Ask Sam Mailbag 12.13.19

Sam opens his mailbag and answers questions on Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., and more
Wendell Carter laughing
by Sam Smith

Body

Matt Arthur:

Who are your top five point guards of all time; were having a debate here and the kids include Steph Curry. My list is Magic, Oscar, Nash, Stockton, Iverson.

Sam Smith:

Oscar, Magic, Isiah, Cousy, Stockton. Thanks for giving the Bulls angst a rest for a bit. Like many of these lists, it's not only difficult to select five but difficult to define the position. In the early years of the NBA until about the 80s there were guards, forwards and a center. Then there were five positions of point, shooting, small and big forward and center until the last few years. Though sometimes with forwards playing a point guard type role, which actually started in the late 1970s with Chicagoan Mickey Johnson. Though Don Nelson claimed credit for inventing it a few years later. Now there are wings and stretch forwards and centers and often everyone pretty much lining up as if they are shooting for the big bears at the carnival on those smaller hoops. The surprise to me on many of these lists is the absence of Isiah Thomas. Oscar and Magic are generally one/two for everyone with the older guys favoring Oscar. Magic did usher in that new era of the big guard, though I also have Cousy, who wasn't athletic enough for this era but has the historical significance of basically inventing the modern version of the position. Isiah could have been a 25-point scorer, a 20-assist player. He was the most dominant so-called small man ever with an unusual physical edge for a player that size at probably just under six feet tall.

My list has Magic, Oscar, and Isiah in a tier above everyone else. I go with Cousy for the winning and being the first to bring out the game that turned basketball from the static, physical game it was to showtime 25 years before Pat Riley, Magic and Jerry Buss made it famous. Curry is a point guard in the sense he plays with a shooting guard, though I'd hardly consider Curry a point guard in the traditional sense because he's perhaps the greatest shooter ever. He has those back to back MVPs like Steve Nash, which is special, though they were two of the poorest defensive guards. But what they did eclipsed what they didn't. There's probably a parallel universe top five point guards for Curry. I'd probably have Jerry West in there. We thought of him more as a scorer, but he led the league in assists one season. Back then, they were just guards and they were expected to do both things. Perhaps Iverson gets in there, though for five there's significant competition with Earl Monroe, Walt Frazier, Nate Archibald (leading the league in assists and scoring the same season) and crashing his way in lately James Harden, who would be screaming foul for being left out. Or for the heck of it.


Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan

Jeff Lichtenstein:

Who are your top three Bulls coaches of all time? Mine are:

  • Phil
  • Motta
  • Thibs
  • I thought about Skiles and Collins instead of Thibs but Thibs got the most out of his teams. Only 5 Bulls coaches out of 23 had a winning record.

    Sam Smith:

    For the record, the winning records were your three, Doug Collins and Ed Badger. Vinny Del Negro and Rod Thorn were .500. Which makes it pretty easy, I guess. Your three would be the conventional wisdom, although Doug was third in winning percentage but for a smaller sample of three years. Motta had eight and was almost 60 percent until a last, give up season with 24 wins. It also depends on how you define coaching. The general consensus is winning equals good coaching. But what if Red Auerbach or Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich coached the 2001 Bulls or 1973 Philadelphia 76ers or pretty much any Clippers team until recent years? Would that make them a bad coach? It did keep Bill Fitch, an excellent coach, out of the Hall of Fame for a long time. Hall voters are fans, too, and often see it the same way fans do. But if you take on an expansion team as a coach, you're going to have a lot of losses. What would Phil's legacy have been if he got the Minnesota expansion job he tried for instead of Bill Musselman. Would Phil have then been a poor coach? Just a poor job applicant. I won't put Johnny Kerr in the top three, but he did something no one else in the history of the NBA did as a coach, take an expansion team to the playoffs. Jerry Sloan had a losing record as a Bulls coach, but he got into the Hall of Fame as a coach, one of two in Bulls history, and turned around a lackluster losing Bulls team to a second-round playoff team. That's excellent coaching. Skiles took over from one of the worst runs in NBA history and without an All-Star turned the Bulls into a contending 50-win type team that even pulled off one of the great playoff upsets in taking out the defending champion Heat with Wade and Shaq.

