Ask Sam Mailbag: Zach LaVine rumors and more Bulls offseason chatter

Mike Sutera: What do you make of the rumors of the Chicago Bulls have begun "quietly gauging" potential trade interest in Zach LaVine?

Sam: There are several ways of looking at that. I guess the principal one is if you finished 40-42 and missed the playoffs, I assume you would be gauging the interest in many of your players as that seems like the job description. The other principal element is that with the parity that has slammed the NBA like a hurricane, the trade winds are roaring in the NBA. Already with still a week before the draft when most of the trade talk gets more serious and then another week until free agency when it gets even more serious there has been speculation and rumors about trades involving All-Stars and all-NBA players like Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Karl-Anthony Towns and even Zion Williamson, the Victor Wembanyama of the 2019 draft. So why not Zach? Among others, I presume.

You never know what a trade can yield—Jerry Krause won many deals he looked like he maybe was losing given his addition by subtraction philosophy to get the team to function better or give other players a chance at their true position—and you never know how anxious a team is for an All-Star and how much they might give up. I guarantee there are 30 general managers this week asking about pretty much every star in the league. You always have to ask. And like it’s said, there was a winner and 29 losers who might try something different. All that said, given that LaVine is the Bulls best three-point shooter in a league that emphasizes three-point shooting and the most athletic player in a league that also emphasizes it unless you can see the floor and pass like Nikola Jokić, then I’m riding with Zach. Given that my input isn’t being sought once again for the draft, trades or free agency, like I’ve been writing, this figures to be a very active and intriguing NBA summer all over the league with now the calm before the storm as the idioms go.

Fred Robinson: As for point guard the organization should not disregard the following, Ayo Dosunmu had a lackluster sophomore season. It would be a mistake to go into the 2023-24 season without a legitimate alternative. While Patrick Beverly brings you mental and physical toughness, bluster, posturing and flexing, that doesn't necessarily win you games. You will probably tell me to put chill, but a flyer on a veteran Kris Dunn might be a legitimate alternative. He is a very tough defender, with a high assist ratio and college championship pedigree. Moreover, he is a high percentage mid-range shooter. Allowing Carlik Jones a shot to prove his wares would be a welcome alternative also. 

Sam: Actually, the Butler trade was pretty good since it yielded two All-Stars (though they did trade away Markkanen because I'd guess they wanted to feature their draft pick Williams) and Dunn, a player you'd like back. But Dunn did have a lot of injuries and it’s unlikely any team could have had the patience to wait for him through a journey that took him to three NBA teams and two in the G-league. So moving on was inevitable, like with Jimmy Butler, and good for Dunn and Butler. But that package of players with two having All-Star potential and being in position for a top draft pick for four years was a good plan; not all good plans come to fruition, as we’ve seen with many marriages. The Bulls just didn't get lucky in the lottery when they had good odds to get the rights to draft players like Luka Dončić, Trae Young, Jaren Jackson, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, though the latter two haven’t been working out much lately. Kris looked like a different guy in Utah like Lauri did, so he’s probably moved on also. I’ve previously mentioned Carlik as a possibility because he does play like a true point guard and has a nice shot. The Bulls need a higher level starter at point guard, but I’d like to see Carlik get a fair shot as a backup based on production and not favoritism.

Corey Pratt: A media report was the Pels would trade Zion: NOLA could be willing to move Williamson if it helped team draft Scoot Henderson. Could the bulls be apart of the 3-way trade and we end with  Zion, pelicans get 3rd pick and Zach goes Portland?

Sam: Let’s see, we can add those paternity issues to rarely playing due to injury, (29 games played in the last 164; played in 37 percent of his team’s games in his career) doesn’t seem to take training very seriously as he looked overweight in that soda commercial with Zach, and the torque he puts on his joints given the way he plays suggests a short career. That’s the plan?

Rocky Rosado: Moves I would make if I'm the Bulls for a better financial outlook.

