Ask Sam Mailbag 5.15.20

Sam opens his mailbag and answers questions on The Last Dance, Scottie Pippen, and the current Bulls roster
Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

Bob Griffin:

What do you think the chances are that the Bulls trade either LaVine or Markkanen or both for No. 1 and No. 2 picks in this draft. Zach is a star and not a superstar and maybe it might be better off to let Lauri get a fresh start other than in Chicago. Maybe concentrate on building a core around another guard out of North Carolina. I think Anthony Edwards is more of a sure thing than any of the top prospects out of this draft. Especially LaMelo Ball.

Sam Smith:

If I knew how to insert the pictures, I'd have a rolling of the eyes meme with a Not Again! There's so much unfortunate to consider here. Mainly it's not considered a strong draft, which is why Edwards is generally regarded so highly despite playing for a losing team and shooting under 30 percent on threes. So scouts give him more upside with a pro body and possibilities and being 18 than any production thus far. There's little chance in my view the Bulls trade either LaVine or Markkanen, and my view is Edwards never will be as good a player as LaVine. But the elephant in the room thing that the Bulls will face once they get back to regular play is a community that's ready. Fans have seen a lot of efforts at development. They are anxious to see results. I feel like they'll give the new management some leeway. But they'll be watching closely. You don't begin to see great advancement by going backward and inserting even younger players for the players you have. It would be one thing if this were a draft with your next LeBron or Durant. It's not. My plan would be to get lucky in the draft and select a point guard or center. Maybe even trade down for a player and a veteran if you move up into the top four. The new management team has talked about the Bulls being one of the youngest teams in the league. That would suggest they want to begin to change that. Not emphasize and double down on that.


Alejandro Yegros:

On slow bball days, share your opinion on two players: Stockton vs Nash. I'm saying Stockton was clearly the better player, the other person Nash. I argue that you look at their stats and Stockton just annhilates Nash on pretty much every area, the other person talks about Nash changing the game. Do you have an opinion? Even better question: Do you have a sense of what "the league" would think?

Sam Smith:

The league would probably say thank goodness; not Jordan and LeBron again. It's a very good debate because Nash won two Most Valuable Player awards, which would suggest the way sports is debated these days—who's had better stats and more famous shots—that it would be Nash. After all, back to back MVPs is the all-time list: Russell, Wilt, Kareem, Moses, Bird, Magic, Jordan, Duncan, LeBron and Curry. So what's Steve Nash doing in there? And not Kobe, Shaq, Garnett, Hakeem, Barkley, West, Baylor and Oscar. Which is the long way around of saying I'd have Stockton by a nose. Not so much a mouth since not even Kareem ran from the media like Stockton did. Not with the haughty condescension of Kareem. But in a time when there weren't locker room hiding places, Stockton always found one. He mastered the art of saying so little with so little interest in a polite way, reporters finally just gave up. Defensively there was no comparison. Stockton was an elite defender. Perhaps another MVP debate would be worst defensive MVP ever. Probably Nash closely followed by Curry and then Harden. And actually Westbrook.

Hey, there's been some really bad defenders winning MVP awards lately. More evidence of the changing nature of the MVP. Stockton was less flashy than Nash and with somewhat less shooting range. Stockton was an underrated good shooter; Nash was a great shooter. Stockton probably could have gained more notice, but preferred to find Karl Malone. But Stockton hit huge shots, perhaps the biggest to get the Jazz to the Finals in 1997. Both had long backup apprentice starts to their careers, Stockton behind Chicago's underrated Rickey Green and Nash third string in Phoenix before developing one of the great pick and roll offenses with Dirk Nowitzki. Mike D'Antoni's offensive system was built for Nash, the precursor for today's style of play that inflated statistics for everyone. No coach got more players paid than Mike D'Antoni. For longevity, impact, consistency and all round play I'd have to pick Stockton even as I enjoyed watching Nash more.


Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan

Darlene Dawson:

I can remember my friend with me at the time of the Bulls beating the Pistons for the sweep saying "they didn't even shake their hands" being shocked!

Sam Smith:

It was a great scene from the Last Dance documentary of Jordan viewing and dismissing Isiah Thomas' explanation and the revisionist history about the Celtics' precedent of walking off the year before. Isiah should have just pointed to what actually happened, which was Jordan's provocation the day before at practice dismissing all the Pistons accomplishments. Talk about disrespect. The unusual part of this whole debate to me was hardly anyone congratulated the winners in that era. Series routinely were bitterly contested with infamous physical attacks that resonate to this day. You got beat, you left for your locker room. Let the other guys celebrate. The NBA wasn't hockey. They might have fought more in the hockey games, but they were wearing armor. Those playoff series through the 80s were angry and brutal and not the kind when hardly anyone afterward was congratulating the guys who beat the crap out of you. I always believed the Dream Team committee exiled Isiah less for Jordan's objection than advance fear Jordan would use his presence as an excuse not to play, which at the time Jordan didn't want to because he was exhausted from the way he attacked the back to back titles with all the accompanying gambling and internal controversies.


Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls handles the ball against the Utah Jazz during Game Six of the NBA Finals during the 1998 NBA Playoffs on June 14, 1998 at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Elijah Humble:

In the midst of the surging Jordan love fest, I was hoping you'd allow an alternate perspective. First, I love the Bulls, but I identify as a post-Jordan Bulls fan. They didn't win the big ones but they won a lot, and more importantly they battled, night in and night out, becoming a team nobody wanted to face. It's due to the work of these guys and living there for 16 years that I'll always be proud to be a Bulls fan. Not because of Michael Jordan, or Phil or Scottie or the double three-peats. In fact, I never liked Jordan, and wanted to see him lose more than anything! Of course, I came around, at least on an objective level, especially after the hiatus, to at least give the proper credit to his greatness, but it was grudgingly.

I lived in rural Kentucky with no cable TV, so with such limited media opportunities. When Jordan came along, all of a sudden everybody's mom and grandma and little brother just loved the Bulls. Everybody. If you lived and grew up in Chicago, fine, enjoy. But we're talking the entire free world. I wanted no part of it. When the championships started there was no end to the suffocating Jordan worship. Pretty easy to get behind a winner after they starting winning. He was more like Michael Jackson than Magic Johnson. If you followed the NBA you had to suck it up. And while I'm not into any conspiracy theories, there's no question it was absolutely in the best interest of the NBA for Jordan to succeed...just sayin'. You have no choice but to appreciate his game but I will still never be a fan (same with Kobe and Lebron). But I still love the Bulls! Looking forward to this new chapter, and the documentary is at least reinforcing the Bulls as a justifiably legendary franchise, which has made it more attractive than it's been in years.

Sam Smith:

I'm not sure you are allowed to feel that way and remain in the United States; certainly not Chicago. I'm not going to report you, but this is your last warning. I guess not everyone wanted to be like Mike. It's actually normal since the Bulls because of Jordan were beating a lot of great players and teams. You could have fit in well in Detroit. Michael and others talked in the documentary about the historic American tendency to build people up and then knock them off. There's always some of that in a natural evolution. Some even get bored with success, a condition rarely experienced in Chicago. The really brilliant thing about The Last Dance feature was the way Jordan has been able to reintroduce himself to an entire generation that heard of him, but also now knows him. I assume that's also good for sales. Jordan's marketing starting with David Falk and ProServ to Jordan Brand has been a remarkable success story and blueprint that every celebrity might want to follow. You have to have the goods first, which Jordan did. But he also had the glib and welcoming personality we've seen in the interviews behind that demanding competitive nature. And despite Jordan's acknowledgement of the attitude and behavior that might have disturbed some, he's branded another path to achievement through his eclectic method of leadership. What Michael also produced as a player and a subject was if not enduring love, but the inability for anyone to turn away from who he is and what he's doing. That's America at its prized axis of achievement and acceptance.


Loris Rayner:

Can you be a little more specific about Tex Winter and John Bach's roles on the Bulls bench and after Phil, Dick and Thibs where would you rate the Bulls previous coaches. Also was their a more terrible trade which occurred where we lost Elton Brand for Curry and Chandler. Loved Brand but never had great love of players out of high school except Moses.

Sam Smith:

Tex with his triple post "triangle" offense was the offensive advisor and Bach with his dobermans and military mien was influential with the defense. But it still was a Phil Jackson production as assistants essentially are advisors. As for the head coaches, instead of going bottom up, where there are some ties, Doug Collins certainly is in the top five setting the table for the championship run and providing a heavy dose of credibility for those late 1980s Bulls teams. Probably Scott Skiles after that for the way he turned around the team coming out of that worst ever era with Jerry Sloan and Ed Badger following. I have a sweet spot for Johnny Kerr as the only NBA coach ever to take an expansion team to the playoffs, though they were under .500. Had the Suns won the coin flip for Abdul-Jabbar, Johnny might have become a Hall of Fame coach instead of a Bulls broadcaster. Krause wasn't wrong in his thinking that you couldn't be a championship team led by Brand, then the Bulls best player. But many overlook that change can make you worse. Krause's theory of an inside/outside seven footer combination at a time when the top centers in the NBA were aging wasn't inaccurate. He just happened to select the wrong guys for the job.


