Chicago Bulls

Frankie O: Touch 'em all!

Frankie O: Touch 'em all!

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Time to go around the horn on the Chicago sporting scene while I await the second round of the NHL Playoffs and listen to Jon Gruden wax poetic about every player drafted.

Plenty of Hawk talk at the bar, pondering another early demise. When Im asked what I think, I summon my inner Dennis Green (Watch it!): The Hawks are we thought they were! Any honest appraisal of this team pointed to the many gaping holes in their game. Actually, I go back to their construction. In a league built for speed, this team has regressed in that area for the last two years. (Think Andrew Brunnette.)

In the Detroit Model in which a Bowman (You choose which one.) team is constructed, the last line of defense is usually the last piece considered. That would be fine if the players in front of the masked man kept the puck out and tilted the ice in the other direction, but this years team was not consistently up to the task. Their most consistent trait was their inconsistency. You would like to think of it as an aberration, but I remember the Captains repeated frustration with last years team also. A team with this core should still be playing, if they were surrounded by the right pieces.

I think Eddie O and Pat Foley were right on in their instant analysis as time was running out on the season: The Hawks have four top-six forwards and need a second-line center. That would help in their puck-possession game, and enable the team to match-up against the teams they would be meeting in the playoffs. Simple enough. And as I wrote here when the season started, the loss of Brian Campbell would be huge and it was. The inability of the defense to move the play in the other direction led to numerous preventable goals. Then there was the biggest problem: special teams.

This drum was beat all season, but no one was listening. The 26th ranked power-play during the regular season was even worse during the playoffs. Honestly! 5.3 is not going to help you in a series in which there is no room to breathe. Of course when you dont score, there is always the goalie situation. At this time of year they can steal a game, or as we just watched, a series. For no matter how inept you may be, if the puck doesnt end up in the back of the net, it doesnt matter. Ive spent the better part of my life watching my Flyers team double the shot output of their opponents only to lose because they allowed soft goals while having to do the work of three men to score theirs. The goals that Crawford allowed to lose Games 3 and 4 are ones he would admit he has to stop, but maybe if there were a couple of power-play goals the games dont get to that point. Crawford is going to take a lot of heat for this loss and thats part of his job, but when the real analysis is done, I think that there should be as much scrutiny on the rest of the roster. Its a team game and this team got as far as it should have.

A happier ending hopefully awaits the other tenant of the United Center, but Im not so sure. For some reason, well one reason actually: injuries, this team has been swimming upstream the whole season, albeit to the best record in the league. For most of us, that is a reflection of coach Tom Thibodeau. He is passionate and relentless in his pursuit of getting the most from his players, every night. No matter the opponent, or who was available to play, his team showed up. Most notably, that team did not include reigning MVP Derrick Rose for 27 out of 66 games. I know this is a nice team, but no Rose for that much and still the best record? That is ridiculous. In a weird way it might benefit them now that he missed so much time. They had to find other ways to win, and guys up-and-down the roster stepped up in big ways, special mentions for C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver and Carlos Boozer. (I know, I cant believe I typed that last name either!)

As the playoffs and my hometown Sixers loom, we all want to see which D-Rose shows up. I still dont believe that he is fully healed, but he has time to get better. I think that this team can dispatch of the Sixers and Celtics on the way to the expected matchup with the hated Heat, even without big minutes from their leader. But wins 9 thru 16 are going to require this team to be hitting on all cylinders, and when you add to Roses injury woes, Lu Deng playing with one hand and the populace waiting to see that Rip Hamilton, you have to wonder if this team will have enough to take on the Heat, even at a time that most feel the Heat are very beatable. (Ill believe that when I see it, Im still scarred from the last 4 games of last years series.) Not to mention what happens after that series, but first things first. This is a good team that should make its mark, but to get to where we all want them to go, it rests in the hands, and ankle of one player, lets hope he is who we know he is.

Did the baseball season start? Just kidding, of course it did, on the Southside! I tease! Well, sort of. The season will start for the Cubs once Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson come up from the minors. The way I look at this season is: Who is going to be here next year, or the year after? That is what this is all about, right? When you build from the ground up, it takes time, and a lot of losses! Even though a lot of folks arent being very forthright about this, thats the case. Personally, I dont have a problem with this, but then again Im not a season ticket holder. My curiosity is about how forgiving the ticket-buying public will be and for how long. There still has to be something compelling to make the folks come out or watch at a bar! What will be compelling is watching young stars on the way up. No doubt, Starlin Castro is that, but he needs help. Hopefully that will continue to come from Bryan LaHair, who is the best story on the team. We all love the guy who finally gets his shot and takes advantage of it. At least we wont be watching the Rodrigo Lopez re-run again this summer. Hes a known quantity, and we know we dont need more. This is all about kids on the rise and trade-bait. On this team youre either one or the other.

Im still not sure what to make of the Sox. Nice road-trip, but against two of the worst hitting teams in the majors. Oakland has a team batting average of .205 and despite what my baseball sensei says about Seattle, any team that has 5 of its regulars batting under .236 is not a juggernaut, but I digress. The Sox keep giving me mixed signals. Johnny Danks has a 5.11 ERA, while Jake Peavy is 3-0 with a 1.88. Philip Humber throws a perfect game,(very cool to watch by the way) in his next start Phillip Humber gets lit up like a Christmas tree by Boston. Addison Reed hasnt given up a run in 9 appearances, while Hector Santiago has given up 4 homeruns in 7. Alex Rios(!) is hitting .362, while Dayan Viciedo is batting .173. Adam Dunn has 30 strikeouts in 19 games! But Brent Morel is only 5 behind with one less game played! See what I mean? Give some, get some is what happens when youre a game above .500 19 games into the season. There are a lot of story lines that need time to be played out here, but this team will go as far as its pitching, which so far hasnt been half bad. But unlike that offensive powerhouse that plays in the emerald city, I would feel much better if the bottom four regulars on this team could hit over the.214 that they currently reside under.

And last but not least are the Bears. The big news of course is the draft. Again, I do not for the life of me understand anyone who can sit and watch this whole thing, but then again I dont understand most of the top watched weekly shows on cable either. Have you seen that list? Its worth a look even if you dont understand, although in some ways it makes perfect sense. Dont get me wrong, I like some of the intrigue of the draft, I mean, how could you not want to watch guys who are very used to getting their way have to wait their turn?

But even the guys who have to pick dont know how half of these will work out. If you dont believe me, google the Bears last ten drafts. How do you like that list? Its almost as scary as the cable show list. Not only that, you can do this with any team in the NFL. You think the Bears are the only team with the tortured draft past? Try again! Which brings us to the 1st pick of the Phil Emery era, Boise State defensive end Shea McClellin. Im not even going to try and tell you that I know anything about this kid, because I dont, just like most of the people who will give you their opinions about the pick today.

What I find interesting is that no one that I read had him rated this high. Everyone here thought that they would take Illini end Whitney Mercilus (headline writers dream) or Syracuses Chandler Jones. Both were left on the board by Emery. Also left was Iowa left tackle Riley Reiff. I might be mistaken, but I think there have been some rumblings about the play of the incumbent left tackle. LOL!! Only time will tell how this will play out but it looks like Emery stuck to his guns. We all hope that pays off. Besides, like any draft, this one should be rated in its entirety and with hindsight. For now its pretty much darts at a board, but by most accounts, the first one is a good, safe shot.

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.