Frankie O's Blog: I choose... none of the above!

Frankie O's Blog: I choose... none of the above!

Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011
2:53 p.m.

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

In between Jay Cutler conversations at the bar, (Note: This story will NEVER die. EVER! Cutler has built up so much ill will with the masses that they wont let his misfortune slide. Add to it knucklehead media types and BLOGGERS who are still talking about it, and the story has taken a life of its own. The bottom line is every time there is a question about where the Bears are headed, the first one will always be about whether their QB can take them there. Ill give you one guess as to what the prevailing opinion will be. The Bears arent doing their boy any favors. If you dont take a proactive approach towards getting the REAL story out there, you leave yourself open to rampant speculation.) the OTHER topic is about the last pro football game of the year.

(Note 2: I wrote last year that I agreed with the moving of the Pro Bowl to the week before the Super Bowl, that it would whet the appetite of us football fans and help build the buzz for the big game. I dont know how the game that was on TV last Sunday could help promote anything. That was the most awful exhibition of football that I have ever seen. If Roger Goodell wants to help the image of his sport he needs to do something about this exhibition. I would say blow it up, but the TV ratings were the best in over 10 years. I know the fact that we all watched says something about us fans, but Im not sure I want to go there. At least I was working while it was on and didnt receive its full effect. The football conversation at the bar was a little dumbed-down after it was over. Coincidence?! I think not!)

The Super Bowl is the football game of the year and the day should be declared a national holiday, but for some reason I do not feel very Super about this Sunday.

As always, since my team is almost never in the game, its about my rooting interest. To be honest, I could make a case for either team, if say, I was interested in which one will win by a certain amount of points. A 2 point spread indicates the closeness of the teams. If one was to make a wager, I would want to really feel good about which direction the outcome will be. At this point, I would say flip a coin. (Ill give you my pick at the end.) This is something that I usually root for, because its good for business, the bar business. Two evenly matched teams lead to a lot of animated conversations and tons of requests for a pick from yours truly. This is what I live for when Im behind the bar. But this year, something is missing. For me it gets down to the two teams and finding one that I can root for, or defend in an argument.

If I pick the Packers, like I did against the Bears, I spend my time behind the bar espousing the virtues of the most hated rival of everyone who lives in this city. In the week leading up to the Bears-Packers game this was a lot of work. Although most of my Bear brethren, in their heads agreed with me, in their hearts they could not agree, nor want to hear it, even if I was right, whichI was! As much as I like being right, why have a sports debate if youre not, I didnt feel good about it since just about every person I knew was disappointed in the outcome, none the least of which were my employers of the bar that I work in. Bears losses are not good for sales! So I dont know if I want to hop in those waters again and become known as Packer Boy.

If I pick the Steelers, I hop into murkier waters. My disdain for the team from the other side of the state that I was raised is well known. Can you blame me? My team has ZERO Super Bowl titles, while Pittsburgh has SIX. SIX! Honestly, is that fair, or right?! Add to it that I have to hear about it all the time! when I meet someone from there and you can understand why I have issues. But there is another, unavoidable, reason why I cannot root for the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger. He is a hot-button topic in the bar, and takes me down a tricky path in discussing him. I have always marveled at his abilities as a quarterback. His skill and performance, unlike some others we know (wink-wink), are beyond reproach. Off the field, unfortunately, its a completely different story. As one who roots for the Eagles, and now has Mike Vick as a QB, I can fully understand the conflict that occurs when, not to any of your doing, you are FORCED to cheer for, and in many ways, defend, someone who may have done unspeakable things.

For a fan, who roots for sports as a diversion, this puts you in an uncomfortable place. Sports are supposed to take you away from reality, not put you knee-deep in it. But that is not the life we now lead, so for whatever reasons, choices have to be made, and I have made mine. I dont know how you can talk about the Steelers and not discuss what he is alleged to have done. Again, I deal in a court of public opinion, where convictions dont need the approval of our real court system. The talk of Big Bens redemption is enough to make me barf. As much as I love sports, its quick to forgive nature for those who win and scorn for those whose only offense was that they did not win a game, is a little scary at times. And this is coming from a person who serves alcohol to people for a living. I do not scare easily!

So if you want to know my opinion of the game: The Packers resilience in the face of so many injuries borders on amazing. They have a will that wont let them quit. I love the stat that they have not trailed in ANY game this year by more than 7 points. This team fights, and will not go away. Their quarterback is playing his position at about as high a level as I have seen. But he has been dinged, and after the Julius Peppers hit to the head, he was not effective at all against the Bears. Pittsburgh, and their D-coordinator Dick LeBeau, know how to get to the quarterback and deliver punishing blows. Im sure James Harrison would not mind one more fine this year, if it meant the opportunity to knock the Packers QB out of the game. The Steelers are the most physical team in the league. They dont always win pretty, but they find a way to win. I think the Steelers rush against Aaron Rogers will be the key. In the end, I think the inability of the Packers to run the ball, allowing the Steelers to focus on hitting Rogers, will allow the Steelers to win 24-17.

