2013-14 Chicago #Bulls: Derrick Rose is back, Boozer will yell, Thibs is a machine. #NBA

Easy.

Easy.

If you or anyone else you know was excited when Derrick Rose was set to play his first NBA preseason game since before the 2011-12 season, then I’ll just go out on a limb and assume that you and those people are probably currently breathing into a brown paper bag. It’s okay; I’ve gone through six already. In the last hour.

Today marks the beginning of the 2013-14 NBA season, which means at least 82 games of Chicago Bulls basketball. Last year’s team played the entire regular season and postseason without Rose. They won 45 games during the regular season and even managed to eliminate the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs, in seven games. After stealing Game 1 from the Miami Heat in the second round, the Heat regrouped and swept the rest of the series.

Outgoing Bulls: PF Louis Amundson, SG Marco Belinelli, SG Daequan Cook, SG Richard Hamilton, PF Vladimir Radmanovic, PG Nate Robinson, PF Malcom Thomas

Amundson, Cook, Radmanovic and Thomas simply filled the roster last year, but the losses of Belinelli, Robinson and even Hamilton will hurt the Bulls a little bit. Belinelli improved as the year went on, especially on the defensive end, and the Bulls will miss having an offensively competent, 6’5″ 2-guard who can handle the ball effectively. Nate Robinson was seemingly every Bulls fan’s most and least favorite Bull, but I think he ultimately won a lot of folks over with his postseason heroics. While Hamilton played in only 50 games, he was still a serviceable player, but one who could never seem to avoid injury.

Incoming Bulls: SG Mike Dunleavy, PG Mike James, PF Erik Murphy (Rookie, Florida), Tony Snell (Rookie, New Mexico)

For whatever reason, there are still some Bulls fans who continue to lament the loss of sharpshooter 2-guard Kyle Korver, but I’ve been over it since the day he was officially no longer a Bull. Belinelli was looked at as a replacement for Korver by many, and wrongfully so. I don’t think Dunleavy is as high caliber of a player as those two, but his shot is close to Korver’s, and he can make a play every once in a while, a la Marco. Good enough for me. James will be an emergency/garbage time player, and being 38 years young, that’s suitable for him. Snell, the Bulls’ 2013 first-round pick, probably won’t play much at all in 2013-14, but he’ll turn just 22 in less than 2 weeks and comes from a solid basketball program. Murphy will play even less than Snell, but with the NBA essentially wiping out prototypical power forwards and replacing them with “stretch 4s” who can shoot the long ball, Murphy will certainly have a role on this team going forward.

Good times...

Good times…

The Backcourt: DERRICK ROSE IS BACK! Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, it’s time to look at what’s in the Bulls’ guard stable. Obviously, things start with Rose. He looked great throughout the preseason and appears to be the most confident he’s ever been during his pro career. I truly hope that along with working out and shooting during his idle time, that Rose was watching the game and attempting to learn as much as he possibly could. Rose is the Bulls’ clear-cut floor general, and if he can become more of a point guard who’s a scorer rather than a scorer who’s a point guard, things could get very ugly, very quickly for the rest of the NBA. Kirk Hinrich is back for another dance and really, the Bulls just need him to be average. Hinrich is still a capable ballhandler, distributor and defender (let’s not foray into his shooting woes), so as long as too much isn’t heaped on his plate, he should do just fine. Jimmy Butler will be the starting shooting guard this season, and everyone and their grandmother is predicting that Butler will be one of the NBA’s breakout stars this season. I doubt he’ll come remotely close to All-Star recognition, but he will easily be the best 2-guard the Bulls have had in several years. I’m still not a fan of the Marquis Teague pick in 2012, but I suppose that if he can push Hinrich for playing time this season, the pick was at least somewhat worth it. The world would be a better place if Teague were 2 inches shorter, but then again, the world would be a better place if Krause and Co. hadn’t screwed the Bulls’ dynasty out of potentially another title or two.

The Frontcourt: Yeah, so Omer Asik is a Houston Rocket, and has been since the beginning of the 2012-13 season. The Houston Rockets made him an offer the Bulls probably never intended to match, and the most promising (in my opinion) big the Bulls had was as good as gone. Center Nazr Mohammed is back and should get quality minutes as a a valuable frontcourt reserve the Bulls so desperately need. Power forward Taj Gibson will be playing under his new contract for the first time this year, a 4-year, $33 million extension he signed last Halloween, and the pressure is on Taj to not only produce, but produce at a level high enough that would make the Bulls’ brass feel comfortable in amnestying Carlos

Scream on, 'Los.

