Bulls practice patience this offseason

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Bulls practice patience this offseason

As long as patience isn't a euphemism for being content, the Bulls offseason -- widely panned as among one of the most underwhelming in the NBA -- isn't nearly as bad as many observers are making it out to be.
Yes, the majority of the "Bench Mob" is gone, replaced by the likes of Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Vladimir Radmanovic, Nazr Mohammed and the return of Kirk Hinrich. But just because "financial decisions" heavily influenced this summer's moves doesn't mean the sky is falling.As important as his interior presence was to the team's success over the past two seasons, backup center Omer Asik wasn't slated to play heavy minutes with a healthy Joakim Noah in the lineup. More importantly, Asik wanted a bigger role, something the Bulls couldn't offer especially not at the price of approximately 15 million in the third year of his new contract with the Rockets. Robinson (all 5-foot-9 of him) isnt your prototypical point guard. Mohammed isn't a spry, young 7-footer, but he'll be serviceable in Asik's role. Jimmy Butler, based on his summer-league play, should be able to capably step in for Ronnie Brewer. Hinrich will be a slightly older version of the "Captain Kirk" Chicago last witnessed up-close two years ago. Belinelli has the ability to approximate Kyle Korver's production. Belinellis defense may leave something to be desired, but Korver wasn't exactly a stopper on that end of the floor when he first suited up for the Bulls. Meanwhile, Radmanovic brings a new offensive dimension to the lineup with his "stretch" power-forward game.But what made the "Bench Mob" great was its chemistry. Each player knew his role and the uncanny knack for raising their games Korver's unconscious shooting sprees, Brewer's ability to get into passing lanes on defense and to the rim on offense, C.J. Watson's blend of playmaking and scoring, John Lucas III's instant offense, Asik's subtle, game-changing defense on nights when nobody else on the team had it going. For better or worse, their games will change in their new situations as will that of Taj Gibson, who will likely have an expanded role because of the collective dynamic disappearing.From a purely financial perspective the replacements can be viewed as cost-cutting personnel moves, though an argument can be made that in a relatively weak Eastern Conference, bringing back the old crew and waiting for a boost from Derrick Rose's eventual return would give them as good a shot of getting past the Heat and to the NBA Finals as anybody. However, at the price of Asik's deal, signing Lucas to a multi-year contract and the option years for Korver, Brewer and Watson, it's understandable why the decision to tread water was made probably much earlier than most realize.Don't confuse action with progress, however, as Miami and Boston are and were already at the top of the East. It's questionable how much New York, Indiana and Philadelphia really improved and Brooklyn, for all of its splashy signings and spending, may be a playoff team but can't be considered a true contender just yet.But it's the idea that the Bulls must wait until the summer of 2014 to make another run that's puzzling, particularly if Rose, in the early prime of his career and just beginning a five-year max contract, can begin his return to form as one of the league's elite players in the 2013-14 campaign. While patience (there's that word again) is required in monitoring Rose's recovery this season, there's no reason to prematurely place restrictions on where he'll be more than a year after his ACL injury. And theres certainly no justification for wasting another season of the team's core, which also includes Noah, a presumably re-signed Gibson and for now, All-Star Luol Deng -- whose current contract expires in the 2014 offseason.It seems likely Carlos Boozer will be amnestied before his deal ends, but the assumption is that the Bulls will make use of that provision prior to the 2014-15 season and dovetail it with the 2014 free-agent class and the expected arrival of 2011 draft pick Nikola Mirotic from Spain. The theory goes like this: Mirotic would sit behind Gibson for seasoning then eventually slide into a starting role unless he proves to be capable of playing small forward at both ends, which would put him in position, as a rookie, to replace Deng. Either way, that plan requires a leap of faith as the Bulls would be able to add a marquee free agent: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Rudy Gay can opt out that summer, but it seems unlikely theyll sacrifice money or could find it hard to leave their current locales. Meanwhile, they could pursue an unrestricted free agent like Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Paul Pierce, aging stars all or just wait another year when All-Star Kevin Love and others are available in 2015, but that seems like an eternity away.Instead, the Bulls could be better off looking toward next summer and targeting specific complimentary stars to pair with a starting lineup of Gibson -- who, equipped with a long-term extension, would be starting at power forward -- Rose, who could still be finding his stride, Noah and Deng. It smacks of the summer of 2010, except that young Bulls team -- Gibson was coming off a promising rookie season, but wasn't yet considered a consensus future full-time starter, while Rose hadn't reached MVP levels of play, Noah didn't have his long-term deal and a pre-All-Star Deng was perceived somewhat unfavorably in some circles -- was all about potential and hadn't done anything to differentiate themselves from the pack of teams with cap space that offseason.Outside of Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, the free-agent class of 2013 isn't much ballyhooed, but it might be the best sure-shot opportunity the Bulls have to make a major addition while having enough core pieces on hand to do some real damage. And although there aren't any true superstars in the group, taking a run at one of the crops top shooting guards (James Harden, Tyreke Evans and Monta Ellis, if he exercises his early-termination option, are among those who could fit the bill) might be a more worthwhile gamble than sitting tight while the gap between the Bulls and the league's current elite teams, seemingly unfazed by salary-cap