The All Day SJ Show (S1, EP1)


Season 1 – Episode 1

Guest: Mark Schanowski

On the debut episode of “The All Day SJ Show,” NBC Sports Chicago’s Bulls Pre & Postgame Host, Mark Schanowski, talks the Bulls current rebuild & goals for 2018 free agency and the NBA Draft. Schanowski also touches on the Nikola Mirotic & Bobby Portis situation and whether or not it is the right time to trade Robin Lopez.

Sustained Success

A Cubs 2017 Season Review

By Steven Johnson

  • 2017: Another season, another postseason berth for the Chicago Cubs.
  • 2017: Another season, another NL Central Division title for the Chicago Cubs.
  • 2017: Another season, another 90+ win season for the Chicago Cubs.

It is “sustained success,” indeed.

When Theo Epstein came aboard as the Cubs President of Baseball Operations, building for “sustained success” is what he preached when asking Cubs fans to be patient with the upcoming rebuild.

Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod have all delivered, whether that has been in terms of on-field product, the farm system or positioning the Cubs to not just “win now” but also on a yearly basis.

After three rebuilding seasons (2012-14), the sustained success model was initiated. The Cubs hired Joe Maddon in 2014, won 97 games in 2015 and finished 3rd in the NL Central.

After winning the NL Wild Card Game vs the Pittsburgh Pirates, they beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series and advanced to the National League Championship Series. The Cinderella season ended in a 4-0 sweep to the New York Mets.

In 2016, the Cubs went on a tear throughout the entire MLB. Their 103-58 record was the best in all of baseball.

They won the NL Central Division title for the first time since 2008. They made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2008 (2007-08). They also got back to the NLCS… and won it.

The Cubs advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1945. After an intense 7-game series with the Cleveland Indians, the Cubs were once again World Series Champions. It was their first World Series Championship in 108 years and the last great story in sports was finally told.

Entering the 2017 season, the Cubs had accomplished everything they set out to do beginning in 2012. An NL Wild Card berth, Two Division titles, a National League Pennant, a World Series Championship… all were now in the possession of the Cubs over a five-year period.

While the rebuild was now an undisputed success, the goal now simply was to do it again.

The Cubs struggled the first half of the season. Entering the All-Star Break, they posted a disappointing 43-45 record. The struggles were so alarming that the team considered entering the trade deadline as sellers.

However, instead of taking that route, Epstein and Co. decided the defending World Series Champions should take another shot at it.

Jose Quintana

In an unexpected move, the Cubs traded for White Sox Ace: Jose Quintana. The deal was unprecedented at the time considering the Cubs and White Sox were thought to never do business together of this magnitude. The Cubs sent back four prospects in the deal, including five-tool prospect Eloy Jimenez.

After deciding to stay the course, the Cubs caught fire during the second half of the season. They returned from the All-Star Break to win six games in a row. They finished the month of July with a 16-8 record. Most importantly, they only lost three games during that stretch entering August.

After going 17-12 in August and 19-10 in September/October, the Cubs wrapped up their second consecutive NL Central Division title. They were now primed for an NLDS match-up with former Manager Dusty Baker and the Washington Nationals.

Even with the early season slump, the Cubs still had enough to finish as one of the best teams in baseball.

The World Series hangover was real, but the team did not let that deter them. Instead, they rallied around each other and charged back to win a division title.

Again, “sustained success” was the model. Even though there were times where the team struggled, they had enough youth, energy, familiarity and experience to rebound and still compete.

Their talent level was also head and shoulders above any team in the division and the first half struggles should be considered an aberration.

Now, the season starts over at 0-0. Can the Cubs repeat the magic once again?

Before the Cubs begin the postseason, it is time to review the 2017 regular season. A lot of success happened on the field as well as several players standing out for the defending World Series Champions.

2017 Most Valuable Player: Kris Bryant

MLB: OCT 04 Cubs at Brewers

You could have easily gone with Anthony Rizzo or Javy Baez or even Wade Davis here. However, the numbers do not lie and when it came to all-around game; there was one choice for this distinction.

Kris Bryant is one of the best players in baseball. The 2016 National League MVP had another “MVP-like” season in 2017.

Bryant hit .295 with 162 Hits, 29 Home Runs, 73 RBI, 95 Walks and .946 OPS. He also led the team in Batting Average (minimum 400 at-bats), On-Base %, Hits, Total Bases, Doubles (38), OPS and Runs scored (141).

Bryant is a generational talent. Possessing all the tools to be a Hall of Famer, he is versatile enough to be great wherever the team needs or puts him. A third baseman by trade, Bryant is capable of also playing first base as well as both corner outfield positions.

He is a mark of consistency and will be the central piece if the Cubs are to repeat as World Series Champions. Bryant, at only 25-years-old, has already had the career most Major League players dream about.

Bryant is only going to get better, which is a scary thought for the future of the league.

2017 Most Improved Player: Jason Heyward

Jason Heyward

After a tough campaign in 2016, Heyward actually bounced back in most offensive statistical categories this season. In fact, the numbers would not pass the eye test at first glance:

Heyward’s 2017 Season

In 126 Games, Heyward hit .259 with 59 Runs, 112 Hits, 15 Doubles, 4 Triples, 11 Home Runs, 59 RBI, 41 Walks and .715 OPS this season.

Heyward’s 2016 Season

In 142 Games, Heyward hit .230 with 61 Runs, 122 Hits, 27 Doubles, 1 Triple, 7 Home Runs, 49 RBI, 54 Walks and .631 OPS.

While Heyward actually did not match certain totals from his 2016 season, he also played in 16 fewer games. Even though he played in fewer games, he increased his Batting Average by 29 points, hit 4 more Home Runs, hit 3 more Triples, drove in 10 more RBI and increased his OPS by 84 points.

Heyward’s most valuable asset is his defensive ability in right field; however, he proved that he is capable strong showings at the plate. Coupled with his defensive ability, Heyward has the ability to be a game changer if he can find consistency as a hitter.

Hopefully, Heyward can stay healthy and continue to improve and perform each season. He will be a critical component to another deep Cubs playoff run.

Pitcher of the Year: Wade Davis

Wade Davis

This was an easy one. Davis, whom the Cubs acquired in a trade for Jorge Soler, was lights out for the team this season.

In 59 Games, the All-Star closer threw 58.2 Innings, allowed 39 Hits, finished with a 4-2 Record and recorded 32 Saves in 33 Save Opportunities. Davis totaled an ERA of 2.30 to go along with 79 Strikeouts and a 1.14 WHIP.

In addition to the sparkling numbers, Davis was selected as the lone Cubs representative for the 2017 All-Star Game. Perhaps the most impressive achievement of his 2017 season: Davis set the Cubs franchise record with his 27th consecutive save on August 29th.

Davis will be critical to another long playoff run for the Cubs. With the way Maddon used closer Aroldis Chapman last season in the playoffs, do not be surprised to see Davis on the mound in the 8th… or even 7th Innings.

It is all hands on deck in the quest to repeat as World Series Champions and Davis is as good as it gets when it comes to holding a lead.

What to Watch For:  How will the Cubs look next season?

While the Cubs gear up for another run at a World Series title, there are several questions that will be answered come the offseason.

Kyle Schwarber

Schwarber is an interesting case study. When it comes to talent as a hitter, Schwarber has it. When it comes to being able to play multiple positions (LF, 1B and yes, Catcher), Schwarber is capable. When it comes to clutch plays, Schwarber comes through.

In his first full season, Schwarber hit .211 with 30 Home Runs, 59 RBI and .782 OPS. The power hitter also struck out 150 times. Adversity followed for the Cubs World Series hero as he was demoted to Triple-A Iowa.

For the first half of the season, Schwarber hit only .178 with 13 Home Runs, 29 RBI, 78 Strikeouts and .694 OPS. However, after the demotion, the pure hitter in Schwarber awakened. He went on to hit .253 with 17 Home Runs, 30 RBI and .894 OPS.

Even though Schwarber has the potential to play multiple positions and is a guaranteed potential 30-35+ Home Runs in your lineup, the general consensus is he is more valuable as a designated hitter.

