Frankie O's Blog: Now what?

Frankie O's Blog: Now what?

Friday, Feb. 11, 2011
9:02 a.m.

By Frankie O

We often hear about the dog-days in sports. That time when the excitement of the beginning of the season has worn off and the thrill of the end of season playoffs (for some teams!)is still a ways off. For us fans, especially those who live where the weather makes us feel like weve been living in Minsk for the last month, weve officially hit our dog-days. Ice on everything (and I mean everything!), a mailbox still full of holiday bills and worst of more NFL!! Thankfully, theres no Pro Bowl this week to mock us, it was enough of a mockery two weeks ago. This is when a lot fans take a vacation from their issues. The NFL season is a long arduous trek and for many the end is a time to rest-up and get back to doing chores and saying hello to the kids. Well, for some of us anyway. For yours truly, its about, Whats next? For while this is not exactly the best time of year to have a sports affliction, there is never really is a bad time. This is no time to hang it up, theres other sports being played. My glass is always full! (Im a bartender. Get it?) Theres plenty to occupy us right now, and some things in our near future that will help us get through our winter malaise. Thankfully, Jay Cutler has nothing to do with any of it!

The plight of the Hawks and Bulls are the talk of the bar right now. For the Hawks its, Whats the problem? And for the Bulls its, How far do you think they can go?
It speaks to the newness of some fans that I am constantly asked what is wrong with the Hawks. Thinking that they could lose 10 guys from last year and not miss a beat is a little nave to say the least. What they still have is the core that led them to last years Cup. Something that core learned in winning is that the NHL is all about the playoffs. (What a novel concept!) This team still has enough talent to do some damage. The problem is they have to get there. My opinion is that for a lot of the season this team has been on cruise control. Their effort has been questioned by their coach and their captain at different times this year. This group is going to have to figure out their own destiny since a trade does seem imminent either, at least one with major consequence because of the salary cap. The trade of Jack Skille to me is as much a wake-up call, and Dale Tallons interest in a player that he made the 7th overall pick, than the bringing in of a guy that will put them over the top. They know that they are still in position and just need to turn up the volume a little, hopefully, that will be soon.

As for the Bulls, they have a nice buzz going on. Watching Derrick Rose play is must-see TV. He has at least one play a game that everyone is talking about the next day. The anticipation here is waiting for the return of Joakim Noah. That hopefully will be right after the all-star game and would enable the entire line-up to play together for about two months before the start of the playoffs. I know there is talk of trading for a two-guard, but my feeling is that that wont happen until after the season, at least for a guy who would make a big difference. Even so, this team will continue to be fun to watch and is going to be a load for someone to deal with in the post-season.

And I can say for the first time this year, there have been college basketball conversations at the bar. In fact, they started up just after the end of the Super Bowl. As we sat dazed at the bar considering the double-whammy of the end of the season and a Packers championship, the mood had to be lightened, and I asked, only half-jokingly, What do we do now? To my surprise, most of the responses did not include semi-possible physical acts. In fact, a full-out NCAA basketball conversation ensued. And while there was plenty of dismay about the current Illini season, there was plenty of agreement that this years tournament could be better than most. That because there doesnt seem to be a clear-cut number 1, it could be upset mania, at least more so than usual, and who loves blown-up brackets? Thats right, This Guy!!

And dare I mention the thought that dances through the minds of all red-blooded fans? No, its not the swimsuit issue that will soon arrive in our mailboxes. Its the siren song that we will hear next week: Pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training! Can my fantasy baseball guide be far behind?

So while the end of football and the temperature outside are always vivid reminders of the long, cold winter, most of all though, this time of year makes me look to the future. What we are going through now will enable to better enjoy the sports cornucopia that the turn of the calendar to spring will bring. Soon enough we will be enjoying March Madness, The Masters, Opening Day and the start of the hockey and basketball playoffs. Not to mention by then, we might be thawed out

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Bulls take sober approach in draft, satisfied with steady roster growth  

Bulls take sober approach in draft, satisfied with steady roster growth  

It wasn’t an exciting night at the Advocate Center but it was a successful one in the eyes of the rebuilding Chicago Bulls.

And a telling one, from their inaction as they stayed put to select Duke’s Wendell Carter Jr. and Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison with their two first round picks.

They’re not looking to press the fast-forward button on this methodical process, placing unrealistic expectations on themselves that they’re nowhere near ready to embrace.

But perhaps, it was necessary.