    Doug did have Michael, but he kept the Bulls on a steady ride with a baton he could hand off to Phil Jackson of a team ready to win and which did. Doug's teams always got better. I actually believe Skiles got more out of his talent than Thibs did because Thibs had a league MVP and Skiles didn't have an All-Star, which probably gives Skiles a slight edge for me just to be different. But you could easily make the case for Thibs or Doug third. It was a short term. But Badger's 1976-77 Bulls came from basically nowhere to as close as any non-title Bulls team (ranking with the 1975 and 2011 teams) to winning by having eventual champion Portland as close to a knockout as anyone in those playoffs. Also, sometimes you also don't get as much credit as a coach when you have the ultimate talents. It's why it's the most difficult job to judge. Like Johnny Kerr famously said, "There's five guys out there running around with my paycheck."


    Zach LaVine dunking

    Carlos Ramos:

    Before the season started, I thought it would a great idea for the Bulls to create a marketing campaign to persuade fans on voting their players into the All-star game. So far this season, I don't recall seeing nor hearing anything from the Bulls organization insisting that us fans vote for maybe Zach, Wendell or any other player. Does the league frown upon teams making commercials or build boards asking for fans to vote on specific players? If not, shouldn't the Bulls be promoting votes for its players?

    Sam Smith:

    It's been a tough start to talk too much All-Star. Tickets are limited for All-Star weekend because the NBA controls the event and it's basically used as something of an annual league trade show. But there are tickets available, especially for the Friday and Saturday events. The NBA web site has information. All-Star voting will begin soon, usually around Christmas, and once that occurs teams will begin to promote their players. With the kind of season the Bulls have had so far, it will be uphill to get an All-Star, but Zach LaVine deserves it and is playing at an All-Star level. If the Bulls can improve a reasonable amount in the next month his absence would be an oversight. The coaches should know. He's the only one on the team who gets double teamed every game. Zach likely won't get starting top five in the combined fan/media/players voting, but he should be a coaches' selection. LaVine is fifth among Eastern players in scoring and has had some amazing highlight moments. The tiebreaker will be record, and coaches generally prefer to reward players from winning teams, like Khris Middleton last season even though he wasn't as talented or accomplished as others passed over. Here's my early look at the starters and reserves: Starters Giannis Antetokounmpo, Pascal Siakam, Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid and perhaps Kemba Walker. One wild card is Derrick Rose. Rose is extremely popular with fans and players, who make up 75 percent of the starters' vote, and Rose was close last season. He's having a better season now with the Pistons even coming off the bench. Sixth men have made All-Star teams before. If not perhaps Walker since the Celtics are playing better than expected.

    The seven reserves probably will include Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons and Malcolm Brogdon from those successful teams. Bradley Beal should make it even with Washington's poor record given his production and perhaps Trae Young because he's top five in both scoring and assists. Though both are problematic playing for poor teams. Spencer Dinwiddie has a good chance carrying Brooklyn with Kyrie Irving hurt. Depending on which teams excel in late January when the coaches make selections, Middleton could return. Miami's Bam Adebayo is having an excellent season along with Fred VanVleet. Perhaps a third Celtic or 76er if they make a run. LaVine's in that mix, especially if the Bulls put together a little streak. My next seven from the coaches, for now, would be Tatum, Simmons, Dinwiddie, Beal, Young, Brogdon and Zach. It's always good if the home team can have one participant. Plus Zach is legit. Or maybe Rose, who actually might be the most popular All-Star back in Chicago.


