Bulls

Frankie O's Blog: A tradition unlike any other

Frankie O's Blog: A tradition unlike any other

Friday, April 8, 2011
Posted: 9:24 a.m.

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Hello friends! This time of year always reminds me of the dreams of my childhood. Most of the other kids dreamed of being a fireman or astronaut, for me it was something different. I always wanted to grow up to be Jim Nantz. And since I still havent grown up, maybe theres still a chance! Think of it: This guy (No, not me, yet!) gets a front row seat for three weeks to two of the best sporting events and he does it every year! Although I have to admit, not having to sit courtside and watch the NCAA mens title game might have been a blessing, since while I watched it at home I kept falling asleep. That game took basketball back a few years. Maybe a few dozen.

As I laid in a dreamy daze, with the constant clank of the rim coming out in staccato bursts from my surround sound, drowning out my snoring, I wondered if all the one-and-done players had watered down the talent level of division 1 basketball so much, that this is what were left with. Dont get me wrong, the win or go home drama of the tournament make it must-see TV and the best reality show ever. The fact that all of the best players of college age are in the pros makes some of the college games hard to watch from a pure basketball standpoint. That is if you enjoy watching wide-open players actually making shots. The NCAA has some problems. Im not sure I would get a lot, or ANY, dispute on that. But as long as CBS throws gobs of money at them, and all of us fill out our (losing) brackets, I dont see the NCAA in any hurry to solve any issues. But maybe they should take a look at the Fighting Illinis Jereme Richmond and see if they can learn anything from his brief experience as a student-athlete. Of course, this is if they have any spare time from suspending coaches for NEXT year, while they participate in post-seasons THIS year.

Then Jimbo gets to stroll up Magnolia Lane and sip Arnold Palmers in Butler Cabin. As Ive told anyone who will listen, my Masters experience is probably the sporting event of my lifetime. Watching on TV in this world of Hi-def, is for any fan, completely mesmerizing. Going there in person blows that away. I went there in 2007 and will never forget it. In a world full of hype, few things can measure up. The Masters is one of them. I was on a waiting list for practice rounds tickets for ten long years before I got invited. For me it was important to be invited. I know for many, some of the August National traditions may seem a little country club stuffy, but I think theyre kind of cool. They have their ways and unlike a lot of others theyve earned the right.

One is that they are very proper. Being as such, I didnt want to gate-crash. Ive been offered the opportunity to buy tickets over the years, but that didnt seem right. I wanted to walk in through the front door as an invited guest and not worry about having passes that werent legit. For ten years I sent in my application. Notification of winning is in September, and for nine years my mailbox was empty. Then, I received my application for 2007 in May of 06. In the Masters edition of my Golf World magazine, I read a full page article written by a guy from New Jersey who had been sending in his applications for 10 years before he hit. He wrote of how special it was to spend a day on the grounds with his dad and brothers. The joy in what he was writing jumped from the page. To say I was jealous would be an understatement.

So it was without much expectation when I sent in my application that July. Philly guys always see the worst in any situation. Life moved on and I was immersed in it. Then one day, without even realizing what time of year it was, I went to get the mail. Shining like a beacon, there was a yellow envelope in the middle of all of my junk mail. Once again, I think Im pretty grounded and realistic about what life has to offer and I realize what is important in it. Still, when I opened the letter and saw what it said, you could not wipe the smile off my face. I immediately called my father and buddies to tell them the good news: Were going to Augusta! My wife told me to take the phone outside since I sounded like I was 15. Augusta National! Wow! I dont know if I anticipated going anywhere more. In the sports bucket list, this was at the top. That I had 6 months to think about it made me crazier than normal.

We were going for two days: Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday was for exploring every inch of the course. Wednesday was for watching the Par 3 Contest while sitting next to Ikes pond. When making our travel arrangements, we realized that the Final Four was in Atlanta. We were flying there on Monday, the day of the National Title Game. Why not? Even while we were in the Georgia Dome, watching Florida pound Ohio State, (I would normally would have enjoyed this, but our obnoxious suite mates (Thats right! We watched from a suite! Bo-Ya!) were from Florida, and they made it impossible to root for the Gators, so I couldnt cheer for either team.) our thoughts were a hundred miles away.