American League teams know that too, so the Cubs could be enticed to trade the young slugger for a cost-controlled young pitcher or another young piece with star potential. Perhaps the Tampa Bay Rays can interest the Cubs by offering Chris Archer in a deal packaged around or including Schwarber.

Schwarber’s situation is an interesting one to watch during the offseason. Expect the trade rumors and uncertainty around the Cubs slugger to continue.

  • Two spots open in the rotation?

Jake Arrieta

When the Cubs enter the off-season, two of their starting pitchers will be on the market. Jake Arrieta and John Lackey will be unrestricted free agents.

Arrieta, a former NL Cy Young Award winner and All-Star, led the MLB in Wins in 2015. He also has pitched two no-hitters for the Cubs.

Arrieta is also noted for his “big game” ability with the Cubs. “Jake the Snake” notched two of the Cubs wins in the 2016 World Series.

In five seasons with the Cubs, Arrieta is 68-31 (a .687 Win %). He has an ERA of 2.73 over 128 starts with Chicago. Arrieta has thrown 6 complete games and 5 shutouts (including 2 no-hitters), in 803.0 Innings. He also has 793 Strikeouts to his credit along with a 1.03 WHIP.

When Arrieta is on, he is damn-near unhittable. This was showcased over the course of the 2015 season, where Arrieta’s performance was frequently compared to legend Bob Gibson.

Arrieta has been everything the Cubs envisioned when they traded for him and Pedro Strop in 2013. However, with all of his accomplishments and age (31) considered, will Arrieta price himself out of the Cubs range?

Reportedly, Arrieta is seeking a new deal in the $200+ million range. Arrieta’s body of work is certainly worth the price tag.  However; the Cubs, with several assets to trade for a replacement or simply just sign a replacement at a cheaper rate, might not want to throw that much coin at Arrieta who is on the wrong side of 30.

Lackey is a different story. After signing in a two-year deal with the Cubs, Lackey came here and got his jewelry. The soon-to-be 39-year-old pitcher is likely not in the Cubs plans for next season, especially considering in-house candidates like Mike Montgomery are more than capable of filling his role as the 5th starter.

Overall Grade: A

Even though there were some early struggles for the Cubs, they still managed to win 92 games and win the NL Central Division for the second consecutive season.

The Cubs last three seasons are any teams’, organizations’ and fan’s dream. 292 wins over the last three seasons. Three consecutive postseason berths, two Division titles and a Wild Card win. An NL Pennant and World Series Championship are also a part of the trophy case.

Simply put, the Cubs are in a great position not only for now, but also for the future. Most of the Cubs veterans are still young and are only going to get better. There is also that rumor that another one of the best players in baseball can join Bryant, Rizzo and the Cubs in the not so distant future.

Right now, it is the ‘in’ thing to be a Cubs fan and the team, organization and fan base deserves it all.

Follow Me on Twitter: @lAmStevenJohnson


What these Cubs mean to me…

By Steven Johnson

“We Are Good.”

Three simple words by Miguel Montero that became the rallying cry for the Chicago Cubs in 2015. It has been not only the rallying cry, but a factual statement for the last three seasons. The Chicago Cubs are good at baseball.

No, like actually… well, good. Good as in you expect them to make the postseason every year. Good as in you expect them to win their division every year. Good as in you expect them to contend for a World Series every year. Good as in you no longer have to watch games thinking about how the curse is going to burn us this time.

“We Are Good,” indeed. As a die-hard Cubs fan, this team means the world to me. At only 25-years-old, I have already seen my fair share of heartbreak as a Cubs fan. It started in 1998. I was only six-years-old, but my Dad had me following along much like he did during the Bulls’ dominance in the 90s.

I had all the gear. Sammy Sosa was the greatest player ever to me. I thought Henry Rodriguez was a legend. Mark Grace was that dude. The Cubs were the greatest show on Earth. I remember Michael Jordan throwing out the first pitch in a Cubs jersey. My childhood was pretty awesome.


In 1998, we won Game 163 vs the Giants. We then proceeded to get swept three straight by the Atlanta Braves. I was devastated. Even after the Bulls had clinched another three-peat and Michael Jordan hit “The Shot,” I was still devastated that my Cubs had lost.

There is nothing like the sport of baseball. The excitement I felt whenever my Cubs were kicking ass trumped the excitement I had watching my Chicago Bulls and Chicago Bears kick ass. This was something special.

As I got older, I got smarter. My love and knowledge of the game increased. Sammy was still the man to me, but I discovered Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds and Jeff Bagwell.

I learned to root against the Cardinals. I learned how pesky those Houston Astros were. I always wondered why there were six teams in the NL Central.

I was used to the losing as well. The 1999 and 2000 seasons were very trying. I remember in 2001 when they got off to a great start and “swooned” throughout the remainder of the season. We won 88 games but didn’t make the playoffs. We struggled hardcore in 2002. Don Baylor was relieved of his managerial duties and we were back to square one.

“In Dusty We Trusty.”

dusty baker1


When the Cubs hired Dusty Baker, I was excited. Here was a man who led the Giants to the World Series. He was the man who was going to do the same with the Cubs. That team was stacked from top to bottom.

The lineup was insane, including the likes of Sosa, Moises Alou, Alex S. Gonzalez, Mark Grudzielanek, Eric Karros and Damian Miller. We also boasted one of the most dominant pitching staffs in recent memory. Five arms, five studs: Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Clement & Shawn Estes.

In-season trades made by Jim Hendry were beneficial too.

The Cubs acquired a pure leadoff hitter in Kenny Lofton and the best third baseman in Cubs history at the time behind Ron Santo in Aramis Ramirez (Yes, I’ve heard about Kris Bryant and Yes, he will undoubtedly supersede Ramirez and Santo when it is all said and done). Other veterans acquired: Doug Glanville, Randall Simon and Tony Womack helped lead the charge.

Every move hit and everything was going the Cubs way. We won the NL Central with 88 wins and we got past the obstacle that was the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS. We were up 3-1 on the Marlins in the NLCS. And then…


Yea, that happened. The Cubs blew a 3-1 lead before it became fashionable.

Sorry, we had to relive it for storytelling purposes. I never blamed Steve Bartman. I instead concentrated on this play. Not enough attention is paid to the potential double play that could’ve preserved the lead and gotten out of the inning.

No, fans like narratives and the narrative was Steve Bartman cost the Cubs Game 6.

The narrative was that “The Curse of the Billy Goat” was indeed real. The narrative was this was exactly what the Cubs were destined for and nobody should really be surprised. The Cubs bowed out in Game 7 and the Marlins went on to win the World Series.

The devastation for the Cubs and the city of Chicago was real. They were so close, yet so far away. It was another season where they caught lightning in a bottle and had a chance to go all the way. It was 1998 all over again. The Cubs choked down the line in 2004 (Much like 2001) and missed out on the playoffs.

Not even acquiring Nomar Garciaparra could get the Cubs over the top in 2004 (I had to bring it up). Did I also mention the Cubs brought back Greg Maddux? So much wasted potential and talent on that 2004 team.

In 2005 and 2006, the Cubs were back in the cellar. 2005 was awesome for me because of the breakthrough of Derrek Lee. Competing for the Triple Crown throughout the season with Albert Pujols was a treat to watch as a Cubs fan.

2005 was also the year the Cubs traded Sammy Sosa and the Chicago White Sox won the World Series (Yes… they actually won the World Series). In a single year, part of my childhood was gone and the crosstown rival had just won the damn World Series.

I was not a hater. I was congratulatory. I was happy for the White Sox and their fans and they were happy to pour salt into the wounds of myself and other Cubs fans.

Privately, I always held out hope that our time was coming sooner rather than later. Until then, it was time to take all the jokes that were about to fly… for 11 more years.

“From Worst to First.”


For the 2007 season, Baker was relieved of his managerial duties. The Cubs brought in Lou Piniella. They then proceeded to go on a spending spree, completely retooling the roster.

They signed Alfonso Soriano for $136 million over eight years hit leadoff and (originally) play center field, even though he had just converted to the outfield one season prior.

They brought in Ted Lilly, Mark DeRosa and Jason Marquis. They selected Josh Hamilton in the Rule 5 Draft too, but he eventually was purchased by the Reds from them.

