Ask Sam Mailbag 6.26.20

Sam opens his mailbag and answers questions on potential Bulls Draft Picks, the NBA Bubble, and the Kentucky Colonels
The 2019 NBA Draft prospects stand on stage with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver before the start of the 2019 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 20, 2019 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

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Tom Plonowski:

There is talk that wherever the Warriors will be slotted in the lottery, they will look to trade the pick for an established veteran presence. Rumors also have Wiggins on the block. What do you think the Warriors could get in return for the pick and or Wiggins ?

Sam Smith:

With the seventh pick in the NBA draft—yes, again!—the Chicago Bulls select...wait for it, Deni Avdija. No, and not just because new basketball el jefe Arturas has spent most of his NBA career as an international scout and expert. It's just the way I have the selections falling. For now. Yes, the draft was supposed to have been this past Thursday. Too soon for draft winners and losers? Even before the draft? The lottery now is August 25 and the draft October 16. Thanks to NBA contraction that's about all Bulls fans have to look forward to the next six months until the 2020-21 NBA season hopefully starts in December. So I'll also have plenty of time for multiple mock drafts. I'll be back with some new ones in August. The Warriors have the best odds for the No. 1 pick, but only tied with the Cavs and Timberwolves at 14 percent. The Bulls in their familiar seventh spot have a 7.5 percent chance for the top pick. And no, when the Wizards lose eight straight in Orlando, they won't get better odds. Those slots are locked in. If the Warriors get No. 1, because they still are a championship contender once healthy there's been talk of a trade or trading down. I agree with Arturas Karnisovas that there are multiple good players in this draft, that it's a better draft than advertised. But not likely the sort of stars teams will be fighting over. I don't see great offers to get to the top of this draft. So in the end I'd expect whomever has the pick to use it. If it's the Warriors, it's a good chance to begin to add a young player for a transition to remain competitive like the Spurs were doing. Remember Kawhi Leonard? By the way, I believe Wiggins will be much better with good coaching and high level teammates and assume they'll keep him. Anyway, here's how I expect the top seven to go if there are no currant changes in the order. Or at least what I'd do if I were them:

  1. Golden State: James Wiseman, Memphis center. They're still pretty loaded offensively with Curry, Thompson, Green and Wiggins. They got plenty of attention for their so called "death lineup" of like sized players, but having an athletic seven footer who can defend remains a missing piece. Plus, they always benefited from inside size with the likes of Bogut, Pachulia, McGee, Looney, West and were trying Cousins.
  2. Cleveland: Obi Toppin, Dayton. And not just because he played in Ohio. They certainly have enough point guards. I guess they could go with potential scorer Edwards. But Toppin seems the most can't miss in this draft, tough and a good building block player.
  3. Minnesota: Anthony Edwards, Georgia. Many of the mock drafts have him as the best player. He's an intriguing prospect with high scoring potential, though some in Minnesota may get an Isaiah Rider scare with his size and seemingly similar abilities. But with their new inside/outside pairing of Towns and Russell, Edwards could be an ideal scoring fit to take the pressure off both.
  4. Atlanta: Onyeka Okongwu, USC center. A little on the small side for center, but the sort of physical player they're missing with the surfeit of skilled perimeter players they have been putting together.
  5. Detroit: LaMelo Ball, Australia/Ballverse. They need a young point guard whom Derrick Rose can mentor. They're in the middle of redevelopment still with Rose and Blake Griffin, though with some good young prospects. They could also use some attraction at their downtown location and Ball does bring eyes. OK, and a mouth.
  6. New York: Killian Hayes, France. Maybe Tyrese Haliburton. The Knicks with probably the least talent need a lot, but especially a point guard. They'll likely take who they see as the best available. Both Hayes and Haliburton are big, passing guards to run an offense. Of course they also have too find one.
  7. Bulls. Deni Avidja. The Bulls also could use a facilitating point guard, but could probably make due in what seems like a shakedown cruise/review season under new management. So they can manage for now with Coby White and Zach LaVine in the backcourt as things are sorted out. After all, White just got one start and averages 20 points and five assists as a starter. Avidja is the hot overseas prospect, a Pippen/Kukoc/Mickey Johnson-like potential ball handling wing player who might work with a backcourt like LaVine and White.

