Bears

Bulls wary of firepower of Del Negro's Clippers

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Bulls wary of firepower of Del Negro's Clippers

LOS ANGELES How lucky is Vinny Del Negro? The Clippers' head coach, fired by the Bulls after the 2009-10 season, was hired by the other L.A. team, which happened to have a No. 1 overall draft pick in Blake Griffin the second top selection hes coached and then, prior to the beginning of last season, the organization acquired All-Star point guard Chris Paul, changing the fortunes of the long-troubled franchise.

But as talented as last seasons team was they advanced to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, beating the Memphis Grizzlies in an upset of sorts, before losing to the San Antonio Spurs this years squad could be even better. While the drama surrounding the star-studded Lakers and their coaching situation has captivated fans, the Clippers might be the best team in the City of Angels, as well as the possibly the leagues deepest team.

Theyre explosive. When your leading scorer is coming off the bench, it says a lot," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau explained. "Jamal Crawfords playing great for them, but obviously their depths a huge asset. Six guys average in double figures, well-balanced. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan put a lot of pressure on you inside, and theyre skilled. Caron Butler, tremendous. Matt Barnes, energy. Ryan Hollins, energy off the bench. So, weve got to be ready for the challenge."

"Chris Paul, Eric Bledsoe, Crawford, those guys are going to put a lot of pressure on your defense because of their ability to break you down off the dribble and then, their ability to finish inside, but its well-balanced. Theyre moving the ball, theyre playing with great pace, so you have to get back, get your defense set, try to keep the ball out of the paint, challenge shots and then youve got to finish your defense. Youve got to rebound. Theyre tough on the offensive boards, as well."

"Chris Pauls been a great player in this league for a long time and theyve got guys that are still out. Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups. Theyre deep now theyre going to be deeper down the road, but Chris Paul, Bledsoe, even a guy like Willie Green. Willie Green has played great for them," continued the coach, whose team faces the Clippers at the Staples Center in a Saturday-night matchup. "Theres nothing that they dont have and defensively, the length up front, shot-blocking. You cant allow them to turn you over. They turn you over, theyre going to score easily in transition. Live-ball turnovers are a problem."

Were going to use everybody. Thats why you have a team. Well see how the game unfolds. But I feel good about our team. We just have to be ready to play. Youre on the road, so you have to be ready from the start. You have to set a tone. We know how good they are, we know how explosive they are. Their easy baskets theyre shooting as a team almost 50 percent, very unusual and theyre putting up over 100 points a game, so you cant let your guard down at all against them. Otherwise, they could get a 10-0 spurt against you in a minute, so youve got to make sure youre tied together in every aspect of your defense.

Indeed, with an elite playmaker like Paul, an athletic marvel like Griffin, an instant-offense scorer like Crawford, a former Bull, and an imposing, much-improved true center like Jordan, not to mention their incredible depth, the Clippers, who won an early-season showdown with the defending-champion Heat, do pose some matchup problems for the Bulls. While the teams by-committee approach has been successful, without the game-changing talents of the injured Derrick Rose, it will be an uphill battle.

Speaking of Rose, the superstar point guard is currently in Los Angeles, where he typically spends his offseasons as he continues his ongoing rehabilitation process. Thibodeau said the team has been contact with him since arriving in town Thursday and noted that Rose may attend Saturdays game.

The main focus for him is his rehab. We felt it was best for him to be here, in one place, doing his rehab. As I mentioned the other day, he started cutting and stuff, so hes doing fine, everythings going according to plan. He just has to keep doing what hes doing, he explained. I dont want him to be concerned with where we are with the team or anything like that. Hes doing fine and I want our guys here to be focused on improvement, and our next opponent.

Bears could develop “twin towers” personnel package at WR with Robinson, White

Bears could develop “twin towers” personnel package at WR with Robinson, White

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Coaches are loath to give away competitive information, which can cover just about anything from play design to flavor of Gatorade dispensed by the training staff. But Matt Nagy offered an intriguing what-if personnel grouping that his offense could confront defenses with in 2018. It’s one that has been overlooked so far, for a variety of reasons.


The what-if personnel pairing is Allen Robinson and Kevin White as the outside receivers, a tandem that would put two 6-foot-3 wide receivers at the disposal of quarterback Mitch Trubisky. The Bears have not had a tandem of effective big receivers since Alshon Jeffery (6-3) and Brandon Marshall (6-4) averaged a combined 159 catches per year from 2012-14.


