Ask Sam Mailbag: 12.14.18
Sam opens his mailbag to answer your questions about the Bulls and other stories around the NBA
I remember when the Bulls brought in Larry Keenan as the star to saves us in the early 1980's before Michael. The management referred to him as Dr Kwas a good offensive player, from what I remember, but hardly anything to put a Dr in front of his initial. The Bulls always had the hard sell for all their teams, except when Michael came along and changed all of that. It's much easier to sell seats and viewership when you have a transcendent star. And actually, we've had a few transcendent stars like Scottie and Derrick. But something happened after Michael and Scottie left, and I don't think this organization has recovered; and that is the drive of the players to succeed no matter what the odds. I see some of that in Lavine. And as driven as Paxson is, I don't see it in management. I kind of wonder what happened. I thought when Paxson first came in and drafted Heinrich, and then Deng and Gordon, that the team was moving in the right direction. Maybe all the heartache with Derrick's injuries and Butler's eventual change of attitude and subsequent change of teams. Maybe it's all the criticism that's everywhere on social media these days. Maybe it's just luck sometimes. The Bulls were lucky a few times in the past that changed their whole franchise. So I hope we get lucky again soon. I do like a lot of the players on this team.
Sam: If only we had this era's style of reporting when the Bulls signed Kenon and he told Jerry Sloan he was Dr. K, and doctors didn't defend, they operated, and Jerry fired a chair at him in the locker room with it smashing the wall over the doctor's head. And you think a team meeting was a big deal?
I do miss the good old days when the players were so committed and worked so hard and all they cared about was the game and the good of the league and the franchise. You've got one thing exactly right. Luck, which got the Bulls Jordan (Portland took Sam Bowie ahead) and Rose (1.7 percent draft lottery odds) and despite all the fun Hinrich and Gordon and Deng and Nice they maxed out at 49 wins. You've got to luck into a star, and while the Bulls did move up cleverly to draft Pippen at No. 5, without Jordan there were no titles and Scottie's defense would not have looked that great on a 42-win team. Look, the Bulls care and are trying, and Markkanen, Carter, LaVine, perhaps Dunn and a lottery pick and free agent to come isn't a bad start in year 2 of rebuilding. It doesn't look like a championship team yet, but it looks like they care. Though you're always better off really lucky than really caring.
Boylen is starting a "leadership committee" in his team? This can't be real, right? Sam, I've been a Bulls fan for a long time. I've seen Rusty LaRue, and ERob, and Tim Floyd, and Ron Artest working in Best Buy as a rookie to get the discounts, and heard every time Hoiberg praised the team's "great spirit in yesterday's practice" right after a loss. And yet this is somehow the dumbest thing I've seen. I'm sure you'll put a positive spin on it, so I look forward to hearing it.
Sam: Thanks for your confidence. My spin is it seemed mostly something to say. This isn't going to be a democracy, and Boylen also made that clear. There were compromises to make on both sides to soothe some feelings and move on. Frankly, if Democrats and Republicans could operate more that way in Congress like the players and coach/management did last weekend we'd have a better country. Take that for a spin!
Floyd did have a leadership committee. It was Charles Oakley telling him he was the worst coach he'd ever seen. I don't think it's dumb because it got everyone through the weekend, if also some good humor around the rest of the league. There are all sorts of such informal things around the NBA, and the Bulls sort of had it with the so called Breakfast Club of Jordan, Pippen and Ron Harper, who discussed with Phil all sorts of ways to work with Dennis Rodman. You don't think that required player input? Though Michael made up the titles back then. It's not a big deal. Humor them.
Your recent article planted in my mind a bench mob of Dunn, Harrison, Hutchinson, Parker & Porter. Have Dunn and Harrison apply defensive pressure at half court. Thus no change to starting 5
Sam: Jim Boylen may agree with you. I thought it was interesting that Boylen kept Dunn out of the starting lineup a second game in Mexico, though Boylen also said Dunn would eventually return to starting and it was just precautionary; isn't everything. I wouldn't be surprised if Dunn started Saturday. A message? Could it be a message to Dunn to kick up his defensive game because Arcidiacono and Harrison, though not as talented, sure throw themselves around out there. Harrison leads the team by far in steals per minute, and Arcidiacono already has more charges drawn than the entire team did last season. But maybe the Bulls are better off and more balanced that way. Parker has been a good scorer off the bench, but who knows now with indications his playing time will be reduced. What we do know about this Bulls season is we really have no idea what's coming next.
