Ask Sam Mailbag: Lauri Markkanen, Bulls upcoming season, free agents, and more

Jim Dahlin:

How about trying to make Markkanen a sixth man of the year candidate? Coby White is the obvious choice but I don't think that is going to happen. I think White deserves a shot to start. Run the offense through Markkanen a la Joakim Noah with the second unit. Imagine if Joakim could shoot like Markkanen. Might fit his personality a little better. Get the ball in his hands and get him tons of touches. Not enough ball to go around with the starters. Especially now that Carter thinks he's Brad Miller. Also how important do you think a sixth man is? Lou Williams comes to mind and I wonder is he more important than your 4th or 5th starter?

Sam Smith:

I think with Billy Donovan taking a look at rookie Patrick Williams starting Wednesday, we may see several variations for awhile. Though the main reason could be these Covid restrictions and protocols. The starters have been healthy so far, but it sounds like just looking at a picture of someone with Covid could get you a partial quarantine. The backcourt seems set. I'd stay with Coby and Zach and though we've all spitballed with the idea of Coby as Lou Williams, Coby is better than Lou, bigger and potentially a better defender. Though Donovan espouses this point guard run-the-team thing, I'm fine with the two of them scoring to carry the team and taking the pressure off others. I'm sure Billy will be fine with it in practicality since he let Russell Westbrook run wild for a few seasons to the MVP award. You know, "Russ, no, no, no! Good shot."

The elephant-in-the room question is what happens with the four missing guys who all project as rotation players, Thad Young, Satoransky, Garrett Temple and Denzel Valentine. Donovan talked about sacrifice; we haven't seen much yet since they've been away. But a few guys are going to get pushed out once they return. For now, the ideal starting lineup to me looks like LaVine and White in the backcourt with Williams at three, Porter at four (to me, he's not a wing player anymore based on the way he moves) and Markkanen at five. That gives the team good defense and rebounding potential to support Markkanen and less offensive pressure on Markkanen. In this NBA with teams generally not throwing the ball inside, Markkanen can be a five playing offense on the perimeter. Donovan has been using Markkanen in stretches at center, so he's thinking of it as well. Must be a loyal bulls.com reader. I did like the way Porter looked coming off the bench in Oklahoma City as he tends to lose productivity the longer he remain on the floor. Maybe Young when he returns at four with Porter off the bench to support Carter's scoring. Remember, the best the Bulls have been this century was with that sort of bench with starting level players in 2011 and 2012.

Scott Lucas:

With many potential FA's in 2021 signing extensions, it appears the best path for the Bulls to obtain a star is via a trade. I know Harden is a hot name right now, but even if he agreed to a trade to the Bulls I wouldn't want him and his iso heavy game full of ref-fooling trickery. I'm going to be keeping my eye on the Embiid/Simmons pairing in Philly, as it feels like they might be looking for a change if things don't go well this year. If Simmons does become available at the trade deadline, what do you think of the following as the framework for a potential trade: Philly sending Simmons & Terrance Ferguson with the Bulls sending back Otto Porter Jr., Coby White, 2021 and 2023 1st round picks, and 2022 and 2024 2nd round picks (maybe do 1st round pick swaps in place of the 2nd rounders if they aren't enough)? Philly gets a lottery-pick PG with upside in White (who I hate to give up but you have to give something to get something), a short-term SF upgrade for the 2020-21 playoffs in Porter (plus cap space in 2021-22 if they don't resign him), and multiple draft picks to help find more complementary players to build around Embiid. Bulls get the star they've been seeking, who's also the distributer they've been lacking and an excellent defender.

