NBA Season Tips Off – Up & Down (New Feature)

The season is underway and there are some early (very early) surprises. Up & Down will look at how teams are performing against expectations. We’re trying really hard not to overreact to 1 or 2 games, but not making any promises.

We’re two days into the 2015-16 NBA season, I haven’t stopped drooling and I can only blame the dog for so long.

But what a start! One of the most blah games on the slate last night turned out to be an emotional, Rubio-tastic barnburner that saw Minnesota outlast the Lakers in L.A. 113-112. That was the capper on a 14-game evening that saw some teams laugh at the prognosticators with unexpected winning debuts, while others played like they think the season starts next week. Here’s a look at the teams that have looked the best and the worst to start this season.

Who’s Up

Nuggets – If you say you expected a 20-point win in Houston you’re either lying or you have a Delorean and we need to talk about some daily fantasy lineups. The new-look Nuggets were very impressive, especially rookie Emmanuel Mudiay (17 points, 9 assists) and Danilo Gallinari (23 points, 8 rebounds). Gallo showed up to camp in great shape and looked spry in his return from injury. Mudiay had 11 turnovers, to be expected for a rookie point guard. What was unexpected was his stroke from outside. In a night where many rookies shined, he may have been the brightest.

Bulls – Da Bulls are off to a 2-0 start after topping the Cavs on Tuesday and avoided a hangover to win the next night at Brooklyn. Under Fred Hoiberg, the Bulls are leveraging their deep roster and spreading around minutes, while showing an emphasis on ball movement offensively. No longer are the Bulls stagnating with one on ones and forcing shots at the end of the shot clock. The defense may be sacrificed somewhat, but Bulls brass and many fans have clamored for years for imaginative offense and fewer minutes for star players and they’re getting it so far. Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose look good, and Nikola Mirotic has been much improved so far.

Pistons – Our other 2-0 team in the East, to the surprise of many so far. The Pistons were a mess last year before Stan Van Gundy arrived. SVG reshaped the roster, letting Josh Smith and Greg Monroe go and bringing in Reggie Jackson. The result so far is a more potent offense centered around Jackson-Andre Drummond pick-and-rolls and outside shooting from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and rookie Stanley Johnson. Drummond grabbed 19 boards against the Hawks and has four blocks in two games. He looks to be taking the next step toward being an absolute monster on the block, inspiring hope in the Motor City for a playoff spot for the first time in half a decade.

Knicks – Holy Kristaps! The Knicks and their big rookie blitzed the Bucks in the opener, 122-97. As bad as they were last year, the Knicks quietly made some nice moves in the offseason. The Zen Master added real NBA players like Robin Lopez, Kyle O’Quinn and Derrick Williams, the latter surprised an out-of-nowhere 24 point debut. If Porzingis is the real deal, things will be looking up in the Big Apple. The fact they destroyed the Bucks on a poor shooting night from Carmelo is all the more impressive.

Mavericks – I expected – and still sort of expect – a big swoon this year from Dallas. They just have so little depth on paper and are relying on old and/or injury-hampered guys in so many key spots. But I was reminded once again last night the dangers of doubting Rick Carlisle and Dirk. The Mavs are committing to Carlisle long term, a genius move, even if they will more or less be starting from scratch in the near future player personnel-wise. Carlisle is a top schemer on both ends and can develop players with the best of them. The 8-seed may not be a dream if the right guys stay healthy.

Trail Blazers – They did it against a banged-up Pelicans team traveling on a back-to-back, but that doesn’t diminish a stellar debut. Portland rolled to a 112-94 victory behind CJ McCollum’s career game. The guard scored 37 points, 28 in a 70-point first half for Portland. With four new starters and the loss of Lamarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez and Nic Batum, Portland still figures to fall out of the playoff picture. But their games will be high-scoring affairs if McCollum’s rise is real, as he and Damian Lillard will light up scoreboards while having trouble defending opposing backcourts. Nice job by another great coach in this league, Terry Stotts.

Timberwolves – I saw a great tweet last night by AP Writer Jon Krawczynski, who tweeted “No way Flip was letting that go in”, in reference to Lou Williams’ last-second floater that rimmed out at the buzzer in Minnesota’s 112-111 win over the Lakers. The late, great Flip Saunders left Minny set up wonderfully for the future. Ricky Rubio torched the much-maligned Lakers defense for a career-high 28 points to go with 14 dimes, while first overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns (14 points, 12 boards) looked like a star in the making. That post-up fadeaway shot he displayed last night made him look like a 10-year vet. Add to that last season’s Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, and the future is bright for Flip’s crew.