    John Lustrea:

    One of your common phrases is that no one is untouchable when a team is struggling. Obviously this Bulls season hasn't gone as we had hoped, so do you think Bulls management is starting to think about a trade? I'm not advocating for that, but trade season is about to start with much of the league becoming trade eligible. We probably haven't had a long enough look at what we have, but if the Bulls keep struggling do you think someone might be moved? I don't have any players in mind. I like the current roster and it still baffles me that we haven't been better.

    Sam Smith:

    My sense is they'll also pursue the "baffled" reasoning and hope things improve. I don't really see a trade to change things because when you are losing your players tend to be devalued. Zach, Lauri, and Wendell probably are the most in-demand to some extent, but in my view not likely to result in enough to make a deal worthwhile unless the Bulls decide to go for the draft again. Which I don't really see and believe would be a mistake. The East still is not very good. Yes, I'm still in the playoffs camp. But if things don't change enough they won't have to offload players for the draft.


    Chris Paul talking

    Mike Jacobs:

    The Bulls need a Leader! With the young talent they have I can envision one player that can take the bulls to eastern conference title contention This year! Carter Jr, Markkanen, White, Livine, Chris Paul. With Chris Paul at the point he brings experience and talent to a bulls team that really needs a leader on the court. Starting 5 would be small on defense but could switch every position. Does Bulls management think of stuff like this?

    Sam Smith:

    Maybe a better leader; not Chris Paul. A true point guard like Paul would help, I agree, in the short term. Though the Bulls might need him more as a facilitator than a leader. Paul's long been one of the more unpopular teammates other than to the ones he gets in the State Farm commercials. But the Bulls have a lot of guards who don't see the floor that well. Leadership is a vague term and there truly are few of those players in the NBA. LeBron sure, Giannis. Anthony Davis? Nah. Butler? Hasn't been perhaps until now in Miami. Who on the Celtics? Probably the coach. Kyrie? No way, of course. Maybe Ben Simmons. Harden? Disappears in the playoffs too much. Draymond? Not to Durant. It's a rare combination of best player with the force of personality, though not too much. Zach and Lauri don't fit with personality. Otto Porter had a chance, but he's been hurt.

    Thad Young was possible, but he hasn't played enough. Carter isn't enough of a force in the game yet. There probably are fewer than 10 in the entire league. I'm quite sure the Bulls—or pretty much anyone—can get Paul since he's 34, well past his best and due to make $41 million next season and $44 million the season after that. Wow! Oklahoma City wants to offload him for draft picks, but you'd have to give them $40 million worth of players. The injured Porter and Felicio isn't getting it done as it just saves them one year of salary. They're holding out for some team that thinks Paul could be that final piece for a short time and is willing to give up a draft pick. I wouldn't give up any of the young players for Paul perhaps a year or two from being out of the NBA.


    Otto Porter Jr dribbling

    Jon Kueper:

    Seems like there is not much talk about Otto Porter. I hear a bunch about Lavine and Markkanen being the future but maybe Porter is more important than Markkanen? How many more Bulls wins do you think they can have if he was healthy all year, as he was obviously hurt since the beginning. It seemed like the Bulls played pretty well after they got Porter last year. Trying to find some kind of reasoning for this disappointing start to the season. They are close but so far away! Is Otto being undervalued?

    Sam Smith:

    This is in the category of the absence makes the heart grow fonder, I think. If Otto is out another two months, maybe he makes the All-Star team. Out into next season and maybe he gets his jersey retired. It's a tough situation for him and the Bulls with the reveal Tuesday of what sounds now like a fracture and another evaluation in a month. Which if it goes well probably means a return after All-Star. Sigh. The acquisition was a good idea at the time, and as you note Porter helped with the best streak under Jim Boylen since he took over from Fred Hoiberg. But Porter missed the end of last season hurt, didn't seem quite right this season, and now we know why. Though this also can sound like a memory of your favorite girlfriend or boyfriend from high school. In simpler times, everything seems like it was ideal. But it never faced the test of time. Similarly with Porter. It's not the player's fault to be hurt, and the move seemed right for the Bulls with limitations in last summer's free agency and the chance to fill a void at small forward and add a player who appeared to fit with shooting and passing. But those best-laid plans, eh? For now, you're probably overvaluing Porter because he can't play and you can only blame the ones who do.


