Bulls' draft pick will need to be a contributor

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Bulls' draft pick will need to be a contributor

For the first time since Taj Gibson was selected, the Bulls' draft pick this June will be expected to step in and make an immediate impact as a rookie, let alone be present at the start of the season. Unlike swingman Jimmy Butler, who was brought along slowly and mostly played spot minutes, or forward Nikola Mirotic, who continues to star in Spain's highly-competitive ACB league -- a dark-horse candidate to make the 2012 Spanish Olympic team, Mirotic won the coveted EuroLeague Rising Star award for the second consecutive season -- but won't make his NBA debut for at least a couple more seasons, whomever the Bulls pick this June will likely be thrown right into the fire.

With Derrick Rose set to miss a large portion of next season and the possibility that fellow All-Star Luol Deng is on the shelf for the beginning of the campaign if he opts to have left-wrist surgery following the Olympics, the Bulls won't enter October as a projected title contender and with some roster turnover bound to occur with the team holding options on free agents C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver, backup center Omer Asik a restricted free agent and their reserve peers John Lucas III, Brian Scalabrine and Mike James not under guaranteed contracts, simply put, the team will have some holes to fill. While it's likely that some of those players will be back and the front office will look to add some minimum-salary veterans due to the organization's lack of financial flexibility -- Rose, Deng, center Joakim Noah and power forward Carlos Boozer all have eight-figure contracts -- the Bulls' first-round draft pick can't just be a prospect for the future, like Butler was this season, or stashed overseas, like Asik was and now, Mirotic.

Granted, picking at the bottom of the first round because of their stellar regular-season record, the Bulls won't have the opportunity to pick a franchise-changing talent, such as Chicago native Anthony Davis, the University of Kentucky big man and consensus top prospect. But this is considered to be a deep draft and the selection of Gibson at No. 26 back in 2009 shows the Bulls have the aptitude to find a diamond in the rough.

Even assuming they won't trade up for a higher pick, there should be plenty of talent on the board that can help the team immediately and fill a need, but more importantly, be a major part of the Bulls' future championship push two seasons from now, when Rose will be a year removed from ACL surgery and contention for a title can fully resume. Butler was a safe pick last year, but with Brewer's potential departure, he also fills a need as a replacement backup swingman, one with the same defense-first mindset, as well as less expensive.

This time around, the Bulls would be wise to take more of a chance on a player whose current skill set fits an immediate need, countering head coach Tom Thibodeau's apparent preference to bring rookies along slowly, as evidenced by his use of Butler and Asik, as he only started giving the backup center more minutes the season before when injuries felled Noah. Though Korver's 5 million option for next season could cause the Bulls to blink at the price tag, his unique shooting ability on a team lacking outside marksmanship could mean his return, but pure shooters who are counted upon as rookies are rare, so that probably won't be the direction the team chooses in the draft.

Adding a rookie big man is an option, as you can never have enough size, but with Noah, Boozer and Gibson all returning, the post-player rotation won't have much available playing time, especially if the team matches potential mid-level exception offers for Asik from other teams, unless the Bulls prepare for his departure or Gibson's the following season The wings are another position of strength, as Deng would only miss a month or two if he has surgery, Rip Hamilton will be back as the starting shooting guard, Butler will back up both players and as stated, Korver and even Brewer could return, but even if neither or both is back, swingman is another position where the team will have a plethora of serviceable minimum-salary options in free agency.

This is a draft weak on point guards, the Bulls will likely either bring back Watson or look to sign a veteran floor general via free agency and it's a fair assumption that Thibodeau wouldn't trust his offense in the hands of a rookie anyway, so a true point guard wouldn't be necessary. Also, Lucas proved capable of playing second-string minutes this season and if he doesn't return, then another veteran with a similar contract will simply take his place.

One area the Bulls do need to address is finding another playmaking shot-creator, especially in Rose's absence, but also when he returns, though not a true point guard who would have to sit behind him or a slashing small forward who could cause a potential logjam at that position or duplicates Butler's abilities. Ideally, a combo guard with strong scoring instincts, solid passing ability, a reliable outside shooting stroke and a good defensive base to work with would be that player, but with the Bulls picking so late in the first round, the likes of Syracuse's Dion Waiters, Duke's Austin Rivers, Washington's Terrence Ross and Weber State's Damien Lillard, all prospects who have possess some of those qualities, will be off the board.

Instead, some of the more likely candidates to fill that duty include: Ross' Washington teammate Tony Wroten, a point guard with size, but who has garnered some concern about his shooting and decision-making ability that could cause his stock to drop enough that he could be available, though he has great explosiveness, passing and could be paired with Rose in the future; Kansas' Tyshawn Taylor, who never quite mastered being a floor general in college, but has good athleticism, can get in the lane and could defend both backcourt positions, a la Clippers second-year backup Eric Bledsoe; Kentucky's Doron Lamb, a tough and heady player, if not a mind-blowing athlete, but an excellent shooter with range; Vanderbilt's John Jenkins, like Lamb an underwhelming athlete and a tad undersized for an NBA shooting guard, but one of the draft's best pure shooters; Lamb's Kentucky backcourt partner Marquis Teague, the younger brother of Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague, not a pure point, but a quick driver with finishing ability and decent size; Oregon State's Jared Cunningham, a sleeper, but a big-time athlete and defensive pest with the ability to create on offense; Iona's Scott Machado, a pure point, but one with the maturity to potentially step into a backup role immediately, despite his lack of size; Memphis' Will Barton, a long, athletic and versatile wing who needs to add strengths, but has a nose for the ball and a variety of skills; Missouri sharpshooter Marcus Denmon, who played off the ball in college, is undersized for shooting guard, but has some intangibles to go with his scoring prowess; and Tennessee Tech's Kevin Murphy, one of the nation's leading scorers last season and an athletic wing who raised his stock with his play at the annual Portsmouth Invitational Tournament.

