Ask Sam Mailbag: Coby's big performance, matching up with Miami and more Play-in thoughts

Fiona Abalos: Phenomenal performance from Ayo, Coby, DeMar and the whole team in general against the Hawks. I watched the broadcast on TV because I was unfortunately unable to attend in person and it felt more like a playoff game than a play-in. I appreciate both ESPN commentators praises for the Bulls, too. With Friday’s game against the Heat, though, what do you think the guys need to do to get the win? The loss from last season still hurts, but I don’t blame anyone despite our poor shooting at the time. I’m sure Diar’s presence will make a positive impact for us, as I’ve heard she’ll be able to attend this game.

Sam: I think that screaming during free throws really only works in foreign countries like Canada where they are so much more civilized. The Bulls have gotten into probably the best position that they could have because it may be playoff Jimmy, but it’s not play-in Jimmy as it seems like he won’t be playing with a knee injury from their loss to the 76ers. The Bulls seem to have gotten fortunate there as it looked all game like they were headed to Philadelphia and Joel Embiid even with Jimmy limping through that game. And now it’s to Miami seemingly without Jimmy, and the Heat also without Terry Rozier, which is a lot, lot of points. Injuries like that can happen any time, but you also wonder if Miami players just don’t get into playing rhythm because they treat the regular season with such indifference and take off so many games. From a practical strategic standpoint, it figures to be like the Hawks game in the sense that Miami with what they have left will try to out-shoot the Bulls with threes, and if it’s not a huge disparity and Miami doesn’t get unconsciously hot the Bulls should be on the way to Boston Sunday afternoon to open the playoffs by playing fast and pushing the ball in transition. 

Ashlee Brown: Greetings from a Hawks fan. I’d like to start by saying great win for the Bulls against us. I pretty much knew the game was over for us after the first quarter and applaud you all for your efforts, along with the engaging, high-energy crowd. It was pretty evident that the loss from our last meeting stuck with them; but I’d also like to ask about Jimmy Butler because I feel as though the Bulls know him best: what are his exact thoughts and feelings on the organization and team? I’ve seen pieces online that claim he’s tired of the Thibs questions and I’ve only seen a couple videos where he speaks fondly of his time with Chicago, but those were around the time he got traded to the Timberwolves. I’ve also heard and watched a number of postgame interviews where Zach praises the Heat and Jimmy. I understand Jimmy isn’t as vocal and can be seen as a “villain” in the NBA, but how do you think he feels about the team that drafted him today?

Sam: Thanks for the sportsmanship, and our condolences, less for the loss than for being a fan of that team. They’ve got a real mess with Trae Young, who sounded like a good idea out of college as a Steph Curry lite, bit who has morphed into a selfish, inefficient, salary cap anchor who it seems obvious the players and coach don’t much want around. Not so Jimmy despite what you may have heard. Jimmy has taken on a bit of that black hat identity, and it’s worked out well for him financially as he’s been able to poke his head above the NBA superstar crowd and become a national figure and corporate spokesman without a championship and not quite having the talent of some of his star peers. Jimmy remains highly regarded in Chicago and he’s always been quick to credit his time with Tom Thibodeau and the organization for giving him the foundation to become the player he is. Remember, he was a 30th draft pick with basically no offensive game who rarely played into his second NBA season. He had some public issues with one of the executives from a previous regime, Gar Forman, but when he returns to Chicago it’s like a love fest with him hugging his way down the halls. I still prefer the fist bump. The Bulls moved on from Jimmy because they made a tactical personnel mistake signing Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo and locking in basically being a .500 team. So they took the popular option at the time, which fans loved, of going young the way Oklahoma City has with draft picks. They didn’t get lucky to move up in the draft to get someone like Luka, they didn’t coalesce, and then fan and media patience wore thin and they didn’t get a chance to see Coby White with Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., and moved on to new leadership and for now good enough to knock out the Hawks. And with it looks like no Jimmy Friday with a knee injury to paraphrase Buzz, to the playoffs and beyond.

Mike Sutera: Off to Boston and we steal one.

Sam: That’s probably the early line, though as a level field, new season optimist I’m still with stuff happens. Like when the Bulls were first seed in 2012 and Derrick Rose, and then Joakim Noah and after leading the league in wins the No. 1 seed Bulls are KO’d by Doug Collins and his eighth seed 76ers. The Celtics have had a great season and are everyone’s favorite to come out of an East they won by 14 games and rested players the last few weeks and seem healthy. But they are the poster guys for this NBA the way they shoot threes and will shoot themselves out of some games because they have the ultimate shooter’s mentality of missing 10 and then being sure they’ll make the next 20. Boston in six?

