Ask Sam Mailbag 1.31.20

Sam opens his mailbag and answers questions on Kris Dunn, Luke Kornet, and more.
Team walking
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

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Steve Runkle:

If the Bulls had a chance to trade for Robert Covington for Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine, would they pull the trigger? If need be, possibly include a future second-round pick. Would the Timberwolves consider this? They just traded Jeff Teague and I can see Dunn starting for them going forward. If I were Minnesota, my main concern with Kris would be his outside shooting but being Karl Anthony Towns can pull his defender away from the basket, this would open the driving lanes for Dunn. I also believe that Valentine would be a great role player for them with his three-point shooting and passing acumen. If I were the Timberwolves, my concerns would be that Kris and Denzel would both be restricted free agents after the season and Minnesota could possibly get more talent in this current market.

Sam Smith:

It's a big week in the NBA with trade deadline Thursday, now earlier than in previous years when it was after the All-Star break. I'm not sure it's a big week for the Bulls, but it could be because there aren't many untouchables when you are 12 under .500 even with injuries. Valentine has mostly been buried this season, though he's started to play some with guys hurt. And Dunn has resurrected his career with his defense, though the shooting component needs work. It's true the Timberwolves need a point guard, and Minnesota would be a safe zone now for Dunn with Thibodeau gone. I can see Minnesota wanting to get out from under $25 million owed to Covington the next two years. With the salary cap not changing much this summer and the Bulls over the threshold, the only big changes they can make are in trades. The problem with someone like Covington is he's a power forward and the Bulls are flush with them. Markkanen, of course, Thad Young, and I believe Porter may be more of a stretch four in this era coming back from foot problems. So where would Covington play?


Nemanja Bjelica

Kieron Smith:

Would Bulls even look towards such a trade for Nemanja Bjelica? Bulls don't seem to use Denzel much now, & Ryan might be better suited with another team while Shaquille's on the court more

Sam Smith:

Not a name I expect to be moving since he is on a very good contract for another season, starts for the Kings and is a heck of a three-point shooter.


John Wall

Brodie Larsh:

Thad, Sato, Felicio and Dunn for John Wall. Who says no? Bulls come back next year with Wall, Levine, Porter, Lauri, and Carter. Kobe, Hutch, Gafford and probably a top 5 pick coming off the bench. Sounds solid. Health continues to be a huge issue, though. Dunn, Young and Valentine all seem like tradeable assets. Satoransky? They could all help a playoff or contending team.

Sam Smith:

The Bulls? You do know Wall hasn't played in more than a year, no one is sure if he can run after Achilles surgery, heel surgery before that, a knee "cleanup" before that, one of those platelet plasma injections before that, procedures on both knees to remove "loose bodies' before that and a little wrist fracture before that. And in the next three seasons makes $41 million, $44 million and $47 million. I can see them taking Otto back to get off that money. The Bulls do need a top-level point guard who also is a distributor and shooter. Which wasn't exactly Wall's specialty, either. But I get the point.


Zion and Ja Morant

Buddy Munson:

This is more of a State of the Bulls question and where they go from here. The Bulls have improved this year as they aren't being blown out by 20 or more points near as much and they seem to be more competitive against weaker and even teams that are better than them. Now, there's three ways for a team to improve itself. The draft, trades, & free agents. It's pretty obvious that Chicago is not a destination players want to go to willingly at this time. So, that leaves the draft and trades. The ping pong balls haven't been kind, but from where the Bulls have drafted lately, the players they selected have played well. Not superstar well, but well all the same. There's no Zion or Ja Morant in this upcoming draft that I see, so tanking wouldn't do much good. Zach Lavine thus far, has been the only player that I can see being a top 2 or 3 player on a championship club. After this season, he's only reasonably paid for two more seasons.

