Chicago Bulls: Scoop Jackson
1. Do the Bulls really believe they might be able to work out a new deal with Luol Deng this summer?
Nick Friedell: No. There's been no indication that Deng will take a "hometown discount" and there's been no indication the Bulls will give him more money. Bulls general manager Gar Forman has to choose his words carefully because he can't come out and say, "We're trading Deng." That's not how the game works.
Scoop Jackson: Only if they really feel Luol wants to stay here, which I'd be surprised if that's true. I think Luol and Thibs connect with each other in a way that no one else on the team does. And I think they know this and, to a degree, cherish it. Sometimes, regardless of how bad a player wants to or how smart it would be for said player to leave, a player knows how hard it is to be in-sync 100 percent with a coach. And if they have a chance to extend that, they will. So if Forman knows that he and the Bulls have that as leverage, then there is a chance that he will be back in a Bulls uni next season.
Doug Padilla: Clouding that decision is Derrick Rose's status and whether the Bulls believe the former MVP can stay healthy and carry the team. If that answer is no, then don't be surprised to see the Bulls move on when it comes to Deng while also applying the amnesty escape clause to Carlos Boozer. That could free up the cash to find a new team leader on the open market and hope Rose can give them something down the road.
2. How would you assess Tony Snell's play?
Scoop Jackson: Hard to say. Here's a cat who is damn near a pure shooter and only getting 3.5 shots per game. So to me, there's no fair way to assess Snell's play 16 games and four starts in. He's a rookie who has been thrown into the fire because of injuries to two key players. It's baptism by boiling water. I will say that I think we'll see more of the type of game he had against the Cavs than he did the Pelicans as he gets more comfortable with the responsibility thrown on him.
Doug Padilla: After some limited minutes it remains difficult to assess Snell. His shooting ability, combined with his wingspan, suggests that he can be valuable in a number of ways. Coach Tom Thibodeau is reluctant to give rookies much playing time, but he has had to with Snell because of the injury to Jimmy Butler.
3. Will Marquis Teague ever live up to his first-round draft status?
Nick Friedell: Not in Chicago. Once a player lands in Thibodeau's doghouse it's hard for him to get out. Teague has shown flashes of talent, but not enough to warrant a spot in Thibodeau's rotation. He has regressed this season.
Scoop Jackson: Nope. I think he's scarred in much the same way Kwame Brown was scarred, the same way Felipe Lopez was scarred, the same way Thomas Robinson and Austin Rivers are scarred. In that he won't be able to overcome the trauma that Teague experienced once he entered the league. Almost as if it both haunts and stunts him. Even though it is on a much lower level than the aforementioned players, I do think that it's going to be tough for Teague to get over and past his first two years and this (albeit short-lived) demotion to the D-League.
Doug Padilla: At this point, it would be hard to find somebody who believes Teague will eventually turn into first-round talent. He's only on the roster now because of Mike James' injury. Teague clearly lacks confidence in the rare minutes he does get and his smallish size doesn't translate into a player who Thibodeau would rely on much, especially on defense.
1. Will Derrick Rose still be an MVP-caliber player when he returns?
Nick Friedell: I believe he can be. The question is whether he can stay healthy -- and that's the answer nobody knows. Many believe Rose will have to change the way he plays, but as Tom Thibodeau and his teammates have all said, that isn't likely to happen. Their point is that players are who they are. Rose is physically gifted and athletic. He can't change who he is.
Jon Greenberg: Yeah, I don't see any reason why not. Seriously. Rose has suffered two season-ending knee injuries, but these are specific, separate injuries, not a degenerative condition. Unlike, say, Grant Hill, his injuries weren't misdiagnosed, but rather fixed quickly and given the optimal time to recover. After taking the season off to rehab from ACL surgery, Rose came back with the same speed, the same first step. I don't think meniscus surgery will inhibit that unique ability that made him an MVP in the first place. Now, the question is how durable will Rose be for the rest of his career? After an injury-free three seasons, he's missed all but 50 games of the past three. That's not a good trend. I just hope that Rose finds a way to play fearlessly when he comes back.
