Bulls

Surprise choice for AP's Male Athlete of the Year

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Surprise choice for AP's Male Athlete of the Year

From Comcast SportsNetNow that he's away from the pool, Michael Phelps can reflect -- really reflect -- on what he accomplished.Pretty amazing stuff."It's kind of nuts to think about everything I've gone through," Phelps said. "I've finally had time to myself, to sit back and say, ... that really happened?' It's kind of shocking at times."Not that his career needed a capper, but Phelps added one more honor to his staggering list of accomplishments Thursday -- The Associated Press male athlete of the year.Phelps edged out LeBron James to win the award for the second time, not only a fitting payoff for another brilliant Olympics (four gold medals and two silvers in swimming at the London Games) but recognition for one of the greatest careers in any sport.Phelps finished with 40 votes in balloting by U.S. editors and broadcasters, while James was next with 37. Track star Usain Bolt, who won three gold medals in London, was third with 23.Carl Lewis is the only other Olympic-related star to be named AP male athlete of the year more than once, taking the award for his track and field exploits in 1983 and 84. The only men honored more than twice are golf's Tiger Woods and cyclist Lance Armstrong (four times each), and basketball's Michael Jordan (three times)."Obviously, it's a big accomplishment," Phelps said. "There's so many amazing male athletes all over the world and all over our country. To be able to win this is something that just sort of tops off my career."Phelps retired at age 27 as soon as he finished his final race in London, having won more gold medals (18) and overall medals (22) than any other Olympian.No one else is even close."That's what I wanted to do," Phelps said. "Now that it's over, it's something I can look back on and say, That was a pretty amazing ride.'"The current ride isn't so bad either.Set for life financially, he has turned his fierce competitive drive to golf, working on his links game with renowned coach Hank Haney as part of a television series on the Golf Channel. In fact, after being informed of winning the AP award, Phelps called in from the famed El Dorado Golf & Beach Club in Los Cabos, Mexico, where he was heading out with Haney to play a few more holes before nightfall."I can't really complain," Phelps quipped over the phone.Certainly, he has no complaints about his swimming career, which helped turn a sport that most Americans only paid attention to every four years into more of a mainstream pursuit.More kids took up swimming. More advertisers jumped on board. More viewers tuned in to watch.While swimming is unlikely to ever match the appeal of football or baseball, it has carved out a nice little niche for itself amid all the other athletic options in the United States -- largely due to Phelps' amazing accomplishments and aw-shucks appeal.Just the fact that he won over James shows just how much pull Phelps still has. James had an amazing year by any measure: The league MVP won his first NBA title with the Miami Heat, picking up finals MVP honors along the way, and then starred on the gold medal-winning U.S. basketball team in London.Phelps already had won the AP award in 2008 after his eight gold medals in Beijing, which broke Mark Spitz's record. Phelps got it again with a performance that didn't quite match up to the Great Haul of China, but was amazing in its own right.After the embarrassment of being photographed taking a hit from a marijuana pipe and questioning whether he still had the desire to go on, Phelps returned with a vengeance as the London Games approached. Never mind that he was already the winningest Olympian ever. Never mind that he could've eclipsed the record for overall medals just by swimming on the relays.He wanted to be one of those rare athletes who went out on top."That's just who he is," said Bob Bowman, his longtime coach. "He just couldn't live with himself if knew he didn't go out there and give it good shot and really know he's competitive. He doesn't know anything else but to give that kind of effort and have those kind of expectations."Phelps got off to a rocky start in London, finishing fourth in the 400-meter individual medley, blown out of the water by his friend and rival, Ryan Lochte. It was only the second time that Phelps had not at least finished in the top three of an Olympic race, the first coming way back in 2000 when he was fifth in his only event of the Sydney Games as a 15-year-old.To everyone looking in, Lochte seemed poised to become the new Phelps -- while the real Phelps appeared all washed up.But he wasn't going out like that.No way.Phelps rebounded to become the biggest star at the pool, edging Lochte in the 200 IM, contributing to a pair of relay victories, and winning his final individual race, the 100 butterfly. There were two silvers, as well, leaving Phelps with a staggering resume that will be awfully difficult for anyone to eclipse.His 18 golds are twice as many as anyone else in Olympic history. His 22 medals are four clear of Larisa Latynina, a Soviet-era gymnast, and seven more than the next athlete on the list. Heck, if Phelps was a nation, he'd be 58th in the medal standings, just one behind India (population: 1.2 billion)."When I'm flying all over the place, I write a lot in my journal," Phelps said. "I kind of relive all the memories, all the moments I had throughout my career. That's pretty special. I've never done that before. It's amazing when you see it all on paper."Four months into retirement, Phelps has no desire to get back in the pool. Oh, he'll swim every now and then for relaxation, using the water to unwind rather than putting in one of his famously grueling practices. Golf is his passion at the moment, but he's also found time to cheer on his hometown NFL team, the Baltimore Ravens, and start looking around for a racehorse that he and Bowman can buy together.Phelps hasn't turned his back on swimming, either. He's got his name attached to a line of schools that he wants to take worldwide. He's also devoting more time to his foundation, which is dedicated to teaching kids to swim and funding programs that will grow the sport even more.He's already done so much."His contribution to the way the world thinks about swimming is so powerful," Bowman said. "I don't think any other athlete has transformed his sport the way he's transformed swimming."Phelps still receives regular texts from old friends and teammates, asking when he's going to give up on this retirement thing and come back the pool as a competitor.He scoffs at the notion, sounding more sure of himself now than he did in London.And if there's anything we've learned: Don't doubt Michael Phelps when he sets his mind on something."Sure, I could come back in another four years. But why?" he asked, not waiting for an answer. "I've done everything I wanted to do. There's no point in coming back."

Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen fail to produce in crunch time for Bulls

Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen fail to produce in crunch time for Bulls

Coby White’s second straight 3-pointer splashed through the net — a three that, combined with a Ryan Arcidiacono long-ball, capped a 9-0 run to give the Bulls a one-point lead over the Bucks with 6 minutes, 23 seconds to play.

For the second time in five days, the Bulls had an opportunity to knock off the Bucks, an Eastern Conference champion contender.

Then, reality hit. Or the starters returned. At this point, that’s one and the same.

Here’s all you need to know about where the Bulls’ rebuild stands as 'Year Three' fell to a 4-10 start following the Bucks’ 115-101 victory: Coach Jim Boylen admitted he considered riding a bench unit down the stretch over one that featured Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen.

“They have a guy that they can go to that can get them a bucket, which is what good teams have,” Boylen said, referring to the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo. “I’ve been on those teams. We’re figuring out who that guy is and we’re learning to play that way. We’re not there yet.”

Boylen then supported his beleaguered core players, because that’s what he’s paid to do. But the sobering reality of the Bulls’ current fortunes didn’t just play out in LaVine’s stat line of 11 points on 4-for-16 shooting, or Markkanen’s 9 points on 2-for-12.

It played out when Boylen indeed returned to LaVine and Markkanen with 5:04 remaining, and the Bucks leading 103-99. From that point, the Bulls didn’t score another field goal.

Markkanen sank two free throws but missed a driving layup and 13-foot jumper. LaVine committed a turnover, missed a layup and a 3-pointer.

Game, set and match.

“They got the MVP over there. He did his thing. And we didn’t,” LaVine said. “It’s going to be tough when your leading players, me and Lauri, don’t perform at our level. You can understand that. You’re missing a lot of points and a lot of plays. We understand we have to pick it up.”

What’s that they say? Recognition is the first step towards recovery. The Bulls have to hope so, especially after Markkanen admitted his slump is affecting him mentally.

“It’s frustrating knowing I’ve never had this kind of stretch of not even not hitting 3s but missing layups and dunks,” he said. “I have to keep my head up knowing that you work too hard for this not to turn around. Keep working and I know it’s going to turn around.

“I noticed myself kind of thinking too much at the half. I tried to switch it up and make the plays for the team. That’s how you get out of your own head. I have to stay aggressive. Create contact and then finish every shot. Not getting out of it too early or anything like that. I’ve done my film study. Put the work in and I know it’s going to turn around.”

At one point, Markkanen actually missed two dunk attempts on the same possession. Following the second, he rolled his eyes toward the United Center roof as if to say, 'What’s next?'

Markkanen is shooting 36.2 percent overall and 26.8 percent from 3-point range. He missed all four three-pointers he attempted versus the Bucks.

“Just try to get an easy bucket and lay it in. But having two 7-footers there, I know it’s going to be blocked so I tried to go up quick and end up missing it,” Markkanen said of the dunk sequence. “It was frustrating. I know I can play better. It’s not going to be like this forever. I don’t know what else to say.”

