Bulls Roster a House of Cards

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The 2016-17 Chicago Bulls are not what they seem to be. The first twenty-plus games of the season suggest we’re watching a playoff bound team that rises to the level of its competition. With recent wins against the Cavaliers and Spurs, optimism around the team’s potential is on the rise. Jimmy Butler has taken his game to the next level–top five in Win Shares and top ten in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and Box Plus/Minus1 along with other advanced stats help tell that story. Dwayne Wade has been wildly successful in his debut season with his hometown team. The aged veteran prone to injury is playing the second most minutes per game on the team while averaging nearly 20 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.5 steals per game2. Butler and Wade are the dynamic duo that John Paxson and Gar Forman hoped they’d be. The versatile backcourt mates play off each other well on-court while quickly forming a strong bond away from it. It’s the superstar tandem we’ve been waiting for since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen ran the United Center floor together. But don’t get excited, Wade is a couple years away from retirement so this run will be short lived. Anyway, Butler and Wade’s combined talent has kept the Bulls contending in games they would have otherwise lost handily. And that’s why the mirage of a successful Bulls’ season is destined to evaporate before our very eyes.

The Bulls are a true house of cards with each victory adding hearts, aces, spades and diamonds to an abode built on the flimsiest of foundations. It’s true, Jimmy Butler has defied all odds to become a likely perennial All-NBA’er and D-Wade has played the second star role better than we could have expected. The rest of the roster is filled with mediocre, underachieving veterans and not-ready-for-primetime youngsters. The cast of characters Bulls’ brass chose to surround Butler and Wade don’t fit the mold of a win-now foundation. No third option, no bench mob, no chance.

When your third highest scorer is Taj Gibson your roster is no damn good. Gibson has spent the better part of seven NBA seasons trying unsuccessfully to establish himself as a starting caliber power forward. While Taj remains an all-around excellent reserve he is, by no means, a starting front court player on a winning team. And then there’s Rajon Rondo, the former Celtic-Maverick-King point guard just looking for a fresh start. Ahem, excuse me… another fresh start. His latest turn of the page, a two-year $27M deal, has brought with it a career low field goal percentage along with lower-than-expected assist and point totals. Rondo was meant to be the third member of the new Bulls’ stud troika. He has instead become the third wheel of a two-man show. The talents of sharp shooters Nikola Mirotic–once compared to the likes of Toni Kukoc and Dirk Nowitzki3–and Doug McDermott have failed to blossom under Fred Hoiberg’s shooter friendly offense. The list of disappointing performers goes on and on; Bobby Portis and Jerian Grant are sophomore slumping, Robin Lopez is the average center we expected him to be while Michael Carter-Williams can’t find his way onto the court. This Bulls’ roster is flawed in ways that won’t overcome injuries and inconsistencies while its lack of depth demands major minutes from the talented few. That kind of mix doesn’t… mix.

And so we wait. We wait and we watch. We wait, we watch and we hope. We hope that Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade can withstand their high minutes usages knowing full well that Wade will not. We hope some combination of McDermott, Mirotic, Portis, Grant and Carter-Williams shows the sparks of talent that will ready the Bulls for some future success. And we hope Fred Hoiberg becomes a respected, progressive head coach. This Bulls team is teetering on the edge of plight and a single misstep will bring down the fragile structure. And when the house of cards finally topples, John Paxson and Gar Forman won’t have anywhere else to hide.

Found It:
NBA Reference1
NBA Reference2
HoopsHype3

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RE: Dwyane Wade: ‘League is different today’ when it comes to free agency

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These Chicago Bulls are not terrible and, frankly, I’m surprised. Sure it’s early but maybe this season won’t be the disaster many of us expected. Much of the team’s strong start is credited to Dwayne Wade’s offseason defection from the Heat. Nick Friedell, of ESPN Chicago, sheds some light on the new realities of NBA free agency.

