Bulls' offense still a 'work in progress'

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Bulls' offense still a 'work in progress'

With their star player sidelined until at least halfway through the season and seven newcomers on board, there were bound to be some growing pains offensively for the Bulls.

And while Tom Thibodeaus group has averaged 89.3 points through six preseason games, improvement can be seen from a team still learning each other and their tendencies.

The Bulls raced out to a 51-40 lead last night in an eventual 94-89 win over the Thunder. And while things began well for Chicago, a sluggish end to the third quarter carried into the fourth quarter, allowing Oklahoma City back into the game.

Indecision and passed-up shots plagued the Bulls offense, which shot less than 38 percent from the field after halftime.

Youve got to know you job; know your job and do your job and youll be fine, Thibodeau said. When youre taking your shots and youre making the right plays, youre gonna live with yourselves. Its the indecision that gets you into trouble.

The Bulls played at a noticeably faster pace against the Thunder in the first half, something Thibodeau said his team may do this year to play to the teams strengths. But both the primary and secondary breaks he plans on using require control and spacing, something he noticed was lost in the second half.

We have to stay disciplined, we have to have the ability to run late to try and get some easy scores, Thibodeau said. When we do that well be efficient offensively. But when we break things off and we make things up, its hard to read and react off that. So we just have to stay more disciplined.

Often times were initiating, also, when we havent gotten to our spots yet. So usually with offense, if it doesnt start right its not gonna end right; so we have to make sure were starting it right.

Part of that, veteran shooting guard Richard Hamilton said, is the offensive unit still learning both Thibodeaus schemes and their new teammates.

Were playing well in spurts, Hamilton said of the teams offense. I think guys are still learning each other. With our seven new players, guys are still trying to learn their roles and things like that. So I think were getting a little bit better each and every day. I think were nowhere near where we want to be. I think its still a lot of room for improvement.

Hamilton even includes himself in that group. After arriving in Chicago as a free agent last summer, there was no acclimating to his new teammates or the playbook during the lockout-shortened offseason. Had Hamilton still been in Detroit, where he spent nine seasons, it wouldnt have been an issue. But even he is seeing the positive effects of a full offseason.

If I was in Detroit I wouldnt mind it because I know the offense in-and-out, I know whats expected and things like that, he said. But coming into a situation where you have no clue on the coaching staff, your teammates, anything like that, and just going out there and playing games. Thats not an easy task.

Hamilton said he is not worried about any inconsistencies in the Bulls offense through six games, noting that while it may not be completely in order by Opening Night on Halloween, the team will continue to work on its chemistry and discipline until its where it needs to be.

I think its still a work in progress. The goal for any NBA team is to be playing your best basketball late, and trying to get all the kinks out early, Hamilton said, just try to learn and get better as games go by. I think thats the key.

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

The Cubs are preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson, hoping the talented, frequently injured pitcher can stay healthy and provide insurance for their rotation.

Anderson posted a telling message on his Twitter account on Monday night, hinting at what would be another offseason check mark for the defending World Series champs.

The physical for the agreement — first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and MLB Network — won't just be a formality as Anderson underwent back surgery last March and appeared in only four games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

But Anderson fits on paper as a left-hander who will turn only 29 on Feb. 1 and won't have to carry front-of-the-rotation responsibilities or feel Opening Day urgency on a team with five projected starters.

The Cubs had been willing to gamble around $6 million on Tyson Ross, who recently signed a similarly structured one-year deal with the Texas Rangers as he recovers from surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome.

The calculus would essentially be the same with Anderson. The Cubs have to factor in last year's grueling playoff run into early November, this season's sky-high expectations, the organization's lack of high-end, upper-level pitching prospects and the uncertainty surrounding the 2018 rotation.

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Anderson finished sixth in the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year voting with the Oakland A's, but he's reached the 30-start mark only one other time and never accounted for 200 innings in a single season.

Anderson underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2011 season, and the injuries piled up from there, dealing with a strained right oblique, a stress fracture in his right foot and a broken left index finger.

Anderson had such a fragile reputation that he accepted the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Dodgers after a strong platform year in 2015 (10-9, 3.69 ERA). The Dodgers only got 11 1/3 innings out of Anderson, who didn't pitch during a playoff run that ended at Wrigley Field in the National League Championship Series.