Sam Smith:

I doubt any of that really works, though there are rumors leaking out now the 76ers would part with Simmons. Of course, who ever believed Morey on keeping Simmons? Simmons doesn't shoot and Morey's philosophy is built around the three-point shooting. And more so regarding your proposal, Money doesn't do draft picks. If the 76ers trade Simmons, it's going to be for Harden. It's getting to a smoke-there's-fire stage and it seems like it could happen anytime. The interesting part of your supposition is the end of free agency. Fans generally blamed the Bulls and left open the possibilities every season that next someone was coming. That now seems over with basically every big name free agent for next summer having resigned. Here comes the Victor Oladipo bidding war? Kyle Lowry? It's always been a tease because only LeBron ever moved the needle. You could hold out hope for Kawhi or Durant, but not if you are rebuilding. The Bulls chose that road.

Though the larger question now for the Bulls may be whether they can retain Zach. I cannot believe how underrated he remains. I know these crazy lists put out by ESPN and Sports Illustrated and the lot are just debate points for another show. Which also reveal the recency bias with a player like Tyler Herro because he was in the Finals and thus rated as high or higher. I guess it's comforting on some level to know there's work for the interns because no one who watches the NBA could have prepared these lists. Zach's probably a top 25 player in the NBA. And when he becomes a free agent in 2022, he may be at the top of the class. With so many of the true stars signing long term deals, the top free agents for 2022 are Steph Curry and Nikola Jokic. Obviously Denver and Golden State resign their stars, neither of whom seems to want to be elsewhere. And they make more money resigning. Where are they going? Then the top of the list is Marcus Smart, Blake Griffin, T.J. Warren, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and Zach. Who would you go after? Zach is valuable and has improved every season. He's just getting better.

Sergio Kalet:

What do you think? Bulls get Simmons and Thybulle.
Rockets get LaVine, Green and draft picks from Bulls/76ers and 76ers get Harden and Satoransky.
Simmons and Wall don't go together. White/ Simmons and Wall/LaVine better fits. I think Bulls should get involved. White better at a two guard.

Sam Smith:

Well, so much for Zach. I assume the Bulls do discuss these things, and it seems apparent by now the Rockets are casting about and don't much care where Harden wants to go. But no team wants Vegas Harden, so very wealthy guys still do have leverage. It's something that does make me pause, especially the way Simmons has been so good against the Bulls. Though I like the prospects and want to see a larger sample of Coby with Zach. Simmons with his size, defense and playmaking is appealing. The Bulls' issue (or anyone's) regarding Simmons is he's had some recent health problems that would make me wary. He did miss his first season, and that eventually also caught up with Griffin. But lately Simmons has missed extensive time with some back and knee issues, though not the ACL/Achilles setbacks. Simmons was healthy his first two seasons he played, and not as much last season. He is only 24 and a talent. But Houston likely would hold out for the Bulls lottery pick this season in what they all tell us is a great draft. Worth the risk? I can see the Bulls taking a look, but Simmons needs more offense around him to be effective and I'm not sure the Bulls have it without Zach. My guess is analysis more than action continues for this season.

Victor Devaldivielso:

So how soon do you think Patrick Williams will be the best player on the Bulls? 2-3 years? Or this year? Yes, I'm serious.

Sam Smith:

Well, he is almost LeBron's size, at least at that age.

Joe Lavely:

As a Bulls fan of some 50 years, I have watched all but three games via television. For most of the recent years, I have believed that the games are too long. Friday night's game vs Houston was a great example of how long 48 minutes can seem – granted that it was not a typical game, but it makes the point. I have heard that the major reason for maintaining the length of 48 minutes is that in-person tickets cost a small fortune and that those fans deserve a full "night out" experience. But, right now, there are no fans. So, I propose that this is a good time to test the desirability of shorter games. What might be the advantages and disadvantages? How about four 10-minute or even nine-minute quarters? Worth testing?

Sam Smith:

They used to say about the NBA to just watch the last five minutes. I guess you can watch the last 40. Certain basketball things are inviolate: The size of the court, the length of the game and complaining after every foul call. The length of the game never will change because then the statistics change and you can't be paid the same averaging fewer points. Though there was an interesting sports change this week that I think the NBA should consider to some extent. Baseball finally accepted the old Negro Leagues and will incorporate their statistics with Major League Baseball. It's not exactly the same, but the NBA should do likewise with the ABA. The NBA grudgingly recognizes some ABA feats and statistics as sort of an asterisk in its history. But it it more than that and not unlike the Negro Leagues in some sense. No matter how much anyone celebrates baseball greats like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson, their accomplishments are limited because they only played against half the best players.