Scoop Jackson: That's the biggest problem with this whole thing: There is no answer to that question. We don't know. It's beyond the "MVP-caliber player" part of the question that is at the center of it. At this point, realistically, this is about if he'll return, period. We can't forget that this latest injury was his third (neck, hamstring) this season and they were only 11 games in. It's scary because there's so much uncertainty surrounding his ability to stay healthy. It's like re-living Vince Carter ... only worse.
2. How far are the Bulls capable of going this season without Rose?
Friedell: Same as last year. If they get the right matchup they can beat a team in the first round. But their title aspirations are gone.
Greenberg: I'm not saying the Bulls have a low ceiling, but Mike James might want to duck. The Bulls should be able to get into the playoffs on the strength of their team defense, but I'll be shocked if they finish with more than 41 wins. And I definitely don't see them getting another first-round playoff win. That was a fantastic, delightful, inspiring fluke. This is a seven- or eight-seed team that will get worked by Miami or Indiana. That fate might even be an optimistic stretch without adding some short-term scoring help. Last season, the Bulls averaged 92.3 points per game, tied for the worst in the NBA. They are less dynamic this season. Without Rose, the Bulls really have to work to get shots and that's a stress on everyone. You think this team can stay healthy? One or two injuries and this is a legit lottery team, much to the delight of pro-tanking fans.
Jackson: It depends on what your definition of "far" is. The East is so bad that the Bulls can play below-.500 basketball and still get home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Now, are they good enough to get past a team in a first-round matchup? Depends. A team like Charlotte that's just happy to be there could be vulnerable, but a team like the Knicks that has more pressure on them to win than the Bulls will be close to impossible to beat. And it all depends on whether the Bulls decide to stay the course with this team. If they decide to go the "tank" route, then it doesn't matter what the definition of "far" is.
3. Will Marquis Teague take advantage of the increased workload and take the next step in his development?
Friedell: No. Teague has shown no indication that will happen. He has been given some chances by Thibodeau in recent days and shown little improvement from last year. He's still young, but his time to impress is running out.
Greenberg: No. This is just an opinion, but I don't think Teague is very good. Prove me wrong Marquis! Of course, when I say that, I'm comparing him to truly useful players. I'm sure Teague can stick around in the league -- he can get to the rim -- but I'm not sure he's the type of player Thibodeau trusts. A lot was made of Nate Robinson's deficiencies last year (this season, he's missed by fans like a lost love) but Thibodeau lived with them because Nate could score in bunches. While Robinson would jack up ill-advised pull-up threes, he bought into Thibodeau's system, never complained and showed more basketball IQ than he's given credit for. I'm not sure what Teague can do or what he knows, and if Thibodeau doesn't trust him, and there's no evidence he does, we won't see much of Teague. I wouldn't be surprised if the Bulls look for a combo guard in a trade.
Jackson: Yes. But that won't stop the Bulls from going out and trying to find someone to be the backup point guard. Unless Teague looks at this and takes advantage of this as a blessing in disguise, then the Bulls are not going to have the faith in him that he's going to need for them to have in him if he's going to remain on this team. While his workload right now is about to increase, for how long is all up to him.
1. Should the Bulls be concerned about Derrick Rose's low shooting percentage?
Friedell: Yes, they should be concerned, but not overly concerned. Rose is still just about a month into this season. He is still finding his rhythm. The Bulls should be more concerned that he isn't driving to the rim as much as he used to, but that should work itself out in time.
Jackson: Yes. Rose is a volume scorer on a team that has no other player capable of averaging 20 points per game, so him averaging 15 ppg is not going to make it. It’s one thing to have Allen Iverson's shooting percentage, but when you aren’t putting up AI numbers on a team where they look to you on offense to be their “AI,” low shooting percentage is acceptable only -- again, ONLY -- when you are averaging at least 23 points per. Also Rose has to finish. If it were just his jump shot that was off, that would be cool. But he’s not finishing the way he used to and that too is a problem.
