Making Sense of Nonsense: Bulls trade Derrick Rose to Knicks; draft Denzel Valentine

Only days after LeBron James fulfilled his promise of bringing a championship to the greater Northeast Ohio region, Derrick Rose left his hometown of Chicago ring-less.

Rose, reserve point guard Justin Holiday and a 2017 second-round pick were traded to the Knicks on Wednesday in exchange for center Robin Lopez, point guard Jose Calderon and guard Jerian Grant.

If Jerian Grant strikes a chord with you, it might be because he is the nephew of former Bulls star Horace Grant and a Notre Dame basketball product. Grant was drafted by the Knicks in 2015 and is a lottery ticket, in that you hope that something good comes of a young body with fresh legs, a good background and a semblance of upside.

Calderon is a serviceable starting point guard with one year remaining on his deal. He is past his prime, but knows how to facilitate and run an offense without bogging it down with over-dribbling or “my turn” shots.

Lopez has three years left on what was a four-year deal worth $54 million signed in 2015 with New York. The veteran center has minimal offensive value and upside, but has some skills as a rebounder and rim protector. I would guess his job is to be a younger version of a poor man’s Joakim Noah, even if his contract is worth an average of $13.5 million annually.

The takeaway from this deal is that this is how badly the Bulls wanted to rid themselves of the baggage that Derrick Rose brought to the table.

No longer are the Bulls a slave to Rose’s oft-injured body. They are now free from the off-court distractions that would come with every misstep that would occur when he would speak to the media. They no longer have to deal with lingering questions about extending Rose’s contract during a walk year. And now Jimmy Butler gets to slide into the alpha dog role without any dissent coming from Rose.

But what about Rose?

Derrick Rose gets a fresh start where he doesn’t have to be The Man to be successful. The trade releases him from the burden of having to answer questions about free agency in Chicago while simultaneously trying to carry his hometown team to the postseason. At this point if his career, Rose doesn’t have to live up to the lofty expectations he set at the start of his career with a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP and three All-Star Game appearances.

For just one year, all Rose has to concern himself with is basketball. Roll it out on the court with a proven scorer in Carmelo Anthony and a rising star Kristaps Porzingis and let the game take care of what is valuable to Rose moving forward — his next big contract. Because if he’s healthy, he will get a (second) wealthy deal and a third lease on basketball life.

Not to say that will be easy. I put together a table in Thursday’s Chicago Tribune outlining the difference between pre-injury Derrick and the player he was after the ACL tear. The numbers were drastic. He went from one of the league’s most productive (and even efficient) point guards to one of its least productive (and extremely inefficient) as his career closed out in Chicago.

For Rose to be successful moving forward, he will need to refine his game. He never was (and will likely never be) a good perimeter shooter. Unfortunately, the various injuries he has suffered over the years has stripped him of his explosiveness and ability to finish at the rim. Rose will have to re-invent himself in New York, and because of the pieces around him, he has a puncher’s chance of doing so because of the shot-making abilities of Anthony and Porzingis.

Rose will need to turn into a facilitator under Jeff Hornacek. Again, that could be a tough task considering the toll injuries have taken on Rose’s ability to create for himself off the dribble. It’s hard to be a drive-and-kick threat if you can’t drive — especially if opponents already don’t respect your shot. However, Rose isn’t an idiot on the hardwood and Hornacek is a good enough coach to get a quality year out of Rose if he is healthy.

Let’s be clear here. The Knicks aren’t getting the Derrick Rose who set the league on fire in his first four years out of Memphis. He doesn’t have to be that guy to be successful. But know that if he was that guy still, he probably wouldn’t be on the Knicks right now.

And that is something some Bulls fans need to understand. The Bulls didn’t trade MVP Derrick Rose, they traded the guy who struggled with nagging injuries to stay on the court. They dealt the player whose playing status was a constant distraction. They moved a player whose prime was behind him and wasn’t likely going to be on the team the next time it was a true title contender.

The Bulls aren’t a Derrick Rose away from a championship right now and they made a wise decision to move on from him. It was better to do it now than do it midseason where it would have been the ultimate distraction for a team that needed fewer of them.

Rose had some great years in Chicago, and for a while there you wouldn’t have been crazy to think that he was the kind of player who could give LeBron James’ teams the biggest fight in the East. Unfortunately, his body couldn’t handle it — and not everyone’s body is made to handle the beating Rose went through over the years. He played the game with a ferocity that went mostly unmatched during his prime. It was a unique blend of quick-twitch moves and reckless abandon, teamed with the poetry in motion that is the game of basketball.

When Rose was healthy, he was the best player Chicago had since Michael Jordan owned the United Center hardwood. (Sorry, Kirk Hinrich.)