The Cubs won 85 games and the NL Central. They got swept three straight games by the Diamondbacks. “It’s Gonna Happen” did not happen, but hey, just wait until next year.

In 2008, the Cubs won 97 games and the NL Central again. They got swept three straight games by the Dodgers. That was just cruel and unusual punishment. That just hurt.

“The Lost Seasons.”


For the 2009 season, the Cubs signed Milton Bradley. The Cubs won 83 games and missed the playoffs. It was their third straight winning season, however. This was the first time the Cubs accomplished that mark since 1972.

The 2009 season was not a complete loss at the time as Tom Ricketts and his family purchased the team. You take what you can get, because a World Series was not an option at the time.


In 2010, the Cubs regressed… winning only 75 games. The 2011 season was even worse, as the Cubs only won 71 games. Here we go again… lost seasons and a high payroll with high-priced aging veterans and a farm system that was in rough shape.

No entertaining baseball in sight. It was the same old status quo that Cubs fans had become accustomed to, unfortunately. Change needed to happen, change was on the way.

“The Plan.”


In late 2011, Theo Epstein arrived in Chicago. He was the Cubs new President of Baseball Operations. Jed Hoyer joined him as the Cubs new General Manager. A plan was set in place to completely rebuild the Chicago Cubs as a franchise and organization.

The Cubs were able to ship off high-priced, aging veterans. Soriano and Zambrano were both traded. Epstein and Co. made several astute signings and deals:

  • They traded for Anthony Rizzo in 2012 and signed him to a seven-year deal in 2013.
  • They also acquired Kyle Hendricks in 2012 in a deal involving Ryan Dempster.
  • In 2013, they acquired Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop in a deal for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger.
  • In 2014, they acquired Addison Russell in a deal with the Athletics for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel (who they signed back for the 2015 season).
  • They hired Joe Maddon as Manager.
  • They drafted Kris Bryant in 2013, Kyle Schwarber in 2014 and Ian Happ in 2015. All three are currently producing at the Major League level.
  • They developed Javier Baez, Willson Contreras and Albert Almora Jr.
  • They signed Jon Lester, traded for Dexter Fowler and Miguel Montero and then signed John Lackey.

“The Plan” indeed was something worthy of a book one day. Ricketts, Epstein, Hoyer and Jason McLeod rebuilt this team and organization from the ground up. It was something the Cubs and their fans were not used to. A healthy farm system, a consistent big league product and a front office that was all-in when it came to winning a World Series.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Chicago Cubs

“We Are Good.”

For the 2015 season, the Cubs blew away everyone’s expectations. In a total surprise, the team won 97 games. Arrieta won the NL Cy Young Award and led the MLB in Wins. Bryant won the NL Rookie of the Year Award and made the All-Star Team. Rizzo made his second All-Star Team. The Cubs went 42-18 from August-October to finish the season.

They beat the Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game. They took out the Cardinals, our arch rivals, in 4 games during the NLDS where Schwarber gave us a moment. What a time to be alive as a Cubs fan.

cubs cardinals

Then another match-up with another rival presented itself. We faced the Mets in the National League Championship Series. We were swept four straight.

It was, in my eyes, a rite of passage. This young team had to experience heartbreak before they experienced doing the unthinkable. They had to know what failure felt like so they did not have to be afraid of it anymore.

“It happened… I saw it.”

For the 2016 season, our Cubs were all in. It was World Series or bust for this team.

They brought back Fowler on a 1-year deal (“You go, we go.”). They signed Jason Heyward and John Lackey away from the Cardinals.

They traded longtime Cub Starlin Castro to the Yankees and signed World Series Champion and All-Star Ben Zobrist.

Throughout the season, slowly but surely, the Cubs added the right pieces to compliment the squad:

  • They reacquired Chris Coghlan.
  • They acquired superstar closer Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees.
  • They acquired a pitcher in Mike Montgomery who would go on to be a part of possibly the greatest footnote in Cubs history.

The Cubs won 103 games (if only they could have won 108), the NL Central and finished with the best record in baseball for that season. This was too good to be true… it felt real, it felt genuine. It just felt right.

We were matched up with the Giants in the NLDS: a stiff test in its own right. It was the even-year dynasty. The Giants had won World Series Championships in 2010, 2012 and 2014. It was 2016… get those narratives and curse stories ready.

We passed the test with flying colors. Javy was “Must-See TV” when we absolutely needed him to be. KB wouldn’t let us go out like that in Game 3. In Game 4, the magic was just beginning. We took out the even-year dynasty in 4 games. One series down, two to go…

cubs giants

Bring on the Dodgers. It was time for payback for that 2008 postseason fail. In Game 1, Miggy, who coined the rallying cry “We Are Good,” went and backed it up… the Game 1 Hero. Games 2 and 3 were tough… we did not score a run and were down 2-1 in the series. It was go-time. The city knew it, the fans knew it… they knew it.

We came out swinging in Game 4. We tied the series at 2. Addison Russell and Jon Lester stepped up in Game 5… We took a 3-2 series lead. In Game 6, it was time to enjoy it together. We won the pennant. The Chicago Cubs were heading to the World Series for the first time since 1945.

cubs dodgers

The passion and celebration in Wrigley Field would only be second to one thing: Winning. The. Whole. F*cking. Thing.

We were finally there. The Cubs were in the World Series, man. I could not believe it. I was most happy for my Father.

My Dad literally had seen it all, from Muhammad Ali to the 1985 Bears to six NBA Championships to the Fire’s MLS Cup victory and three Stanley Cups. But the one thing he had never seen, his favorite team winning the World Series in his favorite sport.

It was time for the Cubs to do it. I don’t care what anyone said. It was time to nut up or shut up. Bring on the Cleveland Indians. This World Series was too perfect. Someone’s curse had to go, whether that’d be the damn Billy Goat or Ricky Colavito’s.


Schwarber, who had been out all season with a serious knee injury, made it back to join the World Series roster. He was there to DH and do whatever he could with the bat to help the Cubs make history. He became a Cubs folk hero.

And so we began… getting shutout in Game 1. Corey Kluber had got us and we knew we had to get him back at some point.

Jake the Snake picked us up in Game 2 and we tied the series at 1. We were heading back to Wrigley with a chance to make history in front of everyone. The Indians had other plans… they took Games 3 and 4 from us on our field. It was a 3-1 lead.

It couldn’t end this way… not like this. This season felt too good, too perfect. Everything was in place for us to end this damn “curse.”

We were not going to give up that easily though. We were going to get that Game 5 win, no matter what it took. KB delivered again and Chapman carried the team to the finish line. We’re heading to Game 6.

In Game 6, Jake the Snake came through for us again. KB, Rizzo and Russell put an exclamation point on it. The World Series was going to a Game 7 and we knew we were going to pull it off.

Every setback (108 years’ worth of them) was to culminate in a major comeback.

Game 7 was here, and yes, the beginning of it was something that you could predict. “You go, we go” happened one last time. We got to Kluber, payback for Game 1. We took a 6-3 lead into the 8th Inning… and then:

“You got to be f*cking kidding me.”


Not again… no, seriously?! It really sucks being a Cubs fan…


We just saw it with our own two eyes.

This was some sick joke… we’re literally at a loss for words. Those guys in the dugout have to be feeling the same way we’re feeling right now. If they tell you they don’t, they’re full of it.

“What the f*ck just happened? Why did that happen? Is this real life?”

“Are the Cubs really cursed to the point where their fans have to consistently live through sh*t like this?”

Then, you can’t make this up, it’s like God himself heard the prayers and saw the devastation within every Cub fan on his green Earth.

Heaven opened up.

We had a rain delay in Game 7 of the World Series. It was time for the players in the Cubs dugout to collect themselves. We still had a ballgame to win.

Jason Heyward gave the greatest pep talk in sports history. The Cubs refocused on the task at hand: it was time to go win a World Series. Let’s go do it, fellas.

Extra-inning magic: ‘Zo came through for us. Miggy added some insurance. We were now 3 outs away. Just because we had a flare for the dramatic, we did not want to make this easy.

