******The Chicago Cubs found the pitching help they were looking for just a few miles from Wrigley Field. They hope it will give the scuffling team the kick it needs.

The defending World Series champions acquired left-handed ace Jose Quintana from the White Sox on Thursday in a major trade between crosstown rivals that could shake up the NL Central race.

By landing the 2016 All-Star, the Cubs made it clear they’re not giving up on a difficult season after arriving at the break two games under .500. They also added a pitcher who figures to be a key piece in the rotation for at least the next few years.

“We had a bad first half,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “We did. We own that. We know we can do better.”

The Cubs trail Milwaukee by 5 1/2 games in the division at 43-45 after ending a 108-year championship drought last fall. They believe they are set up to contend for years to come with stars such as Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

By trading for Quintana, they brought in an elite starter who is under club control through 2020. They had to give up two top prospects in outfielder Eloy Jimenez and right-handed pitcher Dylan Cease along with minor league infielders Matt Rose and Bryant Flete.

Quintana has pitched better lately after a slow start and is 4-8 with a 4.49 ERA in 18 starts this season. He won a career-high 13 games last season with a personal-best 3.20 ERA while making his first All-Star team and is 50-54 with a 3.51 ERA since debuting with the White Sox in 2012. White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said letting him go was a difficult choice for the rebuilding team.

 

******Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was asked Thursday if he’s ready for the regular season opener against perennial power Alabama on Sept. 2 at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

“I scheduled it, so I better be ready for it,” the fast-talking Fisher said with a laugh.

While he wouldn’t want to do it every year, Fisher said it’s a great way to kickoff the college season and believes the game will be a measuring stick for his team. The Seminoles, like Alabama, enter the season with realistic national championship aspirations.

“That is what college football is all about,” Fisher said at ACC media days in Charlotte. “You get to walk into that atmosphere, that environment. You are talking about the two winningest teams in college football over the last seven years. That is great for our league and for college football.”

 

******Hugh Freeze clearly wanted to talk about football, so he did.

Freeze delivered a 16-minute opening statement about his Mississippi team while pointing out he couldn’t talk specifics about a long-running NCAA investigation. Predictably all but two of the nine questions he fielded from the podium after that dealt in some fashion with the off-the-field issues facing his program.

That came as no surprise, of course.

“I mean, we obviously have created it in and around our program,” Freeze said Thursday at Southeastern Conference media days. “The length of it, we can sit here and debate all of that. But you can’t. We’ve got to be responsible for the areas which we were deficient in, that we didn’t either react or act properly, or whether it was staff or whether it was boosters.

“So we have to own that. And me being in the position I am, I’ve got to stand and look people in the eyes and take that.”

Freeze was the last of the 14 SEC coaches speaking at media days. South Carolina’s Will Muschamp and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn also had their turns before reporters Thursday morning, though the questions from reporters were decidedly different.

Freeze, in his sixth year at Ole Miss, didn’t give much insight into the NCAA investigation. He also said he couldn’t comment on a lawsuit filed Wednesday by ex-Mississippi coach Houston Nutt against the university and its athletics foundation that alleges a breach of his severance agreement because of false statements he says school officials made during the probe.

The Rebels are facing 21 allegations that include academic, booster and recruiting misconduct and have already self-imposed several sanctions, including a one-year postseason ban.

Freeze said he has had the “unwavering” support of the Ole Miss administration.

The Rebels are coming off the first losing season of his five-year tenure and must replace six starters on offense and five on defense.

For Muschamp and Malzahn, both can point to the past as reason for optimism.

Malzahn compares this to his first Auburn team, which won the 2013 SEC championship after opening amid modest expectations with a transfer quarterback. Then the new QB was Nick Marshall from the junior college ranks. Now, it’s transfer Jarrett Stidham who’s the presumed front-runner for the starting job.

 

****** The New York Knicks and Houston Rockets are still trying to work out a deal involving Carmelo Anthony, though it may take some time – if it happens.

The teams continue to talk about a trade but no deal is imminent, said a person familiar with the situation. The person said Anthony has told the Knicks he would accept a move to the Rockets but the teams are still trying to find a trade that works for both sides. The person spoke to The Associated Press Thursday on condition of anonymity because the talks between the teams remain private.

Anthony has a no-trade clause and would have to agree to any deal. He has told the Knicks he would waive it to go to Houston or Cleveland.

The Knicks have been trying to trade the All-Star forward but finding a deal is difficult. Anthony is 33 and still has two years and $54 million remaining on his contract, and teams have been hesitant to engage New York on talks knowing Anthony could block a deal.

