Ask Sam Mailbag 6.19.20

Sam opens his mailbag and answers questions about the Bulls future and news around the league
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later


Nate Hash:

Do you think Kris Dunn is worth bringing back? I definitely do. I think his ceiling could be like Marcus smart who was definitely in contention for defensive player of the year. Look at what Dunn did to Luka in Dallas in January. Luka wasnt scoring at will when Dunn was on him. He didn't start going off until Dunn got into foul trouble. I think we really just need a Center and find out which PF Carter/Lauri can shine the best in the starting unit. For the first time since Butler/Rondo/Rose years I'm excited for the Bulls.

Sam Smith:

Now only if the NBA ever lets them play. But there now seems some room, at least, for optimistic anticipation. Dunn can be a restricted free agent, none of which we know what it means with the season maybe being played in Orlando in secret or who knows if enough players will show up. But let's fantasize about a traditional NBA. Thad Young's inadvertent knee ended Dunn's season in which Dunn to his credit had remade himself into one of the elite Marcus Smart/Patrick Beverley types. They are valuable players. So I agree that despite Dunn not being the all around point guard the Bulls hoped for, he has become a unique specialist who was on the way to being named all-defense. The Bulls don't have a lot of those guys. Actually when I look at the Bulls personnel—and I don't see major changes this summer with new management in analysis mode and the league (maybe) playing into October—I see the potential next season for a unique two-unit team that reminds me some of the early 2000s Pistons who were 50-win high level playoff type teams with a bench Jon Barry named "the alternatorz" that rivaled its starters. They started several non scorers, like undersized Ben Wallace and Michael Curry, and used a strong bench they often finished games with and a mixture of scorers. When the Bulls were wining 60 games with the Derrick Rose teams, they had one of the best reserve groups in the league while leaving the scoring to Rose. As the Bulls starter can do now with Zach LaVine. Remember those reserves of Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson and Kurt Thomas? Most had been starters. They accepted their roles and the team benefited. Rather than forcing players perhaps not quite at that level into starting roles and larger minutes, I can see the Bulls playing two units with perhaps Dunn, Coby White, Thad Young, Otto Porter and Wendell Carter as a high level reserve unit to complement starters like LaVine, Markkanen, Valentine/Satoransky, perhaps Gafford and a point guard maybe through the draft or a veteran distributor through a cap exception. Then let that second unit take advantage of the opponent's bench since having studied the analytics, I learned they still do add the points from all quarters. And figure out a finishing group from the two units. That could also produce some internal competition and perhaps a better team spirit regarding success as opposed to entitlement.

Wendell Carter Jr.

Szymon Kesek:

I want to briefly mention one thing that has really been bothering me in past discussions of Wendell Carter Jr. I routinely see casual fans talk about how Wendell is undersized for a center, but I don't think that is true at all. While Wendell is below 7 feet in height, he has a 7 foot 5 inch wingspan. Surely, when we are talking basketball size, what matters is not your height but how high your arms reach. This is why Jokic called Wendell "long" when they faced each other in Wendell's rookie season (an OT game in which Wendell was an absolute monster, by the way). Despite a relatively "short" height for a center, Wendell can reach higher than most taller centers. If he beefs up a bit, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he can be the same defensive force in the paint that Omer Asik was (while being much more useful on offense).

Sam Smith:

I agree about Wendell's ability to match some big men with his reach. The problem is most of those 7-2 guys have a long reach, also. It was one of the issues with Elton Brand, who had that enormous reach, but was a better fit at power forward. The problem now is the shooting range required of power forwards. And while Wendell has talked about being perhaps natural at power forward, he's also in the same breath said how much he enjoys playing center with his physical abilities. He's sort of that tweener, a little too small for center and not quite the scorer/shooter for power forward. Which is why I believe in a high level reserve role with fellow players of a high level he could find a spot that fits playing less against the towering Embiid guys, produce and thus force teams to match to him more often with his quickness and ability to shoot mid range, which he obviously was warned off last season. It's an ability of his that the Bulls can exploit much better. There's no shame being part of a great bench. Look at those bench guys from the 2010 Bulls and how many continued to have great careers for years with Korver even becoming an All-Star. The Bulls have too much overall talent (despite the record last season) to play some guys 36 minutes and others 12.