Now, it’s over. And both sides should be happy about it, appreciative of the good times they had and thankful for the new opportunities that are ahead.


The Bulls drafted Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine in a move that is more sensible than sexy.

Valentine was a four-year player for the Spartans and won the AP’s National Player of the Year, earned a first-team All-American spot and finished as a runner-up for the Naismith and Wooden awards as a senior. He played on four really successful Michigan State teams and under one of the best hands-on coaches in Tom Izzo. Valentine does a lot of things well (good perimeter shooter, OK passer, willing defender) but doesn’t excel in any particular area.

While he lacks in athleticism and upside, Valentine does have good quality work ethic, basketball IQ and instincts — two things the Bulls desperately needed with this pick (and in players moving forward). The Bulls could have made a worse pick here and didn’t. Good on them.

 

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On LeBron, Warriors with an asterisk, beat-up Bulls, Sox slump, Cubs stuff and summer is here

I feel as if I have more thoughts in my head than I do time or places to share them, so I’ll try somehow to be thorough and brief.

“Good luck with that.”

**Sunday’s Game 7 between the Cavaliers and Warriors wrapped up what might have been the most compelling NBA season of the last 30 years. We just witnessed the best player of his generation defeat the best regular season team of his generation after his team fell into a 3-1 hole. With his back against the wall, LeBron James averaged 36.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and 9.3 assists in Games 5-7 — all while logging 44 minutes per game and shooting 50 percent from the field and 42 percent from the 3-point stripe.

In short, it took LeBron James being better than his best to beat the best team in basketball. So, rather than stew in the Warriors choke job narrative, I’d much rather tip my cap to one of the three greatest players. I was wrong about LeBron James. I didn’t think he had it in him to do what he did last night. But I’m OK with being wrong because it meant I got to see something I had never seen before and likely won’t see again.

**Shoutout to the Warriors for making basketball fun again. Sure, their 73-win season comes with the footnote of losing the NBA Finals despite owning a 3-1 lead with two home games to be played. They fell short in the most heartbreaking fashion, but it was enjoyable along the way. The LeBron/Wade/Bosh Heat were appointment TV because they were to basketball what Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were to wrestling. These Warriors were appointment television because they were the basketball equivalent of WWE’s Attitude Era.

Or, for non wrestling fans, the Heat were must-see-TV because they were easy to root against and there was satisfaction to be had with every misstep. Just think about how you root against the Yankees, Red Sox, Patriots, Duke basketball and teams of that nature.

On the other side of the coin, you had to watch Warriors games because you never knew how far they’d push the envelope with a brand of basketball that has never been seen before. Just think of how you root for the crazy upset in your March Madness pool because “Wouldn’t it be cool if Team X did this because this never happens…”

**The Warriors have been the anti-Bulls with how they put together a top-10 scoring offense and teamed it with a top-10 team with regards to defensive efficiency. Golden State has been equal parts free flowing offense and stifling defense. Between that and what the Cavaliers did in winning three straight elimination games, I’m reminded of how far away the Bulls are from contending.

Chicago won the season series from the world champs, yet, missed the playoffs because they performed poorly against so many other teams that true contenders beat.

The Bulls are so far off from being contenders, I read a hypothetical scenario in a comment on Facebook in which the Bulls swap Derrick Rose for Carmelo Anthony and convince Kevin Durant to come along for the ride — and still wasn’t sure how the Bulls do what the Cavs just did.

This team has a ton of needs as they are void of an athletic, rim-protecting big, a point guard who can simultaneously create for himself and facilitate an offense, a proficient low-post scorer who isn’t a defensive liability and bench depth.

But more than anything, the Bulls evidently do not have the front office to put those pieces in place and I’m not convinced that Fred Hoiberg is the coach who could put it all together if those pieces were placed in front of him. Hoiberg disappointed in 2016 as he lacked the assertiveness, leadership ability and people-managing skills that made him a premier coaching candidate while at Iowa State. Perhaps he is better off coaching a team of up-starts who need to be molded into something greater. Or maybe he’s a good college coach who is over his head at the NBA. Only time (and let the record show that Hoiberg still has five years remaining on his deal) will tell.

**If the Bulls being in a bad situation wasn’t enough, Jerry Reinsdorf’s baseball team is riding the struggle bus, too. Even after losing 2 of 3 to the Rangers, the White Sox started 23-12 and had the second best record in baseball. The team has been in a free fall since, going 10-24 in its next 34 games. That puts them at 33-36, 5.5 games out of the AL Central with three teams ahead of them and five games out of a Wild Card spot with five teams between them and the Royals.

So, what happened?

