Losing Patrick Kane could prove more difficult for Blackhawks than losing Derrick Rose is for Bulls

Hearing that Derrick Rose was likely going to be out for the remainder of the season with another meniscus surgery on deck after watching Patrick Kane go down with an injury that will keep him sidelined a while was quite the gut punch for Chicago sports fans.

The Bulls losing Rose and the Blackhawks losing Kane means different things for different folks.

Losing Rose’s upside is what hurts the most in that situation. Let’s face it, he wasn’t the MVP caliber player he was before the injuries, but Rose showed flashes of brilliance and looked as if his health had turned the corner, at minimum. He played in 19 straight and 30 of 31 before last night’s announcement.

Even then, his field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and attempted free throws per game had taken significant dips, while his assist rate (30.1 percent) is middling, ranking 13th among point guards averaging 25 minutes per game. It simply wasn’t high enough for an inconsistent offensive player with diminished skills and talented scorers around him.

It’s hard to comprehend, especially at this stage of sports mourning, but the Bulls could still play interesting, meaningful ball down the stretch as they run the offense through All-Star Pau Gasol on the block and in pick-and-roll situations.

Unfortunately, there is a glass ceiling there, in the form of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

With that bit of perspective, losing Patrick Kane is more of a burden on the Blackhawks than losing Rose is for the Bulls.

Sometimes, I feel as if Kane has been underrated in Chicago. And I’m convinced it has to do with poor decisions he made in his younger years, whether it be the drinking escapade in Madison, Wis., or the incident with a Buffalo cab driver, or one of several other incidents.

Kane has kept his nose clean in recent years, and it probably isn’t a coincidence that his play on ice has improved significantly.

This season looked like it was going to represent Kane’s coming out party. He was tied for the league lead in points, scoring 64 in 61 games. His 27 goals put him in the league’s top 10. Of those goals, 21 came at even-strength, which put him in the top five. Tack on six power-play goals and five game-winners and Kane was having his best goal scoring year of his career. Lest we forget about his vastly improved defensive skills, to go along with his elite scoring ability.

For the second straight year, injury will keep Kane from reaching the 30-goal milestone, which has been a bug-a-boo for some people who watch and analyze the team and Kane’s performance.

Replacing Kane’s production on ice is as difficult as finding a replacement for the artistry he brought to the game on a nightly basis.

Yes, the Blackhawks still have Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. But make no mistake, Kane was the straw that stirred the drink this season. His presence on the second line really brought out the best in Brad Richards, fighting on his last legs, and Kris Versteeg, who didn’t really have a home on a line until he settled in with Kane and Richards.

The good news is Kane could be back in time for a playoff run.

The bad news is it’s likely the Blackhawks would have to win a series against the Blues (with St. Louis having home-ice advantage) before Kane is at full-strength — whatever that might be.

Don’t get me wrong. Losing both is a significant blow to each team’s respective title hopes. But losing Kane during the best year of his career stings just a little bit more.

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On Derrick Rose’s injury, the Mark Prior comp and the Bulls moving forward

This one hurts, Bulls fans.

And with that bit of news from the Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, Derrick Rose’s roller-coaster return ends with a thud. The championship window closes and Bulls fans are left to wonder myriad questions about what led up to another season-ending injury and what will happen moving forward.

When it comes to Rose and his injury woes, the Mark Prior comp immediately comes to mind, as both players were young, talented stars carrying the burden for franchises building toward opening a championship window.

It first crossed my mind April 28, 2012, when Rose went down with the first of his three season-ending injuries. That’s when shortly thereafter, the thoughts poured from my head, to the keyboard.

A year later, my mind went there again.

Tonight, obviously, that’s where my mind went there again.

Sometimes, I feel as if we forget how good Mark Prior was for the Cubs.

He was a 3.0-WAR pitcher with a 30.2% strikeout rate and 3.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 19 starts as a rookie in 2002, per baseball-reference.com.

He was an All-Star for the 2003 Cubs, going 18-6 and finishing second in the majors behind Pedro Martinez in WAR (7.5, per fangraphs) and FIP (2.47). He finished third in the Cy Young vote and ninth in MVP voting. He beat Greg Maddux in a playoff game at Wrigley, then came back and pitched lights out in the NLCS to get the Cubs even with Marlins heading into the three games that were to be played in Miami.

