Ask Sam Mailbag: Realistic offseason moves, improving the NBA Draft Lottery and more

Tom Hagen“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results… Albert Einstein. Same roster same result. Please tell me I'm in a nightmare and I will wake up.

Sam: Actually, no one could ever find Einstein actually saying that, though he seems to get credit for it constantly. He supposedly did say, “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity. And I'm not sure about the former.” Now that's a smart guy. I’m not suggesting it applies to NBA executives, but that may be why Einstein was Einstein. And his bagels aren’t bad. I’m not sure what you’ll see coming about the Bulls. But I wouldn’t obsess too much about the post season comments about giving it one more try and all that. I still do expect changes with the Bulls. Karnišovas dismissed the “blow it up” advice, which to me means only not going all OKC and trading everyone for draft picks. But it doesn’t discount significant changes since he did also say in the predictable contradiction that he will look at everything. I used to joke with Jerry Krause around post-season and draft time — he never thought I was as funny as I thought I was — that Jerry talking to the media was something like this: “Hello,” he lied. It wasn’t a criticism. He’s not supposed to tell us his plans because, you know, the other teams have cable (now streaming). You say you’re resigning everyone to warn off teams about your restricted free agents. You say you love all your players so they are not running for a new team. You don’t reveal your strategy because then the other guy can use it against you. So stay awake. I still believe it will be worth it. Like Einstein did explain mathematically, “If A is a success in life, then A equals X plus Y plus Z. Work is X, Y is play, and Z is keeping your mouth shut.” See, maybe they are geniuses. Right from Einstein.

Jeff Lichtenstein: This team (you can’t count on Ball) was relatively healthy this season. Zach not 100% the first 1/3 and everyone has some bang up during the season. However, no injuries for both play in games and good health much of the season. It got the Bulls 40 wins, a 10th seed and 1-1 and for the play in. 50 win team in the 1980’s and Drummond and all star but not in this era. DeRozan will be 35 next season with a year left on a contract and Vooch 33 if he’s back. Zach is just not a finisher. Great player but Toronto was an aberration as far as clutch goes. I guess you could resign Drummond and let Vooch go if it freed up money for a point guard. Realistically, though, other players are not going to want to come to this group and we are looking at a 35 to 38 wins next year? Less if injuries. 2025-2026 it will be forced upon the Bulls no matter once DeRozan leaves. Given the age of this group, the window really was last season and this season. I’d blow it up now.

Sam: Boom? Nah, like I’ve said, I don’t see it with this management after just a few seasons and being one year removed from being in first at mid season. But that is the point they do have to consider, and despite what they say it probably is one possibility. This organization when they traded Jimmy Butler and often before has said and made moves based on not wanting to be in the middle. So I reject a lot of bemoaning I get that they are satisfied to be .500. It’s probably just not the right time to try that because they probably won’t have their 2023 (unless it’s top four) and 2025 first round picks. And it’s questionable whether DeRozan on an expiring contract or LaVine with four more years averaging $45 million can get you high draft lottery picks. Sure, it is possible from a team like, say, Oklahoma City that has a lot of picks and finally may be primed to make a move by adding a high scoring veteran. So you never say never. But it does sound more like maybe one more season of tinkering, which could include a big trade or sign and trade, but not a competitive meltdown. At least not yet. Look, their point had some validity. As far as they were away, they were not all that far away given the league parity these days and some teams one injury away. And there are a heck of a lot of injuries these days. Just consider that the Bulls were three minutes away from Milwaukee in the first round without Giannis. Yes, I know Miami won. But I still like the Bulls roster against the Bucks more than I do Miami’s with all those undrafted hopefuls and a broken down Kyle Lowry.

Michael Freeman: Is Ball expected to play next season? Bulls need a point guard, shooting and athleticism and it occurs to me that they cannot sign any significant players and retain Vučević. I like Vooch but feel that he is not the best fit for this squad and his contract is too big. Do you think the Bulls can make do with a smaller line up and Drummond off the bench next season?

Sam: Again, they are not closing the door on Ball, but I’d say they probably figure he won’t play next season, or at least at a similar level. It sounds like they hope he can contribute something by 2024-25, his last contract season. The complication is the payroll since the Bulls went all in two years ago; and it looked right. I know, Ball and all. So now they have four contracts on the books of at least $20 million, including Vučević a free agent. But the way it works unless Vučević is released, there’s a so called “cap hold” on the Bulls payroll that is in his case about 50 percent more than his salary. And for Coby White about triple. So the Bulls are out of the free agent market if they attempt to return everyone. They could have a salary cap exception to sign someone. But depending on contracts that could put them into the luxury tax and they might not choose to go there for just a role player. It’s not unreasonable despite the post season management comments that at least one of the main players could be moved. If the Bulls retain Vučević even at a somewhat lesser salary, they will be over the $134 million salary cap. Thus out of free agency. I can see Coby White if he doesn’t get a huge offer somewhere, which will be difficult given his numbers were down, playing on the qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent after next season. But that’s still another $10 million on the Bulls payroll. And that’s approaching the luxury tax line without considering Ayo Dosunmu, Javonte Green and Patrick Beverley. Which is why I expect some of the creativity the new management was good at in 2021. I’m anxious to see what they do.

