Blackhawks

Reunion with familiar foe Philadelphia on deck for Bulls

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Reunion with familiar foe Philadelphia on deck for Bulls

DEERFIELD, ILL. The Bulls next opponent is a familiar foe, Philadelphia, the team that ousted them in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last spring.

Like the Bulls, the 76ers experienced an offseason of change, losing All-Star swingman Andre Iguodala, leading scorer Louis Williams, veteran power forward Elton Brand and shooting guard Jodie Meeks.

The circumstances of each departure was different Iguodala was traded to Denver in a blockbuster deal, Williams and Meeks each left via free agency (Williams, regarded as one of the leagues top sixth men, signed with his hometown Hawks, while Meeks reached an agreement with the Lakers) and Brand, the former Bull, was amnestied and subsequently acquired by the Mavericks but based on the organizations busy summer, this season was supposed to bring new hope.

Along with short-term deals given to free-agent acquisitions Nick Young, Dorell Wright and Kwame Brown, as well as retaining big men Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen, the Sixers received All-Star center Andrew Bynum, in addition to veteran Jason Richardson, in the Iguodala deal.

However, while Bynum hasnt suited up in Philadelphia due to ongoing knee problems, the Sixers are making the best of it, as former Bulls head coach Doug Collins continues to get the most out of a gritty defensive-oriented team with no superstar scoring threat, but a lot of heart.

Those attributes have earned the respect of the Bulls current head coach, Tom Thibodeau.

Theyre good, hard-playing, different. Added a lot of shooting. Kwame Brown is an underrated addition. Jrue Holidays playing great, Evan Turners playing great for them. Theyre playing well, Thibodeau said Friday, following the teams afternoon practice session at the Berto Center.

Thibodeau isnt dwelling on the Bulls series loss to Philadelphia, which saw Derrick Rose suffer a devastating ACL injury and Joakim Noah severely sprain his ankle en route to losing in six games. But the coach is conscious of the fact that players like Holiday, who signed a four-year, 41-million contract extension on the opening day of the NBA season, and Turner, a Chicago native and former No. 2 overall draft pick, have improved.

Its in the past. You learn from every situation, we move on. Theyre our next opponent, so we have to know them well. Theyre different in terms of some of their personnel, but philosophically, theyre the same. Dougs their coach -- a great coach -- he always gets his teams to play to their strengths and cover their weaknesses, so we have to be ready, he explained. I think Turner and Holiday continue to improve each year, significantly, and then when you add in some of their additions Nick Young, Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright theyve added a lot of three-point shooting to their team.

Then, Kwame Brown gives them a lot of toughness up front. Hes a guy thats sort of under the radar, but hes a good defensive player. Spencer Hawes is a guy who can spread you out, great touch. Lavoy Allen, great touch. Their bigs are skilled. Thaddeus Young is a tough matchup, he can out-quick you at the four, can overpower threes, hes tough in transition. So, I think they put pressure on you, they play together and defensively, theyve always been tough.

After a resounding victory Wednesday over Dallas at the United Center, Thibodeau wants the Bulls to keep building on the positive momentum. As solid as the Bulls were from top to bottom in that game, the detail-oriented coach still found some areas the team needs to address.

Just continue to improve every aspect of your defense, from defensive transition to challenging shots, to finishing with the rebound to your pick-and-roll defense, catch-and-shoot defense, low-post defense, help defense, so you never have it fully solved and you can always do better. So, thats the mindset that we want to have. We want to be moving in the right direction, Thibodeau said.

We have to be a 48-minute team. There were stretches where I thought we probably didnt play as well as I would have liked. The thing I did like was offensively, getting to the free-throw line, which allowed us to get our defense set. We have to continue to cut down our turnovers. Thats critical for us, but regardless of what happens on offense, youve got to make sure youre taking care of all your responsibilities defensively and then, the offensive end, I want us to continue to play the way we did the other night. I thought we had a lot of very unselfish plays and the ball was moving, bodies were moving and we got into the paint.

