Gibson opens up about contract situation

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Gibson opens up about contract situation

James Harden, the Thunder guard, NBAs reigning Sixth Man of the Year (though he started Tuesday night) and Olympic gold medalist, wanted no part of the question. After being bombarded since the beginning of training camp about his own looming deadline for a long-term contract extension, he understandably didnt feel right commenting about former Pac-10 (now the Pac-12) rival Taj Gibsons similar situation.

He works hard, said Harden, answering generically. Hes a great player on a great team. Hes done a great job these last couple of years.

In the home locker room at the United Center, Gibson was much more forthcoming about his fellow upper-echelon reserve and fourth-year pro, even dropping his guard about his own situation.

Ive known James since he was 14 years old, since he was in California playing AAU, so to see both of us in this situation now, its great. If you look at it, you have an opportunity to better yourself, better your family for a long time to come, Gibson told CSNChicago.com. But youve just got to be patient. I talked to him at the USA Basketball trials in Las Vegas, where Harden played with Olympic team and Gibson was a member of the Select team and hes not really thinking about it too much.

When youre in this situation, a lot of people are more focused on it than you. You just have to let it slide off your shoulders. Joakim Noah was talking about to me about it a couple of days ago, but I always just shrug it off. I really dont even think about it, he continued. When you think about it, it kind of takes you away from the basketball aspect of it. But you really cant do anything about it, except worry about what you can take care of and thats the court work. Your agent and the GM has to worry about that.

Serge Ibaka, Hardens teammate and like Gibson, one of the top young defensive power forwards in the NBA, got his extension during the offseason, a major reason the Thunder still havent come to terms with Harden. When asked about his Bulls counterpart, the native of the Congo (via Spain), spoke freely about his admiration for Gibson.

Hes tough, man. He brings some energy, he can rebound, he runs the floor, he can shoot the ball, he plays defense. You dont have a lot of big guys that come off the bench and do the kind of stuff he does, said Ibaka. A player like Taj, any team would take him and I just wish him good luck. I know he will keep working to get better and better.

Tuesday wasnt one of Gibsons better preseason outings, but even in a game where his impact wasnt shown in the box score, just willing to be physical mattered in a game like the Bulls win over the short-handed Thunder. Ibaka and Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins were embroiled in a hoops battle royale with Bulls starting big men Noah and Carlos Boozer, in particular, all night long.

They played well. Theyre good players and yeah, theyre competitive, said Noah. It had a regular-season feel to it and I felt like we played pretty hard. It just feels good to get that competitive feeling back.

I think its just more about us, more than anything right now. Its just more about coming out with the right mindset. I think we did that today, which was pretty good and we competed. We competed hard we got better as a group. Weve just got to keep fighting, get better this last week of the preseason and get ready for the home opener, he added, before cryptically commenting on Perkins, his nemesis in the epic Bulls-Celtics 2009 first-round playoff series. Its been going on a long time. Its been going on a long time.

Countered Ibaka: Its basketball. Thats why I love it. Me and Perk, we love itthose two guys Boozer and Noah, theyre really tough.

Added Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: You have to win a lot of different ways, so we have to be able to play physical and win, and not allow that to take away from what were trying to get accomplished out there. So, I think we can play that way. Theyre tough. Ive coached Perkins. I know how good he is defensively. Hasheem Thabeet, I thought, was very good for them. Ibaka was great. Theyve got a tough frontline.

Like Gibson, backup center Nazr Mohammed has had better days during the Bulls exhibition campaign. However, that doesnt mean he wasnt missed by his old team, as Thunder players and coaches showed the veteran, now playing for his hometown squad, plenty of love after the contest.

Nazr, first of all, hes a professional, a good guy. Hes the kind of guy, if you have him on the team, youll be happy. He works hard, hes a good example and I think hell a lot on this team the Bulls, especially coming off the bench, said Ibaka. He helped me become a better professional. Every time I did something, a mistake or whatever, hed help me.

Chimed in Brooks: He was a big part of our success. That guys a true professional. He works every day. Ive been around players, they work when the light is on, but hes always working, always putting in extra time in the weight room, in the cardio room, on the practice floor. Hes somebody that you want your young players to be around and he can still play. He had some good games for us. He didnt play much in the playoffs, but he was a big part of our success the last two years. Just his work ethic, the professionalism and his ability to rebound, and play defense and make a shot.

Fire lose Open Cup epic in Cincinnati after penalties

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AP

Fire lose Open Cup epic in Cincinnati after penalties

CINCINNATI —

A crowd of 32,287 in Cincinnati waited and waited and waited some more, but finally got what they wanted.

The host FC Cincinnati downed the Chicago Fire in penalty kicks after 120 minutes of goalless soccer.

It was all about the goalkeepers before penalty kicks with the Fire’s Matt Lampson and Cincinnati’s Mitch Hildebrandt combining for 17 saves. Hildebrandt improved on his crazy good night by denying Nemanja Nikolic, Arturo Alvarez and Juninho. Bastian Schweinsteiger was the only Fire player to convert a penalty in four rounds. Cincinnati missed its first penalty, but finished the next three.