Barron Hall: Bulls need a point guard. Can they afford Fred VanVleet? Without giving up Coby, DeRozan, or Zach? Rebounding forward would be nice but Patrick will do for another year. Having a tough-minded floor general like VanVleet solves the Bulls offensive weakness without losing too much from defense.

Sam: With a $22 million option that VanVleet is expected to opt out from, he’s out of the Bulls range, it would seem. There are some names out there — and they could bring back Patrick Beverley — like Russell Westbrook, who they supposedly tried to get in the buyout market, and point guards in various demand at various levels who would seem to be in their price range, like Dennis Schröder, Gabe Vincent, Jevon Carter, Dennis Smith Jr., Cory Joseph, George Hill and Frank Ntilikina. Though the obvious one whom they passed on before is Derrick Rose. It’s been no secret he’d like to finish his career with the Bulls. He’s certainly rested given the Knicks stopped playing him months ago. But before then he showed he still could run a team and score. He’s not an 82-game, 40-minute answer. But he still can get you 15 points every game with his eyes closed (and the Bulls badly need offense) and would be ideal to split the position with a defensive veteran like Alex Caruso. And there’s likely not a more popular player still in the hearts of Bulls fans. Sure, if the Bulls can get a high level starting quality point guard like Trae Young or Damian Lillard, OK I get that. Short of that, Rose seems like an obvious alternative.

Randall Sanders: Do the Bulls get a ping pong ball in the Draft Lottery since the Heat beat them for the 8th and final official spot?

Sam: No, but they could. It’s one reason why the play-in statistics didn’t count. Playing after the end of the regular season doesn’t mean you are in the playoffs. Losing in the play-in simply means not making the playoffs. The Bulls 2023 first round draft pick (they don’t have a second from a league penalty) is owed to Orlando to complete the Vučević trade. But there is top-four protection, which means it rolls over to 2024 if it’s top four. So then Bulls would get it. It’s been pointed out the Bulls have a 1.8 percent chance for the No. 1 pick and presumably ultimate unicorn Victor Wembanyama, which was about the odds that got them Derrick Rose in 2008 and transformed the franchise. But the Bulls also have an 8.5 percent chance to move into the top four. And there are two players presumably set to go Nos. 2 and 3 who could step right in and fill vital Bulls needs. Scoot Henderson of the NBA’s G League team could play point guard. Brandon Miller of Alabama looks like an ideal modern power forward who would give the Bulls a great look with Patrick Williams at small forward. Now that would be a heck of a plan. After those three, I haven’t heard of anyone else. If the Bulls can get a pick, I will have to to by June.

Tim Flynn: PWill and Ayo always are getting blamed for being too passive or deferring or whatever. The fact of the matter is the presence of the Big Three without the dynamic that Lonzo brought to the team before his injury has hurt the development of both players. As much as I like DeMar, he is the one who should go because Zach is much younger and just about the same player minus DeMar’s lack of 3 point shooting and Vooch who was 8th in scoring and 5th in Rebounds, Assists and 3PT% among all centers is not all that easy to replace. Also, without the ball dominance and number of shots by DeMar, Vooch could well improve on his offensive production. I don’t know what they could get for DeMar but that is another story. I cannot see the Bulls being any better than a 6th place team with the three guys returning and Ball not being able to join them. So, keep Zach and Vooch, give Coby the shot at starting PG, and PWill at starting SF. Caruso and Ayo as backup guards and do not resign Beverly. Re-sign Drummond and use him at least 15 MPG in most games. Dalen Terry should be in the kind of position as Ayo and PWill have previously been in, i.e., getting some PT but not with the consistency he might be worth.

