Hype and Money

Hype and Money

Friday, July 2, 2010
1:09 AM

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Just in time for the most American of holidays, those of us who follow sports with unbridled passion are getting a heaping dose of the dynamic duo of the American sporting world. Can you venture into any form of media these days without avoiding the LeBron saga? The amount of attention that hes getting is making Brett Favre blush. The funny thing about this is, Im being asked more questions about NBA free agency than I was about the ENTIRE NBA season! And why not? It combines two of our favorite things: speculation and big time bucks.

The beauty of the constant speculation and opinions being offered is that until LeBron decides, nobodys wrong (operative word being YET!). Who wants to debate the misery that is the Cubs when the pipe dream of LeBrons eminent arrival can dance like sugar plums in the heads of the Chicago sports fan, still intoxicated from the Blackhawks run of a lifetime? (Has anyone else been traded in the last 5 minutes?) Ive always joked, when asked which was my favorite of the teams that I rooted for, that it was always the one that was in their off-season because they at least had hope. Same way here. As long as we dont know, and no one does know, its fun to dream of what can be, like when you waste your money, again, on a Mega-Millions ticket. For now, the LeBron saga has no escape hatch. On radio, TV, or the internet, its 24-7 on whos going where and why, and whos not going anywhere, and why. And also for now, unlike with Favre, Im not fed up with it (YET!).

Like I said before, this past NBA season had a decided lack of interest. People are still fans, but I just dont think that they care as much. I think that one of the reasons is because of the restrictive NBA salary cap, the lack of movement of some top players deprives the NBA of a shot in the arm in cities with struggling teams or teams that are close and need that final piece. It seems that when teams are bad that they stay bad for a long time, until the weight of a bad contract can be lifted. Can you say Ben Wallace? While especially in baseball and football there are ways to deal with a bad contract, theres not a lot of wiggle room in the NBA. Before the season starts, we already know who the major players are, so just like with any NBA game, you just have to tune in at the end. So the prospect of a half-dozen marquis players changing teams, with the possibility of some of them pairing up together is very enticing. Then you have my favorite part of this whole drama: the wild-card. While everything I listen to is pretty straight forward, Chicago and Cleveland are his probable destinations, I would like to think, that with so many moving parts in this game of musical chairs, that something strange could happen, something that no one expected. Thats why one of my favorite things to do while discussing this at the bar is to bring up the crazy Russian theory. That would be the owner of the New Jersey Nets, billionaire Mikhail Prokorov.

This dude is worth BIG-TIME money. Im just thinking out loud here, but I dont think he became the 39th richest person in the world, according to Forbes, by finishing in second place a lot. Hes taking on some risk buying into the league, but is he just another Donald Sterling, content to be the joke second team of a major media market? Do you think co-owner, rap mogul Jay-Z, would buy into that? For both of these guys, everything they touch turns into gold, LITERALLY, would they settle for less here? Doesnt every athlete want to be a musician and every musician an athlete? If you wanted to get into music, wouldnt you want to have Jay-Z close by? And despite the 70 loss season of last year, there are some nice pieces in New Jersey in Brook Lopez, (The Big man in the post every winning team needs.) Devin Harris and Courtney Lee. First round draft picks Derrick Favors and Damion James are extremely talented and well thought of. These guys are better than anything the Knicks have, plus playing in Newark or Brooklyn would still mean that youre a player in the largest media market in the world. Also as an aside, I love the hiring of Avery Johnson as head coach. Hes a great motivator and a winner. So does LeBron to New Jersey seem that far fetched? And thats the beauty of playing this game for us fans, until its over, almost anything can make sense. Come into the bar over the weekend and on Saturday Ill tell you why he definitely is staying in Cleveland and on Sunday why hes going to the Knicks. Im just doing my best to keep the hype machine going and the beer taps flowing!

Noise around QB Mark Sanchez misses bigger, far more important goal for Bears ’17 offseason

Noise around QB Mark Sanchez misses bigger, far more important goal for Bears ’17 offseason

The tumult around the Bears quarterback position this offseason – signing Mike Glennon, cutting Jay Cutler, not signing Brian Hoyer, now signing Mark Sanchez – was to be expected. (Well, not all the brouhaha around Sanchez; if there has ever been more hyperventilating around the arriving backup quarterback, it’s escaping my recollections of a quarter-century on the beat.)

All of that, and a lot of the noise around Mike Glennon is really missing a larger point. A couple, really.

GM Ryan Pace established fixing the quarterback situation as a top priority, something it has been just about since Jim McMahon left, with the exception of a few Jay Cutler years. Doing that to any meaningful degree with the castoff options available in free agency or via trades wasn’t ever going to happen. What Pace has done with the quarterback situation, however, is more than a little intriguing.