Michael Martinez was at the plate and Mike Montgomery was on the mound. A slow roller was hit to a smiling Kris Bryant.

Bryant to Rizzo; the Cubs were the World Series Champions.

Say it with me now: “The Chicago Cubs were World Series Champions!”

I saw it. My fellow Cubs fans saw it. My family saw it. My Father saw it. Since 1985, every major Chicago Sports franchise in the NFL, NBA, MLS, MLB and NHL had won championships. The Cubs were finally initiated into the fraternity.

We did it for Ronnie, Ernie, Billy, Fergie and Ryno. We exercised the demons of the Billy Goat, Leon Durham’s error and Steve Bartman.

Look at us, we were the captains now. We ran the league. It was our championship to defend. I still can’t believe I can put these emotions into words right now. It’s still so surreal.

I came home from work at 2:30am that night. Me and my brother stayed up and watched continuing coverage. I couldn’t sleep. I was too excited at what I just saw, what I was just a part of covering. I finally saw a team that I rooted for passionately win a championship.

cubs world series champions

This was such an awesome feeling… a feeling that I was not used to. I did not want to let it go.

After I finally got to bed and woke up later, I saw my Dad sitting in the kitchen. I told him: “We finally did it, man. We finally did it.” I remember my Dad’s eyes were a little watery. It was a moment that I would never forget.

We bonded over our favorite team going all the way in our favorite sport. Seeing my Dad happy made me happy all over again.

The Cubs were World Series Champions… and I immediately said to myself: “Let’s do it again.” I don’t care how hard it is, I want more.

Chicago is spoiled, anyway. The Bulls had two separate three-peats. The Blackhawks won three Stanley Cups in eight seasons. Why can’t we be a little greedy when it comes to rings?

It’s 2017 and the Cubs are going back to the postseason to defend their World Series Championship.

Another NL Central Division title clinched and another postseason run awaiting. Why not win another one? I know it’s tough, but nothing worth having is easy. The best thing about all this: we can watch Cubs postseason baseball without the weight of the world on our shoulders. We can just enjoy the ride.

This is what these Cubs mean to me: moments with my Dad, feelings you cannot describe, watching every pitch and every at-bat and being able to say: “My team did it.”


“The Cubs are World Series Champions!” Damn right, they are. #ThatsCub, baby.

Grab the Bulls by Their Horns: Part I

A 2017-18 Season Preview for Chicago’s latest rebuild

By Steven Johnson

And here we are… another attempt at rebuilding by the Chicago Bulls. No, it is not 1999.

Elton Brand, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, Ron Mercer, Brad Miller, Marcus Fizer, Jamal Crawford, Jay Williams and Kirk Hinrich are not the targets or the ‘Plan As’ of the draft lottery and free agency.

It is 2017 and this is a full-fledged rebuild. We are talking about young talent in-house, a head coach still trying to find his way and a front office who finally decided it was time. The 2017-18 Chicago Bulls are officially “tanking.”

While “tanking” is the popular buzz word for any rebuild, the fact of the matter is the Bulls are not going to be very good this season. The wheels were set in motion with the trade of Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves in June.

JB Timberwolves

The deal, which occurred after Dwyane Wade picked up his $23-million player option, signified the end of an era in Chicago. Butler, Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott were now on other teams with Nikola Mirotic being the sole player left from the Tom Thibodeau-era.

Butler was dealt for several young assets from Minnesota. The Bulls acquired point guard Kris Dunn, a high-flying and athletic scorer in Zach LaVine and the #7 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. In addition to giving up Butler, the Bulls also gave up their own 2017 first round pick.

Reaction to the trade was mixed. Fans and the media were split on confusion as to why the Bulls decided to unload one of the best two-way players in the game for what was perceived to be unequal value.

travelle gaines

There was also the segment of fans and media who felt the option of a rebuild was put off for far too long and that the Bulls were fortunate to get back what they did for Butler.

Either way, a decision was made. The Bulls front office picked a direction for the franchise and the wheels were set in motion for the future. The Bulls drafted Lauri Markkanen with the 7th overall pick.

Markkanen, a legit 7-footer, offers an intriguing skill set. A big who can shoot from inside and out, the Bulls hope he can be their version of Kristaps Porzingis.


Dunn, who the Bulls were intrigued by during the 2016 Draft, brings a ton of potential with him as he prepares for more playing time (something that was not afforded to him under Thibodeau in Minnesota).


LaVine, a proven athletic monster and Slam Dunk Champion, will take over the starting shooting guard spot when he is cleared to play. LaVine suffered a torn-ACL last season. It was horrible timing considering he was averaging 18.9 PPG and shooting nearly 39% from three.

Adam Silver

LaVine’s situation is an interesting one to watch. He will be a restricted free agent in 2018 and one has to wonder how the Bulls will play this situation when the time has come.

With LaVine coming off a serious knee injury, the Bulls might take a “wait and see” approach when it comes to discussing a contract extension or a new deal.

Regardless, the Bulls added three new young pieces to their core of young players. That is ideal for a rebuild as it allows the young players to grow with one another. It also allows Hoiberg to finally implement the style of play he has been craving on offense.

There is definitely more shooting ability with this group as LaVine, Valentine, Portis, Markkanen and Zipser have all proven they can shoot from beyond the arc. In what will surely be a difficult season, it is important to continue to develop as well as grow the games of each individual young piece.

The potential distractions are all out of the way.

Lopez is an intriguing case. He is a productive big on a cheap contract and brings a lot to the table in terms of rim protection, energy and post/midrange game. If the Bulls can flip him for a late first-round pick or a young player with upside, that would be ideal for the front office and team.

robin lopez

While rebuilding is not something Bulls fans have been used to for quite a while, the fact remains that it should have been done after the 2014-15 season.

The Bulls were in the best position to win an NBA Championship since Derrick Rose’s injury in 2012. However, the team could not get past LeBron James yet again… even with several breaks going their way.

With the decision made to fire Tom Thibodeau, the team should have committed to a major overhaul. The team built in Thibs’ image could not compete, so a new blueprint was needed. Instead, the front office brought back the same team and put Hoiberg in an undesirable position.

While the front office definitely deserves the majority of the blame for several lost seasons, they deserve credit for finally committing to a rebuild and picking a direction for a franchise which has been directionless since the 2015-16 season.

Whether the timing of the rebuild is appropriate is up to debate. There are analysts and fans on the side of both opinions. While appreciative of knowing what the direction of the Bulls will be going forward, I was in the camp of committing to the retool…

Grab the Bulls by Their Horns: Part II… Coming Soon.

new bulls jersey

Follow me on Twitter: @lAmSteveJohnson

This is My Story

David DeJesus – In His Own Words

By Steven Johnson (@SteveJohnson_12)

Follow David on Twitter (@David_DeJesus3)

Baseball is an awesome game. The sport does so much for those who choose to play it, and if blessed enough, make a career out of it. Countless stories have been told over the course of Baseball’s history. The sport is a unique game that has attracted players from all over the world. For some, it is the only opportunity to create a better life for the individual as well as their families.

It was his faith in God, the love of his family and Baseball that gave David DeJesus that opportunity. 13 seasons at the highest professional level of the sport opened the door for him to become the Cubs Pre & Postgame Analyst at CSN Chicago.

“It’s going great,” DeJesus said.  “I’m fortunate that CSN gave me the opportunity to take on this role. David Kaplan was instrumental in getting me here, and now I love it each and every day more and more. My wife (Kim) and son (seven-year-old “Spidey“) recently arrived from California, where my son goes to school, so having family here adds even more to the whole experience.”

Currently, he resides in Wheaton with his family and DeJesus also has strong “bench support” as his in-laws live nearby, allowing David and Kim to excel at their careers. DeJesus’ remarkable journey has allowed him to be in this position. The veteran outfielder spent two seasons with the Cubs and was an integral part to the rebuilding of their product on the field.

Over the course of his 13-year MLB career, DeJesus was a productive player. The veteran outfielder hit a solid .275 with 99 career Home Runs, 573 RBI, and a .761 OPS. DeJesus made quite the name for himself in Kansas City, sharing the field with legendary players such as Carlos Beltran, Mike Sweeney, Billy Butler and Zack Greinke.

