Bears

Smooth sailing at Bulls' halfway point or changes on the horizon?

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Smooth sailing at Bulls' halfway point or changes on the horizon?

The leagues All-Star break isnt until later this week, but in this condensed, 66-game regular-season schedule, the Bulls are at the true halfway mark. Despite their coaching staff representing the East team in Sundays exhibition game, at 25-8, they no longer have the NBAs, or even the conferences best record heading into Monday.

But besides injury concerns, something that has adversely affected virtually every team in the league, there isnt much to gripe about in Chicago these days. Even Saturdays ugly loss to New Jersey, a game in which the Bulls uncharacteristically displayed a lack of fight, shouldnt cause the panic button to be pushed, especially since the team has gone 7-3 without reigning league MVP Derrick Rose in the lineup.

If you ask the players and coaches, however, theyll tell you the squad isnt playing its best basketball yet, which can be interpreted as both good and bad. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has a philosophical approach to the marathon of the NBA season.

I look at it in totality. Where we are from the beginning of the season to where we are now. I think you factor in a lot of things. I like the way I think were playing tough on the road. I think theres a lot where we still can improve upon, but you have to go day by day and I think weve done a pretty good job of putting ourselves in position to win, and weve just got to keep finding ways to win. Everyone goes through stretches where their schedules tough and you may have some injuries, but youve just got to navigate through that, he said. Its always hard to judge anything until its over. Then, you can look back at the season in its totality to say, Did you achieve the things you thought you could achieve? So, I think this is a snippet of a season. Theres still a long way to go and for us, we just want to strive for improvement each and every day.

I was confident in them based on last year, just the way they approached things and how they got better as the season went along, and knew how serious that they are, so I think their attitude and approach going into this season didnt change any. They came in ready and all of them have had opportunities to start, play extended minutes and any time theyve been called upon, theyve been ready and so, I think thats the trademark of a good team, he continued, talking about his players mentality. I think if youre a championship-caliber team, you approach it that way and thats what you shoot for. I think these players are not here by accident. We went after them because of their makeup.

Indeed, not only the Bulls depth, but the opportunistic nature of players who dont always get to showcase their skills, has been impressive. It sounds clich, but the entire rosters ability to make the most of their chances is truly remarkable, especially considering the health status of multiple individuals throughout the campaign.

You hope for the best. If everyone could be healthy, thats a great thing, but at the same time, were going to have to deal with whatever weve got. If everyone is healthy, thats great. I just say, what were going through right now, its better that were going through it now. I think itll make us a better team later, Luol Deng observed about the teams excuse-free approach and overall chemistry. If youre on a team that youve got a lot of guys that arent used to each other or demand the ball, it would be a lot different, but we all share the ball, we know who needs the ball, who creates off the dribble, who needs screens and all that.

Not that there havent been hiccups. In addition to starters Deng, Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton each missing significant time due to injury, another aspect of the season that cant be ignored is how, though theyve mostly taken care of business in games theyre supposed to win, the Bulls have at times struggled against their playoff-bound peers, particularly on the road. Not that any defeat sits well with the team, but losses at Miami, Atlanta, Memphis, Philadelphia and Bostonnot to mention a rare home setback at the hands of Central Division rival Indianwith or without key players in the lineup, seemed to really stick in their craw.

With the March 13th trade deadline soon approaching the question is whether the Bulls front office will look to make a move for the seasons stretch run. Signing more help in the backcourt, whether Mike James is inked for the remainder of the season or someone else is brought in, is almost a given, as is signing a veteran backup big manmanagements patience should be admired, as the list of currently available players isnt an impressive one and a better player could shake loose from another team as time goes byto bolster interior depth.

But while trade talk for Magic center Dwight Howard has cooled as people are finally understanding that the All-Star doesnt want to play in Chicago, with the news that Rose reportedly has signed off on the Bulls making a play for Lakers big man Pau Gasol, another rumor is heating up. A deal for Gasol would center around Carlos Boozerand likely backup point guard C.J. Watson, given the Lakers need for an upgrade at the positionbut while that makes some sense on paper, Gasol, whether he was an All-Star this season or not, is still a tier above Boozer on the post-player totem pole and with the money still owed on Boozers contract, theres no reason the Lakers wouldnt hold out for a more attractive deal.

Furthermore, as the original report came from a Spanish news outlet, it makes the speculation even more dubious. Knowing Roses emphasis on team chemistry, even if he was privately frustrated with Boozers play, the chance he was less than discreet about his desire for a personnel changeeven if he shares the same agency with Gasolis unlikely and smacks of either Gasols representatives trying to get ahead of the trade rumors that have dogged their player since the aborted Chris Paul deal that would have sent him to Houston just before the season started.

