Ask Sam Mailbag: Nikola Vucevic, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and more

Fred Robinson:

I would like to say hallelujah that Bulls management moved on from Wendell Carter Jr. as our center of the future. Truth be told I was always convinced Carter Jr. was best suited to be a power forward. It was further enlightening to see that this management group doesn't see 1st round draft choices off limits when it comes to acquiring a valuable piece of the playoff puzzle.

Nikola Vucevic is a steal for what we had to give up to get him. While I advocated the Bulls trading for Andre Drummond I readily admit this is a better choice especially offensively.

While point guard remains a concern Vucevic offers a late in the clock offensive alternative that Carter Jr. didn't. Additionally, his 40% shooting from the 3 point line opens up lanes for Lauri Markkanen, Thaddeus Young and Patrick Williams to get to the basket unobstructed.

Sam Smith:

I love the move and congratulate management. It's three first round draft picks for an All-Star, which is the going price. Still I'm shocked the Magic gave up on their only star, and only 30, with their injured players back next season. Some fans mentioned going after Vucevic, which I'll admit I dismissed because I was told by Magic people in 2018 when they passed on Carter for Mo Bamba they didn't much like Carter because of his size playing inside. Never mind. I get Orlando has decided to take the long view, which cynically perhaps saves jobs for awhile as they now say to give us three to five years. I know all the great players come from the draft because where else are they? But there aren't many. The Bulls did all the right things during their three years of, well, let's say looking at prospects. They lost big, they were in position for top lottery picks, and not only did they not get lucky and move up, they often moved down or settled into not so great drafts. Draft picks are valuable when you draft a great player. Not just by having the picks. The Bulls traded for an All-Star in Zach LaVine to start this, and now they added one. It's, I believe, the best way to build a winner. It was a great day in franchise history.

Brian Tucker:

I saw Vucevic as a pipe dream a couple weeks ago. That's a pretty sweet duo to build around. Still gotta see if they can step up and be winners but Zach and Vuc are about as good as we could have hoped for. Our bench just got a bit better too with Al.

Sam Smith:

And now if Zach wants to win, what better place? That was a question that was hanging over the Bulls, not so much whether they would want to retain LaVine, but after so many years of losing—and being penalized for it with All-Star and awards snubs—would LaVine want to stay? With so many of the elite stars signing longterm deals with their teams, LaVine was about to be perhaps the biggest free agent after next season. He still could be, but he'd have a difficult time finding a roster that much better than the Bulls in a major market where he is becoming a beloved player.

Andrew Killion:

Amazing trade no one saw coming. He's on a decent contract and we get him for 2.5 seasons. Need Lonzo now. If we get Lonzo how badly do you think we need a 3 given all our 3's seem to turn out to be 4's? Or are you comfortable playing lineups with Coby, Zach and Lonzo or, alternatively, Vuc, Thad and P-Will assuming we trade away Lauri?

Sam Smith:

I'm not for trading Markkanen, though more things could happen this summer based on the urgency and boldness Arturas Karnisovas has shown. I know who Markkanen is, and because the Bulls needed a seven footer to get in the post, rebound and out tough the tough big guys, Markkanen was disappointing. Now they have someone else to do that, which means Markkanen can do what he does and who he is, which is a seven footer who is an excellent three-point shooter and versatile enough to defend that second line big man or stretch four player. Suddenly the Bulls are huge with a pair of front court seven footers who can complement one another. Sure, there's a need at point guard. And the cap space is compromised some by offloading Otto Porter Jr.'s massive deal (whew, finally!). But with limited guarantees for Thad Young and Tomas Satoransky, the Bulls still should be able to get in the bidding if it's Ball they like. There will be other point guards available, and Karnisovas has shown in this trading deadline day that he is a unique executive who is both bold and fearless, the sort of mentality you want to lead your organization.

