Chicago Bulls

Fantasy baseball pitcher stock watch - 66

Fantasy baseball pitcher stock watch - 66

Buy
Andy Pettitte, SP, Yankees: He must have kept himself in pretty fine shape during his brief retirement because the five starts back in New York have been terrific (three wins, 2.78 ERA, 1.01 WHIP). Plus control is no surprise (just seven walks), but Pettitte is also putting people away (32 strikeouts). The pickoff move remains lethal as ever. His next two turns are against the Mets and Nationals - good teams, but not offenses to fear.

Ryan Dempster, SP, Cubs: The 1-3 record is a joke given how well Dempster has pitched (2.59 ERA, 1.08 WHIP); obviously the Cubs have hung him out to dry on several occasions. But Dempster's luck has turned somewhat in his last two turns - Chicago has scored 18 runs for him - and there's a strong chance he'll be moved to a contending club at some point in July. No one can be this unlucky for six months, right? Dempster could easily win 10-12 games the rest of the way, even if he pitches a little worse than his current level.

Sell
Brandon Beachy, SP, Braves: The glittering ERA and WHIP jump off the page (1.87 and 0.95, respectively), and he's also spiked the strikeouts of late. But what type of season-long workload will the Braves expose Beachy to? It's not that we're expecting a shutdown at some absurdly-early point, but just keep in mind this young arm has never been exposed to 150 innings in a season (Beachy was a reliever when he entered pro ball). Even if he's not sent to the showers prematurely, a stat give-back in August and September is highly likely. Quietly see if anyone in your league needs a pitcher and is willing to overzealously chase what Beachy has already posted; he's good, but he's not this good.
Derek Lowe, SP, Indians: While some unlucky chaps like Cliff Lee can't buy a win, there's Lowe with his fortunate seven victories and 3.06 ERA. The ERA is as much a fluke as the wins are; Lowe averages only 2.7 strikeouts per nine innings, his strikeout and walk rates are almost even, and his WHIP is a toxic 1.46. His extreme ground-ball profile helps to some extent, but a 78.3 strand rate is mostly just good fortune. If you mash the peripherals and try to estimate Lowe's ERA, you get something in the high 3s or low 4s. A major correction is coming, it's just a matter of when.

Hold

Tom Wilhelmsen, RP, Mariners: The general blueprint looks stacked against Wilhelmsen, at least as far as a closing gig goes. The Mariners would like Brandon League back in the big chair at some point (so they can try to trade him), and fresh-recall Stephen Pryor arrived with the "stopper of the future" tag attached. That established, Wilhelmsen has a win and a save over the last two Seattle wins, and he's looked the part in the late innings, striking out 36 men (against a reasonable nine walks) over 30 innings. Sometimes the smartest way to handle jumbled bullpens from a fantasy standpoint is simply to follow the momentum and the recent assignments; most modern managers are reluctant to change anything that's been working.

Felix Doubront, SP, Red Sox: Pitchers are basically guilty-until-proven-innocent in the jagged AL East, where four of the five parks are dangerous to work in and every team has a capable offense. But Boston's surprising lefty has acquitted himself nicely through the opening third of the year, posting a 3.75 ERA and 1.35 WHIP along with six wins and a zesty strikeout rate (66 punchouts in 62.1 innings). Doubront has been one of the surprise stars for AL-only players this year, and his profile is also relevant for medium and deep mixed leagues.

Francisco Liriano, SP, Twins: He's given us two terrific turns since rejoining the rotation (12 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 17 K) and a reasonable matchup is on the way (at home against Philadelphia). Just make sure you don't get tied to any long-term commitment with Liriano - the messy mechanics (and crooked numbers) can return at any time, without warning. It seems like a folly to put him in the sell list - if you're in a smart league, no one is likely to trade for him - so all you can really do is give him a shot to pitch for you, but on the shortest leash possible.

NBA economic reality could speed up Bulls rebuild

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USA TODAY

NBA economic reality could speed up Bulls rebuild

In case you missed it this morning, ESPN's Tim McMahon and Bobby Marks collaborated on an excellent piece detailing how the irresponsible spending by NBA teams last summer could impact a star-studded free agent class in 2018.

Which is music to the ears of Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman, who are hoping to be a major player on the free agent market next year.

The ESPN report projected only nine teams having cap space to bid on a free agent class that could include Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, Chris Paul, Isaiah Thomas, Carmelo Anthony, DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Avery Bradley, Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Wilson Chandler, Danny Green, Enes Kanter and Greg Monroe, along with restricted free agents like Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic, Marcus Smart, Rodney Hood, Julius Randle, Dante Exum, Aaron Gordon and Clint Capela.

Bad summer not to have any spending money.

But that's exactly what Paxson and Forman were anticipating when they chose not to get involved in the reckless spending triggered by the league's new TV deal last summer. We all know about some of the terrible contracts handed out including a four-year, $72 million deal to Joakim Noah, four years, $64 million for Timofey Mozgov and Portland spending almost $150 million to lock up reserves Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner for four years.

The Bulls signed Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Isaiah Canaan last summer, but avoided any salary commitment beyond two years. Both Rondo and Canaan were bought out of the team options the Bulls held for next season.

Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers are now in such a deep luxury tax hole that they basically gave Crabbe away in a trade with Brooklyn earlier this week, immediately waiving the player they got back, power forward Andrew Nicholson, under the league's stretch provision. Portland figures to be one of at least 10 teams paying the luxury tax for the 2018-19 season.

