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.
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.