Ask Sam Mailbag: 12.22.17

What are these Bulls doing?  They were primed for a shot at the best odds in the 2018 Draft Lottery, and now they're flirting with landing possibly the #7 or #8 pick with all this senseless winning.  I know, guys like Hoiberg, Mirotic and Lopez care more about proving their worth today, rather than 2-3 years down the road when they'll likely be working for different organizations, but winning arbitrary games in an otherwise lost season only hurts the franchise's long-term prospects.  Where is this team going to find its star-power, if not in the draft?  Historically, free agency isn't a viable option (can we lure Ron Mercer out of retirement?).  I've been counting down the months/weeks/days until the May lottery, and now all I see is the Bulls lighting that potential winning ticket on fire. Trade Lopez and Mirotic sooner rather than later.  Target cap relief and/or future draft picks.
Michael Burgher

Do the 76ers have the right idea on how to properly rebuild? And why can't the Bulls and/or other teams copy this obviously effective strategy that has netted them 2 top tier phenoms?
Ryan Schlanser

Do you get the sense that Niko still wants out badly? I mean, the way he's being used is actually good, and it's leading to wins. If being used like this leads to him being a 20+ PER player and wins, why would you dump him?
Alejandro Yegros

As I've watched this young team evolve, I keep recalling the arrogant and belittling remarks various national and local sportswriters have been heaping on Gar and Pax for their "mismanagement" of the team, and for "how little" they got for Jimmy Butler. I don't know how it will finally shake out, but December has given us a good look at the potential Gar and Pax saw in Kris Dunn, and it's pretty awesome. Similarly, we've seen star potential in Lauri Markkanen, and Zach LaVine is yet to come. I don't see how they could have done any better, and they just may have struck gold. The same bunch of sportswriters castigated Gar/Pax for selling a second round draft choice to the Warriors rather than adding another rookie to a roster dominated by first and second-year players. That criticism was stupid in its own right, but all the more so when you realize they picked up David Nwaba instead of another rookie -- and when you see what Nwaba does for the team, Gar and Pax start to look like geniuses. Their late-first-round draft picks have been looking pretty good, too, eh? It makes me glad the hometown team is being managed by basketball professionals, and not by journalists who have given up reporting for fantasy sports and advanced statistics.
Kirk Landers

Goodbye top draft, welcome top free agents 2018. We are all surprised with the change in the game of the bulls, but what I like most is to see they are already dominating the offensive system that wants to play Fred, I think this young team still have a higher ceiling and with the right player to be hired in free agency we could be a title contender faster than we thought.
Piero Paguaga

So...what would I do?  That’s a very tough question.  It’s easy to become enamored with draft prospects that everyone “oohs & aahs” about, and think they are the future “franchise players” you cannot do without.  But some of them turn out to be Greg Oden or Beasley or Darko.  In the meantime, Niko is (finally!) looking like the player we expected him to be... or maybe better, and the team is starting to gel & gaining confidence.
I understand that everybody thinks Ayton, Bagley & maybe Porter are monumental talents. But I’m still not sure it’s smart to build a losing culture to get one of them. Just like winning, losing can become habitual. What good is it if you have a rising young star surrounded by guys with no hope? I’m not sure what I’d do. But the one thing I would not do is trade Niko ASAP for virtually nothing.  If he keeps playing like this, he’s a valuable asset.  So either you keep him or you make sure that you get something juicy back. If it’s a pick, it better be a sweet one, because most of those prospects are never going to be as good as Niko is right now.
Art Alenik

Why does Mirotic's game looks so much better these days than in the past?  I know he's had stretches of good play, but it seems like his skills are expanding.  What do you think?  Temporary?  Permanent?  Who knows?  I'm guessing part of the reason is that his role with the team has changed.
William Kochneff

I'm having a bit of a Bulls related existential crisis...
Is Niko really this good? If he keeps this up, at what point does management decide to scrap the trade idea and just keep him? I can't believe I'm saying this, but he's looking more like a building block than a trade chip. Who would've thought the Bulls would win 7 straight with Niko leading the team! Still, while this has been frustratingly fun, I'd like to see them lose the next 50 games and secure the best lottery odds.
Baquer Mirza