Joe Tanner: With Coby’s performance, it got me thinking: what do the Bulls do if Lonzo makes a miraculous return to form as a high-level starting caliber point guard? Coby is clearly too good now to be riding the bench but Lonzo is such a great defender and has the ability to set up the offense in a way Coby can’t. Thoughts?

Sam: Don’t think too hard. Lonzo’s not coming back to be that; certainly not next season. I’m not saying this from any medical opinion or information as much as you just don’t sit out of professional sports for three years and have multiple surgeries and then an experimental one and go right back to being the player you were. I don’t know what the Bulls are thinking, but if I were them I wouldn’t count on Lonzo at all and then be thrilled and surprised if he can contribute something, if more so for him as it’s been such a tough time to go through what he has with class. Coby’s the future at point and good enough to stay there unless the Bulls can trade for Gilgeous-Alexander or maybe Brunson. Coby can also play off the ball, so it’s not an issue as he’s become more a classic combo of previous eras when you were just a guard and had to do all that stuff. The sense you get given all his brother’s injury problems in Charlotte is the Hornets probably want to move on also and their dad has said many times the family dream is to have both play together. Both being damaged goods and of limited value, it’s probably possible, but maybe more so in a few years after LaMelo isn’t owed big money. The dad was right the kids would be stars, but perhaps they played too much too soon. It’s difficult to know these days.

Mack Queen: What do the Warriors do? Cp3 not guranteed. Klay a FA; Magic the hot rumor. Payton 9 mil player option which he will pick up. Had Moody and Wiseman developed it would have kept the dynasty going a few yrs longer, but they didn't pan out.

Sam: As teams fall off the board, the questions come up. The Warriors are a big one since they are the biggest name out the soonest. Their only real value to make major changes is Steph, and I wouldn’t and can’t see them trading him. That’s like trading Jordan. They supposedly offered Thompson two years at $20 million during the season and he wanted more. Tough to see him getting more, and given their luxury tax bill and suddenly they are looking with their core as a play-in team at best, that’s a big ask. I know everyone wants teams to pay guys for what they did, but he’s made a lot. Things change; I’d let him go if I had their tax bill. Hey, if he’d take the exception which is now more than $10 million I’d make him an offer if I were the Bulls. Golden State’s big miss was being sentimental and paying Draymond for four years when he really does so little and keeps their young players off the floor. Except when he’s being suspended and costing the team enough wins to get out of the play-in. The Wiseman pick was a killer, and somewhat of a surprise because so many then were advocating what the Cavs did for LeBron when they traded Wiggins. Who by the way really has disappeared for the Warriors. It’s starting a long way down, but at least they still have Steph, who does remain a marvel and still one of the best watches in the NBA.

Mitchell Metz: Jalen Brunson snubbed by Team USA for 2024 Olympic roster?
Sixers must be excited about brittle knees Embiid playing.

Sam: This USA Olympic team is a return to the 90s and the first two Dream Teams with the biggest stars agreeing to play. When that happens you just take them and hope they’ll do the leave your ego at the door thing. Coaching the Warriors dream team Steve Kerr should be just right. With a roster of LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Bam Adebayo, Devin Booker, Joel Embiid, Jayson Tatum, Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Tyrese Haliburton, Anthony Edwards and Kawhi Leonard it’s tough to say who to leave off since that’s basically most of the all-NBA teams. I actually have Brunson as first team all-NBA and top five in MVP voting. But with that group you can see LeBron having the ball a lot as well as Durant and Tatum, and Brunson is very ball oriented and on the smallish side. So I assume that’s why he didn’t make the cut. Alex Caruso was in the initial list and I would have included him because you have plenty of offense and it would be good to have a guy like Alex who can come in for five or seven minutes and bother the heck out of someone who is hot. Holiday is a good defender, but doesn't physically annoy players like Caruso does. I do think if some teams make a long playoff run or with inevitable injuries and Embiid already doesn’t look great that some guys will drop off. So there could be places for players like Brunson or Caruso. I asked Caruso about it the other day. “Yeah (disappointed),” he said. “I mean they still have one spot. I saw the list of names. It’s hard to make the case over any of them. They are all really good players; obviously, I feel like I am elite at what I do and feel there is some value to that. But ultimately that is not my decision and I’ll be happy if they call me and if not I’ll be cheering from home.”

