After Cubs’ success, Bears, Sox, Bulls are following tanking blueprint
A terrible thing happened when the Cubs tanked for about three, four years, then won the World Series in 2016.
That wondrous Cubs ‘‘plan’’ presented a blueprint for building a pro sports team from ashes to the highest level, while never explaining to watchful fellow organizations that the plan is delicate, devious, needs more good luck than a leprechaun brings and seldom works.
Yes, it worked for Theo Epstein’s Cubs. A miracle. Hallelujah!
Take a bow, Mr. Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and — let’s see — the completely uninjured pitching staff, rent-a-flame-thrower Aroldis Chapman, the huge payroll and all the over-performing kids on the team who had no idea how crazy and pressure-filled their situation was.
But now the Bulls, Bears and White Sox think they’re the Cubs.
The woeful Bears will be presenting us with a roster filled with quick acquisitions, an unproven rookie quarterback who might not play and lots of plug-in-the-gap guys.
The Sox have torn their roster apart because, as general manager Rick Hahn puts it, ‘‘Our focus is on doing something that’s more sustainable than one season.’’
I’ll interpret that for you: We’re tanking.
What that means is: Yeah, we’re going to be lousy for an indeterminate time, but you’ll love the process (even though you won’t come to games) because, hidey-ho, the Cubs did it!
(Note here: I remember when Chris Sale, the best pitcher in the American League and maybe all of baseball, was on the White Sox. Sigh.)
Here’s the next issue for freshly tanking Chicago teams. The Cubs have a fan base that’s more loyal than Patton’s Third Army. A few years ago, you could’ve told them the Cubs were moving to Paris for a while, and Cubs fans would’ve followed them across the ocean like sardines.
Now, of course, Cubs fans are spoiled and want more.
But when the Sox or Bears tank, empty seats and anger result. Then, cynicism.
Which brings us to the Bulls.
They are most assuredly tanking, hoping for a record bad enough to get them into the NBA lottery with lots of Ping-Pong balls or frozen envelopes on their side.
This might go on for a couple of years. Who knows?
“It’s always hard when you’ve had a level of success, and then you’ve got to take a step back and go in a new direction as far as a rebuild is concerned,’’ Bulls general manager Gar Forman said recently.
“Step back,’’ “new direction,’’ “rebuild.’’ Though they could be boy-band names, those words simply mean “tank.’’
With young fellows such as Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn on the squad, plus old man Dwyane Wade — but no Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo or, for that matter, Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson or Bill Cartwright — the Bulls are an identity-free amalgam of who-knows-what.
The good fortune for the Bulls is that, nearly as much as for the Cubs, their followers will come to see the team play through thick and thin. How else can anyone explain the sold-out houses at the United Center when the Bulls featured a 17-65 team in 1999-2000, showcasing the skills of Dickey Simpkins, Will Perdue and, yes, Ron Artest?
You can’t. Except for the still-lingering vapor of Michael Jordan and his band of champions. At times, it still seems UC crowds expect the ghost of MJ to descend from the rafters and lead the charge to victory.
The Bulls will do some more cherry-picking of various free agents and whatnot. Maybe a trade or two. But this team — with possible duds Cameron Payne and Denzel Valentine, plus slender, erratic bookend 7-foot three-point shooters Markkanen and Nikola Mirotic — seems like a ship missing a couple of sails from its masts.
You look at that Summer League stat line that shows Markkanen and Valentine went 2-for-25 from the field and 0-for-18 on threes Monday against the Hawks in Vegas, and you stifle a shudder. The memory of skinny Brad Sellers, who was tall but “plays shorter,’’ as the Bulls put it, haunts your brainpan.
Who knows, maybe even the Cubs will do a “plan’’ redo in a couple of years if all their 2016 success falls apart, as seems possible.
For now, folks, you might want to get a lawn chair, put up an umbrella and sip a drink while you watch destruction and purported reconstruction all around.
Because you sure aren’t going to see much winning.
Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.