Who’s Down?

Pelicans – Yikes. Once players started dropping like flies in the preseason, expectations began falling for this team, at least in the early going. But many predicted that Anthony Davis’ sheer brilliance would carry this team to the top half of the West. It’s only two games in, but what we might be learning is that today’s NBA – and especially the West – is just too stocked with talent for one player to make a winner out of a franchise. There’s no denying Davis’ greatness and their season started against the champion Warriors at Oracle on their ring ceremony night. So let’s pump the brakes…they were never going to win game 1. However, my eyebrows raised a bit last night, when they got throttled in Portland. The Pels’ defense was hoping to be much-improved from last year, when they were 22nd in defensive rating. They hired guru Darren Erman to run the defense but they didn’t envision allowing 70 points in the first half to a middling (on paper) Portland team. I’m confident things will get ironed out and guys will get healthy but this is about as bad a start as they could’ve had, aside from a Davis injury.

Rockets – What the hell was that, man? I’m a huge supporter of this Rockets team after they showed grit and mettle in last year’s postseason and added Ty Lawson to an already loaded roster. I talked myself into them potentially leading the league in wins this year, drafting them high in my win totals fantasy league. For them to come out and lay a complete egg on opening night, at home, has me taken aback and smdh. (This is the part where I remind myself it was only one game. 81 more of these babies). OK. Thinking positively now. They were without Dwight Howard (suspended), who would have prevented such easy access to the cup for Gallinari and fortified the defensive end. Harden is pretty fresh off a Kardashian summer and still has some of that stink on him. Lawson will take some time to mesh with this group. And Clint Capela looks like a potential stud. I feel a little better now. I just really hope this isn’t the team we get every year that spent the offseason getting pumped up by their own press clippings and hype only to have all that air fly out of the balloon. Of course, that team could be…

Bucks – ….the Bucks. They impressed and genuinely scared me last year in the first round against my Bulls. Their length, versatility and irritating defense mixed with their youth made them a bandwagon pick to make a leap this year. They added Greg Monroe, and he played well enough last night. The idea is he provides a reliable post scoring threat, but I wonder if he slows down their pace too much and hampers their frantic switching defense. Monroe isn’t jumping out to guard a wing or provide much help-side rim protection in a fast-paced game. This may just take some time – and I believe in Jason Kidd’s coaching – but my eyebrow’s raised.

Suns – This was always a season that could go one or two ways for the Suns. Of all the teams out there, Phoenix had the most variance in win total projections. If the unorthodox pieces didn’t fit, Jeff Hornacek continues regressing and Markieff Morris loses his mind, they are going in the tank. But if they jelled and played more like the Suns of two years ago they could contend for a playoff spot. After last  night’s home stinker against Dallas, we are on a path to the former, maybe sooner than we expected possible. A couple teams with playoff hopes have to be bad in the West, and I’d bet on PHX over New Orleans for sure.

Grizzlies – I love Memphis and their style of play, and still think they’ll be the sixth seed out West. There is potential for this to be the year their old school grit n grind game fails them and their lack of scoring punch becomes too much to overcome. The Cavs are a tough early season opponent, to be sure. But losing by 30 while putting up just 76 points at home is a bad, bad look. Let’s hope this was an aberration.

The Denny Green Division “They are who we thought they were!” (at least through 1 game)

Kings – Nice comeback to make the Clippers sweat last night, but they imploded late and we had a nice Boogie Cousins meltdown on the bench in the final minutes. Sounds about right.

Cavs – Tough road loss at Chicago, then a dominant performance over Memphis. They will be great.

Warriors – Just watchin’ the throne…

Celtics – Well-coached. Strong defensively. Going to beat the bad teams (like Philly).

Heat – Great to see Chris Bosh back and good as ever. Same with D Wade. And look out for Justise Winslow, steal of the draft.

Thunder – Great win over San Antonio. They will compete for the top seed. KD and Russ are on a mission. Dion Waiters looking competent was the only surprise.

Spurs – Aldridge (just 11 points) will take time to learn the Spurs Way, as predicted. Played the Thunder tough, they will be fine.

Clippers – Someone tell Boogie that the Clips like to run Chris Paul-DeAndre Jordan alley-oops. He may be the last man on Earth that doesn’t know.