Similarly with the NBA without the ABA in the late 60s and early 70s until the 1976 merger. It wasn't a surprise half the players in the next All-Star game after the merger were from the ABA even as the NBA repeatedly undermined the league. But more than that, the ABA effectively modernized the NBA. The NBA's weakest era was then, one marked by patterned play without the athletic performing excellence that popularized today's game. Those players were in the ABA, like Julius Erving, George Gervin, David Thompson, Connie Hawkins, Roger Brown, Spencer Haywood, George McGinnis with visits from Rick Barry, Billy Cunningham and Joe Caldwell. The ABA brought the NBA the dunk contest, the three-point shot and the South, the Black rural areas where basketball had been ignored by the NBA. It brought basketball jazz to the symphony orchestra. It was no coincidence the NBA's popularity took off with the addition of the ABA players. Like with the Negro Leagues, the ABA lacked depth and stability, players jumping from team to team, teams relocating regularly, insufficient arenas. The quality of play among its stars was as good as any basketball ever player. Like what Major League Baseball did, the NBA should finally equalize the statistics of the ABA. It would not be the same league without its ABA ancestors.

Nicholas Hill:

I've had my suspicions about the Bulls getting a big name free agent next offseason and not because of the organization itself. Why would LeBron leave the Lakers who just got a young superstar. Why would AD leave LeBron? Paul George would've been a great fit. He signed an extension. Now Giannis resigned. That leaves 2 more "big names". Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gobert. Kawhi? I don't see it. Rudy? Well the Nuggets front office that Arturas was a part of traded him on draft night. All this to say that between 2013 and 2019 (AK's tenure) the Nuggets' roster completely changed. They drafted their superstar in Jokic by a blindfolded buckshot in the 2nd round, their 2nd best player was a lottery pick, their supporting cast was built through trades and free agent role players. Isn't it reasonable to believe that the Bulls will be built in the same way? They Bulls did a great job putting those late 2000s and 2010s teams together. They couldn't control that Bron wanted to have beach days with Dwyane. Or that Melo's favorite color is green. That said, I am looking forward to seeing how successful the new front office could be. Trust in Pat Williams and Marko Simonovic?

Sam Smith:

That's an awful lot of realism and logic for my mail folder (is that what it's called?). Williams looks like a heck of a start. I'm still not sure what he becomes, and I don't dare even think it, but he's got that kind of huge, mature body you see on guys like LeBron. Sorry, sorry, I didn't mean it! Which also makes this season a curiosity. After what the Bulls have experienced in recent years, everyone wants to have some on court success. The increased optimism in my mail also suggests that. But as you note, Karnisovas has done some wonders in scouting, and there really look like some amazing talents at the top of this next draft. Combine one of them with Williams, Zach and Coby? Pick up a free agent of some, if not star, level. I wasn't even for the tanking part when it was fashionable. I still want several 76ers executives prosecuted. But it does make it interesting to see WWAD.

Kirk Landers:

I know, it's preseason and they weren't exactly going up against the Lakers, but there were some things to like, even beyond the scoring of Zach and Coby. They did a much better job of employing team defense than I remember from last year. I was also impressed at how quick the Bulls were as a team. Not just the guards--Otto Porter was gliding around like a teenager and Chandler Hutchison looked as fast and springy as any so-called "athletic" forward in the league. Shots aren't dropping yet for Lauri, but he's doing all the right stuff. He takes good shots, he goes to the basket aggressively, and he rebounds. The Bulls look like they're going to be good enough to be entertaining this year. And they might be more than that if Wendell Carter decides to take ownership of the paint--he has the stature and strength to dominate the boards in a way few contemporary big men do. Anyway, it has been a fun preseason so far.

