Ask Sam Mailbag 2.21.20

Sam opens his mailbag and answers questions on Zach LaVine, Coby White, and more.
Team celebration
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

Andrew Killion:

Do you remember the All-Star game when the Pacers were a top team and Frank Vogel was coaching? Last play and East needs a bucket to win. It's Paul George, LeBron, D-Wade I think and some other superstar and Vogel subs Hibbert out for Noah. He then draws up a play for Jo and he goes and scores the winning bucket and Jo can't believe it was him and not LeBron or one of the other superstars. Great 4th quarter. Defense provided more highlights than offense, so many great two-way players on the court at once. What did you think of the coaching decisions on the lineups? I guess they still wanted some shooting on the floor but I would have been sorely tempted to play Jimmy, probably for Kemba the way Lowry was playing, and Simmons at the other end for Harden. Giannis admitted as much after the game that they were trying to go after Harden. I'd have also thought hard about subbing in Gobert for Embiid once Joel's scoring dried up but both centers had great nights.

Sam Smith:

All-Star coaching mistakes? Now that's really getting the guys to compete. That 2014 game in New Orleans was sort of the start of the NBA losing touch with the game, though it was held off with that fourth quarter. Noah actually played the entire fourth quarter instead of Vogel's Hibbert, which may give us a preview of the Lakers in the playoffs. If LeBron agrees, of course. Vogel kept Noah in the entire fourth quarter and the East made an 18-point comeback to win with Noah defending, the last we saw of that until Sunday. I don't think anyone really was prepared for the way it went Sunday—and actually worked—as Toronto's Nick Nurse for the Giannis' said he was having difficulty figuring out substitutions with no clock. The teams stayed down the stretch mostly with starters, which is the way they used to do it in All-Star games. Walker just missed a lot of shots and Chris Paul didn't. I think Giannis said that because he doesn't like Harden, I suspect, over Harden and the Rockets continue to say Harden should have been the MVP. Though you do always go to the guy Harden is assigned to, if not actually defending.


Zach LaVine

Victor Devaldivielso:

Zach did so well! I'm not a fan of the mountain Dew shot. I wish it was just whoever hits the most shots wins.

Sam Smith:

Then Zach would at least have had a playoff. It generally was a very well-received All-Star weekend. Chicago's weather cooperated reasonably well, and just about all the events were actually more competitive than anyone expected. The three-point contest produced high-level shooting, though the green ball was kind of unnecessary. It has been the best pure contest of late. The dunk mostly stayed away from the silliest props and produced a good controversy. And the game was actually so good at the end that I wouldn't be surprised if the NBA eventually went to no clock scoring like that for its regular season. Its fan base's attention span is growing shorter, and that might eventually be the response. Though the rookie/sophomore game still needs some work. Leaving Coby White off was the kind of a slap in the face to the Bulls and Chicago by the NBA that I still don't understand. Yes, we're still mad! Though if you're paying hundreds of dollars for good seats I guess you would want to see the best of P.J. Washington, Eric Paschall, and Devonte' Graham. That being the Graham, by the way, who couldn't score against White Thursday. With Trae Young starting in the All-Star game Sunday, they had to also have him in that Rising Stars game? I'm not getting over this easily. Coby! Coby! Coby!


Chris Paul

Clint Youlden:

Just after your thoughts on the players association possibly creating load management rules for players under 23. I say 23 because that's the age where bodies are fully formed and filled out. Something like only one game a week allowed for those under 21 and no back-to-backs for those under 23? I'd give other players more of a look while still protecting the young talent. As you say it's a talent league so what's being done to protect that talent? I think the PA rule would at least stop angry fans from complaining and owners from exploiting?

Sam Smith:

The players association for years has been lobbying for the NBA to drop the one-and-done rule to allow players to go directly from high school to the NBA. It's been portrayed as some freedom of choice issue as if it's a constitutional right. Like James Madison famously argued in Federalist No. 51 that the appropriate checks and balances require unfettered access to shoe deals and a sports contract without regard to race, creed or origin. The current labor deal has a mutual opt after the 2022-23 season, which everyone assumes will be exercised. Going direct to the pros seems likely then. I've always believed in a private business, which the NBA is, having a right to set its own work rules. I don't believe teenagers playing in the NBA is good for the game. I haven't studied the psychology and kinesiology issues, but it's probably likely that bodies of young people cannot absorb the same kind of wear. Though it does not seem the players association is concerned about that issue given their long time commitment to making the NBA younger. Then if you are asking teams to pay high dollar amounts for young players, you cannot then tell them to make them part-time employees.


