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

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 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 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's first-round mock draft (pending trades) below and don't forget to visit 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.

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

As Cubs players and generations of fans celebrated Christmas in October, Jon Lester had to be The Grinch for a moment. Sure, the Cubs would party from Saturday night into Sunday morning, probably get “a little bit” drunk and enjoy the franchise’s first National League pennant in 71 years. But the reality of the Cleveland Indians would set in once the Cubs got rid of this hangover.

“We ain’t done anything yet,” Lester said during the Wrigley Field celebration after the Cubs eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Nobody likes second place.”

There are enough Boston Red Sox connections in this World Series that Lester already knows what to expect, starting with Indians manager Terry Francona, who became a father figure as he dealt with a cancer scare as a rookie.

There are ex-teammates from those championship teams in 2007 (Coco Crisp) and 2013 (Mike Napoli, Andrew Miller) at Fenway Park. There is the accumulated experience from throwing 119 postseason innings (2.50 ERA) and becoming one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

“I don’t want to sound like a smart-ass, but we got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared. I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready. I know their players are going to be ready, just based on one player alone, and that’s Mike Napoli. I know what he brings to the table. He helped transform our 2013 team.

“Come Tuesday, we got to put the gloves back on. We got to get ready to fight and grind and do what we’ve done well all year. We got four more games to win.”

After limiting the Dodgers to two runs in 13 innings, and being named the NL Championship Series’ co-MVP along with Javier Baez, Lester should be a worthy Game 1 starter opposite Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner.

This is why Lester took a leap of faith with Cubs bosses/ex-Red Sox executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts’ family and what had been a last-place team in 2014.

Two seasons into the $155 million contract that signaled the Cubs would be serious about contending – and not just in the Baseball America/Baseball Prospectus prospect rankings – the franchise has won 200 games and four playoff rounds and remained in position to dominate for years to come.

“Theo and Jed and the front office and Tom and all these guys had a belief,” Lester said. “I believed in that belief. The talent here speaks for itself. I didn’t do anything – I came here because I wanted to win in Chicago. I’m just happy to be here and be a part of this and get to this point.

“(But) we’re four hard wins away from doing what we set out to do in spring training.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

As bright as the future looks on the North Side, Lester will be 33 next season and his left arm has already accounted for more than 2,000 innings during his decorated career. John Lackey turned 38 on Sunday. Jake Arrieta only has one more season before becoming a free agent.

The Cubs built their franchise around young hitters, with the idea that they can figure out the pitching later with free agents, change-of-scenery trades and bounce-back guys. Easier said than done. They have a true No. 1 starter now in Lester, who as a free agent watched a recruiting video that imagined what it would be like when the Cubs win the World Series.

“This isn’t it,” Lester said. “It’s been a tough playoffs for us to this point and it’s only going to get tougher. We’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to show up Tuesday in Cleveland ready to play. We’ll see what happens.”

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Positives were difficult to find in last Thursday’s 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. So maybe the place to look for improvement lies in just getting rid of a few negatives.

As far as positives, Leonard Floyd would be the obvious one, with two sacks, one a strip and fumble recovery for a TD. Ka’Deem Carey would be another, with 10 carries for 48 yards, his second straight game with high-impact running; Jordan Howard has been shackled for two weeks, so the Bears have needed another backfield-committee member contributing. Jeremy Langford may have trouble finding work when he comes back from his ankle injury.

But negatives have far outweighed positives, which is how you get to 1-6. Fixing three of those will go a long way toward improving their chances against a Minnesota Vikings team that appeared eminently beatable in losing at Philadelphia on Sunday:

Stop the penalty hemorrhaging

For the third straight game the Bears had 10 penalties walked off against them. This "streak" started after eight infractions in the win over Detroit. The 10 in Green Bay cost the Bears 108 yards in a game where their offense netted just 189. Seven of the penalties were charged to the defense, six of which gave the Packers first downs.

The three offensive penalties were mental. A wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) lined up offsides. The quarterback (Matt Barkley) drew a delay flag. An offensive lineman (Ted Larsen) was illegally downfield.

All of which point to a discipline problem getting worse, not better. Whether the fault lies with players losing focus or coaches not instilling a mindset is a debate, but meaningless if the problem is not addressed. “There were a lot of penalties out there,” said cornerback De’Vante Bausby, who committed three of those penalties. “We had a good scheme and plan but we just didn’t finish in the second half as a group.”

Stop the dinking

While Brian Hoyer replacing Jay Cutler scaled back the downfield element of the offense, the loss of an emerging Kevin White should not be understated. The de facto rookie may not have gotten in the end zone but he was leading the team in receptions before he suffered a broken leg in the win over Detroit.

Since the loss of White, however, the offense has shrunk. The Bears averaged 7.5 yards per pass attempt through four games with White. Without White the average is 7.0, and that is including the blip in Indianapolis, which stands as a complete anomaly. The average was 5.9 in the Jacksonville loss and 5.0 in Green Bay.

Hoyer’s ball-security orientation has been a positive, but also a limiting factor. Cutler last year had one of the best ball-security seasons of his career, yet the offense was able to average 7.5 yards per attempt.

The Bears scored two of their three rushing touchdowns in games with White, who may not yet be the field-stretcher his 4.35 speed but the prospect of White arguably made for a more threatening offense than even with the contributions of Cam Meredith.

Stop the Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings have suffered injuries at a rate like the Bears’ but have overcome them. Until Sunday in Philadelphia, when the Eagles sacked Sam Bradford six times and hit him more than a dozen other times. The Vikings never sacked Carson Wentz, who wasn’t special but was good enough while Minnesota was self-destructing.

The Vikings have beaten the Bears the last three times they’ve met, the first time that’s happened since 1999 and 2000, which is also the last time the Bears started 1-6. And the Bears have lost three straight.

The Bears were able to end the first three-game skid by focusing on one game: the Lions. The result was shutting down a very good offense, the lowest yardage-allowed (263) of the season and the firmest commitment to the run game (29) attempts.

Morale inside the locker room can only be revived by a win. One game. This game.