White’s injury history has relegated him to found-money status in many evaluations, and he has typically been running at Robinson’s spot while the latter was rehabbing this offseason from season-ending knee injury.


But Nagy on Wednesday cited Robinson’s ability to play multiple positions and clearly raised the prospect of his two of his biggest receivers being on the field at the same time.


“The one thing you’ll see here in this offense is that we have guys all over the place in different spots,” said Nagy, who credited GM Ryan Pace with stocking the roster with options at wide receiver. “Ryan did a great job of looking at these certain free agents that we went after, some of these draft picks that we went after and getting guys that are football smart, they have a high football IQ and they’re able to play multiple positions.


“When you can do that, that helps you out as an offensive playcaller to be able to move guys around. Is it going to happen to every single receiver that comes into this offense? No. But we do a pretty job I feel like at balancing of where they’re at position wise, what they can and can’t handle, and then we try to fit them into the process.”


The organization and locker room can be excused for a collective breath-holding on White, who has gone through his third straight positive offseason but whose last two seasons ended abruptly with injuries in the fourth and first games of the 2016 and 2017 seasons.


White was leading the Bears in with 19 receptions through less than four full games in 2016, then was lost with a fractured fibula suffered against Detroit. The injury was all the crueler coming in a game in which White already had been targeted nine times in 41 snaps and had caught six of those Brian Hoyer passes.


White’s roster status has been open to some question with the signings of Robinson and Taylor Gabriel together with the drafting of Anthony Miller. All represent bigger deep threats in terms of average yards per catch than White (9.2 ypc.) at this point: Robinson, 14.1.; Gabriel, 15.1; and Miller, 13.8 (college stats).


But Trubisky’s budding chemistry with White was evident throughout the offseason. And the second-year quarterback has studied what Robinson has been and seen some of what he can be.


“We know he has great hands, he’ll go up and get it,” Trubisky said. “Explosive route-runner. The more reps we get, it’s all about repetitions for us, continue to build that chemistry. Just going against our great defense in practice is going to allow us to compete and get better.”


Folding in the expectations for an expanded presence at tight end (Trey Burton), “targets” will be spread around the offense. How often the Bears go with a Robinson-White “twin towers” look clearly depends in large measure on White’s improvement as well as his availability.


Opportunities will be there. The Kansas City Chiefs ran 51 percent of their 2018 snaps, with Nagy as offensive coordinator, in “11” personnel (one back, one tight end, three receivers, according to Pro Football Focus. Whether White earns his way into that core nickel-wideout package opposite Robinson is part of what training camp and preseason will determine.


“[White] has had a good offseason and just like our team, he needs to carry that momentum into camp,” Pace said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now, he’s very focused. The real expectation, just be the best he can be. Focus on himself, which is what he’s been doing.”

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

The Cubs didn't wait long to make Joe Maddon's words come true.

Roughly 5 hours after Maddon said the Cubs are definitely in the market for more pitching, the front office went out and acquired Jesse Chavez, a journeyman jack-of-all-trades type.

It's a minor move, not in the realm of Zach Britton or any of the other top relievers on the market.

But the Cubs only had to part with pitcher Class-A pitcher Tyler Thomas, their 7th-round draft pick from last summer who was pitching out of the South Bend rotation as a 22-year-old.

Chavez — who turns 35 in a month — brings over a vast array of big-league experience, with 799 innings under his belt. He's made 70 starts, 313 appearances as a reliever and even has 3 saves, including one this season for the Texas Rangers.

Chavez is currently 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. He has a career 4.61 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching for the Pirates, Braves, Royals, Blue Jays, A's, Dodgers, Angels and Rangers before coming to Chicago.

Of his 30 appearances this season, Chavez has worked multiple innings 18 times and can serve as a perfect right-handed swingman in the Cubs bullpen, filling the role previously occupied by Luke Farrell and Eddie Butler earlier in the season.

Chavez had a pretty solid run as a swingman in Oakland from 2013-15, making 47 starts and 50 appearances as a reliever, pitching to a 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 across 360.1 innings.

"Good arm, versatile, could start and relieve," Joe Maddon said Thursday after the trade. "I've watched him. I know he had some great runs with different teams. 

"The word that comes to mind is verstaility. You could either start him or put him in the bullpen and he's very good in both arenas."

It's not a flasy move, but a valuable piece to give the Cubs depth down the stretch.

There's no way the Cubs are done after this one trade with nearly two weeks left until the deadline. There are more moves coming from this front office, right?

"Oh yeah," Maddon said. "I don't think that's gonna be the end of it. They enjoy it too much."