Scream on, ‘Los.

 Boozer over the summer of 2014. Gibson’s production dropped in 12-13 slightly, but I believe that he’ll be relied on more in 13-14 than any other time since his rookie year, and that reliance will utlimately pay off. Boozer, on the other hand, will probably end up averaging close to 16, 17 points and 8, 9 rebounds per game and most fans will still do everything in their power to obliterate him. I get it; he’s become the Bulls’ convenient whipping boy. He frustrates the hell out of me plenty (How about instead of screaming for Jo to give a little help D, you provide the help yourself, Carlos?!), but I’m objective enough to admit that with a healthy Boozer, the Bulls are a better team than they are without Boozer at all. There was a time when I couldn’t stand the sight of Joakim Noah. It was bad enough that I felt he was an unbridled idiot at the University of Florida. Hearing NBA commissioner announce that the Bulls were selecting him with the ninth pick of the 2007 NBA Draft about damn near sent me over the edge, figuratively. The feelings didn’t get any better during his tumultous beginning with the Bulls, either. But now, he’s my favorite Bull, with all due apologies to fellow Chicagoan, Derrick Rose. Simple and plain, Noah is the Bulls’ engine. He was the best all-around center in the NBA last year, and those who weren’t already aware got to see the greatness that is Noah’s passing ability on a nightly basis. Granted, Noah did miss 16 games and was plagued by that damn plantar fascitis in the playoffs, but I’d still take him over any other center in the NBA, no bias involved. I don’t hate Luol Deng. I just don’t think he’s an elite NBA player, or has ever been one. I’ll readily admit that he is one of the better small forwards in the NBA, but one of the best? That, would be a stretch. Deng is in the last year of his ridiculous contract, and if he wants a new deal that also includes a hefty amount of dollars, he’ll perform like the good all-around hooper that he is in 13-14. I believe that Deng is capable of so much more than he produces, and has all too often faded into the background when there’s a play to be made. With Rose back and on a mission, Deng won’t hit that 20/8/4 line that I’ve been waiting for, for years. But if he can stay healthy, and not tail off on the defensive end where he is most highly valued, he’ll help the Bulls rack up Ws and himself rack up dollars in free agency.

Too much swank, Tom, Too much damn swank.

Too much swank, Tom, Too much damn swank.

The Coach: Tom Thibodeau enters the 2013-14 season with a regular season winning percentage of .683, which obviously includes a mere .549 percentage from the 12-13 season. In their first two seasons under “Thibs,” the Bulls finished with the NBA’s best regular season record before being eliminated in the playoffs. It’s true that injuries played a part in those premature exits, but Thibs didn’t help matters as much as he could, especially on the offensive end. Since 2010-11, the Bulls have been a top-five team, defensively, but just mediocre when it comes to the other side of the game. When you’re a stout defensive team, there isn’t the impetus to score 115 points a game. This is clear. However, the Bulls aren’t without some talented, versatile weapons. Fortunately, Rose will lead a new Bulls’ offense that will hopefully be able to score more points, more efficiently. Some will be quick to opine that a new offense will be the difference between another early playoff exit and a NBA title, but I would disagree on the grounds that regardless of scheme, missing players or being forced to suit up ailing ones takes an expert offensive scheme and marginalizes it. Besides X’s and O’s, Thibs could probably not seemingly drive Deng into the ground in terms of minutes played, which would benefit both parties. Other than that, I really don’t see any glaring flaws in Thibodeau’s coaching abilities. The Bulls will come out and play 48 minutes just about every night, and that goes double for the defensive side of things. Hopefully, the controversy surrounding the departure of one of his top former assistants is nothing to acknowledge, and Thibs does his (semi) madman thing and guides this team to even greater things.

