Ask Sam Mailbag: Will the Bulls trade back into the Draft, possible NBA stars on the trading block and more

Jeff Lichtenstein: Time to blow it up. I just don’t see how they improve on 40 wins with 2 keys guys who were healthy and 33/35 years old. They have no cap space.  Terry is a role player at best so no growth from last year’s draft. No growth from no draft in 2020. They have no draft picks coming in to make an impact. Unless Williams takes a giant step, it's 40 wins best case scenario. Maybe they get an old point guard and old three-point specialist and everyone healthy and no one loses a step, they sneak into the play-in? They’ve tried that old point guard though.

Sam: Patience. That is what Karnišovas counseled back at the trade deadline, as I recall. But I do believe they have seen some things. The one thing Karnišovas was uncompromising about was that there’s is no major lottery destination restructuring. I’m in agreement with that given the parity in the conference. You know, they were leading Miami, yadda, yadda, yadda… OK, not this Miami. But I do believe there will be a significant Bulls changes this summer. Or at least they will seriously be trying. I was at the Draft Combine this week and heard from an insider that he believes the Bulls are done with this Big Three. But I did hear it from him outside, so there could be a credibility issue given that. Sources who may or may not know agreed. Of course, such an observation doesn’t need Sherlock Holmes. Vučević is a free agent, DeRozan is going into his last contract season and LaVine has some huge financial seasons ahead. That one of them would not return can come from both informed and uninformed sources. Though watch that space. I expect a change in that core.

Jonathan Cabuhat: The blazers supposedly are shopping their No. 3 pick for a veteran that can help dame achieve his goal. Do you think it's time for the bulls to explore that trade? Trade Zach & Caruso for that No. 3 pick that could be Scoot or Miller, plus Nurkić and Simons for salary matching, and removing the trade restrictions of the pick that the blazers owe. I think that would be a win-win for both teams. DeRozan would be a great mentor for this young bulls, plus emerging Simons would compensate the lost of Zach. 

Sam:  And there you go. The Portland No. 3 pick in this top heavy three-player draft has been the target du jour being served up in most of my mail since the Tuesday lottery drawing. The Bulls’ fan dream scenario being drafting point guard Scoot Henderson. And if not, modern offensive power forward Brandon Miller, both positions being needs in the Bulls starting lineup. Though it probably takes more than you suggest because teams rarely trade a top lottery pick, especially one who is considered a possible star. Unless they feel they are one player away (Cavs and Andrew Wiggins) or they cash in for a big time package. With your scenario giving up Nurkić and Simons, two non-All-Stars, for a multiple All-Star and projected All-Star is far from reasonable for Portland. If I were Portland I’d trade Lillard because I think they are far away. And for multiple No. 1 picks, like to Orlando who has two lottery picks plus young players to throw in. But the speculation remains they are committed to Lillard and adding a veteran to accommodate him. But in the Bulls scenario it would require much more than LaVine, Caruso and a non-lottery pick. Plus without Nurkić, Portland would be the league’s smallest team and basically so guard heavy to be uncompetitive. 

Will Pennix: The Bulls have now lost the draft lottery gamble and do not have a draft pick this year. It has been widely speculated that the Bulls and Portland will work out a deal to alleviate the Bulls' hold on Portland's draft capital. Portland owns the Knicks' pick at #23 but I do not see that as a sufficient return for the Bulls to release that hold. Portland is on their annual pursuit of talent to pair with Damian Lillard. Is it plausible for the Bulls and Portland to make a deal around this year's #3 pick and DeRozan? I know there would have to be salary coming back (some portion of $28 mil) to the Bulls. So the Grant sign-and-trade.

Sam: Again, it seems to me the Bulls would have to give up at least LaVine, Caruso, Coby White or Patrick Williams and the pick to justify getting No. 3 and the sign and trade to net Grant. Though LaVine is superior to Grant, that’s still 20 points Portland would give up with Grant. And Zach then compensates with 25. The big sticking point is the No. 3 pick because no team wants to be the one that everyone looks back on who traded the rights to Luka Dončić, Kawhi Leonard, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant or Scottie Pippen. It takes decades for franchise to live down those mistakes, and the Trailblazers don’t appear close to competing. Though it hasn’t worked out for Golden State, even they feared moving a top three pick when it did seem they were just a player away. Fans love the draft and thus teams then tend to overvalue those picks, especially now in what everyone is calling potentially one of the best drafts in a decade. If Portland is willing to give up the pick — and they could be — it probably for the Bulls just starts with LaVine and Caruso. 

