Ask Sam Mailbag: The state of the All-Star game, the Bulls blossoming backcourt and more

Pete Zievers: Almost 400 points! Is the All-Star Game even worth having anymore? Football has dumbed down to flag football. Baseball is gadgeted up and way too constrained. Now basketball completely ignores half of the game. As a fan, I understand these guys (and their teams, too) are careful about injury. On the other hand, I was at the ASG in the Stadium and saw Isiah & Magic coordinate their teams, competing as the third quarter turned into the fourth quarter all the way to the finish. The Stadium was shaking and packed to the rafters. For these players, you'd think they'd see the ASG as a rare chance to see what basketball can be. Maybe it's the fact that there's no real point guards out there anymore. At the same time there are mixmaster playmakers like Dončić and Jokić (and it seems LBJ used to be). I do realize that defense is a secondary thing these days, but your suggestion of including Caruso seems pretty on-target here. Figure out a way to get Dereck Lively into an attitude too and send him out as a unit to clean up Dodge a little bit. Patrick Beverley time?

Sam: Ah, the good ‘ol days when Joakim Noah was an All-Star and he begged to remain in the game in the fourth quarter to play defense. And Jordan called out teammates, fellow All-Stars, for not playing hard enough. Alas, that’s gone unless, as I’ve offered, we can figure a way to get Caruso on the All-Star team. I’d put him on that Olympic team if I were them. Anyway, to get to your question, it really isn’t much worth having if you expect a version of a competitive game. Which is why I watched only part of the first quarter. You could see what was coming. And, after all, it was CBS premier week. If they can sell Queen Latifah as a cold blooded, athletic covert ops killer I’m in. The NBA world has changed and we’ll never again see those Magic/Isiah All-Star shows of the 80s and Jordan flying through the 90s. Look, the players do have pride, and most compete seriously even in the regular season. The player empowerment thing is one part of it, and guys anymore don’t like to risk being embarrassed or injured. Hurts the brand. Human nature also is part of it. People basically do what’s in their best self interest. Once you let the kids run class it’s longer recess and no homework. Like the way transactions have gotten manipulated these days. A team signs someone long term and commits hundreds of millions of dollars basically for their plan. The guy decides he’s not happy and then even the team agrees they’ve got to trade him. Because everyone seems to have bought into this ridiculous logic that not accommodating the guy ruins your reputation and no one then wants to play for you. Of course, if the guy wanted out so badly why would they want to play for you, anyway? It’s like that Phoenix golf tournament. If you keep giving in, then you eventually lose control. So things do change. But it’s OK; my sense actually is this generation doesn’t seem to mind the All-Star game this way that much as they seem comfortable with the video game depiction of half court shots and dunks. But if you want to blame someone for what the game has become, blame the NBA and not the players. The reason the games were so much fun and competitive in the 80s and into at least some of the 90s is it wasn’t this glamorous trade show/fashion runway in which the players basically are run through all sorts of sponsor and NBA do gooder functions to sell more NBA. Yes, it’s a business, as we always hear. The NBA even doubled down this weekend as reports came out that future All-Star cities would need multiple five-star hotels (bye, bye Milwaukee, OKC, Portland et al) and airports with a score of international destination flights. And foie gras-only restaurants. OK, maybe that’s next. The players are not dumb. They see what the NBA has turned the weekend into, a business bacchanal for its highest rollers with them as props. I can’t blame the players for also fitting into the cocktail party scene. No one needs to see you sweat. It’s fine to keep the game as fashion show. Nobody gets injured at those and everyone seems happy to admire the grace and beauty. No need to even keep score. It is an exhibition, after all.

Mark Queen: Coby's struggles continue. Are the minutes are wearing him down? We are really short handed. Not sure why Billy won't give the two-way guys a look. Could they give less than some of the other guys off the bench?

