Bears

Running with the Bulls: Draft buzz and goings-on

Running with the Bulls: Draft buzz and goings-on

Thursday, June 24, 20102:49 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

July 1 is marked on the calendars of NBA fans as the day everything unfolds around the league, but with tonight's NBA Draft, the real intrigue begins in advance. In fact, a week away from the official beginning to free agency, moves that could potentially alter the landscape of next season and beyond have already threatened to occur.

All of the hoopla surrounding the future of LeBron James and other top free agents perhaps have obscured observers to the ever-real possibility that other superstars in the league could also have new destinations -- via trade. A reminder of this reality was recently in effect when news broke that New Orleans Hornets were reportedly open to overtures for All-Star point guard Chris Paul, most notably from the Portland Trailblazers. The Hornets, whose sale from George Shinn to potential new owner Gary Chouest is still incomplete, would be making the move for financial considerations, but yet another wrinkle in the situation is that the team that potentially gets Paul would potentially receive better odds in the sweepstakes for his good friend James. New Orleans has attempted to shoot down the swirling rumors and a more likely scenario would involve the team trading Paul's speedy backup, Darren Collison -- who enjoyed an NBA all-rookie team campaign in Paul's extended absence -- along with one of their larger contracts, such as veteran center Emeka Okafor.

Although no other trade rumors thus far involve a star of Paul's magnitude, there are some other impact players reportedly on the block. Reports that the Minnesota Timberwolves are shopping talented power forward Al Jefferson (the organization has finally come to the conclusion that the pairing of similarly ground-bound power forward Kevin Love with Jefferson won't work) have persisted since the regular season and there have been recent indications that the Detroit Pistons (for veteran small forward Tayshaun Prince) and Memphis Grizzlies (for power forward Zach Randolph, fresh off what was a redemption year before off-court issues after the season) are two interested parties, with draft picks also being part of the proposed packages.

Another non-secret around the league is the mutual desire between the Toronto Raptors and Hedo Turkoglu to part ways. Sources tell CSNChicago.com that a three-way deal between the Raptors, Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic could happen sooner than later. While details still have to be worked out, Toronto would potentially receive center backup Marcin Gortat and defensive-minded swingman Mickael Pietrus, Orlando would get rugged power forward Luis Scola, a restricted free agent, and Turkoglu would head to Houston.

While those scenarios haven't occurred to this point, a handful of NBA swaps have already taken place. It began last week, when the Philadelphia 76ers dealt shot-blocking center Samuel Dalembert to the Sacramento Kings for grizzled small forward (and former Bull) Andres Nocioni and young finesse big man Spencer Hawes. The trade added a defensive presence for the Kings and with the departure of Dalembert, who was long-rumored to be on the trading block, the Sixers have an opportunity to start fresh under the new regime of head coach Doug Collins and the expected draft choice of Ohio State star and Chicago native Evan Turner with the second overall pick.

One of the busiest teams has been the Milwaukee Bucks. With former Bulls swingman John Salmons expected to opt out of the final year of his contract and hit the free-agent market after a strong second half to the season following his trade from Chicago, Milwaukee was proactive in acquiring a pair of small forwards. The Bucks picked up scorer Corey Maggette from the Golden State Warriors in exchange for veterans Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell, then traded a 2012 second-round pick to the New Jersey Nets for young talent Chris Douglas-Roberts.

A move involving both the draft and free agency took place when the Miami Heat sent backup shooting guard Daequan Cook and the 18th pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a second-round pick (32nd overall) in the draft. The deal gives Oklahoma City three first-round selections in the draft, as well as a reserve sharpshooter, but Miami may reap more benefits from the exchange. Shedding Cook's 2.2 million contract and the draft pick increases the Heat's salary-cap space and makes them even more of a force come July 1.

Another deal with a financial impact was Portland's 2 million purchase of a second-round pick from Golden State as compensation for their exchange of draft choices. The two teams swapped picks -- Portland receives the 34th overall pick from the Warriors, while Golden State acquired the 44th selection from the Warriors -- but more significant is the high value placed on moving up a mere 10 spots in the draft.