In Summation: DERRICK ROSE IS BACK! Yes, you were made aware of this earlier, and I felt I should remind you again. No NBA team had a better offseason than the Bulls, because Rose’s return could basically be viewed as an offseason acquisition. The Houston Rockets acquired a new, top-5 player in center Dwight Howard, but I’d still argue that the Bulls had a better offseason because I feel the Bulls are closer to a title than the Rockets, even with Howard and shooting guard James Harden. Supposedly, Deng feels disrespected because he hasn’t been re-signed, or even offered an extension. Touch cookies. I’m sure we’ll get the customary “walk year” play from him, which means we could see an elevated Deng or deflated one. Hinrich will likely be okay and won’t make me pull my hair out, but I’m sensing some epically frustrating play from Boozer this year. It’s okay, ‘Los. Nikola will relieve you, starting with the 2014-15 NBA season. Noah is over the plantar fascitis, and sore groin that plagued him this preseason, and I believe he’ll come close to matching his per36 numbers from last year. The first person to tweet “The Butler Did It” will be blocked, without prejudice. Dunleavy won’t draw my ire as much as fellow Dookies, Deng and Boozer, but that’s because he wasn’t an overhyped media creation in college that benefitted from playing for a diminutive bully. Hit a freakin’ jump shot, Mr. Teague. For the love of everything that is good, hit a freakin’ jump shot. I think Snell will ditch the  cornrows in favor of a Gumby fade, and show Thibs late in the season that 14-15 will be his coming-out party. Murphy will connect on at least 35% from 3 and be confused for Kyle Korver about 1,273 times even though the two don’t really favor each other all that much. Nazr Mohammed will cement his status as the greatest Kenwood Academy alum to ever play in the NBA. We’re just going to ignore the fact that Mohammed is the only Kenwood Academy alum to ever play in the NBA, okay? Thibodeau will become the spokesman for Ricola, and, during testy negotiations with the company, leave them for Hall before realizing that both just wanted to objectify his damaged vocal chords. It will finally be recognized that no fanbase in all of professional sports is greater than the Bulls’ fanbase. Now… SEE. RED.

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Save us, Chicago Blackhawks, you’re our only hope!

Chicago Blackhawks, 2012-13 NHL Western Conference Champions

Chicago Blackhawks, 2012-13 NHL Western Conference Champions

Except for my college years, I have had the privilege to live in the city of Chicago. I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago and also lived on the north side for a spell, specifically in the Lakeview area. My entire life, I have been a fan of Chicago’s major professional sports teams, except for the White Sox. No, I do not hate the Sox, even though I am a (currently, and not always) diehard Cubs fan. I was actually a Sox fan until the 1994 strike, and at the time, Frank Thomas was my favorite baseball player. In my household, sports and an affinity for them were almost mandatory, thanks to my mother. Admittedly, I have nothing on Bill Swerski’s “Superfans,” but I have no qualms with letting anyone know where my pro sports loyalties lie. Yes, this includes my allegiance to the mostly hapless Cubs.

Get some, Kaner. Get some.

Get some, Kaner. Get some.

Saturday, June 8, the Chicago Blackhawks eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings from the playoffs, winning the Western Conference Finals, 4 games to 1. After right winger Patrick Kane scored what seemed to be the winning goal with just under 4 minutes left in regulation, Kings center Mike Richards, playing in his first game since Game 1 due to a concussion, notched the equalizer with just 10 seconds left to play. After a scoreless first overtime, Kaner completed the hat trick 11:40 into the second extra session, sending 22,237 fans at the United Center into a frenzy. The rest of the team swarmed Kane, captain Jonathan Toews didn’t touch the Clarence Campbell Bowl, the team took the customary picture surrounding a guy in a suit and their trophy, and Blackhawks fans from Chicago to Uranus celebrated like it was 1999. For a brief moment, the victory made most Chicagoans forget about their love for other Chicago pro sports teams and how much they have frustrated us of late.

Chicago Cubs: With a current record of 25-35 after yesterday’s 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs are still at least a year or two from being legitimate title contenders. It’s wonderful that the Cubs have a top-10 farm system, but farm systems don’t win ballgames. The St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Pirates are the class of the National League Central at the moment, but the Cubs haven’t been as bad as their record. Their Pythagorean W-L record is 30-30, which for this group of 25 would be reason to celebrate if it weren’t just the Pythagorean W-L. Even though this squad has been a bit better and more competitive than the 2012 version, this is still a bad Cubs team that will probably finish 2013 in the neighborhood of 100 losses. Bright side: Another high draft pick. Not-so-bright side: More mostly craptastic baseball to watch through this summer.