Sato, LaVine, Markkanen, and Dunn

Joe Matalone:

Is anyone in this core untouchable? I would love to see LaVine and Markkanen around for the long haul. Zach has improved his game every year and he's still only entering his age 26 season. Markkanen, while he struggled last year under a lousy coach, has shown us enough that he could be a valuable piece to this team (especially in today's NBA). I would expect Carter to be on the trade block, as his fit next to Lauri is questionable, and he may actually have some trade value. Coby has upside, for sure, but again, his fit next to Lavine is questionable at best. Otto, well Otto is an enigma. He can't stay healthy, but when he's on the court, he does fit surprisingly well with this group, and provides the "3 and D" you covet in the league these days. Hutch is a good prospect, and great athlete, but similarly to Porter, cannot stay healthy, and can't seem to even slightly improve his NBA jumper. Gafford is a great piece off of the bench and I would keep him around, as his 2nd round salary doesn't hurt. Satoransky, in my opinion, should be all but gone; he grossly underperformed, and makes far too much money to justify his existence in Chicago. Thad young, although long in the tooth a bit, provides solid play, defensive IQ, and leadership this team desperately needs. Anyone else not mentioned means they are expendable!

Sam Smith:

Perhaps I can pass on your scouting report to the new executives. I'm sure they've been watching a lot of Bulls games, but it's not the same until you actually seem them play. They haven't yet. And while there may not be much to play for if the Bulls get to play a few games if the NBA resumes play, it might be beneficial to give the new guys a live look at their new team. As they said in interviews, they hadn't been watching the Bulls much, obviously, since they were mostly obsessing on their teams. That's the way the league is. We generally know the Bulls better than they do. For now, anyway. No one, of course, is untouchable coming off multiple long seasons. But I suspect hardly anyone is easily available because of the combination of new management wanting to judge them, trades being difficult with the late season and changes in the salary cap that could impact free agency and the value of players on losing teams being at their low ebb. The bright part is that those players can produce much better than they have and I believe even as currently structured will be much better. I'm serious this time.


Michael Jordan #23 of the Eastern Conference shoots against Hakeem Olajuwon #34 of the Western Conference during the 1997 All-Star Game on February 9, 1997 at Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio

Abram Bachtiar:

As you mentioned in a recent post perhaps Rockets traded Sampson to the Blazers and drafted Olajuwon then Jordan at 1 and 2. Had that happened, do you think that duo would have won more or less than the 8 titles that they had won separately? The reason for my question is the nature and nurture variables. Jordan was drafted with the knowledge that he's the star - that he's the man. The Bulls may not have realized that he would be bringing us 6 rings - but at least the impression / expectation was for an All Star caliber player. That's why he got the leeway, the pull, and the ability to be the best version of himself. What if he was brought at no. 2? Could he have co-existed with Olajuwon? Would one of them ended up becoming the alpha dog and the other the sidekick? Would Olajuwon be the sidekick, or would Jordan fill that role? Regardless of their natural talents, wouldn't that potentially affect the development of one if not both of them, as in reality they had to develop their games to be the best in their positions and among the top talents in the NBA during their era? Also where would Pippen have ended up, and would he have become the best sidekick in NBA history?

Sam Smith:

That Hakeem/Jordan pairing is the unexplored dream. We always wondered what kind of player Jordan would have been if he played with a dominant center like Shaq. In Jordan's era, the ball always went inside first, which led to the eventual estrangement between Shaq and Kobe. But also because Shaq wasn't as serious about basketball as Kobe. The larger issue was the middle gets closed down with a low post center, which the Bulls didn't have in Jordan's era. Bill Cartwright had an element of that, but he was primarily brought in for defense against the big centers. While Michael clearly liked scoring, he did average 17.7 in college and seemed satisfied with the success. He mostly became the scorer he did in his early seasons because the Bulls basically had no other way to win. And with Doug Collins the mandate—driven by Michael—was to compete more seriously and enough with all this rebuilding. I believe Michael would have fit well and had plenty of room to roam and score with Hakeem because Hakeem played almost like a guard at times with his fadaway shots and movement. It's a fair question about pecking order. It's why I believe the NFL Patriots have been so successful. They clearly made it a No. 1 with Brady and always surrounded him with role players to fit and enhance what he did best. Of course, you can succeed with multiple stars. But generally one has to dictate, like Bird did in Boston. No one wins eight straight and it might have been more difficult to win as many as the Bulls did without Phil Jackson and the ideal compliments the Bulls had. I've wondered at times about Pippen. Had the Bulls not made that trade to move up to No. 5, the Kings at No. 6 were anxious to take Pippen. Since Scottie wasn't a scorer or offensive player, he'd have needed someone better to be that effective. It never was going to occur in Sacramento. As much as Scottie complained at times about circumstances in Chicago, it proved to be the most ideal place for the player he was.


Gorav Raheja:

There was always this older gentlemen behind the bulls bench during the championship years. You could always see him one or two rows back. Who was that? Was he a relative of a teammate?