Jake Henry: Is staying in the 8-10 seed the future? As pretty much everyone involved with the NBA has said, this is the worst place to be as a franchise. Not competing and not collecting assets. Now do we resign 35 yr old DeRozan, have a center who is also (33) years old. Unless Julian Phillips becomes Scottie Pippen is it 9 seed every year? Almost every team that tore it down when the Bulls should have are good now.

Sam: I know that’s a popular narrative around social media these days, and it is the big elephant in the room for the Bulls, that they tried it now for a third year and are basically in the same place. I won’t vehemently disagree. It’s the biggest question hanging over the franchise and has been with management doubling down on its belief that this group is good enough in a weaker East as we have seen with the depleted Knicks still second on the season and stuff happens, and we’re seeing that with Butler’s injury, but I agree that’s not a plan for the future. Vučević has been the one who has said many times this season, and it is sort of a message to management, that this group has been together three years and if it cannot show more then change is not out of the question. This management has made clear and I assume with ownership’s blessing given the way the 2017-21 rebuild went they are not choosing that direction. The improvement of White and Dosunmu has given them cause to avoid that, anyway, and you can’t dismiss Patrick Williams yet. So the big decisions will rest about the veteran free agents like DeRozan and Zach LaVine and Vučević. They were the Big Three, but it seems as Vučević indicated some adjustment is appropriate.

Carl Klapp: Zach LaVine, the talented Chicago Bulls star, has unfortunately grappled with ankle issues on multiple occasions. Let’s delve into the timeline of his ankle troubles: December 2018: LaVine suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him for approximately 2-4 weeks. January 2024: After returning from a five-week absence due to a right foot injury, LaVine faced another setback. He rolled his ankle during a game against the Toronto Raptors, resulting in a right ankle sprain. As a result, he is expected to miss at least one-to-two weeks. He missed 17 games earlier this season with initial right ankle inflammation. He returned on Jan. 5 and played an additional seven games before he injured his ankle again. April 2024: Zach LaVine underwent season-ending surgery on his right foot. The initial prognosis indicated a recovery period of four to six months. However, there’s some good news: LaVine is ahead of schedule in his recovery and hopes to be back sooner, possibly within three months. This would allow him to begin his typical offseason work and be ready for the next season. Conclusion: Along with knee and quad issues over his career, Zach has had ankle issues which hindered his basketball performance since 2018. Now that he just had surgery to correct that, Zach should be at his best after his recovery. You don’t trade a player when you know that medically, his body will be in the best condition of his life. I can’t wait to see him in a Bulls uniform next season. As a Quantitative Methods major, it is my opinion that a teams’ Win-Loss record correlates mostly with injuries, not player talent.

Sam: That sounds scientific. We’ve always accepted Zach’s knee problems were the biggest issues, but there’s that connectivity Skeleton Dance of the leg bone’s connected to the knee bone, the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone and all that. I’ve long been a Zach supporter and have been loath to support this belief of the team being better without him. Or not being a good teammate. I noticed he was first after the game tweeting congratulations to Coby for his performance against the Hawks. As often mentioned, the belief is other teams have to see him first before they might entertain a deal. I’m not fully convinced as there’ll be teams desperate to move their “stars,” like Trae Young. Uh, no. So stuff will come up, but the Bulls, if they are looking to trade, need to forget about winning/losing the trade and just get no matter what anyone thinks is best for your team. If Zach returns, Coby surely has earned his place. And you may be right that a fully healthy Zach is actually what this management was talking about with this group three years ago. So bringing everyone back, they may feel, is justified given the support and expanded roles now from Coby and Ayo and perhaps Terry and Phillips, and Williams. Big offseason.

Randall Sanders: Better off for 11th in the draft? All this just to have a chance to play the #1 Seed in the eastern Conference? Having a higher Draft position seems like a better Idea.

Sam: I still do hold to the quaint notion that your goal should always be to win as many games as you can. This is not supposed to be a great draft — whatever that means — but you see from many drafts with starters coming out of the second round or late first that it should not make much difference if you know what you are doing picking 11th or 16th. If the Bulls make the playoffs they will fall out of the lottery, though I still never heard of the guys the mock drafts have in the top spots. I do hear about Cooper Flagg who is going to Duke. Let’s see some playoff games again.