We arrived in Augusta at 2:00 a.m., but still had to drive by the front gate just to make sure we were really there. Bleary-eyed the next morning at 7:30 a.m., we entered the grounds. It was other-worldly. Things looked familiar, only more brilliant. It was like going back in time. The vibe was awesome. It was like everyone around you was in on it too. The first couple of hours were dizzying. There was so much to take in. Amen Corner, Sixteen, 2.00 beers! After sharing a pimento and cheese sandwich (yuck) for lunch, we did what I have always dreamed of. We walked the course, from the first tee, shot by shot. We met tons of people, were awed by some of the natural beauty and talked to every Marshall we could. Talk about golf encyclopedias! These gentlemen have been there forever and were more than pleased to share stories about what they have seen. After the round we all hugged at the eighteenth green. I will always remember that walk. There was only one thing that could top that and that was the Par 3. The atmosphere was like being at a family picnic. But instead of hanging with your uncles, you got to watch Jack, Arnie and Gary. How cool is that? It was one of those days that you wish would not end. As close to perfect as you good get at a sporting event. Although as you looked around, at everyone you were sharing this time with, you knew it was more than that. Its hard to comprehend, but being there was cooler than I ever thought it would be.

As I watch The Masters I always go back to that time. Each tournament brings a new story that golf fans can cherish. Very rarely can I say that theres been a dull one. I try to watch as much as I can and become riveted with the battles for golfs elite to earn the coveted green jacket. And since 2007 as I watch, its with a smile in my heart, as I remember seeing all that is on the screen before me in person. In 2007 I had a small slice of what my boy Nantz gets to experience every April. He is one lucky dude. And for the time I had, so am I. Now if I could only grow up.

Bulls finally getting with the times, putting together versatile roster

bulls.png
USA TODAY

Bulls finally getting with the times, putting together versatile roster

Position-less basketball is the hot new buzzword in NBA circles, but it's also an important one.

Consider what the 2016-17 Bulls rolled out the same year the Golden State Warriors Death Lineup'd their way to an NBA title. Led by the Three Alphas of Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler, here's how the minutes shook out, per Basketball Reference.

Rondo played 100% of his minutes at point guard despite having played 42% of his minutes at shooting guard the year earlier for the Kings (a year in which he shot 36.5% from deep). Wade played 84% of his minutes at shooting guard. The following seasons, the last two of his career, he played 31% at point guard, 54% at shooting guard and 15% at small forward.

Butler played 93% of his minutes at small forward. The next two seasons, in Minnesota and Philadelphia, his minutes were split up at 45% shooting guard, 48% small forward and 7% power forward.

Taj Gibson played 96% of his minutes at power forward and Robin Lopez played 100% of his minutes at center. Nikola Mirotic played 88% of his minutes at power forward. Over the last two seasons, he's played 74% of his minutes at power forward and 23% at center (and 3% at small forward).

Sensing a theme here?

While the NBA zigged toward position-less basketball, the Bulls...didn't do anything. They had traditional roles, had little depth that allowed them to tinker with lineups despite that being the best way to utilize Fred Hoiberg's philosophies, and they failed. Yes, they led 2-0 on the Celtics in the first round of the postseason. No, that didn't make that entire season any less of a mess.

Fast forward two years and one rebuild later, and the Bulls enter Year 3 of the post-Jimmy Buckets era with some serious versatility.

The latest signal that this franchise is ready to move forward came on Thursday when the Bulls drafted North Carolina guard Coby White. He's not a traditional point guard, and the Bulls don't want him to be. In fact, the Bulls' entire offseason feels like it could be more about finding the right players instead of the right positional needs.

"John (Paxson) and I have had great conversations about our team during the year, at the end of the season, about what we thought we needed, where we thought we needed to go, and today is a product of that, of those meetings, those discussions, and his view," Jim Boylen said Monday. "We talked about positional size a lot, we talked about speed, quickness, athleticism. Those are the things we thought we needed with the group of guys we had, to add to them. Whether it’s vertical spacing, speed, making defenses chase people over, all those kinds of things, we discussed. And as we went into the draft process we were hoping to find players to help us with that. Thankfully we have."

Of White specifically, Boylen said the Bulls won't "put him in this box where he just has to play this way," Boylen added. For the first time arguably since Nate Robinson in 2013, the Bulls have a legitimate shooting threat at point guard. What's more, the 6-foot-5 White can play off the ball and spot up for perimeter jumpers, something that makes Zach LaVine more valuable and the offense more versatile.