Decision will need to be made if they want to start over again and collect a bunch of draft picks, or be aggressive and make a trade for a more high end player. Personally, I would give the Timberwolves a call. Ask them for Townes and Wiggins for 2 of Lauri, Wendell, & Coby, Porter, Sato, and the Bulls first round draft picks in 2 of the next 3 seasons. The Bulls would have 3 playmakers in Townes, Lavine, & Wiggins along with Young, (most likely) Wendell, Dunn, Kornet, Arci, Chandler, Valentine, & Gafford as the main cogs. The Timberwolves may laugh, but they're in a tough spot right now. They extended Wiggins for too much money for his level of play and now they cannot afford a high level 3rd piece to go with them. They are headed south in the standings without a way to improve that I can see. Or, am I overreacting and should let things play out with the current roster since they have been playing better of late?

Sam Smith:

Probably just fantasizing. Things are bad for the Timberwolves, too, but they have a guy. Yes, sometimes you trade your main guy if you aren't going anywhere, so you can always hope. I doubt they'd part with Towns, who really could be amazing if someone got him off the three-point line more. I doubt the Timberwolves would want to deal with the Bulls again after things didn't go so well for them after the last time. I'd love to have a player like Towns, and if I could keep LaVine you can build around that. Of course, how deeply would that cut the Timberwolves who had Towns, LaVine and Dunn. Just on that level alone they could never face their fans again doing something like that. The Bulls have played better, and they've had vital players out. A few unexpectedly have improved. I still believe they can vastly improve with the talent they have and that the season's start was an aberration. Though not to the top four. But after next season, they should have plenty of maneuverability. I know, I know, heard that one. Did you know they're just three games out of seventh?


D'Angelo Russell

Tawanda Parker:

So who are the bulls considering trading to get a star to help the team make the playoffs?

Sam Smith:

The closest to star expected to be traded this week is Andre Drummond. The Pistons Reggie Jackson also is said to be possible. Would the Pistons trade Derrick Rose on a one-year deal? Probably not as at least he keeps fans interested. I don't see anyone taking on Kevin Love's big contract with his uncertain health, but it has been awfully quiet. D'Angelo Russell always gets mentioned from Golden State and Danilo Gallinari from the Thunder. Chris Paul also makes too much money at his age and health, though is an All-Star again. The Knicks Marcus Morris once he gets off suspension and explains his misogynist comments about Jae Crowder. But Morris can make threes. Probably a better fit with a team closer to the playoffs or contention with a good human resources department.


Daniel Dafford

Carlos Ramos:

The Bulls are down three big men from their rotation and Porter Jr., who was expected to play some minutes at the power forward. Surprisingly, there hasn't been any additions to help supplement the roster at those positions. Why?

Sam Smith:

Well, Gafford may return Friday. Which is the reason. Everyone is due back, Porter possibly right after the All-Star game and Markkanen after that with Carter. You can add someone from the G-league, but without trading—and there haven't been hardly any yet—it's doubtful you can get someone better than you have. Several guys actually have played reasonably well with Markkanen out, and Young just needs more playing time. He's been good in his time, though too often used out of position as a perimeter shooter. He's been most speculated as a Bulls trade possibility. Though he's stating now with Markkanen out.


Chandler Hutchison

Art Alenik:

How do you like Hutch these days? Seems to have come along way (in a short time) from not being able to finish in the G-league. He did look Pippen-like at times against Indiana – good handle, quick & long, nice body control & touch. He played decent D too. Just gotta work on that J to expand his game. Hey, did you see Felicio with the spin move against the Pacers? Looked like one of those hippos in Fantasia. Somebody get him a tutu. Seriously though, the best I've seen him play, maybe in a few years. Could there be hope for Cris after all? It's funny, but they have sort-of a nice mix at center, with Kornet & Felicio – one finesse guy and one bruiser. I'll say this for Cris; He sets a great pick.

