Bears

The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Raptors

The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Raptors

Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011
12:33 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

1. Talk about a quick turnaround. A day after trading James Johnson to the Raptors, the Bulls will be reunited with their former teammate. They have high expectations for the second-year forward in Toronto. JJ is a good player. Good young player, didnt have enough time to play because of who we have on our team, said Rose after Thursdays shootaround. I think that hes going to be a good player in this leagueJohnson brings a lot of energy, athleticism to the game. A guy that can run one, two and three, and four sometimes. Hes very versatile on the court. Chimed in Joakim Noah: JJs the man. I think hes somebody who works really hard, who has a lot of talent and I think Raptors fans are going to be really excited with JJ. Hes somebody whose talent hasnt really been seen yet. He really hasnt had too much playing time. I wish him nothing but the best. Hes a great teammate. Although Thibodeau seemed to keep Johnson on a short leash early in the season, then relegate him to strictly late-game, blowout situations, the coach had positive praise for the Wake Forest product. He was terrific for us. We didnt a whole lot of minutes for him. His attitude was great, he worked extremely hard, hes athletic. he can play the three, the four, he can play some two and I think its a good move for the Raptors. I also think its a good move for us because it gives us some flexibility going forward.

2. At 15-41, the lowly Raptors arent exactly a playoff contender, but Johnson should fit in nicely to a young, rebuilding and athletic squad, fitting in with the likes of emerging second-year swingman DeMar DeRozan and similarly athletic wing Sonny Weems. If Johnson is afforded the immediate playing time, he should provide Toronto with more size and versatility on the perimeter. While he hasnt seen much action as of late, Johnsons encouraging D-League stint and flashes of potentialin key situationsearly in the season (not to mention his rookie year, in which he started 11 games for Vinny Del Negro) show that he has something to offer. Unfortunately, that opportunity wasnt there for him in Chicago.

3. With the NBA trade deadline Thursday afternoon, theres been rampant speculation that the Bulls arent done making moves, particularly to address their supposed deficiency at shooting guard. Houstons Courtney Lee is a name thats been bandied around with frequency, although reports indicate the Rockets want sizespecifically Omer Asikin return. With the 2011 first-round pick acquired from Toronto in the Johnson trade, however, the Bulls could not only sweeten the pot in a potential deal for Lee (the organization reportedly previously offered one first-rounder and were rebuffed), but for another candidate whose name got a lot of traction earlier in the season: Memphis O.J. Mayo. Two veterans, sharpshooter Rasual Butler of the Clippers and Naperville, Ill., native Anthony Parker of the Cavaliers, could also be in the mix, while Detroits Richard Hamilton is a long shot, although theres a slim chance the disgruntled Rip could be bought out by the Pistons after the deadline and signed later in the season.

4. When evaluating the aforementioned players, obviously Lee and Mayo have youth on their side, as they are both third-year players. Lee was a rookie starter on an NBA Finals team in Orlando, but was traded to an almost historically-bad Nets squad the following offseason before landing in Houston in another offseason deal last summer. The Indianapolis native and former Western Kentucky star is considered low maintenance on and off the court, an efficient scorer, tough defender and solid outside shooter. Mayo might have the most talent of the bunch, but also comes with the highest risk factor, after a well-publicized incident surrounding a card game with teammate and Chicago native Tony Allen on the team plane. Hes a more than capable scorer, but like Lee, he now comes off the bench (a move reportedly made for a more balanced second unit, but tellingly hasnt seemed to affect the Grizzlies chemistry or record) and although he can shoot the ball, hes more of a volume scorer, needs the ball in his hands to be truly effective and hasnt proven to be the type of defender that would do well under Thibodeau. As for the veterans, Butler would probably be the best fit because of his long-range marksmanship, while Parkers toughness and versatility would seem to be a natural fit and although Hamilton is more of a mid-range shooter than a long-ball specialist, his ability to play off the ball and championship pedigree would give a somewhat inexperienced team (only Thomas has been to the Finals) some valuable leadership come playoff time.

5. Dont forget to follow me on Twitter at @CSNBullsInsider.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's 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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