Cubs

Ask Aggrey: Should the Bulls sign Mike James?

676452.png

Ask Aggrey: Should the Bulls sign Mike James?

As we enter a challenging week for the Bulls -- Monday night features "Linsanity" and the Knicks, followed by a much-anticipated showdown with the Heat Wednesday, not to mention Kurt Thomas' return when Portland comes into town Friday and another showdown with the 76ers Saturday -- I'm a bit preoccupied. Not only does the NCAA Tournament start this week (I like the chances of both of my teams, alma mater Temple and hometown favorite Georgetown, though I wish they weren't in the same region), but the high school basketball season is coming to a close. I'll likely take the short trip to Chicago State Tuesday to see if Simeon can knock off Evanston for a shot to go Downstate and win a third straight Illinois 4A title; if you haven't seen Jabari Parker play yet, why are you procrastinating?

Anyway, there's still good old NBA basketball going on and the annual drama of the upcoming trade deadline, although I think this season's could be quieter than most. I could be wrong, but from conversations with a variety of people, it doesn't seem like any blockbuster deals (read: Dwight Howard trade) will go down. Bulls fans, in particular, shouldn't be overly concerned, as I truly believe they'll stand pat. Of course, by putting that on paper, I've probably jinxed it and will lose all credibility. Regardless, while I still have a shred of believability left, enjoy this week's edition of my answers to your questions.

Any chance the Bulls make a run at Ray Allen? -- David G.
David, slim to none. Now, I do think Boston will at least explore trading Allen, as well as Kevin Garnett -- Paul Pierce, the other member of the "Big Three," is a long-shot to be moved, while Rajon Rondo's reputation has reportedly scared off other teams -- but I don't think Chicago is a likely future destination for the sharpshooter. Bulls fans have been a bit panicky with Rip Hamilton's injury situation, but I believe the front office will stand pat at the upcoming trade deadline. If anything, a minor move for a backup big man could take place, but I can't see the Bulls being willing to trade enough assets to meet the Celtics' asking price for Allen, even if they were interested.

What do you attribute the regression of Omer's play to this year? Do you think he still has "starter" potential in the NBA? -- Benjamin N.
Benjamin, I'm probably one of Omer's biggest advocates and have consistently defended him all season, but even I have to admit that his offense has taken a step back, especially as of late. He just doesn't seem confident in the low post and has gone back to making mistakes (not protecting the ball, repeated pump fakes) that I thought he was starting to eliminate a while back. That said, he's still a defensive force, although that might not be noticeable to casual observers. The way he closes down the lane and has an intimidating presence shouldn't be overlooked. Additionally, his size off the bench is one of the Bulls' biggest advantages when looking at a potential playoff matchup with Miami. I think Omer's leg injury at the end of last season, combined with having to play almost immediately afterward for Turkey in the FIBA EuroBasket event, not having significant time to rehab the injury and rust from the lockout are all factors to his regression, but his youth and defensive acumen alone are traits other teams salivate over. This is no longer the Shaq-Ewing-Robinson-Olajuwon era of centers in the NBA (let alone guys like Dikembe Mutombo or even a Rik Smits), so yes, I do believe Omer still has starter potential, particularly on a team with a go-to scorer at power forward and a strong perimeter cast.
Do you think the Bulls should sign Mike James for the remainder of the season? -- @Wynton_Mohorn

Wynton, without a doubt. He's already familiar with both the system and his teammates, something I know Thibs values. Mike also adds toughness, experience, more size than John Lucas III, the ability, like C.J. Watson, to play on and off the ball and in this injury-riddled season, some insurance in the backcourt. I think it's a near-lock that he rejoins the team, as soon as later this week.

Who is your early pick for Rookie of the Year? -- Tyrone E.

Tyrone, with Ricky Rubio now out for the season after his unfortunate ACL injury, I think it's a no-brainer that Kyrie Irving takes home top-rookie honors. Although Rubio's impact in turning around Minnesota can't be denied, I already favored Irving because of the fact that he immediately became Cleveland's best player, while Rubio has help from the likes of Kevin Love and isn't counted on to score. It's doubtful that the Cavs make the playoffs, but the fact that they're even in contention, even in the top-heavy East, should be credited almost solely to Irving, who doesn't exactly have the strongest supporting cast and has had to battle without the services of the injured Anderson Varejao, the team's second-best player.

With the NCAA Tournament kicking off next week, what's your Final Four pick? -- Cooper W.

Cooper, I'm going with Kentucky, Syracuse, Missouri and...Georgetown. That last pick might seem suspect to some -- and I admit that I'm a life-long Hoyas fan, though I'll abstain from rooting if they somehow matchup with Temple, my alma mater; it's like picking between your children -- but I like their chances in a region with North Carolina, which is dealing with an ill-timed injury to defensive anchor John Henson, and Kansas, who Georgetown suffered a narrow loss to early in the season, before its young players had gotten the hang of things. If my Final Four predictions end up coming true, I think Georgetown can make it to the national-championship game, as I believe they'll get revenge over Syracuse in a Big East rematch. Speaking of Syracuse, I think they have a pretty favorable bracket, as their overall talent, zone defense, size and experience will make them a tough out. I believe Missouri's frenetic style of play will be too tough for anybody in their region and Kentucky is simply an overwhelming college squad. In fact, I think John Calipari will finally win his first NCAA title this season, led by Chicago native Anthony Davis.

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.

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

6-19mikemontgomery.jpg
USA Today

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

For the second time in 1998, Sosa went back-to-back games with multiple home runs. After going yard twice on June 19 of that season, Slammin' Sammy again sent two balls into the bleachers on June 20.

He singlehandedly beat the Phillies that night, driving in 5 runs in a 9-4 Cubs victory.

But that wasn't the most impressive feat of the day from Sosa. His second homer was actually measured at a whopping 500 feet! It was the longest of the season, but not the longest of his career. On June 24, 2003, Sosa hit a homer at Wrigley measured at 511 feet.

The back-to-back big games raised Sosa's season OPS to 1.083 with a ridiculous .685 slugging percentage. He began June 1998 with a .608 slugging percentage.

Fun fact: Kerry Wood struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings on June 20, 1998 to pick up his 7th big-league victory. As Wood marched to the National League Rookie of the Year that season, he finished with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in only 166.2 innings for a career-high 12.6 K/9 rate.