Mario Persico: Just wanted your thoughts on state of the NBA. I’ve lost my passion for it over time. Some of it is surely due to getting older myself, but it feels less competitive overall as a league. To be honest, ever since the Warriors added KD it hasn’t felt the same. I remember the Bulls/Heat era with the bad blood, actual defense, and more than 103 3PA a game. It was interesting, teams had different identities. Players cared. I miss watching NBA on TNT, but hard to care when I know most of the players don’t try hard or take rest days. The issue I see is TV deals keep getting better, more money, ratings still high. It’s a bit saddening because the league feels like it is in a bad spot from the actual game itself. As I said, every team emulated one way to play and you mine as well just assume whoever takes most 3s will win. How do they fix this? Can they? I hate to be the mid 30 something getting older and complaining about how it used to be…but it truly seems different in a bad way.
Sam: Little is as it was because a new generation comes in and does what it knows and grew up doing. So we have to start getting out of the way. There are some big issues with the NBA, mostly so many star players not inclined to play with head colds. The sad irony is they seem to do so to extend a career in which they’ve already made enough money to support their next five generations. And the threes have made it more a video game sort of contest, which, after all, is how this generation was raised. I believe they like it that way even if they haven’t actually told me so. It wasn’t as perfect as you remember, but because you have memories it seems so. The league was and is about star players and their exploits and the mini dramas and mostly still is. Style of play always evolves and changes, but I still see it as an enjoyable product because more than any sport it fits a daily almost soap opera-like narrative of a beginning, middle and end, protagonist and antagonist, larger than life personalities and plenty of area for debate and discussion. And considering franchise values it still seems to have a growing audience at a place where the market determines your success. So someone must like it. Come back and join us.
Parker Lerdal: Will LeBron James pass Kareem this season or next season?
Sam: Yes, get ready for another round of the GOAT debate. We did one recently when the NBA renamed its MVP award, the highest annual individual award, for Michael Jordan. This will be big, too. After all, James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for one of those thought unbreakable marks, like Oscar’s triple doubles, Aaron’s home runs and Jerry Lee Lewis wives. Some of the discussion will be that LeBron has to be the greatest ever because he has scored the most points, which, after all, determine the winner. LeBron, who turns 38 today Dec 30, clearly is going for it this season averaging his most points the last two seasons since 2010. Though he misses many more games than he once did. If he doesn’t sit out and stays on the same scoring pace, he should pass Kareem around the end of February near the All-Star break. There’s a home game against Golden State that might be a prime target. With an injury and some games missed, the Bulls could be the target, and perhaps sweet for LeBron to do it against Jordan’s team, with a back to back with the Bulls home and away the end of March. But the NBA generally doesn’t judge on cumulative as much as average. Attendance is a big thing, I agree, but longevity is also luck to avoid injury. Jordan has the highest scoring average in NBA history with Wilt fractionally behind in second. Though if you asked about the greatest scorer in NBA history, it is Wilt. LeBron has the fifth highest scoring average all time, which is impressive since he never was regarded as a scorer primarily. Kevin Durant is fourth and though slipping in the mythical all-time rankings lately, Elgin Baylor is third. Kareem is 17th all-time in average, just ahead of Steph Curry and Larry Bird. Kobe is 12th. Adrian Dantley is ahead of Shaq. It’s why it’s more a debate than a determination. Get ready, Fee-fi-fo-fum, look out
’cause here I come, as the Temptations said. It’s going to begin again.
Frederick Ong: I still believe in this current Bulls team. I still want to keep our big three together. I would love to retain Vucevic if I know he will stay after this year. But with his staying beyond this year in question, I would have to consider trading him at the trade deadline to at least get something back. Should we trade him? Or should we take our chances of keeping him and not knowing if he will stay or go?
Sam: Not that they tell me, but in management’s public statements they’ve always talked about patience and seeing what this team can do. It may be without Lonzo Ball. But games like against the Bucks this week seem like even with the disappointing losses sandwiched around them at times validates management’s goals of patience and prudence. So really not goin’ to get along without you now. I’d expect the group to remain the same through this season and into the playoffs, which I still expect, and then as most playoffs do they’ll provide the results and direction for the next chapter. I can see the team being more buyer than seller in the sense of at least the buyout time.