How Erik Karlsson’s extension with Sharks impacts Blackhawks, Western Conference

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USA TODAY

How Erik Karlsson’s extension with Sharks impacts Blackhawks, Western Conference

The 2019 NHL free agent class — both restricted and unrestricted — is absolutely loaded. But perhaps the biggest fish of them all has already been taken off the board.

Erik Karlsson and the San Jose Sharks have agreed to an eight-year extension worth $11.5 million per year, according to Cap Friendly, becoming the highest-paid defenseman in league history. It’s a significant move for the Sharks, who are looking to keep the band together and take a few more stabs at a Stanley Cup before their window starts to close — Joe Thornton is 39, Joe Pavelski turns 35 in July, Brent Burns is 34, Marc-Edouard Vlasic is 32 and Logan Couture is 30.

How the Sharks make the math work going forward will be fascinating to monitor. Thornton, if he doesn't decide to hang up the skates, is a UFA. Same with Pavelski, who is coming off one of the most productive seasons of his career. Both of those players have become part of the Sharks identity, but their futures aren't guaranteed. And then there are guys like Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier, both of whom are RFAs and due big raises.

So how does the Karlsson extension impact the Blackhawks and the rest of the Western Conference?

For starters, the UFA defensemen class just got thinner and that could lead to overpayment across the board from teams looking for impact-type blue-liners because general managers that are looking to make a splash don’t want to come away empty-handed. The Blackhawks were never going to be in on Karlsson, but his contract set the market for this year's class and the fact the signing came before the NHL Draft now gives teams that would've been in on Karlsson an opportunity to refocus ahead of the negotiating period.

In the bigger picture, the Sharks just solidified themselves as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders for at least the next couple seasons. While the Karlsson contract may not look the greatest on the back half, given his durability issues, the Sharks had no choice but to offer him a blank check. When healthy, he is a game-changer and a two-time Norris Trophy winner who's still in his prime, and if the Sharks win a title in the next couple years then it was well worth it. You don't let players like him walk.

The Blackhawks are expected to be aggressive over the next several weeks, particularly in free agency but also continuing to explore the trade market. We already saw that when they acquired defenseman Olli Maatta from the Pittsburgh Penguins, a move that could only be the first of many this offseason. The West might be top heavy, but this past season proved that any team can turn it around quickly and the Blackhawks need to do everything in their power to make sure they're one of those teams.

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74 Days To Kickoff: Metea Valley

74 Days To Kickoff: Metea Valley

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Metea Valley 

Head coach: John Parpet Jr.

Assistant coaches: Defensive coordinator - Erik Kramer, Asst. coach - Russ Lorenz, Asst. coach - Albert Zika, Asst. coach - Evan Goodman

How they fared in 2018: 1-8 (0-4 DuPage Valley Conference). Metea Valley failed to qualify for the IHSA state football playoffs

2019 regular season schedule:

Aug. 30 vs. Wheaton Warrenville South
Sept. 6 @ Lake Park 
Sept. 13 @ Belleville East
Sept. 20 @ Naperville Central
Sept. 27 vs. De Kalb
Oct. 4 @ Naperville North
Oct. 11 vs. Neuqua Valley
Oct. 18 @ Waubonsie Valley  
Oct. 25 vs. Neuqua Valley

[MORE: 93 Days to Kickoff: Oswego East]

Biggest storyline: Can the Mustangs get off to a good start under first year head coach John Parpet Jr.?

Names to watch this season: TE/DE Austin Frederick (Sr.) and TE/LB John Belskis (Sr.) 

Biggest holes to fill: The Mustangs will need to replace seven graduated starters on the defensive side of the football for the 2019 season.

EDGY's Early Take: Metea Valley and first year head coach John Parpet Jr. will look to get the Mustangs program on the winning side of the slate after posting back-to-back 1-8 seasons. They will rely on an experienced core of senior multi-year starters. If the underclassmen group can develop sooner rather than later, this program has the potential for a breakout. The regular season schedule in the DuPage Valley conference is always stacked; they need to get off to a good early start.