Bulls

Frankie O's NBA guilty pleasure

Frankie O's NBA guilty pleasure

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

As anyone who knows me can tell you, or even someone who unwittingly comes into my proximity, the sports affliction I possess is pretty serious. At front and center of this is rooting for my teams, those that I grew up following with a passion being raised in the Philadelphia area: The Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and Sixers. For as long as I can remember, I have been consumed by their travails and exploits. Some might even call the enthusiasm I have for my teams a borderline mental disorder. I dont know about that, but, at this point, what can I do?

Even moving over 700 miles away hasnt dampened my fervor. That this would puzzle some people puzzles me even more. Among the top-5 questions that I get asked at the bar is about which of the cities teams that I root for: Philadelphia or Chicago? I often viewed this query as being ignorant to what being a fan is all about. You dance with who brung ya. Obviously, switching allegiances to any flavor of the monthduring my lifetime could have saved me years of heartache. We all know Yankees or Dallas Cowboys fans that have never set foot in either city. But Im too far in at this point. A parallel might be: for better or for worse. Why must my teams torture me? WHY?!! Ive come to the realization that this is the VERY reason that they were put on this earth: To mess with my mental well-being at every opportunity. (Wow! That is quite a parallel!)

I know some of you are saying, But, Frankie O, you had the Phillies of 08. And Ill reply: Do the math! Since 1983 4 teams per year, 1 freaking title! ONE. 1 out of 116. Whatever!

The thing that probably drives me most crazy is the spectacular way in which my teams choose to lose. There are no easy ways out when you can make your failure one for the ages. I need only mention The football Dream Team, the 2011 baseball Cardinals or a humongously crazy Russian goalie. And thats all in just the last year!

As you notice, I only referenced three teams. Thats because almost since I moved here 17 years ago, the Sixers, already regulated to 4 status, were gradually losing my interest. Now remember Im talking Frankie O interest, (Whenever you can go 3rd person, DO IT!) so compared to someone normal, I still spent way too much time on them. But even during the run to the NBA Finals in 2001, the team did not conjure the passion in me the way the other 3 teams did. Call it the Iverson effect. Talented player, but he seemed to me to represent what I didnt like about the NBA. Not that it was just him, the Jerry Stackhouse-Derrick Coleman didnt help things either, but the selfishness of their basketball was hard to watch. My nickname for Iverson was 9 for 27 since that was his shooting line every night. Im not kidding, look it up!

Anyway, in retrospect, what has now happened now should make sense. My memories of Doctor J, Mo Cheeks or Bobby Jones will never be tarnished or go away. But to sound my age, basketball was better then. Old school! This all would contribute to make me what they would call vulnerable. It wasis my weakest link.

Now the Chicago Bulls are one of the premier franchises in the NBA and renowned around the world. Thank you Michael Jordan! I moved here just at the end of his hiatus in 1995. Watching the Bulls and living here during the Second Three, was very cool. But as Ive written before, there was a disconnect for me, since I wasnt from here. I didnt feel that I had earned the right to be a Bulls fan and hopping on the bandwagon while they were winning titles was in bad form. I did however share the anger when they were disbanded way too early for all of our enjoyment. Any NBA fan should have felt that way.

That led to the Dark Ages for basketball in this town: Six straight years of missing the playoffs. 119-341. Ouch! Yet all during that time I watched. Of course when you spend most of your nights in a bar you cant help yourself, but still, watching those teams night after night takes some sort of devotion. (Or sickness, which is right up my alley!)

Then Scott Skiles took over as coach and along with an infusion of talent, thats when the team began to be fun to watch. Now mind you, this wasnt top-of-the-mountain talent, but they seemed to get the most out of it and this appealed to me. Theres something about scrappy teams.

Each of these teams met an early demise, but again, this is the NBA, where superior talent always wins and the Bulls still didnt have that. Scrappy teams get a wink for pluck and then have a nice summer.

Then, in a lottery winning moment, the Bulls hit the lottery-literally and Derrick Rose became a Bull, a home-grown talent as good as any player in the league. Bring in a coach as focused as Rose is talented and for the Bulls it was: game on!

