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Zambrano blames himself for what went wrong, sees future in Miami

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Zambrano blames himself for what went wrong, sees future in Miami

If this seemed a little scripted, well, Carlos Zambrano did have a camera crew filming his conditioning work in the outfield, and following him around the batting cage and Cubs dugout.

Zambrano chatting with Ryan Dempster on Tuesday at Wrigley Field became the perfect made-for-TV moment. The Franchise the Showtime reality show going behind the scenes with the Miami Marlins wont have trouble finding storylines.

It was Dempster who had spoken for the entire organization last August in Atlanta, after Zambrano had cleaned out his locker at Turner Field, saying it was time to look in the mirror: Hes made his bed. Hes got to sleep in it.

That was the point of no return. As much as Theo Epstein publicly played up the possibility of Zambrano earning his way back onto the Cubs, there was virtually no chance of that actually happening. The new regime at Clark and Addison kicked in more than 15 million to make the problem go away.

There never was like any bad feeling (toward my teammates), Zambrano said. They treat me with respect professionally, and every time I see them I say hi to them. Theres no hard feelings, believe me, and the problem wasnt with them. The problem was not with the Cubs. The problem was Carlos Zambrano. Thats why Carlos Zambrano is now with the Miami Marlins.

If you have to blame somebody, blame me. Things didnt work out the last two yearsI accept it. I am responsible for my acts.

Is this The New Z?

Well, Zambrano had the media right where he wanted, baking in the heat and guessing whether or not he was going to talk. He spoke in the third person and about Gods plan. (Even during bad times, Cubs people didnt doubt his faith or devotion to his family.)

But it probably doesnt matter whether or not Zambrano has actually changed. With the Marlins, he can blend into the background. He doesnt carry the weight of a 91.5 million contract or a franchise that hasnt won a World Series in 100-plus years. He can play for Ozzie Guillen, his old friend from Venezuela.

Its fun, Zambrano said. He says all kind of things that make me laugh. Hes very relaxed. Hes very enjoyable. He is very professional. Hes straight (with me). I like people that say things to you in front of you. I dont like people that say something to you and stab you in the back.

Even if no one really took it all that seriously, Zambrano had talked about possibly retiring when this contract expires. But at the age of 31, he appears to have a new lease on life. He says he wants to pitch again next season and looks forward to finishing his career in Miami.

Marlins pitcher Mark Buehrle who had watched from across town all those years with the White Sox is a believer.

Carlos is one of the best teammates Ive ever played with, Buehrle said. For all the stuff youve read and seenyou got to have an open mind.

Hes been awesome. Ive had no complaints. Hes been fun in the dugout, on plane rides, in that clubhouse. (He) hasnt had one rant or one time it looks like hes going to blow up. Hes a huge competitor and he wants to win.

So everything that has been reported and been on TV from his years here with the Cubs hes the complete opposite guy, from what Ive seen.

The Cubs once thought of Derrek Lee as the ideal teammate, and Zambrano had to be restrained from him in the U.S. Cellular Field dugout in 2010. That incident pushed Zambrano into anger-management counseling.

Zambrano didnt like talking about it, but admitted the sessions helped. The thing with him was that it came without warning.

In a weird way, the We stinks! rant was Zambranos way of trying to be a leader in the clubhouse.

Heres Zambranos alternate version of history, the way he views himself: I can be a good teammate, but I also can be a guy that some people dont like. Because when I see things that are not right, I come straight to that guy. If I see people who are lazy or people who dont hustle, people doing things they arent supposed to do, I will come to that guy.

Guillen likes bullfighting and has compared himself to a matador. He wants to see more out of Zambrano (5-7, 4.22 ERA), because he remembers a dominant pitcher with the Cubs (125-81, 3.60 ERA).

Off the field, hes been great, Guillen said. Sometimes I want him to go back to being Zambrano. Sometimes. But hes doing what I predicted. Dont forget about what Zambrano did. That guy almost won the Cy Young award here, (went to the) playoffs. He did a lot of good things here, too. He (also) did a lot of bad things, very entertaining things.

In Miami, the pressure isnt the same, and he doesnt have to live up to the Big Z image. To be honest, hes glad he doesnt have to pitch in this series. Maybe some other time.

Good memories I still love these fans, Zambrano said. The only thing that I wanted to do in Chicago is win. I really apologize to the fans, and to the people here who treated me good. I hope they accept my apologies.

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

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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.