Just as Derrick Rose finds voice as leader, Bulls put him in his place

Written By BY RICK MORRISSEY rmorrissey@suntimes.com | @MorrisseyCST Posted: 08/04/2014, 09:58am
Array The Bulls’ Derrick Rose glides in for a layup during the Team USA scrimmage Friday in Las Vegas. | Ethan Miller/Getty Images

It was so refreshing to see Derrick Rose speak from the heart last week. No shield. No filter. Just him and his thoughts.

In an interview Thursday with the Sun-Times, Rose talked about the tension that had existed between his inner circle and Bulls management, his deep desire to put it in the past and his decision to help recruit Pau Gasol (and, tacitly, not Carmelo Anthony).

I can’t remember Rose being so open at any time during his six years with the Bulls. This truly was a new day for the team. Its reluctant leader finally had found his voice.

If only the Bulls hadn’t tried to stifle that voice. No, they didn’t gag Rose. They dismissed his opinions, which is worse.

Within hours of the release of the story, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement that there hadn’t been ‘‘anything approaching discord or confusion between the Bulls’ executive office, coaching staff and Derrick Rose or any other Bulls player.’’ He also called the Sun-Times’ reporting ‘‘irresponsible.’’

Of all the things to comment on, this is what the reticent Reinsdorf chose for his Gettysburg Address?

There was something almost patronizing about the Bulls’ response to the story. It said, in so many words, that Rose didn’t know what he was talking about, that he had been led down a path by a reporter, that he didn’t know any better, that he wasn’t in the loop. The poor, misguided lad.

The official response was an unfortunate decision. The Bulls might not like Rose’s message, but they should be joyful that the messenger is growing up and becoming a leader.

Back in the day, former general manager Jerry Krause purportedly said that ‘‘players don’t win championships, organizations do,’’ a not-so-subtle pushback against the talk that Michael Jordan was the biggest reason the Bulls had been so good. The talk happened to be correct, what with Jordan being, oh, the best basketball player of all time. Reinsdorf’s statement Thursday had a similar whiff. It had the feel of someone asserting that harmony in the organization — at least the appearance of it — is the most important thing in the world. It isn’t.

The Bulls seem more concerned that someone pulled back the curtain on their inner workings than that their star player thought there was a problem and wanted to make a fresh start.

What’s important here — and it’s something the Bulls should be delighted about — is that Rose appears to have decided he’ll speak for himself now, thank you very much. Maybe he put his foot down with his brother Reggie, who has been his guide and protector throughout life. Maybe he told his agent, B.J. Armstrong, to let go of his antagonism toward vice president John Paxson.

Whatever the case, this was the one of the few times Rose had something of substance to say. Reggie Rose had been the one who had complained publicly that the Bulls needed to surround his brother with better players. It was an obvious truth that should have been uttered by someone else — Derrick, for example.

The team didn’t much like Reggie’s comments, mostly because it’s all about keeping things in-house. Fine. But when it comes to Derrick, the Bulls can’t have it both ways. They can’t long for him to be more assertive as a leader, then repudiate what he has to say because of Reinsdorf’s loyalty to his management team.

The NBA is a star-driven league. When your best player opens his mouth and says that something needs changing, you might want to listen rather than rush to protect the integrity of the group. If the Bulls are tired of Reggie’s involvement, they should have cheered when Derrick had his own opinions.

It hasn’t been an easy go for Rose and the franchise. Injuries have limited him to a combined 10 games the last two seasons. The perception that his big brother and Adidas, his biggest sponsor, are calling the shots has caused more than a few Chicagoans to turn against him.

But now he appears set to be a starter for Team USA. All the reports about him from World Cup training workouts have been glowing. His first step and explosiveness at the rim seem to have returned. Most important, his confidence seems to be sky-high.

What an odd time to knock him down a peg or two.

Let Rose, to whom the Bulls gave a $95 million contract, be a leader. And, for that matter, a man.

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