Bulls

Fire acquire midfielder Larentowicz

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Fire acquire midfielder Larentowicz

Thursdays Major League Soccer SuperDraft wont have much suspense for the Fire. The club traded its first-round draft choice on Wednesday in another indication the roster will be built differently for the 2013 season.

Last season the Fires key new acquisitions were three young foreign players Rafael Robayo, Federico Puppo and midway through the season Brazilian midfielder Alex. Robayo and Puppo didnt finish the season with the Fire and Alex was an only moderately successful replacement for attacking midfielder Sebastian Grazzini.

So, this time around the Fire has gone after MLS veterans. Javier Leon, president of soccer operations, took forward Maicon Santos from D.C. United it the first round of the MLS re-entry draft and later added midfielder Joel Lindpere from the New York Red Bulls in exchange for an international roster spot.

On Wednesday, though, came the biggest new acquisition Colorado Rapids midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. The Fire got the respected veteran along with the No. 30 pick in Thursdays SuperDraft in Indianapolis but had to give up their first round pick No. 11 overall, along with allocation money and a 2013 international slot.

Sounds like a good deal for the Fire, though. Larentowicz has played in the MLS Cup final three times and came out on the winning side with the Rapids in 2010 his first year with that club.

Larentowicz, 29, was only a fourth-round draft pick by the New England Revolution after playing collegiately at Brown. He played for the Revs (and on two MLS Cup finalists) from 2005-09 before being sent to Colorado in a trade that has Chicago tie-ins. In that deal Larentowicz and Wells Thompson went to the Rapids in exchange for Cory Gibbs.

Gibbs retired in the offseason after his 2012 campaign was limited to three games before he was forced to undergo major knee surgery. Thompson was a late season pickup by the Fire when the club was successfully bidding to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Larentowicz played in 96 matches (95 of them starts) in three seasons with the Rapids. He had 14 goals and two assists and played every minute of four playoff games in 2010 that resulted in Colorado claiming the MLS Cup with a 2-1 win over FC Dallas.

"I had three great seasons in Colorado, Larentowicz said in a statement released by the Rapids. "I leave with no hard feelings and will always reflect fondly on our championship year.

Later Larentowicz said he is "happy for a new challenge ... It feels good to go to a place where you're in their plans. It's something I look forward to being a part of.''

The Rapids were reluctant to give him up.

"Parting ways with Jeff was not an easy decision for us, said Paul Bravo, Colorados technical director." But we gain a lot of roster flexibility with this trade as well as the chance to get another young talent through the SuperDraft.

Leon described Larentowiz as "a hardnosed player who has consistently been one of the best midfielders in MLS."

Colorado wasnt the only MLS club trading for better position in Thursdays draft. New England sent its No. 4 pick to Toronto FC to claim the top overall pick, suggesting one player participating in this weeks Combine in Florida made a huge impression.

The downside of the deal is that the Fire doesnt figure to do as well in the SuperDraft as it did with its first-round picks of the last two years. Defenders Jalil Anibaba (2011) and Austin Berry (2012) became starters almost immediately and Berry was last seasons MLS Rookie-of-the-Year.

Following the draft Fire players will gather in Bridgeview for two days of medical exams, then depart on Sunday for the first phase of preseason training at Ave Maria, FL.

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.