schweihs:

I'm pumped for the 2020-21 Bulls team. The talent exceeds recent results like no other NBA roster. Injuries, tanking, malfunctioning chemistry (Portis-Nikola), and ill-conceived coaching styles have led one to think the roster is depleted. That is not the case.

Instead, there are five young players with great potential to make an all-star appearance in the course of their careers (LaVine, Markkanen, Carter, White, Williams). Veteran players Porter. Young, Satoransky, Temple, Valentine make for solid depth. The standard criticism is that there is no point guard distributor. On the other hand the roster is filled with ball-handling fast break players. Who knows what career ending injury could have occurred in meaningless bubble games. Instead, the Bulls are healthy and with a proven coach. And, there is salary flexibility moving forward. This will be the most exciting Bulls team to cheer for in a long, long time.

Sam Smith:

Thanks. In case the Bulls ask me to write up something for the new promotional brochure, this should do.