Opening Power Rankings + Division Rankings

The 2015-16 season starts tomorrow, so let’s kick things off with the first iteration of the Power Rankings. The Power Rankings are where I see the teams as of today, while the Division Rankings are a projection of the order of finish. So there may be discrepancies in the order of things. This ranking will be updated several times per month.

NBA Power Rankings

  1. Golden State Warriors (NOP, Tuesday)
  2. Oklahoma City Thunder (SAN, Wednesday)
  3. Houston Rockets (DEN, Weds)
  4. Los Angeles Clippers (@Sac, Weds)
  5. San Antonio Spurs (@OKC, Weds)
  6. Cleveland Cavaliers (@Chi, Tues)
  7. Memphis Grizzlies (CLE, Weds)
  8. Chicago Bulls (CLE, Tues)
  9. Atlanta Hawks (DET, Tues)
  10. Miami Heat (CHA, Weds)
  11. Washington Wizards (@Orl, Weds)
  12. Toronto Raptors (IND, Weds)
  13. Utah Jazz (@Det, Weds)
  14. New Orleans Pelicans (@GSW, Tues)
  15. Milwaukee Bucks (NYK, Weds)
  16. Boston Celtics (PHI, Weds)
  17. Phoenix Suns (DAL, Weds)
  18. Detroit Pistons (@Atl, Tues)
  19. Indiana Pacers (@Tor, Weds)
  20. Sacramento Kings (LAC, Weds)
  21. Dallas Mavericks (@Phx, Weds)
  22. New York Knicks (@Mil, Weds)
  23. Charlotte Hornets (@Mia, Weds)
  24. Denver Nuggets (@Hou, Weds)
  25. Orlando Magic (WSH, Weds)
  26. Los Angeles Lakers (MIN, Weds)
  27. Portland Trail Blazers (NOP, Weds)
  28. Minnesota Timberwolves (@LAL, Weds)
  29. Brooklyn Nets (CHI, Weds)
  30. Philadelphia 76ers (@Bos, Weds)

Division Rankings

This is purely because I enjoy listing things. Divisions don’t really matter anymore. They’ve been taken out of the playoff seeding picture. But they still exist, and I’m anxious for the season to start, so I’m ranking the divisions dammit.

Cream of the Crop

  1. Southwest Division – It’s almost unfair how stacked this group is. These teams will battle it out all season in a gauntlet, becoming stronger teams in the process. Predicted order of finish – 1, Rockets 2. Spurs 3. Grizzlies 4. Pelicans 5. Mavs

Second Tier

2. Central Division – The Cavs and Bulls may be the East’s two best, and the rest of the division is on the rise. 1. Cavs 2. Bulls 3. Bucks 4. Pistons 5. Pacers

3. Pacific Division – Very top heavy, but a couple other teams have boom or bust potential, specifically the Kings and Suns. The Lakers could also be decent if everything breaks right. 1. Warriors 2. Clippers 3. Suns 4. Kings 5. Lakers

4. Southeast Division – A solid group, with three teams that can conceivably make a play for a top 2 seed in the East. Orlando should be improving. 1. Miami 2. Atlanta 3. Washington 4. Orlando 5. Charlotte

Greatness, then Garbage

5. Northwest Division – OKC could win 60 games and an NBA title. Utah should make the playoffs. With Portland tumbling, the bottom falls out pretty quickly. 1. Thunder 2. Jazz 3. Nuggets 4. Blazers 5. Timberwolves


6. Atlantic Division – Once again, this will be the weakest division. However, Boston has high hopes and Toronto could surprise. 1. Raptors 2. Celtics 3. Knicks 4. Nets 5. 76ers

Here’s to a Happy, HEALTHY NBA Season

The NBA season kicks off in two nights. WOOOOOHOOOOOO!!



Now, before we get too excited, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the horrible news that broke today that long time NBA head coach Flip Saunders passed away Sunday after a battle with cancer. This is devastating news, and my heart goes out to Saunders’ family, the Minnesota Timberwolves organization and the NBA at large. Saunders was a great ambassador for the NBA and one of its top coaches. By all accounts he was an even greater man. He will be missed dearly.

