The NBA recently announced the 10 starters for the 2016 All-Star game and amongst those bestowed with the honor in the Eastern Conference were some of the usual suspects: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade.
It seemed like only yesterday that Derrick Rose was a perennial All-Star and a player whose anointment into the Hall of Fame was less a question of “if” and more one of “when.”
Yet now, after being selected as an All-Star back in 2010, his sophomore season, this will mark the fourth consecutive season that Rose is absent from the NBA’s midseason classic.
So no, after some injuries and setbacks along the way, Rose isn’t necessarily on his way back to restoring the trajectory that the NBA viewing public had for him back when he became the youngest Most Valuable Player in league history in 2011. But he may be back on line to somewhere much more important than that:
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The Derrick Rose era Chicago Bulls are somewhat reminiscent of the Patrick Ewing-led New York Knicks of the mid-1990s. Ewing’s Knicks seemed to win roughly 50 games each and every year and entered the playoffs with grandiose visions of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy. Unfortunately, for them, Michael Jordan had other ideas. Ewing’s Knicks saw their season end at the hands of Jordan’s Bulls five times over the span of eight years, with their only playoff series victory over the Bulls coming in 1994—when Jordan was playing baseball.
After seeing their season end at the hands of LeBron James in four of their last five playoff appearances, James appears to be the modern day Michael Jordan to Rose’s Patrick Ewing.
Like Ewing’s Knicks, for Rose’s Bulls, the regular season doesn’t mean much at this point. Under Tom Thibodeau, this team has been there and done that. We have seen these Bulls win 60-plus games and fall short in the end just as we have seen them overcome injury and attrition and defy odds. In fact, it is that same attitude that partially led to Thibodeau’s ouster.
Although, for a much shorter duration, Rick Carlisle experienced something similar in Detroit. Despite getting the team close to a championship in 2003, management decided to replace him with Larry Brown because of the belief that the team had plateaued under Carlisle. One could have legitimately asked the same question of the Bulls and Thibodeau.
Jerry Krause once famously said that organizations win championships, and in turn, insinuated that players are just chess pieces. Maybe he’s right, maybe he’s not. One thing that cannot be disputed, though, is that the Bulls have somehow reinvented themselves on the fly and remain near the top of the Eastern Conference.
The last time the Bulls played in the Eastern Conference Finals was Game 5 of their 2011 playoff series against James and his Miami HEAT. Seven of the 10 players that suited up for that team are no longer with the franchise, while the other three—Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson—have each seen their places within the rotation and usage diminish.
But despite the rise of Jimmy Butler, the acquisition of Pau Gasol and the emergence of Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic, will these Bulls ever become a champion without Derrick Rose rediscovering the explosiveness and effectiveness that helped this team become a contender in the first place?
The easy answer there is no.
But the good news is that he is showing evident progress of returning to his former self—even if that doesn’t necessarily translate into an All-Star birth.
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Make no mistake about it, perusing a box score or studying statistics won’t indicate that Rose is anywhere close to what he was at his best, but he is quite obviously nowhere near what he was at his worst. His first step is returning, his crossover is quick and, every so often, he is showing an ability to get to precisely where he wants to be on the basketball court.
On Saturday night, the Bulls visited James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in what ended up being the first game of Tyron Lue’s head coaching career in Cleveland. Rose finished the game having shot just 5-for-21 from the field en route to a very mediocre 12 points. But what those statistics won’t tell you is how Rose consistently got to the basket, often beating LeBron James, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to the rim. Sometimes he was able to finish, and sometimes not, but anyone watching closely could see that Rose is miles ahead of where he was even a few months ago.
Of the 16 shots Rose missed, half of them came from within the paint and another few of those were layup attempts that seemed to not have the proper English and refused to stay down.
Excluding Saturday night’s statistically poor performance, since returning to the lineup on January 5 (after missing three games), Rose has played in nine games and is averaging 19.7 points per game on 48.6 percent shooting from the field. He may still have a long way to go, but the progress he has already made is evident, so much so that head coach Fred Hoiberg was asked to speak on the issue when the Bulls visited the Boston Celtics earlier this week.
“His push has progressively gotten better and his numbers have gone up month by month,” Hoiberg told Celtics.com. “I think the biggest thing for him is he’s getting comfortable out there.”
Those are sentiments that Rose agreed with, as well. As we close in on the All-Star break, the Bulls have joined the Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors and Cavaliers as the top four teams in the Eastern Conference. If things continue to go well, even without Joakim Noah, these Bulls may eventually find themselves with an opportunity to get another crack at James in the playoffs.
Until then, though, they will continue to take it one day at a time.
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