Blackhawks

Thibodeau undecided on Rip's fill-in as Bulls enter tough stretch

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Thibodeau undecided on Rip's fill-in as Bulls enter tough stretch

DEERFIELD -- Now that Rip Hamiltons left-foot injury has been diagnosed as a torn plantar fascia -- an ailment that doesn't disappear overnight -- the question is, who starts at shooting guard during the veterans absence? Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau didnt shed much light on the situation following the teams practice Monday at the Berto Center.
Im not sure yet, said the coach, who followed that revelation up with could be, when asked if either second-year swingman Jimmy Butler or backup shooting guard Marco Belinelli would fill in for Hamilton.
Everybody we have has played well at one time or another, so I feel good about that position. Marco has started a lot of games before, Jimmy has played terrific all season long and we have some flexibility, too. Kirk Hinrich, the teams current starting point guard can go to the two, so well be fine, he continued, as injured superstar Derrick Rose periodically popped out, while running sprints under the supervision of the team's training staff.
Were going to look at everything. Were going to take a look at what makes most sense to us and well go from there. But I like the way Jimmys played, Marcos playing better and better, so we have a lot of things going in the right direction right now.
Thibodeau lamented the loss of Hamilton, who is averaging 13.9 points per game and is valuable threat on a mostly scoring-deficient squad. More significantly, hes one of few players on the Bulls that opposing teams have to truly game-plan for defensively.
Well see. Basically, it could be a week, could be two weeks, could be longer. Once Hamilton feels good enough to play, hell be back, Thibodeau said. Its not only scoring, but his playmaking. With that being said, we have more than enough to win with. The next guy has to step up, know what his job is, do his job and get it done.
Hes doing fine, good spirits. He actually worked out today. Hes got some soreness, but hell be fine, he added. You see it more and more. In his case, its better that its torn; that speeds everything up -- thats one of those things, it lingers for a while -- but hell be fine. Hes had a number of different injuries. He understands what he has to go through to get back.
Due to how well Butler has been playing as of late, it wouldnt be surprising to see Thibodeau give Belinelli the nod as the starter, to keep the budding chemistry on the Bulls second unit going. Butler and Taj Gibson have repeatedly energized the Bulls with their defensive prowess and transition scoring off the bench, something Butler himself noted Monday.
I wouldnt mind that at all. I was talking to Griff Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin about it and I like being that spark off the bench with Taj. I feel like that gives me a lot more energy. Just running out there with Taj, seeing the energy that he gives off, the big plays that he makes, the hustle plays, I kind of want to be like that coming off the bench, he explained. I dont think I have a case. I just feel like if I start or come off the bench, my job is to bring energy to the team and hit open shots.
To tell you the truth, I never even think about it. I feel like coming off the bench or starting, I feel like we all just want to win the game, so if I come off the bench or play at the end of the game, I just want the Bulls to have more points than our opponent, Butler continued. Im a lot more confident, but I think its because the work that I put in every day that the confidence that my teammates have in me is so much different than in the beginning of the season. The games starting to slow down, Im starting to be more patient, I know where to get on the floor, where to get the ball, so it makes everything a lot easier.
It means a lot because theres a lot more reps, and theres a lot more possessions up and down the court, different plays with different players, so you get the feel for a lot of different things, not only in the game, but the many different teammates that I might play with.
Still, Butler claimed that hes just as in the dark as the rest of us.
That, or Thibodeau swore him to secrecy.
I really do not know. Coach, he hasnt said anything, he deadpanned. Hell let us know tomorrow.
I dont even think Ill have to call my mom. She reads the Internet more than I do, so shell tell everybody before I even get a chance to, the Texas native went on to say. Rips a great player, a great leader and he does a lot of things well for our team, so he definitely will be missed, but hell be coaching us up, hell be there spiritually and on the bench, cheering, and letting everybody know what they could do better. Thats what leaders do.
Thibodeau has been pleased with Butlers progress after he saw scant playing time as a rookie a year ago. His slashing ability, athleticism, toughness and defense have all been boons for the Bulls and while hes still developing as an outside shooter, there are signs -- including a big corner three-pointer down the stretch of the Bulls narrow home win Saturday over Philadelphia -- that he can make an impact in that aspect of the game, as well.
