Could familiar face be Rose's interim replacement?

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Could familiar face be Rose's interim replacement?

Help wanted: Veteran point guard, capable of starting, but comfortable coming off the bench when All-Star point guard returns from injury late in season. Must be willing to play for defensive-minded coach, familiarity with Bulls organization and Chicago area is a plus. Salary negotiable, but hometown discounts appreciated.

Scouring a list of available free-agent point guards over the next few months will inevitably occur, but one player in particular fits the above description: Kirk Hinrich. "Captain Kirk," the erstwhile fan favorite known for his toughness, was jettisoned to Washington in a 2010 draft-day deal to acquire cap space in anticipation for that summer's free-agency class and since then, has moved on to Atlanta, where he settled into a backup role behind young Hawks' starting point guard Jeff Teague.

While he's happier than when he was with the perennially lottery-bound Wizards, from his visits back to the United Center, one gets the feeling that Hinrich longs to be back in Chicago, where he reportedly still owns a home. Hinrich is viewed as being on the decline by many, including even some in the Bulls organization, but his familiarity with the team, though many of his teammates will be new faces to him, likely acceptance of moving to the bench when Derrick Rose returns from injury -- after all, he's done it before -- and the fact that the price could be right for a reunion makes him a likely target in free agency this summer.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has consistently expressed his appreciation for many aspects of the veteran's game and it's conceivable that Hinrich's toughness and willingness to defend would make a good match with the coach's philosophy. The question is, depending on the market -- the 2012 free-agent class isn't exactly rich on talent -- would Hinrich be willing to take a 2.5 million mini-mid level exception from the Bulls, who don't have much financial flexibility with four eight-figure contracts and nor much impetus to go over the cap with the punitive new CBA in a season where the team isn't expected to be a title contender, just to come back home?

If Hinrich taking less money from the Bulls compared to what he could get from a team in genuine need of a point guard -- not just a temporary fix, while a former MVP recovers from injury -- then it's even less likely that other available veteran floor generals, like Steve Nash, Andre Miller or Chauncey Billups take the bait. All sound great, but are probably too expensive for the Bulls and could chafe at being relegated to a backup role when Derrick Rose returns, likely after the All-Star break.

Two other candidates could be Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd. Felton, though, is coming off a disastrous season in Portland in which he was maligned for coming into the season out of shape, whispers arose about him helping to turn the locker room against ousted Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan -- like Thibodeau, a defensive-oriented sort -- and after being talked about as a borderline All-Star with the Knicks before being traded to the Nuggets in the Carmelo Anthony deal, had one of the worst seasons of his career.

Kidd, on the other hand, is an intriguing possibility and while money could also be an issue with him, at this juncture of his career, he's still productive enough to start, if not dominate, and he probably wouldn't mind mentoring Rose, in addition to being able to play with him -- Kidd isn't quick enough to defend the most explosive point guards in the league, but has the size to defend many shooting guards, as well as being able to allow Rose to play off the ball or spot up as a three-point threat, as he's become a much-improved shooter late in his career -- when he returns. Furthermore, while he was never the vertical athlete Rose was, Kidd was quite the speedster when he entered the league and had to retool his game after suffering his own knee injuries and undergoing micro-fracture surgery, which robbed him of his speed.

After the aforementioned options, barring a trade, there's a considerable drop-off on the list, with the likes of journeymen Shaun Livingston, Ronnie Price and Royal Ivey in the bargain-basement bin. None of those players are better than incumbent backup C.J. Watson, who has a 3.7 million team option for next season.

The view of Watson made be skewed after his sub-par first-round series against Philadelphia, especially his decision to pass the ball to Omer Asik in the waning moments of the Bulls' Game 6 elimination loss, but he battled through a multitude of injuries to have a solid overall season. Watson is already familiar with the system and the personnel in Chicago and is well-liked by his teammates, so there's still a possibility that he could return.

While he isn't a starting-caliber player, third-string point guard John Lucas III is another player to think about, as he would be looked at as a full-time backup if he was to return to the Bulls. The fan favorite certainly had his moments during the season, so there would be reason to bring him back on a minimum-salary deal, but if he was to get a guaranteed contract for slightly more money or a multi-year deal elsewhere, Lucas will probably be gone.

Cubs not worrying about a thing after split with Marlins: 'We're right there'

Cubs not worrying about a thing after split with Marlins: 'We're right there'

MIAMI – Jon Jay walked into a quiet clubhouse late Sunday morning, turned right and headed directly toward the sound system in one corner of the room, plugging his phone into the sound system and playing Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.”

