Bulls set for reunion with Rockets' Asik

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Bulls set for reunion with Rockets' Asik

HOUSTONWednesday evenings game against the Rockets will be a reunion for the Bulls. For the first time since their season-ending loss to Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs in May, Omer Asik will be on the same court with his first NBA team.

Asiks final game for the Bulls didnt end so well, as the center missed two free throws against the 76ers, opening the door for swingman Andre Iguodalas coast-to-coast drivethe All-Star, now in Denver, was fouled on the play by Asik and hit two foul shotsto end the game and the Bulls postseason. Still, fans in Chicago mourned when Asik signed with Houston over the summer, after the Bulls declined to match a back-loaded, three-year, nearly 25-million offer sheet from the Rockets.

A backup to Joakim Noah in Chicago, the native of Turkey wasnt a prolific scorer for the Bulls, but drew raves from personnel around the league for his defensive acumen and rebounding ability. As a Rockets starter, Asik is averaging a double-double10 points and 12.3 rebounds per game in 32.3 minutes a nightand is proving that all the fuss over his departure was worth it.

Omer is Omer. He plays to win, he makes the team function well. Theres so many intangibles that he brings to your team, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said prior to the teams practice Tuesday morning at the Toyota Center. When you look at it, what he did throughout his career, two years in Chicago, each year he got significantly better and for him, he was playing behind Jo, so theres not a ton of minutes there, but we felt strongly about how good he was and we knew that. We also understand he has the right characteristics, the right makeup. Seven feet, hes got great drive, great character and great intelligence, so those type of players always improve. So, its not surprising. Hes getting more minutes, so his productions going to be better.

Thibodeau, a former Rockets assistant, flew to meet with Asik at the outset of the NBAs free-agency period in July, but apparently failed to convince him to continue to accept a reserve role, let alone take less money than he garnered on the open market.

Explained Thibodeau: Thats part of the league. We felt good about him, the way he performed for us. Plus, we knew that he liked it there. In the end, hes got to make the decision that he feels is best for him and his family, and he did that and thats part of it, so you move on and you move forward.

Asik formed a remarkably effective defensive tag team with fellow reserve big man Taj Gibsonwho himself recently signed a long-term contract extension, making the conclusion that the Bulls valued him over Asik an obvious one, especially considering the poison pill the Rockets put in the last year of Asiks contract, for 15 million in the 2014-15 seasonbut while observers around the league may consider Asiks numbers (which include 1.2 blocks and only 2.9 fouls a night for the previously foul-prone 26-year-old, as well as an improved 62.5 percent from the charity stripe and on the negative end of things, only 44.9 percent shooting from the field and 3.4 turnovers per game) eye-opening, Gibson and his teammates arent surprised.

The first thing that stands out is hes getting a lot more minutes and hes playing to the best of his ability, and hes a great rebounder. I used to witness him during the game, when Joakim used to be hurt, and he used to get 10 rebounds, easily, a night, so you see him doing that and people recognizing that, and Im happy for him, Gibson told CSNChicago.com. One thing about the NBA, when you get a lot, you get a lot of touches and game experience, which hes doing right now, your confidence builds and I can see him doing a lot more stuff in the post, watching film on him. Hes doing a lot of different things with his back to the basket. Even though I saw him do it in practice with me and Joakim a lot, now hes getting more confidence catching the ball in tough positions, so its good.

I know at times it was tough on him, not being able to play a lot. I just told him to be patient. I just told him, Just keep working on your game, be patient. Dont get out of pocket, just play your game, and he took that and ran with it, and when the summer time came, we really had no clue whether he was going to stay in Chicago or not. Then, he got offered a big deal here and the rest is history. Hes doing a good job.

Concurred Noah: No question. I think everybody who saw our team knew that Omer was a big part of what we did last year. I actually felt like I had the best backup center in the entire NBA, but I understand he wanted a bigger role and hes showing everybody what hes capable of.

Noah, who consistently views games from a team perspective, rather than focusing on the player hell match up with on a given evening, is only worried about the Bulls snapping their two-game losing streak Wednesday.

Were two teams that are desperate for a win right now, Noah said about the contest against the Rockets, losers of three consecutive games. Omer, hes a hell of a competitor. Hes a friend of mine. Im really happy for him. I think that hes playing very well and its important for us to come in for the right mindset, try to get this win.

Added Thibodeau: Its not going to be an individual matchup. Its going to be our team against their team. We know what his strengths and weaknesses are, and youre concerned about how were going to try to make it hard on their team, not the individual matchup. Omers a good player, did a great job for us. Were happy for him, but we know that theres a bigger challenge than any individual matchup.

Raiders' move to Las Vegas approved by NFL owners: When's Bears' first trip to Sin City?

Raiders' move to Las Vegas approved by NFL owners: When's Bears' first trip to Sin City?