The NBA that Saunders leaves behind is in great shape. There are more superstars and top flight teams in the league than perhaps anytime in the last 30 years. There are storylines galore. How will first year college to pro coaches – Fred Hoiberg (Bulls) and Billy Donovan (Thunder) – fare after taking over contenders? Can Anthony Davis make the expected leap to league’s best player sooner than later? Can the champion Warriors prove last year wasn’t a fluke? Will the small-ball revolution continue and teams trend closer toward positionless basketball? How will Kevin Durant’s comeback-from-injury tour unfold? And for that matter, Paul George’s?

Speaking of injuries, the worst trend in recent NBA seasons has been the amount of time missed by hobbled star players. The following sample reads like a USA Basketball practice roster: Durant, George, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire. All of these guys have missed significant game time or whole seasons since 2012. Last season could have been an all-timer in terms of basketball greatness, yet by the end of the playoffs we were so marred by injury that teams were a shell of themselves. Look, injuries are always going to factor into an 82-game season with two months of postseason play; and the team with the most injury luck is normally the last team standing in June. But last season got ridiculous.

It’s why the Warriors are (unfairly in my opinion) having to defend their title verbally before the season even starts. Golden State won a historic 67 games, had the League MVP and more or less rolled through the playoffs, but teams and pundits are still chirping that their championship win was due more to other contenders in their path being decimated by injury. In the Finals, the Cavs were without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. The Rockets lost Pat Beverley and had a hobbled Howard in the Western Conference Finals. After going up 2-1 on the Warriors in the second round, the Grizzlies’ backcourt became dinged up.

I’m not taking anything away from the Warriors. That’s nonsense. But I can’t deny that the level of play goes down considerably with all this attrition. And the basketball watching public suffers. This year, the Pelicans are already a basketball MASH unit, which will put considerable strain on Davis. Please, Brow, please stay healthy.

I read a lot of NBA coverage and listen to a ton of podcasts – I love prognostication.  One thing you learn quickly is in any season previews or playoff predictions, the words “If they stay healthy” or “With all things being equal” has to be mentioned constantly. If Durant and Serge Ibaka stay healthy, OKC could win 65 games. If Rose stays healthy the Bulls could get the 1 seed. See what I mean?

Teams recognize this as a huge issue, as does the top NBA brass. You’re seeing teams invest in new wave training staffs and sending players to sports science organizations like P3 in Los Angeles during the offseason. Commissioner Adam Silver is working on ways to eliminate back to backs and four games in five nights, while someday we may see fewer games with more rest in between. Whatever it takes, I’m for it. Because only injuries and hack-a-thons can take away from what should be an awesome 2015-16 season. It’s time to get fired up.

The season starts Tuesday with three great matchups. Here’s a brief look:

Cleveland @ Chicago (TNT) – 7 p.m.

Oh yeah, baby. This is the stuff I’ve been waiting for since June. As a Bulls fan, I’m cautiously optimistic about the Fred Hoiberg era. Rose will be in the lineup after his broken orbital bone injury, and LeBron will also play after his preseason back injection. No Iman Shumpert or Kyrie though, already out with injuries. Sigh. At least the King and D-Rose will be out there. I like the Bulls to get Hoiberg a win in his first regular season game.

Detroit @ Atlanta – 7 p.m.

This may not intrigue casual fans, but I’m very interested. The only thing casual about me is my wardrobe, son… /adjusts basketball shorts. Stan Van Gundy is reshaping the Pistons with one big in the middle (Andre Drummond) and four shooters on the outside. They should play faster and be much harder to deal with defensively. Atlanta won 60 games last year and lost Demarre Carroll to free agency, but signed Tiago Splitter and return with a chip on their shoulder. Nobody thinks they can be as good this year, that last year was an aberration. Time to prove doubters wrong. I like them to start out 1-0.

New Orleans @ Golden State (TNT) – 9:30 p.m.

A rematch of last year’s first round playoff series, which the Warriors swept. This game looked a lot better when the schedule first came out. But as mentioned, New Orleans is banged up badly. They could be without Tyreke Evans, Norris Cole, Quincy Pondexter, Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca, and Jrue Holiday will be on a minutes limit. Meanwhile the Champs are healthy, playing at home and have haters to quiet. I like the Warriors big.

Here we go. Let’s be careful out there NBA teams. May your injury reports be short and your medical staff be bored.

Hope For Lamar


My heart sank when I got the ESPN alert last Tuesday that Lamar Odom was found unconscious at a Las Vegas brothel. His post-NBA struggles with substances immediately came to mind, and while I hoped it was something less serious, deep down I knew.

