Thibodeau bucks trend, leans on vets Boozer, Hamilton late

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Thibodeau bucks trend, leans on vets Boozer, Hamilton late

MILWAUKEEFollowing his 22-point, 19-rebound performance in the Bulls 93-86 win over the Bucks at the Bradley Center, Carlos Boozer didnt shy away from the question. Asked about playing in the fourth quarter Saturday night, Boozer sent a direct message about his feelings on the issue.

You never know how long youre going to be out there or if youre going to go back in the fourth quarter. Me and Rip talked about it before the game, just to be aggressive while youre out here, see what happens. Thats kind of been our mentality the last few games and it was going great tonight, he said. It was great. We want to be out there every fourth quarter, but thats Thibs decision.

This is his show. He runs it. He puts out there who he wants out there and we just go with the flow.

Since the much-maligned power forwards arrival in Chicago, going back to the 2011 playoffs, in which his backup, Taj Gibson finished games for him, seeing Boozer on the bench in crunch time has been a semi-regular occurrence. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaus mantra about the group that functions best may pass muster when his team is cruising through the regular season and Derrick Rose is healthy, but now that the Bulls are not considered an NBA juggernautthough they did snap a three-game losing skid by beating their Central Division rival, the fact that they had the streak at all is a mild shocker itselfsitting two of the squads veterans and most talented offensive players has raised some eyebrows.

While Boozer finally opened his mouth about the pattern, Hamilton continues to stay mum. Whether or not he encouraged his teammate to speak for him or not, the shooting guard remained diplomatic after the win, in which he scored 22 points of his own.

I missed so many easy shots, but the thing about it, though, I felt comfortable because I was able to get to the spots that I wanted to get to. Thibs just rode me and the guys did a good job of trying to find me when I was out on the floor, he said. Just understanding time and situation. I thought that tonight, we really understood time and possession. We got away from the quick shots in the fourth quarter and we were able to get the ball in the paint.

Boozer chimed in, more pointedly: Same Rip Ive seen my whole career, watching him play in Detroit, just aggressive. Hes a hard cover, man. Thirty-five years old, still one of the fastest guys coming off picks. You guys see him every day. Made all his free throws. Had a tough shooting night, but he was so aggressive, they had to foul him. Then, he started making plays for everybody else.

As for the man making the decisions on the sidelines, Thibodeau praised both the play of both veterans afterwards, though hes gone to Gibson in Boozers stead and recently, has used second-year swingman Jimmy Butler in place of Hamilton.

I thought Boozer was terrific. He played hard. I thought he made great effort on the board and the rebounding was a huge key, the coach said of Boozer, before moving on to Hamiltons night. I thought Hamilton played a good game. He got it in the post. He had a good balance, ran the floor hard. I thought he made a great effort in defensive transition. I thought he did a really good job.

But when asked about his fourth-quarter lineups this season, Thibodeau essentially dismissed the question, as he did before the game and has done since the issue was first raised.

Thats the way it is, he said. All fourth quarters are going to be tough. Thats the NBA.

Perhaps Joakim Noah stated it best: Like Ive said for a long time, its a dictatorship out here.

Noah refused to outright criticize Thibodeau, but admitted that of course players would love to know if theyre going to be in the lineup to close game, particularly veterans who have been in the position before.

At the end of the day, thats not my decision. Sometimes I wish I could coach. No more player-coaches? But I always tell Thibs how I feel. Sometimes he listens to me, sometimes he doesnt, the center explained. "Sometimes he gives me that look like, Are you expletive kidding me? Are you really telling me what to do right now? Thibs is pretty stubborn and at the end of the day, hes a coach.

Noah knows both sides of the coin, having been subbed out of games late the past two seasons, in favor of his understudy, the departed Omer Asik, before joining teammate Luol Deng as one of the NBAs minutes-per-game leaders this season, a tribute to his hard work over the summer and Thibodeaus growing trust in him, as well as necessity. However, maybe remembering what it used to be like for him, while Noah refused to further elaborate on his view of Thibodeaus late-game substitution patterns, he concluded with an opinion that Boozer and Hamilton surely share.

Put it this way, he said. I want to be in there all the time.

Bears' makeover continues with salsa dancing ex-Giants WR Victor Cruz

Bears' makeover continues with salsa dancing ex-Giants WR Victor Cruz

The 2017 veteran makeover of the Bears’ wide-receiver position group continued on Thursday with the signing of former New York Giants wideout Victor Cruz to a one-year deal, a fourth move this offseason fitting an intriguing pattern in Bears roster construction.

Cruz “announced” the move on his Instagram account, declaring, “The Giants will forever be family,” Cruz wrote. “But for now, Bear down!!!” He becomes the fourth free-agent wide receiver signed by Bears and coming in with no fewer than four seasons of NFL experience.