The White Sox’s margin for error was slim thanks to an offense led by a slew of players who simply don’t get on base enough. The team was slashing .253/.329/.399 and averaging 4.43 runs in its first 35 games. In 34 games since, the Sox are slashing .232/.296/.371 and averaging 3.65 runs. Regression is unavoidable, but it hits especially hard for a White Sox team not built to fight the regression monster. I hate using the “catching lightning in a bottle” cliche, but consider these two thoughts:

  • After ending 2015 with an on-base problem, the 2016 White Sox started the year … with an on-base problem? How? The White Sox brought in new faces to play center (Austin Jackson), third (Todd Frazier), shortstop (Jimmy Rollins), second (Brett Lawrie) and catcher (Alex Avila, Dioner Navarro. Here are the OBP numbers on those respective players in the four years prior to joining the White Sox: .319, .320, .310, .305, .326, .328. In short, any regression was going to be painful for an offense that started with an already low floor. And that is what we are seeing through 69 games.
  • On-base percentage isn’t everything.  That is why I like to use wRC+, a statistic that serves as a catch-all for a player’s offensive contributions. The 2015 White Sox rolled out players at third, short, second and catcher who put together wRC+ numbers of 64, 72, 53 and 79 … and replaced them with players who have posted wRC+ numbers of 90, 71, 84, and 71. Nothing captures the story of the 2016 White Sox like improving at four positions, but still being below league average after improvemen
  • And while posting a sparkling 3.19 ERA in Games 1-35, the team has gone south thanks in part to a 4.86 ERA in games 36-69.

**There was talk on sports radio over the weekend of Todd Frazier’s All-Star candidacy. Frazier has 19 home runs and 44 RBI, which puts him among the best at his position, but is hitting .197 with a .299 on-base percentage. He also ranks 18th among 21 qualifying third basemen in defensive runs saved (-5), 17th in UZR/150 (-11.9) and 18th in defensive runs above average (-4.9). The White Sox have two sure-fire All-Stars in pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. Adam Eaton has cooled considerably (.243/.307/.374, .297 wOBA in the last 30 days/130 PA) since his hot start in right field, but is still nearly a 3-win player (2.6 fWAR) . Having four All-Stars on a team that might be out of contention come mid-July would be awfully telling of the job Robin Ventura has done — let alone the job of the guys who put together the supporting cast.

**I thought Brett Lawrie was in post-hype sleeper mode when he slashed .267/.347/.444 with a .340 wOBA and 112 wRC+ in his first 101 PA, but has since posed a .207/.282/.348 with a .275 wOBA and 68 wRC+ in 181 PA.

**As of this posting, Jose Abreu’s fWAR is still in the negatives (-0.1) and it’s June 20. That might be the most under-reported story of the year as far as Chicago baseball is concerned.

**I try to keep my Cubs thoughts brief because I’d rather have you reading Bleacher Nation, but the Cubs are pretty good. They are 47-20 and have a double-digit lead on the second-place Cardinals and third-place Pirates. They’re doing a little bit of everything. Offensively, they have four players (Rizzo, Zobrist, Fowler, Bryant) in the top 30 in wRC+. Defensively, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo, David Ross and Addison Russell each rank in the top-5 at their position in Defensive Runs Saved. According to Fangraphs’ base running metric (BsR), the Cubs are really good at that, too, with a MLB-best 10.0. Of course, none of this is predictive, nor does it guarantee October success. Crazy things happen in small samples. That’s why I get aggravated when I hear people talk about Cubs fans counting chickens before they hatch because, if anything, baseball fans know that the best team doesn’t always win because the baseball postseason is more conducive to finding the best team over the span of a month rather than the best team over the course of a year.

But you’re a smart baseball fan and knew that already.

Last week wasn’t a great one for Cubs takes with the rebuild process that turned a 100-loss team to a 97-win squad or a guy who had one bad defensive series, but hit 21 homers in 304 PA in his first year removed from college were over-loved for some reason. But it’s a new week and the Cubs are still good, entertaining and can put together a lineup with eight guys who are 26 or younger once Jorge Soler comes back.

Bryant (3B, 24), Russell (SS, 22), Baez (2B, 23), Rizzo (1B, 26), Soler (LF, 24), Almora (CF, 22), Heyward (RF, 26), Contreras (C, 24).

Have fun with that, baseball.

My only advice is to enjoy the ride while you can and let the chips fall where they may. There’s no sense in beating yourself up in June when the most meaningful baseball happens in September/October.

Making Sense of Nonsense: White Sox acquire SP James Shields

I shared some thoughts when the deal went down on Saturday, but the White Sox’s acquisition of James Shields is deserving of more than a handful of tweets.