The league is different today,” Wade said. “The league is all about relationships, player relationships. Obviously presidents and GMs have their job to do to put teams together, but when it comes to free agency, that’s player relationships more than anything. It’s where an individual wants to go, so you have to feel comfortable with where you’re going and who you’re going with. And it starts in that process. Maybe you have a relationship with a guy, maybe you don’t, but it starts in that process when guys are able to reach out to you and you see.

As much as old school fans and long-retired NBA players disagree, Wade’s assessment on the state of today’s free agency makes a whole lot of sense. While teams of yesteryear were shaped by general managers selling their roster’s potential, teams across today’s National Basketball Association are often designed by players that want to play together. That fact reminds us why the previous Bulls crew could never bring a second true superstar to play alongside Derrick Rose who, famously, never felt the need to recruit.

RE: Miggy Makes ‘Em Pay

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Rian Watt’s stellar breakdown of the Cubs 8-4 game one victory over the Dodgers in Wrigleyville Baseball Prospectus included this well-phrased observation of an all-grown-up Cubs’ organization.

All over Wrigley tonight, you saw the Cubs taking advantage of a killer combination: their players’ tremendous baseball instincts and talents, matched with and supported by thoughtful preparation by the entire organization.

Indeed, it all came together last night in Wrigley Field in a very October baseball sort of way. Jon Lester threw another playoff gem allowing just one run–a windblown home run by Andre Ethier–in six innings. The Cubs’ bullpen was good enough to keep the Dodgers from ever taking a lead. Dexter Fowler was among the defense wizards that erased a few pitching mistakes. And big hits when it mattered most (Miggy FTW!) gave the Cubs a 1-0 series lead in what shall be an exciting, gut-wrenching National League Championship Series.

RE: Kevin White shows progress in final exhibition…

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After the Bears defeated the Browns in Chicago’s preseason finale Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune reflected on the hopefulness that comes with Kevin White’s performance.

The route was precise, the cut decisive. Kevin White broke back hard to meet the ball, snaring Brian Hoyer’s pass cleanly, then slithering past Browns cornerback Charles Gaine for extra yardage. It was a brief moment in the first quarter of a mostly trivial exhibition finale Thursday night. But for the Bears, and much more so for White, every dash of success at this point means something. Whatever White takes away from that 15-yard catch should help moving forward.

What I caught of the Bears’ preseason tells me it’s going to be an up-and-down season for the club. Shaky offensive performances across four straight weeks also makes clear the fact that Kevin White–not Alshon Jeffery, Jeremy Langford or Jay Cutler–will be the key to avoiding a rudderless offense in 2016. Last season, the Bears’ offense struggled leaning on Jeffery, Forte and Langford to move the ball forward. We need something more this fall to stand a chance in the NFC North. That something more is most obviously Kevin White.

If Kevin White fails to perform expect another limp-along offensive season in Chicago. If White emerges as a Pro Bowl level talent presume the Bears will challenge the Packers as division champion in 2016. Flourish and flatness are the two ends of the spectrum for the upcoming Bears’ season–let’s see which way White tips that scale.

RE: Why Jimmy Butler Wanted Dwayne Wade to Sign with the Bulls

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Earlier this summer–July 3oth to be exact–Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago talked about Jimmy Butler’s willingness to recruit big name stars to play alongside him with the new-look, old-aged Chicago Bulls:

Free agent acquisitions Wade and Rajon Rondo have openly said Butler is the first name on the basketball masthead, but Butler has termed them “the three Alphas”. Regardless of what Butler has said before publicly about not being concerned with his standing in the locker room of the Chicago Bulls, he’s feeling more and more comfortable with the position of leadership—perhaps emboldened by the validation of the two.

The composition of this Bulls’ roster–particularly “the three Alphas” troika–feels like a recipe for disaster. Despite Jimmy’s insistence that he doesn’t need to be “the guy” in the Bulls’ locker room, his past actions and words suggest otherwise. And know this, Dwayne Wade has demurred on-court to exactly two teammates in his career–Shaq and LeBron–making it unlikely for him to take a backseat in his return to Chicago. I’m not as worried about Rondo who should be the best version of himself while playing on a short contract. While pot stirring may not be in Rajon’s near future, the point guard certainly won’t go out of his way to help Butler assume the mantle as Chicago’s face of the franchise.