In 2004, Prior was arguably the Cubs’ most reliable starter in September, posting a 2.17 ERA, 28.9% strikeout rate, a miniscule 4.9% walk rate and a 6-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio — all while holding opponents to a .219/.264/.292/.555 slash line in five starts.

Prior posted a 3.6-WAR season in 27 starts in 2005, but he only made 7 starts in 2006 and never pitched in the majors again.

As valuable as Prior was to the Cubs, Rose was as valuable, if not more, for the Bulls.

His first four years led fans to believe great things were on the horizon. He won Rookie of the Year in the 2008-09 season, leading the Bulls to the playoffs in the process. He followed that up with his first All-Star season and another playoff berth. All despite being under the tutelage of Vinny Del Negro.

He won the league MVP award in 2010-11, leading the Bulls to a spot in the Eastern Conference championship series, which abruptly ended with the Heat winning four straight after the Bulls took the opener.

One year later, the Bulls seemed prime to make another run at the Heat, racking up the best record in the East during a lockout-shortened season.

After playing in 240 games in his first three seasons, Rose has played in 95 since.

Things haven’t been the same since Game 1 of the Eastern Conference opening round series, when Rose tore his ACL with 1:20 left in the fourth quarter and the team up 12 points.

Short flashes of brilliance muddied by multiple nagging injuries. It’s truly disheartening to think about as a fan.

Moving forward, I imagine Aaron Brooks will handle the lead-guard responsibilities for the Bulls.

Brooks joins C.J. Watson, Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin as the latest free agent signee to put up solid numbers in a reserve guard role under head coach Tom Thibodeau, has been a pleasant surprise scoring 10.6 points, shooting 43.2 percent from the 3-point line and dishing out 2.7 assists per game while playing 19 minutes per contest.

His splits per 36 minutes: 19.2 points, 4.9 assists, 1.1 steals.

For what it’s worth, he is the Bulls’ best replacement for Rose, seeing that Kirk Hinrich’s turnover rate (14.6 percent) is still higher than his assist rate (13.4 percent) and his 7.2 PER is the worst among players averaging at least 25 minutes per game. Even then, that means the Bulls’ second unit takes a hit in productivity.

It’s a disheartening night for Bulls fans. There isn’t much more to say after that.

Foolish or not: Bulls stand pat at trade deadline

The Chicago Bulls stood their ground as the NBA Trade Deadline came and went, leaving in its wake a flurry of moves from contenders, faux contenders and the always-rebuilding Sixers.

Naturally, head coach Tom Thibodeau feels good about his team, saying: “We feel good about our team.” (source)

Well, then.

The Bulls are far from perfect, but who in the Eastern Conference is?

Sure, the Bulls could used an interior presence to eat some minutes in an attempt to keep Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson fresh. And they might get it in the form of Kendrick Perkins.

And the team definitely could find a spot from a wing player with enough skill to stretch a defense with the ability to knock down an outside shot — or they could adequately use first-round pick Doug McDermott in small spurts. Or even a wing defender with the right combination of skill and grit to stay in front of an opposing wing without getting torched.

Alas, the Bulls are in the same place now as they were when the season started.

Don’t believe me, read my preview from October.

For the lazy types…

Even then, the Bulls have a lot of questions to overcome between now and April.

Can Rose and Noah stay healthy?

How can Gasol combat the inevitable decline that comes with age and a potential heavy minutes load?

Can Butler have a career year in a contract year?

Will potential defensive liabilities such as McDermott and Mirotic do enough on offense to merit considerable playing time from their defensive-minded head coach?

Does said coach have enough sense to realize when it’s time to ease off the gas pedal?

Even if the Bulls answer all those questions in a satisfactory manner, one looms large.

How do you beat LeBron James in a seven-game series?

I shuddered when K.C. Johnson’s lead in today’s piece on the Bulls on the deadline started with: “On Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, the Bulls acquired improved health.”

Realizing that health is of the utmost importance, this is a factual statement. However, solely relying on improved wealth seems to be walking a fine tightrope — especially when handed the roster.

Pau Gasol is the team’s most efficient (and valuable) player, but he’s 34 with a lengthy injury history, despite a relatively clean bill of health this year.

