With our recent stretch of warm weather, the general populace of the Chicagoland area has gotten the itch to get outside and play.  Be it kids on the beach (a bit of a stretch if you ask me), families dusting off their bikes, or old women cleaning up their yards, folks are finding excuses to get outside.  Count me amongst the latter.  Between assembling baby swings and bouncers, I spent the better part of this past weekend trimming rose bushes and grasses and chopping firewood.  The springtime allows for one to start anew or re-assess their current situation and plan for the season(s) to come.  While pulling thorns out of my gloves this afternoon it occurred to me that for a variety of reasons the Chicago sporting clubs could take this time as well to review their current standing and make the necessary accommodations to prepare for the months ahead.

For the record I will be forgoing any baseball commentary here as their season preview articles are in the hopper prior to the teams heading north.  Fear not horsehide fans, all the commentary you’re looking for on our teams will be arriving in your inbox shortly.

Da Bears

The big news as the Bears come out of their den this spring has to do with their acquisition of a number one cub… err… wide receiver.  With the beginning of free agency kicking off last week everyone on talk radio and in the blogosphere had their own ideas as to how best Mr. Emery should get to spend the McCaskey’s money.  By all accounts, wide receiver was a top priority this off season and from the sounds of things, teams were just lining up to hand blank checks to Vincent Jackson (the biggest name on the market).  The only thing that would have made Chicagoans even happier is if the Bears threw even more money that they were ready to spend on a wide receiver at Mario Williams – the Julius Peppers of this year’s free agent class. 

Instead of standing in line like a cow going to slaughter, the Bears new general manager opted to go against the grain and work the trade channels to get the biggest part he needed.  I’m a supporter of guys who zig when everyone else zags, and that’s exactly what Phil Emery did with his first news-worthy move while steering the ship.  He’s the guy who shops online the morning of Black Friday.  This hopefully bodes well for the organization going forward.

The prize of his shopping spree?  That would undoubtedly be the enigma known as Brandon Marshall.  At his best, he’s a 6’4” 230 lb. animal that snare footballs out of the sky to the tune of 81 receptions and 1,200+ yards last year with Matt Moore and Chad Henne throwing to him in Miami leading to his 3rd Pro Bowl before his 27th birthday.  At his worst, he is famous for his ability to put his fist through a television screen, get stabbed by his wife, be heavily involved in an altercation that resulted in a Denver teammate being shot and killed, and most recently having been accused of punching a woman in the face outside of a NYC club at 4am (the day before the trade).  After reading the above I would assume you would not be shocked to learn he deals with borderline personality disorder.  Basically he’s everything you’d want in an on the field receiver and everything you’ve heard about the problems that can come with this most diva-esque position.

Despite how certain appellate courts may rule in the states of Idaho and South Dakota, I am not a supporter of hitting women.  If the charges from last week prove true, I am inline with the rest of mankind in thinking Mr. Marshall rightly deserves to be suspended for some length of time by the NFL and the legal system may have some additional say beyond that.  Something about the whole situation smells fishy however and – knowing no specific details – my gut tells me this most recent dustup is going to pass without much in the way of ramifications.  While most everyone seems to have an opinion as to taking on such a character, I will give credit where credit is due and cite my sources as I heard Joe Ostrowski on 670 The Score (follow him at @JoeO670) make a very salient point in saying that if it wasn’t for those “character issues” there’s no way Brandon Marshall would have been available.  Three years ago Denver found themselves with perhaps the most promising young receiver in the game on their hands but those off the field issues lead them to part with him for the price of two second round picks from Miami.  Two years after that, Miami now thinks two third round picks from Chicago are worth ridding themselves of the headaches that come with Brandon and his antics.  It’s a gamble I would have taken as well if I’m Phil Emery as it’s not every day that you get a game changing player (let alone one at your biggest position of need) for two third round selections.  Now we just hope that as Brandon matures with age and an understanding of his condition, as well as perhaps the best support structure he could ask for in reuniting with his favorite quarterback (Culter) and offensive coach (Jeremy Bates) from his Denver days, I would argue the risk is worth the reward. 

The rest of the week was filled with the Bears filling in their roster with re-signing their own players to reasonable contracts and proactively filling spots that they know they are going to have holes.  At press time the Bears still have a little over $12 million in cap space (another perk to trading for Marshall is no signing bonus is required and he comes at below market value compared to what lesser WRs are going for this summer) and a draft ahead of them.  Despite Israel Idonije resigning to a one year deal, look for the Bears to draft the best available DE with the 19th pick unless Michael Floyd somehow falls to them at which point they can solidify their receiver position for the next 5-10 years using the ever popular “take the best player available” umbrella.  All in all I’ve liked what I’ve seen from the new regime thus far.  Well done Phil, well done.

