Cubs

Ask Aggrey: Outside shooting still a weakness

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Ask Aggrey: Outside shooting still a weakness

Sixteen regular-season games left for the Bulls and all I can think about are the three games left in college basketball. Kentucky winning it all might not be quite the foregone conclusion that everybody thinks, but I think it's a strong possibility. Still, it's March Madness and anything can happen. The end of college basketball gets me thinking about the draft, not to mention the high school all-star game season, which starts, at least on the national level, with the McDonald's All-American Game this week at the United Center. Having seen him two summers ago, before everybody and their mother knew about him, I was fairly certain Chicago native Anthony Davis would be really good, but even I didn't expect him to be this good, this quick. His Kentucky teammate, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. another kid I've seen forever, is probably the second-best prospect in the college game. I know a lot of NBA fans can't get into college, let alone high school hoops, but the moral of the story is if you see these kids early, you won't be behind the curve when they're eventually tearing up the pro game. Even though their season is now over, I advise even casual fans, both locally and nationally, to check out Simeon's Jabari Parker while they have the chance to do so, since in about two years, they'll be paying a lot more for the privilege. Anyway, with no further adieu, enjoy this week's edition of my mailbag:

When it comes down to the overall rating on the Bulls players, is there one weakness that could jeopardize the Bulls run in the playoffs? -- Anthony J.

Anthony, even when Rip returns to the lineup, I think outside shooting will still be the aspect of the Bulls that other teams attempt to prey upon. We've seen it recently with Toronto playing a zone defense and when Derrick comes back, teams will try to trap him to get the ball out of his hands to force other players to make plays. Now, when it comes to making plays, I think the team in general has shown it's more than capable--that's the silver lining to Derrick's injury problems this season -- but even with Kyle, Lu, C.J. and JL3 proving they're more than capable three-point threats, opponents will try to make them show that they can knock down shots when it counts.

When should Rip Hamilton return? He should get some games in before playoff time so that he could get into game shape -- Whirl Wide IKhan

Whirl Wide (any relation to Wes?), I think Rip will be back sooner than people think. If I had to make an educated guess, I wouldn't be surprised to see him return when his former team, the Pistons, come to town Friday, giving him a game before the showdown in Oklahoma City next Sunday. I think both Rip and I agree that he needs to play for conditioning purposes, but being that he's always been the energetic type and Ronnie is basically a de facto starter, even when he's coming off the bench, even more important is continuing to build chemistry and attempting to learn the system inside and out. Rip and Thibs were huddled together watching video after practice last week, something Thibs did with Derrick last season, so he's trying his best to get up to speed for the long haul.

Could Rose still be named MVP in spite of his injuries? -- Truman D.

Truman, Derrick's MVP chances went out the window a long time ago because of the injuries, but even if he was still under consideration, the team's success without him has ruled him out. One could have made the argument that Bulls, at times, were a one-man gang--at least offensively -- last season, but there's no way to back that up this season with their 12-4 record without Derrick in the lineup. If anything, the team's MVP candidates this season have been their defense, the bench and Thibs. Give JL3 a couple more miracle games before he climbs into the top three.

Why do the Bulls do half pick and rolls? I always see picks but nobody rolls -- Tony M.

Tony, great question. When Carlos (I assume you're primarily talking about him, as Jo and Taj roll all the way to the hoop more frequently) first got healthy last season, Derrick talked about how playing with him was an adjustment because he didn't always roll all the way to the basket, like a lot of traditional big men do. The Bulls utilize that strategy to play to Carlos' strengths, which are mid-range jumpers, being able to take advantage of certain matchups in space and giving him good passing angles to find cutters, such as Lu and Ronnie. Also, the Bulls play a lot of high-low basketball with their bigs, so having Carlos with the ball at the elbow sometimes opens things up for Jo at the low block.

What did you think about that body check on Blake Griffin? -- Ryan .

Ryan, I think it was overblown. The refs made the right call and Jason Smith's reaction wasn't a good thing, but he apologized and was punished for it appropriately. That said, Griffin has to expect that, with the "Lob City" hype and his continued posterizations of opposing players. Nobody likes to be embarrassed and the word is out that if he gets frustrated, he can be thrown off his game. Maybe if he was a better free-throw shooter, he wouldn't take it so personally, since he'd know that he could get the two points back at the foul line.