Jimmy Butler

Longgiang Le:

Looking more and more like the Bulls were wrong on the Butler trade. Lavine is just not an All Star. Miami Heat are in 4th place. Had the Bulls kept rondo and jimmy (and maybe wade) They could attract stronger free agents by now.

Sam Smith:

I understand that reasoning could be a thing now, though I still question whether it would have worked. Actually, the Bulls had attracted a big free agent. That was Wade at the time, who opted for the Bulls over a larger offer from Denver, a highly competitive team as we've seen. So this notion the Bulls cannot attract a free agent is specious. They could not attract LeBron and Durant, I agree. Or Grant Hill 20 years ago. Though we've had this conversation before. They actually have a top 10 history for attracting top free agents. They just picked some of the bad free agent years. When Ben Wallace was the top free agent, he signed with the Bulls. Similarly, Pau Gasol chose the Bulls over the Spurs and Thunder. I'm not sure missing on Kyrie has hurt that much. Good for Jimmy. We should be pleased for him that he's found a team that fits and he's happy. I'm thrilled for him personally and believe he's finally found his basketball destination. But it was time for both he and the Bulls. Or it had been enough time.

Remember, with Jimmy and Wade, the Bulls got bounced from the playoffs four straight after Rondo was injured. Say the Bulls win that series. Then they extend Rondo, you assume. That would have left them no money under the cap and where were you going with Butler, Wade, and Rondo? And, remember, the Heat is Jimmy's third team since he left the Bulls. Would he have resigned with the Bulls? Would he then have been satisfied with the veteran group they had? Especially since he wasn't satisfied with the coach he wanted to play for, Thibodeau, who couldn't change that environment. Obviously, things haven't worked out as well lately for the Bulls, though you'd still like to see what this team can do healthy. Plus, you have LaVine and Markkanen from that deal as players you can move forward with. I believe they are legitimate players for a winning team. The Bulls took a run at the draft and didn't happen to get fortunate. Memphis and New Orleans had better records and poorer odds and ended up with Zion and Ja. Would you have felt differently about the trade if the Bulls had Ja or Zion and Zach and Lauri? We'll see where they go from here.


Brandon Ingram

Jeff Pierce:

Would you give Brandon Ingram a max contract? Not sure if the bulls can do it with their money situation. New Orleans probably matches. LaVine is similar but Ingram seems like he could be worth it. Sadly it is now time to hope for losses.

Sam Smith:

The Bulls are basically out of the free agent market this summer unless Otto Porter Jr. were to opt out. Having been injured basically all season that seems unlikely. The other issue is the financial decisions the Bulls have to make on other players, like Lauri Markkanen. The Bulls can just pick up his option and then he'd be a restricted free agent after next season. Can you make a financial judgment based on this season? Would he even want to? Kris Dunn is a restricted free agent this summer. Make an offer? Match? Denzel Valentine would be a restricted free agent after next season without a new contract. So there are a lot of decisions to make as the Bulls still figure to have substantial room for additions after next season. Ingram's status is a good generic question and one easier for fans than executives. He's averaging about 25 points, which is great. He's really good. The problem with the current collective bargaining agreement is many more players want—and often get—maximum contracts than who can deliver maximum results. Forget that Ingram had a blood clot just last year. Chris Bosh's career ended prematurely after the discovery of a blood clot. OK, assume you're satisfied with his recovery and he's healthy. He's an excellent player. But if you are buying a "max" player, he better be good enough to at least make the case with him as your No. 1 player that you can at least contend for a championship. Do you think Ingram is that kind of player? With a weak free-agent market this summer, he might be in the running for that kind of offer. I assume like you the Pelicans match, anyway, given their substantial payroll flexibility with young players.


Coby White

Art Alenik:

Whatever kind of guard Coby becomes (PG, SG or Combo), he's going to help the team. He's aggressive on offense, works hard on D and is learning on the job. Instinctively, he's a scorer, but I've seen him throw some clever passes. I love his speed and handle and ability to finish at the rim. He can shoot long range, but maybe needs to tweak that low release point on his J. Coby should play SG, but work in practice (and over the summer) on playing PG. With Dunn out, I'd be more willing to give him a few starts at PG to help his development and see better where he fits. Even if he's ultimately a SG, it never hurts to have some PG skills. Many of the best ‘bigs' played PG as kids before they grew. I actually think that Coby & Hutch – along w/ Lauri – all have bright futures. Wendell too, for that matter, though possibly at PF. They all need a little time & experience.