penalties imposed on their free-wheeling spending, widens.But back to the here and now. The Bulls head into this season with an identity as a blue-collar defensive juggernaut with a true superstar, going back-to-back seasons leading the NBA in regular-season wins, one of the game's best coaches in Tom Thibodeau -- whose contract situation needs to be addressed to help ensure the teams long-term success and respect outside the organization -- and after a trip to the conference finals that must feel like ages ago to fans, a recent track record of success. The upcoming season won't exactly be a wash -- book it: Chicago will be a playoff team -- but while it's fine to have lowered expectations for a year, it's another story to let your peers keep putting distance between you and title contention when the promise of future stars coming aboard isn't guaranteed.Even with Asik in Houston, the Bulls' strength is still their frontcourt. Noah is a top-10 NBA center and Gibson is a luxury to have coming off the bench as a starting-caliber power forward, so if the much-maligned Boozer departs (along with Richard Hamilton, who has a team option for 2013-14; combined, the two former All-Stars would give the Bulls approximately 20 million to afford to keep Gibson and bring in a star-level free agent), the cupboard won't be bare up front, especially given that Deng is an above-average rebounder for his position. Adding one of the aforementioned shooting guard trio to a starting backcourt with Rose -- none possesses a flawless game or will come at a discount, especially Harden who is probably the best fit but will be hard to pry from Oklahoma City as a restricted free agent. But the Thunder face a challenge in retaining the 22-year-old Sixth Man of the Year, as well as league-leading shot-blocker Serge Ibaka after signing All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to max deals. Being able to sign Harden would add another primary scorer and playmaking threat, giving the Bulls tremendous balance and another player to help their superstar shoulder the squad's offensive burden.Of course, the Bulls will have additional assets outside of amnesty if a palatable trade appears on the horizon. In addition to shopping Hamilton, for whom the team has a 5 million option for 2013-14, Chicago also has a 5 million trade exception acquired from Atlanta in the Korver deal, which would need to be used during the upcoming season. The Bulls also retain the now-legendary protected pick from Charlotte as well as Deng's contract. The franchise will have to do decide how and if the current longest-tenured Bull fits into its future equation, though they'll be hard-pressed to find a better player on the open market or get anything close to equal value in a trade scenario.Deng's hypothetical, but not unreasonable, situation aside -- particularly when considering that new additions Mohammed and Radmanovic are on one-year veteran-minimum deals and both Hinrich and Belinelli were signed to manageable two-year contracts, Butler would be on the third season of his rookie contract and first-round draft choice Marquis Teague will be entering his second NBA campaign assuming he improves enough to be a factor by then. Adding another veteran big man or two to replace Mohammed and fill Gibson's void on the bench will be necessary. After Malcolm Thomas was such a revelation in summer league, adding him or another young big man with upside to develop as a minimum-salaried, fifth post player this season with an opportunity for an expanded role in the future makes some sense. But the Bulls wouldn't need a dramatic overhaul, just a tweak or two, similar to the thought process when Rip Hamilton was signed before last season.However, this wouldn't be an aging veteran, albeit an established one, with injury concerns -- another reason to avoid splurging for the fading superstars in 2014. It would be a younger complement to Rose, helping him to truly believe that his hometown team -- to which he committed five more years without hesitation before his nightmare of an injury-plagued campaign began -- is serious about trying to win in the near future.
That, perhaps, is the most compelling reason for the Bulls to strike sooner than later. It can be accepted that the organization is pacing itself along with his recovery process now, but when he returns to the court -- while the preached mindset will be patience -- anybody that's ever been around Rose knows how hungry he is to win a championship. And nobody wants to be in the position of explaining why he's back to creating highlights on the court nightly, his old teammates were jettisoned in favor of new running mates who can't be described as upgrades and steps aren't being taken to rectify the situation.Without pretending to be a mind reader, Rose is astute enough to understand that some hard decisions had to be made this summer, in no small part because of his devastating injury. If he isn't causing a ruckus about the situation, Bulls fans should feel the same way as long as this phase is temporary and the team is only driving in the right lane until they can again purchase a vehicle with enough horsepower that they can keep up with the speedsters in the passing lane.
Although he's still young, Rose is now heading into his fifth year as a professional. While Chicago has basically watched him grow up over the years, the city shouldn't be surprised when -- if he doesn't have the supporting cast to get to the promised land -- his patience runs thin after a while.Until then, there's no reason to be up in arms about the Bulls' activity, or lack thereof, this offseason as the moves made by the organization -- while not popular -- indeed make fiscal sense. Its also clear that the belief that keeping the "Bench Mob" intact -- remember, Brewer, Watson and Korver would have been around for only one more season each -- and the chance that when Rose returns, the team makes a playoff run wasn't a realistic option for the front office and from a basketball standpoint.
The sum was greater than its parts, making it an easy choice. Breaking up a beloved contender hurts, even for members of the media who had grown fond of the group. But waiting a year for another run at a title can be tolerated and Belinelli's talk of championships during his press conference Tuesday at the Berto Center -- at least in his second season in Chicago -- won't ring so hollow locally.

