Could Butler be a cure for the Bulls' woes?

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Could Butler be a cure for the Bulls' woes?

HOUSTON In the 13 minutes per game hes played thus far this season, Jimmy Butler has averaged a modest 4.7 points per game, nothing that would suggest that the second-year swingman is capable of dramatically changing the Bulls fortunes, for better or worse.

However, the stated objectives that he brings to the court in that scant playing time defense, energy and when hes open, taking and making shots says otherwise.

It would be a stretch to say that Butler is the caliber of reserve that can rescue the Bulls if they dig themselves a hole on a given night, but his athleticism his high-flying finishes, whether in transition or a follow-up dunk in traffic, have been arguably the most exciting Bulls plays of this Derrick Rose-less season and commitment to defense are, at minimum, a welcome change of pace.

Still, while the country-music aficionado has managed to carve out a small niche for himself, it appears that for the time being, hell have to be content with the action he receives.

Well see how it unfolds. A lot of it is going to be based on matchups, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said about his rotation, before moving on to Butler specifically. Depending on what the game needs. If its energy, then well maybe look that Butlers way, but theres a lot of things that our bench guys have to do better, too.

Indeed, it isnt as if late-first round picks who are nailed to the bench on veteran teams in their rookie seasons-- without the benefit of training camp -- are perfect, nor are they expected to be. But Thibodeau, for every Omer Asik (who the Bulls face for the first time as an opponent Wednesday), a young player who has gradually earned his trust and playing time, theres a Marco Belinelli, a veteran who struggles out of the gates, but the coach isnt willing to give up on just yet.

Its understandable to a point, as the Bulls desperately need outside shooting and Belinelli, even when hes not making an impact, at least provides a threat to stretch the defense. After the free-agent acquisitions miserable preseason, hes actually made 9-of-23 attempts from behind the three-point arc for a 39.1-percent mark second on the team to fellow backup guard Nate Robinsons 40-percent shooting from deep, on 12 makes out of 30 shots and Thibodeau knows that by sticking with him, if not now, then later in the season, keeping Belinellis confidence up will pay major dividends.

But while hes made some progress defensively, more often than not in Belinellis nearly 17 minutes a night, the shooting guard still struggles with his matchups and unlike second-unit predecessor Kyle Korver, he doesnt make up for it with savvy team defense, hustle plays or other intangibles, let alone elite marksmanship. On those evenings, similar to when Thibodeau gives starting power forward Carlos Boozer an earlier hook in favor of the more defensive-minded Taj Gibson, but on a smaller scale, its worth giving Butler a shot.

Stuck behind ironman starter Luol Deng, the reigning and current league leader in minutes per game at 40.1 a night teammate Joakim Noah is fourth, at 38.8 an outing Butler must wait until Deng plays his typical 18 consecutive minutes at the outset of each game before entering the lineup. Sometimes, such as in last weeks overtime win in Phoenix, where he notched six points and two steals to turn the tide before halftime to begin the Circus Trip, he makes an immediate, obvious impact.

On other occasions, whether he simply doesnt have it going right away or the situation calls for him to more subtly blend in, such as in the Bulls most recent loss Sunday in Portland, where he was just part of a unit that played improved defense and attempted an ultimately-failed comeback against the Trail Blazers, Butlers worth isnt as clear to the naked eye.

The Lone Star State native, who will play his first professional game in Houston, the NBA city closest to his hometown of Tomball, Tex., Wednesday, was penciled in to be a replacement for Ronnie Brewer currently a Knicks starter, Brewer either put significant work into his outside-shooting ability or now has the freedom and confidence to showcase it more in New York and while he has many similarities to one of his mentors, Butlers lack of experience puts him at a disadvantage.

Given his hard-luck background Butlers story has been well-chronicled and the recent history of success stories from his alma mater, Marquette, perhaps his relative youth should be disregarded because of a track record that reflects upon him favorably. Without discounting the likes of Knicks sharpshooter Steve Novak, journeyman point guard Travis Diener and of course, Chicago native Dwyane Wade, all of whom played collegiately during current Indiana University coach Tom Creans tenure, the likes of undrafted rookie-turned-NBA starter Wesley Matthews of the Trail Blazers, Butlers mentor upon arrival on campus, and rookie Jae Crowder, a second-round pick getting rotation minutes in Dallas, illustrate that with enough talent, the requisite toughness needed to play for Buzz Williams program in Milwaukee can translate to, at the least, being a hard-nosed NBA regular.

Well, he followed me around everywhere I went, so somethings supposed to rub off, Matthews joked about Butler to CSNChicago.com, adding a playful, competitive and semi-profane jab at his fellow Golden Eagle, before turning serious. He works hard, hes talented and he wants to get better. Thats his best thing going for him.

I think the skys the limit for him. With opportunity, he can show that he can play, continued the Portland swingman, who burned the Bulls for 21 points Sunday and threw in a late-game block on Butler, for good measure. He can defend. I think he showed that already. Hes got a nice mid-range game. Just with confidence and opportunity, hell be all right.