Sam Smith:

It does look bad with a half dozen guys out and the eighth spot slipping out of sight. It would be a mistake to judge White as he turns 20 in his rookie season coming off the bench. The issue with being a scoring point guard is then you are saying he's perhaps your best talent and you're giving him the ball to dominate. You see Dallas has done that with Doncic. Portland does with Lillard. The question will be whether he is good enough. Obviously, if you add more talent or if LaVine and Markkanen are able to support him, it takes the pressure off White. The larger question will be his strength. Now it's as a scorer off the ball. He's certainly a willing learner and clearly wants to do what the team asks. But at least for now the more he tries to figure out being a point guard, the less impact and effect he has scoring. If White remains a point guard, it's clear he'll be a score-first one. He's trying to be a pass-first one now, which has slowed him. He does appear a worthwhile investment and looks like he's a good player. At some position.


John Paxon

Bruce Roberts:

I will always cherish my memory of Paxson hitting that three against Phoenix. It looked like we were going to lose with less than a minute to play and the prospect of game seven in Phoenix seemed our destiny. I was too nervous to watch and left our house and went outside. We live in the Northern suburbs with primarily single family houses. While outside I heard this scream that surrounded me from all directions. It was surreal in its intensity for and area that is usually dead quiet. I ran into house and my wife was screaming, "he hit a three and we are winning". The repetitive replays showed an iconic sequence of passes with the ball ending up in John's hands with a few seconds remaining. And in one motion he caught it, immediately jumped, flicking the ball out of his hands all part of the same motion. And the ball went in and history was made. What a moment. I will never forget that. As GM he built two really fun teams. One with Heinrich, Deng, Ben Gordon, Noah and Nocioni. The other built around a 2.7% chance of a lottery pick, Rose. Injuries really hurt us and took away a chance to be in the finals. Too many coaching changes and an inability to build a team around Butler is also a part of his legacy. What are your thoughts?

Sam Smith:

I feel like the vitriol that has been reserved for Paxson lately is unbecoming for this community, especially given your wonderful memory. It was like that here I know, though I never witnessed it since I was at all the playoff games. And, as I recall, at that one in Phoenix there wasn't quite as much enthusiasm. Much like the 1998 finale in Salt Lake City. They were the two biggest shots in franchise history. John Paxson has one. And a share in another nearly as big with his five-some of jumpers down the stretch to clinch the first championship in 1991 when Jordan, admittedly, was in need of support. As much as Jordan has lauded Scottie Pippen for being the ideal complement, Jordan more than anyone else in his 13 years with the Bulls was most comfortable playing with Paxson. He said it all the time.

I know, it's the Bulls web site. But no, I don't have to say nice things about anyone if I don't choose to. I understand the disappointment regarding the fate of the Bulls, and I understand by not being a social media user that the ugly things often said or written aren't reflective of the majority. The treatment of Paxson reminds me some of what transpired with Derrick Rose. In the community's angst about the demise of that so promising team, or at least the fall from potential championship level, Rose was singled out as a slacker, indifferent, a figure to be ridiculed and eventually with the help of a false media narrative welcomed to leave. Derrick has been welcomed back exceptionally lovingly the last few years, which suggested to me an apology without admitting error. No one likes to admit they were so wrong. Better to point to others. I have no issue with favoring change or expressing displease with your team—it's part of the sports world and everyone in it understands—but it's the level of ugliness with is beneath this city. I'd expect it in my home city of New York, where Jim Dolan often isn't treated as rudely. Especially for a guy who stayed when no one else did. Not Jordan or Pippen or Grant or Cartwright. And someone who reflected this community as much as it likes to see itself, the overlooked, blue-collar worker who succeeds by refusing to accept the verdict of others.

Paxson came first to the Bulls after Jordan, a late first-round pick cut loose after two years by the Spurs. He actually signed the day Jordan was injured in Oakland in 1985. And then all the Bulls tried to do was replace him—Kyle Macy, Sedale Threatt, Steve Colter, Elston Turner, Rory Sparrow, Sam Vincent, Craig Hodges, B.J. Armstrong, and I'm probably missing a few—and all Paxson kept doing was finding his way back. He came in as a reserve, started, went to the bench for a few years, started again, and when some of the biggest shots in franchise history had to be made he made them. He was an assistant coach and a broadcaster, and, yes he helped put together some fun teams like all the best gms do, with some knowledge and a lot of luck. He's probably not perfect like the rest of us who watch games, but he committed to the team and community in a way that Chicago generally celebrates, being the guy who wasn't supposed to make as much impact. I've long lobbied for the Bulls to honor former players who made a difference, particularly Chet Walker and Norm Van Lier. John Paxson should be in their company for what he's done much more than what he has not.

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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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