Bulls

Know your enemy: La Russa, Sveum and The Cubs Way

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Know your enemy: La Russa, Sveum and The Cubs Way

ST. LOUIS When Tom Ricketts began looking for a new executive to run baseball operations last summer, the Cubs chairman wanted a sense of how the other 29 major-league teams ran.

Staffers analyzed how teams spent their money and where they got their returns. The Red Sox model had fascinated Cubs executives, so it was no surprise that Theo Epstein became the target.

But the Brewers stood out for being so resourceful in building that homegrown core. The Yankees made headlines for signing big-name free agents, but they probably didnt get enough credit for developing their own talent.

Maybe one day the Cubs will get their renovated version of Wrigley Field, Sheffield Avenue closed off on gamedays and a PBS documentary, just like Fenway Park.

But if this works, the Cubs wont be one-dimensional, simply stealing from the Red Sox. They already went behind enemy lines to hire first-base coach Dave McKay, who spent 26 seasons on Tony La Russas staff and will receive his World Series ring on Saturday at Busch Stadium.

On some level, The Cubs Way will borrow from the Cardinals.

Thats the reason Im here, McKay said. I remember (former Cardinals pitching coach) Dave Duncan and I talked last season when we were in (Chicago. We saw some) article where Mr. Ricketts was talking about the plans.

We were saying to each other (were) worried about it these guys are going to get good fast.

No one knows how long that will take. But McKay says first-year manager Dale Sveum reminds him a lot of La Russa, the future Hall of Famer.

Ive even told Tony: Hes got a lot of you in him, McKay said. (Its) the attention to detail, routines, making sure that they get the message. I really think these Cubs are on the right track. Im happy to be a part of it. I think there are some big things to happen here.

When Sveum interviewed for the Cubs job, he could say that he played for La Russa, Jim Leyland and Joe Torre near the end of his big-league career, a point where he was thinking about managing. That time around the As in 1993 left an impression.

(La Russa) was always ahead of the game, Sveum said. Hell push the envelope. Hell try things that I dont think other managers (would).

Watching a guy like that, you learn, and I think a lot of people learned in the postseason about (how he used) a bullpen. (He) kept going to them and it probably won them the World Series.

Sveum recalled how La Russa put him in left field one day, even though he had never played the position before.

The thing with Tony was he always gave the bench players an opportunity. But hed always put them in situations where they were going to succeed.

Sveum laughed: Meaning me, because I was always on the bench. You feel good about yourself, except when one day I had to face Randy Johnson and he struck out 17 that day or something like that.

He just (put) faith in people: Oh, just go out there and you cant screw it up that bad. But, sure enough, when you do that, the guy you put in the lineup would get two hits that day. (He) had a great feel all the time for what his role players could do off certain pitchers.

So Sveum will get inside players heads, push his team to run the bases aggressively and hammer away at fundamentals. Utility man Joe Mather who spent a decade in the Cardinals organization recognized the methods.

Our camp this year, the feel, Mather said, resembled a lot of what Tony liked to do over in St. Louis. I feel like theyre trying to attribute a lot of the really good things and good ideas that St. Louis had here. Its a great place to start.

The Cardinals made the playoffs nine times in the 16 seasons McKay worked with La Russa. Thats the sustained success the Cubs are talking about.

The organization as a whole doesnt have enough impact talent yet. The new collective bargaining agreement shredded the financial advantages Epstein had planned to exploit in the draft and internationally. Its still too early for players to start tuning out Sveum.

But at Clark and Addison, there is finally a sense of stability, and that could go a long way.

Everything I feel like always starts from the top, Mather said. Thats going to be our owners, down to Theo, down to Dale. Theyve really taken a lot of responsibility and put themselves in the position to be accountable for everything. They set up a good program for this organization.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Reaction to the Bulls loss to Dallas and how Kevin Durant REALLY hates flying with turbulence

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Reaction to the Bulls loss to Dallas and how Kevin Durant REALLY hates flying with turbulence

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Kelly Crull react to the Bulls loss to the Mavericks, Zach LaVine shouldering the offensive load and Kelly’s time covering the trio of Durant, Westbrook, and Harden in Oklahoma City

0:45 - Kelly’s initial thoughts on covering the Bulls and what she’s learned about this team

2:35 - Kendall on the Bulls trying to avoid the ‘habit’ of losing, why hope is there

4:10 - On Lauri Markkanen’s rehab, and viral video of LaVine giving encouragement

7:00 - On team waiting for return of injured players so staff and FO can evaluate entire roster

8:25 - on LaVine’s workload and how it’s becoming a burden for the star

12:40 - Kelly on covering the Thunder with Durant, Westbrook, and Harden and if they regret keeping that team together

14:30 - Kendall on his experience with Hornets and not keeping that young team together

16:40 - Kelly’s story of Kevin Durant getting really freaked out by turbulence during a flight

18:10 - Kendall shares Kevin Garnett’s unusual pregame ritual with showers

Listen to the episode here or in the embedded player below!