In fact, when Beltran was traded to the Houston Astros in 2004, DeJesus stepped up to become one of the faces of the organization

. david dejesus

During the 2004 season, He became the Royals everyday center fielder and finished top-10 in AL Rookie of the Year voting that season. In 2006, the Royals rewarded the pro with a five-year contract extension. In 2008 with the Royals, he finished top-10 in the American League in hitting with a .308 Batting Average. He also had an all-around productive campaign with 159 hits, 25 doubles, seven triples, 70 runs, 12 HR, 73 RBI and a .818 OPS.

However, like most professional athletes, there were bumps along the road on the way to success. During the 2010 season, DeJesus tore the right tendon in his thumb during a game against the New York Yankees. It was horrible timing for the veteran as he was hitting .318 and was on pace for a 200-hit season.

DeJesus was forced to have season-ending surgery and just like that: he was shut down. Later, after spending eight seasons in Kansas City, DeJesus was traded to the Oakland Athletics. The deal came a season before he was eligible for free agency. DeJesus, at that point in his career, found himself at a crossroads.

That was a crazy time,” DeJesus said. “I had the worst year of my career in 2011 at Oakland. Up to that point, I was a .290 hitter and then all of a sudden I’m hitting .240. I was ashamed of walking around town.  I felt like I was wearing a .240 sign on my forehead — at least that’s what I thought people saw on me…

“I didn’t see the blessings that I had.  I was still a Major League baseball player with a wife and son — so many blessings surrounding me, but I couldn’t see them because I was wrapped up in my numbers.”

However, after that tumultuous season in Oakland, DeJesus changed his approach to the game — and to life itself.

“I was still nervous,” he said. “What’s going to happen? I’ve finally made my way to free agency, but I’m coming off the worst year of my career. Will anybody want my services? My agent called me around Thanksgiving and told me that the Giants and Cubs were both interested. San Francisco was offering more money, but Chicago was now home.”

“After my difficult year in Oakland, I wasn’t too keen on going back to the West Coast, so I took less money to stay near our adopted home.  With Kim’s family so close, it was the best situation for my family. Talking to Theo [Epstein], he let me know right away: ‘Dave, these are going to be two tough years, but we’re building something here.’”

Esptein joined the Cubs as their new President of Baseball Operations in 2011. The much sought-after executive left Boston after winning two World Series titles with the Red Sox. DeJesus signed with the Cubs knowing a full rebuild was taking place. DeJesus was expected to fill the role of being a veteran leader, while also showing the younger Cubs the ropes, and being a productive player on the field.

“He [Theo] wanted me back in 2010 before I got injured with the Royals,” DeJesus said. “I had Tommy John surgery on my thumb, so he was going to pick me up right before the deadline during that time but didn’t because I got injured. It came around at another time and he picked me up and I’m super thankful for that.”

DeJesus served as a mentor for several young players, such as Anthony Rizzo & Starlin Castro, and also endeared himself to Cubs fans because of his hustle, work ethic & leadership. The team struggled during his two seasons with Chicago. In 2012, the Cubs lost 101 games.


DeJesus, however, knew it was what he signed up for. Epstein made it a point to caution him of the difficult seasons that lied ahead for the Cubs organization. In 2013, he was traded from the Cubs to the Nationals (more on that later).

“It’s a funny story,” DeJesus said. “I played with the Cubs on ‘Family Day’ on a Sunday afternoon, and then on Monday morning, Kim and I are about to go to a juice bar when I get a call from Theo. That was a bit out of the ordinary, and when I answered it, Theo says, ‘David, we appreciate everything that you’ve done for us, BUT…’  And when he said that “But” word, I knew something was up.”

BUT, you just got traded to the Washington Nationals.’ And what’s really weird is that the Nationals were coming to Wrigley to play the Cubs that very day! So I was cleaning out my locker in the Cubs’ clubhouse and walking down to the visiting clubhouse!”

DeJesus played just four games for the Nationals before he was then traded to the Tampa Bay Rays. Interestingly enough, while DeJesus originally signed up to help the Cubs rebuilding project, at Tampa Bay, he would experience what it was like to play for one of the central figures in the Cubs renaissance — Rays manager: Joe Maddon.

The Rays, at the time of the deal, were in the middle of an AL Pennant Race. DeJesus was counted on to bring veteran leadership, in addition to being another option for ‘Maddon & Co.’

It was a vastly different situation than the one he grew accustomed to in Chicago.

“So, I went to Joe’s office and he’s like: ‘Hey man’ and I sat down in front of him. He said: ‘I got two rules here: run the ball out and play sexy.’”

  • Run the ball out.
  • Play Sexy.

Two rules by Maddon that set the tone for the Rays. The two rules also served as somewhat of a foreshadowing to what the Cubs organization, their players & fans would become accustomed to: the future & popular Maddon catchphrases: #Respect90 and If you look hot, wear it.”

So David, ‘Play sexy?’

“This guy came and said ‘Play Sexy,’ and I was like: ‘It’s something about that.’ It gave me that freedom to go out there and be myself.”

DeJesus instantly bought in to what Maddon was preaching. Actually, he did more than just ‘buy in,’ … he adjusted his style. As an outfielder for roughly 97 percent of his career, DeJesus served as a Designated Hitter for the Rays during his tenure there. DeJesus was serviceable in the role. In 85 career games at the position, he hit .268 with 18 doubles, two triples, eight Home Runs, 23 RBI, 32 Walks and a .795 OPS.

DeJesus credited Maddon with allowing him to be himself again, which made doing whatever the team needed to win a championship a breeze.

“That’s the thing that’s special about Joe,” DeJesus said. “He lets you take your skills and your personality, and let it play out on the field.  He doesn’t restrict that.  He gives you that freedom to go out and play just ‘free’. When I was with the Royals, whenever we played the Rays, we noted that their bench was always having fun.  He brought ‘fun’ back into the game, and it was special. To me, as a player, I appreciated that.”


 The Rays finished the 2013 season with a 92-71 record. They finished second in the AL East and beat the Cleveland Indians 4-0 in the 2013 AL Wild Card Game. They then ran into the eventual 2013 World Series Champions: the Boston Red Sox and bowed out in four games to them in the 2013 American League Division Series.

 DeJesus would spend three seasons with the Rays before finishing his 13-year MLB career with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. A critical goal for DeJesus’ career was that he wanted to be the quintessential professional and teammate. He always wanted to be the person that teammates could come to for advice and guidance… whether it’d be their approach or just life in general.

 “I just tried to be the best player and best teammate I could be,” he said. “I wanted to be a guy who could pick up teammates if they wanted to bounce something off me and an encourager to anyone who might be going through a rough time. I’ve been through highs and lows in baseball and in life, so I can share my experiences and how I handled them.”

 “My time in Tampa Bay was really a cool time because I got close friendships with people like Chris Archer and have a good relationship with him. Steven Souza’s one of my good friends still, right now, Brandon Guyer and others. Baseball and life in general, is about relationships. Yes, winning is a goal, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the relationships that you establish.”

 That’s what makes the sport of Baseball special. It is about the relationships you develop with those blessed to be a part of the same fraternity that so few are in. It is about the blessings and success that you get from the game after you work hard and sacrifice so much to get to that level. It is even about finding something outside of the game… something DeJesus is very proud to declare.

 “Can I tell my story?” DeJesus asked me before concluding our interview.

 It is a story that needs to be told.

 “Throughout my career, I attended Baseball Chapel pretty regularly. I thought it was the right thing to do. But during the 2011 season in Oakland, when I was struggling with my game, I realized that I couldn’t do this game of baseball and more importantly, this game of life, by myself. I realized I needed a Savior.”

“I was in Toronto on a Friday night. I just… I just broke down in my hotel room. The pressure of being a husband… a new Dad… hitting in the low .200’s… It broke me to a point where I prayed, ‘Lord, I cannot do this myself. Lord, I want you to take these burdens off me…because you said you would.”

 “At that point, I knew that Jesus Christ was behind me! Christ was in my heart and I knew that I didn’t have to ‘perform’ any more to experience ‘worth.’ Everything has already been done for me through Christ’s death and resurrection!”