Of course, subject to change with the draft in four months. Which will be 16 months after the previous draft and almost eight months since most of those players have played a game against anyone. And then without summer league to start their first NBA season. It's going to be a tough year to be a rookie.


Pete Zievers:

Will try to find some film of the two French point guards. Bulls need badly to move the ball. Nice to have shooters but if there's no ball movement it's way too easy to defend a bunch of gunners - play the lanes, make the guy pick up his dribble then strip him. Bulls as constituted would greatly benefit from a guy that's a "hot potato" passer - catches it and immediately gets rid of it, preferably with court vision and some anticipation. If you get a guy that can pass people open ....it's really tough to coach that. I would agree that Bulls have needed an effective initiator of offense. For a lot of those games where they got killed in the first quarter if they had someone to get them into their slots early and get everyone into their right places, it would have helped. Later when the players have a feel for the game, it's less necessary especially since Bulls players are pretty talented. But those early deficits....that really made things a lot tougher than they had to be. I'm still feeling like Markkanen is a talented kid. He just hasn't really found his groove yet. Contrary to some, I like his go-to-the-basket game a lot. He puts it on the floor with either hand. Seems to shy away from the baseline a little bit sometimes, but mostly when his head is right there's a lot of attack there which is what you're looking for. I think if he had a change-of-pace step back/fadeaway, he'd be pretty damn lethal.

Sam Smith:

Highlights are difficult to judge since they never seem to miss with the pass of shot. Which is again—and I repeat myself here—why it's so bad for the Bulls being left out of at least a few games in Orlando. You have to play against real competition to judge; even if you're not playing for much. It's going to be difficult for Arturas never seeing these guys play games under his watch. Don't see how he can make any significant judgements quickly. Heck, not even a summer league. The draft reports and highlights have French guards Killian Hayes and Theo Maledon first rounders with Hayes rated higher. They're about the same size at 6-5 and I don't see a lot of difference with Hayes very left hand oriented and a little heavier. Then among first round points there's LeMelo Ball, who (other than the worry of the meddling dad) seems ball dominant and Tyrese Haliburton, who seems a bit thin like Maledon. So the Bulls could likely get a potentially effective, albeit young point guard in this draft. I can see them going that way if there's not a bigger possible talent, perhaps like Avdija also at a need position. It's a good point on Markkanen. For whatever reason—other than injury—his standing with the team declined substantially last season and he didn't seem able to fight through it. There's too much there to accept last season's effort and result.


Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks drives around Kentavious Caldwell-Pope #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Staples Center on December 01, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.

Wayne Warner:

If Killian Hayes is available then should draft to develop in 2021 so then he is part of 3 guard rotation in 2022 while Sato plays out his final year of contract in limited minutes

Sam Smith:

Hayes may become the big decision for the Bulls. He seems highly regarded, though playing overseas I've never actually seen him play a game. But the NBA finally seems to have fully come around to embracing international talent. Sure, there were grudging successes from the start with Marciulionis and Petrovic through Kukoc. Though the NBA still was wary. Which is why the Spurs were able to build a champion with low draft pick international players. Even Dirk's success was viewed by some as an aberration. I believe that's the big impact of Luka Doncic. He's a franchise player and potential perennial MVP candidate. How about a team in Texas, where anti-immigration rhetoric usually is loudest, building a team around Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis? With a Boban and a Maxi. Hayes looks impressive in the highlight clips even if I've never seen him dribble with his right hand. You can't have too many guards in this NBA and he looks like he's fun to play with.


Saddiq Bey #41 of the Villanova Wildcats shoots the ball against the St. John's Red Storm in the second half at Finneran Pavilion on February 26, 2020 in Villanova, Pennsylvania.

