Cubs

Gibson, Bulls reach deal in the nick of time

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Gibson, Bulls reach deal in the nick of time

From the outside looking in, things looked bleak for Taj Gibsons future with the Bulls as they played their season opener Wednesday night, an eventual win over the Sacramento Kings.

But behind the scenes, the Bulls brass, namely general manager Gar Forman, and Gibsons Chicago-based agent, Mark Bartelstein, were hammering out the final details of the fourth-year power forwards four-year, 38-million contract extension in the 11th hour before the league-wide 11 p.m. Central time deadline, which Bartelstein confirmed to CSNChicago.com shortly after Gibson spilled the beans.

Gibsons original request of 40 million over four years was deemed too high by the Bulls and the organizations offer of 32 million over the same span was considered too low by the player and his camp, so Forman and Bartelstein met in the middle, continuing negotiations while Gibson blocked four shots to help the Bulls start off the season on a good note. Afterwards, the relief was written all over the Brooklyn natives face.

They changed the outcome of the contract and this is where I want to be. Both sides just came together and got it done, Gibson said. It was just stagnant, but they finally came to an agreement. We just didnt want to go through this. Turned down a less amount of moneythe security.

Im relieved. I feel much better that we got a win today. But having Gar and Pax come in here and say that they want to keep me for a long time, it kind of brought tears to my eyes. I said I want to be here for a long time, I want to retire here. It was great, he continued. As soon as I came in, they were waiting for methey just really stressed how much we need to get this done. Its a load off my back and now I can focus on basketball.

I got my normal looks, tried to play hard, just do what I can and in the back of my head, I just went out there and did what I could. I couldnt really worry about signing or anything like that. Just wanted to go out there and play.

Gibsons teammates were overjoyed for the popular (amongst both fans and his peers) 27-year-old, calling him by his in-house nickname and jokingly suggesting that he should take them all out to eat at a fancy restaurant in celebration. Indeed, its hard not to root for the USC product, a lightly-regarded 26th overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, who has morphed into a player respected across the league.

"We're excited about it. We said all along, Taj is an important part of our core moving forward. His development -- he's developed over the years -- is so important to how we play and how we defend. He fits the culture of who we want to be. We said it was very important that we get him signed. It did go down to the last minute, but we're very, very excited to have Taj in the fold for four more years after this year and I know he's very excited to be a Bull, Forman told CSNChicago.com.

"It was important to me to get this done because it's important to the team and to the organization. Taj is everything we want to be. You want to pay guys that put that type of effort out each and every day. We've talked about the window of opportunity we have to have success here and we feel Taj is a real important piece to that, thus we wanted to get him locked up long-term."

Concurred teammate Luol Deng, who has observed Gibsons progress since he first entered the league: Im excited, man. Im happy to see that. He deserves it. Works hard, deserves it.

Taj is a great player, man. Hes a guy you dont want to lose. Im glad theyre keeping him. He works hard. Nothings going to change. He definitely deserves it and Im happy to see it. Such a nice guy. Its always good to see that.

Added Carlos Boozer, the teams current starter at power forward, which is also Gibsons position: Im so excited for him. Listen, he works his butt off, man. Hes been amazing since Ive been here, getting better and better. Its scary how talented this kid is and were like a family. We dont want anybody to go. We want everybody to be here, thats how we approach it. Im super happy for Taj to get that deal done.

He did a great job of not trying to let it affect him. He came to the gym every day, was a professional, worked his butt off. He never talked about it, he wasnt trying to make it a distraction. But you could tell. I think its the second moment of truth and Im just happy for him. Its done and over with. Now, he can breathe and relax, just play ball, have security to take care of his family. All I can do is smile right now, continued Boozer.

It changes your life, man, to be honest. You worked your butt off for a long time. You can appreciate it. I remember my second contract, going to Utah. It changed my life. I was able to take care of my family, get my mom a crib, take care of my loved ones, my wife, my kids. It changes your life.

I just told him to relax, not to think about it. There was no way were going to let you get away from us and we need you with us to be successful. I think Pax and Gar did a good job of communicating that to him, as well. It was just a matter of ironing out some of the details. Even if it was at the 11th hour, they got it done.

Gibson has been deluged with questions about his contract extension since the beginning of training camp, which has only increased in recent days, particularly after fellow fourth-year players like Golden States Stephen Curry and Torontos DeMar DeRozan, his college teammate, were awarded extensions earlier in the day.