I know what many of you are thinking, "Why will 2018 free agency be any different than in years past?" Yes, the Bulls missed out on primary targets James, Wade and Chris Bosh in 2010, and they failed to land Anthony in 2014. But with so many teams capped out, the Bulls will face less competition in pursuing the players they want most next summer.

We've all heard the rumors about James wanting to finish his career in L.A., and it's unlikely Durant, Westbrook, George or Paul would have any interest in coming to Chicago. But the Bulls could get significantly better right away in a weakened Eastern Conference by adding one or two players from a list of unrestricted free agents that could be looking for a new situation, including Cousins, Jordan, Bradley, Thomas, Caldwell-Pope, Kanter, Chandler and Green. They also could use their cap space to make a massive cap offer to a restricted free agent whose team is already in the luxury tax.

Of course, the Bulls have decisions to make with their own roster as well. They still haven't re-signed Niko Mirotic, and any contract beyond one season will reduce their cap space next summer. Plus, the key player coming back in the Jimmy Butler deal, shooting guard Zach LaVine, will be a restricted free agent next summer, and if he comes back 100 percent from ACL surgery, could command a multi-year contract starting at $20 million or more.

The Bulls have contract options on the rookie deals of Bobby Portis, Kris Dunn, Cam Payne, Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine and Lauri Markkanen, while Paul Zipser's $1.5 million salary is not guaranteed for 2018-19.

Paxson said the Bulls are committed to re-building through the draft, and the hope is they'll wind up with a top 3 pick after next year's lottery to grab a franchise changing talent like Missouri's Michael Porter, Jr., International star Luka Doncic and 7-footers DeAndre Ayton of Arizona and Mohamed Bamba of Texas.

Looking at the big picture, if LaVine comes back 100 percent, Dunn emerges as a legit starting point guard and Markkanen shows potential as a stretch 4, the Bulls rebuild could move quickly. Adding one of the top players in next year's draft would be the first step, then Paxson and Forman would be armed with somewhere between $40-50 million dollars in cap space to pursue an impact free agent or two.

Bulls fans remember how long it took to re-build the team after the end of the Jordan era in 1998. Jerry Krause couldn't land a major free agent, and the Tyson Chandler-Eddy Curry experiment failed badly.

Let's hope Paxson and Forman have more luck this time around. At least they'll have a built-in advantage when the 2018 free agent market opens for business next July with the Bulls projected to have more cap space available than any other team in the league.

Kevin White is starting small to answer the big question: Can he break out in 2017?

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USA Today Sports Images

Kevin White is starting small to answer the big question: Can he break out in 2017?

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Kevin White isn’t taking his ability to play football for granted anymore, not after missing 28 of the Bears’ 32 games since he was drafted seventh overall in 2015. This is supposed to be fun, White said, even though these last two years couldn’t have been much fun for him.  

So with training camp underway at Olivet Nazarene University, White isn’t putting any added pressure on himself in a year that could determine whether or not he gets labeled a bust. 

“I don’t look at this as a job,” White said. “I think it takes the fun away from it. So I would just look at it as it’s a game. I love to play it, just getting paid to do it. But it was fun to be back out there with the guys and rallying together and going out there to compete.”

White looked solid in the Bears’ first training camp practice of 2017, which was a promising start for the 6-foot-3, 216 pound West Virginia product. But that’s a small step that won’t hold much significance unless White can string a few good practices together, and then eventually turn those practices into productive games. 

The good news is the Bears don’t have any restrictions on White and aren’t planning on giving him any additional rest days during training camp.

“He’s ready to go,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “He’s had a great summer, a great offseason, so he’s ready to go. You can just feel his confidence gaining, knowledge of the offense and just being comfortable with his body. He’s pretty much unleashed.”

The bad news is until White proves he can play a full season, questions will remain about his durability. Since being drafted, White has dealt with a fractured left tibia and a severe ankle sprain that resulted in a spiral fracture of his fibula. Those two severe injuries mean we don’t really know what White can do — the four games he played last year were perhaps nothing more than an incomplete glimpse. 

White had the third-lowest average yards per target (5.19) among receivers with at least 35 targets last year, which couldn’t have been what the Bears envisioned when they invested a top-10 pick in him. This is a guy who had 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final year at West Virginia, after all. 

The Bears still believe White can be a go-to target opposite the budding Cam Meredith and in conjunction with the trio of veterans (Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, Victor Cruz) they signed in the spring. 

“We all can do whatever the coaches put us in position to do,” White said. “I do have a lot of confidence (in) us.”

But from a larger view, the Bears need White succeed so they won’t have to re-draft a player at his position, or at least be tempted to deviate from their best-player-available strategy. Doing so would be a blow to Pace’s efforts to build through the draft, a process that’s also, notably, seen the additions of Cody Whitehair, Jordan Howard, Mitch Trubisky and Adam Shaheen on offense. 

For White to fulfill those big-picture hopes, though, he’ll have to start small — like with Thursday’s practice. Saturday’s practice will be the first time White will take contact since Week 4 of the 2016 season, and the Aug. 10 preseason opener will be his first game action since then, too. 

“It’s hard to get better at something if you don’t practice it,” coach John Fox said. “So getting a string of practices, getting him out there and developing his skill set. He’s got plenty of athletic ability. That’s why he was picked where he was. Now it’s just getting out there and improving (his) skillset.”

White’s love of the game wasn’t marred by the frustration of his first two years in Chicago, though. In fact, the opposite happened. 

“You get something taken away from you a little bit, you enjoy it more,” White said.