From Comcast SportsNetOCEANSIDE, Calif. (AP) -- Junior Seau's apparent suicide stunned an entire city and saddened former teammates who recalled the former NFL star's ferocious tackles and habit of calling everybody around him "Buddy."It also left everyone wondering what led to Seau's death Wednesday morning in what police said appeared to be a suicide. He was 43."I'm sorry to say, Superman is dead," said Shawn Mitchell, a chaplain for the San Diego Chargers. "All of us can appear to be super, but all of us need to reach out and find support when we're hurting."Police Chief Frank McCoy said Seau's girlfriend reported finding him unconscious with a gunshot wound to the chest and lifesaving efforts were unsuccessful. A gun was found near him, McCoy said. Police said no suicide note was found and they didn't immediately know who the gun was registered to.Neither Mitchell nor Seau's ex-wife knew what might have led to the former first-pumping, emotional leader of his hometown San Diego Chargers to kill himself."We have no clues whatsoever," Gina Seau said. "We're as stunned and shocked as anyone else. We're horribly saddened. We miss him and we'll always love him."Seau's death in Oceanside, in northern San Diego County, stunned the region he represented with almost reckless abandon. The same intensity that got the star linebacker ejected for fighting in his first exhibition game helped carry the Chargers to their only Super Bowl, following the 1994 season. A ferocious tackler, he'd leap up, pump a fist and kick out a leg after dropping a ball carrier or quarterback."It's a sad thing. It's hard to understand," said Bobby Beathard, who as Chargers general manager took Seau out of Southern California with the fifth pick overall in the 1990 draft. "He was really just a great guy. If you drew up a player you'd love to have the opportunity to draft and have on the team and as a teammate, Junior and Rodney (Harrison), they'd be the kind of guys you'd like to have."Quarterback Stan Humphries recalled that Seau did everything at the same speed, whether it was practicing, lifting weights or harassing John Elway."The intensity, the smile, the infectious attitude, it carried over to all the other guys," said Humphries, who was shocked that Seau is now the eighth player from the '94 Super Bowl team to die.Seau's mother appeared before reporters outside the former player's house, weeping uncontrollably."I don't understand ... I'm shocked," Luisa Seau cried out.Her son gave no indication of a problem when she spoke to him by phone earlier this week, she said."He's joking to me, he called me a homegirl,'" she said.Seau's death follows the suicide last year of former Chicago Bears player Dave Duerson, who also shot himself in the chest.In October 2010, Seau survived a 100-foot plunge down a seaside cliff in his SUV, hours after he was arrested for investigation of domestic violence at the Oceanside home he shared with his girlfriend. The woman had told authorities that Seau assaulted her during an argument.There was no evidence of drugs or alcohol involved in the crash and Seau told authorities he fell asleep while driving. He sustained minor injuries."I just can't imagine this, because I've never seen Junior in a down frame of mind," Beathard said. "He was always so upbeat and he would keep people up. He practiced the way he played. He made practice fun. He was a coach's dream. He was an amazing guy as well as a player and a person. This is hard to believe."Seau's ex-wife told the Union-Tribune San Diego that he texted her and each of their three children separate messages: "I love you."Seau, who played in the NFL for parts of 20 seasons, is the eighth member of San Diego's lone Super Bowl team who has died, all before the age of 45. Lew Bush, Shawn Lee, David Griggs, Rodney Culver, Doug Miller, Curtis Whitley and Chris Mims are the others. Causes of death ranged from heart attacks to a plane crash to a lightning strike.Seau's death also is among a few recent, unexpected deaths of NFL veterans.Duerson's family has filed a wrongful death suit against the NFL, claiming the league didn't do enough to prevent or treat concussions that severely damaged Duerson's brain before he killed himself in February 2011.Former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, who had joined in a concussion-related lawsuit against the league -- one of dozens filed in the last year -- died last month at age 62. His wife has said he suffered from depression and dementia after taking years of hits.Seau is not known to have been a plaintiff in the concussion litigation.However, his ex-wife told The Associated Press that Seau sustained concussions during his career."Of course he had. He always bounced back and kept on playing," she said. "He's a warrior. That didn't stop him. I don't know what football player hasn't. It's not ballet. It's part of the game."Gina Seau said she didn't know if the effects of concussions contributed to