Antetokounmpo made 13 field goals, equaling the total of five Bulls starters. How do you say 'ouch' in Greek?

“What I’m going to do is I’m going to support those two guys. I’m going to coach them like I always have. I’m going to show it to them on film and we’re going to work on it in practice. We’re going to get them to understand that we believe in them, we value them and that we need to do better,” Boylen said. “It’s all part of this process. We’re slugging uphill right now. We gotta keep slugging. That’s all I can say.”

Boylen said he returned to LaVine and Markkanen because he still believes in them. He has to say that and he has to believe that. The rebuild is structured for them to shine.

It’s not currently happening.

“I’m still developing two young guys,” Boylen said. “Zach missed a year-and-a-half. Lauri was hurt last year. He has basically played two years. I’m going to keep developing them to come in and learn how to win games. I believe in both of them. I believe they’re important to what we’re doing.”

Raising LaVine’s absence to an ACL injury and subsequent rehab is a curious approach from Boylen given that LaVine has been fully healthy and rehabbed for quite some time. But again, he has been placed in a position where he has to protect their play and lack of production in big moments.

The Bulls are a long way away from respectability at this point.

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Three observations: Bulls come up short against Bucks — again

Three observations: Bulls come up short against Bucks — again

For the second time in less than a week, the Bulls played the Bucks close, but came up just short — this time falling 115-101 at the United Center. Three observations from a soul-crushing loss:

Daniel Gafford: Free man

If I dumped all the expletives I have written in my notebook about Daniel Gafford from this game, you’d never read another article under this byline.

So, while I catch my breath, here are the hits:

 

 

 

Gafford ended the game a -4 in 20 minutes, but it’s hard to overstate the impact he had on a particularly electric Bulls bench in this one. He was every bit the gumptious, brick-bodied big that Jim Boylen billed him as, and so much more. Every second without the ball in his hands on offense, his feet were moving — setting screens and leveraging rebounding position. In the air, every shot, pass or lob within five feet of him seemed to find his hands, and then — rather violently — the bottom of the net.

At one point, en route to his team-leading 16 first-half points, a fan behind me exclaimed: “Him and Giannis are going at it!” In reference to… Daniel Gafford. What a night.

Gafford ended his stellar breakout performance with 21 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks and approximately 2.716 million hearts stolen, on 10-of-12 shooting.

The three-guard lineup provides a spark

At the very beginning of the season, Boylen’s utilizing of a three-guard lineup (Kris Dunn-Coby White-Ryan Arcidiacono) was widely panned. Tonight, that group — with contributions from Thaddeus Young and a combination of Wendell Carter and Daniel Gafford at the center spot — proved their mettle. 

In the first half, that lineup catalyzed a 20-8 run that pulled the Bulls from down nine with 2:17 remaining in the first quarter to up two with 8:05 to go in the second. In the fourth quarter, a torrid stretch by Arcidiacono and White vaulted the Bulls from down 98-90 to up 99-98 in a matter of 66 seconds, sending the UC in a frenzy not seen in quite a while.

The Bucks pulled away from that point on, but this lineup showed something tonight — so much so that Boylen closed with White and Arcidiacono both on the floor along with Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. (Stunningly absent was Tomas Satoransky, who logged only 18 minutes tonight after coming out of the gate aggressive, offensively.)

Arcidiacono was on every loose ball in sight. White was a blur in transition and coming off screens and dribble handoffs. Combined, they shot 7-of-11 from long distance. Maybe Boylen is on to something.

Bulls melt down the stretch

The Bucks finished the game on a 17-2 run after that aforementioned White-Arcidiacono blitz. For most of the game, the Bulls were able to hang around despite being out-shot from three and on the wrong end of a 35-14 free throw disparity, but their energy waned late in the game. Despite miraculously out-rebounding the Bucks 50-48, out-scoring them in the paint 50-46 and competing defensively throughout, the Bulls couldn’t buy a bucket down the stretch (they failed to score a field goal in the final six minutes), and it ultimately cost them.

The blame is shared in this one. Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine combined to shoot 6-of-28 from the floor (only 0-of-4 in the fourth) and were largely outplayed by the bench unit. 

In a performance reminiscent of last Thursday’s in Milwaukee, the Bulls appeared to everything necessary to win on Monday. But they didn’t. Now, with a record of 4-10, the heat is on.

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