Ask Sam Mailbag: Building around players, AK draft moves, and more

Mark Madeck:

The Atlanta Hawks success story is one I think the Bulls can look to replicate from the dweller of the NBA to Eastern Conference Finalists. But is there concern about Vucevic's role as it translates to becoming a contender in the East? Atlanta seemed to surround Trae Young with shooters and then having Capela protect the rim. Today's NBA often is built around wing players and with Atlanta building and experiencing success around a PG, I think the Bulls can look to the Hawks on how to build around Zach LaVine. Should there be pause within the Bulls about Vucevic being the teams second best player and whether a combination of him and Zach can win at the highest level?

Sam Smith:

There's more than one way to succeed. I know most everyone, understandably, looks at success based on others'; final results. If you won, then you must be a winner and let's see if we can duplicate that. I'd say fans and media, but a lot of executives also operate that way. It was going on in the 80s with teams trying to find a 6-9 point guard because of the Lakers'; success. But everyone discovered there was one Magic. Just as there's one Curry/Thompson as everyone was busy shooting threes and expecting the same results. So the Hawks are making a run, though don’t be fooled by the diminishing returns. Would they be if Harden and Kyrie weren’t injured? If Kemba Walker wasn’t having trouble walking and Jaylen Brown wasn’t, if Embiid didn’t have a torn meniscus?

It sadly is the lost playoffs of last man standing and next man up, meaning someone’s bunch of role players could be an NBA champion. Though now it’s Chris Paul the one standing, which hasn’t happened that much. And as appealing as it seems without the usual roadblocks, that also puts a lot of pressure on teams like the Bulls. And several others to find the correct path. In the category of, “Hey, if Huerter, Bogdanovic, Capella and John Collins can start for champions,” or “If Terrance Mann, Patrick Beverley, the Lesser Morris and the Other Reggie Jackson” can carry a team to a championship, you mean you can’t!” Because everyone pretty much dismisses what occurred previously when we are celebrating the champion, some team starting a bunch of guys who might barely make your rotation will be held up as a model for next season. A dozen owners then will be asking their GMs how they can’t beat that team. It could be a nervous summer for a lot of teams. As I’ve stated, I like the Vucevic addition, especially in lieu of another 5-10 draft pick. When you have two players who practically fall into 20 points just suiting up, you have a base. With Vucevic’s expanded shooting range you have options if you want to add a rim protector instead. The best way to win is not necessarily the way the winner won.

Arturas Karnisovas

Art Alenik:

More on AK: One thing we know about him; he’s stealthy. You’re never going to know what he plans to do until he does it. That Vucevic trade was in negotiation for two weeks and not a whisper to the press... not even Woj. And as we now know (or think we do), he had Billy Donovan lined-up well in advance too. For all we know, he’s already chatting to someone about Lonzo or Lowry. Another thing I think we know is that he’s an opportunist. He’s not going to spend years drafting & trading for exactly the players he wants to build exactly the kind of team he needs to run exactly the system he believes in. He’ll strike when the iron is hot. If Simmons is actually available at all, you can bet he’ll be on the phone. I’d say Zach & Vuc are off limits, but he might even deal Williams if he can get a 3rd star.

Sam Smith:

You appear to have a good read on the Stealth Chief. I do get the sense that’s how he’s operating, less from some grand plan than from some grand opportunities. I kind of like that even though Yogi Berra warned us that if you don’t know where you are going you’ll probably end up somewhere else. Repair the roof, John Kennedy said, when the sun is shining. Take advantage of your opportunities as they occur. I believe he did go into the season believing, as he said, Carter could/would be a major part of the team going forward. Until he believed he saw otherwise. I don’t sense the Vucevic trade was as much the fit with Zach as the chance to acquire a star. And the more stars you have the better your chances and the better your inventory, as it were. So Zach and Vucevic are off limits; except if they’re not. I believe Karnisovas is operating on the notion that in 11th place no one need feel that secure. I do believe next season will go forward with Zach and Vucevic. But I also wouldn’t be surprised based on what you’re noting if he trades into the first round, if not in the top half, gets aggressive in free agency and flips the roster substantially. And then if it’s not working continuing to be opportunistic. I often believed previous management could be a bit too conservative. Perhaps this management will be a bit too bold. It should make for an intriguing ride.

John Petersen:

I hope I’m wrong but it’s difficult to grasp the Bull’s ability to make much of a significant upgrade for the 2021/22 season. They have limited cap space, no #1 pick and few excess tradable/valued assets. Young is too trade expensive at over $14 mil, White is an unknown/undervalued because of injury and Lauri is only a salary match. Perhaps AK can seize on some other teams misevaluation/mistake but it would appear that the Bulls realistic window for change is really for 2022/23. What is your perspective?

