NFL Scouting Combine represents opportunities — good and bad — for Bears

NFL Scouting Combine represents opportunities — good and bad — for Bears

The NFL Scouting Combine convening this week in Indianapolis isn't really the high point of pre-draft assessing being done by NFL teams. Those evaluations have been going on for many, many months — on college campuses, at bowl games — and will go on with Pro Days and selected visits to team headquarters.
 
But what it does represent is two things: a chance for teams to probe for detailed medical information on some 300 potential draftees, and a case study in savvy brand marketing by the NFL that has become its own hot-stove league on steroids (hopefully not literally for any of the participants).
 
Covering the event 25 years ago, representatives of the three Chicago-area newspapers comprised one of the two largest media contingents (the other being New York's) going about the business of football reporting after the sport had largely moved off the sports-front with the wrap-up of the Super Bowl. No TV, no internet, and the Combine operators really didn't want media around for what was set up as a purely team-centric.
 
Now the NFL has created a media event that keeps it in news prominence at what had always been a dormant calendar nadir for pro football, with not only some 1,000 media members and outlets welcome, but also with fans able to attend events like the 225-pound bench press and 40-yard dashes, whose results were once something that reporters dug around for as news scoops.
 
But beyond the observed events, including group media interviews for the majority of athletes, individual draft stocks will be affected by vertical jumps, cone drills and such. And by interviews with individual teams, which are still private. (For now. Somehow, it's not beyond imagination that someday even those will be televised, in an NFL guise of "transparency" or something, but that's for another time.)
 
Strengths, weaknesses and the QB conundrum
 
One annual refrain are the assessments of the overall draft class, what positions are its deepest, its weakest, an evaluation that carries some weight because invitees to the Combine include underclassmen, which the Senior Bowl does not.
 
But a danger within the process is exactly that — the "weight" assigned to results, particularly the on-field ones. On-field evaluations are the best indicators, but the right on-field ones were there on playing fields and now tape, not inside Lucas Oil Stadium this week.

[RELATED - Which direction will Bears go at pick No. 3?]
 
Combine performance has affected drafts rightly and wrongly over the years.
 
ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio has made an excellent case for players declining that test for reasons of confidentiality. And frankly, if teams have a problem with a player declining the test, then teams and the NFL need to do a better job of keeping the results in-house, particularly given that correlations between the Wonderlic and NFL success are questionable at best.
 
But some player or players will move up or slip down on draft boards because of drill work. That may be unfortunate for the player, and for the teams.
 
QB or not QB
 
It is at this point that the Combine becomes increasingly relevant to the Bears, or at least to those trying to discern what realistic chances exist for the Bears to address their well-documented areas of need (quarterback, tight end, cornerback, safety).
 
An inherent problem at this stage is the difficulty in arriving at a right decision, particularly at the paramount position. NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock did some checking that illustrates the issue.
 
Between 2007-14, teams selected 21 quarterbacks in the first round. Nine of them are no longer even in the league, and only a handful have achieved something close to the coveted "franchise" distinction: Matt Ryan in Atlanta, Matthew Stafford in Detroit, Carolina's Cam Newton, Andrew Luck in Indianapolis and Joe Flacco in Baltimore. Only Flacco has won a Super Bowl.
 
"It gives a pretty good feel for the 'hit' rate of franchise quarterbacks in the first round," Mayock said on Monday.
 
"My message to NFL teams is, 'you've got to keep trying, keep on swinging.'"
 
Whether the Bears take a swing at a franchise quarterback at No. 3 is still many weeks off. But Mayock didn't endorse making that swing at that point.
 
"I don't have any quarterbacks anywhere near the Top 10," Mayock said. "That doesn't mean I think there's no talent there, because I think there are four quarterbacks that have first-round talent. In my order I had for my initial Top 5, it was [DeShone] Kizer, [Deshaun] Watson, [Mitch] Trubisky, [Patrick] Mahomes. All four of them have holes in their games.
 
"I don't think any of them are ready to start Week 1."
 
More to come over the next week. Make that "weeks."

NBA trade deadline winners and losers

NBA trade deadline winners and losers

AN ARENA NEAR YOU –  The NBA trade deadline has come and gone, so the rosters you see now are pretty much what you're going to see for the rest of the season. 
 
Of course there will be some teams that will bolster their roster via buyout candidates, but most of those players will have a very defined and to a greater extent, limited role with whatever new team they sign with for the rest of this season. 
 
So who were the winners and losers during this now-completed trade season?
 
Our CSN Insiders examine which franchises really cleaned up during the trade season, and which teams got taken to the cleaners in addition to looking at a few teams that struck gold during the buyout season as well as some that stood pat and why that was a good – or not so good – idea.
 
We start off North of the border where Toronto pulled off a pair of trades that in the eyes of many league executives and coaches, probably addressed their biggest needs going forward and should solidify them as a top-four team in the East with the potential now to go as high as the number two spot. 
 