During my time here, there are these little games within the game that occur when a team from Philly plays a team from Chicago. This I have written ad nauseam and I do mean nauseam! But every time, it was never in doubt for whom I was rooting. This has led to many uncomfortable moments, on both sides, but only when my team lost! Rest assured, I will have to live with the memory of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals and not be at all happy. But no grudges and no worries, its not like that was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Close, but not quite.

Imagine the surprise of Flyers G.M. Paul Holmgren when he sat at the bar on the eve of the Flyers-Hawks game here a year later and Frankie O (3-ball!) let it all out. That was very cool. Cooler yet was the fact that Holmgren seemed to encourage me to get it all out. Love that guy!

Its a torment that I will have to carry by myself, (Along with a select 3 others that are in my same boat.) and since thats the way it is I will just have to deal until my pain is eased, some year. (Not that any of the teams seem to be in much hurry!)

Which brings me to a crossroad, and a confession.

When it became apparent, that the Bulls and Sixers were going to meet in the playoffs this year, I had a decision to make. I was asked a bunch about it but not as much by those who knew me well, Im sure they just assumed what the answer would be. Those who did ask, and did know me, just kind of gave me blank looks. Awkward!!

They must have been thinking: Who is this imposter? This cant be Frankie O! (There should be a drinking game where every time I type Frankie O, you have to drink when you read it! Twice in 2 sentences! Boo-Ya!)

Well, it is. Ive come out of the closet. The Bulls have been a guilty pleasure of mine for a long time. Like I said, what I have is a sickness! Even rooting for a team where I live is not something I take lightly or without guilt. Im a Philly fan for crying out loud! How could this have happened? But the Sixers and I have been growing apart for a while now, might as well face facts. I was ripe for the picking.

This series has forced me to be honest about my dishonesty, because, in a way, thats how I feel. Still I cant deny the feelings that I have for the Bulls. They are the type of team that I want to root for. They play hard. They show up every night. And most importantly, they havent broken my heart year after year! They are something shiny and new.

It was hardest to tell my kids, but I think they understand. It will be confusing for them for a while, but well get through it. In fact, my son even watched Game Six with me in his Bulls tee shirt.

Young minds, they heal fast!

It is here that we get to the series and the kick in the stomach that it was for Bulls fans, like me, in fact, especially me. I cant help feeling that Ive watched this before, say for the last 28 years!

This wasnt supposed to happen! I cant help but feel a little responsible. Is this because of me? Is this the curse of Frankie O? (Chug-a-lug!)

Have I now brought a lifetime of suffering to new, unsuspecting masses?

If so, my bad, I couldnt help myself. The allure of the Bulls was too big, too fast and too strong. Im only a man, and a weak one at that.

So bear with me as we move forward. What doesnt kill us only makes us stronger, at least thats what people I know have been telling me forever.

But there was a certain familiarity as I watched the Bulls season blow-up right in front of my face. Ive been experiencing this for as long as I can remember. If only the Bulls....

I guess the grass really isnt greener. Its just grass 730 miles west, same as it ever was.

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

The Bulls and Bobby Portis were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension by today’s deadline, which will make the power forward a restricted free agent next offseason.

According to The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, Portis’ agent Mark Bartelstein and Gar Forman had “lengthy face-to-face negotiations” on Monday prior to the deadline. The two sides weren’t able to come to an agreement.

The negotiations – and lack of a deal – come after a summer and training camp in which Portis continued to show progression. After beginning the preseason coming off the bench Portis quickly played his way into the starting lineup alongside rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Portis finished five preseason games averaging 17.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in just 22.4 minutes.

Portis, the 22nd pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, has seen his role increase each of his three seasons. He made a jump last season in Year 3, averaging 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes. He was one of three players, including DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love, to average 21 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 3-pointers per 36 minutes.

Though the Bulls certainly had the room to sign Portis to an extension, there were obvious reasons on both sides to wait on a deal. For starters, the Bulls will still be able to match any deal Portis receives in free agency next July, much like what happened with Zach LaVine and the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls maintain their abundance of cap space for the 2019 offseason, when they’ll be able to offer a max contract to the top-tier free agents, and they get to see if Portis makes another jump.