Art Alenik: I wonder whether Charlotte will pick Scoot even though they’ve already got LaMelo and about 3 other PGs. I think so. LaMelo has had some injuries. And it’s not so bad to have an ‘extra’ starting-level PG. You can always trade the one you like least for something good. That might be AK on the phone.

Sam: You’re probably right that you can never have too many point guards. I guess we should understand that given how difficult it’s been to find one once they lost one. And LaMelo does get hurt a lot. Plus, the top of the draft always is supposed to be about best talent available more than positional need. Immediately after the draft, I wrote that it made some sense for Charlotte to select Miller. But on second thought… It also was a bit worrisome to see an ESPN report that Miller showed up at the Combine not in great shape and worrying some teams in his interviews. Especially with that death. Miller wasn’t charged and cleared to play (no surprise with the colleges) and there have been multiple reports NBA officials were satisfied with his explanation. I have no idea what happened and maybe it all was a mistake. But someone did die, Miller had a gun, according to a police report on ESPN, and we have this Ja Morant stuff going on. I hope there’s nothing to it because the kid looks like a potential NBA star and seems contrite and concerned. But if you can’t trade for the rights to Henderson — who is the only player I’d want to give up a lot for — I’m not sure how much I’d be willing to give up. And is Charlotte owner Michael Jordan into helping the Bulls again?

Scott Lucas: The Bulls are at a cross roads and to me seem very much in a similar position that Gar/Pax found themselves in when they traded Butler being stuck in the middle. If I’m AKME I’m making drastic changes and am not returning any of the “big three” as they played the most minutes together of any trio and were still under .500.
Trade #1 with Portland:
Send: Zach LaVine and the Portland protected draft pick
Receive: Anfernee Simons, Jusuf Nurkić, and the #3 overall pick in 2023
Trade #2 with Dallas:
Send: DeMar DeRozan
Receive: Christian Wood (sign-and-trade), Josh Green, first round pick (2023 or future)

Sam: I dismissed the first trade as someone who has to hate the Portland franchise. I could see some possibilities with the second given DeRozan has just one last season on his contract and has indicated previously about finishing his career back home in LA. But all indications continue that the Bulls value DeRozan not only for his game, but his impact with the younger players. Of course, if you can get the right deal. I doubt you can get two players and a first round pick for what could be a rental player with one year on his deal. And Dallas not very close to playing for the conference finals again.

Josh Redman: Scoot Henderson is exactly the type of player the Bulls need. With the Hornets at 2 not needing a PG, and the Blazers at 3 not needing a PG, do you think there’s a possibility of DeMar for Scoot? Portland’s chance to win now with Lillard is running out. We could send DeMar, Portland’s future first that we have the rights to, and Williams for that pick. There would need to be another team involved to make the money work. 

Sam: DeRozan, North Carolinian Williams and a first makes some sense. But really not for a team like Charlotte that is so far from competing. Henderson may not be that superstar for now since his shooting remains suspect, but he’s being viewed as maybe a generational-lite player who in many respects outplayed — not head to head — Wembanyama when the two met early last season in some exhibition games. Fans tend to be much more excited for what they never have seen and can fantasize about than what they have seen and know. And who isn’t LeBron or Durant. Or even Jokić.

George Wilson: I was wondering what you might think of this being a possible cause of so many more foot and leg injuries these days. Now I know the court has been crowded around the edges for decades now, especially going back to the Rodman kicking instance. But the amount of torque on these guys legs sprinting out to close on a wing three-point shot only to have to stop on a dime is really kind of ridiculous. Multiplied by several times a game and it's a wonder we don't hear bones popping more. And oh yeah, can we please get rid of the charge already? This crap of watching guys run and jump in front of someone to get a call is getting really old. Plus that bad defense leads to injuries both ways which is bad for the game as well.

