Matt Peck

The Pecking Order: A Bulls Outsider's perspective on Mark Giangreco's diss

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NBC Sports Chicago

The Pecking Order: A Bulls Outsider's perspective on Mark Giangreco's diss

Bulls fans, I thought I’d change things up this time. Honestly, it’s hard to come up with new thoughts on the Bulls as they’re stuck in a rut of beating bad teams and losing to good ones.

Remember the scene in The Lion King when Mufasa gets trampled by a herd of wildebeest? And later, much like the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears to his son, Mufasa emerges from the clouds and shows himself to a now older Simba. Unlike the Ghost in Hamlet, Mufasa doesn’t return to instruct his son to seek revenge. (Although he probably should have, Scar was an a**hole. Scar is Claudius, by the way. Shakespeare essentially wrote The Lion King.) No. Mufasa returned simply to remind Simba of who he was. “You have forgotten who you are, and so forgotten me.”

I bring this up because it’s where my mind wandered after experiencing a frustrating and enlightening day in my life as an “outsider” who’s both excitedly and warily becoming more of an “insider” in the world of Chicago sports media.

Stick with me. It’s the Pecking Order.

During one of his regular appearances on the Waddle & Silvy radio show, Chicago broadcasting legend Mark Giangreco mentioned Bulls Outsiders in a less than flattering light. He questioned if NBC Sports Chicago even pays us to do the show (they do), adding that the network green-lit the show “…in lieu of hiring people with actual talent.”

The following day, after Big Dave, John and myself gave Giangreco some friendly comebacks and due respect on Outsiders, he went back on Waddle & Silvy to accept our olive branch and explain why he didn’t originally love our show.

“Just the concept pissed me off because I’m the old guard,” he said. “I’m trying to protect people who’ve been in the business for a long time.”

I completely understand why Mark was pissed. A trio of random fans were given their own show on a sports network when real broadcasting talents – his friends – who deserve jobs were out of work. In a very real way, that may come across to those dedicated to the business as obtuse and disrespectful.

But you know what? Even though I haven’t yet earned respect from Mark directly, his disrespect of me and my team pissed me off, too.

I know that as I type this, I’m nowhere close to significant in this city’s unparalleled sports media landscape. We’re a tiny blip on the radar. But just becoming the tiniest blip on that radar took six long years of hard work, often for little or no pay to without even a sliver of hope that it would lead to something real.

But I stuck with it. I kept working. And I earned my way onto Outsiders. None of it was given to me. Nor was it given to my co-hosts.

Does Mark Giangreco have the extensive comedy training and experience that John Sabine has? In any duel of sports-related humor and quick wit, my money’s on Sabine every time. Go see him perform with his sketch group at Second City, or Improv Shakespeare at iO. He slays, and he makes something very difficult look easy. That’s called talent. It’s the same talent that makes him perfect for our show. As a Chicago transplant, he also brings a true outsider’s perspective to a sports city that can sometimes swallow itself.

Does Mark Giangreco, or anyone else in the Chicago sports media world for that matter, have what Big Dave has? He’s from a family of multi-generational Chicago sports fans that’s uniquely his. The most positive person I’ve ever met, who comes to any conversation – sports or otherwise – with a smile and an appreciation for you being you, before you complain to him about whatever you think warrants complaining. When you think about the often-overpowering negativity of sports fandom, especially in today’s hateful and filter-free Twitterverse, Dave is so refreshingly original. He’s also been producing and hosting multiple podcasts about Chicago sports for years, showcasing his passion and knowledge for the subjects. That’s called talent.

When they brought the three of us together during screen tests, it clicked. We had concept, chemistry and unbridled enthusiasm. We couldn’t wait to share it with our fellow fans.