Sam Smith:

As long as you included the mandatory "it's preseason" qualifier. You missed the part about nine months off and really being rested, though it didn't look like it in Game 1. And this version of the Thunder will make a lot of teams well. Donovan sure beat the rebuilding posse out of town. It's going to be a long slide for them. Once fans can return we'll see how much of that so called college enthusiasm they have. Remember, that's a franchise from Day 1 when they stole Seattle's team that has had a future Hall of Famer from Durant through Chris Paul. Though we know Donovan loves Lu Dort. I agree this season should be more uplifting with the first real structure of talent and depth since the last season with Noah and Rose when Noah got hurt halfway through. It's been awhile since we had to feel badly for someone being left out of the rotation. Hutchison is an interesting case. He's been dynamic driving the ball, but still has barely even attempted to shoot. Is he a rotation player when the others return? Similarly with Gafford despite his defensive presence. I'm also interested to see how Donovan deals with the balancing act of playing lottery picks versus production. After all, he and new management have no equity in any of these players. I agree it should be at least compelling viewing. Though I cannot say better than most expect since I've said that before. They were; really.

Wayne Warner:

I was "watching" the game on ESPN gamecast and saw Donovan had on the floor Ryan A, Hutch, Otto, Williams and Markkanen. What were your thoughts on these 5 players playing together on offense and defense. Was it Hutch or Williams on the opposing 2 guard? Will match-ups get better if Sato was also on floor instead of Ryan...more length and switching capabilities or is Ryan A key for his ball handling and playmaking and PG defense.

I really like the approach of starting Williams at 3 for defense and then using Otto off bench for his playmaking on offense.

Sam Smith:

We'd normally say a 19-year-old who didn't even start for his college team wasn't ready for the NBA. And he wasn't (previously). But this is a different, much younger NBA, and Patrick Williams is an unusually mature 19-year-old who mostly eschews social media (so he says) to concentrate on rest and recovery. Heck, I'm still not doing that. I've noticed Williams tends to defer offensively when playing with scorers, so you can see why they made him a sixth man at Florida State. Most of his scoring has been later in the three games. As you note, once we see Satoransky and Temple, I assume Arcidiacono return to a non rotation role. Which is what he always was supposed to be, that ever ready energy guy to fill gaps. But the Bulls were so broken and often untalented while experimenting with various new arrivals that he got starts and regular playing time. I've suggested that Otto, Williams and Markkanen could be a regular starting group the way Donovan has been experimenting with Lauri at five. Donovan in Oklahoma City almost always had a non scoring guard like Temple starting for balance and defense. I can see that sort of starting lineup, also, with Temple, Coby, Zach, Williams and Markkanen and then with Otto with that greater leadership role off the bench and Williams at four where he seems to fit better.

Harri Ahola:

I just watched the OKC game. Let them fly....if they also move and distribute the ball. Nice defense effort from Zach also.

Sam Smith:

We all know defense is important, but it's more a team than individual thing other than maybe when you have Michael Jordan. You never notice it much, say, on the Kings when they are losing by 18 instead on 25. Or, you know, the recent Bulls. Which is why I thought Zach got a bad rap being singled out for defense as if there were all these all league defenders around him. He's not great; he's also not bad. There has been more emphasis on traditional defense versus what the Bulls were attempting last season and Zach's had some good moments this season. He's never going to be as bad as guys like Harden and Russell Westbrook. He's no Kawhi or Jimmy Butler. But within a professional framework which the Bulls now have I wouldn't worry about him. That he and Coby let it fly means a lot more for now. Great defense shows in the conference finals and finals. Zach probably still has some time.

Brian Tucker:

Too early to say we got the new Steph/Klay backcourt the NBA is hoping for? I know, let's see them do it consistently against top teams before anointing them. Fun to dream for now.