It probably would have been on my mind. Either way, you look at thats a lot of money and if you turn it down, you think about it at night. To some people, that may not be a lot of money, but youve got to look at the fact of the matter that theyre putting it in your face like, Here, and youve got to look at the injuries and its an even longer season this year, so you never know, Gibson explained.

Its draining. Its really draining because every day, somebody just asks you about it. Somebodys talking to you, telling you, You should take this. Most of the time, its people who really dont understand the game thats constantly in your face. You can get more, you should do that. Its all about if youre happy or notin the back of my head, you do want to see whats out there, but you dont want to be in some hellhole somewhere, just chasing the bucks and this is a great team here, its a great family organization.

Its more about winning, having a chance to just compete on a night-to-night basis on a solid team. Its a great organization. I dont have to worry about the terrible things behind the scenes, he added. You look at my draft class, a lot of guys arent even getting extensions. A lot of guys arent even seeing the kind of money that theyre offering me. A lot of guys are getting declined, but when I saw DeMar, I saw guys getting their deals done, I was like, Theres only so much time left to make a decision.

Gibson leaned heavily on Bartelstein, who would bring him coffee and McDonalds early in the morning while sharing new developments, for advice during the process.

It kind of dawned on me. I told them I didnt want to be a selfish player, I just wanted to get whats fair and I looked at the numbers. Its a lot of money, I cant really turn down that much money, especially for the security. You never know what can happen all through the year and my agent, He was great. he really talked to me. He talked to me like he was my father. I asked him, What do you think we should do? In this position, a lot of people can say a lot of different things like, Youre crazy, or You shouldnt have took that money, but when youre in this position, its hard. Its hard turning down that much money, knowing that you have to go through a whole season without injuries and knowing what you have to do, and having that chip on your shoulder night in and night out. You never know what can happen, Gibson said.

At the end of the day, I asked him, What do you think? Dont give me the bullcrap. Just be real with me, and he was real with me. He said, I dont want you to turn this down. He said, I know we can probably get more this summer, but its all about if youre happy or not. I want you to take this. Its too much of a risk to go out there. You never know what can happen.

The fact that its even a longer season, a lot of ups and downs, knowing that at any given moment, I could pull a groin, I could hurt my knee, knock on wood. Just having that security and knowing thats going to be there, no matter what, thats the main thing. I just didnt want to go out there and basically, get hurt, continued Gibson, who referenced teammate Derrick Roses injury.

There were a lot of players I didnt even think liked me, just talking to me. Back to the games we played in the preseason, guys were telling me, Good luck with your contract, good luck with this, rooting for you, just take your time, do whatever makes you happy, and it was great to know that. But it just came down to security. It came down to knowing you could take this or wait until next summer and go through all this whole stressful times over again in the summer. Or just take this elephant off your back and go out there and play freely. We just made a choice just now and it feels great.

I look back and just think, Wow, its just crazy, because I remember when I first got drafted, the heartbreak that I felt when I got drafted, people not knowing how good I could be, people just kind of slandering my name about not wanting me here and I had a chip on my shoulder from Day 1. And finally, to come down and see all the love I get throughout the city of Chicago and to see that the Bulls really want me hereit really means a lot, but I know Ive still got a long way to go and Im going to help this team win, he went on to say. Youve still got to realize that you can be traded at any given moment, but I told them before, Im not trying to chase every last dollar. Thats not my intention. I just want whats fair because I know I go out there and I bust my tail on a night-to-night basis, and I feel like I can be a starter in this league.

Cubs go quietly into winter, their reign as defending champs finally over

Cubs go quietly into winter, their reign as defending champs finally over

The armchair psychology went like this: Force the Los Angeles Dodgers onto the plane, let them think about it during the long flight to the West Coast, get in their heads during Friday’s day off and feel all the momentum and pressure shift in this National League Championship Series.

At least that’s what the Cubs told themselves and the media, whether or not they actually believed it, playing the kind of mind games designed for lesser teams. From Theo Epstein and the top of baseball operations down, the Cubs had enough connections to the 2004 Boston Red Sox to hope they could become only the second team to overcome an 0-3 LCS deficit.