Sam: With this team, the most positive things fans say is about DeMar DeRozan. In the United Center, he draws the MVP chants. He’s also the one I’ve gotten the most mail about whom they’d like to see with another team next season. Hardly because of what he’s done or not. He’s been one of the team’s best acquisitions ever outside the draft. But sometimes it’s time. Even with the acquisition of Vučević to complement LaVine, the addition of DeRozan and to a lesser extent Ball is what turned the team around and made it something of a contender in 21-22. Obviously, his clutch shooting was remarkable and he still was a top three for that award this season. He’s all you want in a player. Doesn’t skip games, scores, competes. One of the best interviews in the NBA. But sometimes someone helps give you credibility and you then need to a find the stairway to that next step. One part is DeRozan will bring you the most in return other than LaVine; and frankly, it seems wiser to retain LaVine given he’s younger, more athletic and fits more the way the game is played now with three-point shooting. As you note, Williams needs some room to play if only to finally find out if he’s worth paying long term. That needs to be at the wing position. If Vučević is retained, he needs to be in a playmaking position more often. DeRozan’s midrange game eats up a lot of Vučević's space. DeRozan perhaps more than anyone else on the roster could be a final championship piece for some team; it does not seem like for the Bulls next season without Ball. It’s never a mistake to retain a player like him, but this could be the time to cash in.

Brodie Larsh: Failure is life's greatest teacher. Now that this season can officially be considered a failure (sub .500 and missing the playoffs), what lessons did we learn about the Bulls? Is there a disconnect between Billy and AKME in the way they view the roster and play style? Has DeRozan been the best player but his play style is holding the team back? He's definitely one to watch this summer, and I could see a potential DeRozan for Jerami Grant (or some other very athletic PF) type of trade. I think Vooch definitely comes back unless there's a mutually beneficial sign and trade opportunity (maybe Christian Wood, Jarrett Allen, Mitchell Robinson). Clearly facilitating, shooting, and players that want to run are the priority. 

Sam: There’s been a consensus about the Bulls needs like you suggest with a point guard, rebounding size, athleticism. It’s, you know, figuring out how to add it without giving too much and with the salary cap restraints. The Bulls committed last summer to the continuity, which seemed a product both of the hope for Ball and the financial situation. It obviously didn’t work with Dragic as insurance for Ball eventually was released and Drummond as support for Vučević was underutilized. It was the right theory and, who knows, maybe the wrong guys. Donovan says his relationship with management is probably his best ever. But he does appear to prefer sizing down and speed while the players added didn’t fit that profile. The formula in the NBA generally is management accumulates the talent and the coach then is charged with putting them in the best position to succeed. It’s tough to pass on what you think is better talent, but if you are committed to the coach as the Bulls obviously are long term, then you have to give him personnel that fits his vision for playing. 

Mike Sutera: Here’s my free agent possibilities:
Seth Curry: An injury plagued season but a lethal 3pt shooter
Raul Neto: A solid backup PG
Justin Holiday: Third Bulls tenure? 3 pt shooting
Ish Smith: A well traveled but respected vet
Thomas Bryant: A serviceable backup big
Bruce Brown: Think Javonte Green but better and with a jump shot
Alec Burks: Solid 3 and D
Oshae Brissett:a rugged SF who could fill in for DeMar at times
Mason Plumlee: Wouldnt mind calling him our starting center if we loose Vooch.
Dennis Schröder: Played for Billy in OKC. Would be an upgrade if our starter
Max Strus: Lethal 3 pt shooter
Naz Reid: Young and can score inside and out
Josh Richardson: 3 and D
Dario Saric: Can play the 3 and 4 and hit the 3
Mo Wagner: Solid center 
George Niang: A bulls killer
Shake Milton: A nice combo guard
Terrence Ross: 3 pt shooter and still athletic
Terence Davis: A solid shooter and defender

Sam: It looks like the Bulls priced Strus out of their range with that game. I like Ross, though he’s long been underutilized. Something wrong there? Saric, too. I’ve mentioned if they move on from Vučević at least a Plumlee type at lesser money to address other needs and guard the rim. I could see Drummond opting in if the starting role becomes available. What no Isaiah Thomas? Oh yeah, Derrick Rose. Right, mentioned that.

Art Alenik: I know the knock on Caruso, that he gets injured, but I still love having him. I’d like to see if he can develop more consistency from 3-pt. range. It seems like he’s close. It’s much easier to keep AC if he’s shooting 3’s. He does just about everything else. That’s my thinking about Coby too. He’s fine as 6th man and 2nd string PG for now, and I hope he stays. I won’t rule out future improvement, maybe even court vision. Kid has no quit in him! Some say PatBev wouldn’t like role, but I’d bet he’d give you 100% every minute on the floor even as 12th man. I’d actually rather keep them both and lose Ayo. If you keep him, Pat Bev is the odd man out… unless you trade AC.

