Hamilton's fourth-quarter absence a mystery

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Hamilton's fourth-quarter absence a mystery

HOUSTONAt first, it seemed like a byproduct of last seasons injury-plagued campaign. Now, with the Bulls struggling and not executing in close, late-game situations, the fact that veteran Rip Hamilton has been nailed to the bench just seems odd.
Sure, in Wednesday nights loss to Houston, Hamilton only shot 2-for-10 from the floor, making it somewhat justifiable that he didnt see any fourth-quarter action, even though the shooting guard is one of the few players on the roster who has experienceand successcoming up big in those situations. But when coupled with the fact that after he went 7-for-10 in another narrow defeat at Portland, the teams previous loss in their current three-game skid, its more puzzling.
Youre going with the group thats playing well at that particular time. Its not about individuals, its about the team, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau explained. This team Houston is a tough team to cover defensively. So, I thought Taj and Jimmy coming in got us going in the right direction.
True, Butler is deserving of more playing timeGibson, who has closed out games for Carlos Boozer since the starting power forwards arrival in Chicago, long ago has been Thibodeaus go-to player of choice down the stretch, unless Boozer has it going offensively, as he started to late in the Rockets loss, but thats another story for another time, or even one thats been told beforeas this writer advocated Wednesday morning, and the second-year swingmans energy, defensive play and athleticism has definitely given the Bulls a shot of adrenaline when hes on the floor. But even if its offense-defense substitutions needed to get Hamilton on the court late, for a team mired in struggles scoring the ball and without the necessary poise needed to win tight games recently, its a mystery why a player known for stepping up in the clutch doesnt get the opportunity to show what hes capable of.
Hamilton answered those concerns diplomatically, perhaps out of deference for Thibodeaus track record or maybe because after the end to his successful run in Detroit was tainted by the implication that he wasnt as much as of a team-first player that he seemed to be for his entire career prior to the allegations that surfaced before leaving the Pistons. Either way, he wouldnt bite.
The one thing youve just got to do is just cheer for the guy thats out there. Hopefully we get the win, so you just try to stay positive with it, he calmly said afterwards. Like I always say, whatever they need me to do, Im going to do. If its play whatever, Im going to play. Just trying to stay positive, just try to keep getting better each and every day.
When I came to Chicago, it was just one of those things, Hamilton cryptically continued. I didnt want to get caught up in anything else.
While Hamilton will never admit to acknowledging that hes starting to approach the twilight of his careerand why would he, as hes displayed on multiple occasions this season, even on the Bulls current road trip, that hes still capable of being a major offensive forceone has to think that the whispers about him being the same player and being potential trade bait before the league-wide deadline so the organization can avoid the luxury tax have affected him. Although he reported to training camp in tip-top shape after privately being challenged to step up his game, the party line about protecting his health has to be wearing thin.
But Hamilton continues to be the good soldier, maybe thinking about his future legacy as a player, with respect to post-career opportunities, possibly wondering how it could help his perception when he inevitably moves on or even, more innocently, just not knowing why hes not given the chance to display his crunch-time chops. Regardless, no matter how much it bothers him, a player who makes good decisions, consistently knocks down shots off set plays and has done so for literally decades, going back to his national-championship days in college, let alone in the NBA Finals for Detroit, its hurting the Bulls even more, at least until another late-game primary optionoutside of Joakim Noahs big-man playmaking, Luol Dengs slashing-and-cutting game, and Nate Robinsons overall fearlessessemerges.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

Do the Cubs have a World Series hangover?

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, NBC Sports Bay Area Giants Insider Alex Pavlovic joins CSN's Patrick Mooney to talk about the World Series hangover, how last year's playoff loss lingered in San Francisco, Johnny Cueto's quirks, the legend of Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija's ups and downs.

Plus Kelly Crull, Jeff Nelson and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs’ defensive struggles this year compared to an historic 2016 and how Ian Happ fits into the Cubs’ lineup in both the short and long term.