Padilla: Anybody’s low shooting percentage should be cause for concern, but in Rose’s case, it still isn’t time to panic. Of course there is nothing pretty about Rose’s 34.4 percent shooting from the field heading into Thursday’s game at Denver, but the six 3-pointers he hit in Saturday’s victory over the Pacers show that his touch hasn’t abandoned him. Shooting is about repetition. Rose has been doing the work during and after practice, now it’s just about doing it consistently in games after missing 18 months of action.
2. What do the Bulls need to get straightened out on their six-game circus trip?
Jackson: Protect leads, close out quarters and find ways of holding teams below 85 points per game on the road. The Bulls are second in the NBA in opponents’ scoring, allowing only 89 ppg. In their three loses, all on the road, they are giving up almost 104 ppg. They need to redirect that and make these next six games almost unwatchable. Un-Must-See TV. Straight ugly. At least in the first four games out West, the Bulls need to show those teams how we ball in the Central and why stopping teams from scoring if you are trying to win a championship is more important than scoring yourself.
Padilla: Currently on a five-game winning streak, the Bulls are more like what they envisioned than it might seem. Monday’s victory over the Bobcats wasn’t pretty, but under new coach Steve Clifford, Charlotte has quickly transformed itself into one of the better defensive teams in the league. Still, there is plenty of room for improvement in the Bulls offense and that figures to come as the team gets more on-court minutes together after an injury-riddled preseason.
3. Omer Asik desperately wants out of Houston. Should the Bulls look into bringing him back?
Friedell: The Bulls would love to have Omer back but with the way the salary cap numbers line up -- and what Houston will want in return -- a deal just doesn't seem plausible right now.
Jackson: No. Only because there is no proof that he’s going to be happy here as the Bulls’ backup center again. Unless there is a plan in place to replace Joakim Noah with Asik. And if that’s the plan, then the Bulls need to toss in the title quest right now for this season and start tanking for first dibs on Jabari Parker, Julius Randle or Andrew Wiggins, Asik does not want to be anyone’s backup. That’s clear. So what is going to make him happy being back here as opposed to doing what he is already doing in Houston? I don’t see it. And I don’t Asik as being the answer.
Padilla: Dropping Asik onto the roster in its current form would improve the talent level, the problem is that the Rockets aren’t going to let him go for a bag of peanuts. It’s doubtful the Bulls would be willing to part with, say, Jimmy Butler to get Asik. Then there is the matter of Asik’s $8.3 million salary pushing the Bulls even further over the salary cap. The biggest issue of all is that it’s far too early to start fiddling with a roster that is among the most talented in the game.
1. How would you assess Jimmy Butler's first six games as the starting shooting guard?
Friedell: Not great. Butler put in a lot of time in the offseason to improve his game, but that work hasn't appeared to pay off as of yet. He is struggling to find his place on the floor. Butler is getting open looks, but he just isn't knocking them down. He just needs to keep playing hard and hope his offensive game comes around.
Jackson: He's not living up to his "Buckets" nickname yet. But singling out Jimmy when everyone else besides Carlos Boozer is playing bad isn't fair. Butler is playing solid D and leading the team in steals. I'd like to see him simply be more aggressive and assertive offensively. Stop overthinking and just ball. Be more selfish. Act like he has a green light to do his thing. Trust his jump shot. Grade? C+. But it's not all Jimmy's fault, and there's a lot of time left for him to find his groove.
Padilla: To put it into one word: passive. When the Bulls were riddled with injuries last season, Butler was asked to step up. He not only showed that he was up for the task, he offered visions of a bright future when his game fully developed. Now, though, the Bulls have more offensive options, namely Derrick Rose running the show from the point guard spot, and Butler has sort of receded into the shadows. It's time to lean on Butler a little harder now, not only to get his own game on track, but to pick up for Luol Deng's shooting struggles and to help take some of the burden from Rose, who has been trying to do too much too soon.
2. Do the Bulls need another shooter? And if so, how do they do it?
Jackson: A: They need another "volume" scorer, not necessarily a shooter. They need someone who can come off of the bench and give them 10-15 points in a short amount of time. Especially when Rose is not in the game. Every time I look at Aaron Brooks on the Houston Rockets, I just shake my head and say, "Damn." That's exactly the type of cat the Bulls need. How do they get him or someone like him? Who cares, because they won't.