Todd Frazier's late single lifts White Sox over Mariners

Todd Frazier's late single lifts White Sox over Mariners

The White Sox offense showed a bunch of late life on Thursday night.

Todd Frazier had two hits with runners in scoring position, including the game-winner, as the White Sox topped the Seattle Mariners 7-6 at U.S. Cellular Field. Frazier’s one-out single in the ninth inning off Nick Vincent scored Adam Eaton as the White Sox won for the fourth time in five games. Frazier’s game-winning hit was his first since June 2015 and the fifth of his career. It and a game-tying, two-out, two-run single in the seventh helped Frazier shake off a game in which he struck out three times in his first three at-bats.

“You learn something,” Frazier said. “You take the last at-bat and throw it away and just keep on going. Unfortunately, it took me three times to do that. To come up clutch today felt pretty good.”

Frazier leads the club in home runs and RBIs.

Similar to his teammates, however, Frazier has lefty plenty of chances for more damage on the table. He entered Thursday hitting .159 with runners in scoring position for a team that ranks 18th with runners in scoring position (.255).

While Frazier struck out with runners on the corners in the first inning, he succeeded in his next two tries. He picked up Jose Abreu in the seventh after the slugger struck out against Steve Cishek. Frazier sat on a slider and ripped a 2-0 pitch into left field to drive in Eaton and Tim Anderson, whose one-out RBI double made it a 6-4 game.

Then in the ninth, Frazier came through again. Eaton’s bloop single to center got things going before Anderson bunted him over. Vincent walked Abreu to get to Frazier, who singled to left again.

Frazier was previously 17-for-17 with five doubles, four homers and 42 RBIs with runners in scoring position.

“These are the best ones,” manager Robin Ventura said. “You can't rely just on the homer. There's more to his game than that. You have to be able to knock in runs when you're not hitting them over the fence. He can use the other side of the field. I think he can level it out somewhat and get some hits. Just put it in play more because you don't know know what's going to happen.”

[MORE: Rick Hahn denies rift in White Sox front office, holds off on plans for 2017]

David Robertson found that out in the top of the ninth inning when his outing was delayed for several minutes by a trio of fans who ran onto the field. Robertson worked around the delay and a one-out walk to keep the score tied at 6.

Down 2-0, the White Sox scored three times in the first inning to briefly take the lead.

Abreu and Avisail Garcia both singled in runs and Dioner Navarro had a bases-loaded sacrifice fly.

White Sox starter Anthony Ranaudo pitched well after a slow start and then ran into bad luck in the sixth inning. What looked to be a surefire double play ball kicked off Ranaudo’s glove and combined with an Anderson throwing error led to a three-run inning that put Seattle ahead 6-3.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Ranaudo allowed six earned runs in 5.1 innings.

The White Sox were 6-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

“That’s just part of it,” Robertson said. “I guess that happens some times.

“Everybody played hard. They didn’t give up at all tonight. We pitched well enough to win and had timely hitting. A few things went our way, a couple errors that really ended up giving us a few runs. A few things went our way and it was great to pick up a win.”

Jay Cutler, Dowell Loggains face deepest test yet in Bears' third preseason game

Jay Cutler, Dowell Loggains face deepest test yet in Bears' third preseason game

Third preseason games come with added significance simply because it is the one practice game in which the starters play the closest to a full game prior to the start of the regular season. But for the Bears, Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs is potentially far more important for another reason.

The Kansas City game looms as something of a new tipping point in the one relationship that must function above all others for immediate success of the franchise:

The working relationship/bond between offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and quarterback Jay Cutler.