For Portis, it’s a case of him betting on himself. If the Bulls came in with a number he wasn’t satisfied with – to help keep their max cap space – he now finds himself on a contract year playing for his next contract. Still only 23 years old, Portis should cash in in July.

Two players from Portis’ draft class were able to cash in. Pacers center Myles Turner signed a reported four-year, $80 million extension and Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. agreed to a four-year, $45 million deal. Portis likely would have fallen somewhere in between those two deals had an agreement occurred.

The Bulls are hardly in an easy situation with Portis. Though they value the versatile power forward, Lauri Markkanen is entrenched at the position for the foreseeable future and the team just spent last year’s No. 7 overall pick on center Wendell Carter Jr. Portis realistically is stuck behind both those players, though he certainly has starting level NBA talent.

Drilling further down on Matt Nagy after Bears OT loss to Miami Dolphins

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USA TODAY

Drilling further down on Matt Nagy after Bears OT loss to Miami Dolphins

The 31-28 overtime Bears loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday had myriad authors on the Chicago side of the ledger. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky correctly assessed the defeat as a team loss, which is pretty much the case in any NFL loss, but particularly so in this case.

“Growing pains” only goes so far in explaining the variety of problems that befell all three Bears phases in the heat of south Florida. And while devastating mistakes are inevitable for young, inexperienced head coaches and players, it falls to those coaches and players to demonstrate that Sunday in Hard Rock Stadium was an anomaly.

Because after five 2018 games, it is not clear that the Miami missteps are indeed exceptions, on the parts of players or coaches, both in fact. Regardless of whether the fault lies with offense or defense (special teams get a pass; Sunday should never come down to Cody Parkey needing to make a field goal from 53 yards).

The Bears have gone into four 2018 fourth quarters with leads and lost two of those games. The late-game defensive collapses at Green Bay and Miami should suffice to put a sock in mentions of the ’85 Bears defense and the ’18 iteration in the same conversation.

And the fact that the Bears offense has not scored more than 7 points in any of the five 2018 fourth quarters says that more than just the defense lacks a consistent finishing kick.

Coaching not to lose?

There is a fourth “phase,” and not the one (fans) that Lovie Smith once cited. It is coaching, which is intricately interwoven with each of the three main units but is its own phase. How well this fourth phase performed in Miami is a matter of some hazy perspectives.

“I’m a big boy; I can handle criticism,” Nagy said Monday. “You talking about the 53-yard field goal? No, I’m fine with that. I have no issue at all with the criticism. That’s where people are? That’s their own opinion. I felt good with what we did and, shoot, we’re all in this thing together and I trust our guys.”

Beginning with relative minutiae: Two flags were thrown (one declined) in Miami for illegal formations, in both cases for leaving the right tackle uncovered. A delay-of-game penalty on a second-and-3 at the Miami 44, led to a punt when the offense only made up seven of the resulting eight yards. That sloppiness pointed to issues on the sideline rather than in the huddle.

On multiple occasions coach Matt Nagy strongly defended Trubisky during training camp when interceptions occurred, the coach considering those acceptable temporary losses in the greater quest for his quarterback learning to stay aggressive in learning his limits and capabilities.

Yet in more than one situation Sunday, it was Nagy who dialed back the aggressive edge that he’s spoken of seeking to install in his quarterback and team. It left at least a small question as to whether Nagy lacked confidence in himself or his quarterback or his team to deliver in a critical moment.

Did Nagy second-guess himself the morning after? “Nope.”

Shaky confidence?

Whether the Bears were properly prepared coming into Sunday was an issue. A team on a three-game high came out of an off week with its poorest first-half performance of the season.

But it is what happened, or didn’t happen, later that warrants the some scrutiny.

As in: Nagy’s playcalling with the game there for the winning – the overtime possession starting from the Chicago 20, needing only a field goal for a win.

The point is not second-guessing a specific call or calls, but rather what may be at work with Nagy’s overall thinking and propensities.

