Cubs

On brink of elimination, will Hamilton get his shot?

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On brink of elimination, will Hamilton get his shot?

DEERFIELD, ILL. Besides fan favorite and deep reserve Brian Scalabrine, the only player on the Bulls roster with a championship ring is starting shooting guard Rip Hamilton. With injuries to Derrick Rose and now Joakim Noah, one would think Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau would be leaning more on the veteran, but as in the regular season, Hamilton hasnt seen much action in the fourth quarter of the first-round series against the 76ers, only playing down the stretch in Fridays Game 3 loss in Philadelphia.

Hamilton, like most of his teammates, has struggled offensively against the athletic, defensive-minded Sixers. But along with reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver hes considered one of the Bulls best pure shooters, as well as a proven longtime scorer in the NBA and a clutch playoff performer. Still, Thibodeau was loathe to commit to playing Hamilton more in Tuesdays potential elimination contest, Game 5 of the series at the United Center.

Well see how its going. Depending on how the groups are playing, but if hes playing well, hell be out there. Kyles closed a lot of games, Lus closed a lot of games. I thought C.J. played very well in the second half. Carlos. Weve got a number of guys who can make shots, the coach said after Monday afternoons practice at the Berto Center. To me, theyve committed a lot of their defense to him. I think hes made the right plays. Hes not forcing things. To me, whenever theres two on the ball and youre a primary scorer, you have the responsibility to make the right play, hit the open man.

Theyre blitzing and weve gotten good, quality shots off of it, and we have to continue to do so, but thats what the playoffs are. Both teams are shooting a low percentage, but thats what you expect. Youve got to fight, youve got to get easy baskets, youve got to get second shots, youve got to execute, youve got to screen well, Thibodeau added. You have to do all those things and I think when you get to the playoffs, the guys who command the double teams, those are the guys you have to count on to create offense for you, so we have Rip and we have Kyle that do that, and theyre both unselfish and theyll make the right play. Carlos, he demands a lot of attention, too, and he also has the responsibility of finding the open man and creating offense for us.

That's not exactly a strong endorsement of Hamilton as the Bulls closer, something theyve sorely needed in the absence of Rose and even without Noahs underrated playmaking, but at least he acknowledged the veterans value. Earlier in the series, Thibodeaus counterpart, Sixers head coach Doug Collins who coached a younger Hamilton in Washington talked about making defensive adjustments after Hamiltons 19-point outing in Game 1 on just seven shots, albeit with Rose helping to set him up.

Rip is a jump-starter. He did that in Detroit, said Collins. He used to always get them going early in games and so, weve got to be aware of that.

Whether he did it intentionally or not, could Collins be tacitly implying that stopping Hamilton at the outset of games is key because Thibodeau wont play him late in contests? But reading tea leaves aside, Hamilton has continued to be diplomatic about his lack of minutes in the clutch.

After Game 1, playoffs are about adjustments, so what they try to do is every time I come off a pick-and-roll, they double. Every time I come off a pin down, they double. When I try to post up, they try to bring another guy and double. But its one of those things that, now, for me, youve got to make plays for your teammates and when guys get the ball, theyve got to step up and thats what the game is about, trusting your teammates, he said. You just look at it as our whole season, everything has been team, team, team. We never looked at the game as individuals, so we all know that in order to win, we all have to do it together.

You do want to be in the game late, but it is what it is. When I came here, whatever they need me to do, Im going to do, so my job is if Im not on the court in the fourth quarter, its to cheer for the next guy because I know the next guy would do the same thing for me. So, its one of those things where youve got to just stay in tune with the game, the 13-year pro continued. Whatever they need me to do, Im going to go ahead and do. Since I came back from injury, Ive been playing limited minutes.

As valuable Korver is as a pure shooter, Hamiltons playmaking ability, with Rose and Noah out, would seemingly be crucial for the Bulls. Better yet, why not play the pair together at times, shifting All-Star Luol Deng to power forward against the smallish Sixers from a size perspective, Deng matches up well with Sixers reserve forward Thaddeus Young or simply not tethering together the first and second units?

At this point, after losing three consecutive games for the first time all campaign and on the brink of elimination, it wouldnt be a bad decision to pull out all the stops such as trying out journeyman Mike James at point guard for a stretch, as his size, strength and experience could help slow Philadelphias Jrue Holiday to prevent an early summer vacation. But perhaps Hamilton summed it up best as he was leaving the assembled media at the Berto Center.

I didnt think a whole lot of stuff this year would happen, he said. But it did.

