Yesterday the Chicago Bulls traded away Derrick Rose. The fate of the 27- year old point guard from Englewood, Chicago has become a divisive issue for many Chicagoland sports fans. As a Chicago suburb native, my social media feeds have been covered in a cathartic mix of bittersweet excitement, outraged heartbreak and still-not-clever knee related humor for the last 24-hours. Some reports claim that Rose was emotionally overcome by the news but mentally prepared to move on. Given a day to reflect, this Bulls fan finds himself identifying with Derrick once more.
A consensus Top-2 prospect in the 2008 Draft, Derrick landed on the Bulls in a stroke of rare Chicago sports luck. Entering the 2008 Draft Lottery, following a disappointing season, the Bulls held a 1.7% chance of landing the no.1 overall pick. Fans worried that after an entertaining 3-year run, the team was at risk of falling back into being a perpetual bottom feeder. Then on May 22nd, 2008 in an opportune act that can only be described a religious experience, the lottery’s ping pong balls gave the Bulls the no. 1 selection and the opportunity to select Rose.
Rose came out of the box as advertised, winning the 2009 NBA Rookie of the Year prize. Seemingly overnight, kids across Chicagoland learned that the correct way to spell Derek, with two ‘R’s and one ‘E’. The season was followed by one of the NBA’s greatest playoff series: 2009 Celtics — Bulls 1st round. The 7-game series saw the 7th seeded Bulls go toe-to-toe with Boston’s revered Big 3 featuring peak Rajon Rondo. The series featured 4 overtime games, with a rookie Rose carrying a heavy burden, playing nearly 45 minutes per game. Despite the eventual series loss, watching Rose regularly disappear in a crowd of elite Celtics defenders only to magically reappear underneath the rim for a contorted but startlingly consistent layup gave fans hope that we were experiencing the development of a transcendental talent.
Less than two years later, in September 2010 Rose was asked for expectations for the coming season. Now famously he quipped, “Why can’t I be the MVP?” 9 months later, a 22- year old Rose accepted the 2011 NBA Most Valuable Player award after leading the Bulls to a league-best 62–20 record. Rose was the youngest winner in league history. Playing on team loaded with defense-first contributors Rose was the engine of the Bulls offense, sporting a 32.2% Usage Rate — second only to Kobe. To many fans the Bulls were a sharp contrast to the East’s other chief contender. The Miami Heat were a historic aggregation of talent that were perceived as colluding and alienating fans via the infamous ‘Decision’. Chicago, in contrast, had a homegrown hero. The prodigy from the city’s South Side, a quiet and focused leader, the too-obvious heir apparent to Michael Jordan. The struggles of the early noughts finally seemed worth it.
In 2012 the same basketball gods who gave Chicago fans a wonderful gift in 2008 began to look the other way. Game 1 of the playoffs, Rose tore the ACL in his left knee. Rehabilitation and recovery kept Rose out through the end of the next season. The injury struggles that followed are fairly well documented, elsewhere.
Now the Bulls will really be forced to turn a new leaf. With a still-unproven young coach working to imprint a new philosophy, an evolving All-Star in Jimmy Butler and an odd if not rudderless mix of talent young and old there is a fair amount of uncertainty for Chicago basketball. Thanks to the contributions of Rose, Bulls fans have grown accustomed to perennially challenging for the East’s top seed. At the same time the current setup was no longer working. The 2016 Bulls marked the first time the Bulls missed the playoffs since the 2008 NBA Draft and the landscape of the league has shifted in the meantime. Though Rose brings a lot of skill and talent that are valuable in any environment but his outside shooting doesn’t quite provide the floor stretching Coach Hoiberg desires. The future will require even more roster adjustment. The Bulls are at risk of falling into Sam Hinkie’s personal hell of basketball relevance. They should have enough to push for a playoff spot for the next few years but I’m hard-pressed to believe with the current setup they will be able to crack the East’s Top-4. That said, as we’ve seen in Cleveland, anything is possible. I hear Anthony Davis is a free agent in four years, where is he from again?
Additionally congratulations to the New York Knicks. At the very worst, New York will be receiving a player who is going to bring additional interest and attention to the very gradual rebuild of the Phil Jackson era. If the chemistry between Rose and the team’s core of Carme7o and Kristaps doesn’t work out, the Knicks will be able to escape the situation after 1 year, with an uncharacteristic amount of cap space coming in 2017 to boot. If Derrick returns to form, anything is possible. Derrick was the primary weapon on a 62-win East Conference Finals team. This is in an era where it seems to take at least 3 superstars to reach the Conference Finals. Playing next Carmelo Anthony should help Rose manage his volume of work better and narrow his shot selection. This will should open opportunities to become a more efficient contributor, rather than a player’s whose numbers are often driven by minutes. The ceiling on the 2016–17 New York Knicks has just shot way up which in light of recent Knicks’ seasons is a welcome sight.
Thank you for everything Derrick. I can’t wait to see the next chapter in New York. Looking forward to seeing a lot more of Spike Lee on my TV in the next year. Also, Bulls please don’t trade Butler for the no. 3 pick!! Thank you!!