Focusing on the return of Roseremember, this is a player who declined to recruit the likes of LeBron James and has been lukewarm to Howard coming to Chicago in a trade, all in deference to his current teammatesto the lineup suddenly seems a lot more palatable, when compared to chasing pie-in-the-sky scuttlebutt. As the old axiom goes, If it aint broke, dont fix it.
What do you think? Should the Bulls look to make a significant move before the trade deadline or stay the course in their championship quest?

Fantasy Football: 15 players to target on your waiver wire

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USA TODAY

Fantasy Football: 15 players to target on your waiver wire

We've crossed the halfway mark in the regular season for most Fantasy Football leagues, so it's officially crunch time.

As we get ready to make a push for the stretch run and with Bye Weeks in full gear, the waiver wire has never been more important in 2018.

If Nick Chubb is available in your league still, change that immediately. But considering he should've been scooped up in every league after Carlos Hyde was traded away from Cleveland Friday, we're more focused on guys who should be available and worth spending your free agent budget on.

Here are 15 guys worth targeting on the waiver wire:

1. Kenjon Barner, RB, NE

It appears Sony Michel has avoided serious injury, but he still will probably miss at least Week 8 and possibly longer. James White will see a larger role without Michel, but Barner suddenly goes from a guy not even worth sniffing at in Fantasy to a must-own. As soon as Michel left the game, Barner entered and tallied 10 rushes against the Bears defense. If you're desperate for a running back in Week 8, Barner might be a good add as he has a fantastic matchup against a Bills defense that just allowed 219 rushing yards to the Colts.

2. Chris Ivory, RB, BUF

LeSean McCoy was forced to leave the Week 7 contest with a concussion, opening the door for a decent game for Ivory (126 total yards on 19 touches). If McCoy continues to miss time, Ivory is the clear beneficiary, though it's not a great matchup in Week 8 against the Pats.

3. Danny Amendola, WR, MIA

It's been a while since Amendola was anything more than a tease in Fantasy Football, but the soon-to-be-33-year-old has had back-to-back good games while building a good rapport with Brock Osweiler. Amendola has hauled in 143 yards and a tuddie on 14 catches (18 targets) the last two weeks and while he is banged up, he practiced in a limited capacity Monday. If he can suit up Thursday, he should be the Dolphins' top target as both Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson are expected to miss that contest with their own injuries.

4. Raheem Mostert, RB, SF

Matt Breida and Alfred Morris owners must hate this guy, but Mostert has emerged from complete irrelevance to lead the Niners backfield the last two weeks. The 26-year-old has 23 touches the last two games while Morris has tallied just 9 touches (all in Week 7) and Breida has racked up 19 touches as he works through a bunch of injuries, including an ankle issue. It will be tough to predict how this situation will play out this week, but Mostert has been the only Niners back worth starting recently and this group of RBs now has the best matchup of the week against the woeful Cardinals defense. Mostert at least deserves to be owned, even if you're not comfortable starting him at the moment.

5/6. Jalen Richard/Doug Martin, RB, OAK

With Marshawn Lynch on IR, Richard and Martin should be owned in all formats just for the sheer possibility of a heavy workload. However, both are questionable Fantasy starts for Week 8 — even coming off a Bye. Richard should be the call in PPR leagues while Martin figures to eat up most of Lynch's carries. 

7. Tyrell Williams, WR, LAC

Williams is owned in hardly any league, but he's racked up 236 receiving yards and 3 TDs the last two weeks. He's not getting a heavy workload (only 8 targets in that span), but the Chargers love throwing deep to this guy and it's paid off in back-to-back weeks. Williams isn't close to being a safe bet as his value is completely contigent upon whether he catchs a deep bomb or not, but you could do a lot worse in your Fantasy lineups.

8. Martavis Bryant, WR, OAK

With Amari Cooper now in Dallas, somebody's gotta catch balls for Jon Gruden's Raiders. There's no guarantee that's Bryant, but he's slated to start Week 8 and he has the talent and resume to be at least a servicable Fantasy player the rest of the season.

9. Donte Moncrief, WR, JAC

The good: In 3 of the last 4 weeks, Moncrief has tallied at least 5 catches and 76 yards. The bad: In the other week during that stretch, he did not record a single catch on 3 targets. So there's clearly some risk here, especially considering the state of the Jags passing offense and QB situation. But Moncrief may be worth a pickup and start in Week 8 if you're desperate, as the Eagles have given up some of the most Fantasy points to opposing WRs. 

10. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, BUF

Benjamin was drafted in most leagues but was unable to post as many as 10 Fantasy points in even full-point PPR leagues until Week 7, and that was a modest 11-point total. Nobody blames you if you've given up on Benjamin, but he finally topped 3 catches and 50 yards in Week 7 and has a rapport with Derek Anderson from their time in Carolina. 