The Bulls are finally looking to look like a versatile group. Otto Porter's defensive ability will give the Bulls the option of playing small, something that prior to his arrival just meant Chandler Hutchison getting abused in the post. Lauri Markkanen is a work-in-progress as a center, though his limited minutes and skill set give optimism that it's something he can do in spurts going forward. LaVine was never going to take on a full-time point guard role, but he was more than comfortable with the ball in his hands acting as an offensive initiator last season. maybe Kris Dunn, LaVine and White all share the floor together.

We could even see second round pick Daniel Gafford and Wendell Carter Jr. together in massive frontline spurts if the opposition calls for it. That's more fantasy than reality, but having the option is something they didn't have in the past.

The next step is free agency. With the Bulls, in theory, having starters at all five positions - White could move to the bench if Paxson goes after a veteran free agent - the Bulls can again get versatile and hone in on particular skill sets instead of simply trying to round out the depth chart. It doesn't feel like the Bulls will make a major splash - either giving Milwaukee's Malcolm Brogdon a gigantic offer sheet or finding room to sign Brooklyn's D'Angelo Russell - but they'll be aggressive with their more than $22 million in cap space. They need point guard depth, more shooters on the wing and a locker room presence (Cris Felicio is a month younger than Otto Porter, the oldest player on the Bulls).

"We have a very good idea of what we want. But we’re going to have to wait until the 30th to go at it. But we know we need to add some veterans," Paxson said. "Definitely, we’re looking for a couple veteran guys that fit well with this young group – be pros, show these guys every day what it means to be a professional. Most guys that last a long time in this league, they last because they’ve been pros. They take care of themselves, they’ve played well, they’ve done all the right things. And that’s always best example for young players.”

The roster is far from a finished product. Injuries aside, the Bulls still won just 22 games a year ago, don't have max cap space, and White isn't Zion Williamson.

There's work to do. But for the first time during the rebuild, the Bulls are going to have options. The roster is beginning to look like what an group of NBA players in 2019 should look like. The Bulls are getting versatile, and it's an important step forward.

Calvin de Haan on unexpected trade to Blackhawks and what he brings to the table

Calvin de Haan on unexpected trade to Blackhawks and what he brings to the table

Calvin de Haan knew that the Carolina Hurricanes had a logjam on defense going into this summer and that somebody was going to be dealt to create a spot. The move was also driven by financial reasons as the Hurricanes look to re-sign a handful of players, most notably Sebastian Aho.

He just wasn't expecting it to be his name on the move.

"I'm still kind of in shock, to be honest," de Haan said on Tuesday's conference call. "I didn’t think it was going to be me. After Carolina signed me last summer my fiancée and I thought we were going to have some roots there, but I get it, it’s a business. Looking back on it now, it’s only been 16 hours or whatever, but it’s been a whirlwind. I’m really looking forward to it now. Obviously Stan [Bowman] and the Blackhawks made a deal for me and I feel like I’m wanted and I’m really looking forward to this opportunity with this organization."

De Haan, who signed a four-year, $18.2 million contract with Carolina last offseason, admitted that the Blackhawks didn't show any interest in him when he was an unrestricted free agent. But he's excited about being in an organization that values his services, and the feeling is mutual because he's filling an immediate need on the back end for the Blackhawks: a player who can log big minutes, is a sound stay-at-home defenseman and can play an effective role on the penalty kill.

Jeremy Colliton, who was the captain for the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers during de Haan's rookie season in the pros from 2011-12, will certainly appreciate what his former teammate brings to the table.

"I just like to think my position’s good," de Haan said of his game. "I like to think I move well on the ice. I’ve always tried to play a simple game. I saw some tweets yesterday that I might be the next best thing to Nik Hjalmarsson that the Blackhawks have had in a while, so that’s a compliment. That guy’s had a great career and that’s a player I like to play like. Nothing flashy, just kind of get the job done and I hope Blackhawk fans will really appreciate my game. It’s something I’m really looking forward to this season."  

De Haan underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in May — exactly five weeks from Tuesday — and was given a four-to-six month timeline, putting his availability for training camp and the season opener in jeopardy. But he's hoping to be cleared by the time training camp rolls around in September and be ready to go for the season opener on Oct. 4 in Prague.

"Things are progressing well," de Haan said. "I like to think I’m ahead of schedule. I’ve had shoulder surgeries in the past as well where I know how this goes and I’m gonna make sure I’m ready for camp. Then it’s going to be up to the training staff and the doctors whether they want me to play or take a few weeks here and there and just progress slowly. But my main goal is to be ready for camp. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines. I want to be on the ice with the guys and out there grinding away and try to get the team back in the playoffs."

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