Ask Sam Mailbag: 4.13.18

Sam opens his mailbag and turns his attention to the draft, the future and makes his playoff picks

With the season over thoughts shift to the draft. Is it realistic for the Bulls to augment the Pelicans pick with non- core players like Valentine, Holiday, Payne, Vonleh, Grant or Nwaba to move up say five to eight draft slots?

John Petersen

Sam: Not generally, though it’s been done. The test case lately was the Nuggets trading the rights to the No. 13 pick, which became Donovan Mitchell — uh oh — to the Jazz for their No. 24 pick and Trey Lyles, who was a previous lottery pick averaging about 10 points. Because it worked out so badly and looks so bad for the Nuggets, teams are going to be loath to do something like that. My guess is you probably could move up a few positions by trading the New Orleans pick and Portis, which would be comparable to what the Jazz gave up. I doubt the Bulls would want to do that.

Pax has generally tried to do the right thing, like not letting Curry have a heart attack on his watch, or giving Derrick Rose every single chance he could to revive his career. Sometimes this has hurt the team, and Pax has taken plenty of flak from the fans… for just about everything. (Seen any ‘Fire Sam Smith’ billboards around town??)

So this time, Pax decided to ‘play the system’ like most everybody else does and get the best draft pick possible. He still couldn’t find it in his heart to blatantly tank, so he devised this half-way thing – supposedly giving playing time only to guys who are raw & need to develop quickly, or who we need to evaluate for the future. At the same time, some of your better players sit and you’re bound to lose often; nearer my draft pick to thee. And I think it speaks well of Pax that he never wants to do this again. It’s worked in some ways, but left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

When I say “it worked”… well, we have the #6 or 7 pick and we found out what we need to know about a few candidates for the bench. I’d say that if the Bulls had ‘gone for it’ they’d have picked about 10th, and we wouldn’t have seen Nwaba, Kilpatrick, Vonleh or Payne… all of whom could make the team. If Fred can get them playing like last December, then they’ll definitely be competitive. If the young guys pan out and work well together, and they add a piece or two, 2019-20 could be fun. Still not sure if it was worth it – only if Gar/Pax make a very good pick!

Art Alenik

Sam: Yes, this big draft we’ve talked about for a year. Get it right! It’s time! Paxson mentioned a wing player as a priority, and we all pretty much figured that given Holiday and Nwaba were the starters this season. Though Valentine started some and still believes he could handle the spot. He’ll get a chance.

So the draft: The Bulls still could move up to a top three pick, and they have better odds than they had when they moved up and chose Rose in 2008. I don’t watch enough college basketball to be an expert, but it really doesn’t take long. I know the pros all say Arizona center DeAndre Ayton is the consensus No. 1 pick, the next Embiid. Yes, he’s got a next, already. The Bulls second greatest need is a center. Sure, they like Lopez and he’ll likely start next season. But he has just one year left on his deal and he also could be retained as a reserve down the road. His market is declining in this three-point shooting big man era.

Duke’s Marvin Bagley, a super athletic power forward without much shooting range, is generally regarded as the No. 2 guy, though not universally. There’s basically a top five or six whom everyone agrees upon. It’s Ayton and then in various order Bagley, Luka Doncic from Slovenia, center Jaren Jackson from Michigan State, center Mo Bamba from Texas and forward Michael Porter from Missouri. Porter missed most of the season with a back problem, but came back late and was the No. 1 choice coming into the season. Bamba doesn’t score much and sounds like a Rudy Gobert type, Jackson would be an ideal big man and though Doncic isn’t a great athlete, he’s considered an exceptionally skilled perimeter player who can be a small forward.

