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Zambrano Rips Cubs After Loss…This Time He’s Absolutely Right

Posted by sportsmaven on June 5, 2011

After the Chicago Cubs crafted yet another come from ahead loss to long time nemesis the St. Louis Cardinals, Carlos Zambrano could hold back no longer. Moments after Albert Pujols launched his second of back to back walk off homers to beat the Cubs on consecutive days, Zambrano took a minute comment on the Cubs morbid play and this time he couldn’t be more spot on with his commentary. In his post-game comments following Sunday’s 3-2 loss, Zambrano pulled no punches when asked what he thought of the outcome, as reported by Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune:

“The problem wasn’t Pujols,” Zambrano said in a loud voice, glancing toward Marmol’s locker as he spoke. “The problem was (Marmol’s slider to Theriot).

“We should know better than this. We play like a Triple-A team. This is embarrassing. Embarrassing for the team and the owners. Embarrassing for the fans. Embarrassed — that’s the word for this team.

“We should know better than what we (did) on the field. We should know that Ryan Theriot is not a good fastball hitter. We should know that as a team. We should play better here. We stink. That’s all I’ve got to say.”

The unfortunate part of what is quickly becoming a lost season for the Cubs, Big Z seems to be the only one in the Cubs organization who is not only openly honest in how the team is currently playing, but also seems to be the only one with any sense of holding anyone accountable for poor play as of late. No, the problem wasn’t WHAT Big Z said, the problem was that he was THE ONLY ONE that stepped up to say it. Past history aside, maybe Zambrano should be questioned for being the bearer of this on the mark comment, as his past comments haven’t been sparkling to say the least. But Sullivan’s comment of Zambrano throwing Cubs closer Carlos Marmol under the bus? C’mon, this needed to be said. If not by Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, then certainly by manager Mike Quade, who is the orchestrator of the latest incarnation of the debacle known as the Chicago Cubs and is quickly losing the faith and support of the dwindling Cubs fan base.

The best thing to happen to Tom Ricketts, Mike Quade and their Cubs team was the long playoff run by the Chicago Bulls, which took all the pressure and focus off of a wobbly and challenging early season of marginal play by a team with a severe identity crisis. Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t have been worse for the Cubs, as the focus has shifted from the wildly successful Bulls season that ended prematurely, directly to a team that is in it’s worst performing stretch of play thus far this season.

And unfortunately for Mike Quade, direct comparisons with Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau will now start, as Quade seems to hold what appears to be a diametrically opposite coaching/managing philosophy to Thibodeau, who is notoriously known for holding his players accountable. Just ask Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah about accountability.

Another unfortunate situation for Quade is sharing the Chicago baseball spotlight with White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen who would, as Sullivan eloquently states, never allow another player to throw a teammate under the bus because that’s his job to do as Sox manager.

Being a player’s manager in and of itself is not a bad thing. The other thing that Tom Thibodeau is known for is being a players coach and he seems to be skillfully adept at managing that along with player accountability. What I wanted to hear from Quade today would be something to the effect of:

“We didn’t get the job done again today. We had the book on Ryan Theriot, went away from what we knew best and it burned us. We also had an opportunity to change our approach from yesterday and we didn’t do that and it cost us the game. This is an unacceptable performance today and in this series from the manager down to the 25th guy on the roster and we need to change this immediately in order to get better.”

Instead, according to Paul Sullivan, Quade chose to say this:

Manager Mike Quade, who watched Pujols beat his team in extra innings for the second straight day, said he would let his players “deal with” Zambrano’s critique.

“I don’t know exactly what that means,” Quade said of the “Triple-A” comment. “We had a chance to win a ballgame 2-1, and we didn’t get it done. The people that picked him up were not Triple-A caliber, (Sean Marshall) and Marmol.”

Marmol has blown saves in Zambrano’s last two starts. Quade said he had no problem with Marmol throwing a slider to Theriot with a 2-2 count and the tying run on first.

“He got ahead with his fastball,” Quade said. “Right now, I could care less. Those are the things you go back and look at tomorrow.

