Bulls eager for reunion with Brewer, showdown with Knicks

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Bulls eager for reunion with Brewer, showdown with Knicks

AUBURN HILLS, MICH. The second of the Bench Mob reunions the first at the United Center will occur Saturday evening. Former Bulls reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer, now a Knicks starter, makes his first visit to Chicago since being waived over the summer.

Brewer was a much-beloved figure in the Bulls locker room over the last two seasons and made valuable contributions as a versatile defender and underrated offensive player, helping the team to back-to-back league-high regular-season win totals. Understandably, the holdovers from last season are eager to see him again.

Its going to be great to see Ronnie again," Taj Gibson said. "I keep in contact with him throughout the season. He hits me up from time to time. We talk, were real close. That was my guy. That was one of the guys I hung out with a lot on this team, so Im happy for him, being on another good team, playoff-bound team and hes playing great. I think his role is even better. Hes a starter. Hes starting on that team, hes playing great defense, hes knocking down that three-pointer, which I know he can do hes been working on it, even when he was here hes playing with a lot of confidence and hes just adjusting to that role on that team, of being one of those good defensive stoppers.

He was a real veteran. He was one of those guys that was never too high, never too low, always encouraging, always had your back. You could always count on him, he was a great teammate and hes on another good team, and you could tell the way that theyre playing, that hes inspiring them to play good defense and its showing.

Carlos Boozer, who played with Brewer both in Utah and Chicago, added: Its just going to be good to see him. Weve been talking the whole season. Hes been playing great for them, starting, obviously doing the same thing he always does, trying to lock up the other teams best perimeter player. Tomorrow, Im sure hell be on Lu a lot. But having a great season. I look forward to seeing my brother, man.

Luol Deng chimed in: Itll be cool, man. Ronnie, Kurt Thomas. Its going to be good to see those guys. Its always good to see ex- Bulls players and play against them.

Even Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, usually not one to be overly sentimental, spoke about Brewer in glowing terms.

Ronnies just a great team player. Thats who he is. He plays to win, plays for the team, hard-playing, does a little bit of everything, can score, pass, play-make, play great defense and hes a great teammate. Very coachable, the coach said. He did a great job for us when he was here and hes doing a great job for the Knicks.

Of course, once the game starts, Thibodeau might not be feeling so charitable. New York is coming off a huge blowout road win over defending champion Miami without superstar Carmelo Anthony or the sidelined Amare Stoudemire, let alone Chicago-area native Iman Shumpert and is currently the top team in the Eastern Conference, using a mix of improved defense, a three-point shooting barrage, unselfish play and a deep, experienced roster, including the NBAs oldest player, Kurt Thomas, another former Bull of recent vintage.

Tomorrows huge. Theyre flying high. They played very well against Miami yesterday. Theyre going to be rested and ready to go tomorrow, Joakim Noah said. Theyre playing very well. Theyre playing probably the best basketball in the NBA right now. Its on us to come in ready.

Deng added: Its tough. Theyre already there in Chicago, theyre waiting. They played well, theyre feeling great. They won their last game, theyre at the top of the East. Theyre playing well, so their confidence is high right now and coming in tomorrow, its going to be a tough game, but were looking forward to it.

Boozer concurred: Theyve been playing great. We watched a little bit of it last night, when they played Miami. They played phenomenal without Melo and Amare, which is hard to do, especially playing one of the more talented teams in Miami, but theyre a three-point shooting team, they have the green light, they have a monster in the middle in Tyson Chandler and theyve got great leadership. Theyve got J-Kidd, theyve got other veteran guys, Kurt Thomas is there, Rasheed is there. Theyve got guys that have been through some wars, mixed in with a good group of young talent. That being said, its going to be a great challenge for us.

Coming off a big win over Detroit -- but perhaps tougher than necessary -- and flying back to Chicago overnight after a two-game road trip before taking on the top team in the East, Thibodeau, a former Knicks assistant coach is wary of his team's upcoming test.

Theyre on top of the conference, playing very, very well," he said. "Deep, talented, shooting the ball extremely well. Playing great defense, playing together, playing hard. Weve got to be ready.

It’s World Series or bust for Cubs while carrying Aroldis Chapman’s baggage

It’s World Series or bust for Cubs while carrying Aroldis Chapman’s baggage

Aroldis Chapman is the ultimate baseball mercenary for a team that hasn’t won the World Series since 1908. The Cubs say they are going into this with their eyes wide open, knowing the superstar closer comes with off-the-field baggage and plans to cash in as a free agent this winter.

For all the talking points about being good neighbors and family friendly, the Cubs care about money and winning, which makes them just like any other professional sports franchise.

Chapman behaved in Yankee pinstripes, handled the New York market and performed with game-over efficiency, going 20-for-21 in save chances. The Cubs wanted a lefty with a 105-mph fastball and a 15.2 strikeouts-per-nine-innings-pitched career rate, making a 4-for-1 trade by rationalizing that they would rather be with Chapman in the playoffs than against him.

So the Cubs – and not the first-place Nationals or even-year Giants – had to deal with the bad optics and the lost-in-translation moments before Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. Chapman did not make a good first impression while getting questions about domestic violence and the 30-game suspension Major League Baseball imposed to start this season.

But if Chapman gets the last out in October, does it even matter if he’s a good guy?

“Ugh,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Was Ty Cobb wonderful? I mean, I don’t know. All these different people that I’ve read about – something happened with (the Sox) in, what was it, 1919?

