Bittersweet Bull: Remembering the Good Times with D-Rose

One of my first posts here at Down on the Block was about Derrick Rose and his continued bad luck and alienation from his sweet home Chicago. I grew up in Downers Grove, southwest of Chicago, a disciple of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson. I adore the NBA as a whole but will always be true to the Bulls first and foremost. Rose saved us from the dark ages post-Jordan and ushered in a new proud era of Bulls basketball. He instantly became my favorite player once the Bulls called his name in the 2008 draft.

Literally everything was perfect about D-Rose’s first four NBA seasons. He was already a legend on the Chicago prep scene, winning two straight state championships at famed Simeon High, where he wore Benji Wilson’s #25 in honor of the slain high school star. He was named Illinois’ Mr. Basketball and the third best high school point guard of the decade by ESPN. Simeon went 120-12 in Rose’s career there. The Bulls, meanwhile, lost 168 games in the same timespan. Yet after a decade of debacles, the Bulls suddenly found their savior. All it took was a charmed 2008 Draft Lottery in which they improbably won the No. 1 overall pick, as well as the good sense to not waste that pick on Michael Beasley.

After the Bulls made Rose the top pick in ’08, the script resembled a sports movie.

2008-09 – Rose won Rookie of the Year.
2009-10 – Made his first All-Star team.
2010-11 – Became the NBA’s youngest ever MVP and carried the Bulls to the No. 1 seed in the East.
2011-12 – Signed a $95 million extension with plans of leading his hometown team for the next decade. Started in the All-Star game. Led the Bulls to another 1-seed. And then…

Pool party. Venetian Hotel. Vegas. My dad, my godfather and I toasting at the pool bar as we watch our league-best Bulls lay waste to Philly in the first round of the playoffs. Daring to dream about the possibilities of finally getting past LeBron and raising a seventh championship banner in the United Center. Rose has 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Then, with a 12-point lead late in the game, Rose finished one of his devastating drives by clutching his left knee in pain upon landing. Part of me knew it right away. Before the news of his ACL tear even became public I knew. Unable to stomach the happy faces around me any longer I left the pool, got piss drunk, lost a ton of money on Blackjack and was a complete mess the rest of the weekend. Somehow, experiencing that dreadful knee injury in Vegas was fitting – the Bulls’ run of good luck ended that day and hasn’t returned. I no longer drink. I tend to avoid Blackjack. But I still mourn for what could have been.

By now you’ve heard the news. The Rose era ended in Chicago on Wednesday, as he was traded to the New York Knicks. It shouldn’t have been surprising, yet I was taken aback and just…sad. I needed a couple days to process the news before writing about it. Really all I was able to do was stage my Rose jerseys for a sad tweet. I’ve been a sports fan long enough to know that all of this is fleeting and a sudden trade can swipe your favorite player off your favorite team in the blink of an eye. But this cut is especially deep.

I think part of me always held out hope (however slim) for a return to past glory. Though that hope is now gone, replaced by a reluctant acceptance, at least the team can move on to the next chapter and try to rebuild. The four seasons that followed the injury were as miserable for Bulls fans as the first four seasons of D-Rose were sublime. With Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol headed out the door behind Derrick, things will probably get worse before they get better.

But rather than dwell on all the pain and negativity and rehash what went wrong after the 2012 injury, Down on the Block chooses to relive the good times. Join me in celebration of 2008-2012 Derrick Rose with the selected works below. Let’s see if we can briefly forget, by losing ourselves in the awesome highlights of Chicago’s once-favorite son.

In his NBA debut, D-Rose dropped 11 points and nine assists against Milwaukee. Tune to 1:55 for a nasty fast break finish, a sign of things to come.


Check out Rose’s top 10 dunks of his first two seasons. The league was just starting to realize how special this kid was. Why you gotta do little Earl Boykins like that Derrick?

Rose helped push the defending champion Celtics to seven games in his first playoff run. He tied a record with 36 points in his first ever playoff game. One of the more memorable rookie showings in the playoffs in recent memory.

Watch Rose force Game 7 with a block and a steal in the final seconds!

What are you doing Dragic?!?

D-Rose won the city over not just with monster dunks but with his ability to completely take over a game in the fourth quarter, as he did here against the Bucks in 2011.

