White Sox

Thibodeau on verge of being fastest to 100 wins

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Thibodeau on verge of being fastest to 100 wins

ORLANDOTom Thibodeau might not celebrate the fact that hes on the verge of being the NBA head coach who won 100 games the fastest to start a career, but his peers certainly recognize the feat.

Its a great accomplishment and I think it speaks to the job hes done. Look, theres a lot of great coaches and a lot of people have done great jobs, both last year and this year, but nobodynobodyhas done a better job than Tom has and probably doing a better job this year than a year ago. With all the injuries and everything else, they just keep rolling along, Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy said before Mondays game.

I said to my assistants the other day, They can probably have all five starters out and still beat everybody. It just seems like they win, no matter what and I think it just speaks toand obviously their players deserve a lot of credit, but so does hebut to me, theyre the best team in the league. As far as a team collectively playing together, being unselfish, being committed, all those things, doing what it takes to win, theyre the best team. So, being the fastest to 100, I dont think you need the accomplishment to know the great job that hes doing, but I think its a great honor for him.

Countered Thibodeau, who would break Avery Johnsons record: It doesnt mean anything, other than I want to win. I want to beat Orlando. Thats the only thing that matters. All that other stuff is meaningless.

With stuff like that, its more of a reflection of the team and the organization. We have a good team, we have good players, great management, great ownership, continued last seasons NBA Coach of the Year, who entered Monday with a career record of 99-30.

The respect from your peers, I think, is important, but I think all that stuff, whether its praise or criticism, it shouldnt affect you. You really only answer to yourself and only you know whether putting everything you have into something, and once you do that, you should be fine with everything and I am. I love the group that we have, I think they work hard every day, they give you everything that they have and if were doing the right things, the results will be positive.

Records aside, Thibodeau does appreciate the fact that his team is blessed with remarkable chemistry, which has allowed them to endure a litany of injuries, including stretches without reigning league MVP Derrick Rose.

I think Chuck Daly had this line. It was a great line about chemistry. He said something along the lines of, I dont know how you get it, but when you have it, you know it and when you have it, dont do anything to mess it up either, so I think theres a lot of truth to that, he said. Were fortunate. We have great guys, we have high character, they all play for each other, they play to win and I think it fits well for us.

Chimed in Van Gundy: They just beat Philly and Miami without Derrick Rose, so you certainly cant expect anything other than a great opponent out there tonight. Theyve played very well without him, they just really have. Those point guards have done a great job, Watson and Lucas. Theyre obviously different. Theyre not the attackers he is, but they can both shoot the hell out of the ball. They can make plays off pick-and-rolls and Boozers been tremendous, so has Deng and theyre running more catch-and-shoot plays for Kyle Korver. They find their way around it and they base their game about what they do at the defensive end anyway. Their defense, I think, more than anything is based around Deng and their bigs, their frontline guys, and so, their defense doesnt really suffer.

Theyre the No. 2 offensive team in the league and the No. 2 defensive team in the league. You see those numbers and you say, championship contender. Were the No. 11 defensive team in the league. That says mediocre, he quipped. Im talking basketball character, guys who are unselfish, willing to play roles, not worried about how many shots they get, guys who can come in not having played a lot and come in and be ready and help a team win, like a John Lucas is doing now for Chicago, like a Jimmy Butler is doing. To me, those are the great teams. Not necessarily record-wise, but those are the great teams and thats what chemistry is all about. I thought we had it that year and I certainly see it in the Bulls, and I think thats why theyve been able to overcome injuries.

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

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USA TODAY

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

The Houston Astros will not win back-to-back world championships this October.

Eliminated by the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of the recently concluded ALCS, the rebuilt Astros still remain the model for rebuilding teams like the White Sox. But with their first post-championship season ending without another ring on the fingers of homegrown stars like Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, among others, the most pertinent topic involving the Astros when it comes to the White Sox is Astros players now hitting the free-agent market.

There's a number of them, and some are very, very good. The White Sox figure to be more active this winter then they were last offseason, with Rick Hahn already saying the team will be making pitching additions, a no-brainer with Michael Kopech slated to miss the entire 2019 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. And Hahn has said the White Sox will be "opportunistic" when it comes to other types of additions, as well.

So could any of these soon-to-be former Astros land on the South Side? Maybe. Here they are, ranked by such a possibility.

1. Charlie Morton

The White Sox need starting pitchers. Kopech's out until 2020, and James Shields, should the team opt not to bring him back on a new contract, will be a free-agent departure. That's two holes that need filling, and Morton could fill one of them. I know what you're thinking, "Dallas Keuchel is also a free agent, why isn't he No. 1 on this list, you fool?" More on him in a bit. Right now, we're talking about Charlie Morton.

Morton is hardly the most rebuild-friendly pitching option out there at 35 years old. But Morton's been very good for the Astros over the past two seasons, making 55 starts, striking out 364 guys and posting a 3.36 ERA. His fastball velocity is as high as it's been in his 11-year big league career and he's coming off two straight playoff runs, so maybe he could teach these young White Sox a thing or two about playing winning baseball — he did close out Game 7 of the World Series last fall.

The biggest problem might be that he's not too far removed from different results when he played with the Pittsburgh Pirates, when his numbers weren't nearly as good as they got when he went to Houston. Would another change of scenery mean a different kind of performance?