Thibodeau explained: Hes a very good corner three-point shooter, so if its there, I want him to shoot it. I think hes played very smart, hes playing to his strengths. Hes moving extremely well without the ball, hes a great cutter, hes tough on the baseline. Hes done a number of things well. He attacks the basket, gets to the free-throw line, sprints the floor in transition and those are the things we need him to do.
Butler chimed in: Oh, definitely. I think my teammates know that I should take that shot. They know if Im there and if Im open, Im going to take that shot. I think Im going to make it, they think Im going to make it, so Ive just got to get out there and shoot it.
Of course, Belinelli came to Chicago with a reputation as a shooter and although he struggled mightily to begin the season, hes starting to play better as time goes on. Perhaps more important to Thibodeau is the fact that hes starting to grasp the level of defense it takes to be a contributor to the Bulls.
I think hes getting more comfortable and I think his team defense is very good right now, it continues to improve, hes putting a lot of effort into it and thats all we want him to do, just keep improving, the coach said. I think hes got a little more comfortable with everything and hes got experience. I think he knows his opponent well and hes putting forth good effort each and every day.
Its unlikely that Thibodeau follows through on his suggestion that Hinrich is a potential starter at shooting guard -- that decision would mean Nate Robinson would start at point guard, taking away his instant-offense scoring off the bench -- but it isnt completely out of the realm of possibility.
The value of Kirk is that he can defend three positions and it doesnt matter who those three are. Hes a great defensive player. But were going to do whats best for the team, what we feel gives us the best chance to win, Thibodeau said. Well see. Id like to get into a rotation, so guys have an idea when theyre coming in, but well take a look at a lot of different things.
Hinrich, who has significant experience playing both guard positions -- and even functioned as a small forward, at least on the defensive end, during his brief tenure in Washington, playing alongside John Wall and Gilbert Arenas -- is prepared for anything.
Id be comfortable doing whatever. Ive been working on dummy offense at the two a little bit, just so I would know it, he rationalized. I wouldnt have any problem with anything Thibodeau did, to be honest, as long as its what we wanted to do as a team and what direction we wanted to go with that we thought was going to give us the best chance to win.
Still, the veteran seemed to indicate that he believed that either Belinelli or Butler would be playing next to him Tuesday night, when the Bulls host the Pacers in the first of four games in five nights, including a two-game road trip that will see them visit Cleveland and Detroit.
Were still going to run our stuff. Obviously theyre Belinelli and Butler a little bit different than Rip. Both of them have a little bit kind of different games, per se, so either one of them, I think, would fill in nicely and I think were lucky to have guys like that to come off the bench and step up, said Hinrich, who noted that Hamilton was treating it his injury I saw him on the stationary bike a little bit, while the team practiced. They play that spot every day. The only difference would be they would be with the starting unit. Theyre familiar with the system, they know how were going to play and its a matter of coming out and playing.
You can weigh the pros and cons of it all you want. The bottom line is both of them are going to get their minutes. I dont know which unit its going to be with.
Regardless of who starts in the backcourt, the Bulls are aware that their upcoming stretch wont be easy, since after their trio of matchups against Central Division rivals, theyll return home to face one of the leagues top teams in the Knicks -- giving them a pair of back-to-back contests in a four-game span -- and then delve into an even tougher slate during the middle of December. Indiana, which was reeling at the outset of the season, following the loss of go-to scorer Danny Granger, has been much-improved as of late, playing a similar style of ugly basketball to the Bulls, as one of the few teams in the league with a defense thats statistically better than Chicagos.
Theyre playing very well right now. Theyve played well on this trip. Theyve been on the road for a while. They play hard, their defense is terrific, they pound the ball inside, they share the ball, so itll be a good test for us, said Thibodeau.
"Whatever comes your way, you have to be ready for. We had the long West Coast trip with one back-to-back and so, thats a little bit different. Then, it was split for the Milwaukee game. Now, youre dealing with some back-to-backs. I think the whole key is to get ready for your next opponent. Sometimes the schedules going in your favor, sometimes its going against you. But just be ready for each opponent and concentrate on improvement. Thats all we want to do, keep getting better each and every day, and if we do that and were locked into the right things, we will improve.
Hinrich added: Weve got four games in five nights this week, but weve got a big one tomorrow against a division opponent and hopefully we can continue to play well, and continue to get some wins.
I think they Indiana kind of got off to a slow start, but theyre playing really well lately and theyre a very good team.