As of this writing, his fight continues, though the most important hurdle has been cleared, as he has escaped with his life. He’s reportedly breathing on his own, speaking a little and has taken a few steps. He’s back in Los Angeles for rehabilitation and is surrounded by family. Those are all positive developments, but the extent of any brain damage and future impaired motor skills is not yet known.

Much has been written and said about Odom’s situation – from Lamar’s unique basketball talents that we may not see again to the potential negative influence of the Kardashians to the tragedies that have befallen L.O. throughout his life. This news has personally affected me greatly. As I read the details of his circumstances a profound sadness rooted in dark memories washed over me. I read that he was unresponsive, had been intoxicated and was intubated at a hospital.

I identified with all of it but the last detail is an especially sharp one. I’ve been intubated before, at a hospital, after being found unconscious. Waking up with a plastic tube shoved down your mouth is one of those moments you can’t prepare for. There’s a stinging, burning sensation in your throat. You can’t swallow. Every instinct tells you to clutch for the apparatus and rip it out, but your hands are tied down to prevent just that. You thus can’t communicate at all, leaving you plenty of time to think about your situation and feel the confusion over how you got there. At least I did.

This is a dark time. But beneath it all is a shred of hope. You’re alive and breathing, even if it’s machine-assisted. That’s the first tiny kernel of hope…the physical body’s resilience in the face of tremendous strain. The mental/emotional/spiritual self can be just as resilient, but that rehabilitation requires a lot more conscious effort.

My hope for L.O. is this is his bottom, and that the right person or people get him the help he needs. For me, it took one more hospitalization a month later and a friend at my bedside to show me a way out, before I finally said “Enough is enough.” (But I’m stubborn and a slow learner, while Odom briefly made University of Rhode Island basketball relevant, so he’s shown the ability to overcome tough odds in the past.)

That was three years ago and since then I’ve gotten married, enjoyed some professional success and created countless new memories with friends and family. He still has hope. It will always be a struggle. But the point is he is still a young man and the future can still be bright. First things first, let’s hope Odom gets right physically, and then the hard but unimaginably rewarding work can begin.

IMPORTANT: Frame by Frame Investigation of Steph Curry’s Mid-Shot High Five

I’m currently reading “Four Days in November” by Vincent Bugliosi, about the assassination of JFK and subsequent murder of his murderer two days later. I’m feeling inspired by this great book, so in the spirit of true investigative journalism, let’s break down last night’s spectacular Warriors footage frame-by-frame Zapruder-style.
We like to have fun here at DotB but sometimes you have to stiffen your upper lip and tackle the serious topics. So without further ado:

The evidence in question-

The Breakdown-

0:03 – Curry pushes the ball up the court and eyes the defense. For most that means a simple dominant hand dribble. For Curry, it’s a for-the-hell-of-it behind the back dribble, in stride, avoiding Klay Thompson who I assume is sprinting right in front of him purely to add a degree of difficulty. No big deal.

0:05 – Another totally routine behind-the-back move by Curry; this time a pass to Thompson on the wing, that absolutely freezes poor DeMar DeRozan.

0:06 – In the span of one whole second, Thompson catches, squares up in triple-threat position, pulls the slightest shot fake – causing DeMarre Carroll to sell out and go off balance – and switches to his right hand to whip a post entry pass to Draymond Green. The brilliance of the Warriors is on full display in these last two seconds: the unpredictable yet controlled artistry of Curry meets the rock solid fundamentals of Thompson. They are freelance ballers that are well-coached, flashy but always finding the right pass; a kaleidoscope of basketball potency.

0:07 – Draymond knows where Curry is going to be before he even catches Thompson’s bounce pass. Once he gets it he throws a one-time crosscourt rope to Steph. The pass is low but Curry is a master of lining up a shot from wherever the pass comes in. Now he’s looking at a wide open three. More Warriors wizardry.

0:08-0:09 – Curry catches and launches that patented 3-point stroke of his. Note that in three seconds, three different Warriors touch the ball, leaving a Frozen DeRozan, a reaching Carroll and generally scattered Raptors defensive set in their wake. The ball travels from the top of the key, to the wing, to the post and then back behind the arc. In three seconds.

0:10-0:14 – Curry instinctively looks right to a chillin’ Andre Iguodala, towel in hand (little known rule: it’s mandatory that all NBA players have a towel in their hand or on their person while on the bench), and reaches for the low-five. The video pauses to emphasize the ball still in mid-air as Curry gestures to Iggy.

