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Ask Sam Mailbag: Takeaways from Thursday's win over Bucks, trade rumors and more

Michael Murden: After the Bulls beat the Bucks Thursday some people are naturally going to ask if the Bulls are better without Zach and DeMar. I don’t necessarily think so, but that looks more like how Coach Donovan wants them to play. How do the Bulls get that kind of energy and effort with Zach and DeMar in the lineup?

Sam: That’s what Billy has been asking for a few years now. I suspect that may have been the answer. Like Vučević emphasized it’s one game and it did take a great saving shot from Caruso and some brutal end game decisions by the Bucks for not fouling with four seconds when neither Vučević not Caruso were in shooting position and having the slowest guy on the floor Lopez in for the last play when all you had to do was encircle the three-point line. But as was discussed often after the game, that looked a lot more like what Donovan has been pining for. It’s probably not sustainable with that group of role players, but it may be this Bulls group’s inflection point and perhaps what a short rebuild might look like by getting into the draft and clearing out some contracts with the ability depending on what you take back to be well under the salary cap once Ball’s contract comes off after next season. I suspect the momentum for the door for Zach and DeMar increases with the team seemingly already working the Zach angle. The problem with the salaries, especially LaVine’s, is how much you might have to attach for someone to take it, and for DeRozan with already his “preferred destinations” being rumored if you have to take back salaries for several more years that might inhibit building plans. This is not baseball; it’s not so easy to make the deal that you want.

Ron Goldberg: It seems most NBA takes are incredibly time sensitive. One shot, or one game enforces every opinion unless it is opposite of your opinion and then it goes away for another day. I am sure you are getting a ton of hot takes about how much passion the Bulls played with last night against Milwaukee and how Zach not playing was the spark. My non time sensitive take on the Bulls is 3 seasons running and still one most NBA observers either ignore or defer on stating because Demar DeRozan is by all accounts a great guy. He is also the least winning player in the NBA today. He kills you with 2 pointers. You can’t trade 2 for 3 in Steph Curry’s NBA and survive. DeMar puts the Bulls in a hole every game he takes 15 midrange jumpers. It’s just math, and DeMar kills every equation.

Sam: But he is a nice guy, right? It would seem the Bulls may be getting there, albeit slowly. Or perhaps Thursday night expedited a little bit. That was the take when the Bulls signed DeMar and there was so much criticism that it was the worst signing of the summer; and then he was magical and despite what is suggested now a bigger reason for that great start than Lonzo Ball with all those game-winning shots and big games. But personal and personality also goes into life and business decisions as much as we’d like all to be unemotional. The new management inherited Zach and they chose DeMar. When it’s your guy versus the neighbors kid, well, there is a different feeling. Zach fits better the way the NBA plays the days, but DeMar appears to fit their comfort zone better. And Zach has been in all the trade rumors for a long time. It would seem DeMar may join him. There have been reports of DeMar extension talks. Might that also change?

Stian Nordvik: It's time for management to call the season a bust. They should trade DeRozan to a playoff contender when the window opens, he deserves to be in the playoffs for what he has done in his career. Is it possible to get a couple of draft picks for him? They do not need more players as of now, they should let Williams play 3, and let Sanogo and Taylor try out for 4. Ayo, White, Williams, Craig, Phillips, Drummond, Terry and Carter should be awarded with more playing time for the rest of the season. Come summer the Bulls could get a couple of nice draft picks for DeRozan and not making the playoffs.

Sam: Well, about the Sanogo and Taylor parts I’m not so sure. DeRozan makes $27 million, so unless it’s a team with a lot of cap room to absorb that and those teams don’t want an older player you have to take back that amount or close in salary. You don’t want several years of salaries. I doubt you get any serious draft picks given DeRozan is in the final season of his contract and it’s  half season rental. But he could be very valuable for a contender who feels close. He’s shown he still can win games in the half court, which is more playoffs than regular season. No one deserves, but he would carry his weight with a contender and could be a savior for a team in the playoffs the way he can score against pressure and that he still has a lot left. The thinking here often has been the Bulls owe DeRozan for what he has done for them by considering an extension. They probably would be doing him a huge favor by placing him where he can have a serious playoff run while he’s still able to make a difference for a team, which he still can. The Bulls just need to get something and not what would hinder the future. Like Jerry Krause used to say, don’t overlook addition by subtraction.

