Bears

Bulls' defense not up to usual standards

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Bulls' defense not up to usual standards

As I wrote in a previous column, the Bulls offensive problems early in the season really should come as no surprise. Without Derrick Rose in the lineup, they dont have anyone to break down a defender off the dribble or command a double team. That leads to a jump shooting offense that will be susceptible to long cold stretches.

And, outside of Nate Robinson, there really isnt any firepower to bring off the bench. Marco Belinelli still looks lost and Nazr Mohammeds impressive offensive play during the pre-season was obviously a mirage built on feasting against guys who are no longer in the league.

Whats most troubling about the teams 5-5 start is their substandard play on the defensive end, which is supposed to be the strength of a Tom Thibodeau team. The Bulls got off to a good start defensively, holding their first three opponents under 90 points. But theyve been terrible since then, allowing their last four opponents to top the century mark, something thats never happened before in the Thibodeau era.

So, what is the problem? Thibodeau would probably give you a lengthy explanation based on playing the system, making the proper rotations and doing a better job of closing out on shooters while controlling the defensive boards. The reality is this, the Bulls are starting three players with below average quickness for their positions, a liability thats hard to cover, even in Thibodeaus proven system.

Have you noticed the trend developing of Carlos Boozer, Rip Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich sitting on the bench for most or all of 4th quarters? Those are the three players who struggle to stay with their man defensively, and Thibodeau clearly would rather have Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Robinson on the floor to create more ball pressure, and give the Bulls a chance to get some easy baskets in transition.

The problem is, Gibson is suffering through a terrible offensive slump, even after all the extra work he put in this summer at the Berto Center and with the U.S. Select team. Maybe its the pressure of trying to live up to that big money contract extension, but Taj is really struggling right now, and the Bulls need him to get back to his normal productive self. Butler is a max effort player who is strong on the defensive end, but still has a tough time knocking down open jumpers.

Hinrich looked good during the preseason after putting in extra conditioning work over the summer, but hes never been a high-percentage shooter, and right now hes having a tough time staying in front of quicker point guards. Maybe the strained right hip is giving him more trouble than hes willing to admit, but lets be honest, this is Hinrichs 10th year in the league, and its asking a lot for him to defend lightning quick players like Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo.

Same story with Rip, whos having a tough time defending most NBA shooting guards at the age of 34. Hamilton has shown flashes on the offensive end, but all too often, we see him sitting on the bench in the 4th quarter with the Bulls trying to get some stops to rally from behind. Watching Jamal Crawford light up the Bulls in L.A. made me wonder again why the Bulls didnt go with their former player when they were shopping for a shooting guard before the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. Crawford is only two years younger than Rip, but he has much more life in his legs, and is able to create a shot off the dribble, something this Bulls team is sorely lacking.

Its always dangerous to make conclusions off a 10-game sample size, and given the work ethic of this Bulls team and coaching staff, Im sure theyll come up with some answers as the season rolls on. But talent wins games in the NBA, and right now, the Bulls look a little short of that precious commodity on both ends of the floor.

George Halas ranked 37th in the Bears' Top 100

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USA TODAY

George Halas ranked 37th in the Bears' Top 100

Leading into the Bears' 100th anniversary season, they've been releasing parts of a list ranking the top 100 players in franchise history. The players were ranked by a two person panel consisting of Hall of Fame writers Don Pierson and Dan Pompei for the Chicago Bears Centennial Scrapbook.

Here is the list:

26.  Ed Healey
27.  Olin Kreutz
28.  Lance Briggs
29.  Rick Casares
30.  Gary Fencik
31.  Charles Tillman
32.  Paddy Driscoll
33.  George Trafton
34.  Matt Forte
35.  George Musso
36.  Red Grange
37.  George S. Halas
38.  Link Lyman
39.  Harlon Hill
40.  Ken Kavanaugh
41.  Neal Anderson
42.  Richie Petitbon
43.  Wilber Marshall
44.  Johnny Morris
45.  Otis Wilson
46.  Doug Buffone
47.  Dave Duerson
48.  Fred Williams
49.  Ray Bray
50.  Mark Bortz

Perhaps the most shocking name on this portion of the list is the legendary George S. Halas ranked at 37. Halas was the founder, owner, and head coach for the Bears, and the Bears' uniforms bear his initials and his name adorns the practice facility. 

And it is not Halas' son, because the press release very clearly states it is the "founder of the Chicago Bears, George S. Halas."

But one could presume the panel focused strictly on Halas' on-field contributions for this player ranking and had the unenviable task of trying to separate his off the field, broader contributions to the Bears and the NFL.

This segment of the list includes "17 who contributed to a Bears championship (Bortz, Bray, Casares, Driscoll, Duerson, Fencik, Grange, Halas, Kavanaugh, Lyman, Marshall, Morris, Musso, Petitbon, Trafton, Williams and Wilson), seven Hall of Famers (Driscoll, Grange, Halas, Healey, Lyman, Musso and Trafton), 17 All-Pros (Briggs, Casares, Driscoll, Duerson, Fencik, Grange, Healey, Hill, Kavanaugh, Kreutz, Lyman, Marshall, Morris, Petitbon, Tillman, Trafton and Wilson), 16 Pro Bowlers (Anderson, Bortz, Bray, Briggs, Duerson, Fencik, Forte, Hill, Kreutz, Marshall, Morris, Musso, Petitbon, Tillman, Williams and Wilson)."