CSN New England's A. Sherrod Blakely takes a closer look at the Raptors deal, how it paid off almost immediately and what it means for the Eastern Conference going forward:
 
TRADE DEADLINE WINNERS
 
Toronto Raptors

By adding Serge Ibaka, the Raptors were able to address the increasingly obvious need for them to upgrade their power forward position. Ibaka was traded from Oklahoma City to Orlando because they didn't want to pay him a near-max salary this summer. And the Magic, realizing he wasn't a good fit for them going forward, cut ties just months after acquiring him. 
 
Playing with the Raptors has Ibaka in a familiar position, one that he enjoyed years of success in with the Thunder. Back then, it was Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook's team, with Ibaka as a really good No. 3 guy. In Toronto, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are Ibaka's Durant-Westbrook all over again and that's a good thing. In his first game as a Raptor, Ibaka had 15 points and seven rebounds in Toronto's win over Boston.
 
Considering Ibaka was going to be a player Toronto planned to pursue this summer when he becomes a free agent, acquiring him now makes the Raptors the odds-on favorite to sign him. 
 
He wasn't the only new guy for Toronto that gave the Celtics problems. 
 
P.J. Tucker, acquired from the Phoenix Suns, had a near double-double against Boston with nine points and 10 rebounds. 
 
The numbers they put up help, but even more important is they provide a heightened level of toughness which multiple league executives and coaches that CSNNE.com has talked with since All-Star weekend, said was sorely lacking on their roster. 
 
If the Raptors manage to climb the Eastern Conference standings and play their way into a deep postseason run, these two trades will be seen as instrumental in making that happen. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
 
Houston Rockets

The Rockets bolstered their playoff push in a single trade by landing former Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams from the Lakers. They sent Corey Brewer and a first round pick to Los Angeles in the deal. Williams gives the Rockets another high-scoring guard to complement James Harden and Eric Gordon. The addition of Williams' instant spark off the bench can make a difference in the grind of a postseason series. – by Jessica Camerato 

Los Angeles Lakers
 
They traded their most effective player, sixth man Lou Williams, for a player (Corey Brewer) and Houston's unprotected No. 1 draft pick. The biggest upside might be that the loss of Williams makes LA an even weaker team and therefore improves its own draft positioning. If the Lakers continue on the lottery-bound path they are on, it would mark the fourth consecutive season they will have a lottery (Top 14) selection. – by Monte Poole  
 
Oklahoma City Thunder

OKC needed a shake up if they had any hope of making noise in the postseason. They traded two young players in Joffrey Lauvergne and Cameron Payne, along with veteran Anthony Morrow to the Bulls for Doug McDermott, Taj Gibson and a second-round pick. 

McDermott instantly improves the small forward position for Oklahoma, giving them a high end shooting option for Russell Westbrook to kick to. Gibson is a solid veteran big that defends and rebounds either as a starter or off the bench. 

The Thunder gave up two young pieces in the deal, but they are in "win now" mode as they try to move up in the Western Conference standings. And while there were certainly more high profile moves made at the trade deadline, the Thunder can now set their sights on being more than just a team in the playoffs. These additions give them the kind of depth that's required in the postseason to potentially knock off a higher-seeded team. – by James Ham
 
Orlando Magic
 
If you factor in all that the Magic gave up to acquire Serge Ibaka, only to trade him away for a good but not great player in Terrence Ross, there's not a lot to like about the deal, right?
 
Not true. 
 
Trading away Ibaka on many levels was a classic example of addition by subtraction.
 
The trade of Ibaka has allowed the Magic to play Aaron Gordon at his correct position at power forward.
 
The glut of forwards/centers had coach Frank Vogel trying to force Gordon to play at small forward which didn't suit his strengths. He lacks the ball-handling and shooting to make that a natural transition.
 
"Everybody is now in their right position," Vogel said. "Aaron being a four is better for him. He did well at the three defensively, but he's better at the four." – by J. Michael
 
Golden State Warriors
 
They took calls but made none of their own. The Warriors own the league's best record, its No. 1 offense and its No. 1 defensive rating. They have no glaring needs. They may explore the buyout market if there is an intriguing candidate, but there is zero urgency. – by Monte Poole
 
Washington Wizards

The addition of Bojan Bogdanovic isn't the sexiest deal to be swung during this trade season, but it meets what has clearly been one of Washington's biggest weaknesses – depth. 
 
Specifically, Washington needed to add a scorer off the bench which is exactly what Bogdanovic has the skills and talent to provide. 
 
The Wizards haven't ruled out another move in the free-agent market to help with the bench with a possible playoff run looming.
 
Trey Burke hasn't been adequate as John Wall's backup, Tomas Satoransky might not be ready for the role yet and Kelly Oubre hasn't done the job behind Otto Porter.

The next move, if there is one, could be for the best player available but a creator with the second unit is desperately needed. – by J. Michael
 
LOSERS

 
Sacremento Kings

The Sacramento Kings hit a hard reset button on All-Star Sunday, dealing center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans for a package that included rookie Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and a first and second round pick.

Sacramento received below market value for their franchise cornerstone and started a youth movement that was long overdue. They now have four first round picks from the 2016 NBA Draft and potentially two first round picks in the highly touted 2017 NBA draft. 

