Bulls

Sveum, Bowden and the question marks around the Cubs

712728.png

Sveum, Bowden and the question marks around the Cubs

MESA, Ariz. Cubs executives thought there were enough media demands in this market to make potential managers meet with reporters as part of the interview process, just the way Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer had set it up in Boston.

Its not uncommon for Dale Sveum to do four or five rounds of media interviews in a single day here in Arizona. The first-year manager puts a face to the narrative.

Less than two weeks to Opening Day, the story is whos in, whos out and whos on the bubble. The feeling throughout camp was that the Cubs want to see Chris Volstad and Jeff Samardzija in the rotation.

Sveum went a step further on Saturday when he appeared on MLB Network Radio with Jim Bowden, the former Cincinnati Reds general manager, and talked about the rotation beyond Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Paul Maholm.

Volstads been throwing the heck out of the ball, so Im not going to see that anything can change there, Sveum said on SiriusXM. That fifth spot Samardzija, (Randy) Wells, (Rodrigo) Lopez theyre all fighting (with) Travis Wood.

But Maholm and Volstad are throwing the ball too good and the command has been unbelievable this spring. So thats probably just the one spot thats open right now.

So it became news when Bowden went on Twitter and reported that Volstad has made the rotation. Afterward, when beat writers asked him about those comments in the managers office, Sveum (who was clearly annoyed) tried to clarify.

The Volstad thing obviously his name came up but theres nothing etched in stone there, Sveum said. I think what I said (was): Obviously, if he keeps throwing the ball the way hes throwing the ball, hes going to be hard to keep out of the rotation.

It doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

The Cubs bullpen is also filled with question marks. Kerry Wood hasnt appeared in a Cactus League game since March 18. Sveum said theres no issue.

Were just mainly backing him off (before) getting him a couple more outings before the season starts, Sveum said. The back flares up once in awhile, but thats not a concern now. Hes fine.

The MRI came back negative on Marcos Mateo no ligament damage but he wont throw a ball for around 10 days, taking him out of the Opening Day mix. Mateo is said to be experiencing something similar to the right elbow soreness he felt when he was shut down last July.

Sveum has been asked about the pitching staff for five weeks now, and indicated that hed make some announcements around Wednesday.

On Twitter, Bowden said that Sveum told him the bullpen will include Wood, Carlos Marmol, James Russell, Rafael Dolis and Casey Coleman. Sveum told the Chicago media that Colemans name wasnt even mentioned in his conversation with Bowden.

Sveum has repeatedly said that Rule 5 pick Lendy Castillo a converted infielder who has never pitched above A-ball has impressed the organization with his poise and command. Carrying Castillo on the 25-man roster and not returning him to the Philadelphia Phillies is a possibility.

Hes obviously (made us think) this could be a reality, Sveum said.

Theres no disputing that the 24-year-old Dolis has opened eyes and could emerge as a key bullpen piece.

Dolis has had a great camp, just unbelievable stuff, 95 to 97 mph with power sink and command of a slider, Sveum told Bowden. Hes that guy (who) hitters dont like facing. Theres just too much movement, too much velocity and he keeps the ball down. Hes there, too, in that seventh-, eighth-(inning) spot.

The media storm always seemed to follow Carlos Zambrano, which makes it such a sharp contrast that he was traded for the low-key Volstad, whos 6-foot-8 and yet still blends easily into the background.

I dont have an account. Why? Volstad said when a reporter asked if hes on Twitter. I hadnt heard anything. I was getting ready to throw in a minor-league game. I wasnt really paying attention to any of that.

Volstad went six innings down the street at Fitch Park and has so far reinforced what the Cubs think he could be in their rotation. In 10 Cactus League innings, hes allowed one run and has seven strikeouts and no walks.

Its not like I can control the decision, Volstad said, but I feel pretty good where Im at right now.

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

dunnlavinelauri.png
USA TODAY

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.