Sam Smith:

I hope you’re wrong, also. I’m going with the Vucevic model as suggested above mostly attributed to Horace—not Grant—Carpe Diem, to seize he day, to respond to an opportunity. I believe the new management will shake things up since I doubt they were satisfied despite the circumstances with finishing in 11th place. That opportunity is there now perhaps as much as ever with yet another short offseason and the example of teams being able to make huge leaps, like the Suns, of course, but also the Hawks and Knicks. It seems the way LeBron reacted to all this he and likely other stars will ease their way through next season with the notion that it will enable them to be healthier for the post season. So with a few creative tweaks—point guard possibly is the most favorite—and a commitment to playing and playing everyone, next season is a good chance for a lot of teams to make unexpected leaps because that may be the new NBA math. Why not us? Why not now?

Kemba Walker dribbles

Ryan Carpel:

I’d do this trade: Kemba Walker, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort for LaVine, Aminu and Sato. LaVine has same stats as SGA.

Sam Smith:

I checked your trade machine analysis you sent and John Hollinger rated it for the Bulls declining by 10 wins. Numbers only don’t make the man. SGA is very good and if you could get him, I’m for that. But hardly for that. Walker’s name comes up a lot because of apparent issues in Boston, but with chronic knee issues and a chronically high salary I don’t see the Bulls going there. Though we do know Billy Donovan loves Lu Dort. He used to mention his name for comparison in virtually every Zoom call early in the season until a reporter asked why he mentions Lu Dort so much. Meanwhile, OKC still is in tank mode. With all the draft picks, they’re not moving out of there for a while as evidenced by their sending some of their best players (Al Horford) home for the season.

Mike Sutera:

I’m still confused by Kawhi’s diagnosis. And then I saw this, that Kawhi was unhappy with the Clippers medical staff because he felt they misdiagnosed and underplayed the extent of this knee injury.

Sam Smith:

Here we go again? Kawhi to the Bulls? I’ve gotten mail and heard from friends they like these playoffs (I did until this round) because the super teams are gone. And then in the next breath it was how we could get Kawhi and Chris Paul. I’ve got it figured out: People hate super teams unless it’s their super team. It’s always difficult to figure out Leonard since, you know, he doesn’t speak. I have to assume even though, yes, he can opt out of his $36 million for next season, that he will remain with the Clippers for at least one more season to see if they can do better in the playoffs if, you know, he actually plays. No fault of his, but they certainly were in good position to get to the Finals if he wasn’t hurt. After all, Paul George, known as a weak playoff performer, and four guys who barely could make the Bulls rotation took the Suns to six games. I’m also guessing Steve Ballmer can be persuasive. And with Paul making his first Finals trip with a young team and able to pick up $44 million next season and still do insurance commercials, I doubt he moves on. Leaving the Bulls and most teams to be just super creative.

Coby White dribble against Detroit

Joe Lambert:

Why is everyone jumping ship on Coby White? Every time I see speculation on the Bulls’ roster moves I keep seeing talk of them definitely doing something at the point guard position. But why? I think Coby White is developing really nicely, especially with the run he went on near the end of the year. Personally I feel like the most important move is to get a new forward. A strong forward filling out a starting five of White, Lavine, Williams and Vucevic sounds like a recipe for success to me.

Sam Smith:

I can see why you’d look at it that was as there’s always talk about adding a point guard, including from me. No one is “jumping ship” on Coby as he seems to be part of the hull of LaVine, Vucevic and Williams with more to be named later. The point about the point with Coby and point guard is he’s more of a scorer, which often leads to LaVine handing the ball more than necessary. Thad Young helped some with that, and now with Vucevic perhaps we’ll see some different elements given his playmaking ability. The sense most get from at least the hints management has given is they’d like to add a player to set up LaVine, Vucevic. And Coby. White has proven he's an NBA scorer, and those guys are valuable. Also it’s not so easy. Suddenly, Reggie Jackson in the playoffs turned himself into a valuable player, and Coby White is younger and plays much like that as a titular point guard. Coby has earnestly tried to be the point guard the team feels it needs, but it’s really not a position as much you learn as you feel. Coby can play off ball screens, which is a valuable ability in the NBA. The more players you have like that the better you are. Maybe the Bulls cannot find their ideal point guard, which could make White part of a committee for that position. In any case, I see him as a big part of the team’s voyage.

Andrew Wiggins high-fives Curry

Trevor Wendt:

What do you think it would take to get Wiggins from the Warriors? Lauri, Sato, and Troy Brown Jr? Lauri seems like a good fit next to Wiseman down low. Warriors have some expensive decisions to make soon. Wiggins looked like he was starting to hold his own on defense.

Sam Smith:

I also believe Zach has a lot of the abilities to do that. Sort of like Devin Booker did in Phoenix, scoring big and making plays. And then they found a true point guard who also could make shots. And the Suns went from missing the playoffs for 10 straight seasons and five led by Booker—who had a lot more stability than LaVine not being traded and not having to rehabilitate from an ACL—to going to the NBA Finals. No one is saying that's next for the Bulls because no one necessarily sees the next Chris Paul, and a newly renovated one who just a few years ago supposedly was one of those guys with a contract you couldn’t trade. So good for him. But Zach matches Booker (check the stats since Zach is better in every category), Vucevic matches Ayton. And you’d think they could find a Jae Crowder and Mikal Bridges lying around. Probably tougher than it sounds, but you get the idea. A lot seems possible these days.

