Running with the Bulls: Draft buzz and goings-on

Running with the Bulls: Draft buzz and goings-on

Thursday, June 24, 20102:49 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

July 1 is marked on the calendars of NBA fans as the day everything unfolds around the league, but with tonight's NBA Draft, the real intrigue begins in advance. In fact, a week away from the official beginning to free agency, moves that could potentially alter the landscape of next season and beyond have already threatened to occur.

All of the hoopla surrounding the future of LeBron James and other top free agents perhaps have obscured observers to the ever-real possibility that other superstars in the league could also have new destinations -- via trade. A reminder of this reality was recently in effect when news broke that New Orleans Hornets were reportedly open to overtures for All-Star point guard Chris Paul, most notably from the Portland Trailblazers. The Hornets, whose sale from George Shinn to potential new owner Gary Chouest is still incomplete, would be making the move for financial considerations, but yet another wrinkle in the situation is that the team that potentially gets Paul would potentially receive better odds in the sweepstakes for his good friend James. New Orleans has attempted to shoot down the swirling rumors and a more likely scenario would involve the team trading Paul's speedy backup, Darren Collison -- who enjoyed an NBA all-rookie team campaign in Paul's extended absence -- along with one of their larger contracts, such as veteran center Emeka Okafor.

Although no other trade rumors thus far involve a star of Paul's magnitude, there are some other impact players reportedly on the block. Reports that the Minnesota Timberwolves are shopping talented power forward Al Jefferson (the organization has finally come to the conclusion that the pairing of similarly ground-bound power forward Kevin Love with Jefferson won't work) have persisted since the regular season and there have been recent indications that the Detroit Pistons (for veteran small forward Tayshaun Prince) and Memphis Grizzlies (for power forward Zach Randolph, fresh off what was a redemption year before off-court issues after the season) are two interested parties, with draft picks also being part of the proposed packages.

Another non-secret around the league is the mutual desire between the Toronto Raptors and Hedo Turkoglu to part ways. Sources tell CSNChicago.com that a three-way deal between the Raptors, Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic could happen sooner than later. While details still have to be worked out, Toronto would potentially receive center backup Marcin Gortat and defensive-minded swingman Mickael Pietrus, Orlando would get rugged power forward Luis Scola, a restricted free agent, and Turkoglu would head to Houston.

While those scenarios haven't occurred to this point, a handful of NBA swaps have already taken place. It began last week, when the Philadelphia 76ers dealt shot-blocking center Samuel Dalembert to the Sacramento Kings for grizzled small forward (and former Bull) Andres Nocioni and young finesse big man Spencer Hawes. The trade added a defensive presence for the Kings and with the departure of Dalembert, who was long-rumored to be on the trading block, the Sixers have an opportunity to start fresh under the new regime of head coach Doug Collins and the expected draft choice of Ohio State star and Chicago native Evan Turner with the second overall pick.

One of the busiest teams has been the Milwaukee Bucks. With former Bulls swingman John Salmons expected to opt out of the final year of his contract and hit the free-agent market after a strong second half to the season following his trade from Chicago, Milwaukee was proactive in acquiring a pair of small forwards. The Bucks picked up scorer Corey Maggette from the Golden State Warriors in exchange for veterans Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell, then traded a 2012 second-round pick to the New Jersey Nets for young talent Chris Douglas-Roberts.

A move involving both the draft and free agency took place when the Miami Heat sent backup shooting guard Daequan Cook and the 18th pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a second-round pick (32nd overall) in the draft. The deal gives Oklahoma City three first-round selections in the draft, as well as a reserve sharpshooter, but Miami may reap more benefits from the exchange. Shedding Cook's 2.2 million contract and the draft pick increases the Heat's salary-cap space and makes them even more of a force come July 1.

Another deal with a financial impact was Portland's 2 million purchase of a second-round pick from Golden State as compensation for their exchange of draft choices. The two teams swapped picks -- Portland receives the 34th overall pick from the Warriors, while Golden State acquired the 44th selection from the Warriors -- but more significant is the high value placed on moving up a mere 10 spots in the draft.

