Blackhawks

What's Next for Bottomed-Out Bulls

78101.jpg

What's Next for Bottomed-Out Bulls

Friday, December 11

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

I think we can all agree the Bulls hit rock bottom with blowout losses to Toronto and Atlanta and the home court defeat at the hands of the worst team in the league, at least record-wise, New Jersey.

They've now lost nine of their last 10 games, and have the worst point differential in the East, outside of the Nets. So, the obvious question, what can be done to fix the situation? We're always interested in what you think. Please post your comments in the section below.

The easy move would be to fire head coach Vinny Del Negro. He came to the Bulls with no head coaching experience, and has had a tough time earning the respect of the players on the roster. Plus, even though the Bulls don't want to pay off the contract of another head coach, Del Negro is modestly paid by NBA standards and the team could go with veteran Bernie Bickerstaff as an interim head coach for the rest of the season, then make their long-term decision next spring. With six straight home games coming up, Del Negro does have a chance to turn things around, although the Celtics and Lakers are among the teams on the current homestand. This could be a make-or-break weekend for Del Negro coming up. The Bulls face the NBA's worst defensive team tonight in Golden State, then take on Boston on Saturday. If the Bulls lose to a bad Warriors team, then get blown out by Kevin Garnett and company, management might decide to pull the plug on the Del Negro experiment. But if the Bulls show more consistent effort and pick up a win over Golden State, the heat on Del Negro could subside for a while.

So, if the coaching staff remains stable, is there anything that can be done to improve the roster? Certainly, getting a healthy Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas back in the rotation will make the Bulls a better defensive team right away. But it doesn't look like there are any easy answers for the team's offensive issues. The Bulls don't have a low post scoring option and they're among the worst three-point shooting teams in the league. John Salmons has struggled to find his shot all season, hitting just 39 percent from the field. Hinrich also was struggling with his outside shot before suffering a sprained left thumb, and he was 0-for-9 from the field in his return against Atlanta on Wednesday. So, if you can't score in the paint, and you can't make three-point shots, how can you consistently win games, even in a watered-down Eastern Conference?

Obviously, the Bulls should have re-signed Ben Gordon. He was the only player on the team who could create his own shot and get to the free-throw line consistently. We saw what Gordon meant to the team in the playoff series against Boston, and his presence on the court made things a lot easier for Salmons, who's now struggling with increased defensive attention. Gordon was the Bulls' leading scorer each of the last four seasons, and opposing teams had to respect his three-point shooting ability, opening up driving lanes for Derrick Rose. All Gordon wanted was to be paid the same amount of money the Bulls were giving to Luol Deng. And, judging by the two players' production in recent seasons, that hardly seems like an unreasonable request.

OK, Gordon is gone, so let's move on. Bulls' management is all in for the summer free agent derby of 2010, but do you really think LeBron, D-Wade, Bosh or Amare are going to seriously consider a Bulls team that could be headed to a 30-35 win season? As I've written previously, the front office should think seriously about pursuing a trade for Houston's unwanted superstar, Tracy McGrady. The Rockets have had success this season playing an up-tempo style with Aaron Brooks at the controls, and they've been reluctant to bring McGrady back, even though he's recovered from knee surgery last spring. T-Mac is a half-court player at this point in the career, and yes, I know he takes a lot of bad shots, but with the Bulls desperately in need of an offensive spark, he might be worth the risk. Plus, if you include Hinrich and Thomas in the deal for McGrady's 22 million expiring contract, the Bulls can actually create more cap room for next summer, and guarantee they can make a maximum contract offer to one of the elite players.

The other option is to forget about 2010 free agency and try to acquire a proven scorer right now. It's a little early in the season to know exactly which players might be available, but when you look at the teams that are struggling around the league, there's a good chance players like Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Elton Brand, Monta Ellis and Rip Hamilton could be available. I'm not recommending any of those players in particular, but it's clear the Bulls need to do something or they're headed for a lost season, which could seriously impact their ability to attract a free agent next summer.

Let me know your thoughts in the section below. Remember, tonight's game against Golden State can be seen on Comcast SportsNet Plus, which is CLTV for most viewers in the Chicagoland area. If you're having trouble finding the plus channel in your area, you can find that information here. I'll see you courtside from the United Center with Kendall Gill for the pregame show at 6:30.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

It's official: Blackhawks-Bruins to play at Notre Dame Stadium in 2019 Winter Classic

nd-stadium.jpg
USA TODAY

It's official: Blackhawks-Bruins to play at Notre Dame Stadium in 2019 Winter Classic

It’s official: The Blackhawks are headed back outdoors.

The NHL announced that the 2019 Winter Classic will be held at Notre Dame Stadium, featuring the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins on Jan. 1.

"The Blackhawks and Bruins, two of our most historic franchises, will be meeting outdoors for the first time at the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "Notre Dame Stadium, with its capacity approaching 80,000, will provide an ideal setting for this ground-breaking event and will host the largest live audience ever to witness a game by either of these teams."

"The Chicago Blackhawks are honored to be participating in this marquee event at an iconic venue like Notre Dame Stadium," Blackhawks President & CEO John McDonough said in a statement. "The University of Notre Dame has strong alumni roots in both Chicago and Boston, and, with an established rivalry between the Blackhawks and Bruins, fans will be treated to an exciting game in a unique atmosphere. We appreciate the invitation to the game and look forward to what will be a great day for both franchises and the National Hockey League."

It's the sixth time the Blackhawks will be playing outdoors, and their league-leading fourth Winter Classic. The Blackhawks are 1-4-0 in outdoor games, and are winless in three Winter Classic games.

Chicago's only outdoor win came against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2014 Stadium Series Classic, a 5-1 victory at Soldier Field.

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

joao-1118.jpg
USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.