Chicago Sports Exchange: Bulls, Bears Look To Shift Narratives This Week

The Chicago Sports Exchange provides a brief look at each pro team in the Chi each week and decides whether fans should “buy,” “sell,” or “hold” their investments in each team. Check back for more CSE reports each Monday.

By Drew Stevens (@hismindonpaper)

And so begins a week that could have short-term ramifications for our city’s football team while providing further insight into the path being forged for our basketball team. 

Following tonight’s showdown with the Minnesota Vikings, the Chicago Bears will, win or lose, limp into their bye week. Mostly winnable games await them on the other side as the 2020 NFL season reaches its climax, yet none of their remaining opponents can be taken for granted. Not with their unsightly blemishes. Even with a newly expanded playoff format, victories are at a premium with the magic number likely nine to secure a wild-card berth.

Meanwhile, Arturas Karnisovas will begin his most important work to chisel away at the image of the Chicago Bulls as an NBA afterthought while crafting a new, winning form he wishes to create. Wednesday’s draft will mark just the fourth time in franchise history that the Bulls select fourth in the draft (previous picks: Eddy Curry, Marcus Fizer and Tom Boerwinkle).

Of course, Karnisovas could have other, more shrewd, ideas in mind, and that No. 4 pick could just be an offering for something even more trans-formative.

BUY – Bulls Don’t Lack Options, Expect New Talent To Impress

There’ll be no stage on which to showcase their individualized je ne sais quoi (i.e. loud suits), but this year’s batch of NBA Draft prospects will at last have their shining moment Wednesday — albeit via video conferencing and five months later than previously expected. 

As unpredictable as any draft in recent memory, odds are James Wiseman, LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards will have all heard their names called before the Chicago Bulls are officially on the clock. 

Karnisovas has vowed to use his first pick as Bulls executive Vice President of basketball operations on the best player available. With a tendency to keep his plans close to the vest and a projected steep drop-off in star power between the aforementioned trio and the rest of the field, who Karnisovas actually has in his sights is speculative at best. 

That said, with a core that includes Wendell Carter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, and Zach LaVine, a facilitating guard the likes of Tyrese Haliburton, Killian Hayes or Kira Lewis Jr. could be in order.  

Or, perhaps a wing the likes of Isaac Okoro or Deni Avdija. Either one could serve as a short-term insurance policy and eventual replacement for the oft-injured Otto Porter Jr., who is expected to exercise his $28.5 million player option. Or maybe Karnisovas sees in Wiseman, Edwards or Ball someone worthy of trading picks and assets to acquire. Possible, still, is Karnisovas trading down to snag a veteran, additional draft capital — the Bulls also own the 44th pick — or both.

Suffice it to say most everything appears within the realm of possibility, especially with the league’s moratorium on trades ending today. 

Given his hand in selecting both the dynamic duo of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic as well as key contributors Bol Bol, Michael Porter Jr. and Monte Morris during his time as an exec with the Denver Nuggets, Karnisovas’ track record should inspire unbridled confidence and enthusiasm for whatever reality he sculpts for Bulls fans.

BUY – Bears Will Show Fight Again In National Showcase

The Chicago Bears, in the midst of a not-so-slow but very much painful free fall back toward reality, are in danger of completely leveling out at .500 before next week’s bye — a fourth straight loss could be at hand if the wrong things happen in tonight’s nationally-televised tilt with Minnesota. 

Each of the Bears’ 2020 losses (arguably, the wins too) have ended up as referendums on both Matt Nagy’s inability to play to his team’s strengths and the person who gave him an offensive line that renders his desired style of play impractical in the first place, Ryan Pace. 

To his credit, on Friday, Nagy finally touched down on the other side of the line he’d ever so slowly tiptoed closer to crossing and relinquished play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Casting aside the go-between Nick Foles and the coordinator who, in Philadelphia, oversaw his best statistical season shouldn’t hurt matters. Neither will Cody Whitehair’s expected return to manning snaps nor the fact that Minnesota surrenders the eighth-most points and fourth-most total yards a game.  

Together, each could prove suitable antidotes for a flailing Bears offense. That is, so long as Foles is given more than the blink of an eye’s length-of-time to properly survey the field. 

Chicago’s defense remains stalwart, holding bruising and league-leading rusher Derrick Henry in check last week. Now they’ll look to slow his closest competitor to a league rushing title, Dalvin Cook, who in the last two games since returning from a groin injury, nearly ran for more yards (369 to 472) and scored more touchdowns (4 to 2) than anyone out of the Bears’ backfield this entire season.

Cook may be an unstoppable force, but the Vikings’ defense is very much a movable object.

For a Bears team that musters only 19 points a game and has been grossly dependent on its defense, it would be ballsy to shade in any more victories with anything that doesn’t easily erase moving forward. 

Pencil the Bears in for their sixth “W.” 

HOLD – Embarassment Grips Hold of White Sox While Abreu Shows Franchise At Its Best

Jerry Reinsdorf seems determined to disprove the notion that any publicity is good publicity. Either that, or he’s unabashedly taken the lyrics to Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” to heart.

Many Chicago White Sox fans found it discouraging enough that the chairman hired fellow Silent Generation product and old pal Tony La Russa to manage his multi-cultural team of exuberant personalities two weeks ago. That Reinsdorf did it with the knowledge that the 76-year-old Hall of Famer had been charged with driving under the influence in Arizona a day earlier added insult to his injurious decision making. 

With La Russa’s case still pending, the White Sox weren’t expected to release a long-winded statement. Even so their first stab at catching up to the story that’s sprinted to national headlines left much to be desired. 

“Once this case reaches resolution in the courts, we will have more to say,” their statement read Thursday. “The White Sox understand the seriousness of these charges.”

Understand?

His questionable fit as skipper of a brash team and return to a game he left nine years ago aside, not even La Russa’s second such arrest was deemed reason enough to seriously entertain other candidates. His friendship with Reinsdorf clearly ruled throughout the hiring process and will continue to in the days ahead. 

“You’ve got troubles, and I got ‘em too,” indeed. 

In two coincidental breaks from controversy, Jose Abreu became the first South Sider to earn American League MVP since Frank Thomas, the announcement breaking shortly after news broke of La Russa’s February arrest. The 33-year-old first baseman led MLB with 60 RBIs and 148 total bases. 

A day later, former White Sox intern and baseball lifer Kim Ng made history when she was named general manager of the Miami Marlins. Ng is the first female to hold that position in a major North American men’s professional sports league. 

BUY – Fire Extinguish Again, Act Quickly To Add Off-season Talent

A loss to NYC FC back on November 8th left just one point between the Chicago Fire and their second playoff berth in eight years. 

That 12 of the Fire’s 23 matches ended in losses of one score, or in a draw, while frustrating, leaves reason to believe things can bounce differently next season. Not having to grapple with the turnover that led to nearly half of its roster arriving after the start of the preseason potentially stokes the flame even more. 

Sporting Director Georg Heitz expects to sign a few more players in the coming months, with a premium on the injection of youth. Twenty-year-old Nigerian forward Chinonso Offor from Latvian first division Club FK Rigas Futbola Skola became the first such acquisition Friday. 

“We want to be a winning side,” Heitz said. “We have to work on our winning spirit, this is clear. I didn’t have the impression we were outplayed in many games, we had quite good performances. But definitely, there are areas we have to improve.”

Drew Stevens is a writer based in Chicago

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