So yeah, it bugged me to hear Mark say that we didn’t deserve this show. Does he watch every minute of every Bulls game like we do? Has he been co-hosting a Bulls podcast that does five episodes a week for the past three years, including offseason months? Did his Bulls podcast get well over a million downloads last year? Or was that the work of me and my dedicated Locked On Bulls co-host Jordan Maly? Jordan’s incredible production work on that podcast landed him a job as a producer at 670 The Score. That podcast is what got NBC’s attention to bring me in for Outsiders.

We all started as fans, yes. Now we’re more than that.

Does that piss certain people off? Do younger, eager-to-work professionals getting opportunities in a rapidly changing but always competitive sports media world piss people off? Are we upsetting some pre-existing balance that required the proper broadcasting or journalism degrees to walk the one and only path to working in this in industry? Are we changing the definition of “professional” with our blogs and podcasts and Twitter threads? Is the old way of sports reporting being aggressively phased out?

The answer to all those questions is yes. But here’s the rub: change doesn’t mean forgetting the past. It just means a new way of doing things.

Outsiders is a fresh idea, but also an obvious one. Give “fans” who are also somewhat “professionals” a platform to interact with other fans and, most importantly, give fans at home the opportunity to voice their opinions in real time via social media. That’s the world we live in now. That’s what sports fans want. Connectivity.

When I was a child of the ‘90s, I watched my Bulls every night in standard definition on a 30-inch tube TV, and then watched the best 20 highlights of the day on SportsCenter hosted by Robin Roberts and Bob Ley. I’d read the newspaper columns by Sam Smith and Melissa Isaacson analyzing yesterday’s games every morning before school. Because that’s what we had.

We have access to more now. A lot more. Shouldn’t a sports fan’s desires, and the media system that feeds them those desires, change accordingly? I think it should.

But I don’t think it should erase the history of how we got here. I’ve read countless books about the evolution of sports reporting and broadcasting from the people who dedicated their lives to the craft. I watch film of broadcasters I admire and read every column of the journalists who motivate me to write. I have the utmost respect for those who laid the foundation for the complex world of sports media, and those who followed in their footsteps.

Many of the men and women I watched and read covering my favorite teams as a kid are still working today, some still here in Chicago. The storytellers. And they are my heroes. They’re a huge part of the reason I fell in love with sports. It took me a while to figure it out, but that’s what I wanted to be a part of and I couldn’t possibly have achieved any of the meager things I have thus far without the endless inspiration of their stories.

Some may be nearing the latter chapters of their storied careers finding it bitterly hard to believe how much their industry has changed in just the last few years. Just maybe, they might think about what it looked like when they first started or when they were the kids reading and watching. Typewriters in newsrooms, sports fans huddled around radios, athletes smoking cigarettes in dugouts and locker rooms. Times change. The ways change. It’s natural. But every generation creates and influences the next. The circle of life, if you will.

The changing of the media guard in a great sports city like ours has absolutely nothing derisive about it. Us younger folks are not Scars, guiltlessly throwing Mufasas into the gorge while meticulously planning our takeover of a kingdom with hyena lackeys in tow. We’re just the wildebeest stampeding through the gorge. We don’t know where we’re going, or who’s leading the charge. Some casualties may occur. Because like a stampede of wildebeest, today’s fresh faces of sports media are occasionally confused but always aggressive and eager to get somewhere. Blame us if you want to, we’re just trying to keep our momentum to not be trampled ourselves.

But perhaps more fittingly, there’s a part of us that is more Simba than wildebeest. Lost in the wilderness, lacking direction. Carelessly tweeting “Hakuna Matata” to our warthog and meerkat friends, but secretly yearning for the leadership and guidance of the all-knowing figures who explain the universe to us in a way that makes sense. Crying out to a slowly disappearing ghost, “No, please, don’t leave me!”

I’m not trying to kill Mufasa. I’m just a young wildebeest who might inadvertently trample him. Maybe I’m Simba, too. Scared as hell to take the mantle of the predecessors who created, explained and ruled the world in which I grew.