  • Use stretch provision on Lonzo Ball. Saves 12 million on the salary cap and free's up a roster spot.
  • Trade Zach Lavine for PG/SG Jalen Suggs, SF/PF Chuma Okeke, PF/C Bol Bol, #11 pick #36 pick, '25 ORL 1R pick, '25 1R Pick via DEN. Zach is talented but I think his time with the Bulls has run its course.
  • Trade DeMar DeRozan, Derrick Jones Jr, Andre Drummond to the Lakers for Malik Beasley, Mo Bamba, Jarred Vanderbilt, and #17 pick. DeRozan should not be in the Bulls long term future. He's currently blocking Patrick Williams natural position which has stagnated his growth as a playmaking 3 and D wing.
  • Re-sign PG/SG Coby White.
  • Don't trade Caruso.
  • Don't re-sign Nikola Vucevic.
  • Draft: #11-PG/SG Kobe Bufkin, Michigan, 6'5" 190lbs, #17-C Dereck Lively II, Duke, 7'1" 215lbs, 7'7" wingspan. #23- PF-Trayce Jackson-Davis,Indiana, 6'9" 240lbs, 7'1" wingspan. #36- SG/SF-Emoni Bates, Eastern Michigan, 6'9" 180lbs.
  • Roster:
    C-Mo Bamba, Dereck Lively II, Marko Simonovic
    PF-Jarred Vanderbilt, Bol Bol, Trayce Jackson-Davis
    SF-Patrick Williams, Chuma Okeke, Emoni Bates
    SG-Coby White, Dalen Terry, Kobe Bufkin
    PG-Jalen Suggs, Alex Caruso, Carlik Jones
  • I think this roster would be exciting to have a bunch of players with something to prove. 

Sam: As ridiculous as this sound to me, I could see you put a lot of work into this, so I felt like I needed to at least consider it. I’ve considered it and am moving on.

Joe Tanner: Can someone explain to me what in the world is up with all these people wanting to trade Zach LaVine? He might be the only guy in the league that can shoot the three and get to the rim at an elite level.  And he’s just entering his prime, productive years right now. I could understand if people wanted to completely tank and blow up the whole team, but why trade LaVine when you could trade DeRozan who slows down the ball and only has a year left on his contract? You should be able to get a decent 3 and D player for DeRozan.  With the scoring abilities of LaVine, Vucevic and Coby White we should be able to produce enough offense and actually play at a quick pace like Billy Donovan wants. That seems like a much better formula for success than throwing the ball to DeRozan’s so that he can isolate and try to score a mid range jumper.

Sam: Yours seems like a logical analysis, but for whatever reason—and we’ve heard it as soon as he began playing for the Bulls perhaps because he was traded for Jimmy Butler—that you can’t win with Zach and all that. Though I do remember Jokić’s Nuggets being out in five in the first round last season. Having other guys helps. I’m not suggesting Zach is at Jokić’s level or will be, but you have, say, Jamal Murray or Devin Booker as your top guy and your teams are about where the Bulls have been. Probably worse if it’s Bradley Beal. Not much better if it’s Damian Lillard. It takes a chief of the village also. The Bulls do have a lot of talent, but just not that guy. Which probably 24 other teams don’t have, either. My guess is despite what’s been speculated and suggested the Bulls are testing the waters for any number of players. And while it’s true that Zach probably fits the league style better these days, he likely brings more in a deal than someone like DeRozan because DeRozan becomes just a rental with one year left on his contract. And if things don’t go well next season, Derozan’s expiring contract leaves the team more flexibility for changing direction. Zach long has had his critics here, but I also sense based on the way he played the second half last season and bailing the Bulls out against Toronto in the play-in that he has as many admirers these days who mirror your views. But when you’re out of the playoffs and not competing—suddenly Caleb Martin looks more valuable because he’s getting the chances you are not—uncertainty surrounds everyone.

Ateeq Ahmed: What is the free agency status of our bench guys and who do you expect will still be here next season? Javonte, DJJ, Ayo? 

Sam: Nothing, of course, has been decided yet, but Jones is expected to pick up his player option for next season and remain with the Bulls. Andre Drummond also has indicated he will, which was a surprise to many (at least me). Green is an unrestricted free agent and seems a longshot to return after missing much of last season injured and the Bulls needs for a point guard and shooting (though he’s a fan and management favorite). Dosunmu is a restricted free agent who has limited market value after a backsliding season, but he’s well liked by the coaching staff and management and expected to receive a reasonable contract for two or three seasons.

