Cubs waiting for their Fenway plan, or a Miami game-changer

739154.png

Cubs waiting for their Fenway plan, or a Miami game-changer

MIAMI Theo Epstein who wasnt initially invited to take part in Fenway Parks 100th anniversary ceremony on Friday took the high road and released a statement after the snub:

I hope tomorrow is a great day for Red Sox fans and for the whole organization. I have plans to be at the Cubs game tomorrow, but I will take a moment to toast Fenway along with everyone else who loves that ballpark.

As general manager, Epstein witnessed the golden age on Yawkey Way. The Red Sox won World Series titles in 2004 and 2007, and began a streak of sellouts thats about to hit 700 games in their remodeled ballpark.

It wasnt long before that when people were talking about tearing down Fenway Park and building a new waterfront stadium. The Cubs are still waiting for their game-changer.

Taking in all the eye candy around Marlins Park, you wondered what a renovated Wrigley Field would mean for the Cubs. Chairman Tom Ricketts and the teams high-level business executives were curious enough on Wednesday to tour the stadium.

It effects our on-field product, Epstein said Thursday. In a renovated Wrigley, wed put our players in a better position to succeed because they can prepare better.

They can take care of their bodies better with a modern clubhouse, a modern training room. A modern BP tunnel, a modern video room just helps the players prepare like they need to.

Usually, a renovated ballpark leads to more revenues that we can pour back into the major-league team.

The Marlins knew they had to make a splash when they moved into their new ballpark in Little Havana.

Ozzie Guillen took his talents to South Beach, and if he said something off-the-cuff about Fidel Castro, well, thats the cost of doing business.

The Marlins made a run at Albert Pujols during the winter meetings last December, a big name that could be put up in lights with the same wattage as LeBron James or Dwyane Wade.

In a shopping spree that stunned the industry, the Marlins wound up committing almost 200 million to Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell.

If you play this out at Clark and Addison, you can envision a five-year plan where Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson are all in their prime. The Cubs Way is producing players. The team is rolling in new money from Wrigley 2.0 and the changing landscape for local television deals.

It will be harder to justify a middle-of-the-pack payroll, which is where USA Today had the Cubs in its 2012 salary survey (even if the accounting isnt exact and there were reasons for scaling back). Last winter, Pujols and Prince Fielder were the right players at the wrong time, but this is where forces could collide for the megadeal.

Rahm Emanuel caught the Cubs off-guard just before Opening Day, when the mayor announced negotiations were in the final stages.

The Sun-Times has reported on Emanuels Fenway Plan, where public and private financing could fuel the renovation, which could lead to more advertising, a possible Jumbotron and street fairs on Sheffield and Waveland.

We dont know when its all going to be finalized and finished, manager Dale Sveum said. Were still two, three, four years away from major things being done. But it means a lot when you get a new clubhouse and just batting cages.

The more money you crank out, the more resources you have, obviously, for free agency or whatever it might be in the draft. It means a lot to the organization when youre trying to get somewhere and all that stuff comes together. Its huge.

The Cubs wont have the blank canvas the Marlins got on the site of the old Orange Bowl. Not when a Toyota sign or an Under Armour logo on the outfield doors generates neighborhood controversy.

If Wrigley Field is a cathedral, then what does that make Marlins Park?

The retractable-roof stadium looks like a spaceship. Girls in bikinis hang out in the pool behind the left-field wall. Techno beats pump from the Clevelander, trying to recreate a South Beach nightclub.

The walls are colored lime green, and the players wear bright orange jerseys. In between innings, cheerleaders dance on the field and a mascot fires a gun that shoots T-shirts into the crowd.

Theres definitely a lot of Miami in here, said Cubs pitcher Chris Volstad, a former Marlins first-round pick who grew up in South Florida.

There will be a lot of Chicago in how this deal is cut. You can argue about the politics, but theres no denying that it should make this a destination for free agents, and take the team to another level.

Its not just about that, Epstein said. Its also potentially a win for the fans, being more comfortable, and a win for the surrounding areas, continuing to keep Wrigley as a prime tourist attraction. So it could be a win-win-win. But it certainly has a chance to impact the on-field product in a positive way.

The consummate pro: How Taj Gibson has become the Bulls' version of Udonis Haslem

15494063_10154553009606858_998332033_n.jpg
USA TODAY

The consummate pro: How Taj Gibson has become the Bulls' version of Udonis Haslem

The 2011 Eastern Conference Finals between the Bulls and Miami Heat featured three future Hall of Famers in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Derrick Rose had been named the youngest league MVP in league history weeks earlier. Luol Deng was blossoming and would earn All-Star nods in each of the following two seasons. $82 million man Carlos Boozer had averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds in his first season with the Bulls. The series was loaded with star power.

But buried deep in that series was a matchup of unsung reserves that influenced the series far greater than their numbers in the box score indicated. Udonis Haslem averaged just 4.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 22 minutes in the series – the Heat won in five games – but his impact was felt nonetheless, in part because of the physicality he brought against an energetic second-year forward named Taj Gibson.

“When we played them in the Eastern Conference Finals, Gibson had an incredible impact on that series, and (Haslem) was just coming back from an injury,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said before Saturday’s tilt between the Bulls and Heat. “And we thought that was probably the missing component in that series early on, was having a player like UD to match up against (Gibson). And that really helped us close that series.”