Padilla: Let's not go all panic button and start breaking up the roster already. The Bulls have a fine complement of shooters, but it's a trio of issues that are causing the problem in the early going. Deng is clearly not as bad as his 1-of-18 shooting from 3-point range would suggest. He is a career 33 percent shooter from deep, not 6 percent. Butler has also not given what the Bulls expected. The final issue is getting their inside-out game in sync. First Rose was struggling, and now he is ailing with a hamstring issue, so that part of the team's game will take some time.
3. John Paxson says there are no restrictions on Rose, but should the Bulls find some games to rest him throughout the season?
Friedell: Why not? Is it really going to kill the Bulls to sit Rose out of the fourth game in five nights on their upcoming West Coast swing? Even if Rose is feeling OK, why not give him an extra day to rest his body here and there? Paxson's heart is in the right place regarding Rose's status -- they want him to play if he's ready and able -- but they should try to get him some rest when they can. They have to plan the season with a bigger picture in mind.
Jackson: Nope. Rest is not the answer. Rose needs reps. The more he plays, the better he'll be in feeling comfortable in what he does and what he can do. What the Bulls need to do is find a way to not be so dependent on Derrick offensively. He's still the straw that stirs the drink, as well as the cup and the liquid inside. And it's not like they have a Josh McCown as backup if Rose goes down.
Padilla: Absolutely Rose should be targeted for rest at specific points of the schedule, primarily on the second night of back-to-back games. He doesn't have to rest in all of the back-to-backs, but one a month shouldn't be too much to ask. Older players such as Dwyane Wade have already done it this season and the schedule is barely two weeks old. Rose isn't an older player, but surely guys on their way back from knee surgery should be given the same consideration. Rose continues to show the tendency of having his mind ask his body to do more than it can handle. He's not going to change, but a little rest might help in that department.
Our panel weighs in on what we've seen from Rose and how his decision to sit the playoffs last season looks now.
1. What has been encouraging and discouraging about Derrick Rose's play in his first three games?
Nick Friedell: Rose has shown no fear going to the rim, which is very encouraging. But he doesn't look like he has a feel for the game at the moment. He's making mistakes that teammates and coaches aren't used to seeing him make -- especially turnovers late in the fourth quarter Saturday night. Also, after dominating in the preseason with his improved shooting, Rose has missed shots all over the floor and is shooting just 29 percent from the floor.
Doug Padilla: Just the fact that Rose is back on the court is encouraging. We'll get to his struggles, but simply having a recent MVP back from injury, and a young one at that, ultimately makes you a better team. As for discouraging, watching him force himself into another gear with the start of the regular season has been head-scratching. It's hard to use the preseason as an example for anything, but Rose did seem to be playing with less anxiety before games counted. Call his poor start more mental than anything.
2. Do Rose's early struggles validate his decision not to come back in the playoffs last season?
Nick Friedell: Yes. Fans wanted him back, but he didn't want to come back on the floor until he knew he could dominate again. He knew it would take him some time to get back in a rhythm. Many fans will argue that Rose wouldn't be struggling as much now if he had come back last season -- the difference is that Rose wasn't confident enough in his game then. Now he is, even though his shot is off right now.
Deron Williams in one series and with LeBron James guarding him in another? Trust me, coming back during the playoffs wouldn't have changed anything.
Doug Padilla: There are plenty of those out there saying that if Rose would have just come back last season, he could have already knocked off the rust instead of having to go through it another six months later. That's crazy. If Rose wasn't ready to return to the court last season because of mental or physical reasons, what type of player would he have been if he reluctantly took the court? Playing the "What if" game is well within a fan's right, but it creates more pessimism than optimism.
3. What is the biggest reason for the Bulls' struggles through three games?
Nick Friedell: Aside from Rose's struggles, the biggest issue is that the Bulls' offense is not clicking. Aside from the first half against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Bulls have looked bad offensively. Carlos Boozer has been consistent over the first three games, averaging 22.3 points, but he is the only starter who has. Tom Thibodeau believes his team just needs to practice together. The larger issue for the Bulls is the same as it has always been: When Rose doesn't have it going, where will they turn late in games?