Trevor Staroske:

What are your thoughts on Saddiq Bey out of Villanova? A 6'8 wing with a 6'10 wingspan, I think he would thrive after a year of development behind the likes of Otto and battling with Hutch for the potential to be the starter in the 21/22 season. He has a quick, high release on his shot and shot 45% on threes this past season. On defense, he has the ability to make up for Markkanen's weaknesses as he can body up anyone from a guard to a big and can hold his own in the post. We already know that players from Villanova's system can keep up defensively (Arch, Brunson, Bridges, etc) and their scheme is somewhat similar to what the Bulls have been playing, given that Boylen sticks around. From what I've been reading, it seems he may fall to the 15-20 range in the draft, so potentially would require a trade down for the Bulls.

Sam Smith:

He's actually been a riser in some of these projected drafts toward the top 10 and bottom of the lottery. And Denver did have some success with Karnisovas there when they traded down with No. 11 to the Bulls for Nos. 16 and 19. They make it sound in Denver like the draft day trade for Kobe Bryant or Kawhi Leonard. Gary Harris is a nice guard and Denver did trade Jusuf Nurkic, who has been a good center and it was a plus for Denver. And this draft after the top four or five picks is said to have relatively even talent though the lottery. So if the Bulls were to remain at No. 7 it would not be inconceivable given Karnisovas' history to see a trade down. Bey's got kind of a funky shot, but seems to shoot well. He seems a little bit of a Pascal Siakam-lite as we prefer to compare guys to good players. I still like the top 10 guys better in this draft.


Jake Henry:

You don't take a center in the top 10 of todays NBA unless its tim duncan, shaq, hakeem, or a bam adebayo jack of all trades defensive wizard who can also pass and score......in other words wiseman should go around 15. A non factor in todays nba. Give me one of the french guys or the israel guy. I like the iowa sate guy if they draft lower but he seems like the low risk low reward play. The bulls have enough 5th to 9th men on their team. I like the auburn guy as well for his size and toughness. Looks an awful lot like the next pj tucker.

Sam Smith:

I understand the theory these days, but especially if you were the Bulls with no real defensively athletic big guy on the roster I'd seriously consider Wiseman No. 1. With LaVine, White and Markkanen, the Bulls do have a lot of potential scoring options. None is particularly good defensively, so I would like to have some size and athletic reaction behind them. If the Bulls got No. 1 in this draft, I'd probably go with Wiseman. You're not supposed to pick for need, but the Bulls really do need a point guard (not sure any is worth No. 1) and a big man. If I identified a great versatile talent, yes I agree, take him. I don't see that among the likes of projected top guys like Ball, Edwards and Toppin. Send me I told you sos.


John Petersen:

The virus has changed just about everything for the NBA and even the 22 team season end may be questionable with confirmed player cases of Covid 19. As you know the Bulls are a fleeting memory and their return date in some form is uncertain. The Silver is tarnished and considerable polish will be required.

Sam Smith:

It's going to be difficult for all sports, so there is a level playing field in some sense even as the Bulls were reduced to spectators. I know fans and media suggest playing is some ownership ploy for riches, though playing without fans doesn't seem like a great business model. It's vital to have continuity in sports. Out of sight, out of mind? Seriously, how empty would your life be without famous and wealthy athletes to complain about?


NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver and Mickey Mouse meet during NBA All Star Weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina on February 15, 2019 at Bojangles Coliseum.

Mike Sutera:

Parker and Hield tested positive. Its gonna be a crap show once everyone gets to Orlando and they start testing everyone. Same with MLB. Scrap both already .