Why Andy Green is such an important part of the Cubs coaching calculus

Why Andy Green is such an important part of the Cubs coaching calculus

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On the day he was introduced as the next Cubs manager, David Ross made it a point to explain how important it is that his bench coach is "one step ahead" of him as he gets his feet under him.

Theo Epstein echoed that sentiment, saying a bench coach with managerial experience was vital as the Cubs help Ross along as not only a first-year manager, but also a first year coach.

Enter Andy Green.

The 42-year-old Green spent the last four seasons as the San Diego Padres manager, but was fired with one week left in the 2019 season and two years left on his current deal. The Padres wanted a different voice moving into the future after Green compiled a 274-366 record and lost at least 85 games each season, finishing no higher than fourth place in the National League West.

But the Cubs don't want Green to be the manager and they love what he brings to the table as a veteran coach and Ross' right-hand man. 

"Talking to the Padre guys that I know well, he has excellent in-game strategy and always thought ahead very well in-game," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "Very bright, very well prepared. And that's not to mention he's a really good coach. We felt like that was a really good pairing for David. He hasn't managed, so having a guy next to him that, by all accounts, was really good in-game and controls information well, I think that's a really nice pairing."

At his introductory presser, Ross acknowledged his weaknesses as a first-time manager and admitted he will need some time to get the "feel" back of being in the dugout and engaged in each pitch after serving as either a broadcaster or front office executive for the last three years.

As a player, Ross often tried to think and strategize along with his manager, but that's not the same as actually having to make those calls and worry about pitching changes, pinch-hitting, umpire challenges and any other in-game duties a manger is tasked with. It can all add up quickly and managers often have to make the crucial decisions at the snap of a finger.

Ross and Green have not worked together, but the Cubs are hoping they can form a fast friendship and believe Green's ability to prepare is also an asset along with his experience. 

"He's gonna be great at [the bench coach job]," Padres GM A.J. Preller said. "I think it's gonna be a really good thing for somebody that's in that [manager's] chair for the first time having somebody that's gonna be knowledgeable, prepared, detail-oriented and somebody that understands what it's like to sit in that seat. I think all those things are gonna help serve [Green] really well."

Preller and Green reportedly didn't always see eye-to-eye in the big picture view of where the Padres were going, but there's no denying how the San Diego GM feels about his former manager's intellect and the Cubs won't need him to call the shots — only to assist Ross in doing so.

"Andy is probably one of the most intelligent baseball people I've been around," Preller said. "To me, probably as good a person as I've been around as far as Xs and Os and knowing the game. Andy always seemed to be two or three steps ahead. He's very well thought out, very well prepared. It's gonna be a huge strength for him and I think it will be nice for a first-year manager to have somebody like Andy sitting next to him."

A bench coach's exact duties vary from team to team and manager to manager, but with the Cubs, they will lean on Green initially to help Ross along with the experience aspect, making sure the game is not too quick for the first-year manager. During games, Green will be standing right next to Ross, weighing decisions and options along with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy.

But like other bench coaches, Green will also be tasked with helping to serve as a bridge between Ross and the Cubs players. In a lot of ways, Ross is the face of the franchise, as he will partake in somewhere around 500 media sessions throughout the course of the season, including before and after each game. Between that, addressing the team as a group, individual meetings with players and all the strategy and discussions with the R & D department and the front office, Ross will need to lean on Green to be his right-hand man off the field, as well.

It helps that Green just finished managing in the National League, where he knows the opponents and the game is quite different than the American League, which has the benefit of the designated hitter.

"He's a guy that understands all different aspects [of being a coach]," Preller said. "He understands some of the newer information, some of the newer technology. He's gonna understand things that have worked in the past in terms of preparing for games from an advanced information standpoint and then he'll draw upon his experiences being in the National League, knowing the league really well.

"I think he'll be able to give all those things to David Ross and to the Cubs players — somebody who comes in with the mindset of just trying to help the team out and help the team grow. All those things are going to be positives."

We'll see how quickly Ross and Green can jell together, but it's clear the Cubs believe Green can help expediate the process of preparation and in-game strategy for Ross, both now and in-season. 

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Bears 7-round mock draft: Is Jalen Hurts the answer at QB?

Bears 7-round mock draft: Is Jalen Hurts the answer at QB?

As the calendar inches closer to Thanksgiving and the 2019 college football season slowly comes to a close, attention will soon shift to the 2020 NFL draft and the pool of prospects who will be showcased in the college football playoffs and bowl games around the country. And that means mock draft season is here.

The Bears will be without a first-round pick for the second year in a row. But let's be honest, they still have Khalil Mack. And that's a win.