Also, it looks like Olin Kreutz, who came in at 27th, is going to riot.

But at least he isn't Jay Cutler, who was ranked behind Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.

The top 25 will be announced on Thursday.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Every move the Bulls make should be geared toward the summer of 2021

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AP

Every move the Bulls make should be geared toward the summer of 2021

The rebuilding Bulls continue to search for windows to contend, and one slammed in their face last Tuesday when they failed to move up in the NBA Draft Lottery and a chance to draft Duke’s Zion Williamson. Lost in the chaos of that evening – three teams moved up, pushing the Bulls back to No. 7 – was the reality that every effort and decision the front office and coaching staff makes should be geared toward looking for that next window.

And that next opportunity to begin building a contender in the LeBron James-less Eastern Conference will open back up in the summer of 2021.

VP John Paxson said all the right things in the wake of the team dealing for Otto Porter Jr. in February, that the two-way wing would fill a need, bring veteran leadership to a terribly inexperienced locker room and give the Bulls a talented player for the next two-plus seasons. The Bulls did their free agent bidding four months early, knowing that the Kyries, the Durants and the Leonards of the world weren’t going to join a team that eventually won 22 games a year after going 27-55.

But Porter also lined up perfectly with that all-important timeline. He’ll make more than $55 million the next two seasons, which is fine considering the Bulls weren’t going to be players in free agency until then. The Bulls will get to see what it’s like to play with a talented perimeter small forward, and core pieces in Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen can only get better with him in the lineup.

He’ll also be a free agent in July 2021. That’s the same time Cristiano Felicio’s four-year, $32 million deal runs out – yes, it’s tough to see the Bulls being able to move his contract at any point before then. Our own Kevin Anderson, renowned Bulls capologist, crunched some numbers on what the Bulls’ salary cap could look like on July 1, 2021.

A few things to point out before getting to the chart. The NBA hasn’t projected a salary cap for 2021 so we factored in an increase of $4 million, putting the estimated cap at $120 million. The Bulls will draft seventh in 2019, and for this hypothetical scenario included draft picks in 2020 (15th) and 2021 (20th) to their cap. Don’t get bogged down in the numbers or the slots the Bulls are picking. They’re just fillers. Including cap hits, the Bulls could have $63 million heading into free agency in 2021.

We’ll let you Google the names of unrestricted free agents in 2021 – and, yes, they’re pretty big names – but the point here is that the Bulls will have a much more enticing offer for prospective free agents when that summer rolls around. The current state of the roster doesn’t scream “come join us!” But by the time the Bulls sit down at the table of a tier one free agent in 2021, they’ll have:

- a 23-year-old Lauri Markkanen entering his fifth NBA season
- a 25-year-old Zach LaVine entering his eighth NBA season
- a 22-year-old Wendell Carter entering his fourth NBA season
- Lottery picks from 2019, 2020 and potentially 2021

They’ll have guys like Chandler Hutchison and perhaps a few holdovers from the current roster, but the above is the core that could entice a max player to, at the very least, consider Chicago.

The key for the Bulls over the next two seasons is to protect as much cap space as possible and add veterans that can help this young core grow. Three- and four-year deals should be off the table unless the Bulls are positive that player can be part of the next wave. Stopgaps are nice on paper and fill short-term needs, but the Bulls need to be looking long-term in every move they make. If a free agent deal signed the next two offseasons is going to spill into 2022 or later, it had better be a significant piece. That seems unlikely to happen, meaning the Bulls should target one- and two-year deals. Again, it's not what you want to hear but it's what needs to happen.

In terms of veterans, think Brooklyn signing Ed Davis, Philadelphia signing Amir Johnson and Atlanta signing Vince Carter (and the Kings doing so the previous year). None of those acquisitions produced much as far as on-court numbers were concerned, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any young talent on those teams who aren’t happy to have had them in the locker room.

It’s not a direct comparison, but the Bulls could follow the Brooklyn Nets’ model to get there. Brooklyn unearthed talent in players like Caris LeVert (20th overall), Jarrett Allen (22nd overall), Spencer Dinwiddie (G-League) and Joe Harris (two years, $16 million). That Nets team also took on the salaries of DeMarre Carroll and Kenneth Faried at a time when they weren’t contending to acquire draft assets that turned into significant pieces; the Nets took Rodions Kurucs with the second round pick included in the Faried deal, and they’ll have the 27th overall pick in this year’s draft thanks to the Faried deal.

The Nets also found their All-Star in D’Angelo Russell after acquiring him from the Lakers. Again, it’s not a perfect comparison, but LaVine could be the Russell of the Nets’ rebuild. Brooklyn went from 20 wins to 28 wins to 42 wins in large part because of his play. Russell could be on the way out if the Nets want to be in play for a max player – think Irving or Durant – this offseason, but if he yielded them a winning team that free agents are now interested in when they wouldn’t have been two years ago, that trade was a success for Brooklyn (they could also unload Allen Crabbe’s $18.5 million salary to be in play for two max players, and past assets to attach to that potential trade make it possible).

The Bulls should be looking for similar plays. They need to improve in the short-term but can do so in a way that leads to 2021. It’s not what fans want to hear after 27- and 22-win seasons, but short-term solutions make you a 41-win Pistons team without much real hope to actually contend.

The Bulls have identified three core players in Markkanen, LaVine and Carter, in addition to the draft picks they’ll have over the next three classes before free agency begins in 2021. Every move from them until now should be with that in mind, when the window opens next.