Deng's committment could hurt Bulls

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Deng's committment could hurt Bulls

Last month, Luol Deng announced he will be the face of Great Britain's basketball team in this summer's Olympic games. It was a promise he made that could affect his upcoming season with the Bulls.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson, Deng said he is committed to the Olympics and hasn't decided whether he will opt for surgery on his left wrist that has been giving him problems for the majority of the season. Deng reported he's gotten used to playing with the injury and has learned to play more with his affected hand.

Deng first returned to the court on Feb. 4 after sustaining the tear in his wrist. If he does decide to have surgery after the Olympics, he will miss the start of the upcoming NBA season.

That means he and Rose would both be out. Yikes.

Bears wide receivers give defense a taste of its own medicine

Bears wide receivers give defense a taste of its own medicine

BOURBONNAIS — For much of this offseason’s practices, the Bears’ offense has had to put up with spirited mouthiness from a feisty Bears defense. On Friday, the day before the Bears get into full pads for the first time in nearly seven months, a touch of the smack flowed the other way, set in motion by one of the smallest players on the roster.

Wide receiver Daniel Braverman, the diminutive (5-9, 185) seventh-round pick of the Bears in this year’s draft, outfought fellow rookie Deiondre' Hall (6-2, 201) for a contested ball across the middle, bounced up and let out with a yell to confirm exactly which side of the ball came away with it.

The catch was the first of many by Braverman, whose day was mirrored by starting wideout Kevin White also making repeated, sometimes acrobatic catches against what until now was a defense firmly holding the upper hand this offseason.

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“I think [Braverman] is a guy who was very productive in college, our scouting department really liked him, that's why we drafted him,” said coach John Fox. “I think you know he caught our eyes as far as putting it all together in the offseason and he's continued on that so far this camp.”

Running back Jeremy Langford added several long bursts on runs through the interior, and various receivers added to the day that belonged in large measure to the offense despite missing starting right guard Kyle Long (calf injury).

The defense did have its highlights. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks generated a pair of dominating pass rushes that produced a simulated sack of Jay Cutler and a throwaway, Willie Young blew up a pass play coming clean on a blitz, and safety Harold Jones-Quartey threw Langford to the ground on a non-tackle tackle after the latter had ripped off one of his gashes through the defense.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!

Braverman also has been worked on kickoff return and will have myriad chances to be a roster surprise, given the four preseason games and handful of practices in New England with the Patriots.

“These coaches preach every day how important special teams is, and that's something I have to learn to get adjusted to because I was just a returner,” Braverman said. “But now here you have to be a ‘gunner’ and and R2, L2, [position] stuff on kickoffs. It's just getting one day better in every little detail and aspect you can possible in 24 hours of a day.”

MLS could expand in the Midwest and how that affects the Fire

MLS could expand in the Midwest and how that affects the Fire

There aren’t many notable traditions in Major League Soccer yet.

So many things are frequently changing in the league, which is currently in its 20th season, that not much can be counted on year after year.

However, one of the smaller things that is newsworthy each season is commissioner Don Garber’s on-air halftime interview during the MLS All-Star Game. For hardcore fans of the league it’s must-see TV and in some years might even be more interesting than the game itself.

Expansion, one of the seemingly evergreen hot topics in the league, always seems to come up and Garber usually has some good details to offer. During halftime of yesterday’s All-Star Game in San Jose, Garber teased more than he informed when asked about expansion, but there was still some useful information.

Atlanta is all set and ready to go for 2017 and Garber said they have 31,000 season-ticket deposits. Garber said a second team, which is all but assured to be Minnesota, will also join in 2017 with a formal announcement in “a couple weeks.” Los Angeles FC and David Beckham’s Miami team, which appears to be in limbo at the moment, are next in line.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess beyond the fact that Garber has previously said the league is working to add an additional four teams to reach 28. At this point even Garber doesn’t know which cities will get those teams, but he said there’s a lot of interest.

“I can’t tell you when that’s going to be,” Garber said during the interview on ESPN. “We’re going to be careful to ensure we manage the technical aspects of expansion, but a lot of interest. Probably a dozen cities for those last four spots.”

A dozen cities seems high and perhaps Garber is posturing to increase the competition for those expansion openings, but there are plenty of cities that on the surface would appear to be good for MLS.

From a local perspective, or more appropriately, a regional perspective, it makes one wonder how many of those cities are in the Midwest and could become geographical rivals for the Chicago Fire.

The region as a whole doesn’t have many teams in MLS. Chicago is joined by Kansas City and Columbus, with Minneapolis-St. Paul soon to join. The problem is Kansas City and Minneapolis, and to some extent Columbus, are the geographical edges of the region. There are plenty of Midwestern cities that are both closer and have more ties with Chicago in other sports that don’t have MLS teams.

Looking at the candidates

St. Louis: This is an obvious pick in the rivalry category for the Fire and jumped up the MLS list once the Rams left. The city has rich soccer history, a fairly successful minor league team (the Fire's United Soccer League affiliate, Saint Louis FC, is averaging nearly 5,000 fans per game to put it towards the top of the league attendance chart) and just two other sports teams to compete for mindshare and media attention.

Detroit: There hadn’t been much talk about Detroit joining MLS until Tom Gores (Pistons owner) and Dan Gilbert (Cleveland Cavaliers owner) announced they are working on getting a team into Detroit. Detroit City FC is a semi-pro that team that has built a dedicated following. There’s preexisting Chicago-Detroit rivalries in every other sport with Bulls-Pistons and Blackhawks-Red Wings the standouts.