0:16 – Conspiracy? Did the high (low)-five happen before the shot went down as many are reporting? Or did he hesitate, only finishing the hand slap ritual once the ball tickled the twine? Our parent’s generation had the grassy knoll and a suspected assassin murdered in a police station, but I challenge them to unravel a mystery of this magnitude. I think it’s clear he waited for the shot to go in, but he’s still taking a major risk. What if he clanked the shot and Iggy left him hanging as punishment? How awkward. But things like that don’t happen to this MVP or his team.

0:17 – Iguodala’s sheer display of towel-waving glee after the high-five reminds you why life is worth living. He wasn’t even this happy when hoisting the Finals MVP trophy last year. Priorities, man.

God bless the NBA.

On Derrick Rose, Disappointment and a City Turning on Its Own

Not again
Not again

I was listening to “Waddle & Silvy” on ESPNChicago this afternoon and it was stated that 6 months of Derrick Rose storylines have been crammed into two days. I thought that was a very accurate overview, and as we’ve gotten accustomed to, each of these D-Rose storylines are bad ones. For clarity, let’s list them all out and tackle each storyline below.

  • Negative Storyline #1 – Rose is facing a sexual assault lawsuit in California
  • Negative Storyline #2 – Rose starts out Media Day by announcing that he’s already looking ahead two years to when he can get paid in free agency, basically unprompted
  • Negative Storyline #3 – A Rose-fatigued city is further alienated from its once-favorite Son, thanks to his own words and his horrible advisors
  • Negative Storyline #4 – Many “Rose is just not good with that talking stuff” hot takes, some that dangerously come close to calling the guy stupid
  • Negative Storyline #5 – In the team’s first practice after the free agency comment, Derrick Rose took an elbow and BROKE HIS FACE!

I’m going to bounce around here some, but I choose to start by addressing the last bullet, as to me it is by far the most pressing concern facing this Bulls team. Rose’s shattered orbital bone, while some reports suggest he’ll only be out two weeks, could be a big wrench in the hopeful Bulls’ plans. First and foremost, the injury is a traumatic one that has to mess with a slashing guard’s psyche and confidence at least for the near term. Second, the timing of it couldn’t be much worse.

New coach Fred Hoiberg is overhauling the whole style of Bulls basketball. The hope is that the Bulls will become an offensive juggernaut, while not sacrificing much of their well-known stout defense. Under Tom Thibodeaux the Bulls struggled to score points (ranked 29th, 30th and 15th last three seasons) and hit three-pointers (29th, 26th, 15th). In addition to the numbers, the eye test showed that many possessions bogged down after multiple pick and rolls went nowhere and the offense resorted to a late shot clock heave. This was especially the case in the playoffs, when defenses are stouter. Under Thibodeaux any time a solid defensive team had a chance to scout during a seven game series, the Bulls’ offense ground to a halt. This is precisely why, from a basketball standpoint at least, Hoiberg was brought in. His teams at Iowa State never ranked lower than #11 in offensive efficiency, as they pushed the pace routinely after defensive rebounds and utilized early-action screens up top while big men played off the block to open up the lane. Iowa State also ranked in the top 15% of Division I teams in threes attempted last season.

All of this is a huge departure from what the Bulls did offensively under Thibodeaux, meaning this training camp is more important to the Bulls than any in recent memory. There will be a major learning curve. How will Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson adjust to playing much less back-to-the-basket, low-block offense? Will the wings take time learning to push and push and push some more after misses? Most importantly, how will the primary ball handling duties be divvied up between Jimmy Butler and Rose? There have already been questions about the two guards’ chemistry, a partnership that will be tantamount to making this offense hum. There are valid concerns about how well Rose and Butler mesh. I ranked them #2 in my backcourt rankings but the more I think about it, it feels like even more of a homer pick than I first admitted. Rose shined his brightest before Butler played any real minutes in the NBA. Then the injuries happened and Butler shined without Rose. Together for really the first time last season, their grade can only be an incomplete. Butler tended to shoot better from distance with Rose demanding defensive attention but Butler’s attacking numbers fell as he sometimes was relegated to a spot up shooter. There were some awkward crunch time moments when neither guy seemed sure who the alpha was, usually with Rose winding up with the final shot. Training camp is the ideal place to work these things out and build the framework for success when it counts. Now with Rose missing most of camp, he will once again be playing catch up while others pick up the slack early on. And for the love of God I just can’t stomach many more Kirk Hinrich bricks.

