Cubs

Does Sunday's win save Lovie's job?

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Does Sunday's win save Lovie's job?

GLENDALE, Ariz. The real question lurking underneath the Bears 28-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals may not be whether or not it ultimately gets the Bears into the playoffs. It could have advanced that, if the Bears defeat the Detroit Lions next Sunday and the Green Bay Packers are kind enough to dispose of the Minnesota Vikings.

More important for the longer run is how the performance is weighed and assessed by decision-makers at Halas Hall visavis Lovie Smiths future.

Did the game in Arizona help or hurt Lovie Smiths chances of remaining Bears head coach for 2013?

Right now the answer isyes. More on that in a moment.

Considerations

Understand the full process here, because it has not played out yet and wont until after next Sunday in Detroit. Scenarios have been considered, just like mock drafts, and the what-ifs weighed, but nothing is settled one way or the other.

Various individuals tell CSNChicago.com that Virginia McCaskey has been involved in decisions such as retaining Smith last year and will be a voice in the room again.

Of course she will. Shes on the board of directors and she is ownership. She is a non-meddling owner as well, so she is not going to dictate. Thats not her style.

But she will be among those who will rightly want a full and clear explanation of why Smith should be fired. If it is the conclusion of GM Phil Emery or anyone else that a change is needed, that case will have to be made and made convincingly. This is not one persons call.

In other words, some very important names on the Bears masthead will need to be conclusively sold that the head coach is the major problem and impediment to franchise success.

Smith is held in very high regard by Mrs. McCaskey and the organization overall for that matter. Hes brought credit to the organization, if not enough of it to satisfy some, and has represented Bear football admirably in their eyes.

Of course, some of the same could have been said about Jerry Angelo, too, and he was abruptly escorted from his job and the building after 11 years. Dick and Gail Jauron were thought of very highly by board members.

The Bears wont necessarily owe Smith 6 million if they choose to fire him. NFL coaching contracts typically call for the remaining amount to be mitigated by the salary of a subsequent job. If Smith leaves and is hired as an NFL head coach for, say, 5 million, the Bears owe the difference, the 1 million.

Which way trending?

Money wont be a significant element in the discussion, as it was a year ago when the amount at risk was 11 million. But other on-field aspects will be.

Organizations evaluate in large part based on where they project a situation leading. Smith could be 18 games over .500 for his Chicago career with a 10-6 finish, and firing someone with a 10-6 record is not the norm.

More important, however, is how Phil Emery and the board of directors perceive the Bears trend line. The Bears could not hold the Seattle game because the defense, Smiths forte, was put on roller skates for two touchdown drives totaling near 200 yards at the end of regulation and early overtime.

Emery got Smith the receiving firepower requested, with the trade for Brandon Marshall and drafting of Alshon Jeffery. Will Emery and the organization be satisfied with what Smith and his offensive staff have done with what they were given?

And the tipping point is whether or not the gap has been closed between the Bears and Green Bay Packers.

But the defense rose up against the inferior Arizona Cardinals and you are left to wonder how much weight the evaluation process will place on the defense holding that team to 248 yards.

Or the offense failing to top 300 yards for the fifth time in the last seven.

Or special teams giving up a touchdown and putting the offense in a hole with a botched punt return.

It will all be taken into account. If you dont like Lovie Smith, the sometimes-balky performance is one more reason to fire him.

If you think he should get at least the last year on his deal, the play of Julius Peppers and others says you wait until after the Detroit game to decide.

That has always been the Bears way, in any case.

In latest twist to Cubs-Nationals, Dave Martinez will interview for Dusty Baker's old job

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AP

In latest twist to Cubs-Nationals, Dave Martinez will interview for Dusty Baker's old job

Dave Martinez – Joe Maddon’s bench coach during unprecedented runs of success with the Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays – is ready to step outside of the star manager’s shadow and run his own big-league team.

A Washington Nationals franchise coming off back-to-back division titles – while having some big personalities in the clubhouse and obvious internal issues – could still be that ideal opportunity.

The Nationals have reached out to set up an interview with Martinez, a source said Monday, confirming a Washington Post report in the wake of Dusty Baker’s messy exit, eight days after a massively disappointing playoff loss to the Cubs.

Martinez had been an X-factor in Washington’s search two years ago, when negotiations broke down with Bud Black and the Nationals eventually circled back to Baker, the former Cubs manager.

Martinez has the built-in credibility that comes from playing 16 seasons in the big leagues, which would be an asset for a team that has Bryce Harper entering his final season before free agency and Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg at the top of the rotation.    