The team’s least-efficient player, Kirk Hinrich, is also 34 and has missed 10 games this year, including the last three before the All-Star break.

Mike Dunleavy, also 34, is just coming off a stretch in which he missed 19 straight games from Jan. 3 through Feb. 8.

Joakim Noah, 29, has been battling leg injuries all year — and those date back to last season.

Derrick Rose has played in 16 straight and 27 of the team’s last 28 games. But what Rose we’ll see is yet to be determined.

Will we see the player who is shooting 48 percent from the field with a 7-to-1 assist to turnover ratio in his last four games or will we see the guy who was shooting 30.9 percent from the 3-point line on 6.9 attempts per game to go along with a 4.3 assists and 4.3 turnovers per game average over his last eight January games?

For better or worse, the Bulls are who we thought they were. And while that still gives them a puncher’s chance come playoff time, I have an uneasy feeling about tying my wagon to a squad where health is so important.

Baseball is back (kinda)

I didn’t think I’d buy a Jon Lester shirsey at any point this season.

Sure, I was excited about his signing and what he brought to the table and what his signing meant for the Cubs moving forward. Maybe it’s because I’m older, but for whatever reason, the name Jon Lester didn’t make me want to go out and make an impulse purchase — as I am prone to do here and there.

Then came the Meet The Management panel at January’s Cubs Convention. During the discussion headlined by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, it was Epstein who provided an anecdotal tale of their pursuit of the new Cubs’ ace.

It was an aside about dinner with Lester after the team made its face-to-face pitch earlier this winter. Epstein told the assembled crowd in a packed ballroom: “(Lester) kept saying: ‘They’re gonna burn the city down again when we win the World Series.”

To me, those were the words of a man who wants to be a part of something special. As Epstein rightfully pointed out that afternoon, Lester’s contract — which could be worth up to $170 million over seven years — was likely the most important factor in signing with Chicago. But it takes a special breed of ballplayer to want to play under the microscope at Wrigley Field.

Shortly thereafter, a shirsey (albeit, one that was on sale *sky point*) was purchased.

When those words rolled off Epstein’s tongue was to scrap the 2015 slogan of #LetsGo, as revealed by chairman Tom Ricketts on Friday, and replace it with something edgier. I stand by my proposal of #BurnTheCityDown as the Cubs’ official hashtag in 2015. And beyond.

Everyone is optimistic when spring training opens up. Healthy bodies, fresh faces and a clean slate will do that for you. But this year’s Cubs have a different flare to them.

Despite the predictions from The Sporting News and the high opinion held by the gambling public (which moved the Cubs from a 50-1 shot to win the World Series to as low as 6-1 at some casinos) the 2015 Cubs won’t be world beaters. But they should be interesting to watch.

I could flood you with details about budding young stars and high-ceiling prospects on the cusp of making The Show, but now is not the time, nor place, for it.

But soon, I’ll be looking forward to sharing my baseball thoughts with many of you. And knowing that just warms my heart.

Baseball is back. Not #BackBeforeRose. But back, nonetheless.

Bulls are in prime position to win after All-Star Break

Despite the drama surrounding the front office-coach relationship and seemingly endless worrying about Derrick Rose’s health, the Chicago Bulls find themselves in position to make a deep postseason run.

Their 113-98 win against the Cavaliers on Thursday has the Bulls sitting at 34-20, good enough for the third seed in the East. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but knowing the team is only 2.5 games behind the Raptors for the second seed and only one game ahead of the Wizards for the fourth seed should be more than enough incentive for them to go hard for the last 28 games of the regular season.

As someone who spends most of the season pumping the brakes after regular season wins, knowing what is ahead (and what is nipping at your heels), it is safe to say that regular season wins will matter more moving forward.

Seeing that the Bulls won’t take to the hardwood for another week, there is time down the line to dig deep into what this team has been through and what will go through moving forward.

In brief…

THE GOOD

Pau Gasol has discovered the fountain of youth in Chicago. At age 34, Gasol 18.4 points and 12.1 rebounds per game, his best showing in those categories since the 2010-11 season. His .493 shooting percentage is his best since shooting .501 in 2011-12. Gasol has done work from 16-feet and in, where 76 percent of his shots are coming from — not to mention the nearly four free throw attempts he gets per game.

