The first finger of Derrick Rose’s long-time grip on the Bulls organization has been pried loose.
On Wednesday, a member of the front office confirmed a report that the team’s director of sports performance, Jen Swanson, was removed from her position, as was strength coach Nick Papendieck.
The significance of that dismissal was huge, especially Swanson’s, considering that before she was hired by the Bulls, she was in charge of the Rose ACL rehab back in 2012, while the point guard was rehabbing in Los Angeles.
Rose built such a solid trust with her that the organization not only brought her aboard, but put her in charge of the entire strength department, despite no prior experience working with an NBA team.
While it seemed to be a move to keep Rose happy and as comfortable as possible in his first comeback attempt, the collateral damage that stemmed from it over the next few seasons couldn’t have been anticipated.
Swanson’s perceived over-emphasis on minutes restrictions, as well as avoiding specific drills for Rose, not only alienated the guard from the Team USA coaching staff during his preparation for the FIBA World Cup two years ago, but then carried over to the Bulls.
She was not only in charge of Rose, but eventually Joakim Noah, and according to multiple sources, seemed to focus most of her attention on those two only. That didn’t go unnoticed by several players such as Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol, causing a natural rift between the four teammates.
Meanwhile, while it was Swanson or the front office putting her up to it, she also had major problems with former head coach Tom Thibodeau, as she seemed to undermine what he wanted from his players from a strength and conditioning standpoint, and had the backing of the front office in doing so.
That backing obviously had a shelf life, however.
With Thibodeau gone and the organization trying to paint the picture that he was responsible for frequent injuries, the team was more injured this season under first-year coach Fred Hoiberg than they ever were in the Thibodeau regime.
Add that the umbrella of winning and making the postseason was also stripped away, and suddenly the blame game turned in Swanson’s direction.
There’s a bigger picture to this, though.
This is a Bulls organization that has bent over backwards to try and keep Rose happy. They’ve put up with barbs from his camp – specifically his brother, Reggie, and agent B.J. Armstrong, and they’ve tried to have him surrounded with as many of his people as possible.
With Rose a free agent after the 2016-17 season, however, was this move a sign that they were no longer looking to cater to the one-time MVP, instead looking to build the team around Jimmy Butler?
If Rose is unhappy and opts to sign elsewhere, the Bulls front office can always fall back on the “we tried to bring him back’’ excuse. It’s classic Jerry Reinsdorf PR, which the owner has used with not only the Bulls, but with the White Sox.
With a member of Butler’s training staff rumored to be on the list of replacement candidates for Swanson’s spot, that would really send a message to the Rose camp that it’s Butler’s team now.
Either way, the Bulls have added some drama to a situation that only worsens.
And it’s only mid-May.