Sam: I agree with you on the charge. I like a charge call, but when you are guarding someone; not jumping across the lane to get in someone’s way. That’s not defense. I understand there’s all this switching these days which blurs defense. But defense is and should be moving your feet and staying in front of your man. And not running across the court to flop in front of someone. Actually, what I think causes so many injuries is players taking so much time off during the season through load management and teams being overly cautious that their bodies don’t prepare for the levels of contact and pressure. I don’t have stats or science, but I don’t recall as many injuries as we see now. For one thing, the players today could wear sneakers heavier than their pillows so they are not spraining their ankle every time they land on someone’s toe. The great Boston Celtics dynasty teams spent two weeks in training camp just running before they even were permitted to use a ball. It seemed like hardly anyone ever got injured. It seems like many of the guys who rest the most never much get better.

Mike Sutera: This works: Knicks Fournier, Hartenstein and Grimes for DeRozan. Any chance?

Sam: Actually I might look at something like that. Thibs sees things short-term. And though it doesn’t sound like a lot for an All-Star, DeRozan guarantees you just one season. Hartenstein did some very good things in the playoffs and they have Mitchell Robinson. Thibs forgets guys, so maybe Fournier can make some shots if he actually gets to play. But actually of the three main Bulls guys, I think there’s the most support internally for DeRozan. Which doesn’t mean it can’t change.

Arthur Len: Another trade proposal I’ve seen a few times is Lonzo (plus Dalen Terry & maybe DJ Jr.) for Gordon Hayward. Nothing against Hayward, but he doesn’t do anything we need (32% 3-pt. shooter, 4 boards/game, defense??) and he’s an injury waiting to happen. I’d much rather wait on Lonzo and see if he can come back in 2024-25 than trade him for that.

Sam: I’m not sure I’d count on Ball then, either. I guess you can hope, but that’s a long time away and a lot of recent surgeries. You hope for his sake he can return. But it seems unlikely you’d ask or expect him to be that Lonzo. Hayward is going into his last contract season, and I agree it’s questionable how much he can produce given how often he misses games. But consider that he didn’t have an injury as serious as Ball’s and this is five years now of this uncertainty and missed games, an average of about 35 per season. He was on the way to a heck of a career as an All-Star when he was with the Jazz. Another tough break. He’s still reasonably productive when he plays; but you never know when. No, they’re not trading for Lonzo even if it’s good company for LaMelo.

Ateeq Ahmed: Why do coaches like Monty Williams get fired when their teams lose? I get last season. This year, some of the regulars he went to battle with were traded for KD, Paul and Ayton got injured, and they ran into a hot Nuggets team, who you can argue was the better team. Maybe they want a new voice. I can see him getting another opportunity with a young team. 

Sam: Billy Donovan is closing in on most senior coach in the East. I think he’s already tied for second with Thibs at three years. Actually, the Phoenix thing is easiest to figure out given it probably was the most surprising. New owner who obviously wants to be hands on — and not just the ball going out of bounds. Wants his own guy. Williams supposedly can have the Detroit job if he wants it. It is a lot of musical chairs. Budenholzer got saved by the Nets injuries a few years back and Giannis got on a run. But it is surprising how few plays they run for Giannis and Milwaukee is nervous about losing him in a few years. First round and out didn’t surprise that many. But mostly bosses don’t fire themselves. The GMs tend to have the intimate relationship with the owner. Chain of command and all that. Coach answers to GM and GM answers to owner.  When the owner asks what’s wrong, the GM generally points to someone else not named him. And like they say, you can’t fire (all) the players.

Riaz Ahmed: I was stunned to see Isiah Thomas sitting next to new Suns owner Matt Ishbia throughout the playoffs. It turns out Thomas is on the board of Ishbia's mortgage company. Maybe Isiah knows mortgages but despite earlier Suns denials Thomas would have no role with the Suns, rumors are percolating that Thomas may become the new Suns coach. Maybe the rumors are for clicks but it begs the question, is there any coach in the world that can baby Kevin Durant and not lose Durant's interest after 1 year? Durant came to Phoenix because of Monty Williams and poof Williams is gone, and who knows where Durant's mind is now or will be after 1 year?

Sam: I doubt Durant wanted to just be there for Monty Williams as much as Williams is said to be a players’ coach; even if Deandre Ayton might not agree. Hey, maybe Williams was let go so they can mend ways with Ayton. After all, as good as Williams may have been, he didn’t score or rebound. Tough to give up an athletic seven footer when Jock Landale and Bismack Biyombo are your backups. Hey Deandre, let’s talk. I can see Isiah’s fingerprints on a lot there given his close relationship with the owner. But Isiah has a lot of business interests now and I can’t see him wanting to answer every day for why Chris Paul’s hamstring is a problem.