Lavine's been a pleasant surprise and I'm glad to see him having a good season. However, what the heck is up with some of his passes? He makes at least three mind boggling, absolutely horrendous attempts to pass through traffic, often resulting in easy baskets for the opponents. Are the coaches too mesmerized by his gravity defying dunks that no one's noticing this?
Sam: No, you can be sure they notice. A lot. And Zach hears about it a lot. But we often see this phenomenon of people wanting someone to be what they need and not who they are. Zach's a uniquely skilled player and unselfish in the sense he'll make passes when trapped. It's just not his natural specialty. The Bulls have needed him to be that because they are so weak at wing with players who can make plays off the dribble, a requisite in the NBA today and an area where the Bulls almost have no one. So they ask Zach to do more of that than he's capable. He doesn't complain and tries, and it sometimes looks ugly with all the turnovers. I hope they don't hold that against him too much. Coaches want these guys to be who they need, and now the Bulls need more playmakers on the wing and defenders. Zach isn't all-pro at either. But no one on the team can score like he does, make tough shots like he does—no one gets the ball thrown to them with five seconds left on the clock more than Zach—is athletic like he is, can get to the basket like he does. How's that about throwing out the baby with the bathwater? Ouch, that's an ugly analogy. The point is everyone should remember you don't get offensive players like Zach very often, and it's important not to get caught up in the minutia while overlooking the obvious.
Just when I think things couldn't get any lower they bumble up the acquisition with Parker. He was good over the last month, Lauri comes back and he goes back to the bench (which is fine) and now he isn't in the rotation? Seriously something is off with this. Maybe he was the one telling his teammates not to go to training.
Sam: Well, maybe it's short term if that limp LaVine came up with on the last play of the Orlando game is more than just a twist. Parker's acquisition has been polarizing, and he has been pretty cool himself. At least verbally. We all were guessing about what the return of Markkanen and Portis would mean for him, but it was a surprise to see him essentially dropped from the rotation. I know Boylen said he likes Chandler Hutchison, but he seems like he needs some time to learn how to be a player more than just rushed in. Though Boylen wants to stick to his defensive message, and the message thus becomes if you don't defend, you don't play. I guess that's accountability. But where are they going to get those points? No, I don't think Parker was any big ring leader. I'd actually heard he was in his practice gear that day.
My biggest concern with all of this Boylen talk is simple: Zach Lavine. Portis is too tough to care, I don't care what Parker thinks, WCJ is too young to have a say in it, and Markkanen seems to be a little more easy going and younger to not question the coach. What scares me is the new coach that has proven nothing as a head coach coming in and upsetting Zach Lavine. Yes, how childish does that sound? But honestly, I don't care if Lavine is being a little sensitive or whiny even. He's the guy I come to watch. He's the guy I want to play for the Bulls for a long time. He's the greatest wild card to me (Markkanen may end up the better overall player) and thus the key to winning anything in the near future. Even if Boylen is doing what he feels is best for the team and if it is the right thing, I just don't want this to become a weekly issue between a coach and player for years to come. Is it that serious, or something small that will go away? Would Gar/Pax step in and tell Boylen to cool it or you gotta go? Are we all just over-analyzing and exaggerating this too much?
Sam: I think Zach was stung by the negative reaction to the notion that he was leading some sort of uprising, which wasn't exactly the case, because he's a popular team guy. But you could see the repetition of the losing and everyone being out and him having to do so much in so many minutes was frustrating him. Because also after games the media had taken to basically ignoring everyone else on the team because either they didn't do much, didn't want to talk to anyone or were hurt and thus unavailable. So it became a routine in the locker room after every game win or lose, and mostly lose. Zach would paddle off for a long shower and reporters would stand in a semicircle around Zach's empty locker. Everyone else would dress and eventually leave as all the reporters waited around Zach's empty locker stall. Finally, he'd ease back out and with everyone watching—or averting eyes—he'd dress and then patiently answer every question, usually with depth and humor. Which in the long run showed me he's a player who will endure difficult times and work through them.
He and Boylen haven't gotten off to the best start, but I think Boylen will see how much he needs Zach's offense, and Zach just wants to play, and play for a winning team. So he'll make the changes he has to, I'm confident.
The Bulls seems to have a problem setting picks. Why does the guy setting the pick move? It's the ball handler's responsibility to drive the defender into the pick. Boylen should show them some old footage of Mark Price. He knew how to use a pick!
Sam: They sure do. Boylen mentioned it after Thursday's loss to the Magic, and you could see that it's a function of guys trying, really trying. Boylen said among his early instructions in trying to push physicality on the team was about setting stronger screens with more, say, emphasis. The officials seemed to be noticing. It's another of the many excuses, but it's tough to make all the changes, and going from a coach who emphasized offense and pace and space to a coach who emphasizes defense and more physical play in the middle of the season. You can't solve everything in meetings.