Alan Smith:

I am truly shocked by the trade because the Bulls gave up two first round draft choices. The Bulls have not proved anything and they are in a rebuilding mode. You don't mortgage the future by betting on a 30-year-old center when you have so many holes to fill. Is this on Donovan who can't wait.

Sam Smith:

Au contraire. This is the way you rebuild. You compile some draft picks. They didn't work out as you hoped, so then you combine them with some more draft picks to take advantage of another team ready to try what you did four years ago. They're going to Disneyworld. And coming home with some of the best souvenirs. There will always be fans who favor the draft along with hope and fantasy. Eventually, you have to be serious about winning. Or the players you help develop to help win will go somewhere else because you are not serious. As for Donovan, I believe he's honest when he says he just wants to be included in the discussions, which he really wasn't much in Oklahoma City because the GM there doesn't share much. But Donovan is a coach, and it seems apparent he just wants to coach the roster you provide. Now he's got a much better one.

Greg Young:

AKME in action seems to be deliberate and direct. Zach needs a Robin, check. Don't think a couple of players fit, check. Fill some back ups, check. Need a point guard, well Rome wasn't built in a day. I am thinking the rest of the year will be evaluation phase followed by more action. This is quite pleasant and very different. I continue to be intrigued and interested, all I would ask for.

Sam Smith:

The guy who warned us all he's deliberative and careful and patient perhaps isn't exactly as he says. Which is good.

Christopher Billingsley:

In years past, for the most part the Bulls have been quiet in trade deadline moves. Not this time! While I'm somewhat disappointed in moving Wendell (who I thought did what he could to man the center position), I'm excited about what Nilola Vucevic can add to this ballclub. This move to me is very parallel to the Bulls trade of Charles Oakley for Cartwright back in '88. A young, solid forward in exchange for a seasoned veteren that can produce. You have a very athletic, talented guard in Lavine(Jordan in that case) and this will solidify a post presence and take some of the attention off of Lavine. By rounding out the starting lineup and adding quality bench pieces, we are potentially witnessing a shift up the eastern conference standings.

Sam Smith:

That's certainly the plan, but it's more than for just this season, which is why I was so confused about what Orlando could be thinking. Unless this is the last year of the NBA—and it's not even a full one—Vucevic could be an All-Star five years from now. Though I know we are an instant breakfast society with the next thing you accomplish being the best, this clearly is a foundational move even if it doesn't involve—and especially because it doesn't involve—high draft picks. Rebuilding and retooling and whatever they want to call it doesn't have to and doesn't need to involve teenagers. As for Wendell, I also had high hopes, though not so much after seeing him back from another injury. He seems beaten down, uncertain, lacking confidence. Which doesn't go well with lacking height. It's perhaps not a great place with Mo Bamba there. But Wendell needed to be somewhere else. That the Bulls could replace him with a seven footer All-Star seems more the stuff of fantasy than reality. It was a bit different with Bill Cartwright since he was more the final piece for a team that already was winning 50 games with three stars. Vucevic is finally the No. 2 the Bulls lacked for LaVine who had become a No. 1.

Jake Henry:

Vuc is good. But also never played on a winning team.

Sam Smith:

Now's his chance. Actually he's been in 11 more playoff games than Zach.

Ateeq Ahmed:

Wow Vucevic! I think he will be a great addition. He's a skilled big, but how is his defense? Looks like we gave up future 1st round picks? Were those from other teams which we acquired or are they our own?

Sam Smith:

Those are the Bulls picks, and as my colleague K.C. Johnson reminded me, it's going to be a much easier draft night for media. Enough with the teenagers! The Bulls tried it; it didn't work. Try something else. They did. It may not work, either, since nothing is guaranteed. But it's an aggressive effort to add talent, which is what any business is about. Sure, if you have a chance to get Luka or Zion (though their teams still are going nowhere) you miss the draft picks. But it's a long process, and you can't keep adding another teenager after another. With Patrick Williams the Bulls have one who looks like he could be excellent. Perhaps he replaces Markkanen at some point because he looks more like a power forward with his body and more physical attitude. But now the Bulls don't have to rely on him, which he's shown they shouldn't as he's nowhere near ready to be a consistent producer. Under NBA rules, you cannot trade consecutive draft picks, so the Bulls still will have theirs in 2022. But if Karnisovas is correct, the 2021 and 2023 picks should not be so great. If you're picking outside the top three or five, your chances of getting a star decline dramatically. And if you've watched any of the top teams, they mostly have veteran players.