What the Bears do have is two second-round picks, which if the draft were held today would be two selections in the top 50. It's unlikely they'll remain that valuable as the season marches on and Chicago and the Oakland Raiders (re: Mack trade) continue stacking wins, but the point remains: The Bears have some draft capital that they can use to improve this roster heading into 2020.

With less than two months remaining in the regular season, the biggest question surrounding the Bears is at quarterback, where Mitch Trubisky is struggling to establish himself as 'the guy.' If his struggles continue, Chicago could use the draft, in addition to a veteran free-agent signing, to create a full-blown quarterback battle next training camp.

In this mock draft, that's exactly what GM Ryan Pace does.

Round 2: Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma

Hurts is getting some first-round love right now but it feels like his draft stock will depend on how his December goes. There's no denying his ability as a playmaker and comps to Lamar Jackson are already starting to bubble. Hurts is having a ridiculous season statistically, completing over 73% of his passes and a 6:1 touchdown to interception ratio. He has five games with at least 75 yards rushing, too. 

Hurts doesn't profile as a quarterback who'd be ready to step in and start early in his rookie season, and that's exactly what the Bears should look for in this year's draft. Trubisky will be on the roster next season, and coupled with a free-agent veteran signing, a prospect like Hurts will have the time to learn from the bench in Year 1. And if he's too good to keep off the field, it's a fantastic problem to have.

Round 2 (from Oak): Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri

The Bears' tight end problems have been well-documented this season. Trey Burton has been an oft-injured bust of a free-agent signing (2018) and Adam Shaheen is an even bigger bust of a second-round pick (2017). Young developmental players like Ben Braunecker don't project as long-term answers at the position, so adding a prospect like Okwuegbunam with their second of two second-round picks would be a good play.

Okwuegbunam's scouting report is likely all over the map right now. Some front offices will love him, others will think he lacks any special quality to be a top-50 pick. The former All-SEC freshman suffered a broken scapula in 2018 that limited his season to just nine games, but he flashed appealing upside as a receiver over that span. His production hasn't been great this year -- 22 catches, 280 yards, 6 TDs -- but his tape is promising. And, let's be honest: even if Okwuegbunam's true grade is somewhere closer to the third-round range, the Bears can't afford to wait on a guy at a position of need who could legitimately win the starting job as a rookie.

Round 5: Trevon Hill, EDGE, Miami

The Leonard Floyd experiment is over. And it's not that he won't be back with this team; it's just he won't be relied on as part of the pass-rush plan. He simply can't do it and it's time to move on. Enter Trevon Hill, who offers some twitchy upside as an edge defender.

Pace will have to do his due diligence on a player like Hill, whose checkered past includes dismissal from Virginia Tech in 2018. Still, he's managed 15.5 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss over the last three-plus seasons.

The Bears need more pass-rush options, and that's what Hill represents at this point in the draft.

Round 6: Colton McKivitz, OT, West Virginia

It's unlikely the Bears will make any sweeping changes to the offensive line this offseason, especially at tackle where Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie are both under contract for the next several seasons. But the roster could use some depth on the edges which is where McKivitz fits in nicely.

Considered a riser early in 2019, McKivitz has experience at both left and right tackle and has been a reliable pass-blocker during his tenure as a Mountaineer. Entering the 2019 season, McKivitz had allowed just eight sacks on 1,459 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus.

Round 6: Alex Highsmith, EDGE, Charlotte

Ryan Pace loves small-school prospects, so I had to fit at least one (kind of small-schooler) in this mock draft. Fortunately for the Bears, it's one of the top lesser-known players who will be available in 2020 who also happens to fill a team need.

Highsmith has 9.5 sacks so far this season and fits the mold of that twitchy pass-rusher off the edge that Chicago must find to complement Mack. The likely Senior Bowl invite will have a chance to impress scouts in Mobile, Ala., and could ascend into the Day-2 conversation. For now, he's a great value pick in the sixth round.

Round 7: Evan Weaver, LB, Cal

Weaver profiles as a poor man's Nick Kwiatkoski, who the Bears might lose in free agency this offseason if he continues playing at a high level. With Danny Trevathan also on an expiring contract, Chicago needs to add another inside linebacker to the roster regardless of who they re-sign. 

Weaver isn't the best athlete. He's vulnerable in coverage. He isn't going to wow at the Scouting Combine. But he's strong, no-nonsense inside linebacker who isn't afraid of to throw his body around. Sounds like a Bear to me.

What are your thoughts on this mock draft? Share them with me on Twitter!

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