What's Next for Bottomed-Out Bulls

78101.jpg

What's Next for Bottomed-Out Bulls

Friday, December 11

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

I think we can all agree the Bulls hit rock bottom with blowout losses to Toronto and Atlanta and the home court defeat at the hands of the worst team in the league, at least record-wise, New Jersey.

They've now lost nine of their last 10 games, and have the worst point differential in the East, outside of the Nets. So, the obvious question, what can be done to fix the situation? We're always interested in what you think. Please post your comments in the section below.

The easy move would be to fire head coach Vinny Del Negro. He came to the Bulls with no head coaching experience, and has had a tough time earning the respect of the players on the roster. Plus, even though the Bulls don't want to pay off the contract of another head coach, Del Negro is modestly paid by NBA standards and the team could go with veteran Bernie Bickerstaff as an interim head coach for the rest of the season, then make their long-term decision next spring. With six straight home games coming up, Del Negro does have a chance to turn things around, although the Celtics and Lakers are among the teams on the current homestand. This could be a make-or-break weekend for Del Negro coming up. The Bulls face the NBA's worst defensive team tonight in Golden State, then take on Boston on Saturday. If the Bulls lose to a bad Warriors team, then get blown out by Kevin Garnett and company, management might decide to pull the plug on the Del Negro experiment. But if the Bulls show more consistent effort and pick up a win over Golden State, the heat on Del Negro could subside for a while.

So, if the coaching staff remains stable, is there anything that can be done to improve the roster? Certainly, getting a healthy Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas back in the rotation will make the Bulls a better defensive team right away. But it doesn't look like there are any easy answers for the team's offensive issues. The Bulls don't have a low post scoring option and they're among the worst three-point shooting teams in the league. John Salmons has struggled to find his shot all season, hitting just 39 percent from the field. Hinrich also was struggling with his outside shot before suffering a sprained left thumb, and he was 0-for-9 from the field in his return against Atlanta on Wednesday. So, if you can't score in the paint, and you can't make three-point shots, how can you consistently win games, even in a watered-down Eastern Conference?

Obviously, the Bulls should have re-signed Ben Gordon. He was the only player on the team who could create his own shot and get to the free-throw line consistently. We saw what Gordon meant to the team in the playoff series against Boston, and his presence on the court made things a lot easier for Salmons, who's now struggling with increased defensive attention. Gordon was the Bulls' leading scorer each of the last four seasons, and opposing teams had to respect his three-point shooting ability, opening up driving lanes for Derrick Rose. All Gordon wanted was to be paid the same amount of money the Bulls were giving to Luol Deng. And, judging by the two players' production in recent seasons, that hardly seems like an unreasonable request.

OK, Gordon is gone, so let's move on. Bulls' management is all in for the summer free agent derby of 2010, but do you really think LeBron, D-Wade, Bosh or Amare are going to seriously consider a Bulls team that could be headed to a 30-35 win season? As I've written previously, the front office should think seriously about pursuing a trade for Houston's unwanted superstar, Tracy McGrady. The Rockets have had success this season playing an up-tempo style with Aaron Brooks at the controls, and they've been reluctant to bring McGrady back, even though he's recovered from knee surgery last spring. T-Mac is a half-court player at this point in the career, and yes, I know he takes a lot of bad shots, but with the Bulls desperately in need of an offensive spark, he might be worth the risk. Plus, if you include Hinrich and Thomas in the deal for McGrady's 22 million expiring contract, the Bulls can actually create more cap room for next summer, and guarantee they can make a maximum contract offer to one of the elite players.

The other option is to forget about 2010 free agency and try to acquire a proven scorer right now. It's a little early in the season to know exactly which players might be available, but when you look at the teams that are struggling around the league, there's a good chance players like Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Elton Brand, Monta Ellis and Rip Hamilton could be available. I'm not recommending any of those players in particular, but it's clear the Bulls need to do something or they're headed for a lost season, which could seriously impact their ability to attract a free agent next summer.

Let me know your thoughts in the section below. Remember, tonight's game against Golden State can be seen on Comcast SportsNet Plus, which is CLTV for most viewers in the Chicagoland area. If you're having trouble finding the plus channel in your area, you can find that information here. I'll see you courtside from the United Center with Kendall Gill for the pregame show at 6:30.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

White Sox upset by the call that led to ejections of Todd Frazier, Rick Renteria

White Sox upset by the call that led to ejections of Todd Frazier, Rick Renteria

Todd Frazier wasn’t pleased with a call Saturday afternoon that led to the first ejection of his career.

It’s not that the White Sox third baseman is arguing about whether or not he deserved to get thrown out in the seventh inning of a 10-2 loss to the Oakland A’s. Frazier is more miffed by first-base umpire Sam Holbrook’s initial ruling --- that his throw pulled Jose Abreu off the bag --- and the determination by replay officials that the call was correct.

Frazier was ejected shortly after word arrived that the call stands, which means officials in New York didn’t believe they have enough evidence to overturn the original ruling. That fact bothered Frazier, who was charged with an error and began to speak his mind. White Sox manager Rick Renteria was ejected shortly thereafter for the third straight home game.

“It’s just frustrating with the technology we have today,” Frazier said. “It’s just crazy. It boggles your mind. It really does. You know -- I’m the one. I’m vocal. I’m emotional. But when it’s wrong, 100 percent wrong. I saw it on the MLB Network. I saw it in our cameras and our computers. I just don’t understand how we can see it and they can’t see it in New York. It’s just, it’s frustrating as all hell to be honest with you. It turned into a big inning. We were down a lot, don’t get me wrong. But still, Jake (Petricka) is pitching his heart out and next thing you know he gives up an unearned run and two more runs. So it’s really not that hard. Honest. It’s not that hard.”