“Marmol throws a slider. Everybody is always (ticked) when he gets beat with his fastball. I’m just (ticked) when we get beat. ‘Z’ pitched good. That’s all I know.”

Sounds like shades of ex-Chicago Bulls interim head coach Jim Boylan, who in 2008, had an incident with then-rookie Joakim Noah, who yelled at assistant coach Ron Adams when Adams was riding Noah particularly hard in practice. In a still stunning move, Boylan allowed Bulls veterans Adrian Griffin and Ben Wallace to add 2 additional games to the one game suspension Boylan had already doled out to Noah for the yelling incident. Yes, let’s let the players police themselves and deal with the critique. Good idea.

Of course Quade’s “players rule” mantra ultimately starts at the top with Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, who had a chance to inject some upfront honesty when asked by the Chicago sports media this week to assess how his team has performed thus far this season:

“When asked earlier today what was wrong with his 23-30 team (now 23-34 after the Cardinals weekend sweep) on the verge of being swept by the “worst” team in the National League (the Houston Astros), Ricketts said simply: “Nothing. Just a lot of injuries. We’ll be fine.'”

Of course if you believe that a team that has the longest current losing streak in MLB at 6 in a row, a team that has yet to win 3 games in a row all season, a team with a 23-34 record good for 5th place, has 7 players on the disabled list, the worst pitching in the NL, second worst fielding in the NL, a team that has taken the fewest walks in the league while giving up the most walks in the league is “fine”, then you have drunk the Kool-Aid the Ricketts have served along with the improved “Wrigley Experience”.

As famed Clinton political strategist James Carville would say if asked about the state of the Chicago Cubs, “It’s all about winning, stupid!” and the Cubs aren’t doing a lot of that along with not enough honest looking into the mirror either. Good for you, Big Z, wish your management would have beat you to the punch on that one though.

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Chicago Bulls Taught Valuable Lesson In Loss To Heat

Posted by sportsmaven on May 26, 2011

Following their Game 5 and the NBA Eastern Conference Finals series loss to the Miami Heat, the Chicago Bulls hopefully learned some valuable lessons. Like the Oklahoma City Thunder, the youth and inexperience of Bulls ended up being their undoing. Nobody thought the Bulls would get this far in the playoffs, never mind finishing the regular season with the NBA’s best record. But the Miami Heat did to the Bulls what the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks couldn’t do: capitalize on the flaws of this particular Chicago team. So what did the Bulls learn from this series?

1. More balanced scoring is needed from this team. A reliable two guard is an immediate need, inside scoring is a secondary need.

2. Young teams like the Bulls and Thunder won’t get the same calls as the Heat and the Dallas Mavericks. One look at the foul differentials is all you need to see. In Game 5 alone, the Bulls had 15 more FG attempts, 5 more FG made, 1 more made 3 pointers, 5 more offensive rebounds, 6 more assists, 1 more steal, and 5 fewer turnovers than the Heat. The only significant stat the Heat exceeded the Bulls was FT attempts (+12) and FT made (+10) and the Bulls were at home. In an 83-80 loss, this was significant and the officiating in this series was questionable at best.

3. Derrick Rose can’t do it alone. He needs some serious help. This team is so close but yet so far. Gar Forman and John Paxson have some work to do.

4. What are we to make of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah spending significant minutes on the bench in the 4th quarter of playoff games? That’s a about $30 million in talent sitting out crunch time. That’s a HUGE concern, Boozer in particular. On the NBA’s biggest stage, Boozer was a major disappointment, both offensively and defensively, and is now the biggest question mark for the Bulls going into the offseason.

5. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is an outstanding coach, but he’s not a magician. He couldn’t make the adjustments needed to keep up with the Heat, mostly because the Bulls lacked the firepower of the Heat. The only questionable move was why Kurt Thomas didn’t get more playing time earlier in the series, but ultimately that debate is insignificant to the final outcome of this series.