Dennis Shroder celebrates

Mike Queen:

Dennis Schroder reportedly wants $100-$120 million. If I am spending 100-120 mil on a PG it better be Ball even though I don't think he's even worth it. It's actually crazy that Dennis is only 27, I feel likes he's been in the league for so long. The rumblings also are Donovan is unhappy in Utah. Tough. Teams should stop letting these guys with long term deals put fear into them.

Sam Smith:

Dinwiddie, Rose, Lowry, Conley, Rubio, and yes Ball and Schroder. I’m sure we’ll be hearing rumors about all of them and the Bulls. And now Reggie Jackson with his playoffs, though he’s also not the point guard type I envision. Ball seems more so, though the latest is New Orleans will match, which is what they all leak to scare off offers. I assume the two you mention are up there on the Bulls list, which likely is a long list. There’s also a difference between what you want and what is available for you to get, the perennial dilemma for children and parents. OK, we’ll take Donovan Mitchell then. Though I’m guessing new investor Dwyane Wade will get in on that one.

Pete Sitee:

Does it make sense for the Bulls to pursue Demar Derozan in free agency? He quietly had a good season with the Spurs. Maybe add Kyle Lowry to the wishlist and reunite the 2 in Chicago for a title run.

Sam Smith:

As romantic sounding as that might be, it’s not financially feasible. I’ve gotten suggestions about DeRozan, who did raise his assist totals dramatically, though is not the facilitator the Bulls mostly need. But at some point you want good players. I’d rather see another star level player and try to figure it out instead of settling for a supposed point guard because that’s the need. Enough good players generally can figure out how to play. The Nets don’t appear to have someone you’d say was historically called a facilitating/organizing guard.

Zach LaVine points while talking to Vucevic and Mitchell at the NBA All-Star game

Brodie Larsh:

Vooch is a great player and great addition to the team and makes for a great offensive duo with Zach. But... if the Warriors offered Wiggins and Wiseman for Vooch... Would you take that deal? Do you think Lavine would approve of that?

Sam Smith:

As for Zach, one thing I like about him like Derrick Rose is they’ll play with anyone. Again, fans and often media repudiate the so called super teams and players conspiring to join together. And then ask why players from their teams are not recruiting big names more seriously. Zach’s with the Olympic team this summer, but my sense from him is whomever management adds he’s good with. Similarly with Rose, that they’re so confident in their abilities they can play and succeed with anyone. Well, anyone good, at least. Having seen Zach and Vucevic play just a few games together, I’m for giving it at least, say, a half season. Let’s see how they do. After all, the community long has demanded another All-Star. OK, got one. While I like Wiseman, exchanging hm for Vucevic is starting over again. I know fans love the young guys. Let’s try guys this time who have had success and know a box out from a box of doughnuts.

Chris Paul dribbles

Matt Cooney:

Two things have been driving me crazy in these playoffs. Maybe I’m looking at these games differently because I’m not looking at them through Bulls-colored glasses. It seems like a ballhandler is able to take five, six, seven steps in the lane – maybe to go to the basket and maybe to pass out for the three. Isn’t there supposed to be a rule against that? The other habit that I guess isn’t a written rule is for the PG to let the ball roll in the backcourt. Sometimes it feels like it rolls back there for five minutes, but I guess it’s closer to five seconds. I suppose it’s a way to let players (on both sides) catch their breath before the clock starts. I’ve seen CP3 do it a few times; Ice-Trae does it quite a bit, but that’s seems to be part of his moxie. Is my memory that bad? Have these things been happening for the past few decades without me noticing?

Sam Smith:

The rolling ball thing is annoying and I’m always rooting for someone to either steal the ball or the offensive guy to kick it out of bounds. Since most teams don’t pass much or run many plays looking for the first three, I’m not sure what purpose there is to starting the 24-second clock when you’re near halfcourt. As for the travel, it used to be two steps. Now with the pros it’s sort of three. But as everyone is palming the ball it doesn’t much matter. Fortunately after that egregious ruling the other night when they broke down Zapruder film stop action to see whose fingernail the ball went off the officials seemed to stop asking for those who’s-it-off rulings and just put the ball back in play. Someone in the league much have told them because every ball deflected off last touches the guy with the ball. Regular reviews would overturn every out of bounds call. Remember, the officials just are enforcing league mandates. We all have our rules issues, and the TV broadcasts do get tiresome questioning every call—just as the players do with their pantomimes—but the worst are how the offensive players either throw themselves into the defense to draw fouls (remember, not on drives but jump shots) and how they fall down every time they take a shot. Mercifully, the officials don’t fall for that one much. Though it gives us something to talk about instead of trying to figure out how DeMarcus Cousins and Reggie Jackson got in the conference finals.