Even if you put all that aside, this feels like a team built to keep GarPax employed rather than one designed to be a foundational step forward for a championship run. The mix of Butler, Wade and Rondo is a dream combo for the media but may well be a true basketball fan’s nightmare.

A Conversation with Paralympian Josh George

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Of all the words Josh George said, this idea struck me the most:

We’re all given one body and we’re all skilled at different things. And everyday we have these creative problems to solve. For me, purely getting faster and doing what I can do each day to get faster is my motivation.

Josh George is much more than a high-performing athlete but don’t be mistaken, he is a high-performing athlete. The soon-to-be four time Paralympian brought home medals from Athens, Beijing and London1 and is headed to Rio next month seeking more hardware. The winner of multiple marathons including Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and London speaks passionately when talking about his love of wheelchair racing. He describes the intricacies of racing to me in a way that suggests each one is more of a complex puzzle to solve than simply a long race to win. I ask George which marathon is his favorite and he starts with Chicago telling me it’s fun because it’s flat and you find yourself in these packs of racers where much of the challenge is about the strategy of when and how to break away. He talks about the New York City Marathon and the grind of crossing all five boroughs and conquering an incredibly hilly course. And he describes the London Marathon as a flat course with lots of turns and amazing, historic sites. Josh’s enthusiasm as he describes each city tells me they’re all his favorite; every competition fuels his goal to be the best at what he does. The medalist, world champion and motivational speaker personifies the idea that each of us should maximize the body, and the life, we’re given.

Josh George is headed to Brazil for his fourth Paralympic Games. But before he represents the United States in Rio George will host the Roll to Rio2 event in Champaign, Illinois on Sunday, August 14th. The Roll to Rio, which starts at 4:00PM, begins at West Side Park with rally goers slow rolling through town with a police escort on bikes, skateboards, kick scooters, wheelchairs and more. The day finishes up at The Accord where people will have the chance to cheer on the Paralympians before they head to the games in Rio. Why host the rally in middle-Illinois? Because, as Josh tells me, the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign has a rich history of accessibility and “a community that is open and accepting of what we are doing.” The university, a recently designated U.S. Paralympic Training Site, hosts para-athletes like George who train for the biggest competitions across the globe. When Josh was asked to be the focal point of a nationally televised BMW advertisement it seemed completely natural for the crew–who he worked with over nine hours–to film in the rural back roads and cornfields of Champaign rather than a backlot in Los Angles. The roads they filmed on were, after all, the very ones he spent countless hours training on. George describes the shoot as a truly amazing experience. The outcome is a sixty-second spot that evokes emotion both with stunning visuals and simple, powerfully spoken words.

Josh George’s involvement with this sleekly designed, high-performing racing wheelchair hasn’t been limited to his time filming the commercial in Champaign. He told me that BMW wanted to help develop tech for the Summer Games so the self-motivated athlete went out to LA and pitched the idea of focusing their efforts on wheelchair racing. Josh presented the BMW team with the opportunity to rethink what racing wheelchairs could be and should be–challenge accepted. They coupled the insights that come from his real world racing experiences with some of the best designers and engineers in the business to develop the ultimate racing wheelchair. It’s that wheelchair and the wont to continue his successful athletic career that brings us back to Rio and the next chapters of his story.

Fans from around the globe are embracing the Olympic Games in Rio–names like Phelps, Ledecky, Walsh Jennings and Biles have captured our collective attention across the United States. But I wonder, how much can their fellow athletes watch while also focusing on their upcoming trials, heats, meets and competitions? “I’ve been watching as much of the olympics as possible. This is when it all becomes real–it’s exciting!” says George, who seems ready to land in Rio and take it all in for himself. The Paralympic Games along with all of Josh George’s other unique experiences have led him to the important message that he now spreads whenever he gets the chance.