He enters the break riding a stretch of 14 consecutive games with a double-double in which he is averaging 17.4 points on 51.6 percent shooting and 14.3 rebounds — highlighted by the fact he has pulled down 32 percent of available defensive boards during the stretch.

Gasol has been the Bulls’ most valuable player to the point where his health and efficiency is as important to the team’s success as Derrick Rose’s health and efficiency. I definitely didn’t see that coming this summer.

THE BAD

It’s too soon to call Doug McDermott a bust, but the fact that the Bulls traded two first-round picks for a guy averaging 9.4 minutes per game is quite concerning. McDermott has been stuck in Tom Thibodeau’s doghouse for quite a while and an early season injury hasn’t helped his cause. But we’re at the point where the Bulls might be better off getting him some burn in the D-League since he isn’t going to get any run in blowout wins or losses.

THE UGLY

Statistically, Kirk Hinrich might be the worst player in basketball.

(Sorry, friends/Hinrich fans. Avert your eyes.)

Hinrich’s 7.1 PER (Player Efficiency Rating) is not just a career low — it is the lowest among NBA players averaging 25 minutes per game. The bottom five features Hinrich, Dante Cunningham (8.5 PER), Lance Stephenson (8.9 PER), Channing Frye (9.0 PER) and Hollis Thompson (9.5).

When it comes to point guards averaging at least 25 minutes per game, Hinrich’s 13.6 percent assist rate is the worst. Complicating matters more is that his 14.8 percent turnover rate is higher than his assist rate.

That’s not good at all.

The nicest thing I could say about Hinrich is that he hasn’t been completely useless. He did shoot 38 percent on 3-pointers in his first 25 games of the year. Though, he has struggled mightily since, shooting 26.9 percent on 3-point attempts in his last 19.

THE UNDECIDED

Derrick Rose is a wild card still. He’s had flashes of brilliance, including Thursday’s win against the Cavaliers where he scored 30 points while shooting 50 percent from the field and picking up 7 assists while turning it over only twice (both late in the fourth).

On the other hand, he’s had some head-scratching moments. He is averaging a career high 5.5 attempted 3-pointers as opposed to only 3.7 free throws per game.

During the Bulls’ recent four-game winning streak, Rose has cut back on the 3-pointers (3.8 attempts per game) en route to averaging 20.8 points on 48.6 percent shooting, 7.3 assists and only 1.8 turnovers.

If that Derrick Rose shows up moving forward, then Bulls fans will be in for a treat come April, May and June.

On Jackie Robinson West being stripped of its title

Hope you’re equipped with mittens, because I have a fresh batch of JRW hot takes.

–If JRW has been doing this since the days of Mark Mulder playing Little League (https://twitter.com/markmulder20/status/565513285748137984) why is this only an issue now? This really feels like an issue of sore losers having sour grapes.

Like when Frank Grimes was jealous when Homer wiped the floor with the competition in the power plant model-building contest.

–There’s plenty of shade being thrown at Chicago for pushing the boundary lines when it comes to recruiting amateur players in response to today’s news.

News flash, it happens everywhere in the state (and country) and if you pay close enough attention to it, you can find it. Central Illinois. Southern Illinois. Northern Illinois. You have to be truly ignorant of your surroundings to think blurring the drawn lines and crossing them doesn’t happen in your neck of the woods.

–The thought of crossing blurred lines in the city got me to thinking about something that happened to me this winter. A few days after an earlier blast of winter that brought a sizable amount of snow, I gave a downtown bartender friend of mine a ride home so they didn’t have to wait in the cold for a bus. My friend doesn’t live in a good neighborhood. They live way out of my way on the west side, but sometimes you do things for people who do nice things for you.

Anyway, while driving west I noticed the streets become less and less easy to drive. When I came to their block, I realized their street had been unplowed. Mind you, this was at least 2 or 3 days after my street on the north side of the city had its snow removed. While driving home, I took time to notice that streets became more clear the closer I got to some better neighborhoods and back to my place.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that my friend has to struggle with this snow because they live in one of the city’s less fortunate neighborhoods and that a civic service such as snow removal has such restrictions.

