Cubs

Ask Aggrey: Boozer, Stoudemire trading places?

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Ask Aggrey: Boozer, Stoudemire trading places?

It's the second round of the playoffs and I don't have a flight to catch, a hotel to check into, a morning shootaround to attend or a daily commute on the Edens Expressway to the Berto Center. For the last part, I'm especially thankful, but watching the second round of the playoffs, it feels strange to already be back in Chicago for good. I'm not complaining about being able to sleep in my own bed for consecutive nights, but I had prepared both my mind and body to be going through the daily grind of the NBA's second season into June or so.

Even after Derrick Rose got hurt, I thought the Bulls had a good chance to get back to the conference finals and after Joakim Noah's injury, I figured a conference-semifinals appearance was still possible. But all that's in the past and while I'll still be covering the happenings of the Bulls throughout the offseason, things will definitely slow down and until training camp, this mailbag will become a monthly occurrence, instead of weekly.

Don't be a stranger, as I'll still be here to answer your questions about free agency, potential trades, the upcoming draft, the Olympics, summer league and even the other teams still in the playoffs. By the way, the Professional Basketball Writers Association, a group yours truly is a member of, recently announced the winners of their annual awards, minus the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, which will be released later in the week.

Phoenix's Steve Nash won the Magic Johnson Award for the player who best combines on-court excellence with cooperation with the media over Minnesota's Kevin Love, San Antonio's Manu Ginobili and Chris Paul of the Clippers, Boston's Doc Rivers won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award for essentially the same qualities in a coach over Denver's George Karl, Orlando's Stan Van Gundy and Rick Carlisle of the Mavericks, and the Milwaukee Bucks won the Brian McIntyre Award for the league's top media-relations staff over fellow nominees Oklahoma City, Memphis and none other than the Bulls. On to this week's mailbag:

Could there be any talks between the Knicks and the Bulls about a Carlos Boozer for Amar'e Stoudemire deal? -- Eric C.
Eric, as much as Bulls fans are down on Carlos right now, like Rip Hamilton, it's highly unlikely that he's going anywhere this summer. Look, it's no secret around the league that he doesn't have a great contract, particularly if he declines as a player toward the end of the deal. The Knicks know this and while they've had issues meshing Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, Carlos doesn't necessarily help them get better, as his jump-shooting, face-up game mirrors Stoudemire's, minus the athleticism and with less post-up play. Also, while Stoudemire might be somewhat of an upgrade, he's also injury-prone and if the Bulls passed on him in free agency two years ago, they aren't more likely to take a gander on him now, with all of that uninsured money left on his contract.

Do you think that the Bulls can get O.J. Mayo this off-season? -- Irron C.

Irron, I know that since Mayo's name came up as a potential Bulls target before last season's trade deadline, he's been discussed amongst fans and media alike as a potential addition. However, I'm pretty sure that ship has sailed for a number of reasons, foremost being that the Bulls already have a starting shooting guard for the upcoming season in Rip. Furthermore, assuming Memphis' asking price hasn't changed, Omer Asik or Taj Gibson are not even remote possibilities to be dealt in any type of sign-and-trade scenario.

Mayo's reputation has improved since he so willingly accepted and thrived in a reserve role after his ill-fated team plane card-game fight with teammate Tony Allen, but the Bulls value character so highly, the front office would be hard-pressed to bring in a player who could even potentially disrupt the team's chemistry. Lastly, the Bulls have little financial flexibility, so unless the restricted free agent's market value is far less than expected, it's unlikely that he'll end up in Chicago.

There's been a lot of talk around the NBA about players flopping (cough LeBron cough), do you think it's becoming a bigger problem? -- Tyler E

Tyler, I don't know if flopping in the NBA is more of a problem than it's been in the past, especially when I think back to the heyday of the Sacramento Kings a decade or so ago, when several of their players, most notably Vlade Divac, took it to a new level. I actually think this season's playoffs have been pretty physical thus far, though I may be biased from watching the Bulls, a team that almost never exaggerates contact, play all year. That said, I have taken notice of some of the obvious flopping by some of the other playoff teams, including the Heat. I'm no Jeff Van Gundy, but I do agree that it should be officiated somehow and maybe penalized with a delay of game as a warning, then subsequent technical fouls.