While I don’t want to take anything away from the Miami Heat, they had to play on top of their game and play all out to beat the Bulls. And they did just that. Despite the Game 1 result, the remaining games were all close games. One more made shot, one more foul for or against was the difference between these two teams.

The Bulls are not far away from being a perennial contender for NBA championships for years to come, but this offseason may be as significant as last offseason in terms of advancing to the next level. Talent ultimately wins in the long run. The Heat had more talent than the Bulls this year and it showed. So where do the Bulls go from here? More to come on this question.

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The Chicago Bulls Have NO Chance Of Beating The Miami Heat

Posted by sportsmaven on May 22, 2011

You heard it here first if you already haven’t witnessed it firsthand tonight. The NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals are over. The Chicago Bulls have no chance of winning against this Miami Heat team. Not in a seven game series. Not when the Bulls vaunted defense is neutered by NBA referees when they decide to play defense. Not when the Bulls don’t follow their game plan. Not when the Bulls again can’t make a basket. Not when the Bulls are bullied, pushed around, out-muscled, out-hustled and out-classed. Not if they play defense like they did tonight.

Believe what you want about the Bulls, but know this: The Bulls are in the midst of learning a serious lesson and if they don’t get their act together soon, their season will be over. When you turn on your TV tomorrow, I can almost guarantee that you will hear ESPN’s Skip Bayless say the series is over and he won’t be the only one that holds that opinion.

ESPN, TNT and Comcast Sports Net, analysts have all talked about the benches being a factor, but they are absolutely wrong. What it comes down to is Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh vs. Derrick Rose, and the level of defense each team plays and that’s it. The rest is all coffee house chatter. The problem with this Chicago Bulls team is that I don’t trust them. Not in these playoffs. They have played two good games in a lackluster first round matchup against an inferior Indiana Pacers team. They played two somewhat dominant games in the second round against a very beatable Atlanta Hawks team that played even less physical than the Pacers. The Bulls played their most dominant game of the post-season in Game 1 of the Conference Finals and haven’t shown up since.

For the last three days leading up to Game 3, I’ve heard the Bulls talk extensively about wanting to push the pace, attack before Miami sets up their half-court defense, be aggressive. What I saw tonight was the Bulls walking the ball up nearly every possession, settling for jump shots, no movement of the ball, and no drive, kick and shoot. Too many missed shots under the basket. As for the Bulls players, what happened to Joakim Noah and Luol Deng? Kyle Korver’s shot still MIA. Carlos Boozer offensive game appeared tonight, but as usual, his defense was atrocious.

On defense, the Bulls had too many breakdowns, bad or no rotations, little help defense and virtually no aggression. Nobody in a red jersey touched Chris Bosh tonight and it showed. Little intensity, passion and desire in the 4th quarter equals yet another winnable loss. Miami seemed to get to all the loose balls and seemed to have all the bounces go their way.

As for the Heat, give them credit, they executed their game plan. They let go of Game 1, made their adjustments and cranked it up a notch. They executed the Bulls game plan better than the Bulls did while they were at it. They played defense the way the Bulls have played defense the entire season, something the Bulls have seemed to forget to play at times throughout the playoffs.

Now that the Heat have figured the Bulls out, shut down Derrick Rose and wrestled home court advantage away from the Bulls, how will coach Tom Thibodeau and his young team respond? So far, the Bulls have had absolutely no answers for the Heat’s adjustments, nor have they matched the Heat’s intensity and hustle. Game 4 becomes critical, the most important game of the season. And by the way, all the pressure is squarely on the Bulls. I can guarantee you this, the Bulls will learn a lesson on Tuesday night. Only time will tell if they are mentally strong enough to learn the lesson now, next year or if they will ever learn it.

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Are The Chicago Bulls Better Off Without LeBron James?

