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Ask Sam Mailbag: Thoughts on the young Bulls season, Vooch, Coby White, and more

Jay Choi: We all know Donovan doesn't like to put 2 bigs on the floor at the same time but while the season's still early, he should at least experiment using Vuc and Drummond together. Unlike Tristan Thompson, Drummond has quick feet for a big man to contain smaller players and I believe he can bring Rodman effect for better defense and second chances on offense. With Billy's current system, we will continue to witness inconsistency at both ends of the court.

Sam: It’s something Billy was asked about preseason, and he acknowledged the possibility against big front lines like the Cavs. Of course, since Drummond doesn’t shoot much and hasn’t shown his preseason three-point game, that puts Vučević back outside where so many say he shouldn’t be. The Bulls aren’t a great rebounding team, but it hasn’t been a regular issue. I doubt we see it because Billy’s practice has been to default to smaller lineups as he tries to inject transition into the Bulls game. Though we see some odd lineups with Derrick Jones more often at center, Billy seems most comfortable with that to try to change the pace of play. I suspect he fears too much of a stagnant game with the twin bigs.

Michael Murden: Sometimes as I’m watching Bulls games I think to myself that they would be the best team in the Eastern Conference if Zach and DeMar defended like Alex Caruso. But then I wonder if that’s a fair expectation given how much of the offense Zach and DeMar are asked to provide. In general, what’s a reasonable expectation for how much defense a team should expect from its best offensive players? 

Sam: Often as I’m watching games, I wonder why Alex Caruso can’t average 28 a game like DeMar, which would make the Bulls the best in the East; that would solve a lot of problems, it seems. Guys are who they are, and that goes back more to management than the coach. It’s no secret who guys are when you get them. And then, as I often lecture, you can’t expect or demand them to be something else because that’s what you need. Zach did some good defensive stuff with the Olympic team, but that was because he had a half dozen big scorers to play with. He’s a better defender than he had been, but not his specialty. Management knew that about he and DeRozan, which is why they signed Ball and Caruso. And it was working nicely with a top five defensive rating before Ball was injured. You can’t replace that by telling DeRozan to be someone he’s never been. There aren't many great two-way players in the NBA, especially those who score like Steph Curry, Trae Young and Dončić. You have to work with what you have, which leads to maybe replacing one of the so called Big Three in the starting lineup, which coaches don’t like to do. After all, Donovan saw the fuss about sitting LaVine a few minutes at the end of a game. But Donovan does quite a bit of staggering rotations to mix and match offensive and defensive guys. The Bulls currently rank 13th in defensive efficiency; see, top half. Not so bad.

Mike Worth: There was an interesting story in the Ringer about the Bulls; the positive is the national media writing about the Bulls. The negative not so positive. This was the headline, “Chicago has backed itself into an unenviable corner and possibly the worst situation in the entire league. Changes could be coming soon.” It says the future isn’t bright with older stars who aren’t starring and tanking is the answer. Is it?

Sam: Tanking is not the answer, as we learned in four miserable years of seeking out draft position. I don’t expect the Bulls to ever try that again even in the midst of the regular demand to “blow it up” when the losses start coming. I’m sure the Bulls never will follow the blow it up scheme again, and for now I really don’t think much is going on or going to happen because as I’ve noted before, Karnišovas said he prides himself on being extra patient, and the team seems committed no matter how the rehab is going to wait out Lonzo Ball’s return. But the trade speculation begins. A fan sent me a crazy one of DeRozan and Vučević to the Lakers for Westbrook and those Lakers 2027 and 2029 picks. Sure, can’t wait for seven more years to get a draft pick. Obviously with something like that it’s someone not following the NBA. But the article you reference does seem knowledgeable.

I get the point, and it’s not outlandish. Because the best “asset” the Bulls have now to do something is DeRozan, who has emerged, or reemerged, as one of the league’s elite scorers, which means he could be that elusive final piece for some team. No one else on the Bulls really fits that, and as important offensively as DeRozan has been, the Bulls also have to understand he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame, but is missing the title. He has the money, the stats, the fame. He never says much about it, but how badly must he feel to be the guy the Raptors traded so they could win a title. And then they did. I’d hate that. That hurts. After next season when his contract expires, there’s certainly a reasonable chance as much as he seems to like the Bulls that DeRozan wold choose to chase a championship. And not as a Glen Rice end-of-career addition. The Bulls couldn’t afford to let him walk for nothing.