Clearly, there are a variety of options for the Bulls, including names not listed here and many who will be at the Berto Center for workouts in the coming weeks or back in Chicago for next month's NBA Pre-Draft Camp, but only one of whom will be selected by the organization, though others could play for the team's summer-league squad in Las Vegas in July. Thus, when league commissioner David Stern announces, "With the 29th pick, the Chicago Bulls select...," the player he names will have to be a contributor.

Big first period paces Blackhawks over Penguins

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AP

Big first period paces Blackhawks over Penguins

PITTSBURGH – There are certain trends through which the Blackhawks tend to go sometimes. They can be so-so against teams on the bubble or out of the postseason. But face a playoff-bound team and the Blackhawks usually come with a top-notch game.

Exhibit A on that came on Wednesday.

Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane each had two-point nights, and Marian Hossa scored his 25th of the season as the Blackhawks beat the Penguins 5-1 on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks snapped a three-game winless streak and now have a nine-point lead over the Minnesota Wild in the West.

Corey Crawford stopped 31 of 32 shots. Richard Panik scored his 22nd goal of the season. Bryan Rust had the Penguins' lone goal at 5:46 of the third.

The Penguins, much like the Blackhawks, entered this one with 103 points. The Penguins were without several injured players, including Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Trevor Daley. Still, it's the Penguins, and you can never take them lightly.

[Buy Blackhawks tickets right here]

The Blackhawks got the early lead, then really pounced in the final five-plus minutes of the first period. The Blackhawks got stellar set-up passes from Patrick Kane, Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz and finishes to accompany them. Two of their goals (Marcus Kruger and Hossa) came in the final minute of the first period for that 4-0 lead.

The Penguins had the first six shots of the third but the Blackhawks would score on their first of the period when Tanner Kero, taking the turnover from Justin Schultz, finished on a breakaway.

Bastian Schweinsteiger says he is ready for new challenge with the Fire

Bastian Schweinsteiger says he is ready for new challenge with the Fire

As far as first impressions go, Bastian Schweinsteiger made a good one on Wednesday.

The Chicago Fire's new German star smiled at every opportunity, said all the right things about playing hard and wanting to fit in with his new team and even elegantly danced around some 'tricky' questions.

Schweinsteiger opened by thanking fans for showing up to greet him at O'Hare on Tuesday and later said he has plenty left to give on the field.

"I'm 32 years old, I'm ready," Schweinsteiger said. "Of course I need more training sessions to have the right rhythm where I want to see myself. I want to use every minute to feel how it is, how the teammates are playing, which kind of runs they make, which kind of rhythm they have. So to know each other better, that is very important for me step-by-step and I hope you will get results soon because I don't like to lose or to draw."

The German's addition is a big deal to the Fire because he is a big name player who is drawing more attention to the team. That means the Fire will have to win more to capitalize and show the team is deserving of the extra attention.

Despite that extra attention, words of adoration from general manager Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic saying he "can be the icon of the MLS in the future," Schweinsteiger said he is ready for the attention, but does not want to stand apart from his teammates.

"I had a lot of pressure in my career," Schweinsteiger said. "When you play a World Cup final or a Champions League final and the third time you have to win against Borussia Dortmund there is a lot of pressure on your shoulders so I can handle that. I don't want to say I'm a key player of Chicago Fire. Every player on the pitch has to be a key player and has to take the responsibility on the pitch and I would like just to get comfortable with myself and into the team so much as I can."

Talking about the importance of winning and showing humility? Check.

[Watch or listen to Bastian Schweinsteiger's full press conference here]

As for some of those 'tricky' questions, he was able to stay clean there as well. Will you root for the Cubs or Sox?

"First of all I like the Fire the most, of course," Schweinsteiger said.

Well played, Bastian.

But what about this one: Is the World Cup a realistic expectation for the Fire?

Sorry, what was that? Schweinsteiger smiled politely, said he didn't understand the question and avoided getting egg on his face while the Internet exploded in laughter that he was asked about the chances a club team winning an international competition.

Schweinsteiger is the new face of the Fire and that face smiled, waved and shook hands on Wednesday amid all the pageantry.

Media savvy? Check.

As for how he will perform on the field, that's to come soon. Paunovic only gave a subtle hint as to whether Schweinsteiger will play in Saturday's home match against Montreal.

"Obviously he is going to be available," Paunovic said. "We are not going to reveal our plans here, but we still have a talk to have and discuss how he feels and more things about the team and how we want to play. Be ready, just be ready. We'll see."