Then comes the supposed next level, though, as we’ve seen over the years, many of the players prove better. There are two athletic type small forwards that sound like the Bulls profile, ironically with the same surnames, Mikal Bridges of Villanova and Miles Bridges of Michigan State. The Villanova guy is generally a bit more highly regarded because he fits that new NBA 3 and D, but neither is the great creative type. Then you have Duke big man Wendell Carter, overlooked next to Bagley, but a strong and solid big man. It would be interesting if the much hyped Trae Young falls to the Bulls. He’s thin and not very big, but he sure can shoot and score, and those are important things. A Lou Williams-type sixth man always is useful. Then there’s Texas A&M big man Robert Williams, who is a major, major athlete, and we know the Bulls could use some of those uber athletes. And still Collin Sexton, a big time talent point guard. Hey, got one of those? But do you pass on great talent? That also will be interesting to watch this draft. The Bulls should get a very good player in that top 10.

Do the Bulls own a 2nd round pick this summer or was that part of a deal?

Randall Sanders

Sam: No second. I believe the Knicks have it from the Oklahoma City deal last year. It’s a relief, if only to avoid another stupid Jordan Bell debate.

Almost a perfect plan but bringing Mirotic was the one mistake and it could loom large. While Kirk was a nice player, Dwyane Wade would’ve looked a lot better with a few more losses. Mirotic was a mistake because it wasn’t worth dropping out of the top four to get the 23rd player pick in the next years draft.

If they kept him, it would’ve been fine but that never was going to work, the punch incident or not. The Butler trade was absolutely amazing and totally rebuilt this franchise. Hopefully the ping-pong balls will drop are way or we will get a great choice number seven.

Jeff Lichtenstein

Sam: You’re missing the point, as many did this season. That’s beyond the impropriety of a team losing on purpose. It’s actually a crime, I think. Ever hear of players point shaving and throwing games? They get prosecuted. You cannot do that! It’s obviously ambigious in sports building of teams as there always have been losing teams. Anyway, I believe this was a one year aberration with the Bulls. The point, though, was Mirotic came off a summer in which as a free agent he didn’t get any offers. So in order to develop value, which the Bulls eventually did and got the first round pick, he had to play. Had there not been the fight, he would have played sooner and it’s unlikely with Mirotic and Portis playing that the Bulls would have started 3-20.

So the fight enabled a team that probably would have won 35 games to end up with 27. I recall many cases of the Bulls holding onto players without getting a draft pick in return and fans furious. So now they looked to get something in return for Mirotic, who even before the fight by signing short term indicated he probably would leave as a free agent after one year or two. The rebuild hardly would be done by then, and you also were limiting yourself in free agency had he stayed. But you couldn’t have moved him without playing him extensively. And teams rarely make deals until February. If Cousins didn’t get hurt, the Pelicans never would have been interested, anyway. As for Wade, can you imagine what that would have been like and the development possibilities for Dunn, especially, with Wade around hanging onto the ball whenever he played? And if he didn’t play, do you think he would have been supportive about that? It wasn’t a great season, but in many ways it worked out as well as it could have.

Never been so happy for a Bulls season to end. I feel dirty. To watch Omer struggle at every facet of the game, knowing Robin is healthy and wants to participating in the tank. I turned off the Detroit game with 2.30 left in the third. May we never fall this far from grace -- from all that is graceful and elegant and inspiring, about sports or anything that requires community and fairness and helping the least successful become more successful -- ever again.

Chris Granner

Sam: I’m pretty sure Paxson got your message with his comments to the media Thursday that, basically that he wanted no part of this, but with this stupid system the most corrupt, shameless and unethical are being rewarded. Now we’re in that position and while we don’t want to go along, is it right that we lose as a result? So the Bulls sort of did a hybrid: Losing with development. They did find out Cameron Payne was better than the mob running him out of town last season. They got a much better Bobby Portis and a Denzel Valentine who’s got some stuff. It wasn’t that Philadelphia Pfraud in which every time a player improved they got rid of him. So maybe they don’t have the best odds for the top three. But they maintain some dignity, and they are not going to try this again.