Doug Padilla: It's hard to not blame Rose here and what seems to be his conscious decision to force the action to get back into the flow from the outset of the season. It has caused the exact opposite of the desired result, though, and as a result his shooting and playmaking has suffered. It seems odd to say, but the guy in charge of ball distribution is going to have to sit back and let the game come to him. It is one thing that Rose isn't playing well, but his struggles aren't making his teammates better, either.
On the eve of the season opener, our panel weighs in on three key questions facing the Bulls.
1. What are your expectations for Derrick Rose this season?
Nick Friedell: I expect him to play at an MVP level all season long. Rose was upset by all the criticism he received for his decision not to play last season, and he's more motivated than ever to remind people just how good he is. He still has some rust, but there isn't much left. The key for the Bulls will be for Tom Thibodeau to make sure Rose is healthy and ready to roll once the playoffs start.
Scoop Jackson: Same as they were when he stepped on the court after he won the MVP, after being beat by the Heat in the 2011 playoffs. Derrick loves (I'll write that again -- loves! ) to prove wrong those who have doubts when it comes to his ability to ball. It gets obsessive with him. This season will probably be one of those seasons. I expect him to make everyone at ESPN who ranked him at No. 9 on their poll of best players in the league apologize.
Doug Padilla: There is no reason to think Rose won't be exactly what he was in the past, despite now carrying ACL surgery on his resume. That doesn't necessarily mean an MVP season is on the horizon, but Rose should have no issues being the catalyst on a playoff-bound team. Perhaps the only things that would slow his charge are reduced minutes, especially in games that appear well-decided after three quarters, and some nights off on the tail end of back-to-back games. But this is coach Tom Thibodeau we're talking about, so the concept of reduced playing time for any starter is always met with a raised eyebrow.
2. Are Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer playing their final seasons with the Bulls?
Nick Friedell: The safe money has always been on the Bulls amnestying Boozer at the end of the season. While that still seems likely, there's always a chance the Bulls could keep him if they don't feel as though there is a significant upgrade on the free-agent market. Deng is a different story. He didn't get an extension over the summer, and he doesn't appear to want to take a "hometown discount." Unless he does, he won't be back in Chicago. I don't think either player will be back next season, but again, it all depends on who is out there and how much money the Bulls have once the free-agency market opens.
Scoop Jackson: Yes, to both, but for vastly different reasons. Booz because over the course of his career here, he hasn't delivered the way most in the front office and throughout the city expected. And Taj Gibson is probably going to have the type of season that totally reduces Boozer's value. Deng won't be back simply because the Bulls organization (not team) and the media don't appreciate him. Two justified All-Star Game appearances and still non-stop talk/rumors about trading or getting rid of him. If I'm Lu, it's deuces the second that final buzzer of the season sounds.
Doug Padilla: The safest bet is that Deng is playing for a new Bulls contract, while Boozer is on his way out following the season. Despite his size and strength, Boozer doesn't seem to be a self-starter when it comes to the banging and bruising defense Thibodeau likes to play. There are times when Boozer asserts himself, but it doesn't seem to be a first instinct. With Rose back in the fold and Jimmy Butler showing he can be an offensive threat, expect the Bulls to use the Boozer money to find a space-eating defensive stalwart, and maybe even a long-distance shooting threat for the bench as well.
3. Who is a bigger threat to the Heat, the Bulls or Pacers?
Nick Friedell: The Bulls. The Pacers are a solid, deep team, but they do not have a Derrick Rose. I think people have forgotten how good the 25-year-old is -- and can still become. Paul George is getting better, Roy Hibbert is a nice player and Danny Granger may still have some juice in the tank (after he comes back from his calf injury), but none of those guys are Rose, and that's why I think the Bulls pose the biggest challenge to LeBron and the Heat.