Sam Smith:

They weren't Steph and Klay until they were, either, that being the Bulls koan. You don't get known for making shots until you make them. I haven't detected much Zen yet in Donovan's media sessions. But I'm looking. Looking and listening. Listening and looking. Most people are Buddhists in the sense they only believe what is successful if it's successful. So if someone wins, well, they are a winner. But how do you become a winner if you are not a winner? Hey, it's preseason for many of us, too. I've compared it to myself in some ways. I'd never written a book, so I was told I couldn't write a book. Because I didn't. It's like a lot of NBA GMs. There's no school or test or application, but then if you get the job and someone passes on Michael Jordan, you might get into the Hall of Fame. Coby and Zach have never had this chance. Now they're getting it. There's no reason seeing their skills—compared with Lillard and McCollum, who never were considered pure NBA point guards, and Curry wasn't, either, being too small, too slow and not much of a passer—that they cannot become elite pairings. It remains my story and I'm sticking to it.

Ryan Carpel:

Kris Dunn expected to miss start of season with right knee issue. Cartridge doesn't heal. Surgery. And Bulls should sign Dion Waiters. He's available on the cheap. We need more scoring. He says Billy Donovan was the only coach who understood him.

Sam Smith:

You mean Waiters, the guy they got rid of in Cleveland because he was a bad influence and clashing with Kyrie Irving? Maybe he was the good guy after all. The Bulls have a full roster and in this era of no fans I don't expect to see any team pay a contract and then add another player who may or may not play. The Bulls probably could use some more shooting, but Donovan's soon to have several players wondering why they aren't playing. As for Kris, it's been a tough run for a guy who prides himself on his toughness. But as we learned with Derrick Rose, you can only do what your body allows. I hope he just needs rest. I was looking forward to seeing him against his former teammates in the opener Dec. 23 for an Atlanta team that I think may be a bit more hype than reality.

Alejandro Yegros:

Lauri can't even hit free throws, but this OKC game was the best game I've seen him play in a long time (even longer than the 9 months). Aggressive, and I thought he was was playing good active defense. I'd say it's not accident that he had the best plus minus even while he's bricking everything outside the paint. Am I letting my hopes get to me?

Sam Smith:

I doubt the Bulls know what to make of him, either. Shooting was supposed to be the accepted part. Everyone can have a few off games, and Markkanen Wednesday did attempt to drive to the basket, even making that rare throw down dunk attempt. He enver says much to media, so it's difficult to get a read on him. He says he's not bothered by possible negotiations about a contract extension, and I believe that. He's probably better off showing what he can do than negotiating off his poorest season of the three. I've mentioned I believe he fits better as a perimeter five the way Dallas uses Porzingis with more actions off movement and Donovan has been trying him some that way. He always says he's not worried about shooting and his stroke does look good. And always has. He always says the right thing. But it is a big season for his Bulls future to prove himself and where he fits. There are no real conclusions yet. Maybe after the fourth preseason game.

Mitch Tobin:

Kyrie fined for not speaking to the media, the distinguished philosopher Kyrie Irving posted to Instagram saying, "I am here for Peace, Love, and Greatness. So stop distracting me and my team, and appreciate the Art. We move different over here. I do not talk to Pawns. My attention is worth more." I am writing to cheer you up. After all, it must be disconcerting to you to discover after a long and distinguished journalism career that you are a mere "Pawn." And, I assume, you measure your self-worth in direct proportion to Irving's assessment of sportswriters. I hope that Irving considers Steve Nash to be a more valuable piece on the chessboard than a pawn – perhaps a bishop or knight?

Sam Smith:

That's what I call the true spirit of the holiday season. Thanks; we needed that. But what would be our worth as journalists without Irving's acceptance? Good will to all, OK most, men. And women. I weep for my one time home, Brooklyn. Though like the wreck Irving is, we're not going to be able to look away. Or ESPN won't let us. Again, Americans just cannot be nice to Canadians. We had to give Steve that as his first coaching job? Talk about the lack of good tidings and great joy. The 2020-21 NBA season starts next week. Your move. Actually since the point guard moves first on the chessboard, isn't Kyrie really the pawn? Just asking.