If someone takes a shot at me or my people, I’m going to stand my ground and fight for my tribe. And if somebody takes that shot from a position of ignorance, opting to learn nothing about me and my tribe before firing it, you better believe I’m throwing some salt on the ground that lies between my tribe and theirs.. But I understand that that instinct of mine is the instinct that lives within all of us: to protect what we hold dear. It’s the same instinct that caused somebody older and much more accomplished than me to say what they said. That instinct never goes away, it only grows and intensifies. The longer and harder you’ve worked for something, the farther you’re willing to go to protect it. I understand that too. And I’m not that far along compared to many.

All I can do is promise to try my best with every opportunity I’m given. I can wait to be king. I don’t even know if I want to be king. But if I ever get there, it won’t be without remembering the lessons of the sports media royalty who came before me.

If I get there, it will be because of everything they taught me, and everything they did for me, along with my own hard work. And I’ll pay it forward to those who are ready to take my place someday. I’ll try to appreciate the passion behind their hard work instead of resisting the stampeding change.

I’m sure it won’t be easy for me either. Nonetheless, the circle keeps spinning. A steady but always evolving group of storytellers for a kingdom that appreciates its rich history. That’s what we must always provide. Because that’s what Chicago sports fans deserve.

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The Pecking Order: Bulls' pre-NBA Trade Deadline to-do list

The Pecking Order: Bulls' pre-NBA Trade Deadline to-do list

We’re beyond the halfway point of what looks to be another lost season, Bulls fans. As we enter the next phase of the schedule, it’s important for this team to acknowledge their current reality and put emphasis on making positive steps to improve their future.

It’s not about playoffs anymore but that doesn’t mean there can’t be new goals to set and meet through these final 40 games. It starts with a critical stretch between now and the NBA’s trade deadline on February 6.

Here are five things I’d like to see the Bulls do over the next three weeks. It’s the Pecking Order.

1) Try something new

Earlier this week, when asked by our Bulls Insider K.C. Johnson to assess his team at the season’s halfway point, Jim Boylen said he likes that they’ve established a style of play at both ends of the floor. I’m sorry, but the Bulls' offensive rating of 104.7 currently ranks 28th in the league and falls to 96.2 when Zach LaVine is off the court? The Bulls' defense – which Boylen and John Paxson have pointed to as proof of growth – has fallen dramatically against tougher opponents? Through eight January games, the Bulls' defensive rating is 113.7.

If the style you’re using isn’t working – 15 wins and 27 losses – should you stick with it? As my buddy John Sabine said during a recent episode of Outsiders, “a mullet is a style.”

On offense, the multi-ball handler “style” is not working consistently, nor does it fit the strengths of the players on the roster. See Markkanen, Lauri. On defense, the high rate of forced turnovers yields little because the team can’t execute in transition and fastbreak situations.

The trapping pick and roll defense is picked apart by competent teams and has only been more exposed since Wendell Carter Jr.’s injury. Nonetheless, the Bulls stick with it, establishing these styles of play regardless of personnel. It’s a glaring example of their inflexibility and inability to make proper adjustments.

The Bulls can’t be satisfied with the systems if the team is 12 games under .500 through the “easy” part of your schedule. Try something else.

2) Play and trade Thad

Thad Young is back to being Thad Young. The veteran forward produced 35 points off the bench in the past two games, 23 of those came near the basket on post-ups or pick and roll actions. His half-court game is “old school” and doesn’t fit the “new school” (i.e. only threes and layups) that the Bulls demand from their players.

Guess what? Thad’s buckets this week were some of the most competent offense we’ve seen from this team all season, outside of LaVine’s individual brilliance.

Thad played 21 minutes on Wednesday night, while Luke Kornet led all players with 35. Anybody else see a problem here?

With the losses of Wendell and now Daniel Gafford for up to four weeks with a thumb, the Bulls must seriously consider starting Thad. Sliding Lauri to the five is certainly a calculated risk on defense, but is Kornet that much better if he is attacking ball handlers away from the paint? We learned in October that Kornet’s defensive pluses are replaced by severe minuses in this defensive system.