Something related that I think needs to be watched more closely is offensive players intentionally drawing contact on "rip-through" moves and also using pump fakes to get their man in the air, then drawing contact with no actual intention of making the shot, the former of which was supposedly a point of emphasis for officials heading into the season.

When do you think we will see D-Rose next on the court? I've heard everything from February of next year to him missing a whole season. -- Evelyn T.

Evelyn, the timetable for recovery from ACL surgery can vary from athlete to athlete -- I remember seeing current Houston Rockets guard Kyle Lowry bounce back from the same injury and play at a high level in summer leagues in four months while he was a college player at Villanova -- but after Derrick's procedure, it was reported that he should be back in 8-10 months and back to the court by early December at the earliest. Personally, as bad as I can imagine Derrick is aching to play basketball again after the rough season he had, I'm guessing that no part of the process is rushed and he actually starts playing for the Bulls again around the All-Star break, though he could certainly start working out and then practicing long before that. Ultimately, his body will dictate his return, but I guarantee you that all attempts at caution will be exercised by the team, no matter how the Bulls are faring at the time.

Taj Gibson really impressed me, especially when Joakim went down. Will we see him have a bigger role next season? -- Marty H.

Marty, Taj really rises to the occasion in the playoffs, doesn't he? From last year's postseason, particularly in the conference finals against Miami, to this season's first-round series against Philadelphia, he's truly stepped his game up on a national stage, which should result in the Bulls having to pay a high price to keep him when he hits free agency next summer. But as far as him getting a bigger role, while I believe Tom Thibodeau really trusts him, especially on the defensive end of the court, the Bulls simply don't have enough frontcourt scoring with both him and Joakim on the court together for an extended period of time.

With Derrick and possibly Luol Deng out to start next season, the Bulls will have to rely upon Carlos (and Rip, for that matter) for scoring, which means Taj's role will probably stay the same, though a slight bump in minutes wouldn't shock me. Now, if he can continue to develop his mid-range jumper and back-to-the-basket game, he may have more of a featured role while he's on the floor, which would really benefit both Taj and a potentially retooled "Bench Mob" when he's playing against second-unit players.

Predicting NLCS Game 3: Cubs are due for a win...right?

Predicting NLCS Game 3: Cubs are due for a win...right?

The Cubs are "due."

That's a funny thought in general. For anybody or any team to be "due," that's saying that everything will even out eventually.

That's often true in baseball. But that's over the course of a 162-game season, far and away the longest sample size in professional sports. 

In an abbreviated postseason series, there really is no such thing as "due" because the season's over before you get a chance to see things even out.

The baseball gods don't ensure that everybody gets the same amount of luck at the same time. The sample size is absolutely too small for that. Plus, the Cubs have had plenty of luck and caught their fair share of breaks already this postseason.

So while it's easy to point to some of the Cubs numbers and say things like "they're not going to hit .162 as a team forever," that's not necessarily true because there are only two guaranteed games left in the 2017 for Joe Maddon and Co. It is absolutely possible the Cubs' season is over before they get a chance to correct their offensive woes.

Though, it would be pretty stunning to see the Cubs offense finish a 9-game October stint with Jon Lester and Jose Quintana as the team's leading hitters (both are 1-for-4, .250 average). 

Like a deliriously-happy, champagne-soaked Theo Epstein said early Friday morning in our nation's capital, "we always hit eventually."

So if I'm a betting man (which I'm not, unless you count fantasy sports), I'm betting on the Cubs offense finally waking from their fall slumber. 

They're simply too good to continue these numbers. This team has combined for a .513 OPS, which is essentially a team of Andres Blancos, a 33-year-old backup infielder who defined "light-hitting" with a .192 average and .549 OPS in 144 plate appearances this season.

The urgency is now a very real thing with the Cubs, and that's something — maybe the ONLY thing — that has really motivated this 2017 squad. They've really only played well when they've had a sense of urgency and they did not have that the first two games in Los Angeles.

