Our panel weighs in on that and whether Richard Hamilton's sore groin is a problem that will linger all season.
Those are two of the topics our panel tackles in 3-on-3.
1. Fact or Fiction: As ESPN.com stated, Kevin Durant is the NBA's top player under 25, ahead of Derrick Rose.
Scoop Jackson: Fact. But not by much. Maybe KD is 1 and Pooh is 1A. The only reason at this point is due to the fact that we've seen Rose has a defensive nemesis: LeBron. In the Eastern Conference finals -- and in the one game that they've faced one another this year -- Rose has allowed LeBron to bring his game down a notch and Rose hasn't figured out how to escape that ... yet. With Durant, that one person or team hasn't stopped him yet. With the exception of his own teammate (Russell Westbrook) there has really been no one player or team that has made life miserable for Durant on the court ... yet. But keep in mind who originated the list: ESPN.com. The same place/site/people that ranked Kobe Bryant No.7 on the current "Best Players" list. I'm just saying.
Jon Greenberg: Fact, but not by much. I feel like I'm cheating on Rose as his hagiographer for answering this honestly. But as the saying goes, you don't trade big for small in the NBA. And with that in mind, you'd probably have to say Durant, a 6-foot-9 small forward, is the top player under 25. But again, not by much. Rose trumps Durant as my "guy I want with the ball with the game on the line," and that doesn't just mean the final shot. After all, Durant needs someone to get him the ball. Hopefully these two will be in the same orbit for the next 10 years.
Nick Friedell: Fiction. They're both great players, but if I had to start a team with just one -- give me Rose. His will to win is unlike anything I've seen before and he makes the players around him better. He wants to be the guy with the ball in his hands late and he wants the pressure on his shoulders that comes with being the face of a franchise, especially one searching for its seventh title. Rose is also going to turn into an even better defender over time because he knows that's the next phase of his game he must conquer.
2. Fact or Fiction: Pushing his banged-up stars now will cost Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls in the playoffs.
Fiction. Players need to play. Period. Every team has to push every player. Period. Any team looking for an advantage come playoff time because their “superstars” got more rest during the shortened regular season will be the teams that will be watching the playoffs from the 300 level seats or on flat screens like the rest of us. The only exception to this is Rose. And that’s not because of time on the court, it’s about how much he has to do for this team to win when he’s out there. Every team in the league needs to find its rhythm. So far, that has not happened. That’s why you see some teams beating the Heat one night and losing to the Wizards the next. The Bulls are no different. The “stars” -- again, not including Rose -- will have play through the small bang-ups. They along with Thibs know unless the injury is miss-the-season threatening, there's no time to shut down.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I reject the premise. I don't think Thibodeau is really pushing the Bulls, who like every team has dealt with nagging injuries. Yes, Luol Deng played 41 minutes after missing a few weeks, but it's his wrist that's injured, not his knee or ankle. And for all the concern about Rose, he has missed games, so it's not like he's playing through every bump. I side with Thibodeau because he's coaching a team of men. Professionals. They do this for a living. Part of the deal is playing the season like it matters. Muscle memory and all that. The players get their loads lightened with the absence of practice and skipped shoot-arounds. There is no easy way to make it through this season. Just luck.
Nick Friedell: Fact. Everybody around the Bulls trusts Tom Thibodeau, but at some point the extra minutes are going to catch up with his team. It's been well documented how the likes of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen played heavy minutes during the championship years, but the issue with Thibodeau is that unlike most coaches, he doesn't pull his players until the bitter end of games. All it takes is for one injury to torch that line of thinking. The Bulls, especially Rose, were worn down during last season's playoffs. They appear to be on the same path right now unless something changes.
3. Fact or Fiction: Richard Hamilton's injury problem will prove costly during the postseason.
Scoop Jackson:Fiction (?): The words "reoccurrence" and "re-aggravated" that are being used when anyone mentions Rip's groin and thigh injuries bother me. That's why the question mark, the hesitation, the non-commit. If it were 2002 and Rip had his braids, no face mask and was doing his reincarnation of Reggie Miller curling around screens dropping buckets like C-Listers do names at club entrances, then I wouldn't be concerned. But Rip's not 24 anymore. The recovery time ain't the same, the recoveries themselves are not the same. Which is why those words -- "reoccurrence" and "re-aggravated"-- bother me so. But the optimistic side of me has to out-believe my pessimistic nature on this. I have to (even if forced, even through lies) follow the path of "better to deal with these injuries now than later" when it comes to Rip. Here's the way I look at it: The basketball gods could not be that cruel that they'd let the once best backcourt tandem of this generation (Hamilton and Chauncey Billups) go their separate ways, to teams with championship aspirations, only to have them both watch everything unfold from the bench. I can't believe Billups might not be back for the Clippers, I can't force myself to believe that "DNP due to injury" is how Rip coming here is supposed to end.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Hamilton is almost unbelievably skinny, none of that mid-30s flab like this writer, and he can still run the break -- he noted when he got to Chicago that he finally had someone who could keep up with him in Rose -- but it looks like he's got too much mileage. I don't feel good about him at all, and why should I? Thibodeau never sells out his players, but he made a pretty telling comment the other day when he noted that Hamilton has missed more games than he's played. I guess all you can do is rest him now, acknowledge he's going to miss more time, and just hope that he's healthy for at least the Eastern Conference finals, if the Bulls get there, that is. When he plays, I think Hamilton really is the missing link the Bulls were looking for. Too bad they got him this season, of all seasons.
Nick Friedell: Fact. Hamilton's groin injury has been lingering all year. Even if he comes back healthy in a week or two, it's going to continue to be an issue. He's going to be 34 years old in a week. Injuries like that (and his thigh bruise) don't just go away with time. They linger. Once Hamilton starts playing 40 minutes again during the postseason, his health is going to be an even bigger factor than usual.