Ask Sam Mailbag 4.13.20

Brodie Larsh:

What's your thoughts on Arturas Karnisovas? Seems like a great option to me. He also played college basketball with one of the best current Assistant Coaches in basketball in Adrian Griffen, who also has multiple ties to the Chicago Bulls.

Sam Smith:

Labai idomu. Jaudinantis. Very interesting and exciting. Though that's the last I'm communicating with him in Lithuanian. Karnisovas' hiring is perhaps less a new chapter in Bulls' franchise history than like buying a set of encyclopedias (look it up). This is really old school: There once were salesmen who went door to door in New York selling sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica. It was the principal source of knowledge and information when I was growing up. You could buy one at a time or, of course, all. It was everyone on my block's dream. No one could afford it. We were able to steal broom sticks from the closet to cut down for stick ball bats, however. It's why years later when World Book asked me to write some sports profiles for them I was so excited for the $40 honorarium just to be in an encyclopedia. Talk about digressing. The salient point is that since the Jerry Reinsdorf group purchased the franchise in 1985, the chief executive has been Jerry Krause, a White Sox scout at the time, and then John Paxson, a Bulls player to coach to the broadcaster.

This is basically the first time the Bulls have gone outside their comfort zone, though Karnisovas would do well to be a third of Krause, who won six titles and is in the Basketball Hall of Fame. But it signals a significant moment for the Bulls in not only venturing outside their safe place for management but reshaping the front office with a more expansive structure. It's not a guarantee of success. And don't overlook that under the current administration the Bulls led the league in wins in consecutive seasons and made the playoffs in one stretch 10 of 11 years under Paxson. Many franchises in their histories never have led the league in wins. Karnisovas checks all the boxes of the sort of executive you'd like with playing and management experience and a reputation for inclusion, consideration and fellowship. It's obviously going to be a larger front office staff. And with the ability of Karnisovas to consider the canvass blank, it should also be exciting to witness how this house gets constructed. Almost as exciting as it would have been to complete the set with the 32rd Britannica.

Jeff Lichtenstein:

Karnisovas seems like a good choice. I always like a guy who looks back and studies "what I said wrong about a player in retrospect." I liked what he said about not micromanaging and his background and playing overseas probably gives him more of an open mind toward recognizing new areas to find talent. At least that's my take from a few quotes from afar. But it's a crapshoot to an extent. This one still is hard because you don't know what direct scouting he is responsible for or what his boss was responsible for. Anyhow, Pax had a good run and leaves with young talent and cap space on this team. Was a solid if not bordering on a top evaluator of talent. He will be missed by me and he'll be remembered as a good GM. If LeBron or Zion or Howard or Durant or Doncic or Zion fell our way he would be considered great. I also think on the flip side he never arranged a trade up to secure someone like Wade and do whatever it takes to trade up for him. Or win the LeBron free agent stakes. 2nd is good but it's not great. Way easier said then done. Hope they retain Paxon to help with talent evaluation as he's good at it. The right GM would want that and recognize that as Paxon is not a power trip guy and can be an asset. I'm curious to see if the Bulls make a major move to shake up the roster. 

Sam Smith:

The Bulls really did have a good run with Paxson, I agree. Just not fortunate enough. You know, like when LeBron doesn't bestow himself on your franchise. Jeanie Buss then became a much better proprietor when he did after the worst six years in franchise history. The Bulls made the playoffs more in the last decade than the Lakers. The Bulls put together two contending runs with different groups (they did sweep the defending champion Shaq/Wade Heat in the playoffs). One of the most popular sports cliches is being hired to be fired. It's part of the life cycle. Paxson's credit is he probably could have hung on if he protested or insisted.

It seemed from all reports it's been the opposite with Paxson asking what was best for the organization before what was best for himself. That's classy. Similarly, by all accounts, the successor is respected, competent and knowledgeable. That's the appropriate base. His test will be as they often say about coaching of moving that 12 inches to the next seat or going from making the suggestions to making the decisions. But it's an unusual NBA season—and somewhat different world, as well—with the uncertainty about when or if the NBA returns. The hope seems to be a summer playoffs, which seemingly would preclude trades until into the fall and who knows what occurs regarding the draft or trades. So perhaps it becomes a year of reflection. I remember when The Tribune told me it was time to move on. I believed I'd done a good job. They thought my next trade should include me. Sometimes it's just time. It's that time for the Bulls. We're all excited to see what it means. It figures to take some time as well.