Scoop Jackson: With a worse record in the preseason than Cleveland and Detroit, the defenders of the Central Division crown are making last season look like it was a fluke. This time last year, with similar great expectations placed on them, it was the Lakers that were imploding, going without a win in the preseason. People figured that it didn't matter, that once the preseason was over the Lakers would get their act together. We all saw how that turned out. Now the Pacers look as if they could be the 2013-14 version, the Lakers East. Therefore, my answer, for the regular season, is: them Bulls.
Doug Padilla: Since their goals are more trained on NBA championships than winning a division title, the Bulls will remain as the biggest threat. That premise will certainly ring true on opening night Tuesday when the Heat will raise a banner to the rafters before they take on the Bulls. That certainly doesn't mean Indiana will be overlooked, and the evidence of that will come during some intense regular-season matchups with the Pacers this season. Heck, even before the preseason opener against the Pacers, many Bulls players were chatting up the rivalry with their border-state foe.
The norm. What that used to be for Taj Gibson seems not to exist anymore.
The norm. What Gibson used to do and how he used to approach the game are now history.
An unexpected transformation. Sorta.
See, after last year, many here thought Gibson was done. Over. Finished like the end of a film screened at Cannes. He had finally gotten paid, agreeing to a four-year, $33 million extension early last season, negotiated by his flashes of promise on the court. It was a contract befitting of a player whom an organization would look insane if they were to let go. The Bulls had plans for Taj. Big plans.
Then last year happened. Gibson seemed to vanish in games. His play became apathetic on good days. He was close to being placed in one of those "one of those" categories. As in one of those players who gets paid and checks out. His play indicated nothing to the contrary, and those plans the Bulls had for him seemed to be on the verge of being shelved.
But coach Tom Thibodeau had another plan. Just like he seems to have done with Luol Deng when the coach first came here, Derrick Rose to a degree and Jimmy Butler over the last two offseasons, Thibs forced Gibson to trust him.
Trust him with his life, which equates to his career.
Gibson had no choice. He wasn't playing anywhere close to his capabilities. His mind was messing with him. He'd seen what the finished products of "The Church of Thibs" looked like. What other choice did a brotha have?
Back in May, I wrote a piece asking (begging) general manager Gar Forman and Bulls management to keep as much of the current team intact as possible. At the time, I didn't have the preseason or the regular season in mind. All I was thinking about was the defending champion Heat and what it was going to take for the Bulls to (finally) defeat them.
Now that the season is about to begin, here's the on-paper reality: The Bulls will not beat the Heat (in a playoff series) with the team as is.
The reason: No Nate Robinson. And his absence probably will come back to haunt them.
Let's be real. As offseason signings go, re-signing Robinson should not have been that "bigga" deal. With Derrick Rose coming back and Kirk Hinrich healthy and playing as his backup, there was no need for Forman & Co. to overpay Robinson to be a "one-dimensional, third-string" point guard averaging fewer than 10 minutes a game during the regular season.
Robinson, who signed a two-year deal for $4 million with the Denver Nuggets, wasn't going to average the 13 points and four assists that he did last season. And he wasn't going to have the opportunity or responsibility to rescue and resurrect the Bulls the way he did in last year's playoffs, where he led (read that word again) the Bulls to the Eastern Conference semis.
Robinson's job requirements would have changed and been totally reconstructed had the Bulls brought him back. And what the Bulls would have had to pay him for two years to watch him not do a repeat of last year's deliverance may have been too hard for management and fans to watch. Or accept.
Except for when the Bulls go up against the Heat in the playoffs.
This is a story about The Chi. Not Chicago.
There remains a difference.
That difference can be found in the numbers of kids and people who weren't killed or shot or in schools that weren't closed. It rests in the feel-good story of the South Side's Jackie Robinson West Little League team coming within one game of making it to the Little League World Series on Saturday. It comes in the form of the annual pride of Saturday's Bud Billiken Parade, and in the form of an entrepreneurial program in the Austin neighborhood where 27 West Side entrepreneurs received seed money to start their own businesses by graduating from the Bethel New Life community group's training program.
The stories of a city that are often hidden and too often untold.
It comes in the form of a league. In this case, on this day, a game. A continuation.