Sam: I think a lot of fans believe that Beverley will take a modest deal because he was so happy to be playing back home and for the Bulls. And then I heard he said on his podcast he expects to be paid next season upwards of $10 million, which would eliminate the Bulls. But he’s exactly right in saying and pursuing that. At his age with the end of his career close, he has to maximize his earnings for as long as he can. There are so many of these teams who don’t know how to compete, like he did for Minnesota last season, that could use him. Certainly, the Pistons, for example. If I were one of those teams, I’d be interested quickly. The thing with Caruso for next season isn’t so much his value — he had the team’s best plus/minus and the lineups he was in were usually the most effective — but after DeRozan he probably is the most valuable around the league to a contender. My guess is because the Bulls value him so much that he returns. But you know they have to listen given how this season unfolded.

Ateeq Ahmed: So much for load management. Clippers did all that but George and Leonard got injured just before and during playoffs. What can you do. There was a time they said not having training camp caused injuries during the season. That one made me laugh. Too bad because Clippers were looking good. Is it ok to say poor Russ? 

Sam: Good point, though injuries can be a fluke. You kind of root against the Clippers — if not for guys to get hurt since Kawhi was wonderful to watch the first two games—for what they did all season and assume the NBA wouldn’t mind seeing load management teams lose. You don’t want to send a signal the regular season means nothing as the Clippers do. I heard Michael Jordan say this often. So it was fortunate he didn’t have all that medical advice then. He always said you are in better shape to avoid injury the more you play. How quaint. Jordan famously when he broke his foot in 1985 left Chicago to “rehab” in North Carolina so he could start playing pickup ball because the Bulls doctors said he shouldn’t. By the way, he never was injured as a Bulls for the next 13 years. DeRozan, for example, is a guy who always says he doesn’t want to miss games, and surprise, surprise he’s almost never hurt. Same with Vučević. You see it in baseball now, the sitting out and surfeit of injuries, though maybe just because I follow the White Sox. But the less they play, the more they seem to get hurt. You know what load management really is? Certainly there’s a load of something to it.

Michael Mortenson: This series Warriors and Kings reminds why I fell in love with NBA basketball 60 years ago. Brilliant athleticism ferocious competition on every possession. Fast pace. No lobbying for fouls. I wish they hadn't suspended Draymond, because I think the Kings are capable of eliminating the warriors even with him playing. On another matter, has any coach done better than Jacque Vaughn? He won't be coach of the year, but I think he deserves it

Sam: Vaughn has done well, but coaches always improve a lot when Kyrie Irving leaves their team. Watching that series does show you the change in the NBA, that you better respond to the offense. And while the Bulls were proud of their defensive improvement and it helped in a late season mini-surge, you have to score in this NBA. What has stood out to me watching this series is the way the teams get the ball up quickly and push into their offensive zone in contrast to the way the Bulls often walked the ball out of the backcourt and walked into offense so much. True, a lot of that was due to the absence of Lonzo Ball and so many substitutes who were men, but not a next man up profile. There’s a reason that cliche is nonsense and why you add certain players. That series is a great model for the Bulls season because LaVine will run and I believe Williams will, also. Sacramento’s offense is not just talent. It’s much more difficult to defend when the offense is running at you before you have time to set up and adjust.

David Hay: The NBA tried this 'play-in' concept to attempt to address the tanking problem. All it achieved was teams now trying to avoid finishing 10th rather than 8th (see Mavs). The problem of tanking will never go away unless the rule of incentivizing losing is addressed. What would be the problem if the draft lottery was for all teams rather than those who managed to have dreadful seasons the year prior? 

Sam: Because you can’t let Wembanyama (or Scoot or Miller) go to the Bucks or Celtics. Salary cap and the essence of sports leagues should be about leveling the playing field as much as possible so intelligence and strategy overrule luck, which as we know, unfortunately, is usually the winner. Though the league sent a strong message with the fine for the Mavericks. And I didn’t see as much tanking. There’s always going to be some, but the NBA did succeed in cutting it down. Maybe some didn’t like it, but the Bulls might have if not for the play-in, and the rest of the season was a lot more interesting. I know, looking back you say maybe they should have. But at least you have to acknowledge they are trying to compete and respect the game.

Pete Zievers: NCAAW was on. Did you see it? I found it interesting tho I'm a little used to watching the guys. Guys are more explosive, but girls are pretty quick and a lot of them seem to pay attention to footwork. I think that the average female player might be smarter than the average male player b/c they have more space to work with so there's more choices per unit time; though some of these women are pretty good athletes in the game I saw they were pretty evenly matched and no one was going to simply overpower the other player the way you see guys do it. They have to play basketball a little more it seems. I'm a fan of the men's game but the basketball played by women was appealing.

Sam: I did watch to see this girl from Iowa, Caitlin Clark. I’ve tried this out with some NBA friends and have mostly been dismissed (I’m used to that). I think she can play in the NBA because she sees the court, especially on the move, better than most of the point guards I see in the NBA. And she’s already talking trash despite spending most of her time in Iowa. That girl is different.

Got a question for Sam?
Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

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.