The 7 game win streak is not a curse. The Bulls will come back to earth and still finish with between 25-32 wins and a good lottery pick. This roster needs to know what it’s like to win and how to close games, that’s part of rebuilding, you don’t want 60 blowout losses, it creates no structure or hope. Trade Lopez for a second rounder and hope to steal another perimeter player like David Nwaba. Besides that, many fans forget this is a team that already has a ton of first round picks on the roster:
Payne (ok he doesn’t count)
There is a talented core of very good role players on this roster. If the Bulls somehow get lucky enough to draft Michael Porter they would somehow have managed to field a young, modern and exciting team moving forward. Even with a top 10 pick, if the Bulls get a SF, you are looking at a rotation of your top 8 players all being high first round picks(except Niko). I am stunned that the Bulls actually might be fun to watch in the eastern conference by the time Lebron joins Houston or somewhere else.
Sundeep Shah

Admittedly, I've never been a fan of tanking. (I'm still traumatized by the Tim Floyd years.) However, I do like the young big fella at Duke. That said, with Portis & Mirotic (aka Punch & Judy) playing well, why can't we stand pat, work with what we have, and let the chips fall where they may instead of trying to make a trade to get worse? Also, if everyone is 100% healthy, what's the Bulls' best starting lineup? I'm rolling with Lopez, Portis, Mirotic, Lavine and Dunn with the rookie and Holiday first off the bench.
Tony Reed

Is it too early too panic regarding the Bulls tank? This streak should better stop sooner than later... its scary, they are maybe 2 wins out to catch up to a lot of teams. You can criticize this front office as much as you want, but if they don't manage to get a top 5 pick in this draft, it's over. Their duty now is to trade the right players out of Mirotic/Portis/Lopez which can have some value. give some more playing time to Felicio/Blakeney ... don't forget that they will be better once LaVine comes back. The Bulls will for sure miss out on Luka Doncic which is crazy ... that kid is special, for his NBA career he will be a top 20 player at some point in my book.
Jerry Becker

Dunn's ability to make the right play is impressive. He has a slick playmaking ability that we haven't seen from a Bulls guard. Rose was an amazing scorer, but he never had a knack for setting up his teammates like Dunn. I'm not a huge fan of Hoiberg's less than stoic disposition, but he has done a nice job of instilling confidence in Dunn. Also, the team is playing unselfish basketball and believe in each other. This is what basketball is supposed to be and it's the polar opposite of last year.
Yuriy Fomin

Thunder shopping PG 13 yet?
Mike Sutera

Since the 2010-2011 Bulls, I love this group especially with Nwaba on the court. If Nwaba had a jumper, he would be a top 25 player in this league.
Bob Ding

Do you think Portis can be a full-time center for the Bulls?  It seems lots of your readers want draft picks instead of good players. I don't see how trading Mirotic helps the Bulls.  I do think there's not enough minutes for Mirotic and Markkanen at the 4 spot.  Depth isn't a bad thing though, right?  Imagine if they still had the Hall of Famer, Jordan Bell?
Victor Devaldivielso

The Mirotic-Portis altercation was the best thing that could have happened to them, and for one reason – they both learned from it. From my admittedly distant vantage point, it appears to me that it took Mirotic almost the entire two months to stop stewing & fuming and about it, that finally someone got through to him or he simply got through to himself and realized that, you know, life happens, suck it up and be a man and stop being the victim. And it also appears to me that Portis is an otherwise decent human being who, while tangled up in one of the highest levels of physical competition on the planet, let his emotions get the better of him but who took a good look at himself in the mirror afterwards and said, You’re better than that, man, so start acting like it. It also seems to me that both of these guys forgave themselves as well as each other, but enough of that. More to the point - Wouldn’t it just be great if Paxson and Forman got the last laugh on all the ESPN pundits who have been absolutely trashing them, and end up getting the better of the Butler trade? Damn, it’s fun being a Bulls fan again.
Stu Gilbert