Five years later Haslem is on the final leg of his NBA career. He’s only appeared sparingly in seven games for the Heat in this his 14th NBA season. But the two-time NBA champion has had a lasting impact on the Heat organization – so much so that they allowed him to miss Friday’s game to attend his son’s state-title football game in Florida – and has etched himself in Heat lore, despite never averaging more than 12 points or nine rebounds in a season.

It’s not unlike the career path Gibson has taken in his eight seasons in Chicago. The now-31-year-old Gibson has spent the majority of his career playing behind the likes of Carlos Boozer, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. And while he’s been an integral part of the Bulls’ rotation since joining the team in 2009, his role has never matched his ability or production. It’s why Haslem said he sees so much of himself in Gibson, an unselfish, care-free teammate, yet also someone who is willing to work every day despite the lack of accolades.

“Taj plays hard, man. He’s a guy that gets all the dirty work done. The banging down in the paint, he knocks down that 15-footer, (he) rebounds,” Haslem told CSNChicago.com. “A lot of similarities to myself when I was a little younger. Like you said, unsung. Doesn’t look for any attention, doesn’t look for any glory. Just goes out there, is professional, and does his job every night.”

And in his eighth NBA season, Gibson has done his job every night incredibly well. Through 23 games he’s posted career-best numbers in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists and steals, and isn’t far off in points and blocks per game. His 16.9 PER would be a career-high.

He’s done all this with little real estate in the spotlight. Jimmy Butler has cemented himself as a legitimate MVP candidate, and free-agent acquisitions Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have earned headlines.

But Gibson has been as reliable and consistent a frontcourt player as the Bulls have – he’s one of three players to have appeared in all 23 games this season – and he’s playing some of his best basketball while the Bulls are mired in a mini-slump.

“He’s a rock for us on this team,” Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s going to go out and do his job. He’s never going to complain about his role. He’s going to put on his hard hat and make the little plays that may not show up in the box score, but help you win.”

Including Gibson’s 13-point, seven-rebound effort in Saturday’s win over the Heat, he’s averaging 12.6 points on 58 percent shooting and 7.3 rebounds in the Bulls’ last 11 games. He’s corralled 16 offensive rebounds in that span – including two on Saturday that he put back for layups – and is the main reason the Bulls entered as the league’s top offensive rebounding team in the league (and second in total rebound percentage). The Bulls are also nearly six points per 100 possessions better defensively with Gibson on the floor.

Gibson’s and Haslem’s career numbers are eerily similar – Gibson has averaged 9.3 points on 49 percent shooting and 6.4 rebounds, compared to Haslem’s 7.9 points on 49 percent shooting and 7.0 rebounds, with this year excluded. And both players accomplished their numbers while acting as the third scoring option, at best, on their respective teams. Wade, who spent 13 seasons with Haslem, also sees similarities in the two forward’s games and personalities.

“Taj does his job. He doesn’t try to do too much. Some nights he’s featured a lot. Some nights he’s not. He’s out there to do his job, wants to win,” he said. “(Haslem and Gibson) are very similar. He has that mentality where he’s a workhorse and he’s going to do whatever it takes.”

Added Spoelstra: “Incredible amount of similar qualities. In my mind both those guys are winning players and have all the intangibles and toughness. Doing the little things, the dirty work, both those guys embody all those qualities. We’ve always respected Gibson because of that.”

Gibson is third on the Bulls in field goal attempts per game, the first time in his career he’s been higher than fifth in that category. The Bulls are using him more than ever before, and it’s paying off. He's in the final year of his four-year contract with the Bulls, and is looking at a significant pay raise in free agency this coming summer. Whether his future is in Chicago or elsewhere, don’t expect him to change his persona or mentality anytime soon. Much like Haslem did for years in Miami, Gibson has defined being a consummate professional, teammate and player.

“When you’re on championship teams, competing for a championship, trying to go deep in the playoffs, trying to do special things, guys are doing to have to sacrifice their game. Everybody can’t play big minutes; everybody can’t take the shots,” he said after the Bulls’ win over the Cavs on Thursday. “I’m one of the guys that sacrificed my game for the good of the team. Whatever the coach wants me to do, I’m going to go out and do (it).

“If a coach wants me to set 100 screens and not take a shot, I’m gonna do that because I’m about helping the team. And that’s what I’ve been doing all these years. As long as I’m out there enjoying myself, having fun and playing with great teammates, I’m blessed.”

Morning Update: Bulls take down Heat for second time this season

morning_update_pic.jpg
USA TODAY

Morning Update: Bulls take down Heat for second time this season

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks square off with Stars tonight on CSN

Complete Bears-Lions coverage on CSN

Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade lift Bulls to win over pesky Heat

Brent Seabrook could return, but Jonathan Toews will miss ninth straight when Blackhawks play Stars

Three Bears necessities to lay a broom on the Lions

The consummate pro: How Taj Gibson has become the Bulls' version of Udonis Haslem

Bill Dineen, father of Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen, passes away

Tracy Abrams pours in career-high 31 points as Illini cruise past Central Michigan

Cincinnati hires Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell as new head coach