The Cubs stayed exceptionally healthy while winning 200 games across the last two seasons and need to be prepared in case John Lackey sharply declines at the age of 38 or Mike Montgomery experiences growing pains while transitioning from the bullpen.

Whether or not Anderson is ultimately the answer, the Cubs will be looking to place a sixth starter into their plans.

"I don't know if a six-man rotation on a permanent basis is the wave of the future," team president Theo Epstein said earlier this winter. "But we certainly endorse it on a temporary basis as a nice way to pace guys for the whole season.

"We can get them some rest, whether you do it in April to preserve depth and ease guys into the season, especially after a deep October and November run. Or after the All-Star break in the summer to kind of get through the dog days and give guys a little bit of a breather as you ramp up for the stretch run.

"I think it would be tough to pull off all season long. But it's something that (could certainly work) in the right spot."

The start of preseason brings the return of hope for the Fire

The start of preseason brings the return of hope for the Fire

A year ago there was hope surrounding the Fire. Hope that general manager Nelson Rodriguez, entering his first offseason with the club, and new coach Veljko Paunovic could spark a turnaround at the club. Those new faces, coupled with an overhauled roster, meant there was hope that things could be better.

Rodriguez and Paunovic had not yet failed with the Fire so there was still that hope that they had a magic touch.

That eroded as the season unfolded and the team’s shortcomings were quickly apparent. The reworked defense seemed to be improved, but the midfield was typically overwhelmed.

Now, after the Fire finished last in Major League Soccer for the second consecutive year, that innocent hope that a new coach and general manager bring is gone. Fans have seen Rodriguez and Paunovic fail and, even though they inherited a team that was not an easy one to turn around, there will be more skepticism.

This year there is hope again, but instead of coming in the form of new management, it comes in the form of accomplished players. Juninho (a three-time MLS All-Star and three-time MLS Cup winner), Dax McCarty (an MLS Best XI selection in 2015) and Nemanja Nikolic (the leading goalscorer in the Polish Ekstraklasa in 2015-16) on paper make the Fire a better team. Can they mesh into a cohesive team that will actually perform better in matches?

“You’d like to think so,” Rodriguez said on Monday at the team’s media day at the PrivateBank Fire Pitch on the North Side. “It’s an inexact science, or at least for me it is. I know others will be more brash and saying it’s all there and all the pieces are together. Until they’re on the field, until they’re in the hotel rooms, until they’re off the field at team meals you never really know.”

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Rodriguez did say that this group is “very different” than last year’s.

“You can talk about all these clever ways to change culture, but the best way to have a winning team is to have winners as part of your team,” he said. “With those four guys (including goalkeeper Jorge Bava) at least we’ve added certified winners.”

So with two former MLS All-Stars arriving in central midfield, arguably the team’s biggest weakness last season, and a proven goalscorer, the pieces are there for the Fire to be better. Now it’s up to Paunovic to put the pieces together in a winning way.

“Obviously we have high expectations because we believe we did this job so far in offseason by the acquisitions that we had and the guys that are still to come,” Paunovic said. “It’s going to be a better team, more competitive.”

Even with the additions, the roster isn’t finished yet. Two trialists are in camp with the Fire, right backs Drew Beckie and Boyd Okwuonu. Beckie is a 26-year-old Canadian who played the 2016 season with the Carolina Railhawks in the North American Soccer League. Importantly, Beckie has a green card and would not count against the Fire’s international roster spots.

Okwuonu, 23, was drafted by Real Salt Lake in the second round of last year’s draft but was not retained. He has represented the U.S. at youth levels, including as a part of the Olympic qualifying team last year.

Right back has been an opening on the roster since Rodrigo Ramos’ loan was not renewed and no player has been added to fill that spot yet so those two could be fighting for a contract. Rodriguez said further additions to defense and midfield are still possible.

“Preseason is going to tell us where we have to improve,” Paunovic said. “Of course, theoretically we all know that there are a couple of spots still to reinforce and a couple of spots that we have to improve. For us now during all this time we are open to all the possibilities.”

The roster appears to be better, but even Rodriguez admitted he had hope last year.

“I was confident last year and the results of last year were bitterly disappointing and utterly unexpected by me," he said. "I have to believe our roster is better, whether that roster comes together the way we imagine, time will tell.”