Brodie Larsh: The Bulls have been "linked" to both Chris Paul and DeAndre Ayton (and every other "B" star that recently exited the playoffs). I used to be interested in an Ayton trade, but I don't see Ayton and Billy D being a good match at all. Paul has the perfect skill set, but with that contract and injury history I don't see it. Lonzo and Caruso for Paul works financially, but I'm guessing the Suns think they could get more than that. 

Sam: The reports have been the Suns, who have a $15 million buyout with Paul or owe him $30 million per for the next two years, will skip the buyout and keep him. It seem a heck of a risk given the way Paul has basically gotten hurt in every playoff series and at every crucial time, and like they say is a year older and all that. Maybe for a trade. I know the Bulls need a point guard and Paul is really good when he’s healthy. But he just turned 38 and has to be rested a lot during the regular season to try to get him through the playoffs, and it rarely works for long. He’s had a great career, but it finally does appear it is coming to a close. I thought they’d buy him out and he’d sign with the Lakers to finally get there after the cancelled trade. Guess not. Hey, even LeBron may be getting old at 38 and he’s in much better shape. That sure was a lot of layups he missed against the Nuggets Thursday. 

Brian Tucker: Do you think Memphis is ready to move on from Ja? Would they swap him for Zach? Maybe Uncle DeMar could be a good off-court influence.

Sam: Now there’s a plan. Hey, the kid is a superstar. And might play again in the NBA in February. Obviously, Memphis has to ride it out just as — for different reasons — New Orleans has to ride it out with Zion. Because what if Zion gets healthy? What if Ja gets a new brain? The consensus around the league seems to be he’ll be suspended a half season. Point guard, star athlete, personality. Of course, he’d fill every Bulls dream. So the first press conference is something like the team introducing him and says, well he didn't kill anyone. Then the team spokesperson pauses and looks to pr and asks, "Hey did he kill anyone?" Given the lunacy of our gun fixation in this country and the epidemic of gun deaths (in cities and per capita more in rural areas), no one is taking on that headache. Plus, no team is going to put up with their players being asked every day by national media storming in from game to game how they feel about their teammate and guns, did he pull a gun on them, do they have guns. His talent is great he’ll get more chances. Eventually Memphis. But he may be looking at a three strikes and two years out.

Luis Rodriguez: I would like to know what your opinion is in regards to signing Nikola. I believe a combination of Brook Lopez and Kyle Kuzma or Jakob Poeltl and Christian Wood or any combination of the four is a better fit for me. This would address two positions improve shooting rebounding and defense overall, without breaking the bank.

Sam: Well, it’s complicated because even if the Bulls were to let Vučević go to just save his money — and they surely won’t after giving up Wendell Carter and two lottery picks in trade and he after all averages a double-double — they still would not be far enough under the salary cap to pursue any serious free agents. They’ll have the non-taxpayer’s exception of about $11 million and maybe can get an injury exception for Ball that would be about half his $20 million salary. But then they’d risk being over the luxury tax and then face those penalties of fewer exceptions allowed and roster limitations. Again, I wouldn’t be surprised if one from among the Bulls main three doesn’t start next season with the team. But if it were Vučević it would be a sign and trade. And other than Wood those teams have indicated they intend to bring back those players. Vučević is much more reliable than Wood, who could not start for what was a non-playoff team.

John Leichenko: No surprise to see James Harden have such a bad game 7, but Embiid? He barely showed up. That was some disappointing basketball.

Sam: I think Embiid was more injured than he ever let on given you never saw him trying to dunk much. I know, no excuses and if you can play you get judged on the results. Although most figured the Harden rumor about going to Houston was a ploy for a long term deal. And he may get that as 76ers chief Morey is linked to Harden. But the talk at the Chicago Combine was Harden really is serious about Houston for personal reasons; and not because of it’s reputation among professional athletes for its surplus of nighttime activities. The young Rockets do need a point guard (yes, so many do), but the new coach likes defense. A lot more than Harden does. Then, of course, the next speculation is if no Harden does Embiid ask out. That’s right, get your Embiid to the Bulls rumors ready to go.

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