Jonathan Ruth:

How do you think the new regime values "the promising young core?" Also, remember that one time when we traded five (5) draft picks for Doug McDermott? Bulls fans need some good news.

Sam Smith:

I think Karnisovas gave you his first big response Thursday with the Vucevic deal. He said he would use this season for analysis, and probably like the rest of us he didn't need the entire season. I would like to add something about McDermott, who I admit I like and felt was treated badly. The Bulls didn't lose that trade; they just gave up too quickly. I've written before I believe McDermott inevitably would prove more valuable, and he's starting to. Gary Harris was traded and has been injured often. The Nuggets traded Nurkic, who also has had an injury issues, and merely received a backup center. McDermott isn't Klay Thompson, but he remains an excellent shooter and an ideal scoring reserve. The Bulls could still use a spot up, catch-and-shoot guy like him.

Mike Sutera:

The reports were Danny Ainge offering was offering 2 first for Aaron Gordon. I have never seen this from Danny. He got Fournier for a steal, but it seems more desperation.

Sam Smith:

I doubt Ainge is in any trouble in Boston, but he's a good example of what the Bulls were doing, acquiring assets and then hanging onto them until they became liabilities. Ainge was riding high with those old man Pierce and Garnett deals for all those picks which they didn't much parlay, let some free agents walk, and then took a risk with Kyrie that didn't work out. He tried; give him that. But just having all those "assets," as the GMs call them, doesn't guarantee anything, and especially the draft picks. Oklahoma City has most of them now for the whole league, so it doesn't much matter what anyone else does. Maybe move the draft to OKC for the next decade. With the Celtics hanging around .500 and slipping, they suddenly are more in play-in territory. Here come the Bulls!

Art Alenik:

Patrick Williams: Remember that old poem, "He who knows and knows not that he knows is asleep. Wake him." ? That's Williams. He's not only better than we know, I think he's better than he knows. If this kid knew how good he is, he never would've rode the bench in college and he'd be calling for the ball now. Stealing the tip? That's a veteran play. Billy mentioned finding ways to get him to the hoop, so he goes out and has 4-5 dunks. Good 3-pt shooter too; takes his time when open. We just have to wake that sleeping bear.

Sam Smith:

Actually I don't even remember new poems. Not to say he won't be a good and perhaps excellent player, but you are who you are. Like with Markkanen, just because you need a rebounding seven footer doesn't mean he can be. It's the flaw of coaching (and fanning, i.e., being a fan) that you can tell someone how to do something, but it doesn't mean they will. Even if they'd like to. Williams reminds me more of Derrick McKey than Kawhi Leonard. McKey was this wonderful talent first with Seattle and then Indiana who might score 40 one game and four the next. Everyone knew McKey could average 25 to 30 if he wanted to; he just didn't seem to want to. Not because he was lazy or disinterested; he was cerebral and an excellent teammate. It just wasn't his nature. He liked to pass, he liked to see teammates do well, he liked to be part of the whole. The great ones aren't necessarily like that. Most have these character flaws and aren't the most beloved teammates because they want to beat everyone and barely can endure when not only they won but didn't win by also humiliating you. We don't put anything in Williams' permanent file yet because he's still a teenager and shouldn't even be in the NBA. He could be a high level NBA starter. I don't see the extra stuff. Which is OK.

Josh King:

Chris Paul is the 6th player in NBA history with 10K career assists. People call him "Point God" for his all-around ability to assist, defend, lead, as well as score. When you factor in scoring, defense, steals, playmaking ability and overall team success.... In your opinion, who would you also put in your top five, and who is the overall best point guard of all time?