11. Trenton Cannon, RB, NYJ

Who? Cannon is owned in 0.0 percent of Fantasy leagues, which makes sense given he had a grand total of 2 Fantasy points entering Week 7. But when Bilal Powell left the game with a neck injury, it was Cannon that stepped up with 69 receiving yards on 4 catches while Isaiah Crowell still handled rushing duties. If Powell misses time in Week 8 or beyond (neck issues are no joke), Cannon is the main beneficiary in the passing game and should be rostered in all PPR leagues.

12. Chris Herndon, TE, NYJ

The Jets' fourth-round pick from this spring is another no-name in the Fantasy world, but that's quickly changing after back-to-back weeks with a TD. Herndon has clearly become the top tight end for fellow rookie Sam Darnold, seeing 7 targets last week and hauling in 4 of those catches for 42 yards. If you're desperate for a TE or you're in a dynasty league, target Herndon now. 

13. DeVante Parker, WR, MIA

Parker has been worth absolutely nothing in Fantasy this year, finding his way out of the lineup on a weekly basis. But he's worth a speculative add in case he's traded by next week — like he wants — and he also receives a boost for Week 8 by default, as the other Dolphins wideouts are all banged up and Parker essentially has to play.

14. Jakeem Grant, WR, MIA

Notice a trend here? We're all-in on South Beach receivers this week. Same logic applies because of injuries to Stills and Wilson, but obviously all of Parker, Grant and Amendola will not be worth a Fantasy start in Week 8. This is still Osweiler and the Dolphins we're talking about. But Grant is fun with his gamechanging speed and has at least contributed in every single week of the season so far even before he's become an increased part of the gameplan, so his floor isn't "0" like Parker's or some of the other WR options on the market.

15. Colts D/ST

We can't end this without a defense/special teams unit, right? The Colts gave up at least 31 points for 3 straight games from Week 4 through 6, but they absolutely dominated the Bills last week and now draw a Raiders team that just lost its two best offensive playmakers over the last 10 days. There is no better D/ST to stream out there than the Colts, and they're available in more than half of leagues.

Bonus: Rishard Matthews, WR, NYJ

Matthews is reportedly signing with the Jets, who need some WR help. Matthews quit on the Titans earlier this season after they completely went away from him in the gameplan, but this is a guy that racked up 1,740 yards and 13 TDs from 2016-17. He's worth an add in all leagues just for the potential.

A White Sox fan's guide to watching the World Series

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USA TODAY

A White Sox fan's guide to watching the World Series

The White Sox are not playing in the World Series. A 100-loss season will do that.

But just because the South Siders aren't playing doesn't mean White Sox fans shouldn't pay attention to the Fall Classic. There's plenty to take from this matchup between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers that applies to South Side baseball past, present and — most importantly — future.

Chris Sale

The guy who will throw the first pitch of the 2018 World Series is one of the greatest White Sox pitchers of all time.

Sale's been grabbing headlines the last few days for an alleged belly-button ring, but the only body part of his that matters come Tuesday night is his left arm. Since the White Sox traded Sale away in the deal that kick-started the rebuild, he's been arguably the best pitcher in baseball, putting up a 2.56 ERA in 59 regular-season starts, with 545 strikeouts in his 372.1 innings. He's made five postseason appearances with the Red Sox and hasn't fared quite as well, the overall numbers ugly thanks to a seven-run outing against the eventual-champion Houston Astros last year. But this fall, he's given up just four runs and struck out 14 batters in 10.1 innings.

Sale's status as one of the game's best hurlers is a reminder of a couple things for White Sox fans watching him wear differently colored Sox this fall: 1. why they liked him so much in the first place, and 2. what kind of price it took for Boston to get him. The K Zone can be reborn, if only briefly and in the comfort of White Sox fans' own homes, for Sale's appearances in this World Series. But more importantly to the future of the South Side franchise, Sale's continued excellence is a reinforcement of the potential of Michael Kopech and Yoan Moncada, the two biggest names in the return package. It took those guys and their incredibly high ceilings to get a pitcher as good as Sale, and that's still a good sign for the White Sox future.

This is how you rebuild

The Red Sox have a reputation as one of baseball's biggest spenders, but their roster is rife with the fruits of player development, something the rebuilding White Sox are trying to yield in their contending team of the future.

Boston has a couple big-ticket players in David Price and J.D. Martinez, but they're two of just four free-agent signings on the Red Sox World Series roster. Meanwhile, a whopping seven were drafted by Boston, including the entire starting outfield: Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and likely AL MVP Mookie Betts. The left side of their infield is a pair of international signings in Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts, so that means five of the Red Sox starting nine position players (five and a half if you count Christian Vazquez, one half of the Red Sox catching tandem) have never known another organization.