The Cubs outfielder whistled as he changed into his work clothes at Marlins Park, singing along to the lyrics with Anthony Rizzo a few lockers over: “Don’t worry, about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be all right.” 

That’s what the Cubs keep telling themselves, because most of them have World Series rings and the National League Central is such a bad division.

“The biggest thing is to keep the floaties on until we get this thing right,” manager Joe Maddon said before a 4-2 loss left the Cubs treading water again at 38-37. “We’re solvent. We’re right there. We’re right next to first place.”

The Cubs will leave this tropical environment and jump into the deep end on Monday night for the start of a four-game showdown against the Washington Nationals in the nation’s capital.

Miami sunk the Cubs in the first inning when Addison Russell made a costly error on the routine groundball Miami leadoff guy Ichiro Suzuki chopped to shortstop, a mistake that helped create three unearned runs. Martin Prado drilled Mike Montgomery’s first-pitch fastball off the left-center field wall for a two-out double and a 3-0 lead. Montgomery (1-4, 2.03 ERA) lasted six innings and retired the last 10 batters he faced.

“Keep The Floaties On” sounds like an idea for Maddon’s next T-shirt. The 2017 Cubs haven’t been more than four games over .500 or two games under .500 at any point this season. The 2016 Cubs didn’t lose their 37th game until July 19 and spent 180 days in first place.

“That’s what was so special about it,” Rizzo said. “We boat-raced from Game 1 to Game 7 with a couple bumps in the road, but this is baseball. It’s not going to be all smooth-sailing every day. You got to work through things.”

As MLB addresses long game times, why Mark Buehrle’s zippy pace is worth highlighting

As MLB addresses long game times, why Mark Buehrle’s zippy pace is worth highlighting

Sometime in the future, near or far, Major League Baseball will probably begin using a pitch clock to penalize sluggish hitters and pitchers.

The sport without a clock will, someday, have a clock. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian offered that as one of his predictions for what baseball could look like 20 years from now, which would be one of Rob Manfred’s signature reforms as commissioner. 

This kind of change wouldn’t be necessary, though, if more pitchers were like Mark Buehrle. 

“Buehrle was hyper,” pitching coach Don Cooper said. “He wanted to go, go, go.”

No pitcher since 2007 — when Pitch F/X began calculating “pace” — worked faster than Buehrle, who averaged 16.7 seconds between pitches. Only 56 qualified pitchers since 2007 can be considered to work “fast,” i.e. with an average time between pitches of 20 seconds or fewer (it’s a list that includes fellow former White Sox left-handers John Danks and Chris Sale). And that’s only 12 percent of the 473 qualified pitchers in the last decade.

Buehrle’s 99-minute complete game against the Seattle Mariners in 2005 still is the only nine-inning contest to be completed in fewer than 100 minutes since 1984. There was that memorable 1:53 duel with Mark Mulder and the Oakland A’s in 2003, and both Buehrle’s perfect game and no hitter lasted 2:03. 

Of course, Buehrle didn’t just work quick, he pitched well while zipping through innings. Buehrle finished his career with a 3.81 ERA, made four All-Star teams and threw at least 200 innings every year from 2001-2014. He had a .572 career winning percentage, too, so Cooper knew about Buehrle would give the White Sox a chance to win in about six out of every 10 starts.

“But you also know it’s going to be about two hours and 10 minutes, too,” Cooper added. 

A given game’s length isn’t all about the pace of the pitcher, of course. Batters can slow things down by stepping out of the box and calling for time, and games can feel like a slog with replay delays and mid-inning pitching changes. 

Still, how quickly a pitcher works usually dictates the pace of a game and how long it takes to be completed. Cooper wondered why hitters didn’t step out more against Buehrle to disrupt his rhythm, but perhaps the answer is that everyone on the field gets caught up in the quick pace set by the pitcher. 

“Everybody tells me they were so happy when I pitched for a quick game, but every time I was on the bench in between my starts, it was a 3, 3 1/2 hour game and it wasn't very much fun,” Buehrle said. “I think some of these games do get too long. Pitchers take their time, hitters get out of the box. I don't get all that but that's just the way I worked. I just grabbed the ball and went.”

Maybe adding a pitch clock with penalties affecting the count will force pitchers and hitters to find a quicker rhythm. That was one of the hallmarks of Buehrle’s career, and those snappy starts are one of the reasons why No. 56 was such a popular player on 35th and Shields. 

Former manager Ozzie Guillen, in summing up Buehrle's mentality, also offered some free advice for fixing baseball's pace-of-play problem: “Just throw the ball, get people out and have fun.”