Chicago Bulls: Nearly everyone and their grandmother got tired of the hoopla surrounding point guard Derrick Rose and his possible return from a torn ACL, which he suffered at the end of Game 1 in the first round of last year’s playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers. It got to the point that even the most ardent Rose supporters didn’t want to hear his damn name anymore. Playing without Rose for the entire ’12-’13 season, the Bulls grinded and finished 45-37. They also actually won a first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets. Unfortunately, the Miami Heat ain’t the Nets and dispatched the Bulls in 5 games, winning their second-round series, 4 games to 1. I had serious questions about this team before the season, and they still exist. There are nights, when fully healthy, that the Bulls look like legitimate title contenders. There are others, when fully healthy, that the Bulls look like a very good team that won’t ever get over the hump. Rose should be ready for the start of the ’13-’14 season, thankfully. Still, I’m not sure this is a team that can consider itself better than the Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, and even a healthy and properly-coached Los Angeles Lakers team. I actually expect some fairly large moves to be made this offseason, hopefully involving small forward Luol Deng and/or power forward Carlos Boozer.

Chicago Bears: For some strange reason, tons of Bears fans were fooled by the Bears’ performance during the first half of the 2012 season. I assume they totally disregarded the weak schedule and at times, anemic and inconsistent offense. In addition, an opportunistic and not necessarily elite defense that made all sorts of wild plays in the first half wasn’t nearly as effective in the second half, which put more pressure on the Jay Cutler-led offense. Oy vey. After the Bears missed the playoffs despite finishing 2012 with a 10-6 record, Lovie Smith and Co. were shown the door. Replacing him at the helm is renowned quarterback guru and former CFL head coach Marc Trestman. Cutler will probably be better under Trestman, but he’s still Jay Cutler. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher retired after failing to re-sign with the Bears and not getting much attention from other teams. 2011 first-round draft pick Gabe Carimi was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers yesterday…for a sixth-round pick. The Bears defense got a bit younger, but I’m not sure if they’ll be any better than they were last season. 2013 could be better for the Bears, but they’ll need more than a little bit of luck to even reach the Super Bowl, in my opinion. Bear Down, though!

Chicago White Sox: To the delight of more than a few White Sox fans, Kenny Williams left his general manager position to take a higher one within the organization. Replacing him was the highly respected Rick Hahn, who probably actually values building a decent farm system and not being the pretentious maverick that Williams was. Granted, Williams did make moves that partially led to the Sox’ 2005 World Series title, but he has also made moves that can be attributed to the team’s awful list of prospects and current state of mediocrity. I’d also like to assume that Hahn would never blame poor attendance on the recession and make bold proclamations that make even residents of a mental ward chuckle. The Sox currently have a record of 27-34, Paul Konerko is hitting .235, Adam Dunn is hitting .165 with a slugging percentage of .398, John Danks is still overpaid and manager Robin Ventura would probably relive his “fight” with Nolan Ryan than suffer through being the skip of a team that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But, hey, there’s still southpaw Chris Sale…

Besides the Cubs, the other teams I mentioned aren’t really all that terrible. However, they’re not even in the same stratosphere as the Blackhawks. This can be written with confidence even though the Blackhawks didn’t even make it past the first round in the 2011 and 2012 playoffs. The Hawks have a great mix of young and older talent, and are led by a great head coach, Joel Quenneville. They’re also a very deep team, with scoring punch on lines 1-4 and a solid stable of defensemen. Oh, and starting goalie Corey Crawford and his backup, Ray Emery, are pretty damn good, too.

It’s true that the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup Finals matchup with the Boston Bruins will be tougher than any of their previous playoff series this postseason, but I don’t see them wilting under the pressure in the same fashion that the Pittsburgh Penguins did in the Eastern Conference Finals. In fact, I think a team that has won 7 of their last 8 games is amped to play for their Stanley Cup title since 2010. As frustrating as this team can be at times, they’re also very exciting to watch. It’s also exciting to think about their future, with young established players at the pro level and some of the best prospects in the game waiting for their shot to skate with the big boys. Ignoring the future and concentrating on the present, the Blackhawks are the hottest and best ticket in town, and could salvage what may be a very disappointing 2013 for fans of Chicago’s major pro sports teams. *looks around, ends transmission*

P.S. No shade to the Chicago Fire and Sky. I love y’all, too.

2012 NBA Playoffs: No, we can’t skip to the Finals.

image

Derrick Rose? Emotion?