Ronald Daly: I am perpetually perplexed with Billy Donovan’s idea of what a point guard is. Ayo is listed as the starting point guard. Despite this designation, he almost never runs the half court offense and spends most of his time in a corner waiting to catch and shoot. I have to believe this is a Donovan choice since he did the same with Lonzo Ball. As I watch games, the Bulls rotate who brings the ball up the floor and in too many cases it’s LaVine or DeRozan. Both of them think shot first and don’t initiate plays. Too often they pound the ball while shot searching and running the clock down. As they do this the remaining players stand and watch. Ball movement is rare with the Bulls and I am always amazed at how fast the ball moves amongst the elite teams. Vooch is a capable and willing passer but he can’t do much of that from the three point line. I wonder why they can’t run the offense through him occasionally?
Sam: Well, they did need a point guard and devoted that free agency to Ball to the point they were penalized. And we know what’s happened there, so Ayo has been drafted. Dragić, obviously, plays the position, and lately Caruso was out. He’ll return maybe Friday and eventually back to start, I assume. I’ve noticed more these days actually with some good results that they’re using LaVine and occasionally DeRozan to initiate offense. LaVine’s really better since he played point in college and some with the Timberwolves, and yes he seeks out shots at times. But he also passes on many when he’s in that role to find guys. He’s actually pretty good and has cut down on his turnovers. His assist-to-turnover the last six games has been a terrific almost five-to-one. Plus with his athleticism he’s better than pretty much anyone but Ball in advancing more quickly up court. I think Billy mostly is just trying to work with what he has. I’m sure he’d find use for Chris Paul if he had him.
Neil Limper: I’m a 56 year old lifelong Bulls fan. I was introduced to the Chicago Bulls by listening to them on the radio when helping my dad in our dairy barn in southern Illinois. I will always cherish the memories that those radio broadcasts put in my mind of Norm’s defense, Butterbean, Chet and others. I of course relish the Championship years of Michael, Scottie and crew. My basement is home to a seat and brick from the old stadium. Loved the baby Bulls. The NBA’s youngest mvp in Rose was part of some great seasons too! All that being said, I get very frustrated with how hard the “Bulls broadcast media” and numerous “so called fans” are on Zach LaVine. The guy is a generational scorer and athlete who sincerely cares about Chicago and winning. Sure he has his faults and shortcomings… last I checked we all do. I just wish people would embrace who he is and not who they wish he was. Better be careful before you run the guy out of town and regret it when he’s dropping 30 on our beloved Bulls. He’s not Michael or Scottie or Derrick, he’s Zach LaVine and I’ll talk that every day of the week and twice on Tuesday.
Sam: I’m with you for the Tuesdays. Major sports markets with difficult results and legacies are tough places to play. I’m with you on LaVine, and though many criticize the contract—I shake my head, sorry no acronyms in my era, at fans who both blame ownership for not spending and then for spending too much—it’s the going rate for All Stars in the NBA. Hey, everyone was horrified when Bill Russell got $100,000, That kind of money! Actually $100,001 so it would be more than Wilt. Red Auerbach! I suspect we’ll hear a lot of Zach rumors for a lot of reasons, but one reason to concern you is a lot of teams want him, and if that’s so what are so many missing here? Chicago NBA players often suffer from not being Mike. Like New York players often do from not being the ’70 Knicks. OK, maybe now the ’94 Knicks. We’ve seen some good talent escape in the frustration of not being who we want them to be, like Lauri Markkanen. At Zach’s age and fit for the modern game with three-point shooting, he seems as good as any on the roster to build around. Can you get someone better? Maybe, but you also need a running mate as Jordan understood.
Ateeq Ahmed: Wanted to ask about Houston’s Kevin Porter Jr. He would be an interesting player to try and pry by teams looking for scoring. History has shown it is hard for teams to keep all of their youngsters (contracts, chemistry, team fit, etc.). Jalen Green and Jabari Smith are great and were their picks. Both were top 3 picks so likely aren’t going anywhere. Porter went to Houston via trade so they may not be as committed to him. I’m keeping my eyes on him. I read he was a locker room problem child but hopefully he’s matured. The guy can play.
Sam: He was a risk in the draft given some issues in college and coming from a tough background, which hardly is unusual. The Rockets gave him an extension and still don’t seem to have an overabundance of players. But they’re still drafting, and as we saw against the Bulls they have a potentially good roster. They are step two for the Bulls. The first as to regain credibility and relevance with the acquisitions of veteran All-Stars, which the Bulls did. Now it’s, to use a past expression, to get younger and more athletic, which unfortunately then led to Dwyane Wade for a short time. As I’ve discussed the Bulls have some of these “bad team” issues because of the relative lack of athleticism on the Bulls, that these young teams when they don’t do the sloppy things of youth can run and jump and shoot themselves to a win. The Bulls have to merge some of those kinds of talents with their base. I assume this summer will be decisive for that.