Sam: Maybe it comes to that; you could see against Boston Thursday Billy was trying to minutes manage DeMar and Coby some, and Boston was devoting a lot of attention defensively to Coby to make him work. Welcome to being the breakout player. The opponents start to take more notice. As Billy says, all part of the continuing Coby learning curve, from which, by the way, even if he’s not the betting favorite now, if you really are paying attention he has to be the league’s most improved. I suspect the coaches know that watching the film. Not being on TV enough hurts with the sub-.500 record. Meanwhile, Billy’s never been much for the two-way players, who, to be fair, mostly never get much of a look anywhere until they prove themselves, and of course, not playing much is their Catch-22 and thus unable to prove themselves. I think the larger issue is Billy likely doesn’t feel able to risk giving up a game with the decision of his bosses to try to win as much as possible to get into the playin/playoffs. So I guess you can’t blame him for not trying to look at some development guys as it almost seems now like six weeks of playoff games for the Bulls with every one mattering so much. That said I’ve taken a liking to Bitim seeing him some in the G League. And given the Bulls disparity in three-point shooting, which was painfully evident against Boston and to which everyone acknowledged. Bitim looks like he’s got three-point range and some size. The Bulls rebound well for their size, but they get caught up in so many of those four-guard sets now without Williams and Craig that it might be interesting to see Bitim in one long stretch or perhaps Drell. Both have had 30-some games in the G League, though given the circumstances and the games running out it seems most likely the Bulls ride the guys they have playing for now as long as they can stay healthy.

Kyle Mcgill: I love the future of the Bulls backcourt with Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu. Coby reminds me of a young Gilbert Arenas but with leadership qualities that Arenas never had. I was trying to think of a good comp for Ayo and the one I really like is Donte DiVincenzo. He has a lot of the same qualities and both are very good defenders that are perfect offensive role players. Just think what this Bulls team could be if Patrick Williams finally turns into that OG Anunoby type of player. Seeing those three play and get heavy minutes is what keeps me looking forward to the future.

Sam: So far it’s been a relatively small sample without any participation in the playoffs, so the jury is out, though there’s a reason for optimism. However, the immediate situation is that Zach LaVine should be ready to go by next training camp, and I don’t see him coming off the bench. And I don’t see the Bulls — assuming they still are trying to trade him — able to do so until he gets a few good months of play in and the talk again increases at the 2025 trade deadline. All indications seem to be the Bulls interested in retaining DeMar DeRozan, who though he has been effective has a diminishing market going on 35 years old this summer. So I can see him back along with LaVine, which also keeps Patrick Williams, I don’t know, maybe off the bench? Vučević at power forward with Drummond, who is a free agent and can walk without the Bulls able to match? If the Bulls extend DeRozan with a qualifying offer to Williams, I don’t really see how they could make a substantial dollar offer to Drummond. Unless Ball’s contract goes off the books, which takes some legal maneuvering. So while that potential backcourt does have some very exciting possibilities with Dosunmu’s development this season, it seems like it may be on hold for another season unless they do something with LaVine. Which is why maybe you finally accept less value for who is not playing if he is here. These playoffs assuming the Bulls get there — and I believe they will despite the current odds — should tell a lot for what happens this summer.

Michael Mortenson: The Bucks let Holiday and Allen leave, bring in Lillard, Middleton gets older and you fire the coach because the defense got worse? And does anyone have more fun at work than Steph Curry?

Sam: As to the Bucks, that is how the NBA works. The boss ain’t firing himself. Now they generally pay them well enough that they can transition into any number of lower paying jobs with their future secured financially. So while they miss the job, there is that. You’re correct about Curry, and it’s an indication of how well he’s liked that no one does more in your face stuff than he does with big or winning shots and everyone still likes him. I know there’s all this how much we’ll miss LeBron stuff, but for me it will be more Curry. He and Jokić, to me, remain the main most fun watch players in the league.

Art Alenik: Zach is the best fit (of the 3) into what the Bulls are trying to do; he’s also the most expensive and the least healthy. DeMar is not a natural fit, but I’m impressed at his effort to do so, running more, sharing the ball and even shooting some 3’s. I keep coming back to Vooch, who admittedly, I’d probably like better next to an athletic PF. I saw an article rating NBA Centers. Vooch was rated pretty high at 7 But it said his actual impact was disappointing 8 points worse when he was in the game. What if we trade Vooch for a PF or picks, then start Drummond and begin to look for a young, athletic center to push him back to the bench? Of course, Drummond may get a nice offer.

Sam: I also don’t see much market for Vučević turning 34 as next season begins. It’s true his shooting has suffered some this season, but I believe part of that has been being forced away from the basket to accommodate Drummond. He’s let’s say deliberate at times, but he’s skilled and smart and I’ve felt underutilized at times because I thought we‘d see more of him in a Jokić-lite role facilitating in the paint. He hasn’t played there as much as many expected (OK, me). To reiterate, it seems like DeRozan returns since he’s unlikely to be anyone’s main free agent target and other than with the superstar centers, the salaries of big guys are sort of the running backs of the NFL. Which makes it unlikely the Bulls even look to deal Vučević. Plus, as you note there’s a chance they don’t even get an opportunity to resign Drummond. And they’d be in deep trouble trying to compete without Vučević. He was management’s first big acquisition, first big extension and fits the mantra to compete. He’s likely not going anywhere.