Seau's death.When Humphries joined the Chargers in a 1992 trade, he said it was obvious Seau was "the person who had the most energy, the most excited, the guy who tried to rally everybody." Humphries said Seau "brought out a lot of youngness" in older players.He also helped younger players."So sad to hear about Jr Seau," tweeted New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who was with San Diego from 2001-05. "Junebug. Buddy. The greatest teammate a young guy could ask for. This is a sad day. He will be missed greatly."Seau called many of those around him "Buddy." He often referred to teammates as "my players."Seau was voted to a Chargers-record 12 straight Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro six times."We all lost a friend today," Chargers President Dean Spanos said in a statement. "This is just such a tragic loss. One of the worst things I could ever imagine."Seau's greatest game may have been in the 17-13 victory at Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game in January 1995 that sent the Chargers to the Super Bowl. Playing through the pain of a pinched nerve in his neck, he spread out his 16 tackles from the first play to the second-to-last. San Diego was routed 49-26 in the Super Bowl by San Francisco.Seau left the Chargers after the 2002 season when the team unceremoniously told him he was free to pursue a trade. He held a farewell news conference at the restaurant he owned in Mission Valley, and later was traded to Miami.Seau retired a few times, the first in August 2006, when he said, "I'm not retiring. I am graduating."Four days later, he signed with the New England Patriots. He was with the Patriots when they lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl following the 2007 season, which ended New England's quest for a perfect season.Last fall, finally retired for good, Seau was inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame.His last season was 2009.Patriots owner Robert Kraft recalled the tight hugs he got from Seau in the locker room following games."He may have been one of the most charismatic Patriots players in franchise history," Kraft said. "Today, the fans of the teams for which Junior played -- San Diego, Miami and New England -- lost more than a legendary football player. We lost our Buddy.'"More than 100 people gathered outside of Seau's home, only hours after he was found dead. Families showed up with flowers and fans wearing Chargers jerseys waited to get news.Several hours after Seau was found, his body was loaded into a medical examiner's van and taken away as fans snapped pictures and raised their hands in the air as if in prayer.Family friend Priscilla Sanga said about 50 friends and family members gathered in the garage where Seau's body lay on a gurney and they had the opportunity to say goodbye."Everybody got to see Junior before they took him away," Sanga said. "He looked so peaceful and cold. It was disbelief. We all touched him and kissed him."
With an extremely difficult six-game road trip right around the corner, it's safe to say we'll have a pretty good idea about the Bulls' playoff hopes by mid February, which just happens to be right before the league's trade deadline on Feb. 23.
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg says he talks about big picture issues with his players "all the time" but acknowledges the perspective from the coaching staff has to be on preparing for the next game. Still, with Atlanta playing its best basketball of the season and the Wizards also enjoying a New Year's resurgence, we're probably looking at six teams (Bulls, Hornets, Pacers, Bucks, Pistons and Knicks) battling it out for the final three playoff spots in the East.
Yes, the Bulls did go 4-2 on their last extended road trip, but they were playing much more efficiently early in the season. Now, a trip that includes games against the Thunder, Rockets, Kings, Warriors, Suns and Timberwolves looks much more daunting. Even the teams with losing records will be tough to beat, considering Sacramento will be looking for payback after last Saturday's controversial loss at the United Center, the Suns are playing very well right now led by high-scoring guards Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker and Minnesota is also starting to find its way under Tom Thibodeau.
When the Bulls hit the All-Star break on Feb. 17, front-office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman should have a clear indication of which direction to pursue. Will they be looking to add another veteran scorer off the bench for a playoff run or start trading off pieces for draft picks? I'm guessing it's more likely the latter.
Right now, Taj Gibson and Niko Mirotic look to be the most tradeable commodities. Gibson will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and it seems unlikely the Bulls will be of the mind to offer a big money, long term contract to a role-playing power forward who turns 32 in June.
