Cubs

Smooth sailing at Bulls' halfway point or changes on the horizon?

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Smooth sailing at Bulls' halfway point or changes on the horizon?

The leagues All-Star break isnt until later this week, but in this condensed, 66-game regular-season schedule, the Bulls are at the true halfway mark. Despite their coaching staff representing the East team in Sundays exhibition game, at 25-8, they no longer have the NBAs, or even the conferences best record heading into Monday.

But besides injury concerns, something that has adversely affected virtually every team in the league, there isnt much to gripe about in Chicago these days. Even Saturdays ugly loss to New Jersey, a game in which the Bulls uncharacteristically displayed a lack of fight, shouldnt cause the panic button to be pushed, especially since the team has gone 7-3 without reigning league MVP Derrick Rose in the lineup.

If you ask the players and coaches, however, theyll tell you the squad isnt playing its best basketball yet, which can be interpreted as both good and bad. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has a philosophical approach to the marathon of the NBA season.

I look at it in totality. Where we are from the beginning of the season to where we are now. I think you factor in a lot of things. I like the way I think were playing tough on the road. I think theres a lot where we still can improve upon, but you have to go day by day and I think weve done a pretty good job of putting ourselves in position to win, and weve just got to keep finding ways to win. Everyone goes through stretches where their schedules tough and you may have some injuries, but youve just got to navigate through that, he said. Its always hard to judge anything until its over. Then, you can look back at the season in its totality to say, Did you achieve the things you thought you could achieve? So, I think this is a snippet of a season. Theres still a long way to go and for us, we just want to strive for improvement each and every day.

I was confident in them based on last year, just the way they approached things and how they got better as the season went along, and knew how serious that they are, so I think their attitude and approach going into this season didnt change any. They came in ready and all of them have had opportunities to start, play extended minutes and any time theyve been called upon, theyve been ready and so, I think thats the trademark of a good team, he continued, talking about his players mentality. I think if youre a championship-caliber team, you approach it that way and thats what you shoot for. I think these players are not here by accident. We went after them because of their makeup.

Indeed, not only the Bulls depth, but the opportunistic nature of players who dont always get to showcase their skills, has been impressive. It sounds clich, but the entire rosters ability to make the most of their chances is truly remarkable, especially considering the health status of multiple individuals throughout the campaign.

You hope for the best. If everyone could be healthy, thats a great thing, but at the same time, were going to have to deal with whatever weve got. If everyone is healthy, thats great. I just say, what were going through right now, its better that were going through it now. I think itll make us a better team later, Luol Deng observed about the teams excuse-free approach and overall chemistry. If youre on a team that youve got a lot of guys that arent used to each other or demand the ball, it would be a lot different, but we all share the ball, we know who needs the ball, who creates off the dribble, who needs screens and all that.

Not that there havent been hiccups. In addition to starters Deng, Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton each missing significant time due to injury, another aspect of the season that cant be ignored is how, though theyve mostly taken care of business in games theyre supposed to win, the Bulls have at times struggled against their playoff-bound peers, particularly on the road. Not that any defeat sits well with the team, but losses at Miami, Atlanta, Memphis, Philadelphia and Bostonnot to mention a rare home setback at the hands of Central Division rival Indianwith or without key players in the lineup, seemed to really stick in their craw.

With the March 13th trade deadline soon approaching the question is whether the Bulls front office will look to make a move for the seasons stretch run. Signing more help in the backcourt, whether Mike James is inked for the remainder of the season or someone else is brought in, is almost a given, as is signing a veteran backup big manmanagements patience should be admired, as the list of currently available players isnt an impressive one and a better player could shake loose from another team as time goes byto bolster interior depth.

But while trade talk for Magic center Dwight Howard has cooled as people are finally understanding that the All-Star doesnt want to play in Chicago, with the news that Rose reportedly has signed off on the Bulls making a play for Lakers big man Pau Gasol, another rumor is heating up. A deal for Gasol would center around Carlos Boozerand likely backup point guard C.J. Watson, given the Lakers need for an upgrade at the positionbut while that makes some sense on paper, Gasol, whether he was an All-Star this season or not, is still a tier above Boozer on the post-player totem pole and with the money still owed on Boozers contract, theres no reason the Lakers wouldnt hold out for a more attractive deal.