Rose had a knack for hitting clutch shots for the Bulls. Enjoy this compilation, some old and some newer.




Good luck in New York Derrick. May you regain a piece of what fate took from you.

NEVER FORGET!

NBA Graveyard 2016: Two Abrupt Falls From Grace

It’s April and that means the season is effectively over for a number of NBA teams. We’ll be picking through the remains of the fakers, pretenders and never-had-a-chancers to determine what went wrong. This entry will be unique, as we are mourning two teams simultaneously, as they are forever linked due to their collective disappointment. Everyone is to blame in the demise of these two.

We lay to rest the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards together, two teams that half-assed their way through disappointing seasons, and thus, don’t deserve separate graves.

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Postmortem: In a deviation from our normal NBA Graveyard format, let’s take a quick look at the Bulls’ and Wizards’ failings at each level of the organizations. Everyone fell short of expectations, starting with the men upstairs: Continue reading

So You Want to Be the Warriors?

The Warriors' secret ingredients
The Warriors’ secret ingredients

Look at the NBA landscape and things are pretty clear – it’s the Warriors, and everyone else. The Dubs, fresh off a championship, have come out firing to a 5-0 record, against four teams that were in last year’s Western Conference playoffs. Not until Wednesday’s thrilling win over the Clippers had the Warriors even had to sweat in a fourth quarter. Steph Curry is lethal and it seems each key cog has somehow improved from last year.

Naturally, the league’s other teams want to emulate Golden State. They are the standard-bearer for NBA excellence, sure, but the effort to transform into a Warriors-like identity is especially strong because they are viewed as unorthodox. They’re challenging convention by playing small, fast and with a deep bench. Ask 10 casual fans about who the Warriors are and I bet nine of them will talk about their pace and knack for outside shooting. It’s only part of the answer, however. Several teams have latched onto this half-truth in building their rosters, coaching staffs and overall identity.

Teams seem to forget the main ingredient in the Warriors’ hearty basketball stew – DEFENSE.

Yes, Curry is in the conversation for best scoring point guard of all time. Indeed, the Warriors led the league last year in pace, scoring, effective field goal percentage and three-point percentage, while finishing second in offensive rating. But it was their versatile and suffocating defense that drove the Dubs to 67 wins and an NBA title. Pace and space is a great concept, until your stretch four is getting smoked on the perimeter and your “rim protector” is getting dunked on (See: Mirotic, Nikola and Gasol, Pau).

I’m going to pick on the Bulls for another minute because I watch most of their games and I still can’t believe Charlotte hung 130 on them Tuesday night. Chicago scored 105 in that game, something they did 29 times in 2014-15. Last season, under Tom Thibodeaux, the Bulls went 24-5 in games in which they scored at least 105 points, winning those 24 games by an average of 11 points. They never lost by more than 11 when scoring that much, and in fact all season only allowed 130+ once, in a double overtime loss to the Mavericks. After kicking Thibs to the curb, the Bulls’ brain trust took major steps to Warriorize the team, bringing in Fred Hoiberg to install his pace-and-space, three point-heavy system. Hoiberg immediately moved Joakim Noah to the bench and is using stretch lineups with more shooters on the floor, such as Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic and Aaron Brooks. In a vacuum, this all makes perfect sense for a plodding offensive team looking to change its ways.

But the Bulls, and others such as the Pacers, Mavericks, Pelicans and even the Thunder, are missing the forest for the trees. There is a foundational dilemma at the heart of the small-ball revolution. How do you score in bunches, push the pace and create matchup nightmares for opponents on one end, while not becoming a sieve on the other end? Is it possible to gain the upper hand in matchups on both ends and blow teams out of the gym? If you’ve constructed a roster like the Warriors, then yes and yes. The LeBron-era Heat and the 2013-14 Spurs also proved the model. Teams that are playing small for small’s sake and not emphasizing the defensive end are setting themselves up for some ugly nights. Like when you give up 130 to Charlotte, those kind of nights. The Spurs were able to surround Tim Duncan’s rim protection with three or four deadly shooters. The Heatles had LeBron, Wade and Bosh in their primes and featured a trapping, frenzied defensive scheme that made up for lack of size in the middle.