Storylines #1-4

Onto a more serious off-court storyline, the sexual assault lawsuit that has been following Rose around for the past month or so. The little bit of detail that I read about is pretty horrible and if true, he has much bigger problems to deal with than a broken face and he shouldn’t even be playing. However, I like to reserve judgment on these kinds of things, because someone calling you a rapist and demanding money doesn’t alone make one a rapist. There haven’t been criminal charges and in general I think the media has done a good job of letting the courts work through this without spouting unfounded conjecture. Even if completely innocent, this is an embarrassing  accusation for Rose. And I think that played into the free agency storyline. He was asked about the lawsuit on Media Day, and in his answer, he started talking about all the money his peers have been making this summer in free agency and how he’s looking forward to getting his in two years. This is the comment that started up the Derrick Detractors Demolition Derby in Chicago and nationwide.

Let’s break it down. To me, he is obviously uncomfortable in front of a microphone and cameras to begin with; and on top of that the lawsuit question made him nervous and he jumped to something off topic in the free agency / money comments. Now he’s definitely at fault here, because he obviously had those comments chambered and had been thinking about it all summer when he saw guys like Enes Kanter get $70M contracts. It’s like when your mom would question you about where you were the night before past curfew, and you stutter and fumble around for an answer before changing the subject to the A you got on your last history exam. The problem is the subject Rose jumped to is not one anybody who follows the NBA wants to hear about from him. He had a blank in his chamber, and it got him into much more of a mess than if he had just given an awkward answer to the original question.

Which leads to the final couple points here. A player can be terrible at interviews and awkward with the media and even say dumb things, without being a dumb person. Derrick isn’t Isaac Newton, but I do not consider him dumb. I can’t imagine coming up the way he did in Englewood, on Chicago’s South Side. I’m from the Chicago ‘burbs, a completely different world. But to choose the legal route and pursue basketball dreams in an effort to pull himself out of that situation and bring his family and friends along with him takes personal commitment, character and yes, smarts.

Beyond his basketball skills, it was his story that enamored his fellow Chicagoans with him. Chicago prides itself on blue collar loyalty, and Derrick seemed to embody that, winning high school titles at Simeon, taking his Memphis team to the NCAA title and then coming home as the Bulls’ #1 draft pick. Immediately he got the city excited again about Bulls basketball and won the Rookie of the Year, then two years later the MVP, and he suddenly owned a city whose skyscrapers he once looked at from afar in the rough and forgotten slums of Englewood. We all know what happened next, his first real taste of basketball adversity in the playoffs against Philly, when he blew out his ACL. The arguments on when he was cleared to play but didn’t come back in are tired and stale so I won’t go back down that road, but that was the first time Chicago turned on its hometown hero. It wouldn’t be the last. Only Derrick knows how that’s affected him, but it’s been one thing after another since the initial injury while the bandwagon continues to shrink. The real sad thing about his fall from grace with Chicago is that your average Grabowsky (middle-aged, middle-class, white Chicago male) would probably cross the street in fear if he saw a 17-year old Englewood version of Derrick Rose walking down the sidewalk, yet that same guy sees an MVP D-Rose crowned at the United Center and claims a part of that glory for himself since they’re ostensibly from the same city. Should we be surprised by how quickly Grabowsky shuns the ghetto kid once he doesn’t live up to the standards we’ve set for him? Sadly, I guess we’ve learned the answer to that. Listen, I love Chicago, it’s my favorite city on Earth. But Chicago is more overtly racist than many places in Texas (where I live now) and whole swaths of that city (read: the poor parts) have been left for dead amidst drug gangs, violence and a general ambivalence from the wider population. I’ve gone on a tangent here, but trust me I’ve heard nasty things said in Chicago about Rose and people of his background, and even though I think Derrick deserves a ton of blame for this whole circus, I want to shed a light on some of the unfortunate hypocrisy and hatred going on in the Chi.

Man. The season hasn’t even started yet and I’m already depressed. Let’s go out on a high note with this clip of D Rose finding some of his old magic in last year’s playoffs. I wonder how many of the Grabowsky’s calling for Rose’s head today were jumping and cheering after this shot banked in just four short months ago…

Get well soon, Derrick.