5 Questions with...Tribune's K.C. Johnson

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5 Questions with...Tribune's K.C. Johnson

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

April 14, 2010

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with everyones favorite weekly local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

Every Wednesday exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weekone of the most respected and trusted NBA beat writers in the countryhes the man on the Chicago Bulls beat for the Chicago Tribune who definitely wont have much time off this summer as the Bulls are poised to sign a big-time free agent this off-seasonhere are 5 Questions withK.C. JOHNSON!

BIO: K.C. Johnson grew up in Evanston, IL, played Division III basketball at Beloit (Wis.) College and joined the Chicago Tribune in 1990. He recovered from the career-threatening embarrassment of having the IHSA girls state badminton runner-up break down sobbing in a sweaty hug during her post-match interview before he started covering the Bulls' championship runs for the Tribune's fledgling Internet site in 1996. (As an aside, Johnson thinks this World Wide Web thing might stick.) From there, he became the Blackhawks' beat writer for two seasons in 1998 and returned to the Bulls' beat in 2000. He has remained there save for trying the Bears' beat in 2005, mostly as a fruitless exercise to block out the Tim Floyd years.

If Johnson isn't following the Bulls, he's either reading a book, drinking a beer, attending a concert or spending time with his wife, Elizabeth, and two young sons, Henry and Charlie, on the city's North Side.

1) CSNChicago.com: K.C., this has been quite an eventful Bulls season so far as they currently hold on to the eighth-seed as we speak. In your opinion, give us three positives about this team that youve witnessed this season and three negatives that you consider to be big concerns going forward?

Johnson: Three positives: Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. Three negatives: Poor shooting, coaching uncertainty and the fear of 2000.

I found it laughable when people were talking about Rose's sophomore slump earlier this season. He was hurt all of training camp with an ankle injury, so he spent November regaining his conditioning and explosiveness. He spent December distributing the ball, thinking Ben Gordon still played on the team. And then he woke up in January and said, "Nobody on this team can score! Guess I have to!" and he started dominating. That's how good this kid is offensively. He can provide what the game needs. Add a star scorer to his talents and look out. Defensively, he must improve. But we should all consider ourselves privileged that we get to watch this humble and genuine player grow.

In a professional sports world where accountability often is scarce, Noah looked inward to become stronger, better conditioned and a better teammate. You have to give the guy a ton of credit. His rookie season was that wheels-off 2007-08 season when Scott Skiles got fired and everything was askew. And Joakim struggled both on the court and off it with the media. Now, he's a double-double machine, only cares about winning and is a delight to deal with on all subjects. Bravo to him. Or as the French might say, "Oui, oui." (Might the French say that? I have no idea. I made that up.)

Raise your hand if you thought Taj was going to have this much impact. Not you, Gar Forman. Whether the Bulls sign a free-agent power forward or not, I'd take Taj on my team any day. He helps defensively almost to a fault, blocks out consistently, talks on defense, sticks the open jumper and is so fundamentally sound, it almost makes me rethink my assessment of Tim Floyd as a coach. Almost. (Just kidding. Tim is a great college coach, and Phil Jackson couldn't have won with the Bulls teams he had.) Taj looks to be a 10-year pro to me.

Ben Gordon's departure has screamed the need for the Bulls to add a perimeter shooter all season. The most recent glaring example is Scott Skiles' Bucks team packing the lane and daring the Bulls to beat him any way, including DRose's penetration. And it worked. To maximize Rose's ability---and he can still get to the rim without a shooter; it's just more difficult---you need spread-the-floor shooters.

John Paxson hit a home run with the hiring of Skiles. And he must get the next coaching hire right when Vinny Del Negro's up-and-down tenure ends. Obviously, the Bulls will be seeking somebody with experience. Management also always stresses defense. It just can't be one of these control freak coaches who would shackle Rose with play calls all the time.

I moved from the Blackhawks' beat to the Bulls' beat just as the ink was drying on the free-agent contracts of Ron Mercer and Brad Miller, Part 1. Yikes. I still have fond memories of Mercer dribbling the entire shot clock down before hoisting an off-balance and errant jumper from the top of the key. Simply put, the Bulls can't strike out that badly in free agency again. You're already hearing small spinjustifications like, "Well, even if we don't land LeBron or DWade, we'll have flexibility moving forward. That's not good. DRose deserves to play with a star. The Bulls need to get one---somehow.