After a short, high-percentage throw to Trey Burton on first down, Nagy called five straight runs. The first two, runs of 19 and 15 yards by Jordan Howard, worked. Howard went out for a two-snap break, then was back for a final run on third-and-4, which failed, leaving the ball at the Miami 35, Nagy’s minimum for attempting a field goal.

Beyond the obvious conservatism, the overall put the Bears in position of not only needing to convert a 53-yard field goal, but also leaving the Dolphins with field position at their 43 if the kick missed, which it did, although NFL kickers convert from 50-plus yards at a rate approaching 62 percent.

“To me, that 35-yard line [was the minimum], a 53-yard field goal, I have ultimate trust in [kicker Cody Parkey] making that,” Nagy said. “But at the same time, every yard that you get brings the percentage up a little bit.

“We just hit a [19]-yard run, we just hit a 15-yard run, and then we had a couple more runs right behind that. That’s just the decision we ended up making. Now, [if] he makes that kick and we’re good. He doesn’t and it’s ‘could you get a little bit closer?’ It would have helped, but at the same time I think Cody would be the first to tell you that he knows he can make that.”

One problem: Were Nagy’s defense playing at the level it had in the three previous games, he could be excused for trusting his defense to deliver a stop even with the Miami starting point. But the Dolphins had pushed the defense backwards for 344 total yards over the prior six possessions. There should have been no reasonable expectation that the defense, which already had driven backward 74 yards before a fumble on the first overtime possession, would suddenly rise up for a stop.

Nagy’s tactics also hint a lack of convinced confidence that his quarterback and offense could pull off an aggressive, under-control possession at that point. Exactly what Nagy is likely to stay in-house. His offense had scored touchdowns on four of its first five possessions of the second half, when the Bears never punted.

But Trubisky had thrown an inexplicable interception from the Miami 13 and Tarik Cohen had lost a fumble at the Chicago 45 on the fourth-quarter possessions on either side of the final Bears touchdown. So by the time the overtime possession arrived, Nagy had seen turnovers by all three principle members of his backfield – Cohen, Howard and Trubisky.

Whatever his reasoning, Nagy flashed defensive in the face of questions on his calls – “You go ahead, you throw it and then [media] are here asking me why you took a sack” – a response loosely suggests that Nagy either cares what people think (unlikely) or that he was mad at himself and/or his players (more likely).

That Nagy alluded to Trubisky taking a sack recalls sacks that the quarterback has taken that cost his team yardage before a missed field goal (Arizona) and other sacks incurred trying to force a play. Nagy sidestepped a question as to whether he would play that situation differently at such time as when Trubisky and his offense are more mature.

An erudite non-answer answer.

Fatigue factor

Running back Tarik Cohen mentioned his own failure to deal sufficiently with fatigue in Sunday’s second half, mentioned it in connection with his lost fourth-quarter fumble. Whether fatigue being allowed to reach a red-line level falls on coaches or player is debatable; players owe coaches honest self-assessments, and coaches had balanced snaps reasonably well for Cohen (34) and Howard (36) for the game.

Cohen is a young player. Nagy and most of his staff are young, and heat-management is not usually at the top of game-planning sheets. The last time (1994) the Bears played a day game in Miami, Cohen was still a year away from being born and Howard was two weeks old. Trips to Tampa the past three years don’t qualify for carryover conditioning; besides, one of the three was in December, a second in November.

But in the absence of player restraint/moderation/discretion/whatever in the face of in-game physical decline, it falls to Bears staff to monitor conditioning. The clear fall-off by the defense was more than apparent in the form of ebbing effort, missed tackles and generally flagging performance.

“I want to say that I’m not sure that our training staff and sports science staff could have done a better job in that situation,” Nagy said. “It was absolutely phenomenal. They were unbelievable, with how they handled the hydration and the cramping with our players. It was unreal. And so, that’s a credit to them for being prepared and getting our guys right.

“That was a long game. And when you play an extra period, or extra quarter in that heat, that’s a lot. For our guys to do that, that’s another part of the challenge that they battled through and that was everybody collectively — not just the players, but our staff as well.”