Trade offers were around, and the Bulls were enamored with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marvin Bagley III in addition to their interest in Mohamed Bamba. But the price of swapping picks, along with giving up the 22nd spot and a future first-rounder was too rich for the Bulls, according to sources.

“We’re always looking and probing for opportunity. How close we got, we don’t know,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman said. “We looked into some things. We thought it was more than a six-player draft. And Wendell is a guy we’ve been high on for quite awhile.”

They believe they’ve opted for prudence instead of panic on a night where bold, confident steps are expected.

After a painful march to the end of an unsatisfying season and dropping a spot in the lottery, a trade would’ve been a do-good when many felt the Bulls should’ve been at the top of the draft order.

After all, so much was made of their scouts and staff spending so much time during the year to assess the top talent—nobody wanted to see all that unspoken promise result in a mid-lottery seventh selection.

“We feel we’re in a situation at this time of our rebuild that to give up assets, important draft assets to move up a spot or two, that didn’t make sense to us and the way we’re planning,” Paxson said. “We continue to talk about being patient and disciplined in how we make decisions.”

One can look at it as the Bulls being unwilling to embrace what comes with taking a top-four talent—especially with Jackson being viewed as a long play as opposed to an instant impact prospect—the word “playoffs” would’ve been swirling all around Madison and Wood for the next several months.

Or one can view it as a sober approach, that Paxson and Forman know there’s far too many unanswered questions about their core, that a slightly better-than-expected regular season wasn’t going to seduce them down a costly road.

They don’t seem to be completely sold on Kris Dunn as the unequivocal point guard of the future, unafraid to take Trae Young if he fell into their lap.

Zach LaVine didn’t play to his expectations, the franchise’s expectations and he didn’t look comfortable playing with the Dunn and Lauri Markkanen, in part because they didn’t have the opportunity.

He enters restricted free agency and nobody will know how much the Bulls value him until they put an initial offer in front of him, likely on the eve of free agency a week from now.

As much as the last 12 months were about hitting the reset button and trading Jimmy Butler to put themselves in this spot, the months of October to April didn’t shed as much light as many anticipated—hence the talk from Paxson about patience and not being in a rush with the rebuild right now.

Because honestly, there’s nothing to rush—the last thing this distrusting fan base wants to hear.

Carter can be exactly what the Bulls need—some ways immediately, other ways in time provided the roster construction is competent and not done at a snail’s pace, the biggest fear from this jaded fan base.

Having to sacrifice at Duke once Bagley III reclassified to get to college, his offensive game didn’t develop as much as it could have—and it’s not like he’ll be featured early on in Chicago with Markkanen and LaVine penciled in as main scoring options.

“As much as you wanna talk about the game getting away from bigs, big guys and their ability to score, the way the game’s going,” Paxson said. “He wants to set screens for guys. This is a young man who’s gonna fit into the team concept that we want to have. And Chandler will do the same.”

Carter had to submerge his talents and gifts during the one season he had to showcase it for the greater good. It speaks to a certain emotional maturity the 19-year old has, a sober approach to look at the bigger picture while still making the most of his not-so-plentiful opportunities.

“Wendell is still a young guy,” Paxson said. “Very few draft picks are finished product, especially in our game where we’re drafting so young. He’s got a lot of room to grow. Defensively as a rim protector, he’ll do really well. Verticality at the rim, he’s been taught really well. Smart kid, we think he’s gonna be really good.”

Hutchison isn’t the high-upside talent Carter is, having played four years of college ball, improving each year to the point that the Bulls supposedly made him a promise very early on in the draft process.

Their unwillingness to give up the 22nd pick, whether they like the perception or not, stems from their belief Hutchison can be an impact player.

“We like Chandler a lot,” Paxson said. “We scouted him early, scouted him often. He knew we liked him. He addresses a position of need. We had debates on wings and players at his position. His ability to rebound and take it off the board, those things are really valuable, especially the way we want to play.”

Paxson alluded to tense discussions leading to the draft, where one can surmise there was serious consideration about not just going with the status quo—their reported interest in point guard Collin Sexton should be proof of that—and that should come as a positive sign for Bulls fans, who feel the front office is satisfied with a slow-rolling, low-accountability approach since they aren’t saddling themselves with high expectations.

To paraphrase Forman, the Bulls are “still building up our asset base” and subtly saying they expect to be in a similar position next June.

Soberly saying winning and contention isn’t on the horizon can be refreshing to hear, but they walk a fine line of expressing too much comfort in things staying the way they are.