    Andre Iguodala

    Tom Golden:

    Would we want Iguodala? If we did what would take to get him in regards to personnel?

    Sam Smith:

    I know everyone is getting restless about this season. No one's heard much from Iguodala, which must mean his golf game is really good. He's technically on the Grizzlies roster, but they let him go home because I'm guessing he doesn't eat bar-b-que. Probably until someone gives in on a buyout. The Grizzlies don't want back $11 million in players in the trade. He's an old 36 next month who was perfectly surrounded by all that talent in Golden State that obscured his complete lack of offense. How much defense he has after not playing is questionable. If he returns, it will be a cameo with some good team for a special playoff moment or two.


    Denzel Valentine dribbling

    Pete Zievers:

    Based on what I've been reading, I too wondered why Valentine isn't playing more. Maybe it's health; maybe it's the impression he makes on Boylan. You know what? he can distribute. Not everyone is born with the instincts (see: LaVine). Valentine has such a nice touch on his passes, and when he gets sufficient touches he's got great anticipation. No, he's not a walking highlight loop if you're into ESPN. But he's got a real nice game. To me the 3pt stuff is bonus. He's the middle-guy/2nd pass facilitator that good teams have to get those really wide open faceup looks and slashes to the rim. So, I sit out here and wonder. I've seen worse defenders. What gives? it should be 100% obvious to anybody that looks carefully that the Bulls need a reliable facilitator on the floor when they've got all these finishers.

    Sam Smith:

    There's always a reason for these things even if it's not clear. I don't know if it was personal somehow, though Boylen erred in making it sound that way. Boylen's generally one of the more open and accessible coaches with media the Bulls have had. But he'd seem to tense up whenever someone asked about Valentine and resort to a short answer, like "because I'm not playing him." It was confusing, but it seems over for now as Valentine looks like he'll be in the rotation with Porter out. Boylen is a rookie head coach, and I think one reason was he as a bit overwhelmed with the roster, a lot of talented players, but not many true stars. Plus, there were players, like Harrison and Kornet, I believe he lobbied for in the offseason. Boylen often mentioned how cooperative the Bulls were in signing the kinds of players he requested. So I assume he was trying them out. Its happened to all of us, a new boss comes in and suddenly you are not as much needed as you were before even if nothing changed with you. I also believe Valentine was a victim of the way Boylen wanted to play, which wasn't that unreasonable if not successful to start. The theories seemed sound, but they didn't always fit the talent. Boylen seemed to become a born again convert to the modern NBA style with a tribute to Rick Pitino's pressure game and the frenzy of Nolan Richardson's forty minutes of hell. Though the college ways don't usually translate as good as they sound. You can see it in the pressure trapping defense on the ball the Bulls play, which has led to league-leading steals and turnovers statistics. That doesn't often carry over into the playoffs when teams can scout more. But for the Bulls this season it's just getting there.

    It isn't a bad idea. So it seemed Boylen wanted some sort of game in which he'd have two or three marginal players who'd do that run-through-the-wall thing, like Arcidiacono and Harrison because it's hard to sell the veterans on that stuff—as Pitino learned—along with the "star" talents like LaVine and Markkanen to carry the scoring. It's probably why Boylen talked so much about being in the best shape, which was a Red Auerbach tenet. Those great Celtics teams would spend the first week of training camp just running without ever playing a game. Pressure the ball, get in transition and score, pull up and shoot threes, keep the game fast to tire the opponent. One potential contradiction was so much talk of toughness and being physical and then pursuing a perimeter offense which leads to finesse play. Though the players seem to be opting in their decisions for more midrange and interior play, like against the Hawks Wednesday. Sometimes things sound better in August. Though it seems to be working a little better these days with injuries thinning the roster choices.