 “I thought being a Christian meant ‘doing things’ — ‘earning’ my salvation.  But once you accept Christ into your life, you receive His free gift! Now it’s living in that grace and that love that God has for me! And that has been my motivation every day since that night in Toronto! I’m so thankful for everything — including my new role with CSN — and trying to raise my son to know Jesus Christ.”

 David’s test in life was his testimony. Because he gave his life to God, he is being blessed in abundance. His test was indeed his testimony. He is not only living his life for his family and his love and passion for the game of Baseball, but because of his love, passion and appreciation of our Lord and Savior. It is an important lesson in life that has always stood the test of time.

Now, DeJesus is at peace with where God has brought him. He is enjoying his role as the Cubs Pre & Postgame analyst for CSN. He acknowledges that there are differences in being a player and an analyst, but welcomes the challenge of walking that line between player and analyst.


 “The hardest thing is calling it out because we’re so engrained in us when it comes to picking each other up. That’s the toughest thing to do, because it’s hard to get away from the ‘Big League Mentality’ when I’ve been in there for so long.”

 It has been an interesting transition for DeJesus thus far, but he has been helped by numerous people along the way. In addition to his faith in God, the DeJesus family and other colleagues have been instrumental in his shift to television analyst.

 Dave Kaplan has been a great help for me,” he said. “This guy has helped me out. We’ve watched tape together. We’re always talking and he’s giving me little tips. He’s patient with me and I’m so thankful that he’s opened himself up to help me out. I never would have thought if you said three years ago that I would I be an analyst for a baseball team or a baseball game. I’d say ‘No way,’ because I never really thought I was comfortable behind the camera. You never really know.”

 DeJesus treats every show just like he treated every game in his career. He gives 100% in his preparation and is always eager to improve and learn more about the business but there’s one thing he absolutely does before every show. It is his current ‘Pregame ritual.’

 “I pray each and every day before I get on that TV,” he said. “Because I know that I can’t do this by myself. The Lord is always there behind me.”

 Whether it is baseball, working in television or living his everyday life, DeJesus has an outlook on life that can be applied to any facet of it:

 “Let me be a guy that can walk alongside of somebody, put my arm around them and be like: ‘Hey man, it’s OK, we’ll get them tomorrow,’ he said. “That’s the cool thing about Baseball, both in watching it and playing it.”

His testimony truly is the story of a lifetime…


Segment for CSN’s “In The Loop” & “In The Loop Prime” shows that I created, co-wrote with Pat Boyle (@CSNBoyle) & Mark Schanowski (@MarkSchanowski) & co-produced.

Boyle, the Blackhawks Pre & Postgame Host/Analyst & Schanowski, the Bulls Pre & Postgame Host/Analyst, join forces to evaluate the 2016-17 seasons for both franchises.

In addition, the hosts look at what both the Bulls & Blackhawks need to do to contend the for next few seasons & beyond.


Running With the Bulls: A Path to Contention or Sustained Mediocrity

A season review wrapped into a season preview & beyond…

By Steven Johnson


Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein.

The statement above should not only be applied to the Chicago Bulls franchise, but their fans as well.

Ever since the heyday of Michael Jordan and their six championships, Chicago’s professional basketball team has done the same thing over and over again while producing the same exact results.

The kicker is this: Bulls fans have been sold on false dreams, promises & futures all as a direct result of Jordan’s dominance. Not only in the game of basketball, but also in building the Bulls as a global brand.

When your franchise was blessed to have the greatest athlete of all-time, that brand of basketball has staying power… no matter how mediocre the product is. The incentive to put a consistent, worthy product on the floor is secondary.

Let’s get right to it then. In the summer of 2016, the Bulls decided to take the first step in changing their identity. The team made the decision to part with their hometown superstar & former Most Valuable Player: Derrick Rose.

Rose, the most important & popular Bull since the MJ-era, was robbed of his prime years due to various knee injuries. Before the setbacks, Rose brought the Bulls back to national prominence and within three wins of their first NBA Finals appearance since 1998.

During his MVP campaign, where he averaged 25 points and eight assists a game without the benefit of a “second star,” Rose & the Bulls went down in five games to LeBron, D-Wade, Bosh & the Heat super team.

No shame in that. Here was Rose, already playing out of his mind, taking on the task of knocking out the main villains of the NBA. The Bulls bowed out in five, but the series was a lot closer than the final scores indicated.

An MVP-caliber player simply ran into two superstars and an All-Star; and every team & executive knew what had to be done around the league: get Derrick Rose some help.

That help came in the form of aging star & NBA Champion, Richard “Rip” Hamilton. The main goal for the Bulls was to compliment Rose with a secondary scorer to play alongside him in the backcourt.

Rose, who was the consummate teammate when it came to his support of Keith Bogans, was thought to finally have a solid running mate.

However, the dream would never come to fruition as Rose & Hamilton dealt with various injuries throughout the course of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. Fast forward to the injury that changed the landscape of Chicago basketball for the foreseeable future, and you have your current product.

The Bulls have not been a real contender since Rose tore the ACL in his left knee. Do not let all the winning seasons and playoff appearances fool you. Making the playoffs in a mediocre Eastern Conference is almost the equivalent of being the tallest person in the room amongst little people.

What made those Bulls teams entertaining was the development and breakthroughs of the Joakim Noahs & Luol Dengs of the world (both of whom made All-Star teams during Rose’s recoveries). Even during the 2014-15 season, where the Bulls were in their best position to compete since Rose’s MVP year, the contender label did not quite fit that team.

Yes, Jimmy Butler improved his game. Yes, the Bulls were able to snag a multi-time NBA Champion, All-Star & Future Hall of Famer in Pau Gasol. Yes, and most importantly, Derrick Rose was the healthiest he had been since his best season (albeit before another late season knee injury.)

But as a fan, you knew it was not enough to get past a LeBron James-led team (the one that ultimately ended their season again).

Where the Bulls missed their best opportunity to get past James was in the 2014 offseason: They failed to sign Carmelo Anthony.

All things considered, Anthony’s skill set as an elite scorer to pair with Rose was what the organization (especially Tom Thibodeau) had been craving since his MVP year. The Bulls believed they could have made it happen in terms of signing both Anthony & Gasol.

Could the Bulls with Rose, Butler, Anthony, Gasol & Noah have made the Finals that season?

Purely speculative, but I like the chances of that squad more when compared to a Rose, Butler, Dunleavy, Gasol & Noah lineup. Instead, they settled on Gasol, brought over Nikola Mirotic, ultimately traded five draft picks for Doug McDermott and brought back Kirk Hinrich.

It was also the same thing: a lot of depth and skill on paper, when in reality, it was only good enough to win you a playoff round, or maybe two.

From there, the mediocrity continued. Rose, as mentioned earlier, was dealt to the New York Knicks.

While the deal was not a complete wash (it brought back productive & likable center Robin Lopez), the value was not equivalent to that of a player of Rose’s caliber, even with all the injuries considered.

The Bulls traded away a former MVP, a second-round draft pick and an underrated, cheap two-way player in Justin Holiday for Lopez, Jerian Grant & Jose Calderon. The centerpiece of the deal was Grant, who Gar Forman and John Paxson were both high on. He was sold as someone who could be the “Point Guard of the Future,” (More on that later).

To get into the “analytics” of the deal, here are the 2016-17 season comparisons:

  • Derrick Rose: 64 Games (64 GS), 18.0 PPG, 47.1 FG %, 4.4 APG & 3.8 RPG in 32.5 MPG.
  • Justin Holiday: 82 Games (4 GS), 7.7 PPG, 43.3 FG %, 35.5 3-PT FG % in 20.0 MPG.
  • Robin Lopez: 81 Games (81 Starts), 10.4 PPG, 49.3 FG %, 6.4 RPG, 1.4 BPG in 28.0 MPG.
  • Jerian Grant: 63 Games (28 Starts), 5.9 PPG, 42.5 FG %, 36.6 3-PT %, 1.9 APG in 16.3 MPG
  • Jose Calderon: Waived in order create cap space to sign Dwyane Wade.