Sam Smith:

That was Joe Lee, the long, longtime clubhouse/locker room guy who died in 2014. Joe was one of the three original support people the franchise hired in 1966 along with Bob Rosenberg, who still is the statistician, and John Capps, the security guard wearing the Kangol-type cap you see in some of the old footage. Capps died in 2018. He was the police sergeant who cleared the way for the Bulls inaugural parade on State Street that featured a live bull on a flatbed truck with the Bulls staff of Johnny Kerr, Dick Klein and Jerry Colangelo. Chicago was unimpressed. Joe started with the Chicago Zephyrs (now Washington Wizards) in 1961 and also was a disc jockey who often made mix tapes for the players.


Forward Cliff Levingston of the Chicago Bulls (center) moves the ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Five of the Eastern Conference finals at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls won the game, 112-89.

John Leichenko:

I'm reading that Cliff Levingston was one of Krause's worst signs. I remember Cliff didn't score like we hoped. But was he that bad?

Sam Smith:

Nah, you're reading it wrong. Cliff, who is now a Bulls ambassador who I frequently see at games when there were some, was known as Good News, News for short, and a vital reserve signing for those first championship teams. He was an active defensive player who played for conference rivals Atlanta and Detroit. He left the Bulls after the 1991-92 season for better pay in Europe and then coached for almost a decade in various basketball minor leagues in the U.S. The genesis of Jordan's famous "My supporting cast" admission was when the reserves in the crucial Game 1 of the 1991 Eastern Conference finals relieved Jordan and pushed a narrow Bulls lead to double digits while Jordan was out. It was one of the crucial sequences that helped Jordan gain the vital trust in teammates that was essential to winning multiple championships.


Scottie Pippen #33 of the Chicago Bulls handles the ball against the Charlotte Hornets on May 3, 1998 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.

Greg Young:

Calm in the storm is an interesting way to look at Pippen. The other factor is the tremendous emotional bank account and respect that he had with his teammates for everyone to get past that relatively quickly. He sure had some storms growing up. I was always a big Scottie fan except for rumor I continually heard: No tippin Pippen. He was chronically underpaid. Yet, he got security for that. I think Reinsdorf should have renegotiated but understand why he didn't. I can convince myself, if it is true about the tipping, that he was justifiably frugal. But having a single mom, welfare and not much and then being so fortunate to make some serious money (7 figures not 8), I feel a need, a responsibility to give back to workers who might need it more that me. All of which is to try and say, I hope that rumor is untrue. Though it's not my business to judge.

Sam Smith:

You probably can understand some given Pippen's poor background. It tends to make you frugal because you probably always think it will be gone. And Scottie wasn't the greatest money manager. Many players do tip well, as I've witnessed around the locker room. Though since they are so often wearing gym clothes without pockets, well, I guess it happens. One thing that doesn't get mentioned much about Pippen's contract issues was a collective bargaining rule back then which prohibited renegotiation. Some players, mostly Karl Malone, were threatening holdouts and wanted new contracts about every six months. So in that next bargaining agreement, the owners had a protect-themselves clause put in that didn't allow contracts to be renegotiated. Scottie by rule had to play it out. There were severe penalties of loss of draft picks, like what sunk the Timberwolves for years, when teams tried to slip a player money in another way. Which also is why Jordan played out his eight-year deal.


Guy Danilowitz :

So excited to see the photo of J.J. Polk and the news regarding his hire. I spent a semester at Rice University in spring 1995 and J.J. was our slick point guard.

I had not heard that name or seen the face in 25 years. I say go J.J., go Owls, go Bulls, Sacramento is proud of you, good luck and here's to a return to the glory days under your watch!

Sam Smith:

There doesn't appear to be a question in there, but I figured this was the only way I'd ever get to mention J.J. Polk.


Christopher Billingsley:

So much focus has been on Scottie for who he is not (i.e.Michael) vs. who he is. I believe that he wanted to use the 1.8 second play to clean his past. A lot of talk had gotten to his ear about the game 7 'migraine' against the Pistons and how he quit then. People forgot that he had lost his father in that previous series against the Sixers and easily could have sat for the remainder of the playoffs. So much was on him in that '94 season to lead the team, which he did a remarkable job. His ego told him that it was his responsibility to take that shot. This was his moment to get validation from the world. But it was just the wrong place, wrong time, wrong moment.

Sam Smith:

And yet it didn't sink him as it might have so many. True, many forget about the death of his father in the second round and how he came back to help the Bulls even get to that seventh game. There's this remarkable resilience with Pippen that may even get him his own documentary to tell his story before too long. Heck, after this Dragan Tarlac's documentary, Fat Chance, can't be too far behind.

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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