Ryan Carpel:

Luol Deng for general manager?

Sam Smith:

I'm afraid that might be a demotion for Lu. Eventually, I could see Deng wanting to return to basketball in an executive capacity, especially since he wanted to retire as a Bull. For now, he's serving humanity much better as a citizen of the world. He's a global ambassador for the new Africa basketball project and is involved in many worldwide humanitarian efforts. To limit Luol Deng to basketball, at least for now, would be a disservice to the world. Plus, Deng during his career put together an impressive investment portfolio he also manages.

Tom Plonowski:

It'll be interesting to see how the front office change will shape the Markkanen situation moving forward. I think positively if anything. Markkanen will have a fellow European-born overseeing all aspects of basketball. I've grown more fond of Markkanen despite his struggles. There aren't many players with Markkanen's unique abilities for a seven footer out there. He is 22 years of age, and he can still develop in many ways starting by being injury-free. Personally, I feel the change at the helm all but guarantees Markkanen's continued tenure with the Bulls. I have grown fond of the potential that the Carter Jr.- Markkanen duo has because they compliment each other's strengths so well. Carter Jr. will be 21 in a week, while Markkanen is only 22. Both were 7th overall selections, and Markkanen is a threat from the outside while Carter Jr. can manhandle the paint. I do think Markkanen needs to develop more of an inside presence to assist with guarding taller players and grabbing more rebounds while Carter Jr. can easily step out and play more on the outside. Bottom line I'm not sure these guys can be superstars but if Carter Jr. can average 15 ppg, 10-12 rpg, and 2-3 bpg and with Markkanen at 17-20 ppg, 7-10 rpg that will create a formidable four and five presence for years to come.

Sam Smith:

That's kind of why I'm a little disappointed I'm not getting to do the job. I feel like the Bulls actually have been left in an excellent position with substantial potential salary cap space after next season in a lusty free agent period and a core of talented young players who haven't produced as expected in part due to injuries. Of a mostly freakish nature, like sprained ankles and chipped bones. All which have healed already. Which is why many around the league believe the Bulls job is so appealing and could be a sleeping giant. Although there's an opening for a classic facilitating point guard, the backcourt looks good--and perhaps exceptional—with the scoring of Zach LaVine and Coby White. The wing position is problematic with Otto Porter Jr. going into his final contract season. The biggest questions, I agree, are in the front court with Markkanen and Carter. I tend to agree with you that there's a there there with them that's been missing because we've seen it. You don't lose it at 22. In his first two seasons, Markkanen was looking like the steal of the 2007 draft even at No. 7. His month of play last year when he finally overcame his elbow injury was exceptional and all-pro like. There was All-Star discussion for this season that dissolved into a morass of uncertainty, change and injury. We've seen more reason for hope than despair. Similarly with Carter, who has had the most peculiar and unexpected injuries. Out of the gates as a rookie he posted scoring games of 25 points, 28 points. He made big shots, was rugged and clutch. That just doesn't go away. Karnisovas probably was there eight games into Carter's rookie season when he had 25 points, eight rebounds, five assists, three blocks and three steals in Denver before the Bulls kicked one away at the buzzer. Thin air, my elbow. The temptation when someone comes in new is to make changes, to apply your identity. One difficult part of this NBA pause for the Bulls was they'd hoped to get a full run of 20 games to see about Markkanen after his unexpected season. So perhaps that just gets extended. There seems to be too much talent to sell low.

Alan Smith:

Here we go again? Reminds of all the hoopla and excitement of when the Bears chose Ryan Pace, supposedly a prodigy for the Saints. Karnosovas draped Donovan Mitchell a week after being named GM and traded him to the Utah Jazz for Tyler Lydon and Trey Lyles.

Sam Smith:

You mean like when Jerry West took the Memphis job and passed on All-Stars Amar'e Stoudemire and Caron Butler to take Drew Gooden No. 4 or the next year's draft when took Marcus Banks in the lottery to flip him for Troy Bell ahead of All-Stars like David West and Josh Howard? And West has been the greatest talent evaluator of our generation. After-the-fact draft analysis is the most specious of the arm chair quarterbacking. The Nuggets—because they always talk about their decisions in an ensemble team approach—have a quality history in the draft with many hits. And some misses. Like most teams. Jokic in the second round was one of the great selections in NBA history. Emmanuel Mudiay at No. 7 ahead of the likes of Devin Booker, Lyles (who they obviously regretted missing on) and Myles Turner was an oops. Everyone has them. Everyone will continue to have them, so you judge the big picture. Denver's big picture since Karnisovas signed on has been, if not yet a masterpiece, certainly becoming a valuable work of art. Now he gets the chance to make it clear where the buck stops. He seems like he's ready.