Why not significantly increase Thad’s minutes for the next three weeks? Showcase his talent to pair with his already tradeable quality of being a well-liked and respected veteran to playoff-bound teams. Everybody wins.

3) Play and trade Denzel

On Wednesday night, he was the only active player to not get any minutes. Yes, that includes Cristiano Felicio. Denzel didn’t even get in the game after Chandler Hutchison went down with his 14th different injury in the 15 games he’s played this season.

Denzel’s absence from the rotation is even more confounding when you realize that the Bulls are currently ninth in the NBA in 3-pointers attempted per game but only 19th in 3-point percentage. His 39.2% success rate from deep trails only LaVine and Ryan Arcidiacono among healthy players on the roster. On Monday, Bulls players not named Zach LaVine went 3-19 from downtown. When the Bulls don’t hit threes, they lose. It’s been a constant all season. Denzel’s other greatest attributes, his passing and IQ, could help this team’s constantly stagnant half-court offense.

If the Bulls have decided to give up on Denzel and not offer him a new contract, what’s the harm in playing him for three weeks to boost his trade value? Instead of letting yet another player leave for nothing in return, maybe a playoff-bound team can find use for a bench shooter and send the Bulls a pick or young player.

4) Play. Lauri. Real. Minutes.

Lauri Markkanen’s regression is easily the biggest disappointment in a season filled with them. His usage percentage (20.9), field goal attempts (12.0) and points per game (15.0) are all lower than his rookie season. His minutes per game (30.2) are barely higher than the 29.7 he played as a rookie.

Yes, some of the fault falls on Lauri for not asserting himself more. He looks completely passive and disengaged, but this offensive system isn’t doing him any favors. It won’t get fixed if he’s not on the court. Eliminate these long stretches where Lauri sits for eight, nine, 12 minutes at a time. In three of their past four games, Lauri has taken fewer than 10 shots. Inexcusable. This kid is supposed to be a cornerstone of the rebuild. Do everything you can to help him try to fix this terrible season.

5) Give Coby some plays to run.

Bulls fans have been debating all season long whether Coby White should start. I’m on the record as being against it because I don’t think he’s ready and has been too inconsistent. At this point, screw it. He clearly has talent and is the only other player on this roster besides LaVine capable of creating his own shot off the dribble. Iso Coby has fueled a lagging second unit on many nights. But in the back half of the season, I want to see him doing more point guard things.

I know it goes against the free-flowing system, but can we please install some actual offensive plays for Coby to run that involve other players? We know he can get to the rim and create his own shots. Great. Box checked. But this team is still searching for a real point guard, so why not see what the kid can do when you ask him to run plays for his teammates? Try some new stuff. Make use of your remaining games by developing a key piece of the rebuild.

It’s not a pretty to-do list, but the Bulls aiming to achieve some or all these things will help them in the long run.

Thanks for reading. See red, be good.

The Pecking Order: Bulls' New Year’s Resolutions

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NBC Sports Chicago

The Pecking Order: Bulls' New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year, Bulls fans! I hope all of you enjoyed a safe and happy holiday season.

2020 got off to a sad start for NBA fans, as we learned of the passing of former commissioner David Stern at the age of 77. As Scottie Pippen said in his social media post, the Bulls saw an awful lot of Stern in the 1990s. Six championship trophy celebrations. He’s also the man who announced the team drafting the likes of Michael Jordan, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose. Stern rescued the league from a dark time, stood by one of its biggest stars when Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive, and drove the league’s global expansion. He will be so missed.

With such a reminder that life is fleetingly precious, it’s a good time to think about making the most of ourselves. A new year means a chance to start fresh and build something. A time to set goals and work nonstop towards achieving them. A time for resolutions.

Here are a few New Year’s resolutions I’d like to set for the Bulls, and one for myself. It’s the Pecking Order.