Posted by sportsmaven on July 8, 2010

Who in their right mind would dare write anything suggesting that the Chicago Bulls might be better off without LeBron James?  After all, LeBron James is considered by nearly everyone in the world outside the city of Los Angeles to be the best basketball player in the world.  How can the Chicago Bulls be better off without LeBron?  Well the answer to that question depends on the LeBron James that you get — the best basketball player in the world, who wants to legitimize his basketball legacy by winning — and winning multiple NBA Championships, or the LeBron James that is morphing into this persona of a global media icon?

In past interviews leading up to his free agency, LeBron has spoken about cemeting his legacy by winning multiple NBA Championships.  He has also spoken about building himself up as a global icon and his desire to be the first billionaire athlete.  What I’m unclear about is which is more important, and that unclarity should be resolved in about 8 hours, when LeBron picks his “choice” on ESPN.

Chicago seemed to be the early favorite in the LeBron derby, offering the best roster that would allow James to compete for titles immediately.  As rumors persisted that Chicago was moving down the list of possibilities, the Bulls reportedly reached agreement with former Utah Jazz PF Carlos Boozer on a very cap favorable 5 year, $75 million deal, filling a major hole in the Bulls lineup, a hole that has existed for years.  With a young nucleus of PG Derrick Rose, C Joakim Noah, surprising rookie PF Taj Gibson, and even SF Luol Deng, if he ever reaches his potential, Boozer provides the grit and determination of a back-to-the-basket inside game that the Bulls have lacked since the Jordan days.

Adding LeBron James to the mix would vault the Bulls to the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, especially if you get the best basketball player in the world version.  Even with all the hype, the circus-like atmosphere and potential disenfranchisement of many basketball fans for the garish way in which this free agency season ended up for the Big 3 of LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, the Bulls may somehow be better off without LeBron.

If LeBron chooses Miami and links up with Wade and Bosh, there will be one less team (The Cleveland Cavaliers) competing for dominance in the Eastern Conference.  In addition, the “Three Amigos” and a remaining roster of minimum salary players is still not guaranteed to be a championship roster, not to mention the potential ego clashes once play begins.  Anywhere else, LeBron is no better than his situation is in Cleveland — other than Chicago.  If LeBron chooses not to come to Chicago, the Bulls can spend their remaining $18 million of cap space on getting quality role players (a pure shooter or two, backup center for instance) that truly make the difference between contending and winning championships (ask Kobe Bryant about Ron Artest and Derek Fisher).  Finally, the Bulls would not have to deal with a circus-like environment that would enevitably follow James wherever he goes. 

Believe it or not, the Chicago Bulls are in the driver’s seat tonight so to speak.  They have the least to lose in the LeBron sweepstakes.  If LeBron is not in Chicago, it’s not the end of the world.  In fact, it might be the beginning of a run of championships that could potentially rival the Jordan days.

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Jerry Reinsdorf Speaks, Do Chicago Bulls Listen?

Posted by sportsmaven on January 30, 2009

Jerry Reinsdorf doesn’t do very many interviews.  Not with the Chicago White Sox, certainly not with the Chicago Bulls.  Jerry Reinsdorf woke up early this morning and gave Mike North and Dan Jiggets an interview on their Comcast Sports “Monsters In The Morning” TV show.  It seems to have been a bit of a disaster, at least for Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro.

Chicago Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro wipes his face as he watches his team play.  (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Chicago Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro wipes his face as he watches his team play. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

In the interview, North gets into the meat of the conversation with Reinsdorf

Mike North: Where would you rate this season?

Jerry Reinsdorf: You want the grade up till today? What’s the lowest grade you can give? This has been a disaster. It’s embarrassing. But it will get better.

Nearly 200 miles away, the Bulls were getting ready for their matchup against the Sacramento Kings.  After their shoot around, Del Negro was asked about Reinsdorf’s assessment.  Chicago Sun-Times staff reporter John Jackson writes in his article in today’s Sun-Times:

“That’s just Jerry trying to motivate and trying to get guys going,” Del Negro said. “Jerry wants to win just like every owner, every coach. It’s not easy. Managing expectations and developing and all those things are very easy to talk about, but they’re hard to do and they take time. Some people are more patient than others.”