His Maximize Your Potential campaign embodies the words that struck me the most when I looked back at our conversation. When “we’re all given one body” it’s up to each of us to make the most of it. When “we have these creative problems to solve” it’s up to each of us to push our minds and bodies to solve those problems. Where did that message come from? As Josh tells it, the idea evolved a few years ago after a couple down years of racing. The question he kept coming back to–why do I keep racing? And the answer, as simple as it may seem, gave rise to this Maximize Your Potential campaign. George recalls that answer succinctly: “I didn’t feel like I had met my potential. So it clicked.” Of course it meant the palpable need to bring out in others what he has long brought out in himself.

Like wheelchair racing champion Josh George, each of us have incredible potential. We won’t all land in Rio this summer but we are each given a mind and body with which to make a difference–to help those in need, to raise caring families, to lead successful careers, to win at life. Before we finished talking I asked Josh for some advice to those of us still searching for the motivation to achieve greatness. “I’d tell that person to take a step back and ask themselves what they love about what they’re doing. Refocus on that initial desire and love.” His hopefulness for us all is inspiring and his own desire and love of competition tells me he’ll dominate in Rio and succeed wherever else his journey takes him.


Found It:
Josh George1
University of Illinois Alumni Association2

 

International Soccer Friendly Pitch Perfect

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AC Milan and FC Bayern Munich squared off within the Soldier Field confines in a well-attended, well-matched international friendly this past week. There was no major reward awaiting the victor, AC Milan, who finally won in a penalty shootout. The Italian club didn’t secure a spot in the World Cup or earn top seeding in the next Euro Cup. The friendly–an exhibition put on as part of the International Champions Cup–meant as much as the NBA All-Star game or NFL Pro Bowl. Yet the play on the pitch was worthy of the over 44,000 mostly Bayern Munich fans attending the match.

I’m not a super soccer fan. I looked over the starting lineups before the match kicked off and didn’t recognize more than a handful of names. I don’t go to Chicago Fire games and I’m not glued to my seat for every Premier League or UEFA championship. Major League Soccer was founded in the early 90s when my fandom was already interwoven with baseball, basketball as well as American football making it hard to latch onto another sport, especially one that’s so low scoring. But here’s the thing: soccer is exciting and those of us that don’t give it enough attention are missing out on world-class events.

Soccer matches, even exhibitions, are thrill-a-minute (well, thrill-every-few-minutes) chess matches from kick-off to final whistle. Much like hockey, the low final scores aren’t a good representation of the 90+ minutes of action I saw as the stars of Bayern Munich and AC Milan traded goals until the very end. Well-placed corner kicks, powerful headers, sharp passes, outside the box strikes and even near misses brought the crowd to its feet time and again. Fans of soccer follow the game with a passion, for a good reason.

Advanced analytics and deep statistics have drawn a new fanbase to baseball in recent decades. Numbers, and the challenge of extrapolating them into stories and predictions, have brought younger fans to baseball when Major League Baseball needed them most. The folks attempting to establish soccer as a thriving American sport are bringing that level of numerical depth to Major League Soccer with tools like the Audi Player Index1. If successful it will bring thousands of new data points to fans’ fingertips. The index comes with lofty goals–rating nearly every on-pitch player action to define a unique score per player. This kind of info will help casual fans get who’s most impacting the match. If enough people dig into the details we’ll see an expedited fan migration to the world of American soccer over the next few years.

Exciting goals and heartbreaking misses coupled with digestible data can make soccer a truly compelling sport. The last World Cup captivated the US audience, international friendlies are filling up stadiums across North America and Major League Soccer attendance is growing2. Soccer hasn’t cracked the big four of American sports quite yet but more fans are realizing the pitch is perfectly suited for action-packed entertainment.

Found It:
MLS Soccer1
World Soccer Talk2