2) CSNChicago.com: As soon as the NBA Finals are over, the sports world will be buzzing about where this years unbelievable crop of big-time free agents will be playing next season. Out of these following players: LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Amare Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer, who do you personally think would be the best fit on next years roster and, a follow-up question, who do you think theyll actually end up signing?

Johnson: LeBron is the best fit for any team because he's the game's most dominant player period. In fact, I made the point---which is certainly debatable---during one of my recent "Ask K.C. Johnson" weekly mailbags, that James is the only acquisition who immediately makes you a title contender next season. I don't even think adding Wade does. But then, as my wife likes to remind me, I'm wrong a lot. All that said, like most people, I don't see James or Wade leaving. So of the remaining free agents, I think Joe Johnson is the best fit and also the player the Bulls have the best chance of landing. Sure, there are slight concerns that he'd be 34 when his five-year contract ends. But he plays a style where that doesn't concern me and he's that stretch-the-floor shooter who can command a double-team to pair well with Rose. He doesn't win the Bulls a title, but he's a good piece to add at a time you have to spend the money you have.

3) CSNChicago.com: Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro has certainly had an eventful couple of seasons in Chicago, but always seems to have the respect of his players, the Bulls front office and, for the most part, the fans. However, from on-going media reports, there always seems to be gray cloud looming regarding his future with the team. Plain and simple, do you see him returning to the sidelines next season?

Johnson: He might return to the sidelines next season, but it won't be as Bulls coach. The Tribune reported during all the breathless national speculation in December that Del Negro would finish this season but not be brought back for his third and final season. We stand behind that reporting. And I think you're overstating the respect Del Negro has garnered. Players like Vinny for the most part but they're as aware as anyone that he's never coached at any level before. And players know the game better than anyone, so they see way more and know way more than fans. They've seen some of Vinny's in-game struggles much more intimately than fans have. That said, Vinny has done a lot of what management asked. He's kept an upbeat, consistent demeanor, helped young players develop and made progress through some growing pains as coach. That still won't be enough to keep his job, and I see him broadcasting somewhere next season and perhaps getting another shot as a coach down the road.

4) CSNChicago.com: Lets say youre at home on an off-night and there are only two options to watch on TV: an old rerun of The White Shadow or Will Ferrells Semi-Prowhat do you end up watching?
Johnson: Ouch, I was afraid you were going to expose me. My wife and I are prehistoric and never watch TV. In fact, we struggled with the big analog to digital conversion and finally had to replace our rabbit-ear, get-up-to-change-the-channel model from 1989. And my wife works for a cable network, so go figure. I get teased all the time from colleagues about my inability to watch sports---that's right, I'm a sportswriter without cable TV---but I find all the free time allows me to read more, talk to more people, stay up on the NBA that way. I'll occasionally put Letterman on or something like that, but as mentioned in the bio, our two young boys keep us quite busy and then whatever down time I have is spent reading or listening to music. I did love "The White Shadow" immensely when growing up, and my high school team was just as diverse.

5) CSNChicago.com: Finish this sentence: If I werent a sports writer, Id probably be working as a ______

Johnson: Bartender? This is a tough one because I've known I wanted to be a sportswriter since I interviewed high school teammate Everette Stephens---of Purdue and brief NBA fame---in 1984 for The Evanstonian school paper. So I've never once thought of another career, and I feel fortunate to work for such a great media company like the Tribune. I suppose I might have pursued media relations or becoming a college professor since the former is kind of the other side of what I do and the latter always intrigued me since I enjoy academia. But sportswriting always has been my dream job, and I still get excited doing it 20 years into my career.

BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: Anything you want to plug K.C.? Tell us, CSNChicago.com readers want to hear about it.
Johnson: I can't tell you how much fun the "Ask K.C. Johnson" weekly mailbag is and the humorous give-and-take that readers provide. People forget that back in 1996 when the Tribune started it, which was one of the first reader mailbags on the Internet. It's fun to maintain that following over all these nutty Bulls seasons. And I look forward to a fun summer of coverage---a new coach, free agency, Pip's Hall of Fame induction and DRose's possible trip to Turkey with the U.S. national team. Who said basketball is a winter sports beat?