Mike Sutera: The Nets are said to be looking to add 1-2 stars to go with Bridges. Outside of Donovan Mitchell who will likely opt to become a FA in the summer of 2025 then sign a Cavs extension this offseason there really isn't anyone available. Would they view Zach as a guy who would fit next to Bridges? I'd be willing to dump Zach as long as DeMar is not coming back. If we keep DeMar I want something good back for Zach.

Sam: You’d think that teams would have to see Zach play before making any trade decision, but in a weak free agent market perhaps we see some gambles. The problem with that is for taking on the salary liability the acquiring team almost certainly wouldn’t want to give up much of anything, and probably would even ask for something if LaVine is limited. I don’t believe he will be, and without any medical expertise and information to me he’s always proven to be a quick healer able to return to a high level of play even after much more serious injuries. And he’s still just 29 next month. I’ve long been in favor of retaining LaVine and using him more, but the Bulls seem to be moving on with Coby and Ayo and all indications are they intend to retain DeRozan, which hardly makes it worth it to have such a high salary LaVine as a role player. If you have a max player on the roster who’s not a big part of your plans it hurts your chances to add other players, especially with the uncertainty regarding Lonzo Ball for next season. His salary finally officially comes off the books after next season, and if you can move LaVine’s, the Bulls could be a big time player for free agents and trades in the summer of 2025. In that case, it might be time to gulp and just see if you can get off the salary without waiting too long to try to get what you consider “value” and keep running in place as a team. Like former GM Jerry Krause said, sometimes you have to subtract in order to be adding. If the team can improve and you have a plan you can’t worry what everyone else thinks. It’s always about doing what’s best for your team. Like they say, listen to all that noise from outside and you could end up sitting with them.

Ateeq Ahmed: Just read about Torrey’s injury. Huge bummer. Feel bad for the guy. The push for playoffs is gonna be even more real now. This should get Carter more playing time and hopefully he can be a big help off the bench. 

Sam: It also would help if Carter could grow maybe a half foot in the interim. Tough losing Craig with Patrick Williams apparently not close to a return. It’s been difficult with Craig going out again and effectively ruining his season after his recent injury absence. Injuries can happen to anyone, young and old, in shape and not so much. Though you also hope the unusually hard road he took to get here being overseas and through G League and summer leagues and now age 33 after being a rookie at 27 and how hard he competes isn’t going to make this a regular thing. But with Vučević, DeRozan and Craig into their 30s, Drummond having hit 30 and Caruso there next week, you do wonder about how the mix will be in the next few years.

Kieron Smith: Could Derrick Favors save us at power forward with Craig and Williams out?

Sam: Henri Drell? Well, he is 6-foot-9. We’ve — Ok, me — figured the Bulls were going into the buyout market for shooting, though it looks like Gallinari and Thad Young passed. Now with the power forwards out, maybe if Davis Bertans gets bought out by Charlotte? Favors was a name with the Bulls earlier this season and then he went with Windy City. I haven’t seen him play much there, and it’s tough at 32 to come in and have that impact after being away so long.

Omar DeJesus: What do you think would have happened if Bulls kept Wendell Carter and drafted Wagner instead of Patrick Williams? I understand that Vooch was a dominant center at the time and the injury to Lonzo Ball hurt the process, but that is the problem for trading for older players over younger players. 

Sam: Not a great exercise since you don’t know if the Bulls would have selected Wagner given the wide disparity in selections when they had a high pick in the Patrick Williams draft. And it’s not like the Bulls wish list is to become the Magic, who are eighth in the East a few games ahead of the ninth place Bulls. There’s been fan angst about Vučević, but if the Bulls had kept Carter at center we’d be saying the Bulls have no center. OK, you’d make the case with Drummond, who you couldn’t count on to have picked up his player option last summer to remain with the team. Vučević still gives the Bulls a legitimate NBA big man who has been reliable with his health and consistent with his scoring. If anything I’ve felt he could do more in a Jokic sort of game, though that is not the Bulls preference. Wagner has a chance to be a terrific player, but even as Orlando then got the No. 1 overall pick in Banchero and used the other Bulls first rounder, they’re still a team hoping to solidify a spot in the play-in tournament. Vučević as the first big move of the new management group also signaled a willingness to make a splash and perhaps that influenced the players who followed him to come to the Bulls and they were a first place team until, well, we know. Vooch hasn’t been the problem.

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