Read the entire column.
You expected something different?
You expected a humbler, less Jay Z (“My presence is charity”) response when asked who he, Derrick Rose, feels is the best player in the game. You expected a little more humility mixed with reality mixed with a little less gall. You expected him to remember he hasn’t really played ball at the “global icon” level for almost two years.
But what else would you want him to say? What would you really want to come out of Rose’s mouth and heart other than the mentioning of his own name?
When asked by CNN’s Pedro Pinto who he felt was the best player in the NBA, Rose said "Derrick Rose." It was -- contrary to seemingly popular response -- the one answer unexpected coming from him. Or anyone for that matter.
How could he? Is he stuck in his own Pooh reality? Was growing delusional part of his rehab? Did he even watch the NBA Finals six weeks ago?
According to the immediate (albeit quiet) street-level, non-Twitter/Facebook reaction, the only person who could have been excused or had the right to answer that question that way was Brenda, Derrick’s mother.
Those who know him know that if he had been asked that question when he was being wheeled into surgery after he tore his ACL/MCL that he would have answered it the same. This is why a huge part of his rehab was overlooked by so many. No one took into full consideration how much Rose’s supreme belief in what he can do plays a supreme role in what he actually can do.
Partial D.Rose is selfishly good for us only in theory. Never for him.
In order for Rose to be who he is, whom we have grown accustom to him being, whom we know he can become, he has to feel and believe at all times that he is without question in his mind the supreme player on the court every time he steps on it. That is the way he functions. That is the way he always functioned. That is what he knows to be true when it comes to the game we call basketball, but one he looks at as his canvas.
And he has to be able to say it aloud.
The only time -- again, if you look back and revisit his entire career -- where he may have felt differently was during the 2011 playoff series against the Miami Heat. And even then, Rose may have internalized that 4-1 series outcome as LeBron James & Co. having more help, not that James was actually better than he was.
Understand that in Rose’s mind he is still the reigning MVP. The only thing that has stopped him from repeating or reducing LeBron’s MVP total from four to two is injuries. Whenever Rose hears or sees his name as the “interruption” of LeBron having five straight MVP awards, he doesn’t hear or see what we do.
To him, LeBron interrupted his flow. In Rose’s basketball mind, like most of ours, LeBron may be the sun, and in that the world and all other planets (players) revolve around all things LeBron, but to Derrick, Derrick is the universe. Greater than.
That line of thought is what you want from a franchise player, the player you are banking on (literally) to get your team past the sun. Even if it’s a lie.
Which leads us to the second universal question: What other answer would we want to hear from him?
Look, there’s a fine line between arrogance, confidence and what someone needs to achieve greatness. Sometimes that line is blurred: Robin Thicke. Sometimes that line is crossed: Yeezus. But in the case of Derrick Rose, if he did not publicly state that he felt that he is still the best at playing this game at its highest level, why would a lesser or different answer be accepted?
At the beginning of the 2010-11 season, a journalist asked Rose about the expectation he set for himself entering his third season, and he said, "It's high. The way I look at it is why not, why can't I be the MVP of the league?" He feeds off media questions asked by those who don’t really know him, who don’t know what he’s capable of, and waits (and baits) for that one question to be asked so he can put the pressure on himself to make himself out to be a prophet.
With that mentality going into what could be the Bulls' final season before this current project/team is disbanded or destroyed, what other words out of Rose would any of us have liked to have heard?
In other words: If he doesn’t believe he’s that dude, why should we?
The problem seems to be that he said it. In his out-loud voice. When the microphone was hot. And in a city that just watched the Blackhawks have one of the greatest seasons ever and crown themselves champs for the second time with no player -- not Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane, who are close to being Rose’s equal in hockey (think about it) -- saying anything close to what Rose said. It comes off as extreme arrogance as opposed to necessary confidence.
But I ask again: What else would you want him to say?
If we are honest, that answer stays unanswered. Nothing. Nothing different.
We should want, need and appreciate Rose for finding a way through all the rehab, pressure and bad press to keep James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Carmelo Anthony behind him in the “best basketball player alive” race.