Furthermore, as the original report came from a Spanish news outlet, it makes the speculation even more dubious. Knowing Roses emphasis on team chemistry, even if he was privately frustrated with Boozers play, the chance he was less than discreet about his desire for a personnel changeeven if he shares the same agency with Gasolis unlikely and smacks of either Gasols representatives trying to get ahead of the trade rumors that have dogged their player since the aborted Chris Paul deal that would have sent him to Houston just before the season started.

Focusing on the return of Roseremember, this is a player who declined to recruit the likes of LeBron James and has been lukewarm to Howard coming to Chicago in a trade, all in deference to his current teammatesto the lineup suddenly seems a lot more palatable, when compared to chasing pie-in-the-sky scuttlebutt. As the old axiom goes, If it aint broke, dont fix it.
What do you think? Should the Bulls look to make a significant move before the trade deadline or stay the course in their championship quest?

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion. 

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

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AP

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

GLENDALE, Ariz. — On a day when Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada took live batting practice for the first time this spring, off in the distance was a lanky White Sox prospect standing in the outfield grass.

But Alec Hansen was doing more than shagging flies. He was watching both hitters very closely.

“I was looking to see how much pop they had,” Hansen said of Abreu and Moncada. “I kind of look at that to see the difference in power between minor league ball and the major leagues. It’s nice to see it’s not a huge difference. That makes me feel a bit more comfortable.”

At 6-foot-8 — actually 6-foot-8-and-a-half, according to his spring training physical — Hansen is a big man with big plans for his baseball career. He might be quiet on the outside, but he has booming expectations for himself on the inside.

“I want to be the best,” Hansen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

The best? The very best?

That’s what Hansen aspires to become, though later in our conversation, he did dial back a notch, settling for becoming “one of the best.”

Either is fine with manager Ricky Renteria, who is overseeing these uber-confident White Sox prospects and accepts their lofty expectations.

“I think their mindset is where it’s supposed to be,” Renteria said. “None of these kids are concerned or consumed with the possibility of failure. Much more they’re consuming themselves with the understanding that they might hit some stumbling blocks, but they’re going to have a way to avoid overcoming them and push forward and be the best that they can be.”

In his first full season in the White Sox organization, Hansen led the minor leagues with 191 strikeouts. He’s proud of that accomplishment but admitted something: He’s not that impressed because he didn’t do it where it really matters — in the major leagues.

When you watch Hansen pitch, it’s easy to see that the talent is there. His coaches and teammates rave about his ability. With his enormous size and power arm, he is loaded with strengths.  

Though there is one weakness that Hansen acknowledges he needs to work on.

“Sometimes I have a tendency to think too much and worry. I think worrying is the worst thing that I do just because I want to be perfect,” Hansen said. “I think everyone wants to be perfect, some more than others, and I worry about things getting in the way of achieving perfection.”

To Hansen, that doesn’t mean throwing a perfect game. He actually takes it one step further.

He wants to strikeout every single hitter he faces.

“I love striking people out,” Hansen said. “Not having to rely on anyone else and just getting the job done myself and knowing that the hitter can’t get a hit off me. That’s a great feeling. That they can’t put it in play. Like a line drive out. That’s terrible.”

At some point, Hansen will have to lower these impossible expectations for himself. This is an imperfect game. There’s no place for nine-inning, 27-strikeout performances. Players end up in the Hall of Fame because they learn how to succeed with failure.

In the meantime, Hansen is here in big league camp watching and learning anything and everything.

“I’m a good observer. I listen. I don’t really talk too much. I’m a pretty quiet guy. I like to sit back and observe and see how these guys go about their business. Just trying to be at their level, hopefully one day surpass them.”

Surpass?

“It’s kind of hard to surpass some of these guys. I mean, they’re at the tip-top, like the pinnacle of the sport,” Hansen said. “I guess you could say, to get on that level and then be one of the best in the league.”

He might be on his way.