Could familiar face be Rose's interim replacement?

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Could familiar face be Rose's interim replacement?

Help wanted: Veteran point guard, capable of starting, but comfortable coming off the bench when All-Star point guard returns from injury late in season. Must be willing to play for defensive-minded coach, familiarity with Bulls organization and Chicago area is a plus. Salary negotiable, but hometown discounts appreciated.

Scouring a list of available free-agent point guards over the next few months will inevitably occur, but one player in particular fits the above description: Kirk Hinrich. "Captain Kirk," the erstwhile fan favorite known for his toughness, was jettisoned to Washington in a 2010 draft-day deal to acquire cap space in anticipation for that summer's free-agency class and since then, has moved on to Atlanta, where he settled into a backup role behind young Hawks' starting point guard Jeff Teague.

While he's happier than when he was with the perennially lottery-bound Wizards, from his visits back to the United Center, one gets the feeling that Hinrich longs to be back in Chicago, where he reportedly still owns a home. Hinrich is viewed as being on the decline by many, including even some in the Bulls organization, but his familiarity with the team, though many of his teammates will be new faces to him, likely acceptance of moving to the bench when Derrick Rose returns from injury -- after all, he's done it before -- and the fact that the price could be right for a reunion makes him a likely target in free agency this summer.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has consistently expressed his appreciation for many aspects of the veteran's game and it's conceivable that Hinrich's toughness and willingness to defend would make a good match with the coach's philosophy. The question is, depending on the market -- the 2012 free-agent class isn't exactly rich on talent -- would Hinrich be willing to take a 2.5 million mini-mid level exception from the Bulls, who don't have much financial flexibility with four eight-figure contracts and nor much impetus to go over the cap with the punitive new CBA in a season where the team isn't expected to be a title contender, just to come back home?

If Hinrich taking less money from the Bulls compared to what he could get from a team in genuine need of a point guard -- not just a temporary fix, while a former MVP recovers from injury -- then it's even less likely that other available veteran floor generals, like Steve Nash, Andre Miller or Chauncey Billups take the bait. All sound great, but are probably too expensive for the Bulls and could chafe at being relegated to a backup role when Derrick Rose returns, likely after the All-Star break.

Two other candidates could be Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd. Felton, though, is coming off a disastrous season in Portland in which he was maligned for coming into the season out of shape, whispers arose about him helping to turn the locker room against ousted Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan -- like Thibodeau, a defensive-oriented sort -- and after being talked about as a borderline All-Star with the Knicks before being traded to the Nuggets in the Carmelo Anthony deal, had one of the worst seasons of his career.

Kidd, on the other hand, is an intriguing possibility and while money could also be an issue with him, at this juncture of his career, he's still productive enough to start, if not dominate, and he probably wouldn't mind mentoring Rose, in addition to being able to play with him -- Kidd isn't quick enough to defend the most explosive point guards in the league, but has the size to defend many shooting guards, as well as being able to allow Rose to play off the ball or spot up as a three-point threat, as he's become a much-improved shooter late in his career -- when he returns. Furthermore, while he was never the vertical athlete Rose was, Kidd was quite the speedster when he entered the league and had to retool his game after suffering his own knee injuries and undergoing micro-fracture surgery, which robbed him of his speed.

After the aforementioned options, barring a trade, there's a considerable drop-off on the list, with the likes of journeymen Shaun Livingston, Ronnie Price and Royal Ivey in the bargain-basement bin. None of those players are better than incumbent backup C.J. Watson, who has a 3.7 million team option for next season.

The view of Watson made be skewed after his sub-par first-round series against Philadelphia, especially his decision to pass the ball to Omer Asik in the waning moments of the Bulls' Game 6 elimination loss, but he battled through a multitude of injuries to have a solid overall season. Watson is already familiar with the system and the personnel in Chicago and is well-liked by his teammates, so there's still a possibility that he could return.

While he isn't a starting-caliber player, third-string point guard John Lucas III is another player to think about, as he would be looked at as a full-time backup if he was to return to the Bulls. The fan favorite certainly had his moments during the season, so there would be reason to bring him back on a minimum-salary deal, but if he was to get a guaranteed contract for slightly more money or a multi-year deal elsewhere, Lucas will probably be gone.

Notre Dame players react to the firing of Brian VanGorder

Notre Dame players react to the firing of Brian VanGorder

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — James Onwualu and Brian VanGorder came to the Irish defense at the same time back in 2014, when Onwualu was moved from wide receiver to (briefly) safety right around when the now-former defensive coordinator was hired. 

Under VanGorder’s watch, Onwualu developed into a reliable outside linebacker and ultimately a senior captain. So when Notre Dame fired VanGorder on Sunday — a day after the school’s student section chanted “Fire Van-Gord-Er” during that brutal loss to Duke — it wasn’t necessarily an easy piece of news to digest for Onwualu and some of his teammates. 

“Obviously everybody was talking about it, even our student section seemed to have a strong stance on that,” Onwualu said. “It was shocking to me. Obviously this is the only defensive experience I've ever had. He's really all I knew defensively. So it's difficult for some older guys, you know, and me included to put that aside and just take the next step into something new.”

But that’s what Notre Dame has to do with VanGorder’s rocky tenure in the rearview mirror and Greg Hudson taking over as defensive coordinator, with coach Brian Kelly taking an increased role in his team’s leaky defense. 

Players understood why the move — which came in the wake of Kelly’s postgame comments saying everyone’s job wasn’t safe — was made, turning to the “it’s a business” line more frequently seen in a level of the sport in which the players are paid (which isn’t to say they’re wrong for viewing college football that way). 