–It’s hard for me to begrudge anyone fudging stuff in order to give their kid the opportunity to do something they otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to do. Considering Chicago is still one of the most segregated cities in America, this kind of stuff happens for kids to get into better schools more often than you think. And not just to play athletics either. I’m talking about fudging records for the sake of getting one’s child into a better school for the sake of education.

Cheating is cheating, I understand. But if cards are stacked against you and you can find a way to level the playing field, isn’t it one’s prerogative to go out and shake the deck and hope for the best?

–This all goes back to the point I made in an earlier post and on Twitter, as well: If only folks would work up this kind of outrage when maps are re-drawn to keep people of a certain color, race or ethnicity from getting a fair shake and accessibility to things such as certain schools, for example.

Seriously, opposing coaches went great lengths to find JRW of some wrong-doing by going through public records, voter registration, vehicle registration, etc.

All for a Little League team.

Imagine if we held politicians and corporate administrators to that standard.

Then maybe this state, or country, wouldn’t be in the mess it currently finds itself in.

In the end, all there’s left to do is blame adults for kids losing a title. What a nice way to ruin a good story.

On losing out on James Shields, price tags, projections and expectations

How productive were the Cubs during the offseason?

Losing out on James Shields — a proven horse at the top of the rotation by any metric — didn’t ruin their offseason.

The Cubs added an ace (Jon Lester), rotation depth (Jason Hammel), another high-leverage bullpen arm (Jason Motte) and complementary veteran pieces (Miguel Montero, Dexter Fowler) to a young line-up during a busy offseason. On paper, the Cubs are better than the team that lost 89 games in 2014.

Don’t get it twisted, though. Shields would’ve been a fine addition to the starting rotation. It’s not as if 3-WAR pitchers who can give you 200+ innings and 25 quality starts a year don’t grow on trees.

Coincidentally, the four-year, $75 million deal Shields signed is eerily similar to what I projected as a “fair deal” for his services back in October. Assuming we settle on the Beyond The Box Score price of 1 WAR in free agency being $7 million, It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Shields can be a 2.7 WAR pitcher per year over the next four years. This deal isn’t an overpay and I’m glad I haven’t seen it described as one so far.

And if the Cubs’ rumored offer (3 years, $60 million with a fourth-year vesting option) is to be taken as true, we would be talking about this in a similar tone.

The Padres signed a quality pitcher on a fair deal on the open market. Nothing more, nothing less.

It can be argued the Cubs dodged a bullet by not investing $20 million in a free agent starter entering his age 33 season, as it keeps the team’s powder dry in the event it wants to add an arm at the trade deadline or a high-priced free agent in the offseason. If anything, not signing Shields kept expectations from shooting through the roof.


The gambling public threw expectations for a loop when it saw value in the Cubs winning the World Series odds at 50-1, driving it down to 20-1 when the team signed manager Joe Maddon. After the Cubs added Lester, even more money went flying toward the Cubs to the point where the current odds are at 12-1, per bovada.lv.

The Sporting News took it a step further in January by predicting the Cubs would win the World Series.

In the days leading up to the Cubs Convention, Anthony Rizzo said the Cubs were going to win the NL Central. A prediction that was backed up by his manager in an interview with Tom Verducci that aired on MLB Network a few weeks ago.

And to think, this all started at the end of September when Theo Epstein said the Cubs had the resources to win the division in 2015.


I can’t tell fans how to feel about their favorite team, but I will say 2015 begins a new chapter in Cubs history.

It will be difficult to enter this year without high expectations after a winter headlined by free agent splashes and numerous accolades for its farm system. And if that’s your prerogative, so be it.

A teacher once told me: “Shoot for the moon because even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” So, who am I to knock that train of thought?

With that being said, fans should look at 2015 with a fresh set of eyes.

The 2015 Cubs will feature only one everyday player who was on the 25-man roster before the Epstein-Hoyer regime came to town. For all intents and purposes, the 2015 Cubs represent a blank page in the franchise’s history book that shouldn’t be held in comparison to any previous incarnation of the team. Partially because there really isn’t a comp for what has been and is being done here in Chicago in regard to an organizational tear-down and rebuild.

For me, 2015 represents a clean slate. And frankly, this is the best I’ve felt about a Cubs team probably ever.