But more than the result of the game, will be what results from it. If the Packers win, Bears fans will hear no end of it, and I will feel that pain. If the Steelers win, we will be treated to the sight of Ben Roethlisberger hoisting the Lombardi trophy and all the talk of his redemption.

NBA Buzz: 2017 Draft could be the best in more than a decade

NBA Buzz: 2017 Draft could be the best in more than a decade

If you've been watching the NCAA Tournament closely, it's apparent this June's draft will include a number of elite prospects, maybe the best top 10 talent since the LeBron, Melo, Bosh, Wade draft in 2003. 

Washington didn't qualify for the tournament, but NBA scouts seem to be in agreement that Washington point guard Markelle Fultz will be the No. 1 pick. The 6-foot-4 freshman has the size and ball-handling ability to play either guard spot, and word out of Boston is Fultz will be the pick if the Celtics get the first choice in the draft lottery.

UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball put on quite a show in the Bruins' win over Cincinnati on Sunday, finishing with 19 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. The 6-foot-6 Ball reminds scouts of a young Jason Kidd, showing amazing court vision and passing skills with the size to see over the top of smaller defenders. And don't caught up in his unusual shooting form. Ball can knock down shots, hitting almost 56 percent from the field this season and 42 percent beyond the 3-point line.

The other consensus top-3 prospect is Kansas small forward Josh Jackson. The 6-foot-8 Jackson is an Andrew Wiggins clone who has amazing quickness and finishing ability. Jackson improved his draft stock with a sensational performance in the first two games of the tournament. If the Bulls decide to trade Jimmy Butler in a deal for one of the top picks this June, the rangy 20-year-old Jackson would be an ideal replacement. If he ever gets a consistent jump shot, look out. We could be talking about a 25 points per game scorer.

Since Fultz, Ball and Jackson appear to be the kind of players NBA teams build around, the Bulls could potentially negotiate with the teams holding the top 3 picks for the best possible Butler deal. Right now, the Nets (pick will be swapped with Boston), Lakers and Suns own the worst records, and if the order isn't changed by the lottery, the Bulls could obtain a quality package centered around this year's first-round pick and a quality young player from any of the three teams.

Here's a look at how the lottery selections could fall based on the draft order as of March 23.

1. CELTICS (from Brooklyn)  Markelle Fultz  PG   Washington
2. LAKERS                              Lonzo Ball        PG    UCLA
3. SUNS                                  Josh Jackson   SF    Kansas
4. MAGIC                                Jayson Tatum   SF     Duke
5. 76'ers                                  De'Aaron Fox     PG    Kentucky
6. KINGS                                  Malik Monk         SG    Kentucky
7. KNICKS                               Dennis Smith      PG   N. Carolina St.
8. TIMBERWOLVES              Lauri Markkanen  PF    Arizona
9. KINGS (from Pelicans)       Frank Ntilikina      PG    France
10. MAVS                                 Miles Bridges    SF    Michigan St.
11. HORNETS                         Jonathan Isaac   SF    Florida St.
12. BLAZERS                          Justin Jackson   SF    N. Carolina
13. PISTONS                           John Collins      PF     Wake Forest       
14. BULLS                                OG Anunoby     SG-SF   Indiana  

Alright Bulls fans, I'm sure you're asking, why would the Bulls want to draft a player coming off a serious knee injury? Well, the Bulls haven't done all that well drafting productive older players from major programs, so why not roll the dice on a 19-year-old who could develop into the next Butler?

Scouts raved about Anunoby's potential heading into his sophomore season at Indiana. At 6-foot-8, Anunoby has good positional size to play both the small forward and shooting guard spots and figures to be a plus-defender from Day 1 in the NBA. Right now, his rehab from right knee surgery and lack of a consistent jump shot are the biggest concerns, but looking at mock drafts in the 13-20 range, do the Bulls really want to take a project big man or a mystery international player? 

Even if it takes a couple years for Anunoby to reach his ultimate potential, he seems like a good choice in today's position-less NBA. Plus, in the Bulls' current position, they need to take some chances and try to get lucky in landing a future star.

Two other athletic possibilities who are projected as late 1st round picks right now are SMU junior swingman Semi Ojeleye, a 6-foot-7 bundle of energy and muscle who should be able to contribute right away, and Oklahoma St. point guard Jawun Evans, one of the fastest players in the college game who could ignite the Bulls' fast break after Rajon Rondo moves on.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

If the Bulls are going to make a late season run to the playoffs, they'll have to find a way to pass two of the league's hottest teams. Milwaukee has won eight of its last 10 games to pull into a 6th place tie with the Pacers, while Miami has been one of the league's biggest surprises over the last two months, going from an 11-30 record on January 13 to 35-36, and a game and a half lead over the Bulls and Pistons for the final playoff spot.

Both late surges are surprising, especially the job Erik Spoelstra has done in Miami. After the controversial departure of Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley decided to hedge his bets for the future and signed a number of journeyman veteran types like Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Derrick Williams and Willie Reed to short-term contracts.