Mike Metz: This was in a Wolves Insider column. What about that trade? “After watching Gobert get outplayed by a rookie center on a two-way contract (Nikola Jovic), the Timberwolves have to ask themselves if the Gobert they got in the trade with the Jazz is a shadow of the player who was such a force in Utah for so many years?”
Sam: It’s tough to judge now with Towns out, though it didn’t look very good when he was playing. There’s been some talk around the Timberwolves this actually was an A-Rod inspired move. I have no idea about that with reports recently he’s having trouble raising the money to be part of the new ownership group. NBA teams with the whopper of the Suns sale news are blowing up in value. I never got the defensive whoop-de-do about Gobert. It never looked too difficult to score on him since he’s not a super athlete and if you attack his body you could make easy layups. He’s a poor shooter, so he was a liability at the end of games and a problem going outside with all the switching everyone does. Supposedly KAT will do that; we’ll see. It seems an uneasy partnership. Gobert seems like a good guy and was treated unfairly and badly with the Covid start and his joke about breathing on the tape recorders. Relax! The guy has a personality. But they gave up so much for him it’s difficult to see them digging out for years to come. They should be on the list of maybe-a-shakeup-coming teams of which there are many leading to this trade deadline.
Aleksandar Dragojlovic: I can help Vooch. I shoot 95% from free throw line..imagine what I can do for him.
Sam: Maybe work with Drummond a bit. C’mon, Vooch shoots 85 percent on free throws, third best on the team and well above the league average. He’s one of the best shooting big men in the NBA. Shaq dreamed about having that stroke. I’d say practice that 95 percent average with 18,000 people waving at you and howling for you to miss so they can get a free hot dog. Then get back to me.
John Cook: They were right about Lonzo not playing in January. I was just happy to hear him interview recently and say he was on the court and beginning to feel his way around again. It sounds like he’s still a ways away and it appears he’s very cautious in giving any false optimism. I’m really pulling for him, in fact I prayed for him last night and for his full recovery. He’s a class act and I hope not another DRose case.
Sam: We haven’t heard anything lately, though the pattern has been about every 10 days or two weeks some reporter asks Billy Donovan about Lonzo and Billy has to go through a painful recitation of the little he really knows much about since pretty much all the coaches in the league operate simply by just letting them know who’s not available and they’ll figure it out. With January this weekend, it’s obvious Ball’s not playing this month as was optimistically hoped in training camp. I believe he wants to play and seems upbeat when you see him occasionally around the locker room. I’d guess the way this has gone and the team has morphed, it would make sense not to expose him to problems or complications this season and try to get him up and running at as close to 100 percent as possible for next season and have that unit in place to try to take another step. Media and fans really won’t be told much since on one level medical information by law is private. The Donovan updates fill media space, but don’t mean much. When the team—or Ball’s team—eventually makes an announcement that will be when we know something for certain. The team certainly does its best for the player if only for the financial investment. But even with all the medical experts, they don’t know. The timeframe from last year shows that. With two years left on his deal for some reason I feel like he can have a good close to that contract with the Bulls. You know, from sources who may or may not know.
Gregory Powell: Not a question but a plea. Please make them name some award… Executive of the Year or the real equivalent , after John McLendon. Do you think think this is a real possibility or and I going to be mad at the league I love more than any other?
Sam: He was one of the most influential figures in the history of basketball, and certainly for African-American achievements with loads of first. And he has been enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame three times for various categories. He along with Red Auerbach presaged the modern NBA as much as anyone with the fast break and defensive pressure and traps that brought the speed and athleticism into the game. But on a professional level he was a bit player despite his legacy as a coach for George Steinbrenner in the short-lived ABL, which was a heck of a wild story, and briefly in the ABA with Denver before they moved to the NBA and became the Nuggets. But the NBA is proprietary about its league and never has been one to honor the ABA players, who as much as any helped drag the NBA into it’s modern era with three-point shooting and dunking. ABA stats remain mostly an NBA footnote, and their players haven’t been celebrated nearly as much, though the league is trying to get to some former ABA cities for All-Star games, like going to Indianapolis soon. Those ABA pioneers should get their due then. But I doubt the league even though it respects McLendon considers him one of theirs given his limited NBA involvement.