Golden State works because they can go small or big, while always rolling out lineups that can switch screens, protect the rim and force turnovers. They have Draymond Green and nobody else does. He can cover quick guards for stretches on the perimeter, switch any screen and as he showed against Zach Randolph in the Warriors’ 50-point demolition of Memphis, he can body up almost any big. His unique talents combined with the rim protection and rebounding of Andrew Bogut allows Golden State to go small or super-small and never give up much defensive integrity in the paint. Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala are swiss-army knives on the perimeter that can switch to big men without allowing easy buckets. Throw all of this together with their shooting and running ability. The result is a championship-proven monolith that may not be replicable. The Warriors have set a standard that is not statistically attainable. Here are some Warriors numbers from last season to go with the offensive ranks listed above: 1st in opponent’s field goal percentage (.428), 1st in defensive rating, 1st in margin of victory, 2nd in blocks, 4th in steals, 5th in opponent’s turnovers, 6th in rebounding. Dear Lord.

Good luck matching that with Mirotic and Gasol playing more minutes than Noah and Taj Gibson. Or with Paul George at the four, next to Ian Mahinmi. Or with Enes Kanter taking minutes from Steven Adams.

OKC and Chicago are breaking in first-year coaches, and the season is very young. They may well figure out the right mix of minutes, tempo and defensive strategies. But they don’t have – and no one does – the roster versatility on both ends that Golden State has. They’d be well served to do like the rest of us: simply watch the Warriors in awe and try to make their own way.

2015 Media Day Winners & Losers

As a Chicago Bears fan, the NBA season can’t start soon enough. As a Chicago Bulls fan, can’t someone unplug Derrick Rose’s microphone? More on that later.

Media Day marks the start of NBA training camps, and showcases the Association in all its quirky glory. You know the NBA is back when Twitter videos pop up of a star player wearing a fannypack while lip-synching and dancing to Montell Jordan.

After reading up on each team’s version of the Media Day circus, here are my winners and losers – although much like Media Day itself, this is mostly good-natured fun. Except for D-Rose (Dammit).

Media Day Winners

D-Wade – You have to applaud Wade for how he’s crafted his brilliant career. He won a title with Shaq early in his career, convinced LeBron and Chris Bosh to come play with him and won two more titles, and now he’s again a cornerstone of an impressive roster. Most importantly his balky knees haven’t affected his dance moves. This is just a phenomenal performance.

Body Image – A common theme, much mocked by the basketball internet, is the recurring training camp storyline of who’s dropped weight, added 15 pounds of muscle or gotten swole in the offseason. This year’s Media Day did not disappoint. NBA Media Day quote sheets can resemble an issue of Cosmopolitan with all the LBs shed and miracle diet plans. This year’s winners? Kyle Lowry, who struggled with injuries down the stretch and is no longer a spring chicken, is now looking “svelte” and jokes were made about the impostor wearing Kyle Lowry’s jersey at Media Day. Jared Sullinger also shed some much-needed poundage, while Rudy Gobert added muscle to help him bang down low. Danilo Gallinari is looking trim after Eurobasket. Let’s move on.

Phoenix Suns – Everyone was curious how Markieff Morris would comport himself after throwing a fit when the Suns traded his brother, and demanded a trade himself. Surprisingly, he said he is putting it all behind him and looking forward to playing with his Suns teammates. This is big for Phoenix, who need Kieff’s skills and not his poor attitude in a year when they can compete for a playoff spot. Glad to see he’s on board, and it makes sense. I mean, he can still see Marcus at Thanksgiving, right?

Houston Promise – Ty Lawson has spent the summer getting his personal life sorted out, and is sounding like the change of scenery is doing him some good. He’s poised to help the Rockets compete for a title and will take pressure off of James Harden, keeping the MVP candidate more fresh for a deep playoff run.

“This is like the turning point,” Lawson said at Monday’s Media Day activities in Toyota Center. “What type of career you gonna have, Ty? Are you gonna win championships or are you just be like one of the mediocre players?

“A point guard’s career is always judged on if you win or not. You can have the most points, the most stats, whatever. But if you don’t win a championship as a point guard, then you’re not really one of the best point guards out there. So this is my chance to really prove something, prove my career if I win a championship here.”