Before I write about the Bulls... Westbrook had what? 24-17-13 plus 4 steals?? Yes, he also had 10 TO's... thanks to the Bulls' new ball-hawking defense. But... Geez, 17 rebounds for a guy who's 6'3". Our two best rebounders were Lauri & Jabari, with 7 each adding up to 14. It's hard for me to find fault with a PG who averages double-digit assists every year and rebounds like a PF. The kid's a freak! Yes, this will be interesting with the Bulls. I'm not sure if Boylen is coming on too strong, or if Fred spoiled them. Probably a little of both. In the end, it will come down to whether he helps them succeed/win. Remember what Noah told Thibs. ("I'd really hate you if we weren't winning so much.")
Sam: We miss Jo. Actually it was one of Tom's are funny lines It was Jo saying, "You know, Thibs? If we weren't winning games, I would really, really hate you." Thibs responded: "Trust me, Jo. I feel the same way about you." That, as we know in sports, is what it comes down to.
If the Bulls start winning now, it will be all about committees and tough love and if they don't, well it won't. We always judge sports backwards. If it worked, it was the right way to do it. The Bulls are insistent this is part of their process, and so we'll see. There are plenty of judgments to come. Making them about a week's work isn't really enough.
I wanted to answer the Westbrook part, as well. We agree he's a fierce player and a star of the league, but those triple doubles are as fraudulent as can be. It was clear in that game with the Bulls the way Steven Adams simply either got out of the way to let Westbrook grab the ball or sealed off an opponent so Westbrook can have the board. We've always heard Westbrook demands Adams do that, and you can tell Adams could care less about stats and is a great teammate. We saw some of that with Rodman and Luc Longley (those guys from that part of the world seem much friendlier and unselfish) as Rodman asked Luc to get out of the way so he could get a lot of those rebounds. Luc always cleared for the missed free throw rebound, the easiest of all since the offense is running back. Except when Jordan tried to dunk those. Westbrook's terrific, but those are bogus, inflated triple double stats. If Wendell Carter was playing with anyone from New Zealand he might lead the league in rebounding.
This is on purpose though, right? Dyin' for Zion?
Sam: It is not on purpose. But I'll be writing draft stories again.
My question centers around Hutchison. I've been watching the box scores focused a bit on him. Do you think he is more of a work in progress than originally thought? He still gets some run behind Holiday and now Parker but doesn't seem to be taking advantage of it. I know late round picks are not supposed to be world beaters but just wanted your take on him so far this year.
Sam: I think the team always saw him as more of a developmental guy even as a first rounder, though late first rounders mostly are. I believe the original plan was to play him in the G-league most of this season and have him practice with the team, to enable him to develop some confidence. But the injuries forced the Bulls to not only play him, but play him more than they probably wanted to with even some starts. It probably has affected his confidence some, and with Portis back now I would like to see him get a few G-leagues games where he can score. It doesn't sound like it, however, with Boylen moving out Parker and suggesting he wants to go with Hutchison as the wing backup for Holiday. Hutchison does play hard and defends well, but his offense is far behind NBA standards. You'd be surprised how much a few good games can change some of that. In the open court, he looks more like Scottie Pippen than anyone I've seen, so there is promise there. He needs to score 30 points on someone. He's not getting that chance with the Bulls as much as they need it.
What's your feeling being around the team the last week or so? I'm reminded of the old saying "It's always darkest before the dawn".
Sam: Actually I've often lived by that statement because if you intend to steal your neighbor's newspaper, it's good that it's dark at the time. Of course, no one gets them delivered anymore (but me), so I can't use that joke much more. But let's remember there is no league about drama like the NBA. Losing teams often don't get included since everyone figures there's drama there and that's why they are bad and no one pays attention. But then there'll be Joel Embiid and his role and John Wall and his ball and LeBron, is Luke still coach? Is Harden back with a Kardashian? What did you say happened with the Bulls?
Well the main thing, as you've said, is they need better players on the floor - we'll see if Dunn and Portis can help with that soon.
Sam: I continue to believe as corny as it sounds that a team will be better with more talented players. I know, call me old fashioned.
Besides offering a free agent a big contract, the free agent could head up the "leadership committee"?
Did the Bulls increase the odds of luring Kevin Durant with this opportunity?
If not, who else might be a good candidate to help with the LC job?
Sam: I heard Nancy Pelosi still is trying to lead something.
The Bulls have reached the Boylen Point
Sam: G'night folks.
Got a question for Sam?
Submit your question to Sam at email@example.com
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.