The Oakland Raiders won't be the Oaklnad Raiders for much longer.

NFL owners approved by a 31-1 vote Monday the Raiders' move to Las Vegas, meaning Sin City will soon have its own NFL team.

With the Raiders playing in the AFC, the move doesn't affect the Bears much. But there eventually will be a road trip to Nevada.

When's the first time the Bears could play in Vegas?

Now, that's contingent on a couple things.

First, the NFL needs to keep its current scheduling model, which pits certain divisions against one another every few seasons.

Second, will the Raiders even be playing in Vegas by 2019?

A new stadium needs to be built, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Monday that the Raiders will stay in Oakland for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, potentially getting to Vegas for the 2019 season — when the Bears could play there in the team's inaugural campaign in the desert. But a new stadium might not be done by then, keeping the Raiders in Vegas another season. Or, maybe the Raiders could play where UNLV plays.

Whether it's two years down the road or more, there will one day be a Bears road trip to Vegas, one it's fairly certain Chicago fans will be interested in joining.

Archie Miller a good hire at Indiana, but his promotion to the big time comes with big-time expectations

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USA TODAY

Archie Miller a good hire at Indiana, but his promotion to the big time comes with big-time expectations

Archie Miller is the new Indiana head basketball coach, and while that gives Indiana the big splash it wanted for Tom Crean's successor, it remains to be seen whether it will please the Indiana fan base and its monster-sized expectations.

Miller is a great get for the Hoosiers, a guy who's taken the Dayton Flyers to four straight NCAA tournaments, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2014, a round the Hoosiers themselves haven't reached in 15 years. Miller has Big Ten experience, a former Thad Matta assistant at Ohio State, and he has experience recruiting in Big Ten Country.

He's been in line for a promotion from the A-10 to a major-conference program for a couple years now, and he was one of the biggest names at that level that Indiana or any other major-conference program looking for a new coach could have snagged.

But weren't Indiana fans expecting Steve Alford to come back to Bloomington?

Keeping in line with the enormous expectations this fan base always seems to have for this program, the internet was hoping athletics director Fred Glass could woo the former Indiana star back to his alma mater, pry him away from the most tradition-rich program in the country to spearhead a rebuilding effort for the team that finished tied for 10th in the Big Ten standings this season.

Those hopes seemed pretty unrealistic from the beginning — though it is difficult to argue with the immense financial attractiveness any Big Ten program has — but a perfect example of the kind of expectations that await Miller.

Marquette is plenty of distance up the college-basketball ladder from Dayton, but it was Crean, too, who made a career leap to the Hoosiers almost a decade ago. Crean's nine-year tenure featured some program-saving digging out from the horrendous spot Kelvin Sampson left things in. It also featured two outright Big Ten championships and three seasons of 27 or more wins. But all that couldn't keep the crushing expectations off Crean's shoulders, and one season after he won a conference title in one of the toughest conference's in college hoops, he was out.

Crean's kind of success wasn't good enough at Indiana. Will Miller's be?

Of course there was inconsistency that accompanied Crean's winning. The Hoosiers were just two wins above .500 this season, the same thing that was true a season after Indiana earned a No. 1 seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament. The two winningest seasons during Crean's tenure were followed by years in which Indiana didn't make the NCAA tournament. Not the kind of trajectory a program expecting a national championship wants to see, hence his firing.

But that goes to show how tough the task is in Bloomington, not necessarily when it comes to building a winner but when it comes to pleasing the folks in this basketball-loving state.

That's Miller's job now, and there likely won't be too long of a honeymoon period. Miller won at the lower levels of college basketball, winning 102 games over the past four seasons, but the Big Ten is a different animal. Another former Matta assistant, John Groce, found that out over his five seasons at Illinois. After getting hired off a Sweet Sixteen run at Ohio, Groce made the NCAA tournament just once in his five seasons in Champaign, the reason for the Big Ten's other coaching change this offseason.

Miller comes to Indiana with a better resume than Groce brought to Illinois — the A-10 is a much better league on an annual basis than the MAC, and Miller did more consistent winning over a longer stretch — but with a similar challenge ahead of him. Illini fans soured on Groce relatively quick, with questions about his job status lingering for a couple of years before he was fired earlier this month. Certainly Crean was never free from questions about his job status during his time in Bloomington, not even getting them to go away with a Big Ten championship last season. Will Hoosier fans treat Miller any differently if a deep tournament run doesn't come in one of Miller's first few seasons?

Of course, that all comes with the territory of being a college basketball coach, and Miller knows that well from his time as a major-conference assistant and with his brother the head coach at Arizona. But now he has to live it every day.

Miller is a great hire by Glass. It's time to find out if Indiana and its sky-high expectations make for a great landing spot for Miller.