Alcohol is a powerful foe; I join Houston fans in rooting for Ty to defeat it.

Amateur Comedy – Media Day allows players and coaches to goof off and test their standup comedy skills in front of a willing media. There’s no pressure yet and everyone’s in a good mood (and getting softball questions). Some highlights include:

  • Danny Ainge responding to questions on Jared Sullinger’s weight loss, joked that he didn’t have a portable scale to weigh him.
  • Brad Stevens when asked where the Celtics are as a team: “Somewhere in the Top 30”.
  • The newly-svelte Lowry complained that none of his pants fit anymore.
  • In response to the DeAndre Jordan situation, Rick Carlisle said: “If cows were kittens, there’d be a milk shortage.” I think that’s a joke, not really sure what it is. An aphorism? Anyway, I laughed.
  • Portland GM Neil Olshey said it was “too much effort to fly to Dallas” when asked why he didn’t resign LaMarcus Aldridge.
  • Number 1 overall pick Karl Anthony Towns started off Minnesota’s media day by announcing his retirement. That’s actually a pretty good one.

Mike Malone – The new Nuggets coach sounds like he’s making an instant impact on the team, who figure to be a bottom-feeder this season. He preaches an up-tempo style, which suits the high-altitude Nuggets, and is quickly building a team identity. He doesn’t want a lot of fouls screwing up his team’s pace, stressing quick defense to offense transition. I love this Malone quote from yesterday: “Fouling negates hustle.” What a gem.

Optimism – Ghandi would be proud. Optimism reigned supreme at Media Days, as it does every year. Here are some things to be happy about going into the season, NBA fans: Joakim Noah is healthy and ready to play like his old self…Fred Hoiberg loves the Bulls’ roster flexibility…Kevin Durant and new coach Billy Donovan have hit it off, are excited to work together…rookie Stanley Johnson has the Pistons glowing…star shooting guards Bradley Beal and DeMar DeRozan aren’t worried about their contracts and are just focused on winning…even George Karl and DeMarcus Cousins are (supposedly) getting along.

Media Day Losers

D-Rose – I’m not going to drop a hot take here, but I’ll just say that as a longtime, staunch Rose supporter it’s getting harder and harder to defend him when he says dumb things to the media. I don’t think his talk about free agency is a huge deal but it’s definitely not a good look at this point in his career and as a leader of a team trying to fundamentally change under a new coach.

This Pop Interviewer – Man this video makes you cringe. The best part is even after Pop has made it plain that he’s messing around, the interviewer looks like he’s in a Southwest Airlines “Wanna Get Away” commercial. Brutal.

Brooklyn Nets – Hey Deron Williams, your former teammate Joe Johnson is confused why you wanted to leave the Nets so bad? “It’s not that bad here,” Johnson said. That should be plastered onto the outside of the Barclays Center.

New Orleans Pelicans – Things on the whole are looking up with a young beast in Anthony Davis and new coach Alvin Gentry. However, Gentry said at Media Day that Tyreke Evans is their undisputed point guard. On its face, I question this strategy. Less Evans dribbling, not more, would be my prescription for the Pelicans. The more foreboding news reading between the lines here is that Jrue Holiday must not be ready to come back and be a reliable contributor, let alone the main point guard.

Jeremy Lamb – In his first season as a Hornet, Lamb is setting himself up to learn some harsh realities. Here’s what he said at Media Day: “I like to shoot the ball but I also like to make plays for my teammates. I think it’ll open up things for Big Al but also he can kick out if they double team him…[I] like to help people play to their strengths.” Obviously Lamb, only 23, is still learning the League. Double team or not, Al Jefferson doesn’t kick it out, young’n.

George Hill – Apparently he plans on sporting this bleach blonde dye job during the season. This is not the way to build upon your best season as a pro.

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Cancer – It was awesome to see Craig Sager, who has been fighting Leukemia for the last year and is receiving treatment in Houston, make it out to Rockets Media Day. NBA broadcasts aren’t the same without Sager and his colorful suits, and Down on the Block would like to wish him a speedy recovery. There was a great moment yesterday when James Harden sought Sager out in a crowded media room and gave him a hug. Here’s hoping there are some good vibes in that Beard…

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