Alexandra Yoon: There have been quite a few comparisons between “Heat Culture” and “Chicago Bulls Culture” this postseason with Miami being described as the more resilient team. Several players on the current Bulls roster have also described our guys as resilient. How would you describe our “culture”?

Sam: I believe the amorphous culture description is both overused and misunderstood. It's supposed to mean an internal standard, which every team claims to have. And basically does. Every team is abounding with developmental assistants, and each seems to do all it can (presumably in the interest of attracting talent) to upgrade facilities and road experiences with luxury hotels and private airlines. Miami boasts about it the most in a sort of all encompassing accountability that is supposed to exceed others and produce results. And to their credit they have been to three Finals in the last decade (losing all). But also out in the first round or missing the playoffs five of the last 10 years. LeBron James choosing Miami sure helped the culture. You do have to admit having the demanding, risk taking and creative Pat Riley gives them a step on on most teams. But their culture looked a lot better when they were beating Milwaukee than losing to the Nuggets and losing seven of their last nine playoff games. If you watch the Bulls regularly, they don't quit on games and make a lot of comebacks. Which also is a culture. Now, about a point guard and power forward.

Kyle McGill: How would this deal work for both teams? Bulls trade LaVine, Caruso, Drummond, and that Blazers pick to the Grizzles for Jackson Jr., Adams, and one of Kennard/Clarke with the possibility of a third team also getting involved in this trade.

Sam: Well, Drummond finally would be a starter. I don’t expect Memphis to do much as they try to sort through this Ja morass and probably wait until they can get him back to see what kind of a team that may have or want. And c’mon, don’t do that to Zach. Have you been to Memphis lately?

Stephen Zwick: Of all the stupid trade ideas that get bantered about, this one doesn't seem that bad. Any thoughts on this Dyson Daniels kid? Is he similar to what the Bulls already have in Dalen Terry?

Here’s the full outline of a potential mock trade: Bulls receive: Dyson Daniels, Second-round pick (via NOP). Pelicans receive: #3 Pick in 2023 NBA Draft Anfernee Simmons, Jusuf Nurkic, Second-round pick (via CHI); Trail Blazers receive Brandon Ingram, Alex Caruso and Larry Lance Jr.

Sam: Great suggestion for the team explaining the trade to media: Not as stupid as many others. I’m pretty sure Ingram is off the table for the Pelicans given the inability to count on Williamson. The Bulls, you should know, value Caruso perhaps as much as anyone on the roster for the way he competes. They see it more than for just the results (all-defense first team), but also as an inspiration to others and a prime reason the team was a top 10 in defense. It would take a lot to get him. That’s not much for the Bulls considering Daniels—who I’ll admit I didn’t see much with Portland not a regular viewing for me—averaged about four points and shot about 30 percent on threes. Glimpses suggest he’s an intriguing talent, but he’s the kind of guy you go for when you are starting over from the beginning; the Bulls are not there.

Mitch Sabrara: The Nuggets winning is much better for the NBA. Better than seeing LBJ and Curry win. Gives other fanbases hope. And a pretty forgettable Butler performance in the Finals and basically since the first round; 34 in September and a ton of miles. 

Sam: I also don’t think it means teams are being fooled to thinking, “Well, if Miami can get there…” I won’t diminish what they did. It was an incredible run with some fabulous performances, and giving credence to their “culture” and especially their coaching and management. With all the speculation about All-Stars being sought in trades, it suggests teams believe they can get there, though not as presently comprised. Which is good for the NBA and should make the upcoming seasons more competitive and continue to produce different champions. Though you hope teams don’t follow the Miami model of so many players not taking the regular season seriously and then being celebrated in the playoffs. If teams come to believe all they have to do is get to 10, the NBA is in trouble. So good for Denver winning since they did take the regular season seriously. And while they are deserving because anyone who gets through that two months gauntlet is a true champon, they’re not a team you look at and wonder how you can defeat them.

