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Monday, February 8, 2010
Looking forward


Crystal ball time. One year from now, the Chicago Bears will have a new head coach and GM. The Chicago Cubs will have a new manager. And the Chicago Bulls will have a new coach, at least one new star player, and will be no worse than third in the Eastern Conference. We have plenty of time later this year to get to Bears and Cubs, so let's focus in on the Bulls.

We're just over a week away from the trade deadline and it's time for John Paxson/Gar Forman to take a big step toward the summer free agent pot of gold. Now is the time to get the house in order. Tyrus Thomas, don't get too comfortable now that your suspension is over. The Bulls soured on you long ago, and there's no doubt you'll be dealt somewhere. Thomas never grew up and never realized that running the floor, rebounding, and playing fundamental defense would've made him a double/double machine.

Instead, Thomas continues to think he's Dominque Wilkins. Maybe he's Cedric Benson in high tops. Maybe he'll realize that not everyone is out to get him and use his gifts to blossom elsewhere. The funny part is, Thomas is a hard worker -- at least when it comes to his jump shot. Full disclosure, I wanted Thomas on draft day years ago. In hindsight, which was the worst Bulls draft night move: Elton Brand to the Los Angeles Clippers for Tyson Chandler or LaMarcus Aldridge to the Portland Trailblazers for Thomas and Victor Khryapa?

The Bulls next move must be either trading John Salmons or Luol Deng. Salmons' player option for next year is a salary cap killer if Deng is still on the roster. If you can find a taker the soft Deng, Salmons can fill his role at small forward. I wouldn't mind seeing Kirk Hinrich go either. Sure, he's played better but, he's overpaid and not great at any one thing. Don't tell me he's a great defender. He's undersized and commits too many dumb fouls. Yes, he tries hard, but the "Hinrich is a great defender" argument is one of the biggest myths in Chicago sports. Hinrich's shooting ability has been the biggest disappointment. While never great, my confidence in him from the outside is at an all-time low.

With a core of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and either Deng/Salmons, I believe more than ever that the Bulls will land one and possibly two of the following -- Dwyane Wade, Lebron James, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, or Carlos Boozer. This will be desirable landing spot.

Believe it or not, these next ten days are the most important days of the Bulls season. Accomplishments now will have a bigger impact than any playoff series this year. As Bulls fans, we've watched other teams make the big splash over the last several years, and Paxson & Co. usually have an excuse as to why the Bulls stood pat. No more excuses. Get the house in order.

-- Is this football's version of the Lincoln/Kennedy coincidence? In 2007 in Miami, it was the fourth quarte and the Bears were down five points. Rex Grossman threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Kelvin Hayden. Then 2010 in Miami -- fourth quarter with the Colts down seven points. Peyton Manning throws an interception that's returned for a touchdown by Tracy Porter. Grossman, playing for a Chicago team, was intercepted by a player who attended Illinois. Manning, playing for an Indianapolis team, was intercepted by a player who attended Indiana. Grossman was No. 8. Manning No. 18! I have no clue if either have secretaries. And oh yeah, Manning is one of the greatest to ever play quarterback. Grossman was ... well, Grossman.

-- Dwight Freeney with a torn ligament is still better than any healthy Bears defensive lineman.

-- Sean Payton needed a defensive coordinator and got the best available last offseason, outbidding the Green Bay Packers. I'd say the $250,000 was money well spent after the Saints defense made game changing plays against future Hall of Famers Kurt Warner, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning. The Bears needed a defensive coordinator and played another round of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" No, Lovie didn't reach into his pocket, at least not for money. He simply did what he does best, phone a friend. I was never under the illusion that the Bears would think outside the box and hire someone who would bring a fresh approach. This is Lovie's way -- he even got to hire his son as an assistant coach. But by making Rod Marinelli a first time defensive playcaller, you take him away from what he does best -- coach the defensive line. This all reminds me of the Devin Hester experiment. Take the best kick/punt returner away and make him an average receiver. The Bears aren't "the best" in many areas. They were with Hester, and they ruined him. They had one of the best defensive line coaches, and will now have him call plays for an average defense. So Lovie. So Bears.

-- The Super Bowl was the highest rated show ever with more than 106 million viewers. Championship weekend also set numerous marks. So why do we keep reading about a work stoppage in 2011? NFL football is king. So why is everyone acting like jokers? Please tell me the union and owners aren't dumb enough to continue down the road they're traveling.

-- Thanks to Rocky Wirtz for being a willing participant at "Lunch with a Legend." I was surprised to find out that he knew he would succeed his father as Chicago Blackhawks chairman when he was in sixth grade. Wirtz also told us not to expect the team to give a chance to Chris Chelios to retire a Blackhawk. Meantime, I'm not worried about the Hawks mini-slump. They lost the final game of an eight game road trip after traveling from California to North Carolina, then the first home game after the trip, which happens, and then a shootout loss. Every team goes through a slump, this one doesn't have me concerned.

-- I had my first full-fledged UFC experience on Saturday. Couldn't believe the "main event" was Randy Couture vs. Mark Coleman. The MMA people tell me that both are Hall of Famers, (is there an actual UFC Hall of Fame building?) but aren't they a little old to be the feature bout? Both make Brett Favre look young. I'm all for going down memory lane with two former gladiators, but can't you give two guys in their prime a chance?

-- Same night, I met Curtis Granderson after his friends threw the new Yankee a surprise birthday party at Fifty/50. He was with a ton of friends and a handshake would've been enough for me. But Granderson went above and beyond and talked baseball with my friends and me for at least five minutes. Too bad the Cubs couldn't find away to pull off a deal to bring Granderson back home. Granderson, Wade and Donovan McNabb star in my Chicago "good guy club". All-Star athletes from Chicago and all-star people.

-- Prediction...Northwestern and Illinois will be fighting for one of the last NCAA tournament bids. The teams split during the regular season and each have one signature win. Northwestern beat Purdue. Illinois dropped Michigan State last weekend. I believe the Big Ten tournament will be vital for each teams' future. The Wildcats and Illini will also face Wisconsin in Madison where a win would really beef up a resume. Illinois has the better conference record. Both should finish with about 22 wins and place them on the bubble.

-- Don't know if Kevin Millar is good enough to make my favorite baseball team, but he's funny enough to make a great analyst/expert on a major network when he does retire.