You need to walk before you can run away with a title.
Chicago has three losing sports franchises that are trying to make forward progress. That would be the Bears, the Bulls and the White Sox. The wild success of the once-lowly Cubs has fans of those three teams thinking big thoughts. If the Cubs can go from rock bottom to the top of the mountain, why shouldn’t those fans look ahead to the opening of a championship window?
Because a lot has to go right before that’s even a possibility.
Because you have to walk before you can run.
Some people will feel the need to utter, “Because it’s a process,’’ the cliché of the moment. Those people will be summarily executed.
Let’s think smaller and with some restraint. Let’s look at the three teams and see which one will have a .500 season first. Some of you will see the bar as set too low. You’ll think it goes against Daniel Burnham’s “Make no little plans’’ creed for planning cities.
What do you say we celebrate one day of sobriety, Chicago sports fans?
The Bears were 5-11 (.313) last season, the Bulls were 27-55 (.329) and the Sox were 24-42 (.364) after their 3-2 victory Wednesday night against the Indians. It’s a long way to the top for all of them. We’re not including the Blackhawks (33-39-10 last season) because no team that has Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford belongs in this discussion.
Let’s see who sets camp at .500 first. Let’s see who says hello to respectability the quickest.
We’ve lumped them in with the Sox and the Bulls in the rebuilding category, but they don’t seem to have consciously tanked like the other two teams have. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2010 because of bad management, bad coaching and bad decision-making.
But now they have a dynamic new coach, Matt Nagy, and the word that has accompanied every workout and press conference is “energy.’’ If Nagy’s energy can catch passes and rush the quarterback, great. Otherwise, this is going to be up to the players and their abilities.
Much of it is going to be up to one player, quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Some of us think he’s going to be good, but that seems to be based more on a feeling than anything else. He had his ups and downs last season, and he played in a terribly limited offense that did not allow him to grow as much as he should have his rookie year. There’s hope with Trubisky. But none of this points definitively to his being successful.
We’ve seen teams go from losers to winners quickly in the NFL. It seems much more doable in pro football than in other leagues. So the Bears have that going for them, along with a good defense. Just about everything else is a question mark.
Will they be the first to finish .500? No. Too many ifs here.
OK, but when? 2019.
The White Sox
It was a shocker when the Bears traded up in the 2017 draft to take Trubisky with the second overall pick. Many commentators thought he was a reach at that spot, though he changed more than a few minds with some decent performances last season.
The White Sox’ farm system is loaded with players who were more lauded than Trubisky was. The Sox went all in on their rebuild, trading pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, and receiving Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, among others, in return. That’s a lot of young talent, and there’s more where that came from.
We’re dealing with sheer numbers here. Some of the young players will succeed. There’s an outside chance gobs will succeed. That so many of the Cubs’ trade and draft decisions paid off was truly remarkable. Lots of rebuilding teams and their fans have gotten the idea that the Cubs’ high success rate on prospects is the norm. It isn’t. Kris Bryant was great his rookie season and has never stopped being great. Kyle Schwarber was a big contributor early. And the Cubs used a top prospect, Gleyber Torres, to get closer Aroldis Chapman and win a World Series.
Moncada has hit .231 in his short time in the majors. Kopech is 2-4 with a 4.70 earned-run average at Triple A Charlotte. Success usually takes time.
Will the Sox be the first to finish .500? No. Still too many holes to fill.
OK, but when? 2020.
Even though they were tanking last season, the Bulls had young, talented players who were getting minutes and experience. If you’re going to stink, this is the way to do it.
The Bulls were heavily criticized for trading Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves in exchange for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the draft pick that became Lauri Markkanen. You don’t hear a peep now, do you? That’s not to say this is a championship in the making. But you can see something here, especially with Markkanen, who is 7-foot, can shoot three-pointers and wants to be great.
He’s already good, and you can’t say that conclusively yet about any of the young Bears or Sox.
It’s still a crapshoot whether the Bulls will get a good player with the seventh overall pick in the June 21 draft. That will take vision from the people in charge. Corrective eyewear, anyone? But if they hit on the draft pick and add a decent free agent or two, they’ve got something.
Will the Bulls be the first to .500? Yes.
When: Next season.
Then you can start dreaming a little bigger. Then your walk can turn into a run.
Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.