Like the Ringer story points out, how good would the Suns be adding DeRozan to Devin Booker and Chris Paul? It also would put DeRozan in an ideal spot of not having to carry so much offense, but being there to receive passes from Paul and shoot. And never having won a title in franchise history, you could see the Suns making a bold, short term move. The Bulls could reclaim some draft capital as the Suns have all their picks, and there’s Suns salary to match with Jae Crowder, whom the Bulls then could move on for more picks. A shooter like Landry Shamet would look nice with the roster the Bulls have, which wouldn’t mean a lottery chase since the Bulls still would have a deep reserve of veterans. And then the intriguing part to maybe even expand the deal with those questions about whether the Suns want to pay Deandre Ayton long term. After all, they made him get an offer. And the team is for sale. He’s got to approve a trade, but maybe he’d want to be the man in Chicago; and short term how good would DeRozan and Vučević look with that Suns roster? There’d be no holding down that offense. And they’ve got defenders in reserve. And then for the Bulls Drummond is, as he has said, a starting level center. There’s possibilities there for both teams, though I still doubt it for this season until Ball’s situation is resolved.

John Stuercke: Boston would love the great offense DeMar can bring to the Celtics. They want to win now. We get Grant Williams and start him at PF and we want a #1 pick from 2023 or 2024. Move Williams to PF and defense against Giannis gets a major upgrade. If they want more, send them Coby. 

Sam: True, that’s another team where DeRozan’s sharpshooting could be the final piece to a title. But there’s not as much there for the Bulls as there would be, hypothetically, of course, with a team like the Suns. The Celtics don’t have their pick this season from the Brogdon deal, and I’m not that big a Grant Williams fan. I think you need much better to move on from Patrick Williams. DeRozan is a loyal guy, and you can see he appreciates the Bulls coming for him after it didn’t look like he had a great landing place before last season. But he can’t have that many years left at this level, and you want to see a guy like that at least have one legitimate chance to be on a championship team when he still is a valid contributor. And the Bulls be proactive without just reacting to lottery picks. The goal is to remain competitive because then you still maintain a landing place for a top player. I suspect that’s the path the Bulls remain on for the immediate future.

Mike Sutera: I’d guess Derrick Rose gets moved at the deadline for a 2nd rounder. If I were Warriors I would trade for him. Help address the loss of Payton.

Sam: Or maybe the Bulls? Starting below. 500 as the Bulls have, as we know, produces trade speculation and suggestions of which, of course, I am adverse to. But just to humor everyone we’ll continue with the trade talk. Someone else sent me a crazy Knicks one of Obi Toppin and picks for Zach LaVine. I know having grown up in New York City that delusion about sports is a vocation. I hear Knicks fans on the basketball call-in shows talking about their young team. Of which none but Brunson seems like a starter. Maybe Barrett for some teams. It’s still a mess of a roster, and you could see them sliding out of things, and Derrick continues to play well, if not nearly as much with Brunson there. Brunson, by the way, is really good, smart, tough, skilled. And not bad for 33rd in the draft. Toppin doesn’t look like an NBA starting player to me, which is the New York blindspot of building up guys because they play there. Derrick may not move the needle like DeRozan, but he’d help someone, and he’s another guy you’d love to see have a legitimate chance to get to the Finals for the first time.

Joseph Austin: Please let me be clear that I like the additions of Drummond and Dragic. I even believe that Dalen Terry can be a rotation contributor. Still, fans and media alike all knew that the Bulls needed more shooting on the roster. Why didn’t management address that problem? Teams can double team strongly on DeRozan because they don’t believe that other guys can make shots outside of Zach. 

Sam: Well, I think they knew, but they did address needs in a backup big man and a point guard with Ball uncertain. Plus, I believe they were counting on Coby White to fill that shooting need some, and he has at times. The issue may have been with having to retain LaVine and pay him, they ran up against the luxury tax line, which meant losing close to $20 million in pool payments to add maybe an 11th man. I know we all like fantasy sports team building, but sacrificing maybe $20 million for a Bryn Forbes type seemed a lot to ask of anyone.

Ateeq Ahmed: Really though, Coby is so great off the bench. I noticed he’s playing a lot of defense this year, too. Do think he’ll still be traded? I hope not. 