As far as the draft itself, one storyline to watch is how the stock of some of the crop of highly touted big men is dropping. Georgia Tech power forward Derrick Favors, once considered an option for Philadelphia with the second pick, now may not be a lock for New Jersey's third pick, as Syracuse swingman Wesley Johnson is now reportedly being given heavy consideration by the Nets, which makes sense in light of the Douglas-Roberts trade.

After a bad workout for the Warriors, Georgetown's Greg Monroe is now reportedly behind Baylor's Ekpe Udoh on Golden State's board. However, the Warriors, who have the sixth pick in the draft, went out of their way to deny he performed poorly and are reportedly higher on Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins than either of the aforementioned pair.

Speaking of Cousins, the big man is now reportedly a lock for Sacramento, but his college teammate, center Daniel Orton could be in the midst of a massive freefall, due to underwhelming statistics in his lone college season and reports of being out of shape, concerns with his knees and speculated conflict within his camp. Marshall's Hassan Whiteside -- once considered a lock for the lottery -- is in a similar boat, as the prolific shot-blocker's reputation as immature has hurt him, along with reported poor workouts.

Three prospects seem to be headed in the opposite direction are talented swingman Paul George of Fresno State, rugged forward Damion James of Texas and Final Four hero Gordon Hayward of Butler. Some observers predict that the ever-rising trio is now destined for lottery picks, with Hayward having a chance to crack the draft's top 10.

With all of the action occurring around the league, Bulls fans shouldn't think Chicago is being left out. However, despite reports that the organization initiated talks with the Los Angeles Clippers to send the team's 17th pick and small forward Luol Deng to L.A. for the Clippers' No. 8 pick, a team source tells CSNChicago.com that the move has "zero chance" of taking form.

Still, with persistent trade rumors, teams shopping picks and draft-day deals that could impact free agency, don't be shocked if Chicago makes a move tonight, especially with players such as Deng, veteran guard Kirk Hinrich and surprising forward Taj Gibson being heavily coveted by certain teams. But as a prelude to the draft, enjoy CSNChicago.com's first-round mock draft (pending trades) below and don't forget to visit CSNChicago.com tonight for a live draft chat with yours truly.

1. Washington Wizards: John Wall, 6-foot-4 point guard, Kentucky
2. Philadelphia 76ers: Evan Turner, 6-foot-7 shooting guard, Ohio State
3. New Jersey Nets: Wesley Johnson, 6-foot-7 small forward, Syracuse
4. Minnesota Timberwolves: Derrick Favors, 6-foot-9 power forward, Georgia Tech
5. Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins, 6-foot-11 center, Kentucky
6. Golden State Warriors: Ekpe Udoh, 6-foot-11 power forward, Baylor
7. Detroit Pistons: Greg Monroe, 6-foot-11 center, Georgetown
8. Los Angeles Clippers: Al-Farouq Aminu, 6-foot-9 small forward, Wake Forest
9. Utah Jazz: Luke Babbitt, 6-foot-8 small forward, Nevada
10. Indiana Pacers: Ed Davis, 6-foot-9 power forward, North Carolina
11. New Orleans Hornets: Gordon Hayward, 6-foot-8 small forward, Butler
12. Memphis Grizzlies: Paul George, 6-foot-8 small forward, Fresno State
13. Toronto Raptors: Patrick Patterson, 6-foot-8 power forward, Kentucky
14. Houston Rockets: Cole Aldrich, 6-foot-11 center, Kansas
15. Milwaukee Bucks: Larry Sanders, 6-foot-10 power forward, Virginia Commonwealth
16. Minnesota Timberwolves: Xavier Henry, 6-foot-6 shooting guard, Kansas
17. Chicago Bulls: James Anderson, 6-foot-6 shooting guard, Oklahoma State
18. Oklahoma City Thunder: Damion James, 6-foot-8 small forward, Texas
19. Boston Celtics: Avery Bradley, 6-foot-3 shooting guard, Texas
20. San Antonio Spurs: Eric Bledsoe, 6-foot-1 point guard, Kentucky
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Solomon Alabi, 7-foot-1 center, Florida State
22. Portland Trailblazers: Kevin Seraphin, 6-foot-9 power forward, France
23. Minnesota Timberwolves: Hassan Whiteside, 7-foot center, Marshall
24. Atlanta Hawks: Daniel Orton, 6-foot-10 center, Kentucky
25. Memphis Grizzlies: Elliot Williams, 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Memphis
26. Oklahoma City Thunder: Dominique Jones, 6-foot-4 shooting guard, South Florida
27. New Jersey Nets: Quincy Pondexter, 6-foot-7 small forward, Washington
28. Memphis Grizzlies: Craig Brackins, 6-foot-9 power forward, Iowa State
29. Orlando Magic: Jordan Crawford, 6-foot-4 shooting guard, Xavier
30. Washington Wizards: Darrington Hobson, 6-foot-7 small forward, New Mexico

