Wait… don’t click away.  This isn’t the schticky ESPN program, and Woody Paige is no where to be found in these annals.    I want to take a quick loop around Chicago sports this morning as I think each of our teams currently finds themselves in a defining moment for the 2013 calendar year.  I would be remiss if I were to let this moment pass without taking note.

The Fragile

It’s over Bulls fans.  I harbor no ill-will or animosity towards anyone involved, but it’s just not your year.  If you would, please look to the right and under the CATEGORIES drop down feel free to select the “Bulls” tab and you’ll see several potifications declaring the 2012-13 season to be a lost cause dating as far back as last summer.  At this point it’s time to get Jimmy Butler and perhaps Maques Teague some playoff run, otherwise you try to be as competitive as you can while also looking into summer vacation plans.  There is no value to gutting out a six or seven game series, and potentially even winning it, only to get railroaded in round two.  Taj and Joakim should call it a year and Hinrich and Deng should start getting their off-season surgeries and R&R packages on the calendar.  

By no means am I intending to give the Brooklyn Nets any credit beyond what they deserve here.  They are not a good team.  It’s just that the Bulls aren’t even a legitimate NBA squad at this point.  There were ten players who took the floor for the Bulls in Game 1 and two of them were Nazr Mohammed and Rip Hamilton who played seven minutes or less each.  In that amount of time one can sculpt some glorious abs, but contirbute to an NBA game?  I think not.  Three more of those ten were Gibson, Hinrich and Noah who hobbled around like the walking wounded they are.  Kudos for the determination gentlemen but I’d suggest saving your bullets for another fight on another day. 

Ever since Derrick Rose never was able to get over that infamous “last hurdle” of recovery after the All-Star break, this Bulls team has been able to get up for single events (ending the Heat and Knick’s respective win streaks) but a seven game series just is not in the cards.  As I mentioned above I hold no ill will here.  Derrick is wise to not come back at this point as I totally understand his stance that he has the rest of his career to worry about.  What his delay has done, outside of burning a lot of goodwill built up amongst the fan base, is he has closed his recovery time leeway when next season begins.  He will receive no sympathy after the initial jump ball due to it being a full eighteen months since his injury.  Everyone will expect him to literally hit the gorund running after that length of recover for an injury that was supposed to take eight to twelve months to heel.  Damn you Adrian Peterson and your expectation shattering self. 

The one other thing I will say here is that when it’s all said and done I think the real loser of this season when we look back in ten years is Tom Thibodeau.  If Derrick Rose comes back next year and resumes doing Derrick Rose things, everyones hindsight will clarify to 20/20 and say things like, “I’m glad he sat out the entire year to get himself right” and “these things take time to heal and no one knows his body better than he does.”  Basically, Derrick Rose is going to be fine, but Coach Thibs may be exposing a kink in his armour this year.  Thibodeau is acknowledged as one of the top five coachs in the league year in and year out by people who know these things.  He can go head to head with some of the best minds in the game today.  In a recent BS Report, Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman were discussing what makes a good coach, and Simmons argued that being able to manage both the team and the ebbs and flows of the schedule is a pre-requisite.  Knowing when to rest guys and how to handle the four games in five nights scenarios is crucial in the 82 game slog that is an NBA season.  I certainly don’t know what goes on behind closed doors but I can tell you what I see on the floor.  Last year both Rose and Hamilton bounced in and out of the lineup with one injury begetting the next.  We wrote it off to the condensed schedule at the time but this season the same has happened with Noah, Gibson, and Hinrich and I think it’s safe to say a trend is emerging.  Thibodeau has no internal governor and treats game 67 the same way he treats games 1, 14 and 82.  The result of this bad job interview character question (“”My weakness is my strength.  I have no off switch”) is a team that gets worn out and dinged up.  I’d like nothing more than seeing him retain his tactical mastery next year while simultaneously developing some degree of a regulator that implores his to rest his starters when involved in either side of a blowout (remember Rose tore his ACL with ~2 minutes left in an easy Game 1 win against Phildelphia this time last year – there is no defendable reason that he was out there in the first place).

The Flexible

The NFL Draft is four short days away.  I wrote about this at length recently but I just want to circle back and note that Phil Emery and Bears management have done an excellent job in creating flexibilty with their options in the draft.  The key is the Bears don’t HAVE to do anything with the twentieth pick in the draft on Thursday night.  I for one am all for trading back and acumulating as many second and third round picks as the Bears can gather.  An infusion of volume in the young cheap talent pool on the roster is a must and the more picks you have the more opportunity for a few of the prospects to become significant contributors increases.  I’m a big fan of NFL Draft weekend and I’m looking forward to seeing what Phil and the boys have in store.