It’s clear next season already is about making the playoffs, though no one —except the players — is about to say so. It’s sort of the, hey, we can’t compete with the Bucks, the Wizards, Miami? Maybe not finish ahead quite yet, but at least be there and try. Anyone who reads me knows I hate this talk of draft picks; I find it reprehensible and an insult to the game, that you owe the game that has done so much for you. But so many have begun to do so now that it’s obvious the league has to take some severe action, probably next season instead of equalizing somewhat the top pick odds; just give all 14 lottery teams a chance for No. 1. And No. 2 and No. 3. And you know what, you Sacramentos and Atlantas and Orlando’s and—OK, if you want to include Chicago, but they’ve got a much better core, which is why they weren’t bottom five—too bad, you asked for this. Don’t ever make it a benefit to lose. Technically, Robin was OK with playing, but I know he said with this young focus thing he’d actually rather not play if he wasn’t starting and he did tell management to give more time to players like Vonleh and Felicio. Sure, Robin would have played and they could have made him, but he understood and it seems clear he’ll start at center next season and may well have a future beyond that with the team. And give Omer a break. He hadn’t played in about three years and had a serious illness. He’s a good man. He didn’t ask to be here.

The “playing of the young Bulls” has helped several players emerge as useful rotation candidates or other helpful pieces. On the flip side the biggest disappointment must be Felicio. He seemed to start the year out of condition and still appears a step slow and with a lower basketball IQ. The Bulls obviously thought he had a greater upside with the four year contract. With extended starting/playing time he is better than earlier in the year but still prone to have moments where he is not thinking or anticipating. It would be a shock if the Bulls did not draft a center with the two picks. Is Felicio realistically salvageable or simply a lost cause?

Kieron Smith

Sam: He sure looked lost until about a month or so ago. It looked like a guy who took the money and ran. Which I never could quite get because he always seemed like such a dedicated and grateful guy. He actually came on enough that you can put him in games. He still doesn’t have confidence to take a shot, but at least he tried a few times. He’ll make some terrific catches of pick and roll passes on the run and finishes, and then will bobble and lose easy passes. He and Cameron Payne developed a nice pick and roll at times and I can find several bench big men around the NBA who don’t do as well. None of us liked that post All-Star benching of Lopez and Holiday, though we agree Holiday isn’t a future starter. But it did help Felicio and did demonstrate that he can do some things. Which, when you look at it, it never would have occurred had Robin closed out the season playing 25 minutes. I still don’t endorse the way it went, but there were positives. Like Paxson said, they tried to do it in a reasonable way without insulting the league. Most teams didn’t even try to hide. Did you see the Memphis lineups the last few games? You better have had a the G-league TV package for that one.

Kilpatrick’s been killing it. I really don’t want him on the roster though after this season. He is already 28. Hopefully we can include him in a deal this summer.

Bob Ding

Sam:A few more games and he might have led the team in scoring. As it was, he finished behind only Mirotic — yes, Niko led the team in scoring for the season at 16.8 — and LaVine at 16.7. Kilpatrick averaged 15.4, just ahead of Markkanen at 15.2. Kilpatrick also shot 40 percent on threes, and for the season—yes, again—only Mirotic shot better. Shouldn’t they want that kind of guy around? After all, he’s “just” 28. I understand the notion that it’s a build-with-youth thing, but like the 76ers have done now with the likes of Belinelli and Ilyasova, you need some guys who know how to play and make shots. Kilpatrick isn’t in their class, but he also won’t cost much. I’m not sure he has much value the way he’s bounced around. I wouldn’t mind seeing him back. Especially in an offense designed to shoot a lot of threes that doesn’t make a lot of threes.

Raptors in 7 over the Wizs. I think the Wizs wont roll over for the Raps. Wizs are not ur normal 8th seed. Bucks in 6 over the Celtics. I just cant go with the Celts given the injuries. I dont care how good a coach Brad is, no Kyrie and no smart is just 2 big of a loss. Philly over Miami in 6. Embiid Vs Hassan should be fun if joel comes back in time.
Cavs in 5 over the Pacers. Playoff LBJ is here. They will just drop 1 in Indy. George Hill will be huge in this series as he knows the pacers well and has played with some of those guys.