Stefanos Panayiotidss: You often suggest “Rather than a full rebuild we’ll see a sort of series of tweaks and an adjustment of philosophy to add players who fit Donovan’s vision better. I’d rather give that a look than the dynamite/draft pick route if it comes to that.”  Which players fit Donovan’s vision? Can the Bulls get any of them via trade?

Sam: I’ll concede I am starting to worry a bit about my philosophy, or, at least, my desire not to see the Bulls go through another of those (hopefully just) four-year plans during which the team is supposed to lose games for better draft picks and the fans and media meanwhile blame the coach for the losses. Artūras Karnišovas acknowledged the other day he also has been surprised by this. Which maybe suggests a two-year plan rather than stripping it all down for years of draft picks. We all heard Billy Donovan left OKC for the Bulls a year after they began to break down their roster following the 2018-19 season. They did have one unexpected season while getting much more than expected from Chris Paul, but then a few 20-win seasons. Yes, now you’d love to have their roster. But they also had some big time players to cash in like Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Jerami Grant and Steven Adams, and then Paul. It doesn’t appear the Bulls have nearly as much inventory. So one shorter term plan I like is the connect-the-dots with LaVine’s agent close with LeBron, and LeBron starting to endure blowout losses and Anthony Davis proving again not nearly enough, and Zach as that ideal third piece like Bradley Beal if he ever plays in Phoenix. The Lakers have injuries now, so they may not be panicking immediately. The one you hear tossed around is D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura and then the Bulls have to have the young, athletic big in Jaxson Hayes to start remaking their roster with speed and size in my view. Both Hachimura and Russell come off the books after next season when Lonzo Ball also does, and maybe no DeMar DeRozan. So the Bulls then could have a huge free agency pot of gold to spread around with lottery picks from this draft and 2025 (top-10 protected from the DeRozan deal). So you retain Coby White, Patrick Williams, Ayo Dosunmu and Julian Phillips with Hayes, two athletic high lottery picks, shooting in free agency, likely a still serviceable Nikola Vučević and…you’re back? Just a thought of many more we will hear.

Mike Sutera: What about Zach and the Pistons. They have 50 in cap space next yr. and no ones going there. Trade for Zach they have a lineup of Cade, Ausar, Stewart, Duren. Give us Ivey, Bagley, Bogdan, and two highly protected 1st.
Zach still young enough for them. The lethal shooter they so desire and they don't have to worry about defense as they have guys who can pick up the slack.

Sam: The Pistons are very interesting because of those factors. In a depressed basketball market like that with a young team, you generally have to overpay for the second tier free agents. Despite the Bulls results lately, Zach’s a legitimate NBA scoring star. It’s what they are missing. And you know with the contract they gave Monty Williams they are desperate for some success, and it’s going the other way now to an embarrassing extent. I’m not sure you could get all that, particularly Ivey with his potential. Though Williams is stubborn and has a history of problems with some players like Ayton in Phoenix and said not to be high on Ivey (I am). Those still are some intriguing additions with Bagley, at least, with athletic potential and maybe you squeeze out one draft pick. The Pistons much have a bunch. It seems like this will continue for a time, so I assume the suggestions keep coming. I’m sure the Bulls thank you.

Jo Morrison: What is insanity? Doing the same things over and over expecting different results. Sound like the Bulls? We have huge issues but doing little if anything about it. Slow starts, same starters, poor shooting and defense, same players. More turnovers and fewer free throws, same offense. Some subs barely get playing time, same Coaches. The time is now for good trades: DeRozan for Siakam? LaVine and Williams for Tyus Jones and Kuzma or Poole with a couple picks. Lonzo to Hornets for a player and a pick? Alex Caruso stays w Bulls! Get Jaquez from Miami.  

Sam: So in order while it might be a nice sentimental journey for DeMar — and I believe if not LA he’d love to finish his career in Toronto which he loves maybe more than any NBA player ever though New York and Miami were the latest rumors for him — the Raptors being in a similar position as the Bulls likely are looking for a huge haul for their most valuable player. Not nostalgia. Now, the Wizards; there’s a mess. Though they seem more about blowing it up for draft picks, so I doubt they are interested in the big salary. And, wow, it doesn’t seem like you’d want to get anywhere near Poole and his street ball/and1 game. Readers have mentioned the Hornets, but for Zach. Though we hope so, it’s highly questionable Lonzo would be able to play by next season. Though I do believe he still can have an NBA career with enough time off. Miami loves Jaime Jaquez, who is moving up in rookie of the year ratings and probably top five or six by now. I’ve said a few times I see the Bulls tying Caruso to the United Center floor before moving him. But it’s not inconceivable they might have to add him to a deal for someone to take LaVine’s salary, which is where that Lakers thing may come into play as many there believe LeBron would like to make up for his mistake of agreeing to see Caruso leave despite Caruso’s desire at the time to resign for less money than he was being offered elsewhere. LeBron has since admitted that perhaps even as he insists the front office makes all decisions that the Westbrook addition wasn’t his finest moment.

