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By Drew Stevens (@lookwhatdrewdid)
Cub fans bid adieu last week to the piece de resistance of their team’s revival while Bulls enthusiasts — mostly — welcomed a player they hope will help fuel their own team’s resurgence.
At the same time, while bestowed a break from their bungling team, Bears supporters were no less ornery. Their aggravation was simply redirected from those on the field and behind the sideline to the person who oversees it all.
Such was the week within the Chicago sports landscape.
HOLD – AK Staying Low, Building With Sensible Moves
Arturas Karnisovas is nothing if not forthright.
A champion of offensive fluidity and positional versatility, the Chicago Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations stuck at No. 4 in last week’s NBA draft and landed on near-complete unknown Patrick Williams rather than the idea of trading up for one of the three more conspicuous players selected ahead of him on draft night. Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman and LaMelo Ball each possess a singular skill that’s more spectacular than any within the 19-year-old’s repertoire. Yet neither Edwards, Wiseman nor Ball project to be as multi-functional as the former Florida State Seminole and ACC Sixth Man of the Year.
By that same token, it made sense that Karnisovas plucked well-rounded veteran Garrett Temple from the very free-agent pool into which he pushed the more defensive-minded Kris Dunn, who is now a reported Atlanta signee. So too, did AK’s decision to extend a qualifying offer to Denzel Valentine who, like Temple, can shoot, pass and contribute to solid team defense.
Every move Karnisovas has made to this point jives with his basketball philosophy. They also seem to imply his vote of confidence in either the playmaking of Coby White, the underachieving but uber talented tandem of Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., or both. The latter is contingent upon Williams and his degree of resiliency, especially considering his rookie campaign will commence without the benefit of a single summer league exhibition.
Patrick Williams’ full potential on display in pickup footage (NBA Sports Chicago)
Forged in fire or not, Williams is unlikely to receive much empathy from a fan base that emitted more apathy than applause in response to his arrival in Chicago. Some even likened the expense of a lottery pick on a non-starter to the blunders of draft’s past.
But given that previous management once pledged to implement a run-and-gun style of play then proceeded to add aging guards Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo to a Jimmy Butler-led team, the symmetry between the words and actions of this new regime is refreshing.
For that alone Karnisovas deserves the benefit of the doubt, at least for now.
SELL – Not Much Is Certain As Cubs Step Out in Post-Epstein Era
It’s no longer a matter of if, but when — and to what depths — will the Chicago Cubs eventually bottom out now that Theo Epstein has stepped down as president of baseball operations for a team expected to also part ways with the bulk of its core.
The fact that the North Siders’ rebound will be expected to last a fraction of the time it took the lovable losers to turn lauded contenders has as much to do with Epstein as the more than a lifetime’s length of championship droughts he helped undo.
To his successor and curse-reversing partner in crime, Jed Hoyer, Epstein leaves behind a Cubs team that won the NL Central last year and more regular season games than every team not based in Los Angeles and Houston since 2015. Hoyer also inherits the unpleasant responsibility of making decisions with long-term ramifications this winter.
Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, and Kyle Schwarber will hit the free-agent market after next season. Wilson Contreras will do so the year after. One-time MVP Kris Bryant is already being thirsted over by opportunists in D.C.
In fact, rival executives believe each of the former World Series cogs could be moved this off-season, according to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand.
“They seem to think a heavy restart could be in order,” one NL executive said. “Won’t be easy, though, because of the money their guys are set to make. If someone can extend Bryant or Baez, they are probably still pretty good gets.”
The same will be said for whatever organization to which Epstein next hitches his transformative set of organizational talents.
SELL – Rested Bears Look To Match Pack, Outlook is Doubtful
It’s conceivable that any festering outrage to have befallen Chicago Bears fans over the course of the past win-less month has mutated to utter despair as the NFC North’s leaders loom from their perch in Wisconsin, ready to exhibit a reality check at the end of a merciful bye week.
After all, it’s the two contests against Green Bay that appear to be the least winnable of the six remaining on this season’s docket.
That’s owed in full to the Bears’ dwelling as far below the line of demarcation separating offensive mediocrity from excellence as the Packers are coasting above it.
Not that Aaron Rodgers will run roughshod over a defense that has yet to allow more than 26 points and — save for the first Monday Night Football debacle of the season against the Rams — kept the offense within one score of their opponents in all the recent losses. But Chicago can only counter with an offense that finds pay dirt at a slightly higher clip than the winless New York Jets — contributions from the team’s other two phases will be at a premium.
That too is a tall order for both a defensive unit that’s converted just one of its 11 takeaways into a touchdown and a special teams group that, until Cordarrelle Patterson’s NFL record-tying kickoff return against Minnesota, had not itself ventured into the end zone this season.
While known to sneak victories out from under the nose of improbability on occasion, the Bears would be excused for shocking themselves and most of the Chicago area if they do so again next Sunday night.
Drew Stevens is a writer based in Chicago