This game, at the level Rose competes, battles and wants to prove himself, chews up and spits out players who think any less of themselves. It makes becoming the leader of championship squads impossible. Greatness never embraces weakness.
Especially in those who don’t have the courage to openly speak truth to their personal power. Agree or disagree with the introspective assessment Rose made, for what this city is expecting out of him, any other answer would have opened a possible dose of realism we are unprepared to confront. Because if Rose is to return to who and what he once was, he had no other answer to give. There is no alternative realistic answer living inside of him. The best basketball player alive to him has to be him. Nothing else works. Not for what he feels he has to face, not for what he has yet to prove.
Not for what we have been conditioned to expect from him, even when his self-honesty is put into question.
If anyone reading this has a problem with that or expected a different response from Rose after getting his confidence back to where it naturally is supposed to be, then you had no idea who Derrick Rose really was to begin with.
Please don't touch or do anything that would have any significant impact on this team.
We all know that it's almost by nature that general managers make serious changes or drastically "tweak" their teams in the offseason if they don't win their last game, but just once let this team be the exception to that rule. Gar, you've gotta let this one ride.
We all saw how bad it was (midway through the third quarter the Bulls had only made 12 field goals) and how bad it got (they shot 25.7 percent for the game, 11.8 percent from three-point range). We all saw how the Bulls had nothing left to give, how losing Game 3 took every inch of everything they had out of them, how eventually their overachieving ways finally caught up with them.
We saw the end.
But to give up on these Bulls after all they've been through and done to get to a Game 5 against the Heat would be a punk move. Weak and shallow. Backbone-less. If anything, especially after proving that they are one of the hardest "outs" left standing in the NBA playoffs, Game 5 should be the game they are expected to win. Even after seeing what we just saw Monday night.
A team that had Game 1 won the minute they stepped on the court or the one that lost Game 2 long before the "worst Bulls loss in playoff history" was over?
The difference between what we saw in Games 1 and 2 is actually greater than the 46 points the Bulls found themselves down by at one point in Game 2. And it wasn't as much what the Heat did (shooting 60 percent from the field, having a 20-2 advantage on fast break points, getting 18 points from Norris Cole, scoring 56 points of their 115 points in the paint, etc.) to the Bulls as it was what the Bulls didn't do. They got outrebounded 41-28, shot 35 percent from the field, and got a combined 17 points out of Carlos Boozer and Jimmy Butler.
Or as Taj Gibson so precisely put it: "We lost our composure as a team. Things weren't going our way. You're going to get frustrated, especially when you're getting blown out."
Putting Game 2 behind them will be much easier than we think. Even though the Bulls team that showed up in Miami Wednesday night was a team we'd never really seen before (mentally and characteristically), the 38 extra points they needed to come home with a 2-0 lead will be long forgotten by the time they wake up Friday and prepare to take advantage of the home-court advantage they earned.
I tried my best to explain: It's been a long, long time since I can remember two games by one team actually meaning so much. The last time I really remember feeling like this was after the Red Sox won Games 4 and 5 against the Yankees after being down 0-3 in 2004. And I'm not even sure that felt like this. This team is amazing. Don't get me wrong it's not like they are going to win it all or this series, but for these last two games ... Amazing!
Rip Hamilton joked with Luol Deng. Taj Gibson checked his cell phone while speaking openly to the media about going up against his hometown team, the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs. Nate Robinson spit Jordan sneakerology to Malcolm Thomas. Marquis Teague ate chicken wings. Tom Thibodeau left the postgame podium with a half-smile on his face.
When I told him that he didn't even look nervous going into the playoffs, the half smile went full. Saying, "Man, I'm aways nervous." Then he walked away.
So now that they're here, excuse me, we're (because we are kinda all in this together, aren't we?) here; now that we can finally put this impossible-to-figure-out, oft-times schizophrenic regular season behind us; now that we avoided going up against the Pacers to open the playoffs (Indiana is on a mission, Brooklyn not so much), what can we expect from this team that at times this season has been the Eastern Conference version of the Lakers?
Read the entire story.