  • Via

Who won this deal is a matter of debate. Considering the point guard woes that plagued the Bulls outside of Rajon Rondo & the lack of two players in the rotation, the Bulls could have really used the skillsets of both Rose and Holiday.

However, the Bulls definitely upgraded at the center position, as Noah would turn in a miserable first season with the Knicks at a hefty price. Lopez was as serviceable as they came & is still on a bargain deal.

Grant showed flashes when given playing time, but as the playoff series proved, he needs to become more consistent before Hoiberg starts trusting him with increased minutes.

After stating that the team needed to get “younger and more athletic,” the Bulls drafted Denzel Valentine and Paul Zipser.

Valentine is still a project who has earned the benefit of the doubt (he actually needs to play more before being judged), and Zipser, surprisingly, is a skilled wing with staying power as an elite role player. Paxson and Forman deserve credit for finding him in the second round.

Then the signings of Rondo and Wade occurred. While on paper, the magnitude of their names brought excitement back to the city for the short term, the reality was the Bulls just committed big money to aging veterans.

Wade, who twice spurned the Bulls advances before, was now on a mission to bring the organization back to respectability while sticking it to the Heat for the perceived disrespect he felt they showed towards him.

The city embraced both veterans. Rondo became the younger Bulls’ biggest ally. Wade endeared himself back to his hometown and his hometown welcomed him with open arms. The Bulls began the season with an 11-7 record, beating the defending NBA Champions and going 4-2 on the dreaded “Circus Trip.”

Then came the inconsistencies that most expected for the Bulls when Wade & Rondo signed up. The lack of shooting and athleticism, coupled with the frustratingly long stretches of ISO ball, did the Bulls in.

Wade & Butler decided they had enough and ripped their teammates publicly. Rondo decided to stick up for the young teammates and ripped Wade & Butler through Instagram. There were fines, benchings and continued up and down play.

Rondo was suspended, benched and regulated to anchoring the second unit. Butler became an All-Star again. Wade had flashes of “Flash,” but was mostly average and then suffered a fractured elbow.

Somehow, someway: the Bulls made the playoffs with a mediocre 41-41 record. They finished tied with Wade’s old team, but backed in by virtue of a tiebreaker. They also had a favorable match-up with the #1-seeded Boston Celtics, avoiding a likely sweep at the hands of the LeBron-led Cavaliers.

With a new lease on life, #PlayoffWade & #NationalTVRondo gave a skeptical fan base hope.

For two games, those hopes were rewarded. The Bulls looked like a legitimate playoff team with the right mix of battle-tested veterans and surprising performances.

Rondo systematically dismantled the Celtics defense, finding open shots for the likes of Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis and Paul Zipser. Wade and Butler were there for the big buckets and plays. Lopez literally could not be stopped, feasting on Boston’s small lineups.

Nationally, the team was so impressive that people were convinced they could make a run all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals.

As “Bulls Luck” would have it: an injury to the star point guard derailed any promise.

Rondo fractured his thumb in Game 2, knocking him out for the remainder of the series. For the next 4 games, the Bulls looked more like the team fans preferred to be in the lottery as opposed to the legitimate playoff squad that was seen the first two games of the series.

The Bulls bowed out with little to no fight, culminating in a Game 6 all too familiar to the one in 2015 at home vs the Cavaliers. Mercifully, to most fans, the 2016-17 season for the Bulls was over.

So here’s the question: “Where do we go from here?” A legitimate, simple question that John Paxson & Gar Forman have to ask themselves & the rest of the organization.

If the press conference on May 3rd was any indication: the organization, the players and their fans do not have a clue. Paxson and Forman took questions, but were not entirely clear when it came to their answers. “GarPax” addressed many topics, such as the one about enigmatic point guard, Rajon Rondo.

“There’s a really good chance we’ll bring Rajon back,” Paxson said. “You can’t underscore the impact Rajon had with our young guys.” Paxson is right here.

While Rondo does not give you much in terms of scoring, he has proven to be able to penetrate and finish at the rim. He has also transformed himself into a respectable 3-point shooter, shooting at least 35% for the last three seasons (and a career-high 37.6% with the Bulls in 2016-17).

His leadership is also invaluable, especially with the Bulls relying on a youth movement. Paxson and Forman indicated that the young players will be given every opportunity to improve and having Rondo in the fold for them would be a positive.

The most pressing topics came in the questions on the futures of the Bulls two best players: Butler and Wade:

“Jimmy is far and away our best player. His work ethic is one of the best in the league,” Paxson said. While praising the work ethic of their star, Forman and Paxson again stopped short of committing to Butler as the franchise centerpiece.

Not the best way to go about the future when you’re not sure you want to commit to your best player. As someone who feels the modern-day rebuild has no place in today’s NBA, the Bulls must be cautious with their treatment of Butler.

  • While probably not a #1 or #2 option on a championship team, Butler is undoubtedly one of the best two-way players in the league on a bargain of a deal.
  • He is arguably a top-15 player in the NBA who has earned the respect of his fellow players around the league along with their coaches.
  • One also cannot underscore the fact that the NBA is a player’s league and Butler has showed a willingness to recruit.
  • He holds player relationships from his All-Star appearances and his time on the USA National Team.
  • He’s on the record of saying he’s willing to speak to players like Carmelo Anthony about joining forces.
  • He was the main reason Wade decided to sign with Chicago this past summer.

Speaking of Wade, his future is up for debate, even if he holds a player option that comes with a hefty payday for next season.

“Dwyane will look to us for direction on our team moving forward. We will sit down with him again this offseason,” Paxson said.

Wade is on the record saying he wants a clear vision of the franchise’s direction after meeting with Paxson and Forman. Wade, who will turn 36 next season, is looking for one last shot at glory before calling it a career.

As someone who said he would not be too thrilled with playing with a bunch of 21-year-olds, it might not be appeasing to stick around with a team who does not plan on contending for a championship any time soon.

If Wade likes what Paxson and Forman have to say, he opts in for the 2017-18 season and he still has a voice around the NBA.

Wade is better suited as a 3rd or 4th option on a contender right now and has expressed that he would be content with any role that his team wants him to have. With Butler and Wade, the Bulls would again have two voices around the league that are willing to recruit. If going young is the Bulls preferred preference, then it is best to trade Butler and hope Wade walks.

The problem is that the haul the Bulls would command for Butler probably isn’t as feasible anymore. The Celtics, the most-thought logical suitor for Butler, saw him firsthand in a playoff series.

With a boatload of assets at their disposal, Boston is primed to make a run at trading for Paul George, Anthony or Dwight Howard. They can also elect to go the free agency route and try to entice Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin.

If the Bulls hang on to Butler and Wade opts in, they’d have little to no wiggle room to operate, especially if Rondo’s option is picked up.

With a team that desperately needs shooting and athleticism, you’re basically committing to an aging core and wasting Butler’s prime years.

Moves that Butler and Wade would most likely be in favor of are bringing in Wade’s good friend, Anthony, through a trade.

It would again be a case of the Bulls acquiring a star who spurned them before, but with Anthony’s scoring ability, he would be able to take pressure off Butler and Wade while also playing with a natural Point Guard in Rondo.

It would be a fluid situation in order to make it work, and most likely a third team would have to get involved. Another possibility because of Wade’s direct line to him would be to target Chris Paul, however, with Paxson expressing strong interest in bringing Rondo back and Paul unlikely to turn down a new $205M deal, that possibility is an extreme longshot at best.

What we do know is this: the Bulls are the epitome of a “middle of the road” team:

  • A .500 team with aging veterans and young, unproven talent. Not bad enough to be in the lottery but not good enough to contend for a championship.

After the presser, fans were left with more questions than answers and are still in the dark when it comes to the direction of the franchise.

The organization owes it to its fans to pick a lane: either blow it up or go all the way with it in terms of a retool.

If they continue to go the same directionless route, they will forever be stuck in mediocrity and interest around the city of Chicago will continue to wane.