Da Bulls

The talk of Chicago basketball last week was the fact that the Bulls beat the Heat and they didn’t even have Derrick Rose suit up.  Did you hear about this?  That means the Heat aren’t even in the same class as the Bulls and they’re in the Bulls rearview mirror now right?  It’s the Bulls title to lose from here on out.  I kid you not that I had this very conversation with the gas pump guy at CostCo.  For the record, why are those guys standing out there at CostCo?  You can’t buy the gas without a CostCo card, and those guys don’t verify your identity nor pump your gas so what’s their deal?  But I digress…  For the last few weeks, even the mighty Derrick Rose has been spitting rhetoric along the lines of, “we have to play a perfect game to beat the Heat” and guess what happened?  They played damn near a perfect game, even with Derrick seated on the bench in street clothes.  It’s great to know they can, and I’m very happy that they did, but that game really means nothing in the grand scheme of things.  The Heat were coming off an overtime loss the night before in Orlando and simply didn’t have it.  The Bulls meanwhile had John Lucas literally go unconscious for two hours, kind of like Will Ferrell in the debate scene in Old School,  and every player maxed out their role to the best of their abilities.  But you know what?  In May and June if John Lucas is being counted on to do much more than handout towels and dish high fives, the Bulls won’t be involved in any meaningful basketball games. 

For the record, I like the Bulls team as is and wouldn’t have done much shifting at the trade deadline either.  I thought their best hope was for Stephen Jackson or someone of his ilk to get bought out here in the next few weeks and the Bulls pick him up at a bargain basement price.  With Jackson in particular getting traded and ending up in San Antonio where he’ll fit into a specific role I think it’s safe to say he’s off the market and I can’t think of who else would shake free in the coming weeks that the Bulls could use.  I say the Bulls make one last run with this whole “team is greater than a collection of individuals” thing and then should they lose this spring, they then start shifting pieces to bring in a bonafide #2 to play with Derrick this summer.

Da Hawks

With ten games to go in the regular season I’ve got to admit two things:

  1. I’ve been pretty impressed with this team of late
  2. I have no effing clue what Blackhawks team to expect come playoff time

As Jonathan Toews continues to regress in his recovery from a concussion last month I fully expected the Hawks to rollover and die during this last stretch of games.  I expected this season to play out like last season where the Hawks are fighting for their playoff lives on the last day of the year needing some combination of their wins and other team losses just to get in.  Since Johnny Oduya showed up however the team has gone 7-1-1 and has displayed some spunk.  Who would have seen that coming?  I heard some people thought he was just a band-aid and couldn’t see the franchise altering effect he would bring.  Johnny Oduya is the black Swedish equivalent to Jeremy Lin. 

Of late the Hawks have been playing team defense, playing the body, and playing with the lead.  These are all things that lead to playoff success.  They also did this from October through December.  So is this the real 2011/12 Chicago Blackhawks or should we be wary that those imposters who showed up in January & February are the team that will be taking the ice in April once again.  I think it comes down to Mr. Toews and that which he’s able to bring to the table upon his return.  With the additional of Oduya the Hawks can now roll three solid pairs of defensemen and allow the kids like Dylan Olsen to play their way into the league rather than being forced into minutes and situations that they’re just not ready for.  With Toews however, if he comes back and plays like the Jonathan Toews we’ve all come to know and expect then we may just have two teams playing deep into the summer in the Madhouse on Madison.  If however, Toews tries to come back and just isn’t going to be himself, or if he doesn’t return at all (heaven help us), then I don’t know that the Hawks have the weapons to win this gun fight.  It’s great that everyone has stepped up and filled the necessary roles on the team, but I’m worried that their best bullets are being fired in just getting there and they may not have another gear to go to when the big party starts.  Having watched the Hawks dismantle what appeared to be a very passive Capitals team tonight however, the Hawks may just have the horses in house after all.

So that’s the state of things as Chicago sports cleaned out their garage during this warm weather snap.  Like the rest of us, each team is assessing where they’re at and making plans for the weeks and months to come.  If all goes according to plan both the Hawks and Bulls may need to be getting their respective weeds pulled and patios cleared as they may find themselves hosting some celebratory get togethers before we start lighting fireworks three months from now.