Sam: I don't believe so since with a contract decision coming up, his scoring isn’t quite at the level yet that another team would give up enough. Which makes him a lot more valuable to the Bulls as he’s started to show flashes of that heat-up shooting the team needs. It will be another interesting question what the Bulls do after this season. Coby hasn’t seemed the least bit concerned, and I believe him. Going by past patterns, you’d figure the Bulls would let him became a restricted free agent and see what his market might be.

Farhan Arshad: The Bulls are currently tied for 13th in the league in rebounds per game despite having two of the best rebounders centers of this era. This leads me to the question, why have the Bulls gone two straight seasons without adding a legit PF to the roster? I understand that the league has transitioned more towards skill, versatility, and quickness. For a lot of teams, small ball is a true asset but if I'm being honest, I've never watched a Bulls game and thought 'wow, thank goodness we went small... what a tremendous advantage." If anything, we seem to give up a lot of boards, waste a lot of energy trying to overcompensate for our lack of size, and then rely on DeRozan to bail us out for what typically amounts to winning in the hardest possible way. Lonzo Ball actually covered a lot of these weaknesses with his length and often overlooked rebounding ability, but isn't it odd that we won't carry at least one traditional power forward just to have that option?

Sam: It seems like the Bulls made it clear they were committed to developing Patrick Williams at that position and giving him the majority of the playing time. Even when there were trade rumors last summer, the word around the league was the Bulls considered Williams an untouchable unless for the highest level players. So that wasn’t a priority as much as the backup center and emergency point guard, who they added.

Kevin Hoffman: I just want to express that fans seem so quick to want Vuc out and I never understand why they criticize his play instead of the team's. People seem to think that he should be putting up Magic numbers no matter what, and when it's not there, they assume he's washed. My analysis is that if the team was giving many more touches to Vuc that he actually would be putting up those numbers. Obviously DeRozan is still stellar and saves them all the time, but think they need Donovan to let him know that there are other guys (Lavine) who can contribute at the end. I know Zach wasn't shooting great but had some nice plays earlier in the 4th against OKC. If there ever was a game to get it to Vooch in the post, this was it! He opened the season preaching his post up presence, and every time he's gotten the the ball from his team often - not just a couple - but frequently gotten the ball inside, good things happen. And if you're thinking way ahead for anyone potentially arguing that teams would 'figure it out'.... why don't others see that's a good thing? Some teams immediately double DeMar... imagine if they had to choose between immediately doubling DeMar or Vuc? Why isn't he getting the ball in the post more often, I'm not saying never, but just more?

Sam: It’s been sport again to question Vučević with his three-point shooting with the plea to get in the post. But what’s a man to do? Sure, he could slam his way in there and start screaming for the ball, which isn’t him. More significantly, however, is the signal he’s often sent, which is to get out of the post. It’s obviously not some massive redesigned offense, but one significant change has been assigning Vučević to the short three-point corner. Vučević and Donovan noted earlier this season how many more threes from the corner Vučević is making than in his career. Because, you know, he’s being asked to go there. It seems often like the middle is being opened more to accommodate DeRozan’s midrange game. Which doesn’t preclude Vučević getting inside. But he obviously is being asked to help spread the court and get his defender out of the middle by going beyond the three-point line. So should he not shoot? To me, it’s inappropriate to fault Vučević for his three-point attempts when so much offensive design puts him there.

Mike Queen: I saw a blistering condemnation of the NBA in the New York Post about all these resting players, like the Warriors in New Orleans. Are owners pissed that they do this?

Sam: I guess not or they would make them play. Assuming you can do that. It’s really an abomination, and contradictory, really because now you’d think it’s not as big a risk to have a shorter career because you make so much money annually, the average salary in the next labor deal expected to exceed $10 million. Which also may be why no one says anything. There’s more caution now without any science to back it up that these rest periods preserve careers. I think what it comes down to is that irrational fear that if you don’t do it and another team does, then you’ll get a bad reputation and free agents won't come play for your team, which, of course, is ludicrous since every free agent basically takes the most money. See Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal, both guaranteed never to play in the Finals. The current labor deal runs through 2023-24, but later this month if either side opts out the deals ends after this season. Which, I suspect, is why the league isn’t cracking down on anything and not involving itself in issues you’d think it would like attendance and the Warriors fight because of the fear of getting into a dispute with the union before negotiations. And then the possibility of a lockout at a time the TV deals are coming up after the 2024-25 season and league officials’ dreams turning to dollar signs with all the supposed streaming and gambling possibilities. Follow the money.

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