Shea Worth: All the media seems to love this in-season tournament. I think it's lame.

Sam: I believe the players mostly have agreed with you, at least until Tuesday. The sense I had, and it seemed apparent last week when the Raptors and the coaching staff didn’t even know they were eliminated when DeRozan went on his sportsmanship harangue, was even the teams were confused about it. Since it’s a “tournament” basically layered over the regular season games with the games and statistics counting for the regular season everybody was basically viewing it as just other games. Until Tuesday with all the elimination scenarios and tie-breakers. Sometimes fans and media make fun of the connection of the money to subdued competition, but these guys are great competitors. You don’t get to the NBA otherwise. And when there’s something right in front of them it gets their attention, like it did most places Tuesday. To me, the tournament began then, and I’m looking forward to the single-elimination, NCAA-style games starting Monday. Not that they or even winning the thing will mean anything other than the $500,000 each for the winners and $200,000 each for second. Probably more to the well-paid players the week in Vegas. But there will be rivalry type games in December that have been missing for decades since the regular season matches in conference shrunk to three or four games a season complicated by load managements that negated almost every potential meaningful regular season game. In the 80s, you waited and never were disappointed for Magic and Bird, Michael and Isiah or Dominique, Bird and Dr. J, Kareem and Moses. They circled their calendars and then went hard at one another. There hasn’t been anything like it since. Not that this will be, but guys will all play and there’s something on the table, as it were. And the NBA also gets to sell something else to the networks when the new TV deal comes up soon. Just had to get through the first three weeks and those brutal courts.

Mitch Mez: What happened to this kid, Chris Duarte. Had a solid rookie season with Indiana, but injury prone and has really fallen off a cliff. Worth a shot?

Sam: He did look like he was going to have a major role with the Pacers, but now with the Kings seems on the fringe of their rotation. Which, of course, gets you thinking about LaVine. After all, it was the Kings who gave LaVine his first big free agency offer a few years back that the Bulls matched. And they do seem like a team maybe missing just that one more dynamic piece. Like I’d want Hayes if I were dealing with the Lakers, if I were dealing with the Kings and I was the Bulls I’d be interested in Davion Mitchell, a tough, defensive minded point guard who seems out of their main mix. Mitchell, Duarte, you’d take Harrison Barnes, maybe that Sasha guy, though I’m not sure the money works but seems close. I assume that’s why these deals are a lot harder to do than it sounds. And why nothing seems imminent.

Guy Danilowitz: The point I think you make is you can nit pick the individual flaws of the players all you want but it really comes down to 2 huge flaws in this roster: lack of 3 point shooting and size. The game has changed and the stats show the Bulls have been left behind. 

Sam: I think there was a plan, though not so much the summer of 2021 with the prior Vučević trade and then the additions of Ball and DeRozan. Ah, the glory months. It was a gloomy time for the franchise with the lack of lottery luck and good players, but not franchise changers. So the new management pushed all their chips in and won that hand. Yes, we know about the subsequent Ball injury, though let’s not get too crazy about that. He was the fourth best player on the team playing for his third team and not shooting threes so great. True, he was a wonderful connecting piece, but it was DeRozan with one of the greatest clutch shooting seasons in NBA history and Zach and Vooch riding impressive shotgun. Having that Ball salary weight on the cap has been an anchor. It seems what happened with the additions the Bulls since were making from Beverley to Craig and Carter that the belief was the Bulls might not be able to run and shoot with the best of the NBA, if not the rest, but they could offset that with pressure defense that turned into transition scores and defense to play low scoring, close games, and then win their share. Billy Donovan has made it clear many times he wanted to play fast, or faster, on offense, but DeRozan and Vučević are not those kinds of players, and apparently they couldn’t find an adequate push guard. So they opted for the ball hawks in Carter and Craig to compliment Caruso and Dosunmu with the apparent idea of turning defense into offense. You know, sort of the Chicago Bears formula the last 40 years. It worked for a few games this season with those huge numbers of steals and points off turnovers early. But it’s difficult to sustain when teams shoot threes like they do, and so Donovan seems to often have found himself trying to match with offense and playing Carter and Craig less until LaVine and DeRozan were out Thursday. But are those 30-minute men? And, as Donovan knew in trying to moderate his playing time, Caruso is going to run himself into some missed games with his playing frenzy. It’s also difficult to cause so many turnovers when teams like the Nets so often dribble up, make maybe one pass and shoot a three. DeRozan and Vučević are more half-court players, but when you have those type of players you need more of the catch-and-shoot guys. Coby White has tried and has done well lately. The Bulls also experienced the other side of what the champion Bulls saw in the 90s. They’d have role players who made big plays at big times, and opponents remember that. And then you sign Luc Longley or Jud Buechler and where is that? It’s different when you are playing with Jordan and Pippen. Craig and Carter played basically with Giannis, Durant and many of the top players in the game. That playoff experience is valuable to have, but it’s also an adjustment when hardly anyone on your team is getting a double. Which also is why I’ve generally been opposed to that blow-it-up mantra because I feel like the Bulls have talent. Just that which needs some support and playing priorities. But if the season continues to spiral away then you never know how it will affect players and the people making judgments about them. The Bulls probably need a consistent philosophy of how they want to play and then implemented by people who fit that style. I know, harder than it sounds.