In regulation, the Fire huffed and puffed in the first half, but didn’t really create much danger in front of Cincinnati’s goal. At halftime, the Fire had 78 percent of the possession, but couldn’t manage a shot on target.

Cincinnati’s game plan to defend deep and counter was stifling the Fire’s attack. The Fire only managed shots from outside the box that all missed the target. Matt Polster had an open shot in the box following a corner kick, but it was deflected wide by a sliding defender.

The home crowd of 32,287, which is the second biggest crowd in U.S. Open Cup history, didn’t have much to cheer in the first half, but Matt Lampson made the only save of the half when he came off his line to deny Danni Konig who got free down the left side.

Both the atmosphere and the game livened up in the second half. Both teams had multiple quality chances and both keepers, Lampson and Cincinnati’s Mitch Hildebrandt came up with big saves.

Lampson saved the game to deny a breakaway for Jimmy McLaughlin in added time just before regulation ended.

In extra time, Cincinnati thought it had the go-ahead goal from Andrew Wiedeman in the 110th minute, but it was called back for a close offside call. Hildebrandt and Lampson both came up with huge saves in the final minute of extra time to send the match to penalties.

What pushed Theo Epstein over the edge in making Miguel Montero decision: ‘It screamed out’

What pushed Theo Epstein over the edge in making Miguel Montero decision: ‘It screamed out’

WASHINGTON – Cubs president Theo Epstein watched the Washington Nationals run wild on his iPad on Tuesday while visiting the Class-A Myrtle Beach affiliate. As Epstein did some work in his hotel room later that night, he got a text message from general manager Jed Hoyer alerting him to Miguel Montero’s explosive comments.  

Epstein’s management style is to not overreact or worry about the next day’s headlines. He generally believes in second chances, tries to keep an open mind and looks at the problem from every angle, occasionally to the point of paralysis by analysis.

But Epstein said it took “probably 10 seconds” before he realized the Cubs needed to designate Montero for assignment after the veteran catcher pointed the finger at Jake Arrieta – a Cy Young Award-winning, All-Star pitcher – for Washington’s seven stolen bases.    

“It screamed out as something that we should do,” Epstein said.     

As Montero’s rant caught fire on Twitter, Epstein called Hoyer and spoke to Montero on the phone, but he wanted to sleep on it and consult with some players before making Wednesday’s final decision, which could cost approximately $7 million. Epstein could not envision this as a team-building moment after Montero’s mea culpa and clearing the air with Arrieta.

“That was not my read on it, knowing the dynamics, present and past,” Epstein said. “This was not something that we would benefit from – trying to pursue a path of putting it all back together again.”

The Cubs pursued Aroldis Chapman after the New York Yankees closer began last season serving a 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy. The Cubs cautiously didn’t judge or unconditionally support Addison Russell after a third-party abuse accusation on social media triggered an MLB investigation this month. The Cubs tolerated Tommy La Stella’s refusal to report to Triple-A Iowa last summer, allowing him to chill out at home in New Jersey.

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But Montero doesn’t have a 100-mph fastball. Montero isn’t an All-Star shortstop. Montero isn’t being preserved for one hypothetical pinch-hit at-bat in the playoffs. The Cubs are hovering around .500 now – no longer the World Series favorite – and all those variables become part of the calculus.   

“I just came to the conclusion that now more than ever we really need to be a team,” Epstein said. “This was an example of someone being a bad teammate publicly, and that we’d be better off moving on and not standing for it, because we do hold our players to a higher standard than that.

“In our role as the front office, we can’t always be in the clubhouse and push the right buttons to help everyone come together as a team. But we certainly are in a position – when we see something that could fracture the group – to try to fix the situation and remove that issue.

“Miggy’s not to blame at all for the issues that we have as a team right now. He should not be a scapegoat for what’s going on. This was just an example of someone publicly not being a good teammate and making comments that weren’t accountable and weren’t supportive and weren’t in furtherance of the team concept. And we felt we had to act on it.”

There is a chicken-or-the-egg mystery to clubhouse cohesion. But Montero probably would have had a longer fuse – and the bosses would have had a longer leash – if the Cubs were 24 games above .500 the way they were at this time last year. Montero could also get away with a lot more when he was a two-time All-Star for the Arizona Diamondbacks and playing in a sleepy market. 

“Had we been in a spot where this group had already formed its identity and was clicking on all cylinders,” Epstein said, “and had already overcome adversity together and come together completely as a team and we’re rolling in those respects, maybe it could have been handled differently by the group without sort of action from above.

“But I think you have to factor in where the team is and what the team needs and how close we are to reaching our ideal and how close we are to living up to all the values that we have as an organization.”

The Cubs Way isn’t exactly making it up as they go along. But there are always double standards and rationalizations in a bottom-line business. It sounds like Epstein did his due diligence without giving it a second thought: Montero wasn’t worth the trouble anymore. 

“There aren’t that many opportunities for people out of uniform to positively impact the group or nudge it in the right direction,” Epstein said, “or underscore the importance of team or emphasize the values that we try to embody as a group.

“This was one that made sense, given the history, the group dynamics, all the factors involved.”