Which is understandable. After such a physically, emotionally and mentally draining Game 5 that didn't end until early Friday morning, the team had to travel all the way across the entire continental U.S. only to wind up getting diverted to New Mexico where they sat on the tarmac for five hours.

Every single starting pitcher on the team was exhausted and working on short rest, and that's not to say anything about Wade Davis, who gave everything he had just to get the Cubs to the NLCS.

The Cubs have now had a full day off to clear their heads, get back to center and find their mojo again.

I'm betting that's exactly what they've done, because this team has proved over and over again how resilient they are. I mean, really, a 2-0 deficit is nothing for a team that stared down a 3-1 deficit in the World Series a year ago.

Prediction

Cubs 5, Dodgers 2

The Cubs started out the two-game set in LA by having a few good at-bats against the game's best pitcher (Clayton Kershaw) before things got awful against the Dodgers bullpen.

But if we're talking about being "due," that Dodgers bullpen is due for a regression on some level. They've been absolutely incredible this postseason, allowing only one baserunner to the Cubs in eight innings thus far.

Breaking things down individually, there are positive signs for several guys:

—Kris Bryant struck out only three times in 8 at-bats in LA, which is actually an improvement considering he struck out 10 times in 20 at-bats in the NLDS.

—Addison Russell lined a homer to left off Rich Hill for the Cubs' only run in Game 2. He had some really good at-bats in Game 5 and the game's biggest hit when he doubled home two runs off Max Scherzer.

—Javy Baez walked in Game 2. I mean, if that's not enough of a reason for positivity, what is??

Either way, the Cubs offense has their hands full against Yu Darvish (10-12, 3.86 ERA) and Alex Wood (16-3, 2.72 ERA) the next two games and if they win one of those two, Kershaw awaits in Game 5 Thursday.

Five teams you can't overlook come IHSA playoff time

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Five teams you can't overlook come IHSA playoff time

With the IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show just days away, here are five teams that you need to keep in mind when the brackets are announced. They could cause big matchup problems once the postseason begins. You can catch show live this Saturday night starting at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago+ with live streaming at nbcsportschicago.com/IHSAPairingShow and via the NBC Sports app.

Class 8A

Edwardsville: The Tigers (5-3) got off to a rough start and lost their first three games, including an opening week stunner, 53-49, to Naperville North. It was a game that the Tigers led 42-0 in the second quarter. However, coach Matt Martin and company are riding high with a five-game winning streak. They feature an explosive offense led by junior QB Kendall Abdur-Rahman and a deep group of backs. Keep an eye on freshman RB Justin Johnson. 

Naperville North: The afforementioned Huskies (5-3) have lost two of their last three games but don't be fooled. Naperville North can trade offensive punches with everyone in the 8A field behind QB Drake Davis, WR Nick Calcagno and a deep group of receivers. Senior LB Ryan Marrano leads the Huskie defense. The team has marquee wins over Edwardsville, Wheaton North, Lake Park and Naperville Central.

Class 7A

Mount Carmel: The Caravan (5-3) will wind up starting the state playoffs on the road.  And trust me: every opponent will not be excited to see this tradition-heavy program come to town. Mount Carmel will look towards its running game with QB Alek Thomas (a TCU baseball and football commit) along with a big offensive line led by senior Jeremy Cooper (Cincinnati). 

[MORE: Edgy Tim's Week 9 Power Rankings]

Class 6A

Providence Catholic: The Celtics (5-3) are coming off a tough Week 8 loss to Loyola. Don't let the three losses fool you. The combined record of the three teams Providence lost to is 22-3. Keep an eye on senior RB Deshon Gavin (WIU commit), a big and physical offensive line and a strong group on defense. Providence has won five of its last six games.

Class 5A

Rochelle: It is the last season for Hubs' veteran head coach Kevin Crandall. Rochelle (5-3) will look to run the football early and often. They also have a fast, physical defensive unit. Rochelle's three losses this season come to the likes of Sterling (8-0), Morris (7-1) and Johnsburg (8-0) and this team will be a tough out for every opponent in 5A. Rochelle is 157-95 under Crandall, including three 12-win seasons.