The quarterback additions and subtractions, coupled with also suggest a draft plan far from locked in on a quarterback. The signings of Glennon and Sanchez don’t mean the Bears have solved their quarterback position, but it does mean the Bears have positioned themselves with the distinct option of NOT taking a quarterback – this year.

But here’s the bigger point.

Even with the optimum quarterback solution unavailable – Pace arguably did go best-available in his and the coaches’ minds with Glennon and Sanchez, all derision aside – Pace’s goal needs to be building a team that can reach a high playoff level regardless of quarterback.

Meaning: defense. And while the 2017 free agent and draft classes did not offer must-have quarterbacks in most evaluations, there are those elite-level defensive talents, and every indication is that the Bears will look there, in the draft, and should be. It had that feeling when the Bears, with ample, money to spend, backed away from day one free-agency runs at a couple of pricey defensive backs. The Bears simply think they can do better for less in the draft.

A perspective: With a defense at its levels during the Brian Urlacher era, the Bears could reach the NFC championship game with what they have at quarterback now. They did, twice, with Rex Grossman and with Cutler. Sanchez got to AFC championship games in each of his first two seasons. The Bears reached a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as their quarterback. They went 13-3 in 2001 with a solid-but-unspectacular Jim Miller as their quarterback. They reached the 2005 playoffs with Kyle Orton as their starter most of that year, and should have been in the 2008 playoffs with him as well. The Bears reached the NFC championship game in 2010 with Cutler.

There is a common denominator in all of these situations, and it is within Pace’s grasp, and that was an elite defense. Rex Ryan had one with the Jets and Sanchez, Grossman and Orton and Cutler had theirs with Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Mike Brown, Tommie Harris, Charles Tillman, etc.

Forget the quarterback situation for now. Nothing anyone, including Pace, can really do anything about it (other than land possibly Deshaun Watson, based on their turnout at his Pro Day).

But if Pace and his personnel staff do this right, they can lay in the foundation for something elite on defense that will transcend the quarterback, or at least allow the Bears to play more than 16 games in a season even if they do not have a great quarterback. With the Urlacher core defense, the Bears went to postseasons with four different quarterbacks.

The prime directive now for Ryan Pace is to create precisely that model again.

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Perhaps the best thing about the Johnny Oduya trade back to the Blackhawks, for both parties involved, was that Oduya wasn't needed immediately.

It's not that the Blackhawks didn't want the veteran defenseman, who helped them win Cups in 2013 and 2015, back in the lineup as soon as possible. Oduya was coming off an ankle injury, one he re-aggravated and missed about a month when he was with the Dallas Stars. He needed time to fully heal and with the Blackhawks in good shape in the standings and with solid depth at defense, he could.

Now with the playoffs right around the corner, Oduya is feeling more like himself.

Outside of missing two games that were the second halves of back-to-backs, Oduya has been playing steadily since March 9. Oduya's minutes have ranged from around 16 to 21 in games. He said he's now 100 percent healthy from his injury and he's feeling the difference on the ice.

"It makes a big difference," Oduya said on Thursday, prior to facing the Stars for the first time since his trade back to Chicago. "I mean, obviously sometimes you get more or less lucky, depending on what you get and the style of play and what you do or not. Skating is a part of my game I try to use as much as possible to get in good position and try to take away time from the opposition as much as possible.

"Even with battling and things like that, of course it's nice to feel more confident," Oduya added. "In any situation, you're in you want to feel confident on the ice."

The Blackhawks have seen that confidence in previous postseason runs and are looking to see it again in Oduya. Coach Joel Quenneville considers Oduya, "Mr. Reliability."

"You look back at what he delivered for us, not just the regular season, but he's been solid and reliable in the playoffs. He's assumed some important matchups and important minutes," Quenneville said. "Last year, we didn't have him on the back end and watching him this year, it was the perfect fit him coming back."

[Buy Blackhawks tickets right here]

The Blackhawks' defensive group hasn't changed much since Oduya's first stint here. The system probably hasn't been altered much, either. Still, Oduya's not taking anything for granted and is trying to get back on the same page quickly.

"Same as the last time I came into a great hockey team and I really just want to get up to speed and up to date as quickly as possible," Oduya said. "Little things that may have changed. I want to fit in as well as I can. That's the idea anyone has coming in late in the year. The guys here make it pretty easy; the coaching staff is familiar with the way I play and helps speed up things a little more."

The Blackhawks are trying to be their best heading into the postseason. So is Oduya. He needed a little extra time to get back to health and he may still need a little time to get back to speed, but he's just about there. 

"I feel pretty good. Of course it's a lot easier when you have guys around you you've seen before, a coaching staff," Oduya said. "It's a work in progress, anyway. I want to be better, I want to evolve with the team and want us to be better, too. It's a work in progress."