“At the end of the day, I’m here to get to know him on our terms – me and him. (And) he’s been a great teammate from everybody I’ve read or discussed (it) with.

“That’s the lenses I’m looking at it through right now.”

[RELATED: Hector Rondon says Cubs had to take chance and close Chapman deal]

Chapman joined a team that began the day with a 98.8-percent chance to make the playoffs on the Baseball Prospectus odds report and a 56-1 record when leading entering the ninth inning. This is all about what Chapman can do in October and how his presence can help the Cubs survive three postseason rounds.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch highlighted that the Cardinals haven’t scored a run off Chapman since September 2011, back when Tony La Russa managed a World Series team.

“Again, he did do his suspension,” Maddon said. “He has talked about it. He’s shown remorse. And then everybody else has their right to judge him as a good or bad person.

“That’s your right. But I know there are times where I’ve been less than perfect. I think we’ve all been less than perfect in particular moments that nobody’s ever known about. 

“I want to get to know Aroldis. I think he can be a very significant member. And he’s got the potential, yes, to throw the last out of the World Series. And if he does, I promise you, I will embrace him.”

[MORE: Cubs make business decision to look beyond Chapman's domestic violence suspension]

Inside baseball’s conservative bubble, Maddon has to be the game’s most liberal manager, a hands-off, big-picture guy who lets his players run the clubhouse. The Cubs believe his positive vibes and presence will help Chapman’s transition.

“I’m probably the most non-judgmental person you’ve ever met,” Maddon said. “I don’t go in that direction. I do get upset sometimes when people jump to conclusions without knowing everything.

“(Gather) all the information for yourself and make your own opinion. Draw your own conclusion, as opposed to maybe hearing one thing and then all of a sudden jumping on a negative bandwagon.

“I want to get to know him, get to understand him, have good conversations with him. And then, maybe at that point, I could draw some conclusions. But never having been around him, it’s very hard for me to do that.”

Chapman’s Wrigley Field debut will be electric, the triple digits lighting up the huge video board. At that point, the focus should shift back onto baseball. But the equation doesn’t change in a bottom-line business. There is only one outcome that will truly make Cubs fans happy with this deal.

“They expect me to come here, do my job and try to guide us to the World Series,” Chapman said through coach/translator Henry Blanco. “Especially in this city, they haven’t won a World Series in a long time, so they want me to do everything I can to help us win.”

How Joe Maddon helped inspire James Shields' gem over Cubs

How Joe Maddon helped inspire James Shields' gem over Cubs

Joe Maddon's mere presence may have hurt the team he manages Tuesday night.

As the Cubs invaded U.S. Cellular Field for the final night on the South Side of this Crosstown series, Maddon's current team was tasked with facing one of his old friends.

James Shields pitched for Maddon in Tampa Bay for seven years and the veteran right-hander took the hill for the White Sox Tuesday night, spinning a gem — 7.2 shutout innings allowing four singles and four walks.

After the game, Shields — nicknamed "Big Game James" by some — credited Maddon for his outing.

"I get amped up every game pretty much. But I always want to get amped up in front of my old manager," Shields said. "I have a lot of respect for Joe. He helped build me into who I am today. 

"I always want to go out there and show him, especially being 34 years old, that I’ve got this thing."

Maddon certainly noticed.

The Cubs manager admitted "that's what he looks like" when talking about Shields' outing.

The Cubs had pursued Shields in free agency prior to the 2015 season and came close to deal before the right-hander opted to sign with the San Diego Padres for four years and $75 million.

Part of the reason was Shields' competitiveness and desire to finish every game he starts.

"During the first part of the game, I went up to [John] Lackey and I said Shieldsy went to John Lackey Junior College at some point in his life," Maddon said. "I said I used to compare Shieldsy to you all the time back in Tampa Bay, whenever James would [refuse to come out of a game].

"So Johnny giggled about that. Very similar guys — highly competitive, believe they can beat anybody on any given day. You gotta love that about him. He's very good."

White Sox likely will place 2B Brett Lawrie on disabled list

White Sox likely will place 2B Brett Lawrie on disabled list

The White Sox will "probably" place second baseman Brett Lawrie on the disabled list before Wednesday’s Crosstown game at Wrigley Field, manager Robin Ventura said.

Lawrie initially was diagnosed with a tight left hamstring July 21 against the Detroit Tigers, causing a firestorm of speculation he had been traded when he was removed from the game. He was initially considered day-to-day after undergoing an MRI on Friday, and manager Robin Ventura said before both Monday and Tuesday’s games against the Cubs he could’ve been available in an emergency. 

But Lawrie suffered a setback sometime Tuesday, and with two games under National League rules at Wrigley Field requiring more bench pieces, Ventura didn’t want to head to Clark and Addison short-handed. 

“It just seemed like he was going backwards today, during the game, of his knee,” Ventura said. “There's no way you can go over there and play the National League rules with nobody on the bench.”

[MORE: Shields picks up bullpen as White Sox top Cubs again]

Infielder Carlos Sanchez was removed from Triple-A Charlotte’s game Tuesday night and is expected to replace Lawrie on the White Sox roster. 

Lawrie is hitting .248/.310/.413 with 12 home runs and 22 doubles over 94 games this season. 

Tyler Saladino has done well in his short stint in the starting lineup since Lawrie’s injury, going 4-15 with a walk. His walk-off single on Monday netted the White Sox their third win in what now is a four-game winning streak, the team’s first since May 6-9.