Sam Smith:

Even Netflix could run out of shows. And eventually we're going to have to go back inside. There'll be guys testing positive, of course, as many people are everywhere. But they are pushing through with their lives as the sports world has to do as well. Sometimes it's bigger than even you. This is also about saving the NBA. I don't suggest anyone risk their heath if they are concerned. And I understand and accept players opting out in good conscience. Personally, if I had the chance (which also meant the Bulls playing) I would go. Call it the Spirit of '72 (years old). I miss the NBA and having an opportunity to write about the league. Though I believe Adam Silver made a grave and hurtful miscalculation regarding a quarter of the league, I am confident he and the NBA have done everything to protect and assure the health of the players from the other 22 and that players will be safer and better taken care of in Orlando than at home regarding testing, treatment and precautions. Things will happen. As they do in life all the time. It's important not to obsess on anecdotes and consider the greater good. Which I am confident the NBA will. Players always have been hurt and teams decimated in the playoffs (see Bulls 2012). The league needs to continue. Just because the Lakers and Bucks were dominant in the regular season doesn't mean they have to be in the playoffs. Don't we always hear it's a new season? I'm obviously disappointed the Bulls have been benched. It seems unlikely given all the sturm and drang already regarding Orlando that anything will be done for the Other Eight. The NBA will be occupied through October with the 22. No surprise. But the league does need to finish the season and get a champion. And it doesn't matter who it is. Darwin says play on.


Michael O'Connor:

I have an idea to help stop the trend towards players hanging outside the arc and overall weak, defensive play near the basket - make a bank shot outside of the restricted area under the basket worth three points. This would bring the game back towards the basket, allow mid-range shooting to be a skill set (again) and add to the overall excitement of the game. Imagine side bank shots coming back in style ala Pippen, Olajuwon and Dunkin!

Sam Smith:

I'd like to see them stop doing that as well. And despite the complex three is more than two math that previously escaped many of us, I think actual basketball might help. Like drawing contact for free throws which stops the clock, making layups early in the clock, exploiting advantages wherever you have them and allowing a player to do what he does best and not what fits your formula. It just takes someone attempting that and having success, though in sports it often becomes safer for job security to do what everyone else does and accept the results.


Kurt Payne:

It's going to be interesting to see how the new management decides to start rebuilding the roster. Whatever discussions they're having now most likely involve who they like and who they don't, who can they decide not to resign or extend, who can they trade, who will they get stuck with and is there any interest from other teams. In the Paxson era they stuck with their draft picks, rather than trade them, until their time ran out hoping for the chance it would look like a good draft pick. The new people aren't bound to players they didn't draft so maybe more changes can be made. Would be interested in looking at recently drafted players that haven't had much impact on their teams but might be given a look with the hope that the old change of scenery gets their attention theory might take hold. I'm thinking of Grayson Allen, Furkan Korkmas ,Kevin Knox, Josh Hart, Jarrett Culver, Jonathon Isaac some of which had great games against the Bulls but apparently not against anyone else.

Sam Smith:

Yes, you do have to be wary of players succeeding against sub-.500 teams. Actually, the Bulls did plenty of that under Paxson. Did you forget lottery pick Cameron Payne? Marco Belinelli, Ronnie Brewer, Michael Carter-Williams? It's a reasonable method as it yielded the Pistons a title and Chauncey Billups. But teams tend to overvalue their lottery picks, as the Bulls often did. Karnisovas does have the advantage of not having to worry about how the previous regime valued its players. So he theoretically has flexibility. But he also has an underperforming team, which lessens the value of its players. And an orientation session to determine just what he has and how they fit.


Coby White #0 of the Chicago Bulls drives in the second half of their game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on October 28, 2019 in New York City.

Art Alenik:

I'm not ready to relegate Coby to the bench as Zach's backup, playing 18-20 min/game. He's already too good for that, and like Zach, I think he has a high ceiling. I'd rather give him some time at PG and see what develops. Even if we acquire some stud at PG, I'd try Coby at SG w/ Zach at SF and see if that works. We'll see about Wendell. It's not just that the big guys go over him; they go through him too. He did seem stronger last season. But it seems to me that good centers his size succeed with quickness & agility, and Wendell seems like more of a slow-twitch guy (and ends up fouling a lot). By the way, Kyrie Irving must be a basketball savant like Rodman. Haven't heard him say anything intelligent yet and not holding my breath.

