Hamilton's eventual return in Thibodeau's hands

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Hamilton's eventual return in Thibodeau's hands

OKLAHOMA CITYAnother Bulls game, another game-time decision for Rip Hamilton, another DNP-CD. For those not versed in NBA jargon, the acronym stands for Did Not Play-Coachs Decision, and Hamiltons current situation might be the definition of it.

The veteran shooting guard has worked his way back from his right-shoulder injury and has been a full participant in team practices and shootarounds for the past week, yet he hasnt played. Contrary to popular belief, that decision isnt Hamiltons.

Whatever he wants. I know its one of those things where we dont really know the effect of getting hits. We did some three-on-three, but I told him Im comfortable with whatever he wants to do, if we need to get out there and shoot more or take a couple more hits, said Hamilton after Sundays loss to the Thunder. We take it a day at a time. We dont look at it being next week. Hopefully its next game, so well see.

Saturday day we did a little bit more, so its a little sore, but its a good sore. It wasnt a bad sore, he continued. My mindset is if I can shoot, I can play. Thats always been my mindset. If I can run up the court, Im cool to play. I was a little stubborn the first time, so I leave it up to Coach to put me out there when its time.

By he and Coach, Hamilton is referring to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. As much as Thibodeau wants to win regular-season games and have his full roster available to play, it appears that the reigning NBA Coach of the Year is more concerned with going into the playoffs healthy.

Well see tomorrow. Hes feeling pretty good, but I just want to make sure. I think we have to play this smart, Thibodeau said about Hamilton. Hes doing fine. Im the one. Hes raring to go, hes chomping at the bit.

But when it comes to Hamiltons partner in the Bulls starting backcourt, All-Star point guard Derrick Rose, thats another situation altogether.

Thibodeau was typically dismissive when asked about how much Roses absence affected the Bulls in Sundays atypical blowout defeatDerricks a great player, he said. Obviously wed prefer to have him, but we have more than enough.but Rose himself, while weary of questions about his recovery from a strained right groin, did exhibit a hint of concern about his immediate future this season.

Its the same thing every thing every day. Just trying to improve, running a little bit more and lifting weights, so if anything, I should be stronger than ever, the reigning league MVP said. Its up to me, so yeah, I think I am returning before the end of the regular season.

The most Im doing is lifting weights and stretching, trying to loosen up the scar tissue, he continued. My injury definitely is worse than he thought initially. Missing this amount of games definitely hurts, but if anything, Im hoping thats a blessing in disguise. The only positive thing I can look at is Im getting my rest.

At the same time, the 23-year-old remains confident that when he does return, the Bulls wont miss a beat.

Its going to take me a minute to get my rhythm back. Hopefully it takes me a game. That would be great, but well have to see, he said. Im not worried at all. Weve been together for a while now to now each others games. Me being out, just watching everybody, I know everybodys tendencies now, just being on the bench for this long and I think that we shouldnt have any problems.

Roses absence didnt mean the Thunder, led by peers and friends Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, took any pity on the Bulls Sunday.

We know its going to be tough for those guys without Derrick, but theyve been playing very well without him, winning some big games and we couldnt take them lightly, said Durant. John Lucas has been having a great run when Derrick Rose has been hurt, C.J. Watson, as well, so we just didnt want to take those guys for granted and we wanted to come out there and play as hard as we can, and see what happens.

Added Westbrook: It was tough. I know Derrick, if he was healthy, he would definitely come out and compete and wed definitely talk some trash in the summertime.

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon's Washington itinerary didn't include an hour-long sit-down with Chuck Todd for NBC's "Meet the Press." There would be no rehashing the manager's Game 7 decisions as he stood outside the West Wing, though the second question during the media stakeout involved "last year's team" and how the 2017 Cubs are prepared to defend a World Series title.