With the experience of losing Pau Gasol for nothing last year still fresh in their minds, look for the Bulls to pursue trades with playoff teams trying to add another piece for the stretch run. The Toronto Raptors immediately come to mind, since they've been interested in Gibson for quite some time and look at power forward as their weakest position in a potential Eastern Conference Finals matchup against Cleveland. Would the Raptors be willing to give up their late first-round pick for a half season of Gibson's services? If they believe they have a legitimate shot at knocking off the Cavs this season, the answer is probably yes, especially considering their star point guard Kyle Lowry can also become a free agent at season's end.
Finding equal value for Mirotic might be a more difficult proposition, especially considering his reputation around the league has taken a hit since he came over before the 2014-15 season hailed as the best prospect in Europe. Mirotic was billed as a classic "stretch 4," but to this point, he's only shooting 34 percent for his career from 3-point range, and only 31 percent this season.
Anyone who's watched Mirotic play over the last couple months can see he's battling his confidence and that he might benefit from a fresh start with a new team. Plus, it looks like the Bulls have a ready-to-go replacement on the roster in second-round draft pick Paul Zipser, coincidentally, another European import. Add in the fact Mirotic will be a restricted free agent at season's end, and you can see why the Bulls might be better off exploring trade options now rather than being faced with the choice of matching a big contract offer this summer.
As for Rajon Rondo, unless he's involved as part of a blockbuster deal, there's little chance any NBA team is going to trade for the money remaining on his $14 million contract for this season. Look for the Bulls to explore buyout talks after the trade deadline.
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Here are a few stories from around the Association that have caught my attention.
All-Star reserve picks
With the announcement of NBA All-Star reserves coming Thursday, here are my picks.
Remember the coaches from each conference will select two guards, three frontcourt players and two wild card choices from any position.
In the East, I would go with Isaiah Thomas and John Wall at guard, Paul George, Kevin Love and Joel Embiid in the frontcourt and Kyle Lowry and Kemba Walker as my wild card picks. I know the East will have a point guard heavy roster, but that's the way the game is trending and Lowry and Walker are more deserving in my opinion than frontcourt players like Paul Millsap and Hassan Whiteside.
In the West, I've got Russell Westbrook and Klay Thompson as my reserve guards, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan and Gordon Hayward in the frontcourt and Marc Gasol and Damian Lillard as my wild card picks. Apologies to other worthy choices in the West like Draymond Green, C.J. McCollum, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, but in case you haven't noticed, Jordan is having the best season of his career (averaging 13 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks a game while shooting 69 percent from the field) and he's kept the Clippers afloat with the injuries to both Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.
Boston's Thomas deserved to start All-Star Game
Back to the East, Thomas really should have been voted a starter. All he's done this season is average 29 points and six assists a game, carrying Boston to the third best record in the conference. But more impressively, the 5-foot-9 dynamo leads all NBA players in fourth-quarter scoring, averaging just over 10 points during winning time.
And, one thing we know for sure, the last player selected in the 2011 draft isn't lacking for confidence. Check out these tweets from the unlikely Celtics' star:
Having confidence in yourself is crucial. If u dont have a strong opinion about yourself the people & the world around u will tell u who u r— Isaiah Thomas (@Isaiah_Thomas) January 23, 2017
Without that confidence you might believe them. Not everyone will understand, they might even call me cocky.— Isaiah Thomas (@Isaiah_Thomas) January 23, 2017
But not everyone has had to deal with the amount of doubt I have had to face in my career.— Isaiah Thomas (@Isaiah_Thomas) January 23, 2017
I worked too hard for me to ever say somebody is better than me at something I worked my whole life for! Confident NOT Cocky 💯— Isaiah Thomas (@Isaiah_Thomas) January 23, 2017
For years now, we've been hearing about Celtics general manager Danny Ainge looking to package some of his haul of future draft picks for a veteran star (like the Bulls' Jimmy Butler). Turns out his under-the-radar deal for Thomas back in February 2015 brought the C's a big-time scorer in one of the league's smallest players.
Stats of the week
Speaking of Butler, our stats "cruncher" Chris Kamka highlights some of the accomplishments that earned Jimmy Buckets the first All-Star start of his career.