I think Vinny got about three quarters of that comment correct.  It is very difficult to manage expectations.  Yes, Jerry Reinsdorf does want to win, and yes, some people are more patient than others.  The motivation part of the statement I absolutely don’t buy one bit.  Honesty is what it is.  Motivation is definitely what it’s not.  It certainly isn’t easy to manage the average ego of an NBA player.  It definitely isn’t easy to manage that ego if you’re a rookie head coach who supposedly carries the label of a “players coach”.  Jerry isn’t the guy that is going to motivate players.  DelNegro is that guy and if he needs Reinsdorf to motivate, that’s an indictment of Del Negro not getting the job done.  It isn’t an easy job, ask Scott Skiles.

The next part of the conversation is what really disturbed me.  Jackson’s transcript of the interview continues with this exchange:

Dan Jiggetts: How comfortable are you with John at the helm?

Jerry Reinsdorf: When you have a team that’s not performing it’s an organization failure. You win and you lose as an organization. But if there’s one person that is not responsible for what’s going on right now, it’s John Paxson. I have tremendous confidence in John Paxson. He’s really one of the best people that I know. He’s a great general manager and a great judge of talent. I just worry that he not be too hard on himself. He takes all of this very, very seriously.

Mike North: To say that he’s not at all responsible … he brought in the players. So are the players not being coached up?

Jerry Reinsdorf: I have a lot of thoughts about that but they’re not thoughts that I really can say publicly. All I know is what we have right now is not good and we have to get it better. They are playing hard in the last half-dozen or so games. We had some games where…

Mike North: You knew they were mailing it in.

Jerry Reinsdorf: They were mailing it in and I felt like standing up and booing along with everybody else. They’re not mailing it in anymore.

This exchange to me, shows how ridiculous Reinsdorf can be sometimes.  The organizations win and lose mantra starts from the top on down.  I didn’t hear Reinsdorf say it starts with him.  He definitely doesn’t hold Bulls GM John Paxson accountable.  It all ends right there with Del Negro holding the bag of stink.  North tried to take it right back at Reinsdorf, suggesting that it might be coaching and Reinsdorf, with the eloquent defense for his general manager, offered no such grace for his head coach.

This whole exchange reminds me of the end of the movie, Titanic.  The ship has hit the iceberg and everyone in charge realizes the ship will eventually sink.  The ship’s captain (Del Negro), doing the honorable thing, locks himself in the bridge, planning to go down with his ship.  The ship’s archtect (Paxson) is last seen standing on the slanted deck of the first class lounge adjusting a clock that stopped, his fate sealed by the iceberg.  It is implied that he too, goes down with the ship.  The ship’s owner (Reinsdorf), who gave the order to speed through the oceans dotted with the icebergs, sheepishly jumps in a lifeboat and saves his life as the ship goes under.  See the parallels?  Accountability starts at the top.  Reinsdorf hired Paxson.  Paxson hired Del Negro.  Reinsdorf signed off on Del Negro.  Reinsdorf is as much a cause of the “disaster” as Paxson and Del Negro.  If he says that instead of that jibberish he said this morning, I would have more faith in his management skills, but alas, it’s yet another example of a lack of leadership and accountability at the top of organizations.  By the way, Bulls analysts Norm Van Lier and Kendall Gill both agree with me.  They said it themselves on tonight’s Bulls Postgame show.

Finally, do you think for a single moment that anyone wearing a red and black uniform really gives a damn about what Jerry Reinsdorf says?  Do you think that Ben Gordon read that interview and suddenly got motivated to drop 50 on the Kings, or to play a little defense?  Do you think Tyrus Thomas or Joakim Noah, or Derrick Rose watched that interview and felt the need to break down the doors to the hotel to sprint to the ARCO Arena to pound the Kings into submission tonight?  Only in your sweetest of dreams.

P.S. The Chicago Bulls pounded the Sacramento Kings 109-88.  Maybe the Bulls were listening a little bit to Reinsdorf….nah, I don’t think so.

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