Renteria raced onto the field in an attempt to save Frazier from a quick ejection, but didn’t have enough time. It was the third home game in a row in which a White Sox player was ejected for the first time in their career. Tim Anderson got the boot on Friday night after he argued with plate umpire Jim Wolf. And Avisail Garcia got tossed from the June 15 series finale against the Baltimore Orioles.

Renteria said taking into context who his players are and their track record made him want to further defend their actions.

“I don't ever go into a situation arguing with someone to get thrown out,” Renteria said. “I don't. I think what happens is, like anybody emotionally, when you start talking and expressing yourself, you have a tendency to get heated. You don't plan on doing that. I certainly don't go out there planning on having that happen. I think what happens, and I think it's just human nature, you start thinking about the whole situation, you're losing a player. You're losing a guy that's supposed to be in there for the next two, three innings to help you maybe continue to chip away. Our team has been fighting every day, since day one of spring training. I don’t care what our record is, I don't care what the score is, we fight. And when you take one of those pieces out of the lineup, you get pissed.”

Even though he had a chance to cool off, Frazier still felt the same after the contest. He stuck his head into the team’s video room after the game to check out the play. Teams have a variety of angles from which they can determine whether or not to challenge a call. They also have the option of taking a freeze frame and magnifying the picture, which left no doubt in Frazier’s mind that the call was incorrect.

“Like I said just frustrating,” Frazier said. “It’s just not that hard. And with all the technology like I said, I don’t mean to repeat ourselves, but with all the technology and 8 different angles it’s just one of those things where I just can’t let that go. It turned into a huge inning. You never know. We were down 6 we coulda came back. You gotta be 100 percent. You gotta be 100 percent right on that and I really don’t think he was.”

How a fan's kind gesture surprised Mark Buehrle on his big day

How a fan's kind gesture surprised Mark Buehrle on his big day

It’s one of the more iconic moments in White Sox history, and now Mark Buehrle has a key piece of memorabilia after a fan’s kind gesture.

Already overwhelmed by a series of gifts from the White Sox on Saturday afternoon, Buehrle was in disbelief when 17-year-old Tommy Maloney walked onto the field during a number-retirement ceremony and presented him with the flipped-through-the-legs ball from 2010 Opening Day.

The memento was one of four gifts Buehrle received from the White Sox along with a new truck, a four-seat All-Terrain Vehicle and a personalized piece of art created by White Sox outfielder Ron Kittle commemorating many of the highlights of the pitcher’s White Sox career. It was just another part of an overwhelming, emotional day for Buehrle, who was honored for his 12 seasons in a White Sox uniform.

“Pretty cool,” Buehrle said. “I don’t recall signing it for him when it happened. I don’t really remember where it went. But one, for him to give that up, that was pretty awesome.”

Maloney’s father, Matt, contacted the White Sox earlier this month to see if Buehrle wanted to meet with the fan who had the ball from a moment in White Sox history that has been replayed thousands upon thousands of times.

The Maloneys also reached out to the White Sox back in 2010, too. They informed the club they had the ball that Buehrle retrieved and flipped through his legs to Paul Konerko, who caught it with a barehanded to retire Cleveland’s Lou Marson in the fifth inning of the April 5, 2010 contest. Buehrle autographed the ball in 2010, but neither he nor the White Sox asked for Tommy Maloney, who was 10 at the time, to hand it over.

“At that point it’s just a cool ball, it’s not part of White Sox history,” said Brooks Boyer, White Sox vice president of sales and marketing.

As he looked for a unique artifact for Buehrle to offer another layer to Saturday’s ceremony, Boyer came across Matt Maloney’s most recent email. He definitely thought Buehrle would have interest in reuniting with the fan who held a key artifact from a play that has become legendary around these parts over the years.

But Boyer also asked if the Maloneys would want to donate the ball to Buehrle.

“We didn’t have the unique thing,” Boyer said. “We just didn’t have it.

“Here it is.”

How it had gotten in Tommy Maloney’s hands in the first place was interesting enough. The Munster, Ind., high schooler said his father got tickets for the 2010 season opener and he left school early to watch Buehrle, his favorite pitcher as a kid. The seats were in the first row behind the far right edge of the White Sox dugout, the same ones he was in for Saturday’s ceremony.

After the improbable play to steal a hit from Marson, Buehrle fell to his knees, which brought manager Ozzie Guillen out of the dugout. Somehow Guillen retrieved the ball and upon returning to the dugout, flipped it to Maloney, who had earlier asked him for a ball several times. Even though it was a prized possession, Tommy Maloney said he’d have no problem surrendering it again if he were asked.

The White Sox rewarded Maloney for his sacrifice as club chairman Jerry Reinsdorf determined that the youngster would present Buehrle with the ball on the field. But the White Sox didn’t tell Maloney he would present the ball until Saturday, surprising him with the news about an hour before the game.

“It’s awesome the way it played out,” Maloney said. “He’s such a great guy. He was hugging me in the dugout. He looked at me when I went up there to give him the ball and said, ‘Give me a hug.’ ”

Maloney not only stood on the field before the ceremony, he had a chance to briefly meet Buehrle in the dugout. He also received another autographed baseball. And after he was applauded by the sellout crowd, several fans stopped by Maloney’s seat to pose for a picture.

Buehrle was touched by the gesture.

“I was like, ‘Brooks, we’ve got to do something here,’ ” Buehrle said. “’He can’t just give the ball and walk out of here empty-handed.’ So I ended up signing him a ball and I don’t know if we have something else in mind, but it was pretty awesome.”