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.

Why Kyle Schwarber is untouchable and how Cubs plan to rebuild bullpen

Why Kyle Schwarber is untouchable and how Cubs plan to rebuild bullpen

NEW YORK – Let’s start with this boilerplate Theo Epstein quote and file it away for the next time Kyle Schwarber’s name appears on MLBTradeRumors.com or a fantasy-baseball proposal for the New York Yankees.

“I’m looking forward to Kyle Schwarber — who got hurt in a Cubs uniform and is working his ass off in a Cubs uniform — coming back and hitting a very big home run in a Cubs uniform sometime very early next season,” Epstein said.

The president of baseball operations clearly has a special bond with Schwarber, selecting the Indiana University catcher/outfielder with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft, back when the industry consensus made it sound like a reach. Schwarber helped ignite those champagne celebrations last year by setting a franchise record with five postseason home runs. Epstein felt sick watching Schwarber wreck his knee in an outfield collision during the first week of this season, allowing him to rehab in Chicago and hang out in the draft room, essentially viewing him as an untouchable player because of his left-handed power and leadership qualities.

The Mets are the defending National League champs — with all due respect, as Joe Maddon might say, quoting Will Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby character in “Talladega Nights.” But the Yankees might be the New York team the Cubs should focus on now.

While the Mets returned home to Citi Field on Thursday as a third-place team — six games behind Washington after getting swept at Nationals Park — the Yankees will be in no man’s land on July 1 at 39-39.

The Bronx Bombers now have another month to decide whether or not they will become trade-deadline sellers for the first time in a generation, how breaking up the Andrew Miller/Aroldis Chapman/Dellin Betances bullpen could set them up for the future. And what surrender would mean for a YES Network/Yankee Stadium/27 World Series titles business plan. 

Epstein viewed Thursday’s action – the San Diego Padres flipped closer Fernando Rodney to the Miami Marlins while the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired right-hander Bud Norris from the Atlanta Braves – as more of a reaction to the July 2 international signing period (and Clayton Kershaw’s back injury) than a sign that the market would start to move quickly.

“We’re talking to clubs, just trying to see who might be available and where we might have matches,” Epstein said. “But there’s nothing real imminent. There’s usually a flurry of activity around (this time). Despite the trades today, I think it might end up being more of a slow-developing market. We’ll see. We’re not close to anything.”

Remember, the Cubs rebuilt their bullpen on the fly last summer with Clayton Richard (acquired for a dollar from the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate), Trevor Cahill (released by the Braves and Dodgers before signing a minor-league deal) and Rodney (a two-time All-Star the Seattle Mariners had designated for assignment).

While Schwarber-for-Miller buzz is great on talk radio and Twitter, for now the Cubs will go with the grab-bag approach, looking at internal options like Carl Edwards Jr. and Joel Peralta, hoping for good news on their Tommy John cases (Joe Nathan, Jack Leathersich) and waiting for Justin Grimm to get locked in again.

“It’s pretty rare that you rebuild a bullpen midseason through big-ticket items,” Epstein said. “Last year was actually more typical. They don’t all work out — that’s not what I’m saying. But if you have a plan and a process — and you’re willing to kind of cycle through guys (and) ride things out — you often get rewarded in the end.

“For a postseason bullpen, if you’re thinking that far in advance, you’re not talking about eight guys. You’re talking about three or four guys that you can lean on heavily. It’s being open-minded, being willing to let guys ride through their downturns and make adjustments, so that they can find it.” 

Minor League Roundup: Cubs, Sox prospects get ready for Futures Game

Minor League Roundup: Cubs, Sox prospects get ready for Futures Game

Each week, CSNChicago.com goes down on the farm for a minor-league report from both the Cubs and White Sox system, presented by Service King.

WHITE SOX

A pair of Charlotte Knights have made the Triple-A All-Star game in the International League. Matt Davidson and Leury Garcia will represent the Knights in the All-Star game on July 13.

Davidson, a 25-year-old third baseman, is batting .268/.349/.444 in 75 games this season with 10 homers and 46 RBIs – both leading the club. This will also be Davidson’s third career All-Star appearance. It’s possible he could miss the game, as he was promoted to the big leagues on Thursday, where he promptly broke his foot in his first game.

Garcia is batting .315/.366/.393 on the year with two homers, 18 RBI and a team-leading 12 stolen bases. It’s his first career All-Star selection.

Though Carson Fulmer has been struggling this season, the White Sox top prospect will pitch in the All-Star Futures Game on July 10 in San Diego.

In 75 innings this season in Double-A Birmingham, Fulmer has a 5.28 ERA with 44 walks and 75 strikeouts.

Zack Collins’ college career ended last week after the Miami Hurricanes got eliminated from the College World Series, but his pro career could get underway next week.

The White Sox first-round selection in this year’s draft will take some time to rest and then report to the team’s Glendale, Ariz. facility on July 2. The 21-year-old catcher will eventually start at Single-A Winston-Salem.

The White Sox also signed Tony Campana to a minor league deal on Thursday. The 30-year-old outfielder was released by the Washington Nationals on Monday.

Campana spent last season with the White Sox but sat out the entire season with a torn ACL.

CUBS

As All-Star week approaches in the majors, the minor-league All-Star games are getting underway.

At the Triple-A level, Cubs prospects Daniel Vogelbach and Armando Rivero were named to the Pacific Coast League All-Star team.

Rivero - a 28-year-old right-handed pitcher - has been in the Cubs' system since 2013 and has a 2.39 ERA and 1.142 WHIP this season. He has also struck out 49 batters in 37.2 innings.

Vogelbach has been making headlines among Cubs prospects all season. The 23-year-old first baseman has been absolutely raking, posting a .308/.422/.556 slash line on the season with 15 doubles, 15 homers and 55 RBI in 73 games. 

Over the last month, Vogelbach has taken his game to another level, hitting .323 with a 1.098 OPS, driving in 22 runs in 28 games on 16 extra-base hits (8 homers, 7 doubles, 1 triple) and has also drawn 18 walks compared to only 18 strikeouts. 

Meanwhile, Iowa third baseman Jeimer Candelario is headed to the Futures Game, which will be played in San Diego the day before the MLB Home Run Derby.

Candelario, 22, started the season in Double-A (where he hit just .219), but has been killing the ball since his promotion to Triple-A, hitting .344 with a 1.079 OPS in 21 games.

In the Futures Game last season, Kyle Schwarber took home MVP honors.

Elsewhere in the Cubs system, big-league pitcher Adam Warren continued to get stretched out to return to the parent club as a starting pitcher. Warren tossed five innings (73 pitches) Thursday for Triple-A Iowa, allowing two runs on three hits and striking out three.

He may be back up to the majors next week, at which time the Cubs will insert him into the starting rotation.

Preview: White Sox take on the Astros Friday on CSN

Preview: White Sox take on the Astros Friday on CSN

The White Sox take on the Houston Astros on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Friday’s starting pitching matchup: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Mike Fiers

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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