That dream officially ended at 10:15 p.m. on Thursday when Willson Contreras lined Kenley Jansen’s 93.3-mph cutter at backup shortstop Charlie Culberson, another symbol of Dodger Way game-planning and the overall depth to withstand the loss of All-Star Corey Seager as he recovered from a back injury. The mosh pit formed in the middle of Wrigley Field, where it got very quiet except for a few sections of Dodger fans cheering and Gary Pressy playing the organ.

The Cubs are no longer the defending World Series champs after an 11-1 loss that had no drama or suspense and felt more like a getaway day. There will be no Game 6 or Game 7 this weekend at Dodger Stadium.

“I only experienced winning,” said Albert Almora Jr., a rookie outfielder on last year’s forever team. “Jon Jay told me: ‘Look at the expressions on their face when they’re celebrating on your field and let that sink in and learn from that and build from that.’”

You believed Almora, a baseball gym rat, when he stood at his locker and said: “It hurts.” But when the clubhouse doors opened to the media roughly 30 minutes after the final out, you didn’t really feel any tension in the room, more like a collective exhale, a time to sit around and drink a few Presidente beers and realize that the Dodgers deserved to go to the World Series for the first time since 1988.

“They just flat-out beat us,” said Kris Bryant, who got the first hit off Clayton Kershaw, a garbage-time homer in the fourth inning when the Cubs were already down 9-0.

Bryant is everything you could ever want in a franchise player – diligent on the field, polished off the field, even more productive in many ways after his MVP campaign, someone who doesn’t even drink during clinch celebrations – but even he admitted he still felt the World Series hangover that bugged the Cubs.

“I was just looking back at last year,” Bryant said. “I didn’t get home until like November 10 last year with all the festivities after winning and stuff. I think that really caught up to some of us this year. So I don’t know, maybe the extra time to recoup, maybe train a little harder. I am getting older, so I got to watch that.”

The reporters chuckled along with Bryant in a room where the sound system played classic rock like Dire Straits and Tom Petty. The Cubs know they should be good again in 2018 – and for years after that – and didn’t exactly sound devastated.

To be honest, Wednesday’s thrilling Game 4 win felt like the Super Bowl for this team, Jake Arrieta getting a standing ovation and tipping his cap before signing his free-agent megadeal somewhere else, Wade Davis having the guts to finish off a 48-pitch, two-inning save and the Cubs feeling the adrenaline rush of staving off elimination for another night.

When Jon Lester saw the media gathering by his locker, he joked: “What? I didn’t do s---. Why the f--- do you want to talk to me?”

“Obviously, nobody likes to lose, but we’ve been in the NLCS for three years in a row,” said Lester, who raised the bar for expectations when he signed a $155 million contract with a last-place team after the 2014 season. “You know how special that is. I know everybody kind of goes back to the first half of the season and they like to nitpick. But we won the division, made the playoffs and made it to the NLCS.

“Sometimes, you’re not always going to be in the World Series. The Dodgers are a really good team. They’re playing really good baseball right now. This series showed it. Sometimes, it is what it is, and you just kind of move on.”

The Cubs had Lester, a three-time World Series champion, lined up for a Game 6 that is no longer necessary. Jose Quintana – who shined against the Washington Nationals in the last round and battled Kershaw to a draw in Game 1 – didn’t give his team a chance this time.

Quintana, a signature trade-deadline move made with multiple playoff runs in mind, allowed runs in the first and second innings and left the bases loaded in the third for Hector Rondon, who watched Kike Hernandez drive the second of his three home runs into the right-center field basket for a grand slam.

The Cubs were desperate enough that John Lackey, five days before his 39th birthday, pitched two innings in what was likely his last game in a big-league uniform. Lackey kept walking out of the clubhouse and declined to speak with reporters: “No, I’m good, man.”

“It’s not easy to be the best,” outfielder Jason Heyward said, “but that’s what you want. You don’t want easy. You don’t want to expect to be going home every year. You want to be in October. You want to have a chance to win the World Series. And you want to be one of the teams that expects to be there.”

That’s what the Cubs will be next year, when the last day of the season won’t have the same big-picture perspective. It will be either a stinging loss or spraying champagne.

“Seems like a hundred years ago, right?” Lester said about his decision to sign with the Cubs. “It’s one of those Catch-22s. You look at it as it’s a disappointing season for the simple fact that we didn’t make it to the World Series. But you got to look at the positives, too, in that moment whenever you get on a plane to go home.