As far as the draft itself, one storyline to watch is how the stock of some of the crop of highly touted big men is dropping. Georgia Tech power forward Derrick Favors, once considered an option for Philadelphia with the second pick, now may not be a lock for New Jersey's third pick, as Syracuse swingman Wesley Johnson is now reportedly being given heavy consideration by the Nets, which makes sense in light of the Douglas-Roberts trade.

After a bad workout for the Warriors, Georgetown's Greg Monroe is now reportedly behind Baylor's Ekpe Udoh on Golden State's board. However, the Warriors, who have the sixth pick in the draft, went out of their way to deny he performed poorly and are reportedly higher on Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins than either of the aforementioned pair.

Speaking of Cousins, the big man is now reportedly a lock for Sacramento, but his college teammate, center Daniel Orton could be in the midst of a massive freefall, due to underwhelming statistics in his lone college season and reports of being out of shape, concerns with his knees and speculated conflict within his camp. Marshall's Hassan Whiteside -- once considered a lock for the lottery -- is in a similar boat, as the prolific shot-blocker's reputation as immature has hurt him, along with reported poor workouts.

Three prospects seem to be headed in the opposite direction are talented swingman Paul George of Fresno State, rugged forward Damion James of Texas and Final Four hero Gordon Hayward of Butler. Some observers predict that the ever-rising trio is now destined for lottery picks, with Hayward having a chance to crack the draft's top 10.

With all of the action occurring around the league, Bulls fans shouldn't think Chicago is being left out. However, despite reports that the organization initiated talks with the Los Angeles Clippers to send the team's 17th pick and small forward Luol Deng to L.A. for the Clippers' No. 8 pick, a team source tells CSNChicago.com that the move has "zero chance" of taking form.

Still, with persistent trade rumors, teams shopping picks and draft-day deals that could impact free agency, don't be shocked if Chicago makes a move tonight, especially with players such as Deng, veteran guard Kirk Hinrich and surprising forward Taj Gibson being heavily coveted by certain teams. But as a prelude to the draft, enjoy CSNChicago.com's first-round mock draft (pending trades) below and don't forget to visit CSNChicago.com tonight for a live draft chat with yours truly.

1. Washington Wizards: John Wall, 6-foot-4 point guard, Kentucky
2. Philadelphia 76ers: Evan Turner, 6-foot-7 shooting guard, Ohio State
3. New Jersey Nets: Wesley Johnson, 6-foot-7 small forward, Syracuse
4. Minnesota Timberwolves: Derrick Favors, 6-foot-9 power forward, Georgia Tech
5. Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins, 6-foot-11 center, Kentucky
6. Golden State Warriors: Ekpe Udoh, 6-foot-11 power forward, Baylor
7. Detroit Pistons: Greg Monroe, 6-foot-11 center, Georgetown
8. Los Angeles Clippers: Al-Farouq Aminu, 6-foot-9 small forward, Wake Forest
9. Utah Jazz: Luke Babbitt, 6-foot-8 small forward, Nevada
10. Indiana Pacers: Ed Davis, 6-foot-9 power forward, North Carolina
11. New Orleans Hornets: Gordon Hayward, 6-foot-8 small forward, Butler
12. Memphis Grizzlies: Paul George, 6-foot-8 small forward, Fresno State
13. Toronto Raptors: Patrick Patterson, 6-foot-8 power forward, Kentucky
14. Houston Rockets: Cole Aldrich, 6-foot-11 center, Kansas
15. Milwaukee Bucks: Larry Sanders, 6-foot-10 power forward, Virginia Commonwealth
16. Minnesota Timberwolves: Xavier Henry, 6-foot-6 shooting guard, Kansas
17. Chicago Bulls: James Anderson, 6-foot-6 shooting guard, Oklahoma State
18. Oklahoma City Thunder: Damion James, 6-foot-8 small forward, Texas
19. Boston Celtics: Avery Bradley, 6-foot-3 shooting guard, Texas
20. San Antonio Spurs: Eric Bledsoe, 6-foot-1 point guard, Kentucky
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Solomon Alabi, 7-foot-1 center, Florida State
22. Portland Trailblazers: Kevin Seraphin, 6-foot-9 power forward, France
23. Minnesota Timberwolves: Hassan Whiteside, 7-foot center, Marshall
24. Atlanta Hawks: Daniel Orton, 6-foot-10 center, Kentucky
25. Memphis Grizzlies: Elliot Williams, 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Memphis
26. Oklahoma City Thunder: Dominique Jones, 6-foot-4 shooting guard, South Florida
27. New Jersey Nets: Quincy Pondexter, 6-foot-7 small forward, Washington
28. Memphis Grizzlies: Craig Brackins, 6-foot-9 power forward, Iowa State
29. Orlando Magic: Jordan Crawford, 6-foot-4 shooting guard, Xavier
30. Washington Wizards: Darrington Hobson, 6-foot-7 small forward, New Mexico