Sam Smith:

Perhaps that's Kyrie's plan to keep everyone interested. There has to be some there there, eh? I expect Coby and Zach to be the starting backcourt to open next season, especially since we got one game of it last season. And even if the Bulls draft a point guard, it likely will be a teenager for the position that takes longest to become comfortable and effective. Though I believe the Bulls could use a better facilitator and last week explored my theory of Coby leading an explosive second unit, the Portland model with Lillard and McCollum has yielded some impressive results (conference finals appearance in the West) and isn't much different from the way Coby and Zach might play. With likely as much talent. As for Wendell, we need to see him healthy for an entire season, playing only center (which is what he is) and with the freedom to not worry about who might be open for a corner three.


Ross Goodman:

With the exclusion of the ‘delete 8' teams from the rest of the season, another impact will be the exclusion of our team execs from the enormous amount of back channel discussions and deals that will no doubt take place on the margins inside the bubble.

Sam Smith:

That's a good point I hadn't also considered. Which gives me a chance to gripe some more about this. Have I mentioned how this arrangement really hurts the Bulls? It is even more unfair, especially with a new management team. The 22 teams will be able to use the Orlando experience as a form of league meetings where they can begin to compare draft and trade information and scout while the top executives from the Bulls and the other seven teams will be barred from attending. How fair is that? Meanwhile, I heard Kyie is holding a conference call with those eight teams suggesting they form their own league.


Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs, assistant coaches Becky Hammon, Ime Udoka, and head coach Gregg Popovich watch action against the Indiana Pacers from the bench during an NBA game on October 24, 2018 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.

Greg Bowcock:

Tentative title should Chicago decide to hire Ime Udoka - Former San Antonio Assistant Aims to Spur Bulls to New Heights. I am awful.

Sam Smith:

Probably poorly influenced by some of my puns. Meanwhile, on the coaching front....I know there has been—and generally always is with a losing team—considerable speculation regarding the coaching staff. The new management has not indicated anything about changes, but it sure seems to me not much is going on. I saw coach Jim Boylen featured by the Bulls during a rally for the Juneteenth march. There also have been reports of the coaching staff's duties being directed to working more intensely with players, which has been going on at the Advocate Center in recent weeks and is supposed to ramp up. Plus with teams like the Knicks interviewing coaching candidates, there hasn't been any news regarding the Bulls. Of course it's a long, long, long (did I mention long?) time until next season for the Bulls. But new management also already made some major changes (GM Gar Forman and trainer Jeff Tanaka gone). So it doesn't sound to me like any more major changes are imminent.


Bryn Forbes #11 of the San Antonio Spurs talks with San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon during an NBA game against the Indiana Pacers on October 24, 2018 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.

Simon Mabille:

Do you think the Bulls will or should consider Becky Hammon from San Antonio? It seems that she's ready to take the next step and become a head coach, and with the Bulls still in a rebuilding phase, being one of the youngest teams in the league with a lot of talent, it might be an ideal situation for her.

Sam Smith:

Eventually (inevitably?) there will be changes. Among the players, too. After all, new management has that blank slate to begin writing names on. Regarding Hammon and a coach in his 70s, I'd watch the Spurs. After all, who knows her best? If they demur, it may be difficult for her. That was the Catch-22 of working for the Spurs. Certainly a woman will get a chance to coach an NBA team at some point. Actually, I've found NBA players are very respectful of women authority figures given the strong mothers in many of their lives. So a female coach might prove even more effective than some believe. But since Phil Jackson left the Bulls, the Bulls have hired seven coaches. Six had no NBA head coaching experience. Thibodeau worked out well, but the Bulls also substantially added to the roster his first year with Boozer, Korver, Brewer, Asik, Kurt Thomas, Watson and Bogut. OK, Scalabrine, too. Denver's success with Karnisovas has, in part, come with the hiring of an experienced NBA coach, Mike Malone. I don't see the Bulls in the market for training and experimentation again when and if the time comes.


 Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls looks on against the Charlotte Hornets on November 23, 2019 at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Michael Freeman:

Have you seen this? Zach LaVine could be a possible trade target for the Charlotte Hornets

With literal months before the Charlotte Hornets can make any substantial moves, plenty of trade scenarios will continue to surface as the NBA season plays out. Could they factor into one of those? For teams like the Charlotte Hornets, who won't be playing in Orlando in a month's time, their eyes are on the road to improving the team going into next season. They'll have to wait a bit before that can happen, of course, but the steps are surely being laid as we speak. One such step could be in the

Sam Smith:

Is this one of those please-take-Terry Rozier stories? They do have some pretty good young players, but nobody I'd want more than Zach. Which is why the fan sites would want him instead of their guys. Devonte Graham did have a nice season, but he's really another six-foot shooting guard. They have a bunch of them. This might have something to do with Zach beating them with 13 threes and the best closing winner of the season in the NBA. Though since the fan sites in Charlotte are making up trade scenarios, I'd advise them from my previous experience in this field that it has to make sense for both teams. And more to the other team. You don't get people interested unless it looks like you're giving them the better deal. But given our next six months of being told mostly how LeBron feels about things, I'm OK with plenty of goofy trade speculation.


Artis Gilmore #53 of the Kentucky Colonels looks to pass against the New Jersey Nets during a game played in 1975 at the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Elijah Humble:

So how good were the 1975 Kentucky Colonels? I've read a decent amount about them, and one theory is that if they hadn't traded Dan Issel the year after winning the championship they would've been good enough to have a shot at becoming a real NBA team and Louisville would have an NBA team today, similar to the Indiana Pacers up the road. Their coach (and still one of the best broadcasters around, or ever) Hubie Brown said it was the best team he ever coached.

Sam Smith:

I loved the ABA. The Colonels were a great team and Issel these days actually is leading the committee to bring on a franchise to Louisville. We assume Seattle is first in line with obviously everything on hold until people can actually go to games again. Hubie didn't coach many good NBA teams, but that was a terrific Kentucky team that could have been a serious NBA contender. But the NBA wasn't allowing that. In fact, the Bulls were blocking the merger the ABA needed to survive at the time unless there was an expansion draft and they'd get Artis Gilmore. It didn't lead to the title they'd hoped, but the 70s for those great Bulls teams was marred by the what ifs of not having a center to compete with Wilt or Kareem, the Bulls then in the West. It led to the trade for the then too old Nate Thurmond and several attempts and great stories about trying to lure Wilt out of retirement. Artis became the Bulls best ever center, but never quite good enough. But playing with Hall of Famers like Issel and Louie Dampier, the Colonels were a fabulous team. They were sort of the overdo ABA team like the '83 Sixers in the NBA, so many couldas and shoudas. Then they finally dominated in 1975 beating Erving's Nets and McGinnis' Pacers for the title. Colonels owner John Y. Brown then challenged the NBA champion Warriors to a $1 million playoff, but the NBA, of course, refused. But the teams did meet in an exhibition game before the 1975-76 season, the ABA's last, and Kentucky won. But they soon sold Issel to stay in business and then were disbanded in the merger. Brown was paid $3 million for the team and purchased the NBA Buffalo Braves. He later swapped franchises with the Celtics so the Braves could move to San Diego and become the Clippers. The NBA often demeaned the rival ABA. It wasn't as deep in talent as the NBA, but it's starting talent of its top teams was as good or better than the NBA's. And after the merger, nearly half the players in the next NBA All-Star game were former ABA players. Those were some great teams rarely seen by anyone in a league that was doomed without a TV contract.

Similarly, I'm about to be seen less. With the NBA sending the Bulls to their room for the next few months, this will be the last Ask Sam until the August draft lottery days. So with the No. 7 pick, then I think the Bulls will select...

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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