Pete Zievers:

I never appreciated the ABA as much as I should have when it was in existence. Too busy seeing the shoddier aspects and not paying enough attention to some of the deeper thought that went into some of the things they did. Yeah, big hair, dunks, 3pt shot and RW&B ball. I'm thinking more about the way they used the entire court for offense. Doug Moe. At the time, the NBA was dominated by big players and I didn't mind that. But, I don't remember the NBA working the game quite as much as it seems the ABA did. The other aspect was that the ABA I thought more resembled the playground game which made it more relatable. The ABA had personality, too. There were some really great stories in that league - I suspect there were just as many interesting stories in the NBA, but the NBA was uptight in comparison. The team names beat the heck out of the NBA's and the uniforms were crazy. And they had players that they were unafraid to showcase. There was the Doc, of course. (Jim) McDaniels, Maurice Lucas, Marvin Barnes Louis Dampier. Early Moses, the best of Dan Issel, David Thompson playing free, Warren Jabali. Sometimes I think that Pete Maravich was the ABA packaged into one guy. Today's NBA schemes up a lot like the ABA except that ... and this is with all due respect to talented, skilled, and hard-working marketing departments around the league.....it just lacks the charm of the ABA. I guess the NBA's fate is to never be the upstart league which comes with it's share of romanticism. But the ABA was never as laminated as the NBA seems to be. My misfortune to never have been to an ABA game live. One could say they should resurrect game tapes and put them on some streaming channel. I dunno about that one...that was then, this is now. It might offer an interesting comparison/contrast exercise tho.

Sam Smith:

We tend to romanticize when we get nostalgic. When you associate events or goods with your youth, you tend to overvalue them. Like when we watch old TV shows or movies and can't figure how we even saw what was going on. Even my stamp collection doesn't really seem like so much fun anymore. OK, it didn't then, either, but there was only so much to do while we had candle wax. The ABA was in some respects a Ponzi scheme with big contacts and bonuses which were frauds and games played in arenas with crowd sizes about the same as the G-league. I recall going to games in Commack, Long Island wearing full winter gear because there was no heat in the old airport hangar they were using. But what the ABA did is drag the NBA kicking, screaming and suing into its modern era. Though the NBA had some of its greatest stars ever in the 60s with Wilt, Oscar, Elgin, Russell, Cousy, and West, it had evolved into a relatively stagnant, conservative game perhaps exemplified by New York's favorite team ever, the 70-73 Knicks.

They won a pair of titles and could have had a third with singular players like Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe. Not only because of the emphasis on centers and post-play in that era, the Knicks in what was the inspiration for Phil Jackson adjusting the triangle offense for the 90s Bulls played a selfless brand of team ball. But very ground-based with precise execution. The ABA then brought the inner city to the big cities. It represented the south with its look and style and the flair of a culture mostly ignored. It spoke to the fans both literally and visually. It helped take the restraints of the corporate conservatism—kicking and screaming, as it were—off the NBA to clear the stage for Magic and Bird and their passing and the Lakers/Celtics revival and onto Michael and the Bulls, to LeBron's and Kobe's theatrics and the game that's played today with the shooting and dunking and challenging and fashion individualism. The NBA owes a great debt to that league more than the usual few pages of history. Perhaps the appropriate celebration takes place next February when the All-Star game comes to one of the greatest and original ABA cities, Indianapolis, home of the Big O and the dynasty Pacers of Roger Brown, George McGinnis, and Mel Daniels. Yeah, Rick Mount, too.

Brendan Greeley:

Coby White is ridiculously fun to watch. Cannot wait to see him play again. You've mentioned Otto Porter Jr. might be better suited as a PF these days. Does the organization see him that way? I was wondering why Thaddeus Young couldn't be considered as a potential starter at the 3. He shoots fairly well from outside these days, has quick hands, runs the court and is always healthy. Too slow on the switch? Figure if Thad can guard Giannis tough, he can guard anybody. Coby, Zach, Lauri & Wendell appear to be locked in as starters. I very much like Hutch's game & potential fit with that starting group, but injuries make him unreliable. If the Bulls make no major trades over the summer, who do envision as the starting SF?