Bulls Fans

Adam Garcia:

How weird is it going to be for the players playing without fans? Are we going to hear them cursing since it's quiet? Are they going to be able to listen in on the coaches conversations with players? Will we hear what exactly they're telling the refs? Fun questions I think.

Sam Smith:

It does present some unique situations as I cannot wait to hear sneakers squeaking again. I understand it's an unprecedented time and I cannot fully weigh in because I'm not going. I would like to if only to compete in the ping pong singles (no doubles). The NBA, obviously, is taking exceptional precautions that seem to me even more protective than any of the players would experience being at home. They've made it clear more than half will be gone in a much shorter time. And, after all, it is a world class resort. Still, I'm fine if some players don't want to play. It seems to me most do, and like Thad Young said, he's not worried about himself regarding the virus given his age and training and health as compared with his family. No one is immune. But between the NBA's enhanced safeguards and that basically all the pro athletes who contracted the virus recovered, it would seem to be as safe a situation as they can experience anywhere else. Sure, something can happen. But things happen even when there is no contagious virus. I trust the NBA to be cautious, careful and considerate. Who ever has witnessed Adam Silver not doing the best for player safety? So I do believe the NBA will get through the so called bubble season and that once players start playing they will recover that edge and competitiveness. Which is why I've been so concerned about the Bulls. It's seemed obvious with so many of the NBA players, the longer they didn't play and stayed away the more their competitive DNA suffered. You also know from those microphones the TV networks put in the huddle, mostly coaches say, "Let's go!" Probably good, though, Thibs is out for this given his dialogue with officials.

NBA Draft

David Yuen:

Of the 22 teams that will play, it's entirely possible and probably likely the worst of the 22 teams, the Washington Wizards (24-40) could lose their way to a worse record than the Bulls. The Wizards will only be playing teams with better records and Phoenix isn't could also fall below the Bulls. Will the lottery positions be redone after the modified regular season ends?

Sam Smith:

No one is jumping past the Bulls in the seventh spot for lottery odds no matter how many games the Wizards and Suns—two teams with no business being there if the Bulls are not—lose in their few weeks. The league did decide, as inconvenient as it probably was to acknowledge it really does have 30 teams, no one will gain lottery position by losing their way home as the Wizards figure to do.

Kyrie Irving

Mike Sutera:

Kyrie Irving "proposed" in a group chat with Nets that players could start their own league. I guarantee you this man will never ever win a title in Brooklyn.

Sam Smith:

Well, at least I can still fondly remember the '55 Dodgers. Heck, and we thought after his flat earth observations that we'd heard the most erratic comments from him. Hey, he does create conversation and debate, and there's nothing really wrong with that. We can't say Kyrie never will win a title because, well, he did win a title. And he did make the big clinching shot. But I tend to agree there's no chance even with Durant. Maybe pre-Achilles Durant. Irving did get himself run out of a chance to win again in Cleveland. And he sure made a lot of Celtics players happy by leaving. He's a special talent, but he's obviously not your great leader type. I'd probably have done the same if I were the Nets with the chance to attract two players with that level of talent. The NBA is a top talent league. But I think you might be able to get yourself a Spencer Dinwiddie (sorry, he's not really a point guard, either) or Caris LaVert because they don't seem like guys who will buy into Kyrie's ball domination game. I will say it's a team I want to watch, however.

Victor Oladipo

Longiang Le:

I read this: Is Victor Oladipo impending free agency in the 2021 offseason cause for anxiety? Indy wasn't planning on losing Paul George either right? But they did. So Indy could be vulnerable to a trade offer of they have some legit fears of losing victor for no compensation. As was the case with Paul George. Maybe Oladipo at point guard.