    The Miami Heat team

    Jesse Chrismer:

    When LeBron went to the Lakers, I asked you if you regretted the Bulls not building around Jimmy Butler. Your response, "Disaster Alert!" Complete with exclamation point. Well, I think the Bulls could have built up at least as good a supporting cast as the Heat. As of today, Heat are 18-6, Bulls 9-17. Some egos are worth catering to. Jimmy seems to be a very hard one to please, but I wish we had.

    Sam Smith:

    It's always easy to cheery pick and decide three years later what might have worked. Good for Jimmy. He could be prickly at times, but he basically always was a decent, likable guy. I thought the season with Wade hurt him because Wade became so anti-Bulls and Jimmy was more follower then regarding Wade. I supported the trade and still believe it was the right thing to do. LaVine and Markkanen still have nice upsides they can fulfill, and Dunn is having a renaissance. But remember Jimmy went to the team he wanted to go to and play for the coach he wanted to play for and demanded to be traded and said Karl-Anthony Towns wasn't a good enough teammate to have. And now is with his third team since then. With Wade then the Bulls payroll couldn't support the addition of a top free agent, and I doubt Jimmy would have been satisfied to ride it out with that roster. The Bulls had the opportunity for three lottery picks. It was the right plan; they just got unlikely in the draft. What would you say if the lottery balls went their way and they drafted Doncic or Zion or Morant or Young? It's still a trade you make given the circumstances at the time and Jimmy's desires.


    Randall Sanders:

    Turns Out Porter's Injury along with Hutchinson has turned out to be a win-win for the Bulls and Kris Dunn. He's In the starting lineup and I think is 2nd in in steals. Coby White is playing more and Improving. I would hate to see the Bulls Trade Dunn. But, he's becoming a valuable trade piece. Isn't Dunn a restricted free agent I would figure they would trade him to avoid ether matching an offer or letting him go for nothing.

    Sam Smith:

    Interesting how Dunn went pretty quickly from worthless to exceptionally valuable. Gotta love sports. He's found a role and embraced it, which is a great lesson for young players. You don't have to do everything or score only. Find something you can excel at and they'll pay you. Rodman is the best example. Look how valuable Patrick Beverley has become with less talent than Dunn but just being more of a bother. There's nothing wrong with a player testing the market and if he gets a big offer you don't want to match you let him go. Teams often make the biggest mistakes worrying about losing a player for "nothing" when the fact is then you have that money and you can use it for another player who perhaps fits better. Good for Dunn if his market value improves because it will also be good for the Bulls because it will mean he's continued to play well. I believe the Bulls are rooting for Dunn to be great and will worry about the other part later. I don't see a trade.


    Coby White

    Richard Meagher:

    The Bulls drafted Coby White to play PG but he looks more like 2 guard. Does this mean the Bulls need another PG, as well as a wing player? I like White a lot, but the Bulls need a genuine floor leader.

    Sam Smith:

    The Bulls have begun to talk about White being the point guard; whatever that is in the NBA these days. I noticed, though, against the Hawks he went back to being Coby the scorer. That's who he is, and I believe he's going to become a big-time scorer in the NBA. Point guard distributor/facilitator? Nah. Though I think that's an issue the Bulls have had this season, wanting players to be what they are not. Zach's not a playmaker; neither is Markkanen. Let them be what they are because there's an awful lot of good in what they are, and we're seeing more of that now. Satoransky probably is closest to that kind of player, and that's probably his role. I like the Bulls closing more with White because of his scoring ability. When he tried to be a passer the other night against Toronto he was scoreless because he seemed too concerned about doing what was asked. He seems like a pleaser. He's a scorer. It's OK; those are good to have.


    Andre Drummond

    Lloyd Rictor:

    What are your thoughts on trading Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen for Andre Drummond (and maybe a pick)? It seems that these two don't mesh well on the floor together. Getting a true center could help with the rebounding woes brought on by the guard heavy lineups. Sliding Carter Jr. over to the PF could bring out the outside shot and passing skills we saw while he was at Duke. Removing LaVine could help with the log jam at guard and the roster spot might go to getting a wing and creating more of a balance. Drummond himself has talked about testing free agency and Detroit might be willing to make a move.