Bulls Talk Podcast

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The Bulls offense goes as Zach LaVine goes, and right now Zach LaVine is tired

The Bulls offense goes as Zach LaVine goes, and right now Zach LaVine is tired

He’s far too competitive a player and far too patient a teammate to use it as any sort of excuse, but if the past six games are any indication it’s not something he had to admit to be seen: Zach LaVine is tired.

The Bulls shooting guard had another high-volume performance in their Monday night loss to the Dallas Mavericks. And in another 41 minutes LaVine once again struggled with his shot and made a handful of careless turnovers that doomed a Bulls offense that’s asking as much as they can from him.

Facing a Mavericks team ranked 24th in defensive efficiency and missing perhaps its best perimeter defender in Wesley Matthews, LaVine shot 8 of 23 and missed all six 3-point attempts, finishing with 26 points and the seven turnovers. With his most recent inefficient outing, LaVine is now shooting 44.8 percent from the field.

“I’m tired, I’m alright. Doing everything I can,” he said. “I’m making mistakes, missing shots that are real easy. Didn’t hit any threes today. I’ve got easy things I can do better at. I always ask more of myself but I’m doing everything I can.”

LaVine’s streak of scoring 20 or more points reached 14 games, the second longest Bulls streak behind Michael Jordan, but it came in far different fashion from earlier in the season. LaVine, clearly the focal point of a Mavericks defense that rushed him, blitzed him and pushed him out on the perimeter whenever possible, missed his first five shots, threw up two uncharacteristic air balls and was just 2 of 14 outside the painted area.

True, he went to the free throw line 11 more times and made 10 to help offset the ugly shooting. But it wasn’t enough on a Bulls team that simply can’t find a consistent second scorer and seems to feed off both LaVine’s prowess and his struggles. The Bulls struggled on Monday as LaVine did, shooting below 40 percent, making just eight 3-pointers and finishing with more turnovers (17) than assists (16).

It was yet another performance to add to a troubling trend for both LaVine and the Bulls. In his last six games LaVine is shooting 50 for 134 (37.3 percent) and that includes a 13-for-25 outing against the Knicks. Take out that performance and he’s shooting 33 percent. He also has 27 turnovers and 27 assists and is shooting 25.6 percent from beyond the arc.

The Bulls, not coincidentally, haven’t fared much better. They ranked 16th in the NBA in offensive efficiency through eight games (108.3), but since the Golden State debacle have plummeted to 29th (100.3), and their last three games have come against bottom-six defenses (New Orleans, 25th; Cleveland, 29th; Dallas, 24th). The Bulls are 2-4 during this stretch, winning games in which LaVine shot well in New York and the one-point win over a 1-10 Cavaliers team.

Though LaVine has had eight- and seven-turnover nights during the stretch, he also had two combined turnovers in 77 minutes against the Pelicans and Cavaliers. LaVine needs to shoot through his slump because the Bulls offense requires it, but he’s also making the right play more often than not. He had three first-quarter assists on Monday when the Bulls offense looked its sharpest.

“I give Zach a lot of credit for as much volume as he has on the offensive end right now, as much as we’re playing through him, he is growing on making the simple play and getting better with that," Fred Hoiberg said. "It needs to continue. He needs to make the right play.”

It’s a tall order to ask of him. Off nights from LaVine, and even slumps like the one he’s in now, would be fine if issue if Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis or any combination of the three were available. But he’s averaging more than 40 minutes per game in that stretch and continues to rank among the NBA’s highest usage rates.

Regression from his early-season performances when he shot 51 percent from the field in eight games to begin the year was expected. That early stretch was a healthy, rested LaVine, not an aberration. What we’re in the middle of is a tired LaVine taking on a ridiculous burden for an offense that needs all of him every night. When he doesn’t perform, so too does a Bulls offense that got 6 of 17 shooting from Jabari Parker and seven points from Wendell Carter Jr.

Reinforcements are still weeks away. For now, LaVine will need to pick and choose his spots, make the right play and yet still find a way to score near 30 points each night. It’s a lot to ask, but he’s ready for the challenge.

“It’s a tough situation,” LaVine said of the defensive attention he’s receiving, “but I still have to be aggressive. It’s more me figuring out when’s the right time to attack and when’s the right time to just get off the ball.”