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Ten years later, A.J. Pierzynski recalls Michael Barrett encounter in Crosstown Classic

Ten years later, A.J. Pierzynski recalls Michael Barrett encounter in Crosstown Classic

Hard to believe, but it's been 10 years since the fist of Michael Barrett famously hit the face of A.J. Pierzynski, creating one of the most legendary moments in the Windy City Series between the White Sox and Cubs. 

The punch lasted only one second, but speaking with the man who was on the receiving end of that punch, Pierzynski knows he'll be hearing about it for the rest of his life.

"It's just one of those things that happens," Pierzynski said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. "Hey, you got to be remembered for something."

Fans won't let him forget it, even if some have forgotten what actually happened that day—which might also include Pierzynski. More on that in a moment.

First to the play that started it all. It occurred on May 20, 2006. While scoring a run on a sacrifice fly on a ball hit to shallow left field, Pierzynski knocked over Barrett at home plate. The White Sox catcher then moved towards the Cubs backstop to retrieve his helmet. 

If it was anybody else, nothing would have happened. This story you're reading would never have been written.

But this was Pierzynski, one of the most hated players in baseball, the notorious monkey in the middle of everything.

This Sox was about to get socked.

"I went up to get my helmet. He grabbed me and said, 'I didn't have the ball (bleep)," recalled Pierzynski. Barrett threw a right hook that hit Pierzynski square in the left cheek, producing an image that has been permanently burned into the minds of Cubs and White Sox fans.

Or so we thought.

A decade later, Pierzynski says he frequently comes across people who have somehow forgotten what actually occurred.

"What's happened now is most people don't remember what really happened. They just know Barrett and I got into a fight," Pierzynski said. "Most people actually think that I hit him. People (say to me) 'Remember that time you punched Barrett and knocked him down?' So, it's kind of funny how it's kind of changed over the years."

But still, many people do remember the punch quite well, especially Cubs fans who relish in heckling Pierzynski whenever he comes to town, like earlier this month when his Braves played the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

“They’ll say things like, ‘Michael Barrett's coming. Look out!’ And I'll be like, 'Yeah, whatever,'" Pierzynski said. “Or they’ll yell ‘Hey, you suck! Or I hate you!’ Then it’s like, ‘Okay, great. Welcome to the club.’” 

The White Sox won the game that day 7-0, but Cubs fans have had a victory of sorts ever since—the memory of Barrett pelting their White Sox nemesis, a guy who pestered them for years.

But even Pierzynski himself seems to remember the play differently than everyone else. His account of what occurred will probably get under the skin of Cubs fans.

What else would you expect from A.J.?

"He didn't really hit me though, that's the thing," said Pierzynski. "He kind of just pushed me. It was weird, because he grabbed me and we were so close. It wasn't like (Rougned) Odor when he hit (Jose) Bautista where he wound up. I mean, it was so close that he just kind of pushed me off balance. 

"And (third base coach Chris) Speier grabbed me right away and then like 10 guys from the White Sox jumped on top of him. And poor (Cubs outfielder John) Mabry who was my hitting coach in St. Louis. I know we were laughing about it when I was in St. Louis. I think he ended up in the hospital with broken ribs and he had nothing to do with it."

Call it a punch, call it a push, most athletes who take a hit like that would be so humiliated they’d never want to talk about it again.

Not Pierzynski.

“I literally laugh about it. It’s funny to me,” Pierzynski said. “Now my kids are of the age to use the internet, so now that’s like the first picture that always comes up, and they’re like, ‘Why did you get in the fight with the guy?’ I tell them the story and they have to explain it to their friends. It’s just one of those things that happens in your life. Hey, at least it happened on national TV and gives people something to talk about.”