Sam Smith:

Doesn't sound like a bad team. Seems like a playoff team, to me. Oh right, I wrote that last fall. OK, now I'm serious. Really. It does, as I've suggested, seem like a team that should be in the playoffs, at least. Coby already has broken through. Can't wait to see him start a season. Otto probably protects as a power forward these days after two years of injuries, but I expect him to opt into his final season and start at small forward. He had a serious injury, and though unwanted this extra time should be good for him. I expect him to have a great season next season. He's not always consistent game to game, and not to suggest he wasn't trying, but you always do seem to see veteran players giving that little extra in their contract years. So what. Let the Bulls take advantage of that. Otto truly has become an exceptional three-point shooter and even in his brief return this season showed an ability to make tough shots and be a difficult matchup to play with his size and shooting ability. I believe Young could be a starter, but Otto will be. Young has expanded his shooting well enough that he's a reasonable threat on threes, so he's the question mark. He wants to play a lot, and has been productive enough to play regularly. Which should be an interesting dilemma for someone new. I'm interested, as well, to see how that works out. Probably Thad, too.

Nick Midori:

The biggest problems with analytics is not the numbers; It's the people. The numbers tell you that it's important to have good 3-pt. shooting and inside scoring. It's the people who think that means every shot must be a 3 or a dunk. And since it's tougher & more complicated to analyze defense... it just doesn't matter. And let's face it – a big part of this analytics problem stems from the existence of the 3-point shot – which was itself, a reaction to the prior dunk-a-thon. My answer to the dominance of the 3-pt. shot remains to move the line back and eliminate the corner 3's completely. There are currently 100 players in the NBA who shoot 37% or better from the arc. My goal would be reduce that to about 30-35. When few players can shoot over 33% from the arc the analytics change so that mid-range shots are almost as valuable as 3's. Teams would want to go inside more often, but that might bring back interior defense and even things out. I like great shooting, but making it (or at least the 3) a bit more novel would be great for the game.

Sam Smith:

That appeals to me, if perhaps not to the NBA. I think the league likes the video game/slot machine aspect of the scoreboard blinking light accumulation. Lots of yelling like at the crap tables, too. Little joe in the box cars! Oh, crap! Not that you can't score enough points without forcing those threes. Ask Doug Moe. Like in baseball (the game that was played outside with guys running around stepping on pillows), the NBA is devolving to so many fewer options. Hit and run once was regarded as a positive. The NBA has become too oriented at times to finding a standing shooter when someone could actually be attempting a layup. There have been suggestions for a three-point line that starts in the corner and arcs outward so there's no room for that short three. Top shooters have expanded their range enough for the better ones to still make 40 percent out there. Perhaps like with steroids in baseball. The big guys still hit a lot of home runs. The bigger issue wasn't Sammy and Bonds. It was those second basemen who went from six homers to 28. Then quietly back to six again after getting their big contracts. Anyway, there seems the possibility also for better spacing if the shooters expand farther out and a better mixture of movement for baskets. You may have something there.

Stephen Zwick:

NBA teams have relatively small rosters and coaching staffs...So what's preventing the teams from testing for and clearing all their players and vital staff plus some small camera crews of COVID-19 and then playing games in empty high school-sized gyms? Even if taped delayed, they could broadcast the games and make TV revenues. They'd be the only game in town right now...There's nothing else to watch. It's really kind of weird not having any sports to follow.

Sam Smith:

The NBA is relying on the health expert scientists, as quaint an idea as that may seem. And given the uncertainties and daily changes with the virus, no one can predict or plan what might occur. But it seems the NBA is the one sport that could do something like you suggest. Perhaps take the 16 playoff teams and isolate them all in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Some suggested a resort island like in the Bahamas but then comes hurricane season. You take the 16 teams and test all the players. Then you set up basketball courts in those spacious conference rooms like at McCormick Place. No media. Broadcasters in studios calling the games off TV. Camera operators some 50 feet away; 10 players for limited roster size, one coach and one assistant. No support staff except for a trainer and a doctor on site. Players all test negative; all sign liability waivers. By summer everyone will be glad to get anywhere. Open the casinos for just slot machines or video poker. No dealers. Shorter first and second playoff rounds. Best of three first, best of five-second and then two seven-game series for conference finals and finals. The teams and players with the 50/50 split need the TV revenue and the networks need programming. I can't imagine any players resisting six weeks away from home (if you win) after having just spent more time at home than any time in their lives. Just Do It!

