Bears

Del Negro beats the odds with Clippers

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Del Negro beats the odds with Clippers

The world works in mysterious ways sometimes. How else to explain former Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro and the Clippers moving on to the second round of the playoffs and the Bulls, along with Tom Thibodeau -- the fastest NBA head coach to 100 wins and owner of the league's best record in two consecutive seasons -- already being on vacation?

Circumstances have something to do with it, of course, as Thibodeau's Bulls were snake-bitten by injuries and Del Negro's Clippers feature All-Star Blake Griffin and point guard Chris Paul, third in the recent league MVP voting, but still, it's ironic that a coach ran out of Chicago and considered to be a lame-duck coach earlier this season, has taken a moribund franchise to the second round of the postseason. It just proves how much things can change in a matter of weeks in the results-oriented NBA, where perception is everything and a Bulls team expected to contend for a title is at home and the Clippers, predicted by most to be bounced out of the opening round, are still competing.

Give Del Negro credit, especially for the way his team won Game 7 on the road, in a hostile environment, against a favored Memphis squad that was supposedly too tough for his "Lob City" crew. Despite his talented co-stars being hobbled by injuries, the Clippers persevered and Del Negro went to the bold move of riding his bench in the second half of a physical, defensive-minded game.

Rather than Paul and Griffin taking over, the likes of veteran blue-collar types Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin, midseason acquisition Nick Young, known for gunning when he was with a sad-sack Washington team and fearless second-year guard Eric Bledsoe carried the Clippers down the stretch, beating the Grizzlies at their own game. How the Clippers will fare against the team Del Negro once played for, top-seeded San Antonio, is a different story, but a job that many observers thought would be vacant come the offseason now looks like it will have continuity, as Del Negro will likely have to receive a contract extension for his success.

Meanwhile, Thibodeau faces questions for his game management, including injuries suffered by Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah during the Bulls' first-round playoff series defeat to Philadelphia, and is still awaiting the organization picking up his option for the 2012-13 season, a likely occurrence, though a long-term extension might not be quickly forthcoming. That might not be fair, but that's life, especially in the NBA, where fortunes can turn as quickly as a torn ACL, turned ankle and in some cases, a couple of years, a cross-country move, a blockbuster trade for a superstar and one successful playoff series.

Chris Simms says Bears are a dangerous team entering Week 15

Chris Simms says Bears are a dangerous team entering Week 15

The Chicago Bears have completely flipped the narrative of their 2019 season over the last three weeks, thanks in large part to Matt Nagy's offense finally resembling the 202-level that was promised last summer.

It may have taken quarterback Mitch Trubisky a little longer than expected to arrive this year, but if his last two games are an indication of his development in his second season under Nagy's tutelage, the Bears have a bonafide quarterback. And it's been a while since that could be said.

"Mitchell Trubisky is hot, there's no doubt about it," NBC Sports NFL analyst Chris Simms said Thursday. "He seems so much more comfortable. Decisive. He's accurate with the football. Running around at the proper time. I don't think it was all Mitchell Trubisky's fault with the struggles of the offense, either."

Those struggles spanned the first half of 2019 when Chicago seemed incapable of sustaining drives or scoring points. It began with Week 1's three-point output against the Packers and continued through Thanksgiving Day when Trubisky finally got his mojo back, throwing for 338 yards and three touchdowns.

With Trubisky clicking, and the running game receiving a jolt from rookie David Montgomery's productive back-to-back weeks in which he's averaged more than four yards per carry in successive games for the first time all year, the Bears appear capable of beating just about anyone. 

They'll need to. If Chicago wants to keep their weak playoff pulse going, they have to win-out. And that includes games against the Packers, Chiefs and Vikings. 

The odds seem stacked against them, and it's their own fault. It took way too long to get the offense going, but it's better late than never. 

According to Simms, the Bears are that team no one wants to play.

"They're a dangerous team right now. They really are."

Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Whether the Cubs trade a member of their position player core this winter — i.e. Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras — is to be determined. Both have been fixtures in rumors this offseason, and the Cubs may make a deal to replenish their barren farm system and retool their roster with the organization’s long-term stability in mind.

Yu Darvish, on the other hand, is a different story.

No, the Cubs won’t be trading Darvish this winter, despite the inquiries they received at the Winter Meetings this week, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

A year ago, this would be an entirely different conversation. Darvish was coming off a disappointing debut season on the North Side in which he made eight starts and posted a 4.95 ERA in 40 innings. He didn’t throw a single big-league pitch after May 20 due to a lingering arm issue that led to surgery last November.

2019 was only Year 2 of the lucrative six-year contract Darvish signed in February 2018. But between the injury and his struggles before it that season, the narrative entering 2019 was shifting towards Darvish being a potential bust.

The narrative around Darvish is obviously much different now, thanks to the stellar second half performance he put together last season. In 13 starts, the 33-year-old delivered a 2.76 ERA, striking out 118 batters compared to a mere seven walks in 81 2/3 innings.

Not only was Darvish walking the walk, but he was talking the talk. He was determined to turn things around after posting a 5.01 ERA in the first half, asking then manager Joe Maddon to start the Cubs’ first game after the All-Star break. The result? Six innings of two-hit, no-run ball with eight strikeouts and one walk. Darvish's comeback was officially on.

Bust? Darvish is far from it now. He opted in to the remaining four years of his contract earlier this offseason, calling the Cubs "perfect" for him.

If the Cubs were entering a rebuild, fielding Darvish trade offers would make plenty of sense. He's owed $81 million through 2023, a bargain compared to the deals Gerrit Cole (nine years, $324 million — Yankees) and Stephen Strasburg (seven years, $245 million — Nationals) earned this offseason. Darvish's contract is desirable, and trading him would help alleviate the Cubs' notoriously tight payroll situation, freeing up money for them to put towards other needs.

But the Cubs aren’t rebuilding, and trading Darvish would create a tremendous hole in a rotation with plenty of uncertainty after next season. José Quintana is set to hit free agency after 2020 and Jon Lester could join him, if his 2021 option doesn’t vest (he must pitch 200 innings next season for that to occur). Heck, even Tyler Chatwood's deal is up after 2020.

In one season, Darvish has elevated himself to the No. 1 pitcher in the Cubs rotation. The Cubs won't be better next season if they trade Bryant or Contreras, but they'd still be competitive and acquire assets for the future.

One player doesn't make a team in baseball, but the Cubs need Darvish in their rotation, not someone else's. Unless they're absolutely blown away by a trade offer, Darvish isn't going anywhere.

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