Keep the questions -- whether theyre about the Bulls, the rest of the NBA, other levels of basketball or life in general -- coming. Youll get a much better explanation, though not as instant, than you would via Twitter with only 140 characters. You can submit a question by commenting on this article below or by clicking here.

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Big changes to the Cubs roster

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Big changes to the Cubs roster

Doug Glanville and Ozzie Guillen join Leila Rahimi on Baseball Night in Chicago to discuss all things baseball.

The talk about the trade that sent Cubs pitcher Mike Montgomery to the Royals in exchange for Martin Maldonado, Willson Contreras' injury that sent him to the injured list and an update on the White Sox roster moves and rebuild status.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

 

How Cubs plan to maneuver catching situation moving forward

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AP

How Cubs plan to maneuver catching situation moving forward

Willson Contreras was just put on the 10-day injured list Monday night, but by Tuesday afternoon, he was already pain-free in his right foot.

The Cubs All-Star catcher is dealing with a strain/bruise in the arch of his right foot, but he saw a specialist Tuesday and plans on taking a couple days off before resuming baseball activities Friday.

The Cubs back-dated the IL stint a couple of days, so Contreras would be eligible to return in the middle of next week if all goes according to plan. 

"If it was me, I'd be playing today or every single day," Contreras said. "But gotta be smart. It's still July and I know the team needs me. I'll be cheering for them right now, but I hope it's less than 10 days."

Contreras said he is getting some orthotic inserts to put into his shoes after initially experiencing the issue while wearing a brand new pair of cleats that hadn't yet been properly broken in. He also said the hard ground played a contributing factor and had a similar injury back in 2015 when he used a new pair of cleats for the Double-A All-Star Game.

When Contreras does return, the Cubs will have an interesting problem to maneuver with their catching situation now that they traded for veteran Martin Maldonado and they still have young backstop Victor Caratini enjoying a breakout campaign.

It's a problem they hope to have.

"It would present differently [having three catchers]," Joe Maddon admitted. "We'd have to parcel out the work in a manner that satisfies all of them, which would not be easy. But it also opens up pinch-hitting opportunities for guys in a good matchup situation, also. We haven't decided exactly [how it's going to work]. 

"But it's hard to not acquire Martin Maldonado if he's available. It's really difficult to walk away from that. So this is one of those things that could be a classic win-win-win, according to Michael Scott. I really believe this will be a great opportunity for Mikey Montgomery in Kansas City and it's a great opportunity for us and Martin here.

"So let's just play it out. I don't want anything negative to happen. I want us to have to figure this out."

Maddon inserted Maldonado into the starting lineup in his first day in Chicago Tuesday and already said Caratini will catch the day game Wednesday with Yu Darvish throwing.

Beyond that, the Cubs don't have a set plan in place for how this is all going to work — in the short-term or when Contreras comes back.

With the Cubs coming off the All-Star Break and getting regular off-days coming up over the next couple of weeks, Maddon doesn't anticipate needing to give first baseman Anthony Rizzo much time off. So, he admitted there's not much of an opportunity for Caratini to play there.

And with Kris Bryant and David Bote already seeing regular time at third base plus the possibility of Robel Garcia and Daniel Descalso able to play the hot corner, Maddon doesn't see much time for Caratini there, either. 

Contreras is coming off a foot injury, so occasionally moving him to the outfield upon his return doesn't necessarily make the most sense at the moment, but maybe that would be an option moving forward. 

Or maybe the Cubs include Caratini in a deal before the trade deadline, though he is a really nice long-term option for the club, especially as a switch-hitter. 

However the Cubs figure it out, the move for Maldonado makes a ton of sense in the big picture view of this 2019 season

Major League Baseball does not have an August waiver trade deadline anymore, so all moves would have to be done before July 31. The Cubs wanted to shore up their overall catching depth and saw an opportunity with Maldonado — a guy they've liked for some time — and jumped at the chance. 

"I've already gotten four texts from people I really respect about [Maldonado] and how much they love him and beyond that, the kind of influence he has in the clubhouse and with his peers," Maddon said. "Conversationally, that came through. I walked into the video room and he's in there talking to [Cubs strategy coach Mike Borzello] and Tommy [Hottovy] and it's like, 'whoa.'

"Handles himself extremely well — looks you right in the eyeballs and he's very confident. So as a catcher, kind of an interesting skillset he's got."