Steve Stone's mailbag: What's wrong with Jones?

Steve Stone's mailbag: What's wrong with Jones?

Monday, July 26, 2010
3:15 PM

Steve Stone dives into his mailbag to answer your questions about Andruw Jones, Jim Hendry, and more!
Brian W, Lake Bluff, IL- Could you analyze Andruw Jones' swing? It looks to me like he's trying to hit a home run every time. I would like to see more at-bats like the one he had right after his 400th home run when he let the ball get deep into his stance and he singled to right field.

Steve Stone: I think you analyzed very well, I think he is more concerned with hitting the ball out of the park more than anything. I don't really believe that he has any intention of even hitting 250 this year. I think he wants the home run stats and his ability to hit them has always been there. When you pull every pitch, you have a low batting average. He still is a vital part of the team because Quentin does get injured and when he goes down, Andrew plays very well. I don't think you will find him being a right or center hitter. He will always try to do what makes him money and that is hitting the ball out of the ballpark.

Sam K, Buffalo Grove, IL - Steve, regardless of whether or not the Sox make a deadline deal to improve the team, what aspect of White Sox baseball needs to improve the most in August and September in order for them to win the division?

Steve Stone: Well, this year you have a number of polls and it depends on how the guys respond to the holes they have. Most teams have various holes. For the White Sox over the long haul they would like to graft and develop their farm system a little bit better and Buddy Bell has taken over the minor league system and has done a good job down there. Now Doug Laumann and his scouts have to draft well. I believe you will see one of the products Chris Sale, to come in not as a starting pitcher but as a situation left hander out of the bullpen. Look for him out of the club this year. At 43 years old, even though Omar is in remarkable shape, you wonder how much he will have left when division titles are won and loss. Hopefully it will be a lot. I think Kenny is trying to address the left-handed run producer though those guys will be very expensive if he is interested in Prince Fielder for a year and two months until he becomes a free agent. Adam Dunn has been out there for some time and we will have to see what Kenny decides over what youngsters he wants to give up or would he entertain the idea of giving up Carlos Quentin. When healthy he is a destructive force but when not healthy, you have to watch out.

Jake G, Lincolnshire, IL - Who do you see as a possibility for the Cubs first baseman next year? I know it most likely won't be D-Lee, so who else is there? I do not see this team spending anymore money on a big contract, and a guy like Josh Vitters is not ready for the majors next year.

Steve Stone: Josh Vitters has to prove he can both field and hit before you can consider him major-league ready. I think you can use Xavier Nady at first. they will go downhill defensively from Lee but they do need financial flexibility and with Ted Lilly and Lee's contracts running out, that's about 22 million of flexibility. That depends on who they trade them to this year and can you get something back from him that you can try to
plug in this year. I think Lilly would have higher value than Lee because he makes less money and left handed starting pitchers are very valuable. All of these who are in the Cliff Lee deal who might be interested in some of the other pitchers who are talked about like Ben Sheets of the Oakland Athletics, I think would be more than an acceptable replacement for a lot of the guys and might bring them a lot in return.

Editor's note: Steve answered this question before news broke that Josh Vitters has a broken finger and Ben Sheets has a strained right elbow.

Evan L, Woodstock, IL - What do you take from the confidence that Tom Ricketts has shown in Jim Hendry? Does he truly believe Hendry is his guy, or does he not want to fire him and have to pay the final two years of his deal? Will he 100 percent be the Cubs general manager come December?

Steve Stone: All I can go by is the same thing you can go by, and that's the word of Tom Ricketts. The near future of Jim and that is that Jim Hendry is the general manager of the Chicago Cubs and will be going forward. I don't know how far forward. I know he has won division titles, I know he has had three shots at the playoffs. That is a good resume for postseason play. I consider from 2003 on, Jim Hendry in his eighth year of the Cubs; he has spent or obligated around a a billion dollars in those years, maybe a little less or more. But, I do know those expenditures are similar or a little less than what the Red Sox have used. The Red Sox have two championships and the Cubs one series playoff win over the Braves. The last two years have been somewhat disappointing and I think that Tom has said he has a belief in Hendry and you have to take his word that that's what it is. Jim is on the verge of hiring his third manager and usually GMs get two managers. So in hiring his third, this is one where he can't make a mistake. We will have to wait and see who he decides to manage his team and how well it works out.

Lucas M, Valparaiso, IN - What is your take on the lack of home runs in baseball? Is it pitchers getting better, batters getting worse, non-existence of steroids, or something completely different? Do you see this as a good or bad thing for baseball, and will anything dramatic be done to the game after evaluating this season like how they lowered the mound after 1968?

Steve Stone: I don't believe they will do anything with the mound, in fact if they save the pitchers' arms, they will raise it--but there are a lot of pitchers dominating this year. There are some reasons you can't overlook: better steroid testing, no amphetamines. In years past, a guy could drink a lot the night before and then take amphetamines. Now with testing, not many would do this. It was recently announced MLB will test for HGH in the minors, and that testing will make it to the majors. Baseball miracles won't happen quite as often; like guys who spend five or six years in minors who have never had double-digit home runs then hit 30 in a year will not happen. Baseball is a beautiful game when played as designed. When you do have to play the game the right way, it shows you just how nine men can operate as one, everyone has a job as the pitcher releases the baseball. In the slugball era, a lot was discarded because homeruns were so prevalent and consequently a lot of beauty was lost. The whole chicks-dig-the-long-ball era will go the way of the Dodo bird, which is extinct as testing gets better and the beauty of baseball is understood.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future


Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.