The 2016-17 Chicago Bulls: First Half Edition

By Steven Johnson

Twitter: @SteveJohnson_12

Contributor for @ChiBullsLife

The All-Star Break is finally here for Bulls fans. At 28-29, they are going into their vacation with a 2-game playoff lead as the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. They are also one game back of the 6th seed. The Bulls enter the break with some much needed momentum. They knocked off two elite East teams in Toronto & Boston, consecutively. Huge confidence boosters considering they could be previews of a first round playoff match-up should the Bulls hold on.

How did we get to this point? It is time for a Bulls mid season review.

After a promising start to the season, the Bulls were living up to the task of being “Must-See TV.” An 11-7 start culminated with a signature win over the defending NBA Champion Cavaliers. Jimmy Butler continued his ascent to NBA stardom. Dwyane Wade endeared himself back to the city of Chicago & embraced the role of locker room leader, mentor & NBA Champion. Rajon Rondo, who dubbed the trio “The Three Alphas” before the season, was on his best behavior.

Everything was going well in the land of the Chicago Bulls.

As the season went on, however, the predicted… and expected flaws of the team were put on full display. The lack of 3-point shooting, athleticism & a strong personality at the head coaching position reared its ugly head.

The downfall began with the Bulls blowing a 21-point lead at home versus the Timberwolves & former Head Coach: Tom Thibodeau. What followed were embarrassing showings versus the “younger & more athletic” Bucks, bad losses to the rebuilding Mavericks, Suns & believe it or not, the even more dysfunctional New York Knicks.

However, in which has continued to be a “Bulls trend,” there were the trademark “good” wins versus the likes of the Spurs, Grizzlies & a comeback, OT victory vs the Raptors.

But the eyes of the NBA world, media & fans alike were focused solely on the Bulls after the January 25 game vs the Hawks. The pesky team from Atlanta, a thorn in the Bulls side over the last few seasons, got another big win in Chicago. However, it was how they got the win & what happened as a result of it that became the story.

The Bulls, looking to finally get that elusive ‘W’ vs Atlanta, put forth a 45-minute effort. With Chicago leading by 10 with 3:02 remaining in the game, three consecutive 3-pointers by Atlanta started a game-winning run. The Bulls collapsed completely down the stretch & their star players, Wade & Butler, had finally had enough.

Wade took the roster, specifically the younger players, to task.

“I’m 35 years old, man. I have three championships,” Wade said. “It shouldn’t hurt me more than it hurts them. They have to want it.”

To openly call out the passion & work ethic of the team was a sharp contrast to the “adult in the room” role Wade was playing. Here was a future Hall-of-Famer & three-time NBA Champion calling out his teammates after another horrible loss. Wade put the team, organization & city on notice: he did not come here just for a payday… he was here to build towards a goal and bring the franchise back to respectability.

The loss got to Wade deep enough to the point where he called out his teammates through the media. Not everyone could predict the trickle-down effect Wade’s comments would have.

Almost immediately following Wade’s tirade, Butler added gasoline to the fire.

“If you’re not mad after you lose every game, something’s wrong,” Butler said. “This is your job. This is supposed to be what you love to do. Not everybody looks at it this way. I want to play with guys who care and play hard and want to do well for this organization, that want to win games.”

A message, very loud & clear, was sent by the two best players on the team. It was not only a message to the players in the locker room, but also the coaching staff & members of the front office. The message was simple from Wade & Butler: players have to prepare for every game like it is their last, and also have to be ready to play when called upon.

How would the young guys in the Bulls locker room respond? Well, it turned out that they did not need to.

Rondo, who had already been suspended & benched during the season, took it upon himself to stand up for the young guys. In the now infamous post on Instagram, the former All-Star & NBA Champion took some not so subtle shots at Wade & Butler.

“My vets would never go to the media. They would come to the team. My vets didn’t pick and choose when they wanted to bring it.” Rondo continued, “When we lost, they wouldn’t blame us. They took responsibility and got in the gym. They showed the young guys what it meant to work.”

And there it was… the Chicago Bulls were officially in shambles. A laughingstock around the city of Chicago & the NBA, it was rock bottom for the organization, who came into this season thinking they were able to avoid the reset button.When the Bulls brought in Wade & Rondo, it was sold to the fan base that the roster revamp was merely a “retool.”

Surround the rising star & franchise centerpiece, Butler, with veterans who have won it all. With accomplished players like Wade & Rondo added to the roster alongside strong veterans in Taj Gibson & Robin Lopez, the younger players (Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis & Denzel Valentine), were all expected to take the next step.

All of a sudden, those same young players were the basis of an outburst by the two best players. Rondo, considered to be an upgrade at the point guard position, caused more friction with one post on social media than the recently departed Derrick Rose ever did. The fans’ interest turned to indifference & they became angry and embarrassed.

The fallout of the dysfunction was left to the players & their Head Coach to address. General Manager, Gar Forman, also spoke on the situation. Team meetings, listless losses & the up & down season continued. The Bulls were now what they tried to avoid being before the season: irrelevant.

The trade talk around Butler was constant, reported discussions of Rondo not even being on the team for a playoff run took place, Wade not committing to opting in for next season & the regression of key young players continued. This was a mess & there was no solution to fix it in sight.

The Bulls continued to tease its fan base, getting back to .500 twice after the dysfunction. But a listless 2-4 “Ice Trip” culminated with another embarrassing loss to Thibs & Co. in Minnesota. The biggest story, however, was that Gar Forman & John Paxson would reportedly return next season. Whether the Bulls continue the “retool,” or finally decide to push reset will again be left up to “GarPax.”

The only thing for sure about the Bulls, to quote professional wrestling legend Sting, “is nothing’s for sure.”

You do not know what you are going to get from the team on a nightly basis. You do not know if they will be active before or at the trade deadline. As the deadline approaches, what will or won’t the Bulls do when it comes to their roster now?

You do not even know if the fans will ever take it upon themselves to disconnect from the franchise, which would be a strong message to the organization. Nothing is for sure for the Chicago Bulls indeed.

Here is what we do know: if the season ended today, the Bulls would be a playoff team in a weak Eastern Conference. They would match up with those same Boston Celtics in a rematch of one of the greatest NBA Playoff series ever. They would return to the postseason after a one season absence.

Jimmy Butler would be able to show just how improved he is on the playoff stage. Dwyane Wade would become “Flash” in the playoffs yet again… that is why he is here according to him… to bring them back to respectability.

In the grand scheme of things, the Bulls season would then become a success predicated on those factors. The team was still able to sell tickets, build a relevant playoff team & also showcase a roster that already had its young two-way star in place in Jimmy Butler, alongside one of the most powerful voices in the NBA: Dwyane Wade.

Financial flexibility going forward, a team with a core of young players and two star pieces, were able to will this team into the postseason. How would that sound to potential free agency targets like Blake Griffin or Wade’s good friend: Chris Paul?

Or if the free agency route does not work (historically, it has not), how about pursuing trades and having Butler & Wade play the role of recruiter? They could pick up the phone to place calls to DeMarcus Cousins or Carmelo Anthony. “GarPax” could even revisit reported trade talks about another hometown product.

If the Bulls can hold on for a playoff spot, this is exactly what the thinking will be. The prospects of pairing Butler & Wade with a Blake Griffin, a Chris Paul, a Carmelo Anthony, a DeMarcus Cousins and others will be endless. While the thoughts are certainly more realistic because of Butler & Wade’s relationships with several players, it ultimately rests on the shoulders of the front office to get the moves done.

Can the fans and the city of Chicago really count on this Bulls team turning it around? A brand, who was blessed enough to have the greatest athlete of all-time, don their jersey for nearly 15 years & also elevate the team and game to new heights. When people think of the NBA: the Chicago Bulls are definitely a part of the thought process.

The city of Chicago wants their basketball team to be good. Fans still wear their Bulls gear proudly around the city, even though this currently has the makings of another lost season. People want the Bulls to be great again. It is better for the league, the city and the product.

In an era where their arena mates, the Chicago Blackhawks, climbed out of obscurity to become the flagship franchise & a true dynasty in the NHL, we have seen it can be done. In an era where the Chicago Cubs ended 108 years of futility and won the World Series, we have seen it can be done.

However, again, the future of the Chicago Bulls is the same as it has been for the last two seasons: “nothing’s for sure.” As a fan base, they just have to wait and see what happens next.