It really wasn’t that long ago when many of us felt a 2011-12 NBA season was out of the question. The owners decided they wanted more of the pie and obviously the players felt otherwise. NBA commish David Stern’s ugly mug was on my television far too many times, expressing to NBA fans that he and the owners wanted a season more than anything else. Then there was player rep and then-LA Lakers point guard Derek Fisher (who I absolutely despise) on my television not long after Stern, expressing to NBA fans that he and the players wanted a season more than anything else. Bullshitting. Posturing. Pandering. More posturing and pandering. A bit more bullshitting. Voila: Anyone who chose to watch was “rewarded” with a shortened 11-12 season of 66 games, which began with four star-studded games on Christmas Day.

The playoffs begin today and like last year, both the Eastern and Western Conference’s top seeds are occupied by the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, respectively. In a season that wasn’t really plagued, but more marred by injuries to key players, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and Spurs HC Greg Popovich managed to keep their teams ahead of the pack. Lob City was mostly “meh” to anyone who has seen an alley-oop, the Magic didn’t trade their star after all, Lamar Odom threw a tempter tantrum, and Jeremy Lin and Ricky Rubio were both more placebo than medicine.

Matchups:

Eastern Conference.

#1 Chicago Bulls (50-16) vs. #8 Philadelphia 76ers (35-31)  Prediction: Bulls in five. Besides Lou Williams, the 76ers have no one who is a semblance of an offensive threat. Derrick Rose averages at least 9 assists per game and we see lots of “finga gunz”.                                                  
#4 Boston Celtics (39-27) vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks (40-26)  Prediction: Hawks in six. The Hawks are good enough to win this series in five or six, but can somehow flip a crappy switch and lose in five or six.

#3 Indiana Pacers (42-24) vs. #6 Orlando Magic (37-29)  Prediction: Pacers in five. With Magic center Dwight Howard out for the rest of the season with a back injury, I don’t see how they can beat anyone in a playoff series, let alone the Pacers, one of the league’s better teams this season.

#2 Miami Heat (46-20) vs. #7 New York Knicks (36-30)  Prediction: Heat in four. Oh, if only Knicks PG Jeremy Lin were available for this series. Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony will score 25+ per, but they’ll still get swept by arguably the best team in the league when healthy.

Western Conference.

#1 San Antonio Spurs (50-16) vs. #8 Utah Jazz (36-30)  Prediction: Spurs in five. Don’t anticipate a repeat of last year’s 8 over 1 “upset”. The Memphis Grizzlies were a far better team than the Jazz, and that included when they played the Spurs in the playoffs without SF Rudy Gay.

#4 Memphis Grizzlies (41-25) vs. #5 LA Clippers (40-26)  Prediction: Grizzlies in six. The Clippers, even with All-Star PG Chris Paul and the guy who dunks over Kias, wouldn’t have much of an honest chance against a Grizzlies team without PF Zach Randolph. Too bad he’s back and healthy.

#3 LA Lakers (41-25) vs. #6 Denver Nuggets (38-28)  Prediction: Lakers in four. I think we’re going to see some very, very, very good Kobe in the 2012 playoffs. Maybe Danilo Ganillari can steal a game for the Nuggets. Wait. Nah.

#2 Oklahoma City Thunder (47-19) vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks (36-30) Prediction: Thunder in five. If Knicks center Tyson Chandler were still a Mav, I’d actually pick the Mavs to win this series in six. Essentially, NBA scoring champ SF Kevin Durant and PG Russell Westbrook averaged 25.5 points a night. Too bad the useless Brendan Haywood is Chandler’s replacement.

I don’t foresee the Bulls having any major problems with the 76ers unless the Bulls suffer a key injury. Collectively, the Bulls starting five is better than Philly’s and I trust Thibodeau’s defensive plan to shut down Philly more than I trust 76ers coach Doug Collins with effectively stopping/slowing down the Bulls offense, which was mostly impressive this season.

Ideally, Rose will realize that he doesn’t need to shoot 22-25 times a game and that assists are sexy. While 76ers PG Jrue Holiday is a long, decent defender, he can’t stop Rose one-on-one. Maybe 76ers SF Andre Iguodala could, but then Deng would hopefully terrorized whoever checked him.

The Bulls are allegedly completely healthy, and I know I want to see how well they play when all hands are on deck. SG Rip Hamilton will be under many a watchful eye, as his signing was viewed by more than a few as the move that would ultimately propel the Bulls past the Heat.

I believe the Bulls have enough to win a title. There’s no superstar, or even All-Star (sorry, Deng stans) on the roster besides Rose, but despite that and injuries galore, this team still managed to win 50 games. Some of that success has got to leak into the playoffs. Right?