Michael Murden: Why don't Andre Drummond's rebounding and defense get him any attention for Sixth Man of the Year?

Sam: I guess part because, well, he’s never actually been the Bulls sixth man, which usually for most teams is designated as a scorer and for the Bulls more often a defender, but usually a guard or wing player. It’s a reasonable point given his rebounding numbers, but too often his playing times is sparse and contestants for that award usually are playing at least 22-26 minutes per game.

Anthony Moulesong: Friday night's Washington regular season game with the Baby Bulls was my absolute favorite of the season. It was a ton of fun, and I see some bright spots for the future. Adama Sanogo looks like he can play. I've been wondering why he hadn't played all season. Given the Bulls' lack of size, it seemed like he must have some glaring deficiencies not to be given a chance. I was pleasantly surprised (okay, shocked) to see him have a 20/20 game! Yeah, it was against the Wizards at the end of the season, but still, he looked like he can play.  What do you think about his future with the Bulls?

Sam: Well, I am glad you enjoyed the game, which was entertaining if not all that instructive for me to the future. I’d have to see Sanogo and some of those other guys against actual NBA competition instead of the deep reserves for the worst team in the league. Sanogo does create space nicely with his body and gets the ball off the backboard, but can he react quickly enough? There’s a big question about whether Drummond as a free agent will return while often saying he should be a starter. So Sanogo might get a serious look then.

Mitch Queen: This season is wild. I cannot predict a possible champion this year or finals participants. West is so neck-and-neck and the east is so weak after Boston and NY.

Sam: And now no Jimmy and no Zion, and Embiid doesn’t look great, and Steph’s home already and Kawhi is limping and Giannis is out, and no one is exactly dominant. No, I’m not getting ready to a Bulls championship rally with another injury here or there, but this playoffs is shaping up as one of the most unpredictable in years. Boston and Denver remain the Finals prediction choice, but I expect to see a lot of we didn’t see that coming sort of stuff. I think part of the reason as the LeBron Big Three Recruit Your Superstars Era has been a failure since LeBron. It’s been a disaster with Lillard to the Bucks and Beal to the Suns and the teams doing it more organically like the Thunder and Timberwolves and even the Knicks once they get healthy and cash in a bunch of draft picks they have coming have been emerging, instead. So there’s been a leveling of the playing field that does fit with the Bulls belief that the league isn’t so dynamic anymore and a tweak here or there and a tweaked ankle here or there can change a lot in a short time.

Kyle McGill: So I was sitting here thinking and this is purely hypothetical. If the Detroit Pistons decide to go all in next year by trading Jaden Ivy, Ausar Thompson and a future first round pick for Lauri Markkanen. Then, they sign OG Anunoby to a max contract and also end up with the first overall pick in this year's draft which is considered weak. How would you feel about the Bulls trading Alex Caruso plus what would be the 11th overall pick to the Pistons for the number one pick, which the Bulls would end up selecting Alexandar Sarr? I know he’s raw but could end up being a similar player to Jaren Jackson Jr. It’s time for the Bulls to rebuild and having a young player like him, along with Coby White, Ayo Dosunmu and Patrick Williams gives this young Bulls team a bright future. 

Sam: I thought the Pistons were trading for Zach. That’s one of the messier places and they’re acknowledging that again with talk they’ll hire a new basketball operations guru. They have enough young players, which is one big issue with that draft lottery strategy. All your players are young and don’t know what the heck they are doing and all are playing to get to that first big contract so need to put up numbers so you have no chance of being a team, and the more losing you have the more they come to accept it. I can see the Pistons willing to trade the No. 1 pick, but I doubt Caruso and a pick gets you that given they are too far away for Caruso to make enough difference and the No. 1 pick better get you more than Alex, no offense, or your fans are going to be even angrier.

Valentin Pepeldzhiski: They all fought for each other and good things will come if they continue hustling like against Atlanta. I thought that Benny the Bull was instrumental in lifting the spirits further with his half court basket and terrific break dance moves afterwards, a perfect accompaniment to the energetic and tenacious work of the players.

Sam: I will defer to your more cogent recap, analysis and breakdown of Wednesday’s game.

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