    Sam Smith:

    Because LaVine and Markkanen are playing well now so you can get more? Though that also seems to suggest they can play together. But that always seemed a fake issue to me. What would stop them from playing well together? Was Markkanen missing wide-open shots because Zach was on the floor? Was Zach making sudden noises to scare him? So Drummond, Carter, Hutchison, White, and Dunn? That should be good for about 50 points a game. Better have a really, really good bench.


    Kris Dunn dribbling

    Victor Devaldivielso:

    The Bulls are playing much more competitive basketball with Dunn in the lineup. What do you think happens when Porter Jr returns?

    Sam Smith:

    Could the Bulls have too many good players? The point guard was open in training camp and Satoransky was viewed as the better option. Porter doesn't have to return as a starter, though I expect he would when ready. But I'm sure given his injury history he'd be playing limited minutes, which the Bulls seemed to have planned even going into the season when they thought he was healthy. Satoransky is a devoted team guy and the last one it seems you'd hear object if he didn't start. But the way Boylen has made substitutions it doesn't matter that much as he often takes out a starter midway through the first quarter and then mixes and matches. Those are the kinds of problems the Bulls are seeking.


    Steve Walter:

    In the loss to Toronto Kyle Lowry benefitted from 2 blown calls late in the 4th qtr. Could either have been challenged?

    Sam Smith:

    I hate that rule; other than when they get to put on the flashing fire-engine light. I'm not fully sure about all the exceptions, but I think in the last two minutes you can't challenge a non-call, though you may be able to challenge nose picking at any time. I recall one when Lowry hooked Carter and got a call, which probably wouldn't have been reversed if it were allowed to be reversed which I am not sure it was. I don't hear many coaches in favor of this and am with Steve Kerr (which with his good fortune is always a good idea), who says it should go away because it is yet another reason to stop play for no great reason. I could see this sort of thing a bit in the NFL, where there are so few scoring plays. But since there's a holding on every play by 12 or 14 guys, I'm not sure how anything works in that game. The NBA is a flow and rhythm game more than any; but it's become like stopping a ballet every few minutes to check where the dancers stepped. There's too much replay. And too much turns out wrong. Not that they get the calls incorrect. But play should be about intent. If a player from A team knocks a ball out but it grazes the fingernail of player from B team, that should be B team's ball. All the games are imperfect. The officials get it right often enough that all these stoppages are unnecessary compared to the quality of the game. My challenge to the NBA is to get rid of the coach challenge.


    Zach LaVine dribbling

    Joshua Levin:

    The problem with zach lavine is that he doesn't make anybody else better, but you like him right?

    Sam Smith:

    A lot. Plus I'm sorry to inform you that you're wrong. How do I know? Because I said so. Nah, I don't do that. I've always believed if you cannot publicly justify your decisions or actions, then you shouldn't have made them. There's some history to this. In the 60s and 70s, diminishing someone for not making others better wasn't a thing. There was team vs individual play. Wilt was the game's best player; Boston had the best team. That extended into the 70s with the Knicks. Then came Magic and Bird and, especially Magic, wasn't the high scorer. So the explanation became they were MVPs because they made everybody better with their unselfish play and the way they passed the ball. Then came Jordan, and he didn't pass the ball. But he was better than Magic and Bird, so everyone had to invent some reason why. So making others better was extended to drawing double and triple-team coverage. Because Jordan was so good, he made his teammates better because no one was guarding them or the defense was looking elsewhere. And it proved so as Jordan teammates when they became free agents could not do elsewhere what they did with him. Zach is no Michael Jordan. But he makes players better because he's such a talented scorer. When coaches scheme against the Bulls, the first priority is playing LaVine. He draws the most defensive attention. Sure, it would be great if he also could see the floor and feel the game like Bird. He's no Larry Bird. But he's the best the Bulls have for now and ought to be appreciated for that.


