Illini's Leonard should be lottery pick on Thursday

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Illini's Leonard should be lottery pick on Thursday

With just three days until the NBA Draft, former Illinois center Meyers Leonard is still among one of the fastest risers among team's big boards. The 7-footer has seen his stock rise into the lottery, and the consensus is that Leonard will be drafted anywhere from the No. 7 to the No. 16 pick. Leonard brings great size, sneaky athleticism and plenty of upside to the table, and an impressive showing at the combine in Chicago has him in good position come Thursday. Leonard was invited today to the draft, which means there is a good chance he will be drafted within the first 15 picks.
Here is a look at some potential landing spots for Leonard.
7. Golden State Warriors: As is the case with most teams that pick in the top-7, the Warriors have plenty of needs. Both centers Andris Biedrins are signed for two more years, and that could be just the amount of time the 20-year-old Leonard needs to be a significant contributor.
9. Detroit Pistons: Greg Monroe flourished in his sophomore season with the Pistons, but Detroit has little else in the front court to go with the Georgetown product. Last year's first round draft choice Brandon Knight has given Detroit a foundation, and Leonard would do well alongside Monroe. The Pistons aren't in win-now mode, so allowing Leonard to develop for a year or two is doable.
10. New Orleans Hornets: What better way to complement surefire No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis than with a 7-foot-1 center? The Hornets are interested in North Carolina's Tyler Zeller, but if he is gone then Leonard may be the next best available option.
11. Portland Trail Blazers: The last time the Trail Blazers drafted a 7-footer in the first round, it was Greg Oden. With Oden off the books and Joel Pryzbilla a free agent, Portland has a real need inside. If the Trail Blazers go with Weber State point guard Damian Lillard with the No. 6 pick, going big with No. 11 seems the way to go.
12. Milwaukee Bucks: The mid-season acquisition of Monta Ellis saw former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Bogut depart, leaving the Bucks shallow at the center position. Furthermore, starting power forward Ersan Ilyosova is a free agent, so it's almost a certainty the Bucks will look to the front court. Leonard has the athleticism and the size, much like a young Bogut.
14.16. Houston Rockets: The Rockets may not keep both these picks, or stay at both spots in the first round, but Leonard would make sense if they did. Marcus Camby is a free agent, and Sam Dalembert (6.7 million), Patrick Patterson (2.1 million) and Greg Smith (762k) all have team options this summer. There will be plenty of turnover in Houston this year, and Leonard would pair nicely with another athletic forward in Luis Scola.
15. Philadelphia 76ers: Spencer Hawes is a free agent this season, and his status as a 76er could hinge on where the Sixers draft in the first round. A replacement for Elton Brand could be in order at power forward, but if Leonard were on the board at this point he would be hard to pass up.

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls explode offensively to beat Bucks; Blackhawks battle Lightning tonight on CSN

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls explode offensively to beat Bucks; Blackhawks battle Lightning tonight on CSN

Here are some of the top Chicago sports stories from a busy Sunday: 

Tonight on CSN: Blackhawks look to bounce back vs. Lightning

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Today on CSN: White Sox battle Dodgers in spring training game

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson's foot could keep him out until late May

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

Nick Delmonico takes advantage of fresh start with White Sox

Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night

Owners to consider on and off field changes this week during NFL meetings

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs turned Theo Epstein’s “Baseball is Better” speech from his first Wrigley Field press conference into a marketing pitch that might distract fans for a moment from an awful big-league product.          

The 2017 “That’s Cub” ad campaign actually uses what started organically years ago within the farm system, two words that recognized a great at-bat or a heads-up play or a defensive stop.    

Business vs. baseball is no longer the dominant storyline it had been during the early phases of the Wrigleyvile rebuild. Business and baseball are booming for what’s become Major League Baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors.

It’s just interesting that a franchise valued at north of $2 billion has found so much inspiration on the back fields of this spring-training complex, where staffers you wouldn’t recognize get to work before dawn and players you’ve never heard of dream about their big break.

It’s not just drafting Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. And trading for Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Addison Russell. And hiring a manager obsessed with T-shirts. Baseball operations became a marketing department, selling prospects to Cub fans, the Chicago media and the gurus putting together the rankings – and trying to get buy-in from players who all think they belong in The Show.

Minor-league field coordinator Tim Cossins gets credit for “When It Happens,” a theme that didn’t simply revolve around 1908 and the championship drought. Jason McLeod, the senior vice president who oversees scouting and player development, suggested pairing the W flag with that phrase, and it became this ubiquitous idea around the team.   

“We tied everything into it,” McLeod said Sunday at Sloan Park. “When that time comes, when it happens, can you lay the bunt down? When it happens, can you execute a pitch? Can you go in and pinch-run, steal the base when the time comes?

“The big ‘When It Happens’ is when we win, of course, but for us in (player development), it was about everything that we’re going to be asked to do in that moment: Are you going to be ready when it happens?”

Now what? The defending World Series champs are going with: “Where It Happens.”

A bullet point from Epstein’s bio in this year’s media guide references how his first three first-round draft picks with the Cubs “combined to set up the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series when Schwarber singled and (Albert) Almora pinch-ran, moved to second on Bryant’s deep fly to center, and scored on Ben Zobrist’s double.”

“We’re never going to forget about the importance of young players,” Epstein said. “There’s definitely a lot of talented, interesting prospects still in the system and sometimes they get a little overshadowed because of the star young players we have at the big-league level and how quickly some of those guys moved through the system. But there’s a lot of talent there.

“We’re going to lean on young players beyond our prospects, not just in trades, but also to provide organizational depth and also to serve as the next generation, the next infusion of talent at the appropriate time.

“But it’s a process. There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs in development for all these guys. And we have a ton of faith in our player development operation to help these guys along the way.”

So Ian Happ will start the season one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa and see if some combination of injuries and his switch-hitting skills and defensive versatility gets him to the North Side at some point. Or used as a trade chip for pitching, the way third baseman Jeimer Candelario and catcher Victor Caratini appear to be blocked.

Joe Maddon already compared Eloy Jimenez – who can’t legally buy a beer in Wrigleyville yet – to a young Miguel Cabrera or Edgar Martinez. The Cubs are practically begging for someone like Eddie Butler to pitch his way into the 2018 rotation.

By Monday morning, when the full squad reconvenes after a weekend trip to Las Vegas, the Cubs could start making cuts and shaping their Opening Night roster. But the Cubs are going to need so much more than the 25 players who will be introduced next Sunday at Busch Stadium. Maddon used 26 pitchers and 149 different lineups last season. This is “Where It Happens.”

“If this particular group of youngsters were in a different organization that had a greater need right now, you’d probably hear a lot more about these guys,” Maddon said. “But the fact that they’re stuck behind a Bryant and a Russell and a Javy (Baez) and a Rizzo and a (Willson) Contreras and a Schwarber, et cetera, et cetera, it becomes more difficult to really push or project upon these guys.

“But I think these young guys have gone about their business really well. If it’s bothering them or if they’re concerned about that, they’re not showing that. I think they’ve put their best foot forward.”