Bulls Aside, Outlook Is Grim for Chicago Teams

Rip Hamilton should be a nice addition, but at 33 he’s a minor player in the drama that has surrounded the next destination for Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and other luminaries. Tyson Chandler (Dallas to New York) and Shane Battier (Memphis to Miami) have moved along unencumbered, but the league preferred the Clippers to the Lakers as Paul’s new home once he left the league-owned New Orleans Hornets.

It turns out David Stern is retroactively upset over LeBron James and Chris Bosh’s conspiring to join Dwyane Wade in Miami last year. He’s concerned that a continuing migration of big names to glamour teams will further erode a delicate balance between have and have-not franchises that was supposed to be addressed in the new labor agreement.

Despite the presence of the most valuable player, Derrick Rose, the proud legacy of M.J. and a filled-to-bursting building in the nation’s No. 3 media market, the Bulls are missing from Howard’s “A” list of glamour teams. The New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets made the cut. If that rating is indicative of Howard’s sensibilities, do the Bulls really want him?

Much has transpired with other Chicago pro teams since the Bulls’ last took the floor in May for a cuffing from the Heat that ended an overachieving season in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference playoff finals. The have changed managers, the Cubs have changed their management structure, the Bears have changed quarterbacks and the Blackhawks continue to change their supporting cast — only eight players remain from the Stanley Cup-winning roster of 2009-10, a 62-percent turnover rate in less than two years.

The N.H.L.’s unforgiving salary cap forced the Hawks to jettison their Cup-winning depth, but as long as the Jonathan Toews/Patrick Kane-centered core remains, they have the look of a title contender. Time will tell if the Bulls can build on last season and make a similar claim once the ball goes up in earnest on Christmas, but it’s nuclear winter in other sporting corners of the city.

The White Sox’s status is the most puzzling. General Manager Ken Williams emerged the clear winner of an enervating and distracting battle of wills with Ozzie Guillen, and then asserted his power with a managerial hire that only he seemed to understand — Robin Ventura?

As beloved as Mark Buehrle was here, no one on the South Side should blame Williams for the classy lefty’s departure — the $58 million Miami gave Buehrle is $2 million more than he cost the Sox four years ago, when he was 28 and at the top of his game. Profligate spending is still part of the culture in baseball.

Williams knows it. The overpriced Adam Dunn/Jake Peavy/Alex Rios contracts left him too short for a meaningful Buehrle negotiation. So the Sox are back to living within their means.

Dwindling means? Williams is probably being honest in tamping down expectations for 2012 by acknowledging a need to rebuild, but his candor isn’t going to help ticket sales — Sox fans take a rather perverse pride in staying away from the ballpark unless the team is in serious contention.

And the timing is curious when the Cubs have generated a loud and persistent buzz with a brainy upgrade to their front office. Theo Epstein’s reputation buys him some time, and the N.L. Central is suddenly less imposing with Albert Pujols leaving, Prince Fielder likely to follow and Ryan Braun on temporary hiatus.

That said, adding Ian Stewart and David DeJesus won’t get the Cubs out of fifth place, but the roster moves have just begun. Even if the overhaul is more gradual than dramatic, the Cubs’ technocrats have the track record to reverse a commonly held perception that the front office is out to lunch.

The White Sox? Who knows. Best case: Dunn and Rios bounce back, Gordon Beckham rediscovers himself and they make a surprise run. Worst case: They don’t and Buehrle is their Jay Cutler, his departure engendering a Bears-like collapse. Who saw that coming?

Truth be told, the Bears can’t match the mighty Packers this season, even with Cutler on the field, but off he goes and they become the hapless, Manning-less Indy Colts. The drug bust of the backup receiver Sam Hurd is another bizarre twist in what has become a forgettable season.

 A four-star defense was supposed to keep the Bears competitive, and it pretty much has. But those four stars — Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman — have all passed 30, and the Not For Long reality of the N.F.L. will eventually claim them. The ominous thud that accompanied Cutler’s departure may well have been the sound of a window closing.

Which brings us back to the Bulls. Rose is the city’s No. 1 star, and he has no doubt added another wrinkle to his game, as the great ones do. Taj Gibson and Luol Deng elevated their play under Tom Thibodeau, and there’s less of Carlos Boozer to complain about — the land-based power forward has shed 20 pounds in an effort to increase his mobility.

But the road to the N.B.A. Finals still travels through Miami. I’m not sure the Bulls have packed enough for the trip.


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