Conrad Diaz: Why not trade LaVine and DeMar and give the keys to the kingdom to Coby and Pat? Coby has shown major leaps as a defender and passer this season to go along with his scoring. Pat has started to find his groove these last few games and looks to be playing with a lot more aggression. The spurs seem to be taking things slow with Wembanyama, but adding a dynamic scorer like Zach could take some pressure off of him. The Bulls could send LaVine and get back Doug McDermott, Devonte' Graham, and a young guard like Blake Wesley or Malaki Branham, plus that 2025 pick back. The thunder have shown that they are a high caliber team, but they lack the seniority to make a long playoff run. DeMar brings a playoff experience that the Thunder do not have with any of their players. The offer could be DeMar for Bertans, Dieng, and one of the Thunder’s many first rounders this year. These trades open opportunity for Coby Pat, and Billy Donovan to run his preferred fast paced attacking in transition offense, and remove a lot of the isolation. This will also allow for guys like Dalen Terry and Julian Phillips to play and develop. Pat will be able to play on the wing a lot more and open up his game. These trades allow the Bulls to find their identity with defense and transition offense.

Sam: That does make some sense for the Bulls, and there have been rumors about moving McDermott on an expiring deal. But the Thunder is a very patient organization and not as flush with payroll as some others (remember, they didn’t want to pay Harden entering his prime), and the Spurs seem content to ride it out with a few more seasons of draft picks. But you do seem to have the idea.

Peter Toluzzi: This team needs at least a shake-up if not a blow-up. And the main problem is that the Big Three have never played to make each other better, and Donovan hasn't come up with a scheme that does. I still think Zach is part of the immediate future. While DDR has done his great service here and could be traded to a contender. We might not get as much back for him, but it allows us to continue to try to compete this season. In the meantime, I would start PW at his small forward preferred position, with Vooch, Coby, Zach and Torrey Craig. Bring DeMar off the bench for scoring until then, and AC when more defense is needed; both probably play in the 4th quarter anyway. 

Sam: As we know, you never say never in the NBA and things change and the everyone says it was all outside noise, speculation and uninformed. But at least all the reports in the media seem to suggest that Zach will be the odd man out first. Though there are a lot of hurdles to that with contracts, when players can become available Dec. 15 or late in January, if there’s an injury somewhere and a team gets anxious, or if there is and then they give up and wait ’til next year. Send home players so they don’t get injured? But then diminish their value? Still a lot of ceramic bowls in the air and no one has seen Red Panda lately. 

Jake Henry: Pat Williams quietly is having a nice season. He led the team in plus-minus before the Nets game, and once again leading the team. Amazing that two-way players, even those who aren't scoring 20 a game, are valuable and lead to winning and why one-way players have some of the worst plus-minuses.  

Sam: Glad to hear some positive Pat. It’s been a tough season for him, but amidst the recent gloom, the last five games with three starting before Thursday and Milwaukee he was averaging 11 points and 5.2 rebounds and back on target shooting 56% on threes. He had 12 Thursday. Given Caruso’s ailments and Williams’ positive play I can see Williams staying with the starters for now.

