Asik excited about facing former team on his new turf

946561.png

Asik excited about facing former team on his new turf

HOUSTONThis citys Houston good, Omer Asik said. A little bit hotter than Chicago.

Besides the change in weather, the former Bulls center is thriving on the court, averaging 10 points and 12.3 rebounds per game, albeit for a 4-7 team. His new squad, the Rockets, host the Bulls at the Toyota Center in a battle of two clubs trying to snap losing streaks two consecutive defeats for the Bulls, a trio of losses for Houston Wednesday night.

Im really excited. I spent two years with them and we had a really good team, and good friendships with everybody, Asik told CSNChicago.com after the Rockets morning shootaround. Its going to be really interesting to play against them.

Asik, a native of Turkey whose mastery of English is far better than he lets on, has fond memories of his time in Chicago, despite signing a three-year, nearly 25 million contract with the Rockets as a free agent over the summer.

Actually, it wasnt totally my decision either. Its just happened like that, whatever happened and Im just moving forward, he said, referring to the Bulls decision not to match Houstons back-loaded offer sheet, which included a 15 million salary for the final year of the deal. I had a really good coach, Thibs, and really good, experienced teammates that helped me a lot in my first two seasons and Im very happy that I started my NBA career with them.

I watch some Bulls games, but not much. But theyve been playing very good, like they always do, continued Asik, who noted that the Bulls are used to playing without injured superstar Derrick Rose, who missed 27 regular-season games last year. Of course, when you play without the MVP, its a little bit tough, but I think theyve been playing very good, especially on defense.

Asik shrugged off praise for his offensive development, but did refer to the challenges of playing with one of the NBAs youngest teams, led by the dynamic backcourt of James Harden and Jeremy Lin.

Im trying to play hard, like usual. Im just trying to win the games to help the team. Thats all I can do, try to get better, he explained. Lin and Harden are really talented and James played last season in the Finals, which is a good experience at a young age and playing with them, we dont know each other yet, but I think itll get better.

Added Rockets interim head coach Kelvin Sampson, who is filling in for regular head coach Kevin McHale while the Hall of Famer deals with a family issue: Sometimes when a guy I think he averaged 14 minutes a game prior to coming here theres always a little bit of a mystery factor. What would he do if he had 30 minutes or 35 minutes?

Hes one of a handful -- 10 guys maybe -- in the NBA, thats averaging a double-double. I think that Omer has to never forget who he is, though. Sometimes, theres a double-edged sword with working with guys on their offense. They want to go to games and start experimenting. Id rather you experiment in practice, hoss, continued Sampson, who was familiar with Asik from his time as an assistant coach with Milwaukee, a Central Division rival of the Bulls.

He needs to be more sure of whats going on come game time. But Omer is more of a facilitator for us than a scorer. I think thats part of his growth as he gets older and more experienced, that he hes going to get more comfortable with catching the ball and scoring. Hes not there yet, but hes trying. But we dont want him trying at the expense of getting other guys shots. Omer needs to run the floor, needs to set good screens.

Sights and Sounds from Cubs visit to Donald Trump's White House

Sights and Sounds from Cubs visit to Donald Trump's White House

The 45th President of the United States Donald Trump welcomed the 2016 World Series champion Cubs to The White House on Wednesday afternoon.

While attendance was optional due to the Cubs already holding a formal ceremony with former President Barack Obama last January, several Cubs players and manager Joe Maddon attended Wednesday's gathering. 

Check out some of the sights and sounds from the Cubs busy day in D.C.

Vice President Mike Pence gets his own Cubs jersey.

Trump wants to know who the best hitter on the Cubs is so he can pick them up for his fantasy baseball team (we made up that last part).

Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert crashes the party.

The Cubs display a card displaying No. 45 for President Trump.

Who is the Cubs owner in this picture?

Who is Victor Caratini? Breaking down the Cubs' new catcher

Who is Victor Caratini? Breaking down the Cubs' new catcher

Miguel Montero is out and Victor Caratini is in.

The Cubs made a shakeup at catcher Wednesday and will have to forge the last half of the 2017 season without the presence of veteran Montero, who has 1,149 MLB games under his belt and was hitting .286 with an .805 OPS this year.

But Montero talked his way out of town and Caratini is the immediate choice for a replacement behind starting backstop Willson Contreras.

[Where it all went wrong with Miguel Montero and the Cubs]

Caratini is a 23-year-old switch-hitter whom the Cubs acquired from the Atlanta Braves in 2014 as part of the Emilio Bonifacio/James Russell deadline deal. The Braves initially selected Caratini in the second round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of Miami-Dade College.

The Puerto Rican native has mostly played catcher (297 games) in his minor-league career, but has also seen time at first base (76 games) and third base (57 games). 

Caratini got his first taste of big-league spring training action this season, impressing with a .379 average and 1.175 OPS in 16 games (29 at-bats).

He is enjoying the best offensive season of his career in Triple-A Iowa, hitting .343 with a .384 on-base percentage and .923 OPS.

Caratini has already set a career high with eight home runs while clubbing 20 doubles and driving in 54 runs in 68 games. He also has only 40 strikeouts in 245 at-bats.

The Cubs named Caratini the organization's minor league player of the month in May after he drove in 17 runs in 24 games while hitting .366 with a .573 slugging percentage.

Caratini also should help the Cubs running game — an area where Montero was 0-for-31 in throwing out baserunners. Caratini has nabbed 28 percent of would-be basestealers in Iowa, a mark that is directly even with the MLB average.

Contreras is throwing out 34 percent of would-be basestealers in 2017.

Caratini figures to be the short-term answer for the Cubs at catcher given the organzation doesn't have many other options. Kyle Schwarber has not been a viable option behind the plate after recovering from major knee surgery that sapped almost his entire 2016 season. Taylor Davis — a 27-year-old catcher/infielder — is currently on the disabled list and has yet to make his MLB debut.