Martinez, who is fluent in Spanish and analytics, spent the last 10 years working as the bench coach for two data-driven organizations, putting him at the cutting edge of defensive shifts, bullpen management and game-planning systems.    

While Maddon thrives in the front-facing aspects of the job, dealing with the media before and after every game and selling a vision to the public, Martinez handles a lot of the behind-the-scenes issues, putting out clubhouse fires and interacting with the players in one-on-one settings.

The partnership worked to the point where the Rays captured the 2008 American League pennant and the Cubs won last year’s World Series. While the Cubs have advanced to the National League Championship Series for three straight seasons, the Nationals have been knocked out of the first round of the playoffs four times since 2012.

In the middle of the grueling five-game playoff series where the Cubs outlasted the Nationals – which may have been a tipping point against Baker for Washington executives – Maddon lobbied for Martinez to be in the manager mix during baseball’s hiring-and-firing season.

“He belongs in the group,” Maddon said. “I know all these people being considered, and I promise you our guy matches up with every one of them.

“He was such a heady, aggressive, gritty kind of player. Bilingual. All that matters. He's not afraid to have the tough conversations (that) people in that position may shy away from.

“Believe me, I see all the names. There are a lot of good names, and I like a lot of these dudes. But I’m just telling you: To not include his name with those other people baffles me.”

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

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USA TODAY

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

The Zach LaVine timeline for a Bulls debut remains the same, although he’s ahead of schedule in every metric of his return from ACL surgery this past February.

It doesn’t mean he isn’t angling for more work and pushing his limits to learn the offense he’ll be featured in, along with taking contact “here and there,” in his words. He’s supposed to wait nine months from the day of his February 14 surgery before taking contact, which would put him at a November 14 practice before the Bulls go to Oklahoma City.

“I should be doing contact really soon. It all depends on them,” LaVine said in his first public words since media day several weeks ago. “I’m pushing them as hard as I can, but at the end of the day we still gotta be careful. I feel great. I’m doing everything I was doing before. I’m pretty sure I can do contact, but we’ve got to stick to that schedule. But every day I’m just getting back, trying to as close to 100 percent as I can before I come back.”

LaVine was at Air Canada Centre getting a workout in before the Bulls opener against the Raptors and has gotten in heavy workouts on the off days with the assistant coaches in the meantime.

Sticking to the schedule will be on both LaVine and the Bulls, although both sides could be tempted to cut corners a bit. It would be human nature for the Bulls to show the NBA world their centerpiece from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night, as well as LaVine to want to be the frontline player he feels he deserves to be.

“Yeah, it’s definitely hard. I don’t like missing games,” LaVine said. “Before the injury I didn’t really miss any games. I think I missed one or two in my career, so it really sucks just sitting there, not being able to help. I try to help as much as I can from the sideline. You know, give a little advice here and there, but yeah it hurts.”

He’s also in line for a big-time extension, having passed the deadline for extensions for players in his 2014 draft class. He’ll have to wait until the summer, especially since it didn’t make sense for him to extend unless it was a max deal.

“Obviously, I want to be here for a long time,” LaVine said. “And I feel the deal is going to get done, either then or next summer. I don’t have any fear in that. I think I know I’ll be in black and red for a little bit longer. I’m very happy and looking forward to that day as well. The main concern is just getting back on the court, get my legs ready and try to help the team as much as possible until then.”

LaVine was averaging a career-high 18.9 points as a third option behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, but will be featured in Fred Hoiberg’s offense as a first and maybe even second option, too—especially seeing how anemic the Bulls offense has looked in the first two games.

“With the team that we have and the system that (Fred Hoiberg) put in, we’re going to get up a lot of threes,” LaVine said. “When we’re on we’re going to blow some teams out with those threes. When we’re off, as the last couple games have shown, it’s going to be a struggle to score sometimes, but I think that’s where I can come in and help, and I can’t wait to get out there and start playing.”

Never lacking for confidence, LaVine hasn’t been deterred by the losing or even the unfortunate Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic incident from last week.

“We’re building something here. People understand we’re going through a little bit of that process,” LaVine said. “But we’re going to play and win. When I’m on the court, I’m trying to win. Wins and losses do happen. We can always take positives from both of those. That’s how you grow.”

As for Mirotic, LaVine hasn’t spoken to him but has sent texts—as it seems many of the Bulls have reached out to their teammate over the last several days.

“It was unfortunate. That’s what happens when two players are battling I guess,” LaVine said. “I don’t think either of them were in the wrong. It was just something that happened, an altercation. Men are men sometimes. We never should have that happen. But I think we’ve moved past it. Bobby’s in a good spot. We’ve all tried to contact Niko. I think we’ll all be able to move forward.”