It’s a fair deal for both sides as both the White Sox and Padres each get something that is somewhat desirable. In Fernando Tatis Jr., the Padres are receiving a lottery ticket in a prospect signed for $825,000 out of the Dominican Republic. He ranked highly on MLB.com’s list of top 30 international prospects in 2015.

The scoop, via MLB.com’s scouting report:

Scouts like Tatis Jr.’s swing, his strong arm and his fluid actions on defense. He’s shown decent arm strength and raw power to his pull side. Tatis Jr.’s knack for barreling up balls and his repeatable swing have also impressed evaluators.

Some believe Tatis Jr. can play multiple positions and could end up at second or third base or even in the outfield. His big frame will allow him to build strength.

Scouts also like his makeup and how he handles himself on and off the field. He has a game-oriented mindset, and his makeup is off the charts.

At 17, Tatis Jr. is a few years from being a relevant prospect and probably five years (or more) from being in the mix for a big league spot. But the Padres are taking a worthwhile gamble here on some raw skills and pedigree.

They also received Erik Johnson, a pitcher who is part lottery ticket, part reclamation project. Johnson is the rare White Sox pitching prospect who hasn’t panned out en route to becoming a useful piece on the big league roster. His four pitch mix is respectable, but not overpowering. He’ll likely benefit from a break-up with pitching coach Don Cooper, especially after notably going outside of the organization last winter to refine his game in an attempt to take control of his future.

And while that didn’t translate into positive big league results, the Padres’ recent good fortune in rehabbing pitchers with prospect pedigree (Tyson Ross, Drew Pomeranz) should give Johnson hope. So, what does the Padres pitching coach see in his new project? He weighed in via the San Diego Union Tribune:

“I’ve seen a swing-and-miss fastball,” Balsley said. “He has a really quick arm. What I saw, his breaking ball was fine. It’s a good mix, and he was using the strike zone. His fastball, it seems like he either had a good spin rate or it’s sneaky at times. … I saw some really good curveballs and think it’s a really good major league pitch. Not too many red flags in his deliveries.”

So, what’s the deal with James Shields?

Assuming Shields doesn’t opt out at the end of 2016, the White Sox will be on the hook for $10 million for each of the next two seasons. And that is excellent value for a guy who is a 2- or 3-WAR starter at this stage of his career. Further, he slots comfortably behind Chris Sale and Jose Quintana and ahead of Miguel Gonzalez and Mat Latos. Shields is an improvement at a reasonable price, but to what degree?

He has struggled since joining the Padres, pitching to a 4.00 ERA/4.44 FIP/3.81 xFIP/93 ERA+. Not quite the 3.72 ERA/3.77 FIP/3.61 xFIP/111 ERA+ he posted in his career prior to signing with San Diego. And he hasn’t even been close to the guy who posted a 3.18 ERA/3.51 FIP/3.64 xFIP/127 ERA+ in two years with the Royals.

Still, ZiPS projects a 1.5 WAR over 116 innings and I can see that happening if the projected K/9 rises from 7.62 to 8.65 and BB/9 falls from 3.61 to 2.91. Maybe some progression to the mean will come if his BABIP drops from .316 and gets closer to his .298 career mark. Shields has been bit by the homer bug, evidenced by his 16.9 HR/FB% — and that comes despite a decreased fly ball rate and a 48 percent ground ball rate that is its highest since pulling a 52.3 GB% in 2012 with the Rays.

Shields still has a plus change and his curveball (3.3 runs saved, 12th best in MLB) has been good, too. He is less reliant on the cutter now and that had been a serviceable pitch for him — 10.8 runs saved from 2013-15 is the ninth best, per Fangraphs’ PITCHf/x value.

On the other hand, his -4.9 wFB (used at a 42.3% rate) ranks as the 84th of 109 qualified starters. It’s also down to 90.1 mph, for whatever that is worth to you.

Perhaps a change of scenery and approach could aid Shields — which, in turn, would aid the White Sox’s hpoes of running down the Indians and Royals in the AL Central. Shields has worked more out of the zone this year with a 53.5% first-strike rate, but has seen the swing rate on pitches out of the zone dip from 31.7% to 25.9% and his swinging strike rate trimmed back from 12.4% to 10.7%.

The moniker “Big Game James” followed Shields from Tampa Bay to Kansas City and San Diego. He isn’t that guy any more, but doesn’t need to be with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana headlining the rotation. Shields needs to be “Innings-Eating James” and improve on the 6.13 innings per start he has averaged the last two years and be more like the guy he was in KC when he averaged 6.7 innings per start.

If he can rediscover the cutter and team that with an effective change and curve, that would go a long way to getting where the White Sox (and their fans) want him to be.