Bears

The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Hornets

The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Hornets

Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011
3:47 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

1. Tom Thibodeau discussed the up-and-down Hornets, who started off the season as the hottest team in the league, hit a slump, bounced back and endured a four-game losing streak recently before beating Orlando Friday night. Center Emeka Okafor is anchoring the defensewith Chris Paul healthy, hes one of the top players in the league. Their health, their strength up frontDavid West is having a terrific yearand I think their bench play, theyre deep. You add a Jarrett Jack, Willie Green, Marco Bellinelli and Jason Smith, you add them to the mix, they can hurt you a lot of different ways, said Thibodeau. They have the ability to put it on the floor, and West has always been a tough matchups for all the bigs up front because of his unique ability to shoot from 17, 18 feet and put it down on the floor, and a very good back to the basket and face-up game. They have a lot of weapons. Paul and West in the pick-and-roll, thats been a tough combination to stop for years. He added: They took a hit with some injuries. Theyre a deep team, I think theyve played extremely well all season long and I think sometimes, you adjusttheyve got two starters that have been outso youve got an adjustment there, but this team is very, very talented. You look at Chris Paul and David West, theyre two elite players who have played at a high level for a long time. Theyve got a number of players on their bench who have played wellits a team thats very capable. Thornton is an explosive guy who can come off the bench and hurt you.

2. Thibodeau also commented on the Hornets wooing him last summer; he turned down New Orleans head-coaching vacancy before taking the Bulls opportunity. I was grateful for the opportunity to interview last year and its a great organization, great city, but Im happy everything worked out the way it did, said Thibodeau. You just trust your instincts in the end. Going through the processwe were in the Finals, actually, when everything was going onand in the end, made the decision based on what I felt what I was most comfortable with. He was complimentary of Hornets head coach Monty Williams, a fellow longtime NBA assistant and first-year head coach, adding, Hes a great guy, hes a great coach, hes paid his dues and hes done an unbelievable job for this team.

3. Now that many observers regard Rose as the leagues top point guard, its easy to forget hes faced a virtual murderers row of good-to-elite floor generals on this trip, from the Clippers Baron Davis and Golden States Stephen Curry to Portlands Andre Miller and the Jazzs Deron Williams, and of course tonights matchup, New Orleans Paul, his Western Conference All-Star starter counterpart. It should be interesting tonight, said Rose. Its fun, going against everyone. It makes you come out here and play hard every nightif not, youre going to get embarrassed. Rose realizes that hes now getting even more attention from both opposing teams and his individual peers at the position. I take a lot of pride in it, knowing that Ive got people worried about me. You can just tell by the way people play. I look at the previous game. They probably didnt play that hard, then going into a game against Rose, they play as hard as they can, just balling. It made me change the way I play a little bit, where Ive got to be aggressive throughout the whole game, no matter who were playing, said Rose. You can tell by the defense that people play, the coverages that they run for pick-and-roll and isolation. Sometimes I see how Kobe Bryant feels all the time or Carmelo Anthony feels all the time because they send a third person over, so that you can move the ball. Thibodeau chimed in: Its the way of the league right now and there are no easy nights. When you look at it, theres a great young group of point guards that have come into the league. Then, theres the middle group where theyve been doing it for a while and are elite and then you have the older guys, who seem to be ageless and are still dominant. So, youre going to be tested every night and I think the challenge is to be ready to play and again, with great players its very difficult to guard them one-on-one, so you need your team to help out, but you are going to be challenged every night. Regarding Paul, Rose observed, Paul is shifty, very shifty. He really isnt that fastreal quickknowing how to get to a spot, knowing how to get fouled, runs the team very good, leader on the floor. Thats why hes one of the best in the league.