What kind of contract Morton will get on the market remains to be seen, obviously, but it's kind of a mystery at this point, as he's coming off a couple great years but is getting up there in age when it comes to multi-year deals. He could be a fit for the White Sox should they want just a one- or two-year option while they wait for Kopech to return to full strength and for Dylan Cease to make his way to the major leagues. But should this recent success continue, he could be a valuable option on a White Sox team making the transition from rebuilding to contending, too.

2. Marwin Gonzalez

The White Sox have a bit of a quandary in that they are still waiting to find out what they've got in a lot of their young players. With so many prospects and even young players at the major league level yet to fully finish their development, it's tough to say where the holes on future White Sox teams will be. And that's made all the more difficult by the rash of injuries sustained by White Sox prospects in 2018.

A good way to plan for future unknowns is to have a guy you can plug in just about anywhere, and that's what Gonzalez is. During the 2018 regular season, Gonzalez played everywhere on the field besides pitcher and catcher: 73 games in left field, 39 games at shortstop, 32 games at second base, 24 games at first base, three games at third base, two games in center field and one game in right field. He played one game at designated hitter, too, in case you were wondering. He appeared at six different positions in 2017, when he finished in the top 20 in AL MVP voting. That versatility should make him a hot commodity this offseason.

The question marks come from Gonzalez's bat, which was excellent in 2017 but not nearly as good in 2018. After slashing .303/.377/.530 with 23 homers and 90 RBIs for the world-champion Astros in 2017, he got more playing time in 2018 and his numbers dropped to a .247/.324/.409 slash line, 16 homers and 68 RBIs for the AL runners up. So which batch of results would you get if you signed Gonzalez? That's the question facing teams this offseason. (To help assuage fears, however, Gonzalez just wrapped a solid postseason in which he batted .333 with a pair of homers, a pair of doubles and nine RBIs, not to mention a .389 on-base percentage.)

But for a team with as much unwritten future as the White Sox have, wouldn't it be nice to have a plan for every eventuality — and to have it all in the form of one guy? While Manny Machado and Bryce Harper grab all the free-agent headlines this winter, perhaps the White Sox could slip in and convince Gonzalez to help another transition from rebuilding to contending. He was a part of two 100-loss teams in 2012 and 2013 and along for the ride to the top of baseball's mountain. That's some good experience to have.

3. Dallas Keuchel

Now we arrive at Keuchel. Would the soon-to-be 31-year-old former Cy Young winner be a good fit for the rebuilding White Sox? Absolutely he would. Signing him to a long-term deal would not only solve a pitching problem in 2019 but it would provide a safety net should Kopech, Cease or whoever go through the to-be-expected growing pains that young players go through in their first tastes of the major leagues. He would be an anchor of future rotations with plenty of young arms around him.

Signing Keuchel — who has a combined 3.39 ERA and 278 strikeouts over the last two seasons — would be similar to the Cubs' signing of Jon Lester, a proven veteran climbing aboard a team heading toward a bright future, and his experience and talent could help them reach that future faster. Like Gonzalez, he experienced back-to-back 100-loss seasons in 2012 and 2013 and also got a World Series ring as the Astros completed their journey from the bottom to the top.

But being a good fit is only half the battle for the White Sox. A lot of other teams, including good ones capable of pitching a win-now roster, are going to be vying for Keuchel's services this winter. And while he might not be the No. 1 starting pitcher on the free-agent market — that's expected to be Clayton Kershaw, if he opts out of his current contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers — he's going to be no lower than the No. 3 starting pitcher on the free-agent market. Most of the contending clubs in the game are likely to have starting pitching on their shopping list, teams that can pitch present-day success and the ability to win a championship in 2019 against the White Sox promise of planned success down the road. And then there's the financials on top of that. Hahn has said the White Sox will have the financial flexibility to do what they need to do, but will it be enough to outbid baseball's biggest spenders?

Keuchel would obviously be a good fit for the White Sox. But the competition is going to be really stiff.

4. Tony Sipp

Sipp, a 35-year-old reliever who White Sox fans might remember from his days as a Cleveland Indian, was excellent for the Astros this season, posting a 1.86 ERA and striking out 42 guys in 38.2 innings during the regular season.

But while the White Sox could use bullpen help — their 4.49 relief ERA ranked 23rd out of 30 major league teams — that performance kind of elevates Sipp from the level of sign-and-flip guys they've acquired in recent seasons. Sipp might not be under the radar enough for the White Sox to take a flier, get a good few months and trade him away for a prospect.

Spending the kind of money Sipp might command on a 35-year-old reliever in a season where you're not expected to compete might not make for a good match.

5. Brian McCann

Yeah, the White Sox don't need Brian McCann.

Adam Schefter: Bears plan on Khalil Mack playing vs. Patriots

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USA TODAY

Adam Schefter: Bears plan on Khalil Mack playing vs. Patriots

Khalil Mack has yet to miss a game in his NFL career. He doesn’t plan on breaking that streak on Sunday.

ESPN insider Adam Schefter told the “Kirk and Callahan show” on WEEI in Boston that the Bears expect their star pass rusher to play this week against the New England Patriots.

Mack missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday with the ankle injury he suffered last week against the Miami Dolphins.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio indicated this week that the outside linebacker could potentially play even if he doesn’t practice due to the injury.

Assuming Mack does take the field on Sunday, he won’t be 100 percent, and it’s unclear how much of an impact he’ll be able to have.

Last week was his least productive game of the season, and he earned a career-low grade from Pro Football Focus, with two missed tackles and only one pressure generated on 33 pass-rushing snaps.

The Bears are going to need more from Mack to slow down Tom Brady and the Patriots offense that’s averaging nearly 40 points per game over the last three weeks.