The two-plus quarters that Cutler is expected to play will be the longest yet trial by fire for his trust in Loggains. The latter has been a coordinator previously in his career, but with less time and success in the position that most of Cutler’s previous list of coordinators.

And few of those relationships survived, let alone flourished once Cutler lost faith or belief in their messages, whether under an avalanche of sacks, poor play selection or design, or whatever.

Cutler put up the best season of his eight-year career in 2015 with Loggains as his position coach. Adam Gase was the coordinator, Gase came in with credibility from having worked with Peyton Manning in Denver. The credibility traced to not necessarily what Gase might have taught Manning, but rather because of what Gase undoubtedly LEARNED from Manning.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Saturday’s test will be far short of the ones the regular season holds, when Loggains’ offense has been scouted and schemed for. But after a stretch of “quizzes” for Cutler-Loggains, this is a “test.”

Buy-in with Loggains?

Loggains has traction with Cutler – for now. Cutler was consistent in his compliments of Loggains last year, but it was Gase ultimately in his ear on game days. Indeed, the entire offense believed in Gase: “When I’m in the huddle…and we get a play call,” offensive lineman Kyle Long said at the time, “there’s never a time where we look at each other and think, ‘Oh [darn].’”

The NFL reality is that Loggains, who has stressed an even stronger commitment to running the football (Long and associates love that), has to earn, or re-earn that gut-level trust.

Most of all, from Cutler.

The lurching start to the preseason – the Bears’ 22-0 home loss to Denver, in which the offense with Cutler netted 13 yards in 10 plays, two of them ending in sacks of Cutler – was test No. 1. The Cutler-Loggains relationship appeared to emerge intact.

“We talked,” Cutler said. “We talked a lot about that game. I think the major point for us was, ‘Let’s not panic. Let’s not hit the fire alarm and put guys in a panic.’

“Because it was the first preseason game and we watched the film and a lot of the stuff that went wrong was because of mistakes… . So it was a matter of just kind of cleaning that stuff up and just going back to work. Which I thought we did a really good job of offensively [at New England]. Hopefully we can do that this week, too.”

Tough warm-ups

NFL schedule-makers did Loggains and the Bears no favors. Their first three preseason opponents – Denver, New England, Kansas City – were all top-10 run defenses. Meaning: The Bears are working to establish Loggains’ run-based offense right into the teeth of three of the NFL’s best at stopping that.

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The Bears want to run. But just consider: What if they can’t run against a monster Chiefs front that includes Jaye Howard and Dontari Poe and which held the Bears to 3.3 yards per carry, tied for their second-lowest of 2015, in their meeting last season?

Which then tasks Loggains with getting the offense to the right solutions, and those traditionally have not been – and should not be – solely found in Cutler’s right arm. The Bears streamlined and simplified Cutler’s decision-making last year, by design, and it was the right strategy, minimizing a Cutler weakness.

But now Loggains is front-and-center in those decisions. And Cutler has never appeared to suffer from an excess of patience through his career, even the new, more mature Cutler.

And not only WHAT Loggains tells Cutler, but also HOW he tells him, will matter. Gase was generally quiet; that worked. Loggains is very expressive, which Cutler said he now appreciates.

“He sets the tone every day,” Cutler said. “There’s never a gray area. He sets the tone, sets the standard, and if you don’t live up to that, meet those expectations, he’s going to be vocal, he’s going to let you know.

“As a player, that’s all you can ask for: A coach telling you how to do it, and when you don’t do it, you expect him to push you and help you achieve those goals.”

Preseason game No. 3 will be the biggest test yet for the synchronicity that is there now but needs to stand up to inevitable failures.

Illinois lands Huntley DE Olalere Oladipo

Illinois lands Huntley DE Olalere Oladipo

Illinois added another important in-state piece as Huntley three-star ranked defensive end Olalere Oladipo (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) announced his college decision Thursday night to the Fighting Illini.

"Illinois has a great staff, is close to home," according to Oladipo. "Illinois felt like a nice fit for me."

Oladipo is also the second verbal commitment Illinois added Thursday as the Fighting Illini added a commitment from Miami (Fla.) Central four-star ranked wide receiver Carmoni Green (6-foot-1, 178 pounds).

Oladipo is now the sixth in-state verbal commitment for the Fighting Illini Class of 2017. Oladipo joins St. Rita OLB Marc Mondesir, Auburn OT Verderian Lowe, Marian Catholic QB Cameron Thomas, Chicago Brother Rice WR Ricky Smalling and Bolingbrook ATH Kendall Smith.

Illinois now has 11 known verbal commitments total in the Class of 2017.