Cincinnati: A year ago Cincinnati would have been an afterthought, but since FC Cincinnati has joined the USL things have changed. The expansion club is averaging a league-best 16,750 fans per game and recently drew just over 35,000 for a friendly against Premier League club Crystal Palace. There’s nothing minor league about those numbers.

Indianapolis: Indy Eleven, which the Fire beat in penalty kicks in this year’s U.S. Open Cup, led the North American Soccer League in attendance in 2014 and 2015 and sit only behind Minnesota this season. The fan interest and the numbers are there for a minor league team, but the question is if the investment is also there to move into MLS.

How this affects the Fire

MLS continues to market rivalries via sponsored “rivalry weeks” and the same few matchups seem to headline. Seattle-Portland, the new New York derby, LA-San Jose and to a lesser extent Dallas-Houston. The Fire don’t have anything that approaches these games.

The Columbus Crew are probably the Fire’s biggest rival and that’s not reaching the top tier of big matchups in the league. St. Louis, Detroit or Indianapolis could provide a marquee game on the schedule.

“The growth of the league is phenomenal,” Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said back in May when asked about Midwest expansion. “We will be excited to go into those markets because we know we’ll be met with fans who will be inclined to hate Chicago because Chicago is a great sports town. Because we carry with us the tradition of six trophies in our cabinet and we also carry with us the reputation of Chicago sports in general. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s a wonderful thing.”

From the players’ perspective, they won’t complain about their being more jobs in the league, but they also look forward to the bigger spectacles.

“Any rivalry game brings a lot of fan interest, a lot of high-intensity games,” said Fire midfielder Michael Stephens, who grew up in the Chicago area. “You see New York City-New York Red Bull this weekend was a good one so they’re always good.

“There’s been some talk about St. Louis as well so that could be a little rivalry. We got the Cardinals and Cubs going on already so that could be nice. Any more teams is good for the players.”

Like Stephens, Eric Gehrig is a Chicago native and a big fan of Chicago sports. Gehrig also believes it would be good for both the Fire and the league to see more teams in the region.

“You think about the markets, maybe St. Louis,” Gehrig said. “A lot of ties there with Chicago and Detroit obviously. Michigan has got a healthy crop of young talent. I think as the years pass soccer is going to keep getting bigger and bigger and any time you can add more teams and more rivalries to the Midwest it will be good.”

Cubs demoting La Stella for Coghlan just about numbers game and 'rules'

Cubs demoting La Stella for Coghlan just about numbers game and 'rules'

As the new MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement is negotiated this winter, count Cubs manager Joe Maddon among those who would be in favor of 27-man rosters.

Maddon and the Cubs had to make arguably the toughest roster call of the year Friday as they activated veteran Chris Coghlan from the disabled list and optioned Tommy La Stella to the minor leagues.

La Stella is not an everyday player, but performance has not been his issue at all, hitting .295 with an .846 OPS as a left-handed bat off the bench receiving spot starts at third and second base.

La Stella has also been effective lately, hitting .308 with a .419 on-base percentage in 32 plate appearances since returning from his own DL stint in early July.

"Honestly, it's just about rules," Maddon said of the move. "It's just getting Coghlan back. He was ready to come back. And Tommy had an option."

The option is really the biggest part, and the fact both Coghlan and La Stella are lefties. 

The Cubs couldn't send Matt Szczur down because he is out of options and they didn't want to risk losing him to another organization. (Plus, he's a right-handed bat off the bench who is also performing well with a .759 OPS.)

The Cubs are currently carrying three catchers, but David Ross is a valuable presence in the clubhouse, Miguel Montero is a veteran and a two-time All Star and Willson Contreras is the backstop of the future and has also seen some time in the outfield.

Among the bullpen arms, Carl Edwards Jr. can be sent down to the minors with no issues, but he has a 1.84 ERA and 0.75 WHIP.

When it came down to it, La Stella was the only option for the Cubs if they wanted to bring back Coghlan.

"(La Stella did not take it) well. And he shouldn't take it well, honestly," Maddon said. "It's an unusual moment we're in right now where we have so many guys. This is definitely an advocacy for a 27- or 28-man roster. 

"It's difficult. These are hard decisions. Guys are not gonna like 'em. I don't expect them to like 'em.

"I would not make up any kind of excuse or try to give (the media) any kind of reason other than the fact it was hard to do, (La Stella) didn't like it and again, it's part of the rules and how they are constructed in our game that kinda forces you into different moments."

Maddon said he doesn't expect La Stella to get over this move right away, suggesting it may take a few days before the 27-year-old can come to terms with it.

"The fact that he got it straight up matters," Maddon said. "And that's all you can do. There's no saying, 'You're not playing good enough; you're not hitting good enough.' You can't tell them that. It's not true.

"These are the rules. And in order to retain everybody that we want to, we had to do it this way."

Coghlan — who landed on the DL with a side/rib injury — said the Cubs told him earlier in the week that he would be activated on Friday if all continued to go well in his rehab stint but also said he did not know the corresponding move until reporters informed him in the clubhouse before Friday's game.

Coghlan felt he was ready to come back earlier than this, and his numbers in five rehab games back that up. He posted a .500 average and 1.369 OPS with Double-A Tennessee.

"You gotta get over some of those mental hurdles, but that was kinda done probably the first couple games," Coghlan said. "I had a check swing, kinda did all those things.

"I think it was just key to get some timing back. And obviously it's not the same caliber, but it's what you could get, so I was grateful for that time and (trying to) carry that over here."

The Cubs will have another tough call to make when Jorge Soler is activated from the disabled list, too.

Soler has played in six rehab games in his return from a hamstring injury but is just 2-for-19 in those contests, so the Cubs want him to work more on getting his timing back before activating him.