Although CP3's game and stats/longevity are quite impressive, John Stockton ranks #1 in total career assists - 15,806. Ranks - #1 in 3,265 in career steals. Personally, I love Magic! But I'm not sure he really checks every box considering all the other overall factors. Could Lebron or Scottie be in that conversation as well?

Sam Smith:

We both tend to overvalue the players we most often see and yet take for granted players we see most often, especially if they generally fall short of the ultimate like Paul has. So I don't generally see him as an alltimer, though he will end up that way. Certainly with State Farm. I have a top three point guards with a large gap afterward. It's Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas. After that it depends on what you value. If it's championships, you can't leave out Bob Cousy, who also basically revolutionized the game at his position. History making matters, like Wilt and George Mikan forcing the league to widen the lane to stop them. When you change the rules you matter. Back then there were just guards. Jerry West was one. He led the league in assists one season. That sounds like a point guard. Walt Frazier for multiple championships and a better defender than Paul. Paul puts up good defensive stats with steals, but he plays the lanes and is not a particularly good individual defender like Frazier was. Pete Maravich? Short career, but you'd sure rather watch him than Paul. No offense to Paul because he is a great one and a Hall of Famer. Steve Nash has multiple MVPs. So does Steph Curry, both point guards. Earl Monroe, Lenny Wilkens? I still don't have Paul top 10. But he's very good and clearly makes a difference for his team, as he's showing again this season with the Suns.

Peter Laundy:

Is learning to defend 4th quarter leads a common last step to success for young up and coming teams in the NBA? How much of it is something that gets into the culture of such teams, versus the strategy of experienced and older teams to play just hard enough during the first three quarters to have more left in the tank in the 4th?

Sam Smith:

I believe the Bulls are about to be much better at that less from teaching or developing than having better players with the Vucevic trade, players who can be relied upon to score and produce at the end of games. That's how young teams truly develop. They get older (and better) players. The "culture" of teams improves when they have more talent.

Silas Marques:

Why can't you simply come out and say: "This team isn't good enough. Period"? I know…I know…you need to make a living. End of story!

It so simple. They don't do it because they are not good enough. What's so hard to understand. This team should be in the Guinness Book of Records. I bet this team has made all of the mistakes possible in basketball. Really good players don't make the mistakes these Bulls players make. For crying out loud. You're on a run to win the ball game at the end and you step out of bounds? And the player who has the ball passes the ball to a player who has just stepped out of bounds? Tell the truth!

Sam Smith:

The Bulls are back! So there!

Ryan Carpel:

Who were your favorite non-star players on the Bulls in the 1980's?

Sam Smith:

We just lost one in Granville Waiters, the likable big man who died at 60 this week. Though Waiters wasn't a scorer and never even had a double digit game in almost two seasons for the Bulls, he was something of a symbol of those early Jordan teams, a good guy trying hard who just couldn't do enough to avoid the frustration of losing. It's also how Jordan felt putting up some of the greatest one season statistics in NBA history to get to 40 wins. There's two eras of the 80s with Jerry Sloan coaching that dawn of the decade group that had promise and was fun to watch, but had an ownership not much committed to success. And then the growing Jordan group with hard working guys like Waiters, Pete Myers, Dave Corzine, who was the most likable of guys treated so badly because he was traded for fan favorite Artis Gilmore. I remember coming into the locker room after a tough loss, Dave sitting there and I asked him about, well Dave, one rebound? Hey, one more than a dead man! he told me. C'mon, there aren't many better guys. Craig Hodges, Sam Vincent and Brad Sellers, the latter also the victim of fan abuse when he was drafted over Johnny Dawkins, who wasn't very good but was who Michael wanted because he liked ACC guys. Brad has become a successful mayor in Ohio and told me no city council meeting or election controversy ever gave him much concern compared with being booed by 20,000 people. Perhaps the ultimate preparation for government office.