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

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USA TODAY

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

The NHL Draft is over. Farm systems have been restocked and now the focus has shifted to free agency, where the fun is just beginning.

The biggest fish on the market is John Tavares, a franchise-changing center in the heart of his prime. For a little bit, it seemed like the loyal New York Islanders captain was ready to move on after they took another step back by missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

But then Lou Lamiorello became available and was snatched up by Long Island. His first order of business was relieving GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight of their duties, the first real sign that significant changes were coming. The next was securing Barry Trotz as head coach after he couldn't agree to terms on an extension with the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

For the first time in a while, there appears to be structure in the front office and coaching staff.

Yet, Tavares has remained committed to visiting with reportedly five teams in Los Angeles during the free agent negotiating window that opened Sunday. And he's absolutely earned that right. San Jose and Toronto are believed to be two of the teams. The rest is unclear.

When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle at the end of the draft on Saturday, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman wouldn't confirm nor deny that they were one of the teams scheduled to meet with Tavares.

"I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile.

Whether or not they are, could the Blackhawks realistically even make it work?

They actually have the cap space to do it. Or at least they can make room without shuffling too many cards.

As of Sunday, the Blackhawks have $9.225 million in open cap space to fill out six roster spots. If you can find a trade partner for Marian Hossa's contract, that creates an extra $5.275 million, which brings the total up to $14.5 million. That's without subtracting any real bodies from the roster. 

Tavares is likely to command in the $10 million range for average annual value over the next seven years, and the latter part is key. While it would certainly be challenging to have three players eating up at least $10 million each in cap space — with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews at $10.5 million — they could make it work in the short term.

But signing Tavares to a seven-year deal would probably get in the way of the Blackhawks' longer-term goals, which includes re-signing Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz when their entry-level deals expire and even Vinnie Hinostroza when his new two-year contract ends.

Are the Blackhawks willing to risk that?

For Tavares, maybe. But Toews is 30, Kane is 29 and Tavares will be 28 by the time this upcoming season starts. At some point, an infusion of youth would be required to remain competitive for the long term.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 18th homer of June and 31st of the season came off the Tigers in the Cubs' brief 2-game Interleague series in Detroit. 

Sosa connected in the first inning off Tigers starter Seth Greisinger, going back-to-back with Mickey Morandini. 

The Cubs wound up getting out to a 5-0 start in the game but still lost 7-6 on a Gabe Alvarez single in the bottom of the 11th.

The aforementioned Morandini homer was only the 3rd of the season for the Cubs second baseman. He finished with 8 homers on the year and 224 total bases on 172 hits in what was a very good offensive season. Yet it paled in comparison to Sosa, who had nearly 200 more total bases (416) and a slugging percentage nearly 200 points above Morandini's (.647 to .471), a testament to how truly incredible Sosa's season was.

Fun fact: Tony Clark was the Tigers' cleanup hitter that day. Clark is now the head of the MLB Players Union.

Fun fact No. 2: Paul Bako was the Detroit catcher in the game. He later became the Cubs backup catcher in 2003 and 2004, when he posted a .611 OPS in 119 games over the two years.