The Bulls won the Powerball jackpot with Derrick Rose in 2008, but their life eventually took a turn for the worse, the way a lot of lottery stories do.
And now the entire organization is stuck, beholden to a huge contract and strangely devoted to a player who is a faint outline of what he used to be. The Bulls continue to treat him as if he were the NBA Most Valuable Player he was in the 2010-11 season instead of the player who can’t be counted on because of three knee surgeries.
We can spend hours debating whether Rose is a tough guy with bad luck or a wimp who won’t play hurt, but it misses the bigger point: Where is the Bulls’ hierarchy on the matter of Derrick Rose, and why is it allowing him to be so disruptive in terms of what the team is trying to do on the court?
Where is vice president John Paxson? Where is general manager Gar Forman? Where is coach Fred Hoiberg?
That none of them gets struck by lightning while saying the Bulls are better off with Rose in the lineup is a meteorological mystery.
He continues to be plagued by lesser injuries, which is unfortunate, but nothing in the contract compels the Bulls to stick with him as their starting point guard through a maddening cycle of injury-rehab-coddling.
In Hollinger’s player efficiency ratings at ESPN.com, Rose is the 54th-ranked point guard in the NBA. Remember when fans used to chant “M-V-P! M-V-P!’’ as Rose shot free throws? “Fif-ty-fourth! Fif-ty-fourth!’’ isn’t quite as inspiring, is it?
The Bulls aren’t better when Rose is playing. There can’t be any sense of continuity for anyone on the team when he plays well one game, struggles for a couple more, plays well for two games and then hurts his (body part here).
It’s fine for the franchise to feel bad for Rose, for the way a once-great career has come shuddering to a halt. It shows that the people who are calling the shots are human. But there’s not a whole lot of room for compassion in professional sports. If there were, the shelf life of the average general manager would be about six months.
Rose is famous for making dumb statements about his next contract and his post-career life, but it’s silly stuff that make the Bulls roll their eyes and say, “That’s just Derrick.’’ And it is just Derrick. But it’s the responsibility of the front office and the coach to look soberly at the roster and decide what’s best for the team. And what’s best now is for Rose to come off the bench, to play fewer minutes and maybe, just maybe, to build himself into a better player. If he can’t, he can’t.
Why isn’t anybody in charge making that decision? The only thing I can come up with is that everyone involved is praying Rose finds his game again, and that no one wants to be on the wrong side of history if it happens. The Bulls don’t want Rose and his handlers remembering that the organization wasn’t by his side when he was down.
Not-so-breaking news: That Derrick Rose isn’t coming back.
Trading him is not an option. He’s making $20 million this season and will make $21 million next season. No one in the league wants that contract. But, again, just because you’re stuck with Rose doesn’t mean you have to stick him in the starting lineup. At this point, I’d prefer Aaron Brooks to the constant uncertainty of which Rose will show up (or whether none of them will.)
The Bulls are in a bad spot. Yes, they do have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Yes, Jimmy Butler did score 53 points in an overtime victory Thursday. But it’s hard to see them going far in the playoffs, and if they want to build for the future, they don’t have many tradable assets, aside from the untouchable Butler.
Paul Gasol is 35. He’s averaging 16.3 points and 10.9 rebounds but can’t play defense. Joakim Noah, who has put his heart and body into this franchise, isn’t the player he once was, thanks to injuries. He’ll need four to six months of rehab after shoulder surgery. Taj Gibson would be a nice piece for a winning team, but his offensive game is limited.
If the Bulls had the MVP-level Rose, we wouldn’t be talking about trades. But that player is long gone. When is somebody in charge going to say that? And do something about it?