As great as Jokić is—and Murray probably will get some recognition next season—they haven’t had another All-Star. Jimmy does hit 34 before next season, and you do wonder because he looked gassed in the Finals. Not surprisingly since he basically had to carry that team. Much was made of all the undrafted players, but there’s usually a reason why they were. Which meant Jimmy had to do more and be relied upon more since Kyle Lowry is just a ghost of what he was. Jimmy revels in his training, but as you appropriately note it’s been a lot of miles for him before coming to Miami. And those are hard points Jimmy scores since he doesn’t shoot well and can’t get away with firing off 15 threes like Jayson Tatum. So he has to work through contact constantly. Miami chases a star every summer, but perhaps there’s more urgency now.

Mel Queensworth: C’mon the Wizards are doing this? Bill Simmons pegs the Sixers as the favorites to land Bradley Beal in a potential trade. He says Beal and Embiid are friends. Embiid was trying to get him two years ago. Harden is going to leave. If you're Philly and you are going to lose Harden and now this shooter is probably a better fit with Embiid anyway. Tobias Harris on an expiring contract, couple future draft picks.

Sam: The Wizards seem headed to their inevitable rebuild with new management and I noticed Kuzma supposedly becoming a free agent. But Beal supposedly has the only complete no trade contract in the NBA, leaving a lot presumably to his choice. The Wizards need to make a good deal with Beal given the paucity of talent on the roster. But the Washington owner likes Beal and maybe he takes whatever he can if only to get off the money. I feel Beal is overrated and I don’t think Beal gets you much because he’s starting to get injured a lot (missing more than 70 games the last two seasons) and has four seasons left on his contract averaging more than $50 million a season. He’s also not a great three-point shooter at barely over 33 percent the last three years while being among the league leaders in minutes average when he does play. And turns 30 later this month.

John Leichenko: Any thought about Fred VanVleet to the Bulls?

Sam: Not much. He’s had an amazing career, much better than I thought, and how could he not have been with Miami given he wasn’t drafted. The Bulls only have a salary cap exception of about $11 million, so he’s not taking that after walking away from $23 million for next season to become a free agent. So it would have to be a sign and trade. Would the Raptors take DeMar DeRozan? Who truly does love Canada and Canada may love him more than any NBA player who’s even been there. I would look seriously at that if I were the Bulls—and maybe Toronto is into nostalgia as they reset. VanVleet would be a nice upgrade at point even if he’s a poor shooter (39 percent overall last season) and defender given he’s barely six foot tall. Otherwise, it probably would take too much from the Bulls roster for it to make much sense for the Raptors to take on the money. Though I am not opposed. And he’s a Rockford guy.

Dustin Chaviano: I really like the idea of Fred VanVleet on the Bulls, but I don't see how we can interest Toronto in a sign and trade without further compromising our future. The more I think about it, I wonder "why not" Chris Paul? With his huge contract and Phoenix's potential future cap problems, would they be willing to take on the Lonzo Ball contract? Is Chris Paul really going to be a sought after player at his age, contract, and injury history? We need a facilitator and leader who can keep our "Big 3" organized. Billy Donovan and him have a history and mutual respect. I don't see much better options out there for Chicago, Phoenix, or Chris Paul. I'd also be curious on your thoughts for all parties involved if we offered up Vuc into the deal for Ayton.

Sam: Phoenix is playing it coy now that word leaked about Paul to try and get something. But given they can buy out the two years he’s owed at a total of $60 million for $15 million, they’ll likely do that. And certainly aren’t taking on a contract of someone who can’t play. I get various such suggestions about Lonzo; stop it. Not happening. With all the big names being speculated about, Ayton doesn’t get mentioned as much. There obviously were issues there with Monty Williams, and both probably will be gone. I think Phoenix is satisfied to go with role playing bigs like Landale and try to invest in another scoring star given how much Durant and Booker had to do against Denver. I’d take a run at Ayton, but I don’t think Vučević is what the Suns are looking for.

Bill Tait: If the Bulls intend to run it back with Vooch, DeMar and Zach, I believe they should go all in and try and get Lillard from Portland whatever it takes, P.Will, Ayo, Coby, return of their #1 pick ,etc. what do you think it would take for the Bulls to get him and do you think it's worth it or no chance?

Sam: Yeah, good luck with that. I don’t see how Portland could or would give up Lillard for basically reserves and a draft pick they may never have to convey. Certainly would be worth it for the Bulls if also having no chance of occurring.

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