Hopefully Thibodeau sees it that way because as opposed to 19-year-old rookie Marquis Teague, this was not slated to be a developmental season for Butler, who toiled away at the Berto Center all offseason and excelled at the NBAs summer league in Las Vegas. For a team that could use energy when upon hitting its ever more-frequent lulls, a dose of athleticism and strong individual defense against some of the games elite wing scorers, let alone stealing a minute or two of rest for Deng when things are going well, Butler would seem to be the cure to ensure the Bulls, a .500 squad at the moment, dont enter an early-season malaise.

Between Cubs' victory lap and Hall of Fame vote, Sammy Sosa barely staying in the picture

Between Cubs' victory lap and Hall of Fame vote, Sammy Sosa barely staying in the picture

Sammy Sosa has stayed so far off the radar that his long-running absence from Cubs Convention didn't even come up during last weekend's Q&A session with ownership.

And the Cubs can't go viral all the time and dominate every offseason news cycle, with the National Baseball Hall of Fame revealing the election results on Wednesday and welcoming Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez as part of its 2017 class.

But it's become out of sight, out of mind for Sosa, who barely crossed the 5-percent threshold (8.6) needed to remain on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot for another year.

Sosa — a seven-time All Star, 1998 National League MVP and the franchise's all-time leader with 545 home runs (and 609 overall) — hadn't gained any traction at all during his first four years under BBWAA consideration, hovering between 12.5 and 6.6 percent.

It's complicated with Sosa, a diva personality who experienced a dramatic late-career renaissance and got named in a New York Times report that exposed him as one of the players who tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in 2003 (during what was supposed to be an anonymous survey).

The Cubs have undergone a complete makeover since Sosa walked out in 2004, leaving him without many allies in the organization. It's nothing personal, but in the past the Ricketts family has hinted that Sosa could mend certain fences and fill in some of the blanks he once left open during an unconvincing performance in front of Congress.

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The Cubs brought Hall of Famers Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg to meet President Barack Obama during their Martin Luther King Jr. Day visit to the White House and keep adding former players to the front office. It's awkward after a World Series run where so many alumni showed up to do TV work, throw first pitches, spray champagne or simply watch a rare playoff game at Wrigley Field.

— If Sosa's looking for a roadmap, Manny Ramirez did his penance and cooperated with Major League Baseball to the point where Cubs president Theo Epstein shockingly hired him as a Triple-A Iowa player/coach in the middle of the 2014 season, something that would have been unthinkable during their clashes with the Boston Red Sox.

As a hitting consultant, Ramirez took a come-and-go-as-you-please arrangement, becoming a national story during the 2015 playoffs but largely staying away from the 2016 championship team, perhaps gearing up for his independent-ball comeback in Japan this year. Even after failing multiple drug tests, one of the greatest right-handed hitters of his generation still finished at 23.8 percent in his first year on the BBWAA ballot.

— Lee Smith (34.2 percent) — a drafted-and-developed Cub and the franchise's all-time leader with 180 saves — didn't come close in his 15th and final time on the BBWAA ballot. Smith had been grandfathered when the Hall of Fame narrowed the eligibility window to 10 years, possibly trying to squeeze Steroid Era symbols like Roger Clemens (54.1 percent) and Barry Bonds (53.8 percent).

— This will make Cub fans feel old: Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano are Hall of Fame-eligible for the first time in 2018, when based off this year's returns Trevor Hoffman (74) and Vladimir Guerrero (71.7) should be building momentum toward the 75 percent needed for induction into Cooperstown.

Illini running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn announces transfer

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USA TODAY

Illini running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn announces transfer

The guy who went into last season looking like the Illini's biggest offensive weapon announced his transfer Wednesday.

Ke'Shawn Vaughn announced on Twitter that he'll be transferring away from Lovie Smith's program. His decision comes after a 2016 season in which he started the as the team's primary running back and finished as the third option in the Illinois backfield.

"After much thought, consideration and discussing this with my family, I have decided to explore different avenues to obtain my bachelor's and athletic endeavors," Vaughn wrote on Twitter. "I want to take a moment to express my appreciation to the University of Illinois and the coaching staff for the opportunity to not only gain experience academically but as an athlete as well. Will forever love the Illini Nation."

Vaughn played in 11 of the Illini's 12 games this past season, finishing as the team's third-leading rusher with 301 yards. He trailed Kendrick Foster (720 yards) and Reggie Corbin (523 yards), who emerged as the offense's preferred rushing options.

Vaughn had one big game in 2016, rushing for 116 yards and a touchdown in Illinois' 48-23 loss to North Carolina. Take that game out, and Vaughn totaled a mere 185 yards in his other 10 games. His carries plummeted after the first two weeks. After rushing 17 times in the opener and 15 times against North Carolina, Vaughn received just 28 carries the remainder of the season, including just one carry in four separate games.

The lack of production and opportunity doesn't make Vaughn's transfer much of a surprise. But in light of what he did as a true freshman just one season earlier, the fact that Vaughn is departing says something.

Recruited by Tim Beckman, Vaughn was one of the Illini's highest-rated recruits in that 2015 class. He rushed for 723 yards on just 157 carries as Josh Ferguson's backup, including turning in a huge 180-yard, two-touchdown game in a 48-14 win over Purdue.

Now, he'll continue his career elsewhere.