4. With scuttlebutt having the Bulls in talks with the Rockets for a traderookie backup center Omer Asik for Houston reserve shooting guard Courtney Lee, give or take a draft pickThibodeau shared his thoughts on Asik, as well as his take on trade rumors. Defensively, Asik has come in with a defensive mindset. I think hes still learning team defense and the individual tendencies of the players hes going up against. Offensively, hes been a very good offensive rebounder. Hes a very good screenerI think hes become more confident with experience. I think hes still working hard at it. The speed of the game and the strength of the game are areas where he still has to improve upon, said Thibodeau. In this league, you hear about that stuff every day. Hes professional and he knows what the league is about. This time of the year, for every 100 that gets talked about, maybe one gets done. The challenge is to not be distracted, to keep your priorities in order and thats why we dont like to change our approach from game to game, practice to practice. While Asik would be an upgrade from starter Keith Bogans, hes not necessarily a game-changerthough his low-maintenance offensive game (he doesnt need a lot of touches to be productive, but can shoot with range and drive to the basket), toughness, defensive ability and experience (he started for Orlando as a rookie two seasons ago, when the Magic made it to the NBA Finals) would be a good fitand with Noahs injury woes, Kurt Thomas age and the Bulls being budget-conscious in thinking of both a new collective-bargaining agreement and being able to sign Rose to a maximum contract when hes up for free agency, its a longshot to happen, according to various sources. The team currently has excellent chemistry and while Bogans isnt the most offensively-prolific player, Thibodeau trusts him and hes popular amongst his teammates. With Rose, Noah, and Luol Deng all 25 and under, Carlos Boozer under contract for another four seasons after the current campaign, the Bulls window will be open for a while and other options at Lees level or better will eventually surface if they choose not to make a move before this months trade deadline. In addition, swingman Ronnie Brewer may come off the bench, but hes the de facto starting shooting guard in terms of minutes (sharing the role with sharpshooter Kyle Korver) and Thibodeau has been pleased with his play as of late. Brewers energys been terrific, hes a very good defensive player, very good open-floor player and hes a very good mid-range shooter. His slashing and cutting is something that I think helps our offense quite a bit and defensive, hes got great instincts. He reads plays well, stated Thibodeau, referencing Brewers game-sealing steal in his return to Utah Wednesday.

5. Dont forget to follow me on Twitter at @CSNBullsInsider.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Mitch Unrein (free agent), John Jenkins (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Jared Crick, Frostee Rucker, Dominique Easley

This unit was consistently the Bears’ best in 2017, with Akiem Hicks playing at a Pro Bowl level (don’t let his exclusion from the game fool you on that) and Eddie Goldman putting together a rock-solid, healthy year. 

Hicks signed a four-year contract extension just before the season began and rewarded the Bears with a dominant year, racking up 8 ½ sacks and 15 tackles for a loss. Goldman played in and started 15 games and was a key reason why the Bears limited opposing rushers to four yards per carry, tied for the 10th-best average in the league. 

But while the Bears’ defensive line was certainly good, it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. These words from Vic Fangio ring true for Hicks and Goldman:

“I think they all have a lot more to give to us than we’ve seen,” Fangio said. “And it’s our job to get them to improve and become even better players. That will be more important to us than anybody we can acquire between now and whenever our first game is. So, and I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency, etc., but we’ve got to get our so-called good players playing even better. And that will be critical.”

Hicks will enter Year 3 in Fangio’s scheme, while 2018 will be Goldman’s fourth. It’ll also be a critical year for Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris, who’ve flashed potential at times but haven’t been able to turn that into consistent success on the field. 

And that’s where we begin to look ahead to free agency and the draft. Is the Bears’ evaluation of Bullard -- their 2016 third-round pick -- positive enough to hand him a bigger role in 2018? That’s question No. 1 to answer, with No. 2 then being if the team should try to re-sign Mitch Unrein. 

It may be a bit risky to move forward with Bullard, given how popular Unrein was among the Bears’ defensive coaching staff. 

“He’s one of the glue guys on the defense and the team,” Fangio said last November. “Every team needs a few of those guys who are going to do everything right, full speed, hard and tough all the time, and that’s Mitch.”

Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers offered this up about Unrein back in October: “He allows those guys to play fast,” with “those guys” being Hicks and Goldman. 

Statistically, the 30-year-old Unrein doesn’t  jump off the page, but he did record a career high 2 ½ sacks in 2017. Perhaps there would be some benefits to continuity in the Bears’ base 3-4 defensive line.

Worth noting too is this position isn’t a huge need, given Unrein usually played between 40 and 55 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps on a per-game basis last year. Keeping Unrein for a relatively low cap hit would make some sense, as opposed to testing free agency to replace him.

Jared Crick is coming off back surgery and an ineffective 2016; Dominique Easley is coming off his third torn ACL this decade; Frostee Rucker is in his mid-30’s. The Bears could look to pick a 3-4 defensive end in April, but that would be a pretty quick re-draft of the position and would be an indication they don’t think much of Bullard. This seems like a position where keeping the status quo is likely, save maybe for replacing John Jenkins with a different backup behind Goldman. 
 

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

anthony_davis.jpg
AP

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”