Sam Smith:

With his injury and coming back the middle of last season, the usual routine is a fuller return to health the following season. But we should get a good look at Oladipo this summer with the Pacers in the tournament. It's seemed to me he loved it there (he played at Indiana U.) the way they took a chance on him as his third team and they have tried to build everything around him. Given his injury issues, he's a question mark for other teams. But I cannot at this time fathom a situation in which the Pacers lose him. Plus, he plays the same position as Zach. The Bulls have many other issues.

Derrick Rose

Nicholas Hill:

I recently listened to the Bulls' talk podcast and one of the topics was whether or not Derrick Rose's number should be retired. It's a no brainer in my opinion that it should be considering the impact he had on the Bulls and Chicago in general. He's not the only player either. I believe the Bulls have been much too selective in this area. Not to say they should be like the Celtics but just off of the top of my head, Chet Walker, Horace Grant, Dennis Rodman and Luol Deng should all have their jerseys in the rafters already. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah as well once they retire. Who do you believe should have their number retired by the Bulls?

Sam Smith:

It's been a long campaign of mine and I'm hoping the new management guys study team history. Horace really should be honored because he was part of the original championship Big Three with Jordan and Pippen. Every team with championship success like that has honored those guys. But given team history, I'd say Chet Walker and Norm Van Lier first. I worked with Derrick on his autobiography, so I'll stay out of that one as much as I can make a deserving case. I wouldn't do Rodman given his short (three seasons and missing 47 games) tenure. Probably Jo before Deng.

Michael jordan

Thanasis Balamatsis:

I didn't know that Jordan was also underpaid during a large part of his career; even Vin Baker was earning more than Jordan. I am really impressed by his patient stance on the issue; Pippen didn't handle properly his contract issue. Jordan respected his signature and didn't complain. I strongly believe that the usual negative portrayal of Jordan's character doesn't tell the whole truth. This guy has some values (regardless the fact that he was insanely competitive) and of course I totally admire his respect for the game. Another interesting point of your book There is No Next is the beginning of Jackson's career as a head coach of Bulls. Jordan didn't trust him and the triangle offense in the beginning due to the many early losses. This year was really difficult. My question is when and how did Phil earn Jordan's respect and when did they bond? The first championship was the main facilitator? Their relationship is unique and rare for Jordan; he was more than just a coach he respected.

Sam Smith:

Second straight week with a book plug. You know I'm doing this for the public interest since restaurants still are mostly takeout. It often was noted that Jordan had so much endorsement income he could afford to be patient and that the Bulls did pay him his basketball $4 million annually when he played baseball. But Jordan does deserve a lot of credit for never making his contract an issue until he was a free agent. He did say many times he signed a deal and would stand by it. He'd joke if the Bulls wanted to change it, he'd be OK with that. But there never was a serious renegotiation. Though he did receive a Bulls-inspired and rare renegotiation during his rookie deal for eight years/$25 million after Magic Johnson renegotiated his original deal for a $25 million total (over more years). So, yes, when the Bulls were winning 72 games and the title in 1996, I don't believe Jordan was in the top 50 in salary. Though he probably brought in more money to the league than the top 50 salaried players combined. The Jackson relationship with Jordan was intriguing because, yes, Michael was no great fan to start. But something Phil did (or didn't do) seemed to resonate with Michael. Phil never asked Michael for anything. Everyone was pulling Jordan in every direction back then whether it was autographs or appearances or time. Jordan was as accommodating as any player, though he often privately seemed to resent everyone wanting something. Phil never asked for an autograph, a signed shoe, anything. Even when Phil's kids asked, he'd say no. It seemed to make an impression with Michael that here was a guy who was interested in helping Michael and not himself, that what Phil was suggesting was in Michael's best interests to help Michael get what he wanted most, which was a title and a way to succeed. When it worked, Michael seemed convinced. And when you have Michael's loyalty, it was unwavering. He seemed to recognize Phil was most concerned with Michael's and the team's best interests. Maybe Michael should finally send him a picture.