Six weeks after the fight, Barrett sought out Pierzynski at Wrigley Field before the White Sox and Cubs resumed the Crosstown Series on the North Side. The two shook hands, made amends and the feud was over.

But the two have not spoken to each other since.

“I haven’t seen him,” Pierzynski said. “I mean, we played a little bit, but I haven’t seen him off the field.”

What would you say to him?

“I don’t know. ‘Hey, how you doing?’ I don’t even know what he does anymore.”

Barrett is currently the minor league catching coordinator for the Washington Nationals. Attempts to interview him for this story were unsuccessful.

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At 39, Pierzynski isn’t sure how much longer he’ll play. He already has enough baseball memories to fill multiple lifetimes. But his recollections of those classic White Sox-Cubs games will never fade.

“I played in Yankees-Red Sox, I played in Dodgers-Giants, Cardinals-Cubs, nothing matched the intensity," he said. "Maybe it was because I was on the White Sox and there was such a dislike for the other team, not only in the fan base, but also kind of the organization. It’s just kind of there. 

"It just brought out the best. It always seemed like it brought out the best in both teams. It was always the one game you circled, and it was like, ‘Okay, we’re playing the Cubs coming up in a week. Everyone be ready.’”

Pierzynski was always ready—maybe not for Barrett’s fist—but the face that took the beating that day gave us all a knockout Cubs-White Sox moment, one we will never forget.

Preview: White Sox host Cubs in Crosstown Classic tonight on CSN

Preview: White Sox host Cubs in Crosstown Classic tonight on CSN

The White Sox take on the Cubs in the Crosstown Classic tonight, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with an hour-long White Sox Pregame Live at 6:00 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Tonight's starting pitching matchup: Miguel Gonzalez (2-5, 4.41 ERA) vs. Jake Arrieta (12-4, 2.60 ERA)

White Sox HR leaders Cubs HR leaders
Todd Frazier (28) Kris Bryant (25)
Brett Lawrie (12) Anthony Rizzo (24)
Jose Abreu (11) Ben Zobrist (13)

Looking Ahead:

Date White Sox Cubs
Tuesday James Shields (4-12, 4.99 ERA) Kyle Hendricks (9-6, 2.27 ERA)
Wednesday Jacob Turner (0-1, 14.73 ER Jason Hammel (9-5, 3.35 ERA)
Thursday TBD TBD

MORE:

Chuck Garfien and Bill Melton on the impact of the Crosstown Classic

David Kaplan and Todd Hollandsworth give Cubs analysis for Crosstown Classic

Top Crosstown Moment: Blackhawks celebrate Cup with Cubs-Sox

Crosstown Classic: Look inside the Wrigley Field scoreboard

Todd Frazier on Crosstown Classic: 'I heard it gets a little crazy'

GAME PREVIEW: Click here to make sure you're ready for the action.

— Shop White Sox: Get your White Sox gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with White Sox Pulse.

Bears mix of QB Jay Cutler with OC Dowell Loggains still a critical work in progress

Bears mix of QB Jay Cutler with OC Dowell Loggains still a critical work in progress

Back in January, before the Bears promoted Dowell Loggains from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, CSNChicago.com took an advance look at Loggains and how he might fit with Jay Cutler were the Bears to make Loggains yet another in the long list of coordinators for Cutler. With the start of training camp at hand, a longer look at this pivotal coach-player situation comes into focus.

No change made by the Bears this offseason carries the weight of the one moving Dowell Loggains to offensive coordinator to replaced departed Adam Gase. Quarterback Jay Cutler is coming off the best statistical season of his career, founded on the ball-security foundation instilled by Gase and Loggains. The Gase-to-Loggains succession plan projects to catapult Cutler, and with him the offense, to a next level.

Not necessarily.

For now, as they were when Mike Martz, Aaron Kromer and others took the Chicago O.C. job, all the right things are being said:

From Loggains on Cutler’s improvement under Gase and himself: “I don’t think Adam or I should take the credit,” Loggains said. “I think Jay made the choice to improve and work on the things that we asked him to work on. And I hope that process continues.”