Johnson LINKS:

Chicago TribuneK.C. Johnson mailbag

K.C. Johnson on Twitter

Cubs' Carl Edwards Jr. looks to follow in Mariano Rivera's footsteps

Cubs' Carl Edwards Jr. looks to follow in Mariano Rivera's footsteps

Carl Edwards Jr. couldn't dream up a better pitcher to try to emulate than Mariano Rivera.

Not for a young right-hander who is still getting used to being a reliever with a cutter as his bread and butter pitch.

After picking up his first career save late in 2016, Edwards mentioned how he has been watching video of Rivera. At the Cubs Convention earlier this month, Edwards name-dropped Rivera again in response to a fan question and went into more detail with exactly what he's aiming to accomplish by watching Rivera tape.

Let's be clear: Mariano Rivera is inimitable. He's a once-in-a-lifetime talent and there almost assuredly will never be a better closer in Major League Baseball.

But Edwards knows that. 

"He's great. He's a Hall of Famer," Edwards said. "He goes out there like he has the world in the palm of his hand. He's very competitive; I've never seen him back down. That's one [takeaway] for myself — I'm gonna go out and never back down.

"I don't really get into trying to be like him. I just look more into how he goes about his business. That's something that I can control — how I go about my business."

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Cubs coach Mike Borzello was there with Rivera in 1997 when the now-legendary cutter was born.

It's not fair to compare Edwards' cutter to one of the greatest pitches ever, but his version is pretty nasty in its own right:

The Cubs are still searching for long-term answers in the rotation, but don't have any intentions of moving Edwards back to a role as a starter.

Like Edwards, Rivera began his career as a starting pitcher coming up through the Yankees system. But Edwards actually has a leg up on baseball's all time saves leader: Edwards' first save came in his age 24 season while Rivera didn't tally his first save until age 26 in New York.

Edwards also struck out 13 batters per nine innings in 2016 while Rivera never posted eye-popping whiff totals (a career 8.2 K/9 rate).

As Edwards gets set for what he and the Cubs hope will be his first full season in the big leagues in 2017, his maturation will be important in an age of baseball where relief pitchers have never been more valued.

Rivera pitched in the playoffs nearly every year, routinely working more than one inning and posting ridiculous postseason numbers: 0.70 ERA, 0.759 WHIP and 42 saves while taking home the World Series MVP in 1999 and ALCS MVP in 2003.

The Cubs hope Edwards will be pitching in the postseason on a regular basis, too.

For now, the 25-year-old is still reveling in the glory following the 2016 Cubs championship.

He served as honorary drummer at the Carolina Panthers game in November.

"That was pretty amazing. That's a highlight of my offseason," Edwards said.

He grew up as a Pittsburgh Steelers fan despite being a South Carolina native, but Edwards said he did get a pair of Cam Newton cleats to wear for 2017 when he and Cubs teammates like Addison Russell or Matt Szczur throw the football around in the outfield to get loose.

Edwards was also blown away by the reception from Cubs fans at the Convention — "This is my third year and every year as been better" — but still hasn't fully wrapped his mind around the ending of the 108-year drought.

"Everything happened so quick," he said. "Hopefully in the next couple weeks when I have a break, I can sit down and soak it all in."

Vote for this week's High School Lites Viewers' Choice Game of the Week

Vote for this week's High School Lites Viewers' Choice Game of the Week

Who wants it more?

We are putting High School Lites, Chicagoland’s top prep sports show, in the hands of area basketball fans in our “Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week.” Fans will get the chance to pick one game that the @CSNPreps crew will cover on Friday night. We will send our cameras to the game that gets the most votes; highlights of that game will appear on that night’s “High School Lites” broadcast at 11:00pm. The show also live streams at csnchicago.com. High School Lites will also have broadcast replays at 7:30am and 8:30am the following Saturday. This week, for the first time ever in our “Viewers’ Choice” poll, we will have girls basketball as our focus:

Warren at Lake Forest, 7:00pm

Glenbrook South at Maine South, 7:00pm

Vernon Hills at Maine West, 7:30pm

Poll opens Monday at 12:00pm and closes Thursday at 4:00pm. Here is what fans need to do to vote:

**Follow @CSNPreps on Twitter.

**Note the “pinned Tweet” atop the @CSNPreps feed. Vote for the game you want us to cover.

**Spread the word! 

We will make an announcement on @CSNPreps just after 4pm Thursday with the official results of which game will be covered. And as a reminder, be sure to follow @CSNPreps for updates on the “Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week,” along with other basketball news, scores and highlights this season.