"You're already there, huh?" Maddon said to a CNN reporter, minutes after President Barack Obama's final official White House event ended on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

But last year's team is gone — preserved now in highlight films and the hearts and minds of generations of Cub fans — even if so many familiar faces will be in Mesa when pitchers and catchers officially report to Arizona on Valentine's Day.

It would be impossible to replicate everything that made the 2016 Cubs so special. Baseball has its own relentless pace and the dynamics are constantly shifting. (Remember when players were passive-aggressively complaining about Maddon's spring-training approach during the final week of a 103-win regular season?) The clubhouse chemistry will inevitably feel different after climbing a Mount Everest of professional sports.

"A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form," Maddon said. "We're motivated by it. We want to do it again, of course. There's no question we're trying to do that.

"I'm really leaning on the phrase or the thought of being uncomfortable. I want us to be uncomfortable. I think the moment you get into your comfort zone after having such a significant moment in your life like that, the threat is that you're going to stop growing.

"So I really want us to be uncomfortable. I really want to continue (to see) a pattern of growth and really try to get at them very quickly again."

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Can Jason Heyward recover from one of the worst offensive seasons in the majors last year? Is Willson Contreras ready to be a frontline catcher? Will Javier Baez have to adjust back to being a role player after becoming a playoff superstar? Does Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot and Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare represent an upgrade over Dexter Fowler?

If healthy, Wade Davis should be a trusted, lower-maintenance closer than Aroldis Chapman, with an advanced approach to pitching and more clubhouse presence. As a staff, the Cubs will have to bounce back from pitching into early November (or not, in the case of the relievers Maddon didn't trust during the playoffs).

As it stands, Jon Lester (33) and John Lackey (38) have already combined to throw almost 5,000 innings in The Show (including the postseason). Jake Arrieta will have to deal with the pressure of playing for his megadeal in his final season before becoming a free agent.

The drop-off after Mike Montgomery — and it's still mostly projected potential with the No. 5 starter — appears to be very steep in an organization that doesn't have any high-end pitching prospects in the upper levels of the farm system.

After painting the bull's-eye on the chest and turning "Embrace The Target" and "Try Not To Suck" into viral T-shirts, a guy who hates meetings is still working on his themes for this campaign.

"I'm really rotating around the thought of authenticity," Maddon said. "I talked about it a lot last year, the fact that I think authenticity has a chance to repeat itself without even trying. It's part of who you are. It's not fabricated. It's real.

"I've talked about our guys a lot the last couple years. I think one of our strongest qualities is the authentic component of our players. So I'm really focusing on that word right now. Again, that's a great word to bring an entire message from (when) you get in front of the group that first day in spring training.

"I kind of just think like authenticity happens. And let's work it from there."

The costumes should be in midseason form with Maddon planning a house party around Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival before driving his RV from Florida to Arizona.

Maddon will turn 63 on Feb. 8 and have to keep evolving, just like his players, who might outgrow some of those gimmicks. But the Cubs are still a reflection of their future Hall of Fame manager.

Amid all the uncertainty in Washington, Maddon wouldn't touch a question about what advice he would give Donald Trump before Friday's inauguration.

"I'm not even going to go anywhere close to that," Maddon said. "I will say this: I have a lot of respect of the office.

"At the end of the day, just have a lot of respect for the office, regardless of your political persuasion. My point would be to encourage people to really respect the office and let's see what we get done here over the next four years."

Bulls' Jimmy Butler voted All-Star Game starter

Bulls' Jimmy Butler voted All-Star Game starter

Jimmy Butler is heading to his third straight All-Star Game, and for the first time he'll be in the Eastern Conference's starting lineup.

CSNChicago.com Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill reported that Butler was voted an All-Star starter.

Butler has been sensational this season, averaging a career-best 24.8 points (tied for the 10th-best mark in the league entering Thursday's games), 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per contest through 41 games. He's shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 34.5 percent from 3-point range.

Butler previously made Eastern Conference All-Star squads in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, though this is his first time in the starting five.