From Cutler: “I’ve known Dowell like I’ve known Adam, for a long time… . The backbone of this offense is still the same. Even if Adam was here I think we still would have changed some stuff and got better in certain areas. So we’re just kind of continuing down that road.”

But Cutler having a positive relationship with an incoming coach means…nothing.

Indeed, his history is not encouraging, even with coaches he ostensibly thought highly of coming in, even ones already on staff or had worked with him previously.

Mike Tice was promoted from offensive line coach to coordinator when Mike Martz was fired after the 2011 season, Cutler’s previous best for avoiding interceptions. Tice had been instrumental in balancing the offense in 2010 when Martz’s schemes and protections were getting Cutler annihilated.

But by mid-2012, Cutler’s relationship and communications with Tice had deteriorated to the point of backup Josh McCown needing to serve as go-between.

Notably, the 2012 friction was developing even as the Bears were on their way to a 10-6 season, and with Jeremy Bates having been hired as quarterbacks coach. That was based in part on Bates’ relationships with Cutler from a 2006-08 overlapping stint with the Denver Broncos. Cutler’s relationship with Tice was toxic, and Bates went down along with Tice and the rest of Lovie Smith’s staff after that season.

The Bears have added Dave Ragone, a member of the Tennessee Titans staff with Loggains and having played two NFL games in 2003. But the Bears’ offense will turn on the Cutler-Loggains axis and it relationship elements, both football and inter-personal.

“There’s definitely some honesty there,” Cutler said, smiling. “He’s not afraid to tell me when I’m completely wrong and rightfully so. I like to tell him whenever I think we’re not doing things right or we need to change things.

“I think at the core of that we kind of cut through some stuff and we get things done a little bit quicker… .No one’s really sensitive. We just try to get it done.”

When Gase talked, Cutler listened. Will Cutler’s receptors stay open when something goes wrong, as something invariably will sometime in an NFL season? That is on Cutler, and his openness to yet another coordinator was at the root of his improvement to a career-best passer rating of 92.3.

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Loggains has been notably vocal during open practices, with more than Cutler alone. That is a departure from Gase’s demeanor, although Gase was more than capable of tough love when anyone on his side of the football needed it.

“I think it’s a mutual respect,” Loggains said of his Cutler relationship. “I think I respect him and he respects me. I think that when you have that mutual respect then all dialogue is legal. So whatever I say to him, he knows where it’s coming from and vice versa.”

Cred issues?

Some questions hanging over Loggains have less to do with Loggains himself, but rather his background.

Gase came to the Bears from two years as offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos under John Fox. Gase, quarterbacks coach for the preceding two seasons, moved into that job when Mike McCoy was hired to coach the San Diego Chargers.

The Denver gig included three seasons working with Peyton Manning. While Manning needed scant coaching at that point in his career, the point was less how much Gase coached Manning as much as what Gase brought with him from his time with Manning. Gase knew from up close what a Hall of Fame quarterback looked like.

Loggains’ NFL career stops have accorded him time with no one approaching Manning’s stature. Not surprisingly, in time with three different teams, Loggains has not been involved with an offense that ranked in the top half of the league:

Year Team Job Offense results
2015 Bears QB 21st ydg, 21st pass, 23rd pts.
2014 Browns QB 27th pass, 27th pts.
2013 Titans O.C. 21st ydg, 21st pass, 19th pts.
2012 Titans QB/O.C. 26th ydg, 22nd pass, 23rd pts.
2011 Titans QB 17th ydg, 15th pass, 21st pts.

The Tennessee Titans’ quarterbacks during Loggains’ years there were Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker. The 2014 Browns put up the seventh-highest passing yardage in franchise history, with Brian Hoyer, Connor Shaw and Johnny Manziel as their quarterbacks.

No slight of any of the quarterbacks, but a point around Loggains might be not how little the offenses achieved in his time with them, but rather, how much.

“I think that I’ve had an opportunity working with Kyle Shanahan in Cleveland and Adam Gase this last year, obviously there’s stuff I’ve taken from both of them,” Loggains said. “Going back in the quarterback room, I think it was good for me. It was a good experience. Things you obviously change are, ‘hey, in Tennessee I like the way we did this and we’ll bring that here. In Cleveland, I like the way we did whatever.’. So it’s gaining knowledge from being around other people and being in different situations.”