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Bears to hold joint training camp practices with Broncos

Bears to hold joint training camp practices with Broncos

The Chicago Bears will reunite with former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in Denver this summer, as word broke Monday that the Broncos will host the Bears for joint training camp practices in advance of their preseason game in August.

The Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs confirmed the news on Twitter.

This is the second time Denver will welcome the Bears for training camp sessions. The two teams held joint practices back in 2018.

Training camp won't be the first time the Bears will see Fangio since his departure last offseason. Chicago pulled off a last-second victory over the Broncos in Week 2 of the 2019 season when kicker Eddy Pineiro booted a 53-yard game-winner with time expiring in the fourth quarter. His kick was set up by the clutch version of Mitch Trubisky, who connected on a 25-yard pass to Allen Robinson on the play before Pineiro's conversion.

Fangio left a lasting impact during his time as the Bears defensive coordinator that reached its peak in 2018 when Chicago was widely regarded as the most ferocious defense in the league. The Bears finished third in yards allowed per game and ended the season with the top run defense. Their 27 interceptions were tops in the NFL, too.

Behind a refined approach, Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start this spring

Behind a refined approach, Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start this spring

The Cubs have only played three spring training games, and it’s dangerous to use spring results to predict regular season successes/failures. Still, it’s okay to acknowledge Albert Almora Jr.’s hot start in camp.

In two games, Almora is 4-for-4 with a walk, double, home run, four RBIs, and four runs scored. That line is essentially equivalent to a single game in the regular season and could be turned upside down by the end of the week. But it’s a start for the 25-year-old who’s struggled immensely at the plate for the last season-and-a-half at the plate.

In his last 177 games (dating back to the second half of 2018), Almora holds a .235/.270/.347 slash line. The advanced stats paint an uglier picture: 58 wRC+, .261 wOBA and 52.2 percent groundball rate.

Last season was the most challenging of Almora’s young career. He hit .236/.271/.381 in 130 games with a 64 wRC+, .271 wOBA, -0.7 fWAR (all career worsts). On top of that, he was involved in a heartbreaking moment early in the season; an Almora foul ball struck a young girl at Minute Maid Park during a Cubs-Astros game in May.

Almora recently refused to blame his 2019 offensive woes on that incident, though it obviously played a part. He did admit he was in a bad place mentally and used this winter to decompress. Almora also used it to make some adjustments to his swing and the changes are clear as day:

Pre-2020:

2020:

As MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian notes, Almora is now more upright in the box and his stance is more closed. His leg kick is less defined, and he’s rotating his front leg far less than previous seasons. In short, he’s more direct to his swing and has more time to react in the box because he cut out a lot of his pre-swing movements.

Almora said Monday he’s far from where he wants to be, pointing out the MLB season is a 200-day marathon. It’s too early to tell whether his simplified approach leads to sustainable success.

Small sample size be damned, Almora’s made noticeable adjustments. That’s the first step in his mission to get back on track offensively.

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