— Butler has four games with 40 or more points this season, the most by a Bulls player in a season since Michael Jordan's 12 in 1997-98.
— He is the first Bulls player with three 40-point games over a six-game span since Jordan in January 1998.
— Butler put up 52 points, 12 rebounds and six assists on Jan. 2 vs. Hornets, the first time in United Center history a player had a game with at least 50 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
— He has two career 50-plus-point games, joining Jordan (38) as the only Bulls players with more than one (including playoffs).
— Butler had a streak of 15 straight games with 20 or more points this season, the longest such streak by a Bulls player since Jordan's last 23 games with Bulls (including playoffs).
— His 9.7 free-throw attempts per game this season are the most by a Bulls player since Jordan's 9.8 per game in 1988-89.
— Butler has attempted 10 or more free throws in 24 of his 43 games this season. He attempted 20 or more free throws twice.
Butler has improved his points per game in every year of his career:
— 2011-12: 2.6 PPG
— 2012-13: 8.6 PPG
— 2013-14: 13.1 PPG
— 2014-15: 20.0 PPG
— 2015-16: 20.9 PPG
— 2016-17: 24.8 PPG
Most 40-point game in Bulls history, including playoffs:
— Michael Jordan: 203
— Bob Love: 13
— Jimmy Butler: 7
— Ben Gordon: 5
— Scottie Pippen: 5
— Reggie Theus: 5
Quote of the week
And finally, with so many trade rumors circulating around the league these days, it was refreshing to hear Pistons coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy give beat reporters some candid comments about what actually goes on between front office execs, courtesy of the Detroit News.
"These discussions happen all the time, and I love it when teams say somebody is off limits. I won't lie to my guys. There's no one in this league who is off limits," Van Gundy said. "Who's the most off-limits guy? LeBron? What if the Warriors offered Kevin Durant and Steph Curry? They wouldn't consider that? There's no deal they wouldn't consider?
"Everybody's available. I got asked a question the other day: There's a report out there that Reggie (Jackson)'s available for the right price. Everyone in the league is available for the right price. It's just for your main guys, the right price is a lot steeper and usually doesn't come around."
Interesting stuff from the always-quotable Van Gundy. But I don't think we'll have to worry about that James-for-Durant-and-Curry suggestion getting a lot of play before the deadline.
Michigan football is going to Italy. The Wolverines will spend a week of spring football practice in Rome come April, the latest in Jim Harbaugh's globetrotting efforts to expand the Michigan football brand to every corner of the Earth.
According to the school, which announce the Rome trip Monday, Michigan players will spend a week practicing as well as immersing themselves in the Italian culture, visiting historic sites and visiting orphanages and with U.S. service members.
"We were looking to provide our student-athletes with a great educational, cultural and international football experience," Harbaugh said in the announcement. "I am excited that our student-athletes will be able to take advantage of this amazing educational opportunity, be exposed to another culture and be ambassadors for the United States and the University of Michigan during our visit to Rome."
On the surface, this looks like yet another wild stunt in line with Harbaugh's satellite camp tour an offseason ago, where he seemed to hold camps in every state and wear a jersey of every NFL team.
But really this isn't much different than what college basketball programs do all the time. Programs from large conferences routinely take overseas trips to play against pro teams in foreign countries. Michigan State recently took a trip to Italy. Northwestern recently visited Spain. Illinois recently took an offseason trip to Europe.
Of course transporting a college football team across the ocean is a bit more logistically involved than a basketball team, given the roster differences, but this is something plenty of college athletic programs do on a regular basis. And it is an awesome opportunity for these student-athletes, the kind of experiences universities should be providing.
"Over the past few decades student-athletes in other sports have had the opportunity to participate in international training trips to practice and prepare for the upcoming season," Michigan athletics director Warde Manuel said in the announcement. "This is a tremendous opportunity for these young men to learn about and experience another culture, connect with the people of Italy and showcase American football internationally. The University of Michigan has always encouraged our students to gain knowledge through international experiences, and we are so glad to provide them with this opportunity."
Still, because it's Harbaugh, it's sure to draw a ton of attention. And surely that can't be viewed as a bad thing for Harbaugh and his program.