Joshua Brazel: As people of my generation are wont to do, I was mindlessly scrolling Facebook and I came across a post that listed a Bulls all time starting 5 of MJ, Pippen, Rose, Butler, and Noah. I remembered that the great Artis Gilmore played 6 impactful years (before my time of course) with the Chicago Bulls. This Facebook post led me down a rabbit hole of BasketballReference.com pages that began with Mr. Gilmore and ended with me looking up every Bulls season of the 1970s. I noticed that the Bulls of the early 1970s had faced the Lakers in the playoffs 3 consecutive seasons, twice taking them to game 7. I wondered if this was a true rivalry recognized by both teams with bad blood and cheap shots and veiled insults and hard fought wars on the hard court and mutual respect? Or was it entirely one sided with the Lakers only acknowledging the Bulls as nothing more than a team that victory over was a foregone conclusion? Was this a rivalry worthy of a short documentary or a long form article, or was their multiple playoff meetings just a random footnote in NBA history?
Sam: You mean there’s something substantive that can be gained from Facebook? Probably more footnote for those Bulls, though for Chicago there is a documentary in that team. It was probably the most consistently best all ‘round team and five-year run the franchise has had other than the Jordan championship 90s. It deserves to be at least recognized, if not also celebrated. It was a rivalry, if not great, because the Lakers had Wilt and were winning all the time. The Bulls lacked the great center they long sought. They finally thought they had solved it when they traded for Nate Thurmond before the 1974-75 season. But Nate was past his prime and in another of those painful Chicago sports ironies, the Bulls ended up being beaten in the conference finals by the Warriors, who acquired Cliff Ray from the Bulls in the deal. Those Lakers were in a bitter rivalry with the Bucks and Kareem, who broke their record 33-game win streak. And as we know Kareem eventually chose to defect to the Lakers. Those Lakers players, however, did hate most playing the Bulls because the Bulls were so tough and physical and Jerry West would always complain about Sloan and Van Lier beating him up. Elgin Baylor was gone by the series the Bulls really had a chance in 1973. So with Walker and Love the Bulls had the big edge at forward. And Ray was athletic enough to bother Wilt, though Dennis Awtrey also played. Probably too much as I recall that series. In the seven gamer in 1971, the Bulls stretched the Lakers on guile with Van Lier still with the Royals. That one season they really had a chance was 1973, a great seven-game series which came down to a baseline jumper near the end of Game 7 in LA that Van Lier had blocked by Wilt with Norm playing the game of his life. The Bulls had led by seven with three minutes left. The Knicks eventually won that title. The Bulls had a lot of success that year against the more finesse team Knicks team. It was a great Bulls team that rarely gets recognized because it never won a title. I’ve long been trying to help raise their profile, so thanks for the effort.
Kurt Payne: Is there a way to get Patrick Williams some film of Bob Love to show him how it’s done. PW has the same kind of high release jump shot, maybe with more jump than I remember from Butterbean. If he could see how Love and Chet Walker got position in the low post and used the glass with the hops he has he would really expand his game. Love sure had no hesitation in his shot and on both ends he was always matched up with the best forwards in the 60’s and 70’s
Sam: Maybe give him a few more years; after all, Bob wasn’t a double figure NBA scorer until he was 28. It’s the learning and experience part you hear best explained from DeRozan about anticipating, how to seal a defender to get your best position. It takes time, and Patrick hardly has been a focus of the offense. There are some naturals like Luka, but those guys came up in the European system which emphasizes fundamental play and skills while the Americans too often practice for dunk contests. Patrick might be too muscular, as well. Sometimes watching him it seems like he could use being a bit more flexible, which Bob and Chet were, like the players of their day with no weight training or certainly a nutritionist. And not being bothered by the teammate smoking a cigarette in the stall next to them. Patrick does seem to be progressing. It will help him, I feel, now that no one expects him to be Kawhi Leonard next week.
Broderick Engelhard: Been a Bulls fan since ‘89. I have the pleasure of living in California now, went to a number of Warriors games last year. I think Bulls fans should take some notes, the Ws were not good to start the year, it took a whole season to put the puzzle together for them. This idea/narrative we have that a team has to win now in order to win later just doesn’t right true to me. I’ll trade December struggles for post season wins all day. This core is only a year old, and barely. Fitting together will take some time and when you look at the roster of Zach, DeMar, Vuc – individually they are all actually playing pretty well (maybe more specifically Vuc who gets a lot of unwarranted hate more than most, dude has sacrificed a lot and stayed healthy). This years Bulls are certainly not last years Warriors but what I’m saying is I would rather have my team face some early struggles and then have somewhere to go.
Sam: Arturas doesn’t do much media, but I thought he wasn’t using the Broderick Engelhard moniker anymore.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
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