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I'm not trying to jinx anyone -- especially not him -- but the MVP race is over.
|Derrick Rose scored 27 points in a win over the Heat on Sunday, but he was hung up on two late mistakes.|
And the fact that Derrick Rose had to be coaxed to smile after Sunday's win over the Heat provided his final margin of victory. Even after he gave his team one of the most important wins (not the biggest win; there's a significant difference) of his short career, Rose -- in the wake of his "disappointing" 27-point, five-assist performance -- didn't grin until ABC's Heather Cox cajoled one out of him after the Bulls' one-point win over the most hated-on, targeted, under-the-microscope, built-to-win-not-now-but-apparently-right-now team in the NBA, the third time in three tries that Chicago has taken Miami's measure.
This time, Rose and the Bulls displayed their talents on South Beach.
But all Rose apparently could think about were the things Skip Bayless pointed out on "ESPN First Take" on Monday as he made a point about why he believes Rose doesn't deserve the MVP: the late-game blown defensive assignment on Mario Chalmers that led to an easy layup for the Heat, and the late-game air ball he shot after he waved off a play called by coach Tom Thibodeau.
Those game situations (and probably a few others) played back in Rose's head. And even though those generally are not plays made by an MVP, Rose's postgame thinking about them is exactly the way an MVP's mind is supposed to work. His words are the way an MVP is supposed to speak. His feelings are the only way an MVP is supposed to feel.
MVPs aren't perfect. They don't find perfection. They are just the ones who are the most dissatisfied when they don't achieve it.
I am not trying to jinx anyone, especially with everything on the line, but Rose might have done something more important than solidify his grip on the MVP award. For years, one of the great unanswered questions in the NBA (along with, of course, Who's Better: LeBron or Kobe?) has been, "Who is the best point guard in the game?"
A few years ago, the answer came from an exclusive club in which the only two members were Chris Paul and Deron Williams. At the time, no one had any idea that Rajon Rondo had game in him like the game he has in him. No one knew, after the way he performed in Italy, that Brandon Jennings would come to the league and instantly be on magazine covers. No one outside of hard-core high school hoops junkies, below-the-radar scouts and employees at MaxPreps and ESPN Rise knew who John Wall was.
But coming into this season, the best point guard in the game was a five-player contest. Battling Paul and Williams now were Rose, Rondo and Russell Westbrook. And before the second game of the season, I asked Rose where he thinks he stands.
His answer dealt not with himself but with who he felt was No. 1.
"D-Will," he said easily, speaking of Williams. "He's just so big, so strong."
But fast don't lie.
Still, in a story written before the season began, the true "Pooh" (Rose) came out. He said it on media day, and it blew up on the December cover of Slam magazine. Below Rose's arms-crossed image, a caption read: "Derrick Rose Wants To Be MVP."
|Derrick Rose is seeing and hearing MVP support on the road as well as at the United Center.|
It came as a surprise to those who don't know him well that this could come out of his mouth when the red "on" light is lit on a recorder. But those who do know him well -- who know how he puts challenges in front of himself to push himself to certain levels (even when those challenges don't necessarily exist to the extent that he tells himself they do), to meet the almost absurd expectations he puts upon himself -- understood.
There was another crown that Rose possibly had his sights on. The PG crown. One that he "willed" into his possession without sacrificing the chemistry or success of his team. One that he took without knowing it came along with being the only player in the league to be in the top 10 in scoring (24.6 points per game, eighth-best) and assists (8.1 per game, which ranks 10th), and with being the main reason his team has exceeded expectations more than any other team in the league. And where there's a will, there's a Deron.
Having sole ownership of the reputation as the best point guard in the game is equivalent to having a hold on a rep for being the best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing. It's mythical, but so very real. So very elusive. So very special.
In other words: Damn the MVP award.
Despite the chants he's beginning to hear at the United Center every time he steps to the free throw line and the hundreds of homemade "MVP" signs he's beginning to see springing up in the stands, Rose doesn't need the Maurice Podoloff Trophy as an affirmation.
Isiah Thomas never won it. Nate Archibald never won it. John Stockton never won it. Outside of Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson, name another point guard who was better. Name another whose name will come up in the "best-ever point guard" conversation before those three. Steve Nash? Maybe. Here's the difference: One is an award voted on by writers and given to a player; the other is a title bestowed upon a player by the people.
Which one holds more value?
Again, "Damn the MVP" is something Rose would never say, even when there are no red lights on digital recorders in sight. But if given the choice of one or the other ... ?
I ain't trying to jinx anyone, but this column might come back to haunt Rose.
The Bulls could hit a Heat-like skid, fall from their perch as darlings of the league to disaster, fall from a 2-seed in the East to a 5. Dwight Howard (despite his one-game suspension) could play the next 20 games the way he has the past 10. LeBron could get upset and go on one of those runs that got him the past two MVPs. Kobe could continue just being Kobe.
The unimpossible can happen.
Which brings us back to now. This day. This time in Pooh's life. He claimed, to open the season, that he wanted (expected) to win the MVP.
He's played well enough with just more than four weeks left in the season to know that if he doesn't get the award, he was robbed.
The question is this: In this "from outta nowhere" season (as some people outside of Chicago are calling the seasons both the Bulls and Rose are putting together), has Rose accomplished something even bigger?
Has he put to sleep the argument -- definitively -- over who the best point guard in the world is?
Maybe Rose has willed something else to happen. Something bigger than wanting to be MVP. Instead of sharing this mission with the world, maybe he decided to keep it to himself.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN.com.