Bulls

What we learned about the Cubs in April

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What we learned about the Cubs in April

PHILADELPHIA Cubs executives joked about leading the league in press conferences during the offseason. They talked a very good game, viewing things through different lenses and laying out the parallel tracks.

Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod will be judged on what happens across the next five to 10 years. Theyve made it clear that they will prioritize the future over any short-term gain.

The Cubs closed out April at 8-15 with Mondays 6-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in front of another sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park.

It tied together a few emerging themes. The Cubs took away from their bullpen over the winter, and Rafael Dolis gave up the pivotal two-out, two-run double to Placido Polanco in the eighth inning.

This season is all about identifying core players for the future, and the rookie reliever will learn on the job.

Bryan LaHair who had just drilled a two-run shot that tied the game in the eighth looks like a piece to the puzzle. He has reached base safely in 19 straight games, grinding out at-bats the way Epstein believes will become a fundamental part of the organizations identity.

LaHair has hit five of the teams nine home runs, a power outage you could have predicted maybe not to this degree after the front office passed on the big bats on the market. The last time the Cubs finished a month at nine or less was August 1981.

Ive said that from Day 1: Were going to play hard and were not going to give in or give up, LaHair said. Thats just the type of team we are now. Hopefully, it turns around.

Overseeing it all is Dale Sveum, the first-year manager hired to grow into the job and become the next Terry Francona.

Sveum has begun to establish a work culture. He projects calm and doesnt overreact, writing things off as a few hiccups here and there, nothing out of the ordinary.

Obviously, you want better results, Sveum said. The pitchings been OK. The starting pitchings been probably well above average on most days. Its just a matter of us being able to score runs and hit the ball out of the ballpark and create some opportunities to get leads.

The defense has been OK, nothing spectacular, but guys are making strides there.

The efforts been tremendous, the way we ran balls out. Our preparation (for) a game has been as good as Ive seen.

The rotation (4.20 ERA) has essentially kept the Cubs competitive on most nights. Chris Volstad (6.11 ERA) gave up four runs in the first inning on Monday, but kept the Phillies (11-12) scoreless over the next five.

Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija have looked like two frontline starters you can build around.

We have five guys who are going to give everything they got, Garza said. We know what we got to do and we know how we got to win and its all starting pitching.

The starters almost have to be perfect. The Cubs scored more than four runs only six times in April. It was a cruel month for Geovany Soto, whos hitting .127 with one RBI, and Ian Stewart, though his .169 average is somewhat offset by his plus defense.

Starlin Castro (.333) looks like he will develop into a No. 3 hitter, though he has shown lapses in concentration at shortstop (seven errors).

It stinks when youre not winning, especially when you know how hard guys work, utility man Jeff Baker said. The only thing you can do is show up tomorrow and keep grinding and hopefully it will turn.

The Cubs have repeatedly said that they will not bring up Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson just to provide a spark.

Rizzo whos hitting .384 with seven homers and 23 RBI in 22 games and Jackson (28 strikeouts in 89 at-bats) will develop at their own pace at Triple-A Iowa. Their promotions will have almost nothing to do with whats going on with the big-league club.

Trading Marlon Byrd to the Red Sox (and paying most of his salary) for a young pitcher with upside (Michael Bowden) pointed in the direction the Cubs are heading.

The clubhouse makeover is far from over, and the rumors will go into overdrive as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.

Will the fans tune this team out? Business operations knew the optimism generated by the Epstein hire would help at the box office.

Through 13 home games, the Cubs are drawing an average of 37,121, though that reflects tickets sold and not the actual number of bodies at Wrigley Field.

Garza says its going to be a lot of fun this summer. Check back in another month.

Its not the best start we ever had as a team, but you got to hang in there, Soto said. You got to be here for each other as a group in good times and in bad times. You got to pull together.

Stephen A. Smith feels that Scottie Pippen was more vital to MJ than Phil Jackson

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USA TODAY

Stephen A. Smith feels that Scottie Pippen was more vital to MJ than Phil Jackson

On Thursday's episode of 'First Take,' ESPN analysts Max Kellerman, Jay Williams, and Stephen A. Smith debated who was more important to Michael Jordan between Hall of Famers Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson. When moderator Molly Qerim Rose kicked things off, Stephen A. Smith boldly stated, "It was Scottie Pippen, it was not Phil Jackson."

Smith argued that the Bulls were already on track to being a championship team with head coach Doug Collins at the helm. He continued that while the team made an obvious leap into a three-peating championship team with Jackson, Pippen's emergence as a bonafide NBA superstar is what played the biggest part in the Bulls becoming a dynasty with MJ.

"To me, it was the elevation of Scottie Pippen...the bravado, the swag, the toughness.

"There was something missing but with [Michael] Jordan, he ultimately elevated his level of toughness, he was a phenomenal defender and Scottie Pippen's elevation is what elevated the Chicago Bulls to the champions that they were."

The "Bad Boys" Detroit Pistons of the 80s and 90s were the biggest impediment to the Bulls making the NBA Finals and when they finally broke through and eliminated the Pistons in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, Pippen averaged an impressive 22 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game on 47.5% shooting.

Smith elaborated that Collins would have eventually broken through to the NBA Finals if he coached Pippen in the later stages of his development, which is why Pippen clearly is more important to MJ than Jackson. The nature of the Pippen-Jordan-Jackson relationship will definitely be shown in greater detail during 'The Last Dance' documentary and could bring Smith's words back to the forefront of the conversations about the 90s Bulls. 

"Doug Collins to me, that Scottie Pippen that was winning titles with Jordan, Doug Collins would have won the title if he would have coached at that particular moment and time."

 

WNBA postpones start of training camps and regular season due to COVID-19

WNBA postpones start of training camps and regular season due to COVID-19

In an expected move, the WNBA is postponing the start of its training camp and regular season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leaguewide training camps had originally been scheduled to begin on April 26, with the regular season tipping off on May 15. The league offered no concrete timetable for return.

"While the league continues to use this time to conduct scenario-planning regarding new start dates and innovative formats, our guiding principle will continue to be the health and safety of the players, fans and employees," WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement.

Engelbert also cited country-wide social distancing recommendations through April 30 as cause for the league to postpone play. Illinois Governor JB Pritzker recently extended a state-wide stay-at-home order through that April 30 date, at least.

The good news for WNBA fans is that the league's draft is still on for April 17, and is set to be broadcast on ESPN. In keeping with social distancing protocols, the WNBA announced the draft will be held entirely virtually without players, guests or media. Top prospects will take part remotely with Engelbert announcing the picks live.

The WNBA will also carve out time during the draft broadcast to honor Alyssa Altobelli, Gianna Bryant, Payton Chester and Kobe Bryant, all of whom perished in a tragic helicopter accident on Jan. 26. 

The Chicago Sky hold the eighth pick in the 2020 WNBA draft, and are coming off a 20-14 2019 season that ended in a gut-wrenching defeat to the Las Vegas Aces in the second round of the playoffs.