The Kings sat just a game-and-a-half out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff chase at the time of the move. They have been raked over the coals in the media for their handling of Cousins, including making promises to not only keep the star big, but hand him a $219 million extension this summer. They chose to reboot the franchise, calling for an improved culture. – by James Ham
 
Philadelphia 76ers
 
They had a cluster-you-know-what in the frontcourt with too many bodies, and they managed to clear it out a bit by trading Nerlens Noel to Dallas for Andrew Bogut, Justin Anderson and a heavily protected 2017 first-round pick. 

But that in itself doesn't make this a good deal. 
 
In fact, it was one of the worst deals made at the trade deadline and here's why:
 
They knew Bogut would seek a buyout immediately, so whatever benefit he could have provided in terms of his play, was out the window. 
 
Move along to Anderson, a late first-round pick in 2015 who has shown signs of being a 3-and-D kind of player. He's a solid addition, but Noel is a better player and has significantly more upside. 
 
But the saving grace is the draft pick right? 
 
Nope. 
 
The pick will likely wind up being a second-rounder this year and in 2020.
 
So just to recap: Philly gave away a starter in Noel, and in return they wind up with a wing player who may play his way into the regular rotation eventually along with a pair of second round future draft picks. Knowing this deal will make the Sixers a weaker team, it's almost like Sam Hinkie never left. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
 
Los Angeles Clippers
 
Their pursuit of another wing shooter came up empty, as did their perpetual search for a legitimate small forward. On the other hand, as a group that has been crippled by injuries to key players, they're happy to have a healthy starting five now that Chris Paul is back and effective. – by Monte Poole

New York Knicks
 
So, the Knicks are all still there. Between Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose, at points leading up to the deadline it seemed like a player could be on the move. In the end, the team remained intact. No better, no worse, just the same. Which in this season, the same isn't necessarily the best outcome.

New York needed to make a move to shake up a roster that's once again underachieving. No one expected the Knicks to be among the top three or four clubs, but they were seen at the very least as a legit playoff contender. Of course there's still time for them to get back in the postseason picture. But with all the drama surrounding this team, it's unlikely their direction will change anytime soon which means another season ending without a playoff berth – by Jessica Camerato

Boston Celtics
 
This team has been fireworks-in-waiting for years now, seemingly on the cusp of a big deal that ultimately turns into a big dud. It's hard to be critical of a team that has endured as many injuries as they have this season and still find themselves in second place behind the NBA defending champion. 
 
Because of their lofty position, the Celtics' focus was primarily on landing a major player like Chicago's Jimmy Butler or Indiana's Paul George. 
 
The Celtics struck out on both of those guys and wound up keeping their current roster intact.
 
Adding insult to injury, two players – Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker – were both players Boston was in the mix for in terms of signing only to get serious love from Toronto, which traded for both players. When the Celtics opened their post All-Star break portion of the schedule in Toronto, Ibaka and Tucker were huge factors in the game's outcome.

The Celtics did try to get in on acquiring the soon-to-be bought out Andrew Bogut only to learn that he's likely signing with Cleveland. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

BUYOUT WINNER: CLEVELAND
 
Indeed, the rich will get richer in the East with the Cavaliers on the cusp of adding both Andrew Bogut and Deron Williams who became unrestricted free agents. Bogut is nearly complete with a buyout after he was traded to Philadelphia from Dallas, while Williams was waived by the Mavericks when they could not find a partner to swing a trade for his services. 
 
With Bogut, the Cavs add one of the best defensive centers in the NBA. Injuries have limited his impact this season, but the load he'll be asked to carry is relatively small compared to what the former No. 1 overall pick has been tasked with elsewhere. 
 
As for Williams, he gives them a ready-to-roll backup point guard. When Kyrie Irving takes a rest, LeBron James has often been shifted to being the primary ball-handler. But the addition of Williams gives the Cavs another choice coming off the bench of a player who has played this game for a while and has a solid understanding of how to run a team effectively. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Schroder off to rough start after All-star break

When the Hawks opted to move on from Jeff Teague, the assumption was that Dennis Schroder was ready to be the starting point guard.

Coming out of All-Star break, Schroder has served a one-game suspension for not reporting to the team on time and then was benched for the first half of the next game because he missed the team bus.
 
Going into Monday, the Hawks had a three-game losing streak by a total of 53 points.

"We continue to hold our entire roster, all of our players, accountable," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "Our culture is important to us. Respect for your teammates is important to us. That's our job and that's our organization's job is to continue to build on our culture." – by J. Michael

Knicks waive Jennings, Rose next?
 
Brandon Jennings had expressed a desire to join a title-contending team.

Well he got his wish – partially anyway – when the New York Knicks waived him on Monday. The eight-year veteran will surface with another team, but the question is where?

Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reports that the Knicks might also be interested in waiving Derrick Rose. The Knicks are a bad team and judging by some of the moves being made by the front office, they're not going to be better anytime soon. – by A. Sherrod Blakely