Sam Smith:

Hutchison has been, as Boylen said after the Pacers game in a famous paraphrase, who they thought he was. If he'd hardly shown it. Injuries were blamed, but there was something missing. I watched that G-league game and he was passive and getting outplayed physically by the G-league players. And suddenly about a week or so ago he started going to the basket and finishing hard. And it wasn't an exception as he continued and against Indiana was even screaming after dunks; whatever that means. It's been encouraging since I believe his shot isn't broken; just lacking confidence. But better to play in the mid-range for now. Felicio has been a miracle since no one ever expected anything again. I happened to watch some of a practice a few weeks ago and he was making three after three with a good stroke. He makes his free throws. He can shoot. I assume he's so battered by the criticism and community dismissiveness he's just relieved to do something. But then he actually tried to score with a drop step move. He's been good as someone who actually knows how to box out. And the screens, yes. There's not great athletic ability and who knows if he'll ever recover mentally from the abuse, but you can put him in there now with positive results. That may be the surprise of the season. Good for him, though. He's a very nice guy who does try.


Tony Snell

Ruben Imperial:

One stat that I do not quite understand the significance of or its relevance is the Plus/Minus of a player. How can his court presence be recorded on him for the team's scoring performance? His personal presence does not alone control the scoring of the team. It is the team effort. The PM is nothing but meaningless. It's more of a superstitious indicator what the team will do when he plays based on his PM.

Sam Smith:

I'm not a big fan of it, either, but I'm afraid coaches use it too often to justify rotations. I recall the Bulls used to tell me a lot how Tony Snell was leading the team in plus/minus. Like most of those stats, there's a bit to it, but it's like the old line about the guy who drowned in water that averaged three feet. Though where he stepped in was the problem. Plus/minus was usually good if you happened to be fortunate enough to be on the court when Jordan was.


Toni Kukoc

The overlooked star that is Toni Kukoc

Patrick Milne:

Dino is in the Naismith before Toni? That make no sense. Was this because of an eligibility requirement.

Sam Smith:

I wrote about Toni's omission thus far from the Basketball Hall of Fame this week, and I feel his inclusion is imminent; perhaps this year, maybe next. It's coming. What many Americans don't understand is it's not the NBA Hall of Fame. It's the world of basketball Hall of Fame. But the voters are mostly American, too, so as it happens they tend to look at statistics a lot. What happens sometimes on these committees since they'll have college coaches, too, is they don't know all the players that well. So they check the stats, and Toni's didn't match Radja's in the NBA because Toni had to come off the bench because he was with one of the greatest teams ever who already had their guys. And guys like Radja, Divac, Petrovic, players who had many fewer titles and MVPs and accomplishments in Europe, had better NBA numbers being with losing teams.

Toni, as I wrote, sacrificed perhaps more than anyone on those Bulls, playing power forward even though he probably was the best pure point guard on the team with his passing and shooting. He couldn't defend like Pippen and didn't have the chemistry with Jordan that Pippen did. But Kukoc was vital substituting for Rodman during many suspensions and injuries. And he was part of the team's best lineup, the predecessor to the so-called Warriors "death" lineup when Phil Jackson came up first with the five guys who could switch everything and score when Kukoc came in for Longley to play with Harper, Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman. Many have criticisms of the Hall of Fame, but they generally get around to fixing things.


Kris Dunn

John Wilmore:

Is it just me or is Dunn outplaying Satoransky lately, offensively and defensively? Do you think he might supplant Sato in the starting lineup if Carter, Markkanen and Porter are healthy? And the way Kornet is playing, do you think he might take Gafford's place on the second unit? Finally, if everyone is healthy, would you like to see more of Hutchison or Valentine on the second unit, or does it depend on the matchup? I know, I know, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Sam Smith:

Well, the ship not be sinkin' yet, as Michael Ray might have said. Though this Bulls season has been a disappointment on results, I have enjoyed the changes in lineups, matchups, rotations. Perhaps the players don't as much, but there's been plenty new to watch. And now with Gafford returning I'm equally curious. And then with Otto. Dunn has started to get to the basket more. I've felt he could do that even more, though he still seems caught in the middle like many of the players about whether they should shoot a three or drive. I was surprised he didn't play in the fourth quarter and overtime in Indiana when he had been out there so much recently, though Boylen was riding a hot hand in Hutchison and you can understand that. Someone goes to the bench when Porter returns, and I'd assume it is Dunn because of the shooting. Once Carter returns, Dunn with Hutchison and Gafford could be an intriguing defensive second team as was expected to start the season. How will they score? Working on that.