He had long maintained he wanted to remain in New York, but Houston became attractive to him after acquiring his close friend Chris Paul from the Clippers in a trade. The Rockets are scheduled to introduce Paul at a press conference Friday.

ESPN reported that the teams have expanded talks to include a third or even a fourth team. The Knicks are looking to rebuild around young players and aren’t interested in taking back long-term contracts such as Ryan Anderson’s, who has more money and years left on his deal than Anthony.

A trade would reunite Anthony with Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, who re-signed as Knicks coach in March 2012 in part over his frustration with Anthony’s unwillingness to embrace his offense. But the Rockets have two elite distributors in Paul and James Harden, who led the league in assists, and Anthony can possibly settle into the spot-up shooter role he’s played in the Olympics, where he’s won a record three gold medals and is the career scoring leader for the U.S. men.

 

******A person with knowledge of the details says the New York Knicks have promoted Steve Mills to president and hired Scott Perry as general manager.

Mills takes over the position left vacant by Phil Jackson’s departure last month, the person told The Associated Press on Thursday. The person was granted anonymity because no announcement had been made.

Perry was the executive vice president of operations for the Sacramento Kings and previously held front-office roles for other organizations.

Mills returns to the role he held briefly before Jackson was hired in March 2014 and Mills was made his general manager.

 

******Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona rejoined his team Thursday for an extended stay in Northern California, one week after undergoing a minor procedure for an irregular heartbeat.

Wearing his familiar uniform, Francona smiled and laughed as he talked about his health while the Indians held an evening workout at the Oakland Coliseum. Cleveland begins a three-game series against the Athletics on Friday.

“Better, better,” Francona said. “A little tired, but that’ll come.”

The 58-year-old Francona was supposed to manage the American League during Tuesday’s All-Star Game but opted out after undergoing a cardiac ablation procedure at the Cleveland Clinic on July 6.

Francona had been hospitalized for dizziness, fatigue and a rapid heart rate before the procedure. The Indians skipper had also missed two games and was hospitalized twice in June for similar conditions.

 

******Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona rejoined his team Thursday for an extended stay in Northern California, one week after undergoing a minor procedure for an irregular heartbeat.

Wearing his familiar uniform, Francona smiled and laughed as he talked about his health while the Indians held an evening workout at the Oakland Coliseum. Cleveland begins a three-game series against the Athletics on Friday.

“Better, better,” Francona said. “A little tired, but that’ll come.”

The 58-year-old Francona was supposed to manage the American League during Tuesday’s All-Star Game but opted out after undergoing a cardiac ablation procedure at the Cleveland Clinic on July 6.

Francona had been hospitalized for dizziness, fatigue and a rapid heart rate before the procedure. The Indians skipper had also missed two games and was hospitalized twice in June for similar conditions.

 

******Garbine Muguruza will get another shot at the Wimbledon title.

The 14th-seeded Spaniard advanced to the final at the All England Club by beating Magdalena Rybarikova 6-1, 6-1 Thursday on Centre Court.

Muguruza reached the Wimbledon final in 2015, but lost to Serena Williams. She will get a second chance at the title on Saturday against either five-time champion Venus Williams or Johanna Konta.

“I lost two years ago,” Muguruza said, “so I really look forward (to) this one to try to change that.”

Muguruza won the first five games of the first set, facing only one break point and saving it. The 2016 French Open champion then broke Rybarikova twice to open the second set and take a 4-0 lead.

Muguruza, who is coached by 1994 Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez, is now 3-0 in Grand Slam semifinal matches.

“I think she’s helping me to deal with the stress of the tournament, because it’s a long tournament,” Muguruza said. “So she just knows how to prepare, how to train, what to do.”

Rybarikova was playing in a major semifinal for the first time. At No. 87, she was the fourth lowest-ranked player in history to reach the Wimbledon semifinals.

But the unseeded Slovak entered Thursday’s match with an 18-1 record on grass this season, including a run to the semifinals in Nottingham. She also won two lower-level events.

“I was a little bit nervous, a little bit tired also in my legs,” Rybarikova said. “So I just have to be more relaxed maybe next time, if I would ever be again in semifinal, or to have such matches. I just have to be more relaxed and (have) more belief in myself.”

The 23-year-old Muguruza, who is playing at Wimbledon for the fifth time, has dropped the least amount of games at this year’s tournament, losing only 39 so far.

 

*****The two leading daily fantasy sports companies DraftKings and FanDuel have scrapped their proposed merger about a month after federal regulators sued to block it.