Mike Sutera

Sam: I still believe the Warriors and Cavs are favorites to get to the Finals, but unlike the last few years, either losing early would not be a surprise given Stephen Curry’s injuries and LeBron without that second playmaker-ballhandler. George Hill? I don’t think so. Last year’s first round was pretty awful for one of the best two weeks of the season with multiple playoff games on every night. I love the playoffs. Sad to be missing them with the Bulls analyzing the lottery ball machines. So here’s my picks:

Eastern Conference:

Toronto Raptors in 5 over Washington Wizards I don’t think they’re as good as they‘ve been all season, and their reserves already are feeling the heat a bit. But there seems to be some major dysfunction in Washington. Going out early could finally mean trying to trade John Wall, which would make this summer one of the most amazing ever with Kawhi Leonard likely to be traded and who knows where LeBron might go.

Boston Celtics in 6 over Milwaukee Bucks. They’re missing enough guys to lose this series with Kyrie Irving out, Marcus Smart also and Hayward from all season. But no team this season probably has played harder and competed more ferociously on a regular basis than Boston. They’ve been something to watch even with so many young players. Plus, there are some issues with the Bucks as Giannis doesn’t seem to get the ball near enough and it’s still an interim coach.

Philadelphia 76ers in 5 over Miami Heat. The Heat are a cute, hard trying bunch, but the 76ers have been hot, and hot even without Embiid. They look like the real thing, and they have some veterans with Redick and Belinelli. Simmons is a tough guy who doesn’t seem to fool around and I expect the 76ers in the conference finals.

Cleveland Cavaliers in 6 over Indiana Pacers. I know LeBron has some issues playing in Indianapolis and we still can’t figure how the Pacers are doing this. It won’t be easy and may even go seven because LeBron’s playing like Thibodeau is coaching him—take him out and the other guys hit you with a 10-0. LeBron’s going to have to really work for this one.

Western Conference:

Houston Rockets in 6 over Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves really do have a lot of talent, but they, of course, don’t use enough of it. How much can Jimmy Butler strain in this series trying to stay on the court against Harden given the knee issues? I’m still not convinced about the Rockets, and Harden and Paul have come apart in playoffs. Maybe not yet, but it shouldn’t be easy.

Golden State Warriors in 4 over San Antonio Spurs. Yes, Curry is out and they’ve been mediocre, but the Spurs really have nothing. I’m surprised that without Kawhi they even got to the playoffs. Look at some of those lineups. Manu bailed them out basically the last two weeks. Manu? This is the end of this run. Yes yes, we’ve heard it before, but it’s a retool next season and I don’t see the Spurs in the playoffs with Manu gone after this season.

New Orleans Pelicans in 6 over Portland Trail Blazers. I’m buying into Niko getting his powers by shaving his beard. The former Bull has been sizzling since finally shaving and the Pelicans after losing Cousins regrouped and Anthony Davis has been amazing. I know no one takes the Trail Blazers seriously with their guard game and Lillard mad about being left off something. But they were top 3 for a reason. Rondo’s been terrific and we know he should have beaten Boston last season. They’ve got no bench, but also with good guy E’Twaun Moore it would be nice to see them get a round and see Davis in another series.

Oklahoma City Thunder in 7 over Utah Jazz. The Thunder has been the most unpredictable and underachieving team this season, and yet they did get fourth. It did look like Westbrook went for stats to get that second triple double, but Longley always used to say how Rodman would beg him to get out of the way to allow him to have the rebounds. Goes on a lot. The Thunder is tough to figure because Westbrook will shoot you out and back in, and out and in, and it’s some amazing ride watching that guy and then we’ll have all the Paul George speculation and Carmelo is done talk and the Jazz is just so boring.

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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