Demar Derozen

John Petersen:

Doubtful DeRozan missed the last free throw (in the win over the Spurs) in an attempt to get the rebound, score and win the game because of the remaining time, but how did he get the rebound and not get boxed out?

Sam Smith:

I have to believe the coaches do tell them to box out. But I remain amazed constantly how players these days just stand there and admire those long shots without finding a body to seal off. Even the best players. With any athletic talent, I think you could be a successful NBA player if you just did that. Or like that block of Zion's everyone drooled over the other day. Bill Russell always blocked a shot to his teammate so they could start a fast break. I know; how quaint.


Luke Kornet

Fred Roberts:

When is someone going to give some love to the 'big guy,' Luke Kornet? Dusted off, and thrown into the fire due to injuries to Carter Jr and Gafford, all he's done is; 6-4 with him starting, or backing up in these last 10 games, and a +50 while he's been on the floor. His floor stretching, ball moving, and ability to help on defense has been noticeable, yet.....crickets? Do you think he's created a spot for himself with the others due to return, as the Bulls chase that very gettable 8th seed?

Sam Smith:

Again, what do they do with Gafford? Start? And then what about Felicio's bid for all-defense? Let's not say the Bulls have too much, but the Kornet/Felicio combination has been much better than anyone expected with Carter out and then Markkanen. Kornet was awful to start the season, but its fair to say his nasal issues and surgery were a factor. I'm not sure the trapping defense is great for him, but he tries and has shown a deftness to get down the lane and catch the ball for dunks that, I agree, few of us believed was there. So at least good for him because he was going down that Felicio rabbit hole for the last few years, which is a dark place. Maybe he'll be someone's valentine if Denzel is not.


Denzel Valentine

Alejandro Yegros:

Has anybody asked Boylen "why do you irrationally hate Denzel?" Among his bench wing players, Denzel has the best TS%, PER, best plus/minus (by a lot), and somehow, the best defensive plus minus! Denzel helps you win more games than any from that platter of Arci, Shaq, and Coby.

Sam Smith:

I'm not sure what the issue has been, though at least credit Boylen for not holding a grudge. In fact, I'll admit it surprised me to see Valentine in the closing lineup in Indiana in a game the Bulls should have won Wednesday. I'm not sure Valentine is going to push anyone out of the starting lineup, so let's not suggest that's why the Bulls are 12 under. But he's stayed upbeat and Boylen is putting him out there lately. Maybe it was just that tough love thing.


Klay Thompson

Jake Henry:

Lavine is as good or better than (Klay) thompson? Thompson the second best shooter in nba history who was also one of the five best perimeter defenders in the league for several years thompson? This is worse than bulls fighting the celtics for the 8 seed or raptors not making the playoffs. Klay Thompson is a hall of famer.

Sam Smith:

Thanks for at least keeping up with my preseason predictions. Remember, they are talking points and not promises. My Raptors guess was based on them blowing it up after winning and trading Lowry and Gasol. Guess not. Though I'm still interested to see if they regret that. Maybe it changes this week. Anyway, I got a bunch of blowback on my comparisons with Zach, and the point was not that he's a better shooter than Thompson. But put Thompson with the Bulls players and I guarantee you it's a 12-under team or worse. Zach is a good shooter, but not in Thompson's class. Or as a defender. But Thompson can't pass or handle the ball and certainly is nowhere near athletic to create for himself like Zach. The point was both are great talents, but if they are your best player you need some help to make the playoffs. Put Zach on the Warriors with Steph and Durant and he's got three championships. It's why you hear so many Zach rumors regarding the Lakers. LeBron knows. You put Zach with LeBron and Davis and they're the Warriors from a few years ago. It's not happening. The point is you can win big with Zach like you did with Klay. Just not if they don't have an All-Star with them.

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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