Listen to the latest episode below:

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

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USA TODAY

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

Caleb Swanigan, unsurprisingly, is heading to the NBA.

Last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year announced Wednesday that he’ll pass up the final two seasons of his NCAA eligibility for a paying gig at the professional level, an awesome opportunity for a kid who battled obesity and homelessness to become one of the best basketball players in the country.

But Swanigan’s departure from West Lafayette means a heck of a lot to the Big Ten.

Without the league’s most dominant big man, what becomes of Purdue’s chances at winning a conference title? Similarly, with a weakened — though still strong — group of Boilermakers, what does the Big Ten race look like going into 2017-18?

First, Purdue. Matt Painter’s program is plenty healthy, and while there’s no doubt that losing Swanigan is a big deal, the Boilers got some really good news, too, Wednesday when Vincent Edwards announced he’ll be returning for his senior season. Seven-footer Isaac Haas also made the decision to return to West Lafayette, meaning the towering frontcourt hasn’t been completely decimated just because tha man called “Biggie” is gone.

Purdue will also return Carsen Edwards, who had an impressive freshman campaign, and Dakota Mathias, a terrific defender and 3-point shooter. Two more important pieces — P.J. Thompson and Ryan Cline — are back, as well. And Painter will welcome in freshman Nojel Eastern, a highly touted guard from Evanston.

So the Boilers are still in very good shape. There will be a big magnifying glass on Haas, who despite his physical attributes hasn’t always found consistent on-court success. But there have been plenty of flashes of brilliance from the big man. A big step forward in his game would go a long way in easing the blow of losing Swanigan and could keep Purdue as one of the frontrunners for a conference title.

That brings us to the Big Ten race. Ever since Miles Bridges, the conference’s reigning Freshman of the Year, announced he’d be returning to Michigan State for his sophomore season, the Spartans have been the near-unanimous favorite. Only something like Swanigan deciding to stay at Purdue could’ve changed that. And with Swanigan expectedly heading to the NBA, Michigan State remains the preseason pick to win the conference crown.

Like any good year in the Big Ten, though, there will be challengers.

But Michigan State is the popular choice to win it because of Tom Izzo’s insane 2016 recruiting class is returning completely intact: Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford are all back. And Izzo brings in one of the top 2017 recruits in forward Jaren Jackson.

But Sparty isn’t the only one with an impressive returning group. Purdue’s experienced roster has already been covered. Northwestern, a surprise contender in 2016-17, should be even better as Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey enter their fourth year playing together. Dererk Pardon, a shot-blocking whiz at center, is also back, as is sharp-shooter Aaron Falzon, who sat out the 2016-17 season with an injury after starting during his freshman year in 2015-16.

There will be big shoes to fill for some perennial contenders like Maryland — which must replace Melo Trimble — and Michigan, which watched eligibility run out on Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin before D.J. Wilson decided to head to the professional ranks Wednesday. But those teams have plenty of talent returning, too. The Terps will have all three of their fab freshmen — Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter — back for sophomore seasons, while the Wolverines have Moe Wagner back in the fold alongside Xavier Simpson and Duncan Robinson, among others.

And what of last year’s shocking contender, Minnesota? The Golden Gophers didn’t lose too much this offseason and will return almost every main player from last year’s 24-10 squad: Amir Coffey, Nate Mason, Reggie Lynch, Jordan Murphy, Dupree McBrayer and Eric Curry.

There are up-and-comers to think about, too, such as last year’s freshman-heavy squads at Iowa and Penn State. And could new head coaches Brad Underwood and Archie Miller make instant splashes at Illinois and Indiana, respectively?

If it sounds a little too much like the annual coach speak that “any team can win on any night” in the Big Ten, that’s because there is a good deal of truth to that oft-used phrase.

There are definitely tiers to this thing, though. Even without Swanigan, Purdue is still in one of those upper tiers. But there might be no team besides Michigan State at the very top of the heap, something underscored by Swanigan turning pro.