Adam Silver

Thomas Golden:

It would seem unreasonable for the NBA to not allow some type of competition between the eight teams, Making the #1 pick the prize. I admit, its more an incentive for the owners, but who wants to watch them play. A legitimate goal especially for a team like the Bulls who appear to want to get better. I'm pretty confident their going to work something out for the infamous eight.

Sam Smith:

I'm not optimistic given so much player pushback and uncertainty over the bubble concept in Orlando. If the NBA can't fully persuade players of the safety and viability of the Orlando experiment, how are they going to come up with something for those other guys without making it look like a second class situation? And you know all the league's energies are going to be directed at and in Orlando through October. Heck, those eight teams probably would be lucky to get anyone at the league to answer the phone.

Bulls Practice

Wayne Warner:

Look forward to a column by you on Bulls June Voluntary workouts: Which players and coaches are there? How are workouts structured? What is the vibe?

Sam Smith:

This is all you're getting. Last September in Chicago when the Bulls were raving about all the players in early and all the workouts and then started 3-7 with most everyone healthy should be a signal about workouts. You have to play against others, and it doesn't look like the Bulls are getting that chance. Still, they seem to be doing what they can. The problem—and we understand—is the rules the NBA has set for these workouts, which are basically shooting drills. The league or city or state given the virus (I'm not fully sure) has mandated a maximum of four players at any one time in the Advocate Center. The coaches in attendance wear masks and gloves and stay some 12 feet away. I think basically what is happening is four players come in, do some lifting or injury/health treatment. Then they get at a basket and do some shooting and an hour later another group of four comes in. The Bulls seem to have gotten some good attendance. I've heard Coby White, Wendell Carter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Chandler Hutchison, Ryan Arcidiacono, Luke Kornet, Shaq Harrison and Max Strus have been in at various times, though I don't know how often or whether all are staying in Chicago. They're obviously motivated players and it seems they'd like to be in Orlando. Perhaps if some team among the Beloved 22 only gets one or two players to commit, as seems theoretical with all the questions being raised, the league will ask to attend one from the Unloved Eight. Like going to the prom. I was ready, also.

Eddy Curry

Andrew Janoff:

It's more or less accepted Stephen Curry is the greatest 3pt shooter ever. But I noticed our very own former Bull Eddy Curry went 2/2 on 3's in his career. So I'm wondering: who's made the most 3's in a career without a miss?

Sam Smith:

I guess Steph was, eh? Now that's something I didn't know. So I'll go with Eddy the leader. Certainly at worst tied for best overall percentage. But what it also does suggest is how great was Eddy's talent. Eddy, of course, suffered some horrible tragedies in his personal life that had to impact his career. But what an amazing talent. You could see why Jerry Krause was so enamored, a seven footer that light on his feet with a soft touch and huge body. Eddy coulda, shoulda, woulda. We all, including me, probably expected too much from Eddy, which you could see looking back was part of the problem. Eddy was probably that kid who was so big everyone made him play basketball when it probably was the last thing he ever wanted to do, a nice kid "burdened" with the physical gifts that most of the world begs for. And he probably wished he could give it away. But especially when you come from a tough background it also becomes the way out. Basketball, instead, seemed to become a prison for Eddy, struggling against everyone's expectations. Eddy didn't seem to want to be a star and avoided the spotlight as much as possible. I recall him telling Scott Skiles it was OK to leave him out of games; maybe bring him off the bench. But even as indifferent as Eddy was, he was so talented that 2004-05 Bulls team was about to shock the league after a 4-15 start. There was win streak after win streak, five games, seven games, nine games before Eddy had to go out at the end of that nine gamer in March with a heart scare. The Bulls had been preparing a huge extension for Eddy and then it devolved into a medical debate and trade to the Knicks after a 43-20 finish to the season. The Bulls drafted Joakim Noah and went for Ben Wallace to recoup and had some success, but there was that amazing what if had Eddy not had the heart scare. But what if he were that motivated competitor? Instead of just a nice kid with an immense talent he probably wished someone else had?

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at

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.


  • Facebook
  • Twitter