1) Zach and Lauri play more of their two-man game

We’ve started to see more of this recently, and Lauri Markkanen mentioned recently that he and LaVine had gotten away from their two-man game this season. But it can be incredibly effective. Zach draws a lot of double teams.

Meanwhile, we saw Lauri pull out of his shooting slump and knock down many more 3-pointers in December. He’s also been better cutting to the rim when he’s off the ball. Jim Boylen needs to work more Zach-Lauri sets into this free-flowing, multi-ballhandler system. Pick and pop, pick and roll. The players who are supposed to be the two most talented on this team need to work together more and develop their chemistry. Panic trading either before that happens would be a mistake, in my opinion.

2) Wendell... shoot!

Wendell Carter Jr. shot five 3-pointers in the Bulls’ last two games of 2019, making two of them. In his previous ten games combined, he shot four. His 1.1 three-point attempts per 100 possessions is down from his rookie season mark of 1.4. In response to a recent postgame question about Wendell shooting more, Boylen said he’s instructed Wendell to “let it fly” under the appropriate circumstances. Through 34 games, I think it’s fair to say Wendell hasn’t looked like a player given the green light to shoot when open. And it’s not just his 3-ball attempts that have fallen off.

In his rookie season, Wendell took 29.1% of his total field goal attempts between 10 feet and the 3-point line. AKA, midrange. He wasn’t tremendously effective, shooting just 36.8% from that distance. His make percentage from that distance this season has risen to a modestly improved 40.8%, but that constitutes just 12.5% of his total shots. It’s well known at this point that Boylen is trying to limit the number of midrange shots across the board this season, focusing on getting to the rim and taking threes. Countless times this season, we’ve watched Wendell pass up wide open looks in midrange.

How is Wendell expected to develop this part of his offensive game if he’s not allowed to shoot? The Bulls could benefit from another big spacing the floor and pulling opposing bigs away from the basket. It would provide more room for Zach LaVine and other ball-handlers to penetrate and increase their currently atrocious at-the-rim percentage. It could also give the Bulls more second chance points with extra possessions from offensive rebounds. Shoot, Wendell.

3) Trade Thad Young to free up minutes for Daniel Gafford

Thad Young finished 2019 with some truly uninspiring games. It’s been reported that he’s unhappy with his allotted minutes this season and might request a trade if that doesn’t change. Lauri and Wendell both need to play more, not less. And the production and energy Daniel Gafford has shown in his limited rotation minutes begs for more playing time.

The Bulls thought Young would bring some much-needed veteran leadership and experience to a young team. It wasn’t a bad idea at the time and was widely praised as a smart offseason addition. Sometimes, even what appear to be smart roster moves don’t work out. Management should face that reality and move Thad to focus on the young guys in what is looking like another year of development rather than legitimate playoff contention.

Maybe the Bulls could add some wing depth and/or a draft pick in a Thad trade. It would also provide more opportunities for Gafford, along with minutes for Wendell to play the four. That is his natural position, according to him. Let’s see it.

4) Beat some good teams

That’s it. That’s the resolution.

5) Enjoy the good moments

Ya’ll know I tend to lean towards pessimism when it comes to this current Bulls rebuild. I can’t help but look at the facts and results and react accordingly. But sometimes, as our fearless leader Kevin Anderson has pointed out, I am so caught up in grounding myself in this negative reality that I don’t even let myself enjoy the team’s wins and solid performances from its young players.

On our final episode of Bulls Outsiders of 2019, I half-jokingly said that I was making no New Year’s resolutions. “Why should I make a resolution?! Y’all are the ones failing us!” Part of me still very much stands by that statement. But I will also try to enjoy the good moments. What kind of life is it for a sports fan to only be affected by negativity? Probably not a great one, and my older self might thank me if I can take a few deep breaths, enjoy the good and lower my rage-induced blood pressure.

Here’s to better things ahead in 2020. Thanks for reading. See red, be good.

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