Williams was released and signed on with Cleveland, but Spoelstra and his staff have done a masterful job in piecing together a roster with a lot of duplication into a consistent winning team. Hassan Whiteside has continued to improve, averaging 17 points and 14 rebounds, while the guard rotation of Waiters, Goran Dragic, Ellington and Tyler Johnson has been especially effective.

Bulls fans will remember James Johnson as a guy who arrived from Wake Forest with a lot of potential, but went on to bounce around the league with little success. Now that he's finally in optimal physical shape, Johnson is averaging 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3.5 assists off the bench while doing a strong job on the defensive end.

Spoelstra probably won't win the Coach of the Year award, but it might be his best job yet after losing Wade and Chris Bosh, then seeing promising second-year forward Justise Winslow go out with a season-ending shoulder injury.

It's been a different story in Milwaukee, where the Bucks got off to a fast start behind the amazing rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo to All-Star status. A mid-season slump dropped the Bucks out of the top 8 in the East, and when Chicago native Jabari Parker suffered another devastating ACL injury, it appeared Milwaukee was heading towards another trip to the lottery.

But Bucks' coach Jason Kidd got Khris Middleton back from a hamstring injury, and inserted rookies Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon into the starting lineup. All of a sudden, the Bucks took off with Antetokounmpo getting back to his early season production, and the bench unit of Greg Monroe, John Henson, Michael Beasley, Mirza Teletovic, Matthew Dellavedova and Jason Terry becoming a real strength.

It's unlikely either Milwaukee or Miami will be a threat to Cleveland and Boston in the opening round of the playoffs, but the hard work and persistence of those coaching staffs should not be overlooked.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Yet another example of the Bulls' maddening inconsistency under Fred Hoiberg over the last 2 seasons is the number of impressive wins offset by blowout losses.

These numbers courtesy of CSN's stats cruncher, Chris Kamka.

Bulls 20+ point wins and 20+ point losses

(with Fred Hoiberg as Head Coach)

                 20+ point wins             20+ point losses

2016-17              6                           7
2015-16              3                           7

total                      9                          14
========================================
(With Tom Thibodeau as Head Coach)

2014-15              7                           1
2013-14              7                           4
2012-13              5                           5
2011-12             14                          0
2010-11              8                          1

total                     41                         11

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

I'm pretty sure Hoiberg was being sarcastic when asked early in the week if battling for one of the final playoff spots in the East is "fun".

The coach's response? "It's miserable." 

Hoiberg won't get a lot of argument from Bulls fans who see their team stuck in the middle among the 30 NBA franchises right now. That's the worst place to be in professional sports, with no hope of contending for championships and little chance of getting a franchise-changing talent in the draft.
 

How Cubs decided Kyle Hendricks would be their fifth starter

How Cubs decided Kyle Hendricks would be their fifth starter

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When Joe Maddon made the obvious choice and named Jon Lester as the Opening Night starter, the Cubs manager joked about Kyle Hendricks reacting to the news by throwing stuff around the weight room.

So imagine how last year's ERA titleholder and a World Series Game 7 starter responded to the idea of being slotted fifth in the rotation.

"I heard things rattling in there," Maddon said with a laugh.

The Cubs revealed their alignment before Wednesday afternoon's Jake Arrieta vs. Zack Greinke matchup at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, confirming Brett Anderson will work as a starter (for as long as he's healthy) while Mike Montgomery moves to the bullpen for the defending champs.

The Cubs want John Lackey to face the St. Louis Cardinals, so he will open as the No. 3 starter at Busch Stadium. To break up the lefties in the rotation, Anderson — who once tweeted: "Kyle Hendricks looks like he'd celebrate a World Series win with a glass of 2% milk, Oreos and a book" — will start Game 4 against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Whether or not the Cubs are overthinking this and overplaying their hand with a mild-mannered personality, don't expect Hendricks to rage against the pitching infrastructure.

"That's the point about our group," Maddon said. "Everybody buys in. Everybody's good. They understand being a part of the puzzle in your own unique way.

"It's kind of neat when you can have these conversations, knowing that ego's not going to play a part of it from the player coming back at you. They know it is part of the overall picture. They also know that the purpose is to try to do what we did last year.

"It's a unique situation. I'm not saying we're taking advantage of it, because everybody kind of digs it."

Whether or not Hendricks repeats his 2.13 ERA and third-place finish in the National League Cy Young Award vote, the Cubs see 200 innings as his next level after throwing 180 in 2015 and 190 last season (plus seven playoff starts combined).

"Everybody gets hung up on numbers," Maddon said. "He's definitely better than a No. 5 starter. It just happens that we're going to slot him in the five-hole coming out of camp. It's not a pecking order regarding ability by any means.

"A lot of it is just comfort zone for us with Kyle doing so well there last year. But, listen, Kyle can be a lot of people's No. 2s or even a 1 in a situation right now, too."

All along, the Cubs have coached up and managed Hendricks to the point where he could beat Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers to clinch the franchise's first pennant in 71 years.

"Why mess with that?" Maddon said. "As long as his ego doesn't force you to attempt to try to do something differently, and it doesn't, outside of throwing things a little bit. He's beautiful. We're all good."