Brandon Niles: I like the idea of Vooch playing a Jokić-like role in the offense, but in reality I believe we should trade him. Watching these past few games it seems like he is having trouble fitting in with Zach and DeMar’s playing style. If we get a couple consistent guys from another team and start Drummond, I think it would be worth it.

Sam: Like with the LaVine speculation, it seems like trading season doesn’t even come close to beginning until mid-December and more likely into late January when more contracts can be traded. I’d love to know what they discussed when Vučević resigned and he talked afterward of discussing some things seriously. I had suggested last spring during the Nuggets title run that Vooch was no Jokić, but that he can dribble, pass and shoot. So give that style a try? It’s not something that seems to be in the Bulls offense. Or was it Thursday?

Frances Wooley: I have been reading about this years bulls and they are past disappointing; they lack energy game in and game out. And the coach doesn’t feature Zach LaVine till the end of the ball game and you need to feature Zack from day one to get him going when he walks off the bench. He should be the first five shots and it should be his the number one option and then on from there and they shouldn’t be looking. 

Sam: Well, it’s always nice to get an email from Zach. Nah, just kidding. Zach is such a graceful and athletic player that he can get his shots; lately, it does seem he’s had some foot problems he’s tried to play through that have slowed him. And now he is out for a week. But I do believe watching him this season he has tried to play “the right way” according to the direction. He hasn’t shot well for him, but he’s third on the team in assists and behind only Vučević and Drummond in rebounding. At the coach’s direction to move the ball more, he’s at a six-year low in shot attempts and still leading the starters in two-point shooting percentage in the offense they often seem to be using. Though his plus-minus remains a negative, it’s the best among the three main players. He is trying. Patrick Williams has the largest plus on the team.

Alejandro Yegros: I live in Boston and went to Tuesday’s game. It was hard to judge the Celts as they were getting open looks without trying much. The seats were great though! Zach LaVine does have a whiff of Reggie Theus about him. Vooch our Corzine?

Sam: Ah, the golden years. Nah, Vooch has a lot more game than Dave did and is more nimble. I always feel sad when I think about Dave and how he was treated in Chicago, even as a native son, Hersey High School and DePaul. The team was awful then and the exceedingly popular Gilmore was getting itchy. So the Bulls traded him for Corzine and Mark Olberding, the latter who was gone after one season. Dave stayed and did a lot to help Michael Jordan become who he was because Dave was a perimeter big man, yes, decades ahead of his time. For young Michael it was ideal as the lane remained open and he could begin to fly. But the fans never forgot Dave for Artis, and Corzine was booed…all-the-time. Yes, you can make a Theus for Zach comparison, and it’s not bad because Reggie was a great talent; a 6-foot-6 flashy combo guard who didn’t shoot as well as Zach, but a terrific athlete who could handle, pass and get to the basket, multiple all-star who was saddled with bad Bulls teams and as a result under-appreciated. Theus averaged almost 24 per game in 1982-83 before a contract dispute got him benched and traded and left open a shooting guard position. So in the 1984 draft….Theus journeyed around the NBA after that and in 1989 started for the Magic’s expansion team that also featured Corzine, who was injured early and missed most of the season after starting the opener with Theus.

Nicholas Hill: I'll spare you on the trade ideas. I'm sure you're inbox is full of them. What are your thoughts on the whole "the players aren't trying and they don't care?" idea. I personally think it's a lazy narrative. Who isn't trying? Who doesn't care? I do think there's a lot of frustration and a lack of chemistry out there between the players and coach. That contributes the most to the poor play to me. When a game that's supposed to be fun just feels like a job it starts getting hard to put forth the same effort throughout the game. The team needs to get back to having fun on the floor. Maybe roster changes are needed to make that happen.

Sam: They always say winning is more fun. People also seem to like you more. You are correct. They do care and they do try, though a reader the other day asked me if it’s the old scenario where the coach pulls the player aside and asks, “What’s your problem, ignorance or apathy?” And he answers, “Coach, I don’t know and I don’t care.” Old, but still worth a chuckle. I know, we need them these days watching some of these games. And no, Dunkin’ Donuts is not the name of a basketball team. And how about those great Bulls outside shooters. Yeah, too bad they are playing inside. Coach, about your team’s execution. What, you are all for it? So as I was saying…and maybe that’s a bigger indictment that they are trying. But sometimes the other guys are just better no matter how hard you try and what you do. For the Bulls these days, the perimeter shooting, pace and sharing have not gone their way consistently. I see the effort and commitment if not the results. After all, sports and investing is binary. Someone wins and someone has to lose.

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