The Bears have been about the business of shoring up their receiver group virtually since the 2016 season ended, adding depth in addition to filling in the vacancies created by Alshon Jeffery leaving for the Philadelphia Eagles via free agency, and the subsequent release of veteran Eddie Royal.

In their places, the Bears have added Cruz, Rueben Randle (Jan. 10), Markus Wheaton (Mar. 10) and Kendall Wright (Mar. 11), in addition to having Joshua Bellamy, Daniel Braverman, Cameron Meredith, Deonte Thompson and Kevin White in place.

Cruz, whose trademark Salsa dance to celebrate touchdowns has been an NFL staple over his six seasons with the Giants, for whom he started 53 of 70 career games after signing with the Giants as an undrafted free agent out of Massachusetts in 2010. Cruz has caught 303 career passes for 4,549 yards and 25 touchdowns, earning a Super Bowl ring with the Giants and earning selection to the 2012 Pro Bowl.

Cruz has not played a full 16-game season since 2012, when he caught a career-best 86 passes for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns. He missed all of 2015 after rehabbing from a torn patellar tendon in the 2014 season and then suffering a calf injury that eventually required surgery. The Giants released Cruz in early February this year.

Joe Maddon explains how Cubs young players can handle trade rumors

Joe Maddon explains how Cubs young players can handle trade rumors

Two weeks ago, it seemed Ian Happ was at the top of the list of Cubs potential trade bait.

Now, there are some circles of the fanbase that would rather see Javy Baez or Kyle Schwarber traded than Ian Happ.

Roughly two-and-a-half hours before Eddie Butler started for the Cubs in the series finale with the San Francisco Giants Thursday afternoon, the conversation with Joe Maddon turned to the neverending search for pitching and how young players can handle being a part of trade rumors.

"I think a lot of times when people are mentioned in a trade, sometimes it's perceived that they're not going well, people want to push them to the front of the line," Maddon said. "All of a sudden, [Baez is] going well, so I expect him to go to the back of the line relatively soon."

After a stretch where he went 1-for-18 from May 10-17, Baez entered play Thursday with eight hits in his last 13 at-bats, including two homers and eight RBI. He's raised his OPS 104 points in the process to .798.

[RELATED - Another reminder that Javier Baez is a game-changer — not trade bait — for Cubs]

Happ, meanwhile posted a 1.240 OPS in his first eight games in The Show, including seven extra-base hits (four doubles, two homers and a triple). 

Schwarber's batting average hasn't climbed over .200 since the last day of April.

Of course, part of the discussion with all three is the positional versatility — Baez and Happ can play all over the field while Schwarber is a left fielder and rare catcher.

"Another part of the trade narrative is based on depth, obviously," Maddon said. "So if you have other pieces like that, then you promote somebody within that group. I think Javy's gonna be in that position for a bit regardless — no intent on our part.

"However, he's still going to be mentioned in those moments because of what I just said — he's gonna go good or bad. And when he's going great, you're never gonna trade him. But right now, he's playing really well. That was a good game he had [Wednesday]. He's in the .270s now [average], better at-bats, he's not chasing pitches, the defense is obviously showing up.

"I just think the nature of our team, the young guys, you're gonna hear that. If you're gonna attempt to get pitching, you're gonna hear the typical names mentioned. And just from our players' perspective, I just would hope they won't take it to heart too often.

"But if they hear it enough and they're asked about that question often enough, of course it's gonna leave a mark. But [Baez] is impactful. Listen, none of these guys that you like aren't even nearly as good as they're gonna be in a couple years. Just be patient."

The Cubs are always going to be searching for pitching as their farm system has had much more success producing young hitters than arms.

The Cubs are still looking for some consistency from the fifth starter spot this season and looking further down the road, both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are only under contract through 2017. As of right now, only Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks are penciled into the Cubs' 2018 rotation.

Of course, given the surplus of quality, young position players, the Cubs could deal from a position of strength to acquire impact, controllable pitching.

But it's hard to see them ever trading Baez or Schwarber — who are both in the midst of their first full season in the big leagues and will forever be entrenched in Cubs lore with their postseason heroics last fall.

Baez is also particularly important for his impact in the field, as an elite defender at three infield spots and the Cubs' only depth at the shortstop position after Addison Russell.

In Thursday's lineup, Maddon gave Russell a day off and inserted Baez at shortstop, a move that gives the Cubs manager peace of mind from a defensive standpoint — "It's a beautiful thing."

There's no way Happ will keep hitting like he has in his first two weeks in the majors, but his performance after only 91 minor-league games above Class-A ball could serve as a showcase for other teams looking at trade options from the Cubs system.

"I can't emphasize enough—- if you like our kids, just wait a little bit," Maddon said. "Continue to fertilize them, nurture them and they're gonna keep getting better."