The Supposed-To-Be-Goods

What is going on on the Southside of the city right now?  The White Sox currently sit 7-11 (4 games under .500 for those scoring at home) and they’re unable to hit with runners in scoring position (.173 average w/ RISP = worst in the league).  Part of it can be chalked up to the cold weather and another part can be their symmetry with their Reinsdorfian counterparts as the Sox already have four regular contributors on IR.  For a team that was quietly getting a lot of pre-season sleeper buzz, eighteen games into the season that buzz has reverted to a very light hum.  The key number there is the eighteen games figure as anyone who’s watched more than a season of baseball can tell you that is far too small a sample size to jump to any rational conclusion about anything.  With that said however the team was supposed to get by with quality pitching, homeruns, and improvement from the younger generation.  Thus far the pitching has been fine but not lights out, the homeruns aren’t quite there either (remember, it’s still cold however), and Gordon Beckham is out for the next 6-8 weeks.  It’s not time to panic yet Southsiders but I think the success of this team is much more likely if you can keep up with Detroit now rather than having to track them down in August and September.

The Supposed-To-Be-Bads

As a Cubs fan all I can say is “wow.”  We all knew what we were getting into this season but no one saw this coming.  In seventeen games the team is on it’s third closer, leads the league in errors by a wide margin, has lost due a balk, five wild pitches in a single inning (an MLB record), a walk off homerun, countless blown leads, baserunning gaffs, lack of clutch hitting, and just about any other way you could possibly imagine.  All within seventeen games – and they actually won five of them.  The starting pitching has been the strength of the team and even that is still somewhat middle of the pack. 

Again, we knew this was coming, and quite frankly it’s probably for the best.  The goal this year was not to finish with 81 wins and fool ourselves into thinking this team can contend.  It’s best to bottom out and get yet another top five draft pick and keep the pipeline of talent flowing through the minors.  That still doesn’t make any of this easier to swallow.  In particular, watching Castro and Rizzo, two of the very few core pieces that are supposed to be around when the title contender version of the club emerges, continue to make absentminded errors in the field and fail to come through in clutch opportunities, is upsetting to say the least.  This year is the year that these two are supposed to seperate themselves from the pack and play at a higher level than their peers, ideally raising the bar for what is expected when the team takes the field.  Instead they’ve taken the chameleon approach in regressing to blend with the talent of those around them.  I can take the losing but I need the glimmer of hope to still glow in a key few areas and we’re not seeing so much as a spark through seventeen games.  Let’s hope the warmer weather brings with it a new sense of professionalism as to what it means to be a Chicago Cub.

And don’t think you’re escaping the cross hairs of my scope Dale Sveum.  Everyone understands that you’ve been dealt a crummy hand with a less than talented roster, thus an empty trophy shelf at years end is not your fault.  With that said however you are responsible for getting the most out of what you have to work with and I’m not seeing that.  Empthy threats of sending your stars to Iowa is not the way to inspire.  When I see the Cubs I see a collection of players who have no expectations for themselves and thus no sense of urgency to remedy what ails them.  That’s the manager’s job to instill that urgency and thus far I’d give Dale a failing grade, talent deficiency aside. 

The Supposed-To-Be-Greats (And Meeting Expectation)

As a Blackhawks fan we’re in the gravy portion of the schedule.  Everything they need is locked up (I could absolutely care less about the President’s Trophy – awarded to the team with the most points in the league) as it really means very little.  If at the end of three grueling playoff series the two number one seeds from each conference happen to still be standing (only seven President’s Trophy winners have made it to the Stanley Cup since the 80s) then it matters but the likelyhood of that is pretty slim (for the record the Hawks have a five point lead for the PT over Pittsburgh heading into this last week of the season).  Now is the time to rest what ails you and get the team into prime fighting shape for the two months that lie ahead.  Anyone wasting time worrying about how the eight seed shakes out in the West to determine the Hawks first round opponent is missing the point.  The Hawks are on top of the mountain right now and it’s the other teams who should be worrying about playing them.  I don’t care if it’s Columbus or Detroit or Dallas or Moose Jaw, the Hawks need to have the mentality that they will steam roll whomever the league puts in their way on the path to Lord Stanley.  The team spent their off days working on their power play and whatever they did seems to have worked (4 for their last 7 on the PP) so from here on out it’s all about making it through next weekend without any setbacks.  I’m all for resting whomever needs rest, meaning I don’t want to see Patrick Sharp on the ice until Game 1 of the first round regardless of how he feels tonight.  I think you let the kids like Carter Hutton get a start in goal and Drew LeBlanc get a taste of NHL play just to give them a positive experience with the organization while encouraging them to stick around a few more years as opposed to leaving for greener pastures.  I’m planning to dive into the NHL Playoffs full tilt this year and it’s in everyone’s best interest that the Hawks end the very last game hoisting hardware and planning parades once more.