    Wendell Carter Jr. guarded by Jaren Jackson Jr.

    Andrew Killion:

    Do you worry about Wendell's fit? He's undersized at his position but can't/won't shoot to give himself an out at the 4. Most other teams have a 7 foot center, most have multiple. He plays above his height and has an uncanny knack for rebounding but you can't teach 7 foot and I think it's a brewing problem. He was our most consistent player through the first half dozen games but his impact has been trailing off.

    Sam Smith:

    It's always been a concern/question, though I feel like it's been the least of the reasons the Bulls started poorly. Wendell does so many other good things to make up for the size differential like being the only player in the NBA who understands what is a box out. There aren't many centers dominating the Bulls, and now with Gafford playing as backup and presumably fewer fouls to come, the Bulls will get the rim protection and athletic size to complement Wendell.


    Kirk Hinrich

    Gabe Sandoval:

    I've been watching the Bulls every year since the 93' season and I can say that this current Bulls team is the most disappointing team that I have watched. The years after Jordan and before Deng/Gordon/Hinrich were tough, but none of those teams had the talent that this one has. You don't get guys like Otto Porter, Thad Young and Sato and expect to be a 8-17 team with such an "easy" schedule. We make the same mistakes constantly, and seem to be lost in big moments. Lauri has regressed, Zach has regressed and 40% of the Warriors wins are against us. This is year 3 of a rebuild, we can't be losing to the Knicks, Cavs, Hornets and Warriors regularly anymore. Is there a plan? Rumblings of change?Also looking forward to your thoughts on who we should take at No.7 in this years draft.

    Sam Smith:

    Yeah, heard that joke before. I understand the disappointment because I feel it, also. I really believed this was a legitimate playoff team and the Bulls had made the correct subtle moves in the summer to supplement the players they had, got a good draft pick (maybe two as it looks now) and the health was good. Which is why I'm not quite as depressed because while you are correct this team is underachieving perhaps more than any Bulls team in decades, there's real upside because the players haven't given up. With starts like these you often see players sort of check out, which means going for their stats, not competing defensively and indifferent to teammates' play. I haven't seen that. And while the Bucks and 76ers don't appear concerned—maybe the Celtics and Raptors, too—I feel like there's still more to see with this Bulls team.


    Zach LaVine high fiving teammates

    Guy Danilowitz:

    Wow, 3 tough losses in a row (golden state, Miami & Toronto); all could have been wins. One could look at the bulls and say with this roster they just don't have what it takes but watching these games you can see they are playing hard and are so close. I know it's a little different situation but I am buoyed by looking at how the Nets season turned out with a bunch of scrappers and reclamation projects: they started 8-18 with some tough losses and seemed overmatched roster wise at times not unlike these bulls but then turned it on to finish 42-40 and even win a game in the playoffs. Could the bulls follow this script? I have hope, let's see where they are next week.

    Sam Smith:

    The Bulls do have a Nets assistant from last season on the staff in Chris Fleming as the offensive guy. I know there's been a lot of false starts and now here we really go things, but they have been playing much better. I know, moral victories don't count and close is horseshoes and all that. But they have been scrappy and there seems finally to be some roster stability with the injuries, which often happens. The Bulls could use a healthy Porter, but now this gives a player like White more of an opportunity by playing somewhat differently. And he can score. That Nets team had unusually good chemistry, and I believe there's a lot of that with these Bulls. They seem to support one another quite a bit and have substantially underachieved given the talent. Some said with all the personnel changes and staff changes it would be a slow start. But teams like the Knicks, Cavaliers, and Warriors had that as well and beat them. There were unfathomable fourth-quarter meltdowns. Just turning around those going forward should make a big difference in a very weak East in which the Bulls are three games behind a flawed eighth-place team. Playoffs, baby! C'mon, let me hear ya!

    Got a question for Sam?

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    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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