Kieron Smith:

There ought to be a special tournament to settle the situation:

A) Kings-vs-Spurs B) The winner of those two teams, face the Grizzlies in the first of the tournament. C) In the second of the tournament: Trail Blazers-vs-Pelicans. D) The winner of both the Grizzlies-vs-winner of Kings-vs-Spurs match/Trail Blazers-vs-Pelicans matches, face each other in final round. E) The winner of the tournament goes on to face the Lakers in the playoffs.

Sam Smith:

This being LeBron's suggestion? That's another possibility among perhaps dozens that are being debated at league headquarters. OK, on conference calls. Make it an NCAA-like bracket situation with the seven nonplayoff teams from each conference and the eighth-place team in a one-game elimination tournament to get to eighth place. Meanwhile, the playoff teams are on-site also working out. Then everyone gets a few games in as local cable stations get their programming and teams fulfill their requirements of supplying a certain number of games each season. Finish it all around Labor Day or perhaps a week before for the Hall of Fame enshrinement. Then give everyone two months off and gradually get into the next season with perhaps an extended camp. The NBA has crowned champions before on 50 and 66-game seasons. Most teams already have played 65 games. Baseball needs too much room and hockey needs too much ice. If any sport can do this—is golf a sport?—then the NBA might be able to.

Lamar Battle:

The Bulls need for outside shooting and play-making are paramount.The team works hard on defense (#1 in steals and #1 in deflections #1 in points off turnovers) but when it comes to outside shooting the team is (#27 in 3 pt percentage, #23 in assist). These numbers point to a gritty and hard-working team that is sorely in need of three-point shooting. The Bulls should keep guard Kris Dunn who could develop as a lock down defender alongside potential all-star Coby White. Keep Lauri Markennen who could benefit from an team offensive make-over along with Otto Porter Jr. who is underrated as a leader that just happens to shoot 40.4% from the 3pt line . Start center Daniel Gafford (a poor mans Clint Capela) who makes up in heart what he lacks in weight.

Sam Smith:

Among the personnel debates and questions that are going to be considered for the Bulls is what to do about an offensive strategy. It seems like the emphasis on three-point shooting, while seriously plotted out among the staff, didn't seem to be communicated that well. There's been some resistance among the players, and you'd say less out of insubordination or rebellion than perhaps self assessment. There just weren't enough classic and comfortable three-point shooters. Part of the issue is supply and demand. Suddenly in the NBA it's much in demand and not so easy to supply. So to the staff's credit they adjusted to a style that could help with the trapping defense led by Dunn. We saw how much it changed when he was injured. But that was yet again with Dunn, three straight years. Not serious injuries like an ACL or Achilles, but a problem. Since he's been with the Bulls he's missed at least 30 games every season. And, as you may have noticed, he's one of those to whom the three has been unkind. It's another of the yet exciting prospects moving forward. Not only who will be there, but how they will play.

John Leichenko:

About the 70s bulls from last week. I was 5 in ‘75 and got to go to some games with my parents, great memories. The tough lookn benny, super fan, and walking down to the bulls bench to say hi to artis and mickey johnson. Fun to read about the 70s all defensive bulls. I don't actually remember the games back then, just older people in my family talking about the bulls D, sloan being ready to fight anyone. I recall a story though about Sloan not wanting to mess with rick barry? (norm and sidney wicks)

Sam Smith:

Those are the games NBCSports should be showing. Yes, you could walk by the bench back then and chat with the players. Often during the game. In the old Stadium, there was an aisle between the first row and the court (nobody thought you could sell more expensive seats closer) and this, lets say, big boned, mustachioed Chicagoan named Jeff Blatt would sprint (canter) around the arena in timeouts before computer dots did it on the scoreboard. There's a wonderful YouTube clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3GY1dxfaFM in one of those clever and funny Tim Weigel sports reports of Platt in his hey (and oats) day and then later some 65 pounds thinner looking very Rush Street ready. I also think he was the inspiration for those Saturday Night Live sketches. Jerry, by the way, wasn't scared of anyone. It was Rick who didn't much like the idea of playing against Jerry and perhaps you remember Norm Van Lier chasing Sidney Wicks with a chair after one sequence of plays. Norm got the huge penalty of a one-game suspension. Probably for damage to the chair. That's what we call the good ‘ol days.