The two companies said Thursday they were moving forward separately in the best interests of their customers, employees, and investors. Neither directly addressed the federal government’s concerns with the deal.

FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles said in his statement that his company still believes the deal would have increased investment and product development, benefiting consumers and the broader industry.

But DraftKings CEO Jason Robins in a separate statement touted his company’s rapid growth, a possible signal that the once-bitter rivalry between the two companies has resumed.

“We have a growing customer base of nearly 8 million, our revenue is growing over 30 percent year-over-year, and we are only just beginning to take our product overseas,” he said.

The Federal Trade Commission – along with the attorneys general of California and the District of Columbia – opposed the merger last month because they said it would create a company controlling more than 90 percent of the U.S. market for paid daily fantasy sports.

An FTC spokeswoman didn’t immediately comment Thursday. The companies and the FTC agreed late last month to temporarily halt the merger, pending an administrative trial scheduled for Nov. 21.

The online contests challenge players to build rosters of real-life athletes in order to vie for cash and other prizes based on how those athletes do in actual games. The games grew in large part from a 2006 federal law that banned online gambling but created a specific niche for fantasy sports.

 

******Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr. is considering selling the NHL team.

Hurricanes spokesman Mike Sundheim said in a statement that Karmanos is deciding whether to accept an offer for the franchise or remain the owner, but he declined to say who made the offer.

The offer could have come from former Texas Rangers CEO Chuck Greenberg. Bloomberg News and WRAL-TV, the NBC affiliate in Raleigh, reported that Greenberg is close to purchasing the team and will not move the Hurricanes. Bloomberg reported the sale price at roughly $500 million.

Karmanos bought the Hartford Whalers franchise in 1994 and moved it to North Carolina three years later. He had been publicly seeking a local buyer for at least three years.

Greenberg is the Rangers’ former managing partner who spent seven months as their CEO before leaving in 2011. He also owns several minor-league baseball teams, including one in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Greenberg did not return a phone call and a text message seeking comment. Seven of the team’s 12 publicly identified minority investors contacted by The Associated Press either declined comment or did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.

Reports about possible relocation have plagued the Hurricanes even as team officials and even Commissioner Gary Bettman have persistently and repeatedly denied them. Bettman said at the All-Star game in January that “the club is not moving” and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly echoed that sentiment by saying the league is committed to Raleigh in the same manner it has stuck with Phoenix during years of struggles for the Coyotes.

 

******The Tampa Bay Rays have placed injured outfielder Colby Rasmus on the restricted list after the player’s decision to `step away from baseball.’

The team did not provide specifics Thursday, instead saying in a brief statement that the club fully supports the player deciding to leave.

The statement concluded: “We are thankful for his contributions to our team, and we wish him and his family the best as they move forward. Respecting the privacy of Colby and his family, the Rays will have no further comment.”

Rasmus, who signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent last winter, had been on the 10-day disabled list since June 23 with left hip tendinitis.

He was limited by injuries to appearing in 37 games this season, but was batting .281 with nine homers and 23 RBIs in 121 at-bats.

 

******Ajax midfielder Abdelhak Nouri has been diagnosed with severe and permanent brain damage, five days after he collapsed due to an irregular heartbeat during a friendly game in Austria.

Dutch club Ajax said Thursday on Twitter that it “received very bad news” regarding Nouri’s condition, after doctors at a hospital in Innsbruck, Austria woke the player from an induced coma.

The club added that “recovery chances of these crucial brain functions are nil.”

Nouri is expected to return soon to the Netherlands for further treatment at a hospital in Amsterdam.

The diagnosis came two days after tests indicated that Nouri’s heart was undamaged while a CT scan of his brain and initial neurological tests showed no irregularities either. Doctors were “cautiously optimistic about his recovery,” Ajax said at that time.

The 20-year-old Dutchman collapsed and was taken to hospital by helicopter with Ajax trailing Werder Bremen 2-1 in Saturday’s preseason friendly. The game in Zillertal in the Austrian Alps was abandoned after the 70th-minute incident.

“This is the worst possible message. It’s terrible,” Ajax director Edwin van der Sar said. “It’s been a real shock to Ajax even though we knew this was a possible scenario.”

Nouri made his debut for Ajax in September 2016 and played 15 games. He was part of the squad for the Europa League final in Stockholm in May when Ajax lost 2-0 to Manchester United, but did not play. He also remained part of the club’s youth team in the Dutch second division, where he was voted best player of last season after scoring 10 goals in 26 matches.