Bulls not underestimating Cavs in road opener


Bulls not underestimating Cavs in road opener

CLEVELAND On paper, the Bulls first four games Wednesdays season-opening win over Sacramento, Fridays road opener at Cleveland, hosting New Orleans in the second half of a back-to-back and Tuesdays home game against Orlando seem like virtual cakewalks against young, inexperienced teams. Tom Thibodeau doesnt see it that way.

The ultra-prepared Bulls head coach praised the Kings explosiveness both before and after his team outlasted them, and coming into Fridays tilt, his message has been similar. One of his frequently-used mantras, know your opponent, has definitely taken affect.

I think theyve got a good team. They run a lot of pick-and-rolls. Kyrie Irving creates a lot for them and last game I know its early in the season but they were going out and running, Luol Deng told CSNChicago.com Friday morning, prior to the Bulls morning shootaround at Quicken Loans Arena. Anderson Varejaos playing well. Its a tough game. Its one that we want to come in and get. Early games are always tough. Teams are playing hard, teams are trying to prove that theyre better, players are trying to show their coach that theyre better and those games are tough."

Its no surprise Deng is familiar with Irving, last seasons Rookie of the Year and his fellow Duke product via New Jersey or Varejao, a veteran, who was playing for Cleveland when LeBron James was still in town and the Central Division foes faced off in the playoffs. But if he showed that much deference to a clearly-inferior opponent, albeit an undefeated one after knocking off Washington in their season opener Tuesday, imagine what Thibodeau would say, especially after the Cavaliers beat the Bulls in an exhibition game.

Theyre tough. Irving, hes an elite point guard, makes people better. Varejaos coming off a huge game. Tristan Thompson is tough. Daniel Gibson comes in off the bench. Dion Waiters, a young player, very explosive. Theyve got a lot of weapons, Thibodeau explained. We have a good read. You have to study and know your opponent, and most of these teams, they have a mix of young guys, older guys. You look at a guy like Varejao, hes been around a long time. Gibsons been around a long time. This is the second time around for Irving. So, whoever they have out there. Donald Sloan has a done good job backing up the point.

Theyve added good young players. Varejaos healthy this year, which is huge for them, and Irving is a very special player because of his ability to make everyone else better. Waiters is real crafty off the dribble, gives them a multiple pick-and-roll game. So, they have good young talent, he continued. Of course, Varejao has a unique skill set, brings a lot of energy. Thompson is high energy, athletic, tough and I think because of what Irving and Waiters can do off the dribble if their penetration is breaking you down, it sets up the second shot for them so they can beat you with the second shot. So, you have to have a multiple-effort mentality, pack the paint and you have to gang-rebound. They have a lot of good young players.

Thibodeau was especially complimentary of Irving, who appears poised to join the group of tremendous young point guards in the NBA, including the Bulls Derrick Rose. This game, just like the two teams battles last season wont feature both young stars on the court together at the same time, as injuries continue to ruin that potential matchup.

One, his demeanor. He seems like hes a very under control type of player, Thibodeau said about Irving. He plays with a lot of poise and I think his understanding of the game, so hes a special player and he showed that last year.

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls explode offensively to beat Bucks; Blackhawks battle Lightning tonight on CSN

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls explode offensively to beat Bucks; Blackhawks battle Lightning tonight on CSN

Here are some of the top Chicago sports stories from a busy Sunday: 

Tonight on CSN: Blackhawks look to bounce back vs. Lightning

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Today on CSN: White Sox battle Dodgers in spring training game

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson's foot could keep him out until late May

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

Nick Delmonico takes advantage of fresh start with White Sox

Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night

Owners to consider on and off field changes this week during NFL meetings

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs turned Theo Epstein’s “Baseball is Better” speech from his first Wrigley Field press conference into a marketing pitch that might distract fans for a moment from an awful big-league product.          

The 2017 “That’s Cub” ad campaign actually uses what started organically years ago within the farm system, two words that recognized a great at-bat or a heads-up play or a defensive stop.    

Business vs. baseball is no longer the dominant storyline it had been during the early phases of the Wrigleyvile rebuild. Business and baseball are booming for what’s become Major League Baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors.

It’s just interesting that a franchise valued at north of $2 billion has found so much inspiration on the back fields of this spring-training complex, where staffers you wouldn’t recognize get to work before dawn and players you’ve never heard of dream about their big break.

It’s not just drafting Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. And trading for Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Addison Russell. And hiring a manager obsessed with T-shirts. Baseball operations became a marketing department, selling prospects to Cub fans, the Chicago media and the gurus putting together the rankings – and trying to get buy-in from players who all think they belong in The Show.

Minor-league field coordinator Tim Cossins gets credit for “When It Happens,” a theme that didn’t simply revolve around 1908 and the championship drought. Jason McLeod, the senior vice president who oversees scouting and player development, suggested pairing the W flag with that phrase, and it became this ubiquitous idea around the team.   

“We tied everything into it,” McLeod said Sunday at Sloan Park. “When that time comes, when it happens, can you lay the bunt down? When it happens, can you execute a pitch? Can you go in and pinch-run, steal the base when the time comes?

“The big ‘When It Happens’ is when we win, of course, but for us in (player development), it was about everything that we’re going to be asked to do in that moment: Are you going to be ready when it happens?”

Now what? The defending World Series champs are going with: “Where It Happens.”

A bullet point from Epstein’s bio in this year’s media guide references how his first three first-round draft picks with the Cubs “combined to set up the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series when Schwarber singled and (Albert) Almora pinch-ran, moved to second on Bryant’s deep fly to center, and scored on Ben Zobrist’s double.”

“We’re never going to forget about the importance of young players,” Epstein said. “There’s definitely a lot of talented, interesting prospects still in the system and sometimes they get a little overshadowed because of the star young players we have at the big-league level and how quickly some of those guys moved through the system. But there’s a lot of talent there.

“We’re going to lean on young players beyond our prospects, not just in trades, but also to provide organizational depth and also to serve as the next generation, the next infusion of talent at the appropriate time.

“But it’s a process. There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs in development for all these guys. And we have a ton of faith in our player development operation to help these guys along the way.”

So Ian Happ will start the season one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa and see if some combination of injuries and his switch-hitting skills and defensive versatility gets him to the North Side at some point. Or used as a trade chip for pitching, the way third baseman Jeimer Candelario and catcher Victor Caratini appear to be blocked.

Joe Maddon already compared Eloy Jimenez – who can’t legally buy a beer in Wrigleyville yet – to a young Miguel Cabrera or Edgar Martinez. The Cubs are practically begging for someone like Eddie Butler to pitch his way into the 2018 rotation.

By Monday morning, when the full squad reconvenes after a weekend trip to Las Vegas, the Cubs could start making cuts and shaping their Opening Night roster. But the Cubs are going to need so much more than the 25 players who will be introduced next Sunday at Busch Stadium. Maddon used 26 pitchers and 149 different lineups last season. This is “Where It Happens.”

“If this particular group of youngsters were in a different organization that had a greater need right now, you’d probably hear a lot more about these guys,” Maddon said. “But the fact that they’re stuck behind a Bryant and a Russell and a Javy (Baez) and a Rizzo and a (Willson) Contreras and a Schwarber, et cetera, et cetera, it becomes more difficult to really push or project upon these guys.

“But I think these young guys have gone about their business really well. If it’s bothering them or if they’re concerned about that, they’re not showing that. I think they’ve put their best foot forward.”