“It was a bit surprising,” junior linebacker Nyles Morgan said. “I knew him personally obviously playing defense, but it’s a business. And so we’ve really bought into what coach (Greg) Hudson’s been saying, and we have to move forward. We can’t linger in the past.”

It’s not like Notre Dame players were blind to the problem, though. The team’s first sack of the season came when Morgan dropped Duke quarterback Daniel Jones on Saturday, and the defense allowed 50, 36 and 38 points in Notre Dame’s three losses. 

“The whole defense knows that we need to play better ball, and obviously if we were playing better ball, that maybe not would have happened,” Onwualu said. 

Safety Drue Tranquill said he felt some guilt about the firing of VanGorder and had sympathy for his now-former coach. 

“It wasn’t just coach VanGorder’s fault, the entire defense was struggling as a whole,” Tranquill said. “And he happens to be the leader of that. This is a really cutthroat business and I personally feel a sort of responsibility on my end. I can’t just watch the leader of the defense walk out and lose his job. It’s a really hard situation and it’s just real life. 

“It’s just this industry and it’s really cutthroat. So part of me really felt for him. But a part of me realized he probably wants me to rally around the guys in the locker room and he probably wants me out there giving it my all each and every day and not worrying about him, because it’s about Notre Dame. It’s about Notre Dame winning football games, so we just have to come in, positive mentality, and move forward.” 

On the offensive side of the ball, both quarterback DeShone Kizer and left tackle Mike McGlinchey said they fully trust Kelly to do what’s right for the team. And in this case, that meant making a change at defensive coordinator. 

“We lost a great coach, but things needed to happen for us to move forward,” Kizer said. “Coach Kelly makes the decision. We trust in whatever he has to say, and moving forward we'll make the adjustments that need to be made on the offensive side of the ball to pick up our defense and to start playing games and getting W’s.”

“The reaction from us is that football is the way it is and coach Kelly felt that there needed to be a change, and so we made it,” McGlinchey added. “And obviously it's tough when it's a mid-season change and guys are connected to coach VanGorder, and have a guy on our team that is his son (reserve quarterback and holder Montgomery VanGorder). But at the same time everybody understands that changes needed to be made, and that's the decision that coach Kelly made. So we all are behind it.”

Notre Dame players talked quite a bit about how enjoyable practice was on Tuesday and Wednesday, which would seem to fly in the face of the team’s 1-3 record and uncertain chances of becoming bowl eligible this year. Kelly said he fired VanGorder as part of an effort to bring more passion and fun to a team in need of a spark, but knew the decision wouldn’t sit well with everyone on his team. 

Regardless of how the move was received, it’s the one that was made. And Notre Dame needs its defense to play better going forward, otherwise a season that’s teetering on the brink of disaster could go careening over the edge. 

“He was really the one that gave me the opportunity and spent the time and invested in me to be able to play defense and to be able to be where I'm at today,” Onwualu said in describing the conversation he had with VanGorder after his firing. “So just a quick thanks for the opportunity and the time that you spent with me. I don't think it's a huge good-bye. It's like anybody you work with, right? It's a business, you know. Stay in contact and I hope your next step is a good one.”

Theo Epstein keeps the band together with Cubs extending Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod

Theo Epstein keeps the band together with Cubs extending Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod

PITTSBURGH — Theo Epstein namedropped Eddie Vedder in the middle of last year’s champagne-soaked celebration at Wrigley Field, comparing a Cubs team that won 97 games and bounced the St. Louis Cardinals from the playoffs to a band that bursts onto the scene and blows up with an amazing first album. It would only get more complicated, with expectations changing and the Cubs now having to deal with success, the egos and the backlash.

Whatever happens in October — either the franchise’s first World Series title since 1908 or a massive disappointment — Epstein will get to keep the band together and have his friends around for future Pearl Jam concerts at Wrigley Field.

General manager Jed Hoyer will also get a five-year contract extension to match the timeline of the team president’s new deal, which chairman Tom Ricketts announced before Wednesday night’s 8-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development already under contract for two more years, will also be extended through the 2021 season.

“When you have great leadership at the top, it normally filters into the rest of the group,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Every successful organization has that. We have that.

“It doesn’t happen everywhere. It’s not like this everywhere, the way it’s been built, the attention to detail. It’s not just numbers. There’s a very human side to all this. It’s a great balance.”

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Management’s 2021 timeframe matches up with All-Star talents Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, who all remain under club control through that year, along with Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez, part of a 20-something cast that now also includes Jason Heyward, Willson Contreras and Albert Almora Jr.

Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod had all won World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox and saw how New England responded to the 2004 team that ended an 86-year drought. They decided to reunite in the fall of 2011, with Hoyer taking on some of Epstein’s out-front, day-to-day responsibilities and dealing with the executives and agents he knew better. McLeod — who recently interviewed for a top job with the Minnesota Twins that will reportedly go to Cleveland Indians executive Derek Falvey — should continue to be linked to just about every GM job that opens.

“I see this contract, this show of faith from the Ricketts (family) in me as a validation of everybody,” Epstein said. “The contract is really a product of all the hard work that literally hundreds of people have performed to make this a healthier and better baseball operation, from Jed and Jason and Randy (Bush) and Shiraz (Rehman) and Scott (Harris) to all the guys in scouting and player development and the R&D team, the guys behind the scenes.

“Of course, (it’s) Joe and his staff and the players doing a remarkable job on the field at the big-league level the last couple years. So this is a product of everybody’s hard work, and I accept it kind of on their behalf. The strength and stability that we have now is a reflection of what happens when there’s trust, teamwork, transparency from a lot of talented people working together, starting from the very top with the Ricketts family.”