Early returns for former member of Bulls' "Bench Mob"

940769.png

Early returns for former member of Bulls' "Bench Mob"

PHOENIXTheres two schools of thought when it comes to the Bench Mob, the Bulls beloved bench from the past two seasons.
One is that the organization should have done whatever it takes to keep them, while the other camp understands that the realities of the new CBA, coupled with the fact that with Derrick Roses uncertain status for this season, didnt make sense to keep the group intact if contending for a title wasnt a sure thing.
Regardless, whats done is done and, except for holdover Taj Gibson, who was recently rewarded with a new long-term contract extension and is averaging 7.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per night in 21 minutes, the group dispersed to various locales over the summer: Kyle Korver was traded to Atlanta, Ronnie Brewer waived and eventually signed by New York, C.J. Watson suffering the same fate but going to the borough of Brooklyn instead of Manhattan, John Lucas inking a free-agent deal with Toronto and Omer Asik famously signing a three-year deal worth nearly 25 million in Houston, as the Rockets poison pill in the final season put the Bulls in a tough position.
Its only two weeks into the NBA season, but now that the old favorites are settled into their new homes, its worth checking on how theyre faring.
Asik, Gibsons former tag-team partner, was quietly yearning for not only more playing time, but a starting role, something that the presence of Joakim Noah prevented in Chicago. Now in Houston, Asik playing north of 32 minutes an outing and has shown remarkable offensive developmentthough not entirely unprecedented, judging from his play in international competition while representing his home country of Turkeyas well as being a defensive anchor for the Rockets and one of the leagues top rebounders.
Used as a screener on high pick-and-rolls for the much-ballyhooed backcourt of James Harden and Jeremy Lin, Asik has fared wellsomething Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau could have predicted, given his praise of Asiks ability to set picksbut more surprisingly, hes displayed better hands and touch than witnessed in Chicago, resulting in 9.9 points per game, to go along with his monster 13 rebounds a contest. While field-goal percentage is extremely low for a center at 42.1 percent from the field, whats shocking is the 72.4 percentage from the foul line from a previously dismal free-throw shooter.
Some of his more impressive game statistics include a career-high 19 points, including 11-for-14 from the charity stripe, to go with 14 rebounds in the Rockets loss to the Heat on Monday, as well as a 19-rebound effortalthough he was scoreless, shooting 0-for-7 from the floorin a Nov. 2 game against Korvers Hawks.
Houston is currently 3-4, as opposing defenses have stymied Harden after his brilliant start, but Asik continues to be effective.
While Asik had less fanfare coming to Houston than Lin and later, Harden, he wasnt nearly as close to being an afterthought as Brewer when he was acquired by the Knicks. But with instant-offense scorer J.R. Smith more productive in a sixth-man role, Chicago native Iman Shumpert sidelined with an arduous rehabilitation process, he was slated to be New Yorks starting shooting guard at the outset of the season.
Just like when he came to Chicago, Brewer endured a injury that affected him through training camp, but the versatile swingman recovered and after Amare Stoudemire got hurt, New York head coach Mike Woodson opted to start him at small forward, using veteran Jason Kidd in the backcourt with fellow point guard Raymond Felton, shifting All-Star Carmelo Anthony to power forward, the position at which he was perhaps his best last season.
The oldest team in modern league history has thrived in the early going, racing out of the gates with a 5-0 record and while Brewer is one of the least high-profile players on the squad, hes been a big part of the Knicks success.
Averaging nine points and 6.2 rebounds in 26.8 minutes an evening, Brewer adds a dose of athleticism to a mostly ground-bound roster, as well as a strong defensive presence and somebody who can flourish in transition. It remains to be seen whether Brewer will continue to start when the Knicks have their full complement of players, but as Chicagoans know well, nights like his 13-point, 10-rebound performance against Philadelphia on Nov. 5 can occur for the Arkansas native no matter his role, just as long as he plays.
Korver, one of the leagues preeminent sharpshooters, is sorely missed in Chicago, where the Bulls werent necessarily the most proficient outside-shooting team when he was on the roster, but are clearly in the dregs of the NBA now, even as replacement Marco Belinelli begins to find his stroke. Its unlikely that hell admit it publicly, but Thibodeau feels the loss as strongly as anybody, twice having made reflexive references to Korvers clutch shooting when asked about which players would close out games in Roses absence, by this writers count.
Korver has earned a starting role in Atlanta, which traded All-Star Joe Johnson over the summer, and although many believed the Hawks would take a big step back and enter a major rebuilding phase, at least at this point, theres no reason to think theyre no longer a playoff contender.
Now anchored around the talents of athletic big men Josh Smith and Al Horford, as well as a young, quick guard cadre that includes Jeff Teague, the older brother of Bulls rookie Marquis Teague, along with the likes of offseason acquisitions Lou Williams, Deshawn Stevenson, Devin Harris and Anthony Morrow, Korver has already been identified as a go-to guy down the stretch of games for Atlanta, as evidenced by his 16-point outing, which included 4-for-6 shooting from long range in a win over Portland on Monday. Shooting 37.1 percent from deep and averaging 8.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.2 stealsthe latter number a testament to his improvement as a team, if not individual defender, during his tenure in Chicagoin 26 minutes a night, the Hawks are 3-3 thus far.
Watson appears to be finding his niche in the league as a high-level backup point guard to some of the games elite floor generals, as hes now the understudy to All-Star Deron Williams after playing behind Rose for two seasons. All the pomp and circumstance surrounding the Nets move to Brooklyn wouldnt seem to fit his quiet personality, but Watson has been delivering on the court early this season.
Nagged by injuries in the preseason, hes playing almost 25 minutes a night in the Big Apple, averaging 8.3 points a game on 44 percent shooting from the floor, as well as contributing 1.3 steals per contest for the 4-2 club. His season-high is a modest 15 points, notched in a Nov. 3 win over Lucas Raptors, but if Williams goes down with an injury at any point this season, its a fact that hes capable of more prolific numbers.
Speaking of Lucas, just knowing that the journeyman finally achieved some security on the professional level by signing a multi-year deal with Toronto is a testament to his perseverance, as well as Thibodeaus belief in him, which at least partially stemmed from both their shared time in Houston and the coachs long-time relationship with Lucas father, his former boss in Philadelphia, back when the younger Lucas was a child.
After a strong preseason, howeverhe recorded separate highs of 16 points and eight assistshes been caught in a point-guard logjam, as Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has opted to go with marquee offseason acquisition Kyle Lowry as the starter and veteran holdover Jose Calderon, who got his first career triple-double Tuesday night, as the backup, with Calderon taking over the starting job in Lowrys injury-related absence.
Lucas best regular-season game came Monday, when he had seven points and two assists against Utah, but on the campaign, hes averaging just 2.1 points and 1.1 assists a night on a lowly 17.6 percent from the field in under 11 minutes a game for the 2-6 team. Still, many expect Calderon to be dealt at some point this season, which would open up minutes and a more definitive role for Lucas.
In between mourning the loss of the collective group and the various strengths of the individuals (Brewers athleticism, Korvers marksmanship, Watsons scoring ability, Asiks defensive presence and Lucas knack for rising to the occasion) and fans similarly passionate ire when things didnt go right (Brewers lack of outside shooting, Korvers defensive issues, Lucas shoot-first tendencies and most famously, Watsons decision to pass the ball to Asik, who missed a pair of free throws in Game 6 of the Bulls first-round playoff loss to Philadelphia, which eliminated the team), it has to be accepted that the Bench Mob era is finally over, with the old guard better off for the experience and the teams new second unit still finding its way.
The first reunion, with Asik in Houston, during the Bulls ongoing Circus Trip, is soon to come and while its unlikely to be a tearful experience, it should certainly bring back some fond memories.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field

