Bulls

Cubs-Sox: Samardzija wants the spotlight

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Cubs-Sox: Samardzija wants the spotlight

Toward the end of last season, Jeff Samardzija punctuated a conversation about his future by saying something like this: It would be a shame if I won all those games somewhere else.

Samardzija wasnt bragging or making threats. No one knew who exactly would be running the Cubs or picking up the option year on his contract.

Its just that Samardzija was finally starting to see results and felt like he was on the verge of another breakthrough. He knew the organization had invested a lot of capital in him, and not just the 10 million.

A Chicago guy who grew up in Indiana and starred at Notre Dame wasnt satisfied with being a pretty good reliever, or leaving with unfinished business.

After Theo Epstein took over at Clark and Addison, Samardzija met with the Cubs president and laid out a daily plan for how he would train in Arizona and transform himself into a frontline starter.

The entire city will see how far Samardzija has come on Friday at Wrigley Field, when he takes the ball against the White Sox for the start of a three-game crosstown series.

These are some of my favorite games of the year, Samardzija said. All of Chicago is watching. The place is packed. Its rowdy. Its the atmosphere you want to pitch in.

Samardzija loves the bright lights. Thats one reason why former general manager Jim Hendry and current scouting director Tim Wilken took him in the fifth round of the 2006 draft and gave him a big contract to give up his NFL ambitions.

Thats another reason why the Epstein administration thinks Samardzija and Matt Garza could be difference-makers if the Cubs one day get back to October.

During the offseason, Samardzija purposely moved to his place in Arizona, a distraction-free zone where he joked there is nothing to do except work out and play golf.

Samardzija has the long hair, the dude personality and the Notre Dame pedigree, but that image doesnt quite fit someone who grew up in a strong middle-class family that wasnt afraid of hard work.

I only got in there because I could play ball, not because I could pay tuition, he said with a laugh.

Samardzija has a great sense of humor, and hes clearly comfortable in his own skin. He gets it in a way other professional athletes around the city might not.

Samardzija mentioned how hes looking forward to pitching at Comiskey next month. In his mind, thats what it is.

Its still the Sears Tower, he said. Were stuck in our ways around here.

Samardzija was asked to name his favorite call from White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson.

There are a lot of good ones, Samardzija said. I always liked the ones where he just didnt talk for about an inning-and-a-half. And then all of a sudden hed be like The 2-2two outs Where are the other 15 pitches?

That was when DJ (Darrin Jackson) was there, too. I loved watching those guys. Theyre entertaining. Theyre fun to watch. Theyre fun to listen to. You could always get a good nap in during the Sox game.

Samardzija is a good talker, but he has the numbers to back it up now (4-1, 2.89 ERA, 45 strikeouts in 43.2 innings). After all those growing pains and trips back down to Triple-A Iowa, it wouldnt have felt quite right to put them up in another uniform.

Id rather win games here for the Cubs than anywhere else, Samardzija said. Its where I want to be. I only said that because I had some confidence that I was going to be here and that things were going to go the way I thought they were going to go.

So now its up to me to do what I can this year and next year and really prove to them that I belong here for a long time.

Does Rodney Hood make sense for the Bulls?

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USA TODAY

Does Rodney Hood make sense for the Bulls?

New York Times veteran NBA writer Marc Stein tweeted late Friday that multiple teams were interested in fourth-year swingman Rodney Hood.

We know that the Jazz are one of the rumored teams interested in embattled forward Niko Mirotic and while it wouldn’t seem to make sense on the surface, Rodney Hood could be a good fit for the Bulls.

Hood will be a restricted free agent this summer and the Bulls would retain the rights to match any offer if they felt like the former Duke Blue Devil was the right piece to join the new core of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Kris Dunn.

There is one complication in a potential Mirotic for Hood deal; the salaries don’t quite match. Utah would need to send another player like Alec Burks to Chicago in the deal. The Bulls would have to be OK taking on Burks’ $11.5 million salary for the 2018-19 season and his cap hit in free agency. Good news though, the free agent class this summer is very thin at small forward, the main position the Bulls have a need for.

Another road block, the Bulls are set to max out LaVine this July, and they may be wary on tying up a good part of their cap space for the next four years on two players.

Acquiring Hood hurts the ‘tank’ but you’d have a three-month audition of a 25-year old shooter that on paper would seem to work with the current rotation. If the Bulls felt like Hood wasn’t a good fit, let him walk in free agency. They would then keep their cap space intact for the 2019 super free agent class.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks return to action against Islanders

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks return to action against Islanders

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the New York Islanders tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Erik Gustafsson's season debut.

The Blackhawks recalled one of their top defensive prospects on Jan. 9 but haven't been able to get him some game action yet. All signs point to that changing tonight.

He skated on a pairing with Brent Seabrook during Friday's practice, and was even placed on the second power play unit during special teams drills. Joel Quenneville was excited about the possibility of finally getting Gustafsson into the lineup.

"Good option, good opportunity," Quenneville said. "We’re not for sure but certainly he’s been around, he’s eager to go. I look forward to seeing what he can do."

2. Anthony Duclair's promotion.

He hasn't been in Chicago for very long but Duclair is quickly working his way up the lineup. The newly-acquired Blackhawk registered an assist in his team debut last Friday in a 2-1 victory over Winnipeg, and was put on a power play unit as well.

On Friday, Duclair was promoted to the top line with Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews and continued getting reps on the second power-play unit. Let's see if the 22-year-old can take advantage of that opportunity in a top-six role.

3. Mathew Barzal.

Three rookies will be named finalists for the Calder Trophy at the end of the season. Barzal is a lock to be one of them.

He not only leads all rookies with 48 points, but he ranks 15th in the entire league in the scoring race and is the only first-year player averaging at least a point per game. 

The 20-year-old center has been sensational and he already has two five-point games in his young professional career. To put that into perspective, Patrick Kane recorded his first NHL five-point effort two weeks ago against the Ottawa Senators.