The Red Sox might not win this World Series, but their roster makeup isn't dissimilar from the last two teams that hoisted a trophy, the Cubs and Astros, who boasted their own groups of homegrown stars. And here's something you might not realize: Boston had back-to-back last-place finishes in the AL East in 2014 and 2015, during which they rid themselves of veteran contracts and earned a couple high draft picks. They made the No. 7 pick in the 2016 draft for all that losing. The result? Benintendi.

And so it's another October with a team proving that the tear-down-and-rebuild method can work wonders. White Sox fans might not be rooting for the Red Sox this fall, but their victory would be another for the rebuilding strategy — and should give plenty of hope to South Side fans envisioning their own group of homegrown stars leading a championship run one day.

Manny Machado

The World Series will allow White Sox fans to do a little bit of scouting on some free agents that the South Siders could pursue this winter, and there's no bigger name in that category than Machado, the Dodgers shortstop expected to receive one of the biggest contracts in baseball history this offseason.

Many a Twitter-using White Sox fan have had Machado on their wish list for years, though that number might be declining following some of Machado's words and actions during the NLCS. He didn't run to first on a grounder, then ignited a PR disaster by saying hustling wasn't his "cup of tea." He interfered with a pair of double-play turns by sticking his hand up while sliding into second base (the same play that, during a Crosstown game last month, ended with White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson screaming at umpire Joe West). And Machado most notably dragged his foot over Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar's leg in a play Aguilar's teammates called dirty after the game.

So with all that in mind, Machado and his extreme amount of talent — he's at the end of a career year that saw him slash .297/.367/.538 with 37 homers and 107 RBIs during the regular season — will be on the game's biggest stage for all to see. That includes his future team, whichever that might be. Those White Sox fans still hoping he lands on the South Side to help kick the rebuild into overdrive can watch this World Series to see just how good he is with the bat and with the glove. On the latter, should the White Sox be willing to rearrange their infield for Machado, who is insistent on playing shortstop despite his two Gold Gloves at third base? Watch and see.

Other free agents to be

But Machado's not the only player in this matchup who'll be hitting the free-agent market this winter.

Before either of these teams punched their tickets to the Fall Classic, I wrote about a pair of pitchers who will be free agents this offseason and who could make sense for the White Sox, and lo and behold they're both going to make starts in this World Series. Hyun-Jin Ryu is slated to get the ball for the Dodgers in Wednesday's Game 2, and though yet to be announced, we'll likely see Nathan Eovaldi go for the Red Sox when the series shifts to Los Angeles.

Rick Hahn said the White Sox will be looking to add pitching this offseason, and Ryu and Eovaldi will both be available. Either would be an upgrade in a South Side rotation that led baseball in walks this season. Eovaldi walked just 20 guys all year, 12 in 54 innings with the Red Sox and only eight in 57 innings with the Tampa Bay Rays. That's compared to a season strikeout total of 101, for a better than 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Ryu, meanwhile, walked only 15 batters in his 82.1 innings, compared to 89 strikeouts. His ERA was a pencil-thin 1.97, significantly lower than Eovaldi's still quite good 3.81 number, which was 3.33 after the midseason trade from the Tampa. Could either one be a future White Sox starter? Maybe.

Boston closer Craig Kimbrel is also heading to free agency and could be of interest to White Sox fans who don't see a future closer among the team's crop of young relievers. He's going to cost a lot, though, a seven-time All Star with a 1.91 career ERA and eight straight seasons of at least 31 saves (40-plus in five of those).

Other bullpen guys who will be looking for jobs this winter: Joe Kelly of the Red Sox (one earned run allowed in 5.1 innings this postseason) and Ryan Madson of the Dodgers (one run allowed in 6.1 innings this postseason).

Oh, and Dodgers Game 1 starter Clayton Kershaw could be a free agent, too, if he opts out of his current contract. The White Sox would figure to be quite a longshot to lure him away from Southern California, but if Kershaw were to go somewhere else, that could shake up the whole market and open up other possibilities for teams like the White Sox. Something to keep in mind.

The next important trend

The World Series and the postseason in general have been ground zero for some of the game's latest sweeping changes in recent years.

Specifically, the emphasis on relief pitching has dominated the last couple Fall Classics, and teams like the Brewers and Rays showed how good a team can be while leaning as heavily on the bullpen as any team ever has. While this World Series might not feature teams practicing "bullpenning" to those extremes, the relief corps again figure to play starring roles. If that happens, how does that impact the White Sox rebuild? Does a heavy focus on starting-pitching depth need to shift to a bigger focus on relief-pitching depth? Or do the lists of future free-agent relievers become of greater interest than players at any other position?

Or perhaps an entirely new trend is born this fall that the White Sox will have to react to while constructing their teams of the future. You won't know unless you watch the World Series.