PHOENIX – Rob Manfred is open to the idea of an All-Star Game at a fully renovated Wrigley Field, but the Major League Baseball commissioner won't make any guarantees about the 2020 target date the Cubs have proposed in a joint lobbying effort with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office.

"I'm not going to get into specific years," Manfred said Tuesday during a Cactus League media event at the Arizona Biltmore. "Because there's a number of clubs – we're fortunate – that have interest in particular years. And I don't want to say anything that would suggest that I'm anywhere near making a decision."

During last month's Cubs Convention, president of business operations Crane Kenney expressed optimism in a Super Bowl-style bidding process, and not the old way of simply alternating the showcase event between the American and National leagues each year.

The Cubs will point to their starring role in a World Series that beat the NFL's "Sunday Night Football" in head-to-head TV ratings and saw more than 40 million people tune in for Game 7. By 2020, the $600 million Wrigleyville development is supposed to be finished, and Emanuel helped broker the deals that moved the NFL draft to Chicago the last two years after a long run at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

"I will say this: A renovated Wrigley Field would be a great location for an All-Star Game," Manfred said. "Chicago is a great city. And over time, we have tried to go to cities that would be great locations for the game – and to reward cities that had made substantial investments in either new or renovated facilities."

The Cubs still see potential roadblocks, needing City Hall's help with an increased security presence around an urban neighborhood ballpark that hasn't hosted the Midsummer Classic since 1990.

Kenney also acknowledged that All-Star Games have been used as bargaining chips in public negotiations in cities like Miami and Washington – Marlins Park (2017) and Nationals Park (2018) will make it four straight All-Star Games for NL stadiums – while the Ricketts family used private mechanisms to fund the project after striking out on other proposals. 

Nemanja Nikolic channels his inner MJ in jersey number

Nemanja Nikolic channels his inner MJ in jersey number

Jersey numbers can be a big deal in soccer. Who is the team's No. 10? Who is the No. 9?

Nemanja Nikolic, a forward who joined the Chicago Fire this offseason as a Designated Player, didn't have the choice of either number that is famously associated with marquee attacking players because both were taken by returning players on the Fire. Instead, he landed on a number more famous in Chicago sports than in soccer.

Nikolic will be wearing 23.

The Fire announced the jersey numbers for the 2017 season with Nikolic's 23 a part of the list. Every returning player kept the same number as last season.

It goes without saying that wearing the No. 23 in Chicago comes with an extra bit of notoriety. Ever since Michael Jordan donned the No. 23 for the Chicago Bulls, it has been a common sight to find the best player on a Chicagoland high school basketball team wearing No. 23. That doesn't translate to the world of soccer, but in Chicago fans will notice.

A spokesman for the club said the number was more coincidence than intentional MJ reference, but if Nikolic has a good season don't be surprised to see signs at Toyota Park referencing Nikolic's jersey number.

In the preseason some of the players have been wearing different jersey numbers from what they will in the regular season. Nikolic has been wearing No. 9 in preseason matches.

Here is a list of the other newcomers and the numbers they will be wearing:

Jorge Bava: 1

Dax McCarty: 6

Djordje Mihailovic: 14

Juninho: 19

Daniel Johnson: 20

Stefan Cleveland: 30