“We gave ourselves a chance. It just didn’t happen this year. We got beat by a better team. We beat them last year (in the NLCS), and they beat us this year, so you got to tip your hat sometimes, and you move on. We’ll be ready to go in spring training.”

Sluggish offense plus Dodger pitching equaled disaster for Cubs in NLCS

Sluggish offense plus Dodger pitching equaled disaster for Cubs in NLCS

Your National League Championship Series final: Cubs 8, Enrique Hernandez 7.

When the Cubs look back at why they struggled in the NLCS and what they’ll need moving forward, many questions are likely to involve fixing an offense that was dormant for almost all of the postseason.

Thursday night’s 11-1 loss in Game 5 of the NLCS to the Los Angeles Dodgers put an exclamation point on a lopsided series, one in which the Cubs were outscored 28-8. Hernandez nearly matched the Cubs’ entire output in the clincher with three home runs and seven RBIs. While the pitching shares much of the blame, a Cubs offense that produced a .168/.240/.289 slash line and scored 25 runs this postseason is perhaps an even bigger culprit.

“(The Dodgers) pitched very, very well from start to finish,” said utility man Ben Zobrist. “It was tough to overcome that. We are going to get our homers. But as a whole, I felt like they kept us off-balance and they kept us from having good quality at-bats consistently. When we did get something going it wasn’t much. It was one run here or there or a couple runs here or there. But they pitched a great series, kept us from really exploding like they can as an offense.”

The Cubs’ bats have been ice cold for the entire postseason. Aside from a nine-run showing in their Oct. 12 NLDS-clincher over the Washington Nationals, the Cubs never appeared to be as formidable a bunch as they were in 2016.

Their scores by game entering Thursday’s loss were: 3, 3, 2, 0, 9, 2, 1, 1 and 3.

By the time the Dodgers plated two early runs off Jose Quintana, the Cubs looked to be in for an uphill battle against three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. That condition was upgraded to next-to-impossible by the time Hernandez blasted a grand slam off Hector Rodon in the third inning to put the Dodgers up 7-0.

As it were, the Cubs finished with four hits and didn’t score until Kris Bryant homered to make it 9-1 in the fourth inning. It was Bryant’s first round-tripper of the postseason.

The struggles of Bryant and teammate Anthony Rizzo were well-documented. The pair produced a combined .169/.210/.206 slash line with two home runs, nine RBIs, three walks and 28 strikeouts in 81 plate appearances. Bryant thought it had to do with a team that was worn down running into outstanding pitching.

“It’s a little of both,” Bryant said. “It took a lot out of us that first series, some really good pitching with the Nationals. Obviously with the Dodgers, too. I think they had a group of players that really turned it on at the right time and were clicking whereas we didn’t. That was the difference. But a ton of credit to them, they just flat out beat us.”

Bryant and Rizzo weren’t alone in their struggles.

The leadoff position alone went from a force of life in 2016 with Dexter Fowler to virtually no production this postseason. Jon Jay, Albert Almora and Zobrist went a combined 4-for-36 with three hit by pitches from the leadoff spot.

Catcher Willson Contreras (.748) was the only Cubs regular to finish with an OPS above .700. Javier Baez produced a .451 OPS, Zobrist registered a .416 and Jason Heyward finished at .403.

By comparison, the Dodgers have six players with at least 20 plate appearances this postseason with an .800 or better OPS. That doesn’t of course count Hernandez, who made only his fourth start of the postseason and went nuts. He homered off Jose Quintana in the second inning to give Los Angeles a 2-0 lead. His grand slam in the third after Quintana exited put the game out of reach. And Hernandez’s ninth-inning blast off Mike Montgomery to center was icing on the Dodgers’ cake.

Figuring out how to remedy their offensive issues figures to be one of the Cubs’ top priorities this offseason. One way the team could help jumpstart Bryant and Rizzo is by acquiring a better leadoff hitter, something they lost when Fowler departed via free agency last winter. The team saw its production from the leadoff spot drop from an .815 OPS in 2016 to .745 in 2017.

“We did enough to beat Washington and that’s all you need in the postseason,” Rizzo said. “We didn’t do enough to beat the Dodgers. They pitched better than we hit. End of story.

“They’re good. There’s no excuses. You’ve got to play better. But at the end of the day, it is what it is. It’s baseball. You hit the ball at the guy or you don’t.”