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.

How Cubs reached the breaking point with Kyle Schwarber

How Cubs reached the breaking point with Kyle Schwarber

MIAMI – Theo Epstein scoffed at the possibility of sending a World Series hero down to the minors on May 16, writing the headline with this money quote: “If anyone wants to sell their Kyle Schwarber stock, we’re buying.”

If the Cubs aren’t dumping their Schwarber stock, they’re definitely reassessing their investment strategy, trying to figure out how such a dangerous postseason hitter had become one of the least productive players in the majors.

The overall portfolio hasn’t changed that much since the team president’s vote of confidence, Schwarber batting .179 for the defending champs then and .171 when the Cubs finally made the decision to demote him to Triple-A Iowa. That 18-19 team is now 36-35 and still waiting for that hot streak. 

What took so long?

“The honest answer is we believe in him so much,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Thursday. “He’s never struggled like this. We kept thinking that he was going to come out of it. We got to a point where we felt like mentally he probably needed a break before he could come out of this. 

“The honest answer is patience. We’ve got a guy who’s never really struggled. He was the best hitter in college baseball. He blew through the minor leagues. Last year in the World Series, he performed. We just felt like he was going to turn himself around.

“It just got to a place where we felt like the right way for this to come together was to allow him to get away from the team, to take a deep breath and be able to work on some things in a lower-pressure environment.”   

The Cubs plan to give Schwarber a few days off before he reports to Iowa, an idea that would have seemed unthinkable after watching his shocking recovery from knee surgery and legendary performance (.971 OPS) against the Cleveland Indians in last year’s World Series.

But preparing for one opponent and running on adrenaline through 20 plate appearances is completely different from handling the great expectations and newfound level of fame and doing it for an entire 162-game season.   

This might actually be the most normal part of Schwarber’s career after his meteoric rise from No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft to breakout star in the 2015 playoffs to injured and untouchable during last year’s trade talks with the New York Yankees. 

“There’s been a long and illustrious list of guys that have gone through this,” manager Joe Maddon said. “When a guy’s good, he’s good. Sometimes – especially when they’re this young – you just got to hit that reset button. It’s hard for a young player who’s never really struggled before to struggle on this stage and work his way through it.

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“There’s no scarlet letter attached to this. It’s just the way it happens sometimes. You have to do what you think is best. We think this is best for him right now. We know he’s going to be back.” 

When? The Cubs say they don’t have a certain number of Pacific Coast League at-bats in mind for a guy who’s played only 17 career games at the Triple-A level.

Maddon pointed out how Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee needed minor-league sabbaticals/refresher courses before becoming Cy Young Award winners and two of the best pitchers of their generation.

New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto – another college hitter the Cubs closely scouted before taking Schwarber in the 2014 draft – has gone from the 2015 World Series to Triple-A Las Vegas for parts of last season to potential All-Star this year.

The Cubs fully expect their Schwarber stock to rebound – whether or not the turnaround happens in time to impact the 2017 bottom line.    

“I’m still sticking by him,” Maddon said. “But at some point, you have to be pragmatic. You have to do what’s best for everybody. We thought at this point that we weren’t going to necessarily get him back to where we need him to be just by continuing this same path.

“It’s not a matter of us not sticking with him anymore. We just thought this was the best way to go to really get him well, so that we could utilize the best side of Kyle moving forward.”

Bulls trade All-Star Jimmy Butler to Timberwolves

Bulls trade All-Star Jimmy Butler to Timberwolves

After weeks and months of rumors and innuendo, the Bulls finally pulled the trigger on a trade involving Jimmy Butler, trading their franchise player to the Minnesota Timberwolves on draft night.

Butler and the Bulls’ 16th pick will be headed to Minnesota for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh pick, according to sources. Butler will be reunited with former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who is the head coach and president of basketball operations for the Timberwolves.

And the Bulls get to jump start their rebuilding process, apparently with young pieces to implement Fred Hoiberg’s system and a draft pick to come.

The Bulls have long been fond of Dunn, the Timberwolves’ first-round draft pick in 2016 who struggled in his rookie season, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 assists after being the fifth pick in the 2016 draft.

 LaVine was a two-time slam dunk champion before tearing his left ACL against the Pistons in February, and it will be months before he’s able to hit the floor. He was averaging 18.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists before his injury and was part of a young trio that included Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.

The question will come as to why the Bulls had to throw in their first-round pick in a deep draft, but perhaps it was an indication of their wont to trade Butler, who made the All-NBA Third Team and repeatedly elevated his game in his six seasons as a Bull.

Butler’s name had been bandied about through the trade market last year at the draft and this year at the trade deadline, with the Bulls feeling like they could only get so good with Butler being the player he developed into combined with the direction the franchise was going in, focusing on youth over proven veterans.

It’s seemingly step one in a longer process for the Bulls but after being in basketball purgatory for the last two seasons, they’ve chosen a path and for that path to be traveled, it had to be without their three-time All-Star.