Robert Zeglinski, October 7th, 2014
Say what you want about Lebron James.
He is a genius and picked the perfect place to continue his mercenary run for NBA titles.
I’m not gonna play around and say he isn’t clearly the best or most influential player in basketball. He is. But this positively spinned story to move back to Cleveland for hometown sentimental purposes was not the biggest reason he “returned”.
First of all, the Cavs had the cap space. These are still pro athletes. If Cleveland doesn’t have the max money, we don’t get this “heartwarming” story. There’s no need to paint professional athletes as these exemplary role models who are doing great things because of the sport they play and the ball they bounce.
If Carmelo Anthony wouldn’t take less money for a chance at possible (key word possible) rings, what crazy thing makes you think Lebron James would? He’s “changed”? Maybe it’s best not to take that context too seriously. Don’t get it twisted.
Second, Cleveland clearly had the better ready made roster for James to still compete for titles in his 30’s. Young talent like Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters as well as veteran energy bunny Anderson Varejao would be easy for anyone to go back to. Miami had a deteriorating Dwyane Wade (Clearly a shell of who he used to be) and a nominal Chris Bosh (although he could return to Toronto form with an expanded role as the #1 option). Would you have gone back to that team and aging roster?
You always have to figure James had a plan in mind.
He knew Kevin Love was on the trade block (How could he not? ESPN does it’s job I guess). He knew Cleveland had drafted the potential superstar Andrew Wiggins to entice Minnesota for a trade for the All Star forward (Anthony Bennett was included too, but less prevalent).
Does anyone seriously think Lebron James makes the move to Cleveland for a “return” for his fans, if he didn’t think they could get Love? Again, James may be many things (Believe me, I’m a Bulls fan, and my hate can go far for him) but he’s smarter then we give him credit for, that’s for sure. He gets to go to Cleveland, repaint the story how he wants for PR purposes as his glorious and gracious return, and everyone takes the sympathetic side of his homecoming while ignoring the simple dollars and basketball reasons. It’s quite brilliant on his part actually.
Finally, the NBA East is a garbage dump (for the most part) and this is where I get to my main point.
Who reasonably challenges this Cavs team filled with All Stars (again)?
Carmelo Anthony will be making big money, but he won’t be stacking wins with that poor roster.
After Paul George’s gruesome unfortunate injury and Lance Stephenson bolting to Charlotte, that’s your two best wings from last year gone for the season. It’s a big step back for Indiana.
After a glorious rise to the 3rd seed in the East with 48 wins (Again really not saying much considering the conference), how did Toronto reasonably improve? It’s the same team from last year, and they didn’t take any steps back, but they didn’t really move forward either. They better hope for some serious growth in some of these guys like Kyle Lowry (probably peaked) and Demar Derozan (could be more efficient).
Washington has the best backcourt in the East with John Wall and Bradley Beal (2nd best overall to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson). Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. They have literally the same team as last year that was plagued with injuries during the regular season but showed off it’s talent once they were able to gel in the playoffs. A starting five of Wall, Beal, Pierce, Nene, and Gortat is among the best in the league along with a decent bench. While they may not be a true heavyweight in the East in my eyes, the Wiz will make some noise this year. They’re just not there yet.
Now we come to the Chicago Bulls. The supposed East heavyweight answer to Cleveland.
Listen here, I’m a diehard Bulls fan.
I love my team so I’m gonna hate to drop the iron at the end of this little analysis in a minute. Nonetheless;
Joakim Noah is a sparkplug that is an absolute joy to watch. His unique passing skills and overall versatility on defense makes him one of the most unique players the Bulls have ever had.
Tom Thibodeau is a top 3 coach in the NBA. Nobody demands more from their players or expects more intensity from his players on a night to night basis than Thibs. It’s rare to see the Bulls have lapses defensively or be uncoordinated on offense. They always show up to play and are always prepared. That’s a credit to Thibs.
Jimmy Butler is the Swiss Army Knife of the team. He is one of the best lockdown defenders on the wing and will do all those cliche little things on both sides of the ball you hear from coach speak (Stacey King will tell you enough).
Pau Gasol is a little on the older side, but with managed minutes in a dominant big man rotation of 6th man runner up Taj Gibson (hard hat, lunch pail anyone?), newly signed export Nikola Mirotic (the poor man’s Dirk apparently……yeah I’d wait to make judgments even he though he looks like a great stretch shooter) and of course Joakim Noah, Gasol should be able to thrive as the season rolls through.
Then you have your backcourt shooting quartet of Mike Dunleavy, Doug McDermott (McBuckets), Kirk Hinrich (not really a fan, but a solid veteran presence I guess) and Aaron Brooks (a minute version of Vinnie Johnson). The thing to say about these guys is they give you a lot of input in bench scoring, shooting, and depth the Bulls haven’t had in a while.
In fact overall, this may be the Bulls deepest roster since the 90’s (not a homer claim, check for yourself).
You don’t really have that much ball handling (could be a problem later), but you have the extensive shooting, size, variety of defenders, and perhaps most importantly, experience (could play a huge part against Cleveland).
Beating a dead horse here, it’s all on Derrick Rose.
If you’re going to be a blind believer in what the Bulls and some fans are trying to sell, that’s fine with me. You have the right to believe whatever you want at any time. I however choose to face the reality.
As you’ve realized yourself, there was a time when Derrick was Derrick Rose. The most explosive smooth player in basketball. A man who no defense had any answer to. A man who took it personally to embarrass other opposing top point guards at his own will (and he did, just look at his match-ups with Chris Paul). A man who won the MVP as the literal only focal point of an offensively challenged Bulls team that won 62 games in 2011. The leader. The guy who set on the tone on every possession.
Oh how things tragically changed.
An injury plagued post lockout post MVP campaign never let Rose fully hit his stride in the 2011-2012 season, ultimately culminating in Rose tearing his ACL in the 1st round.
He hasn’t been the same since.
Rehab for 18 months ensued, with Bulls PR doing a terrible job of protecting it’s franchise player’s image by leaking Rose was “cleared” to play midway through 2012-2013 regular season in the middle of that timeframe. (Many fans still hold resentment towards Rose. Just really bad PR by Bulls brass. Just awful).
Then the “Return” campaign for 2013 fizzled out, as Rose again blew out a knee (this time an MCL, less serious, sure) less than over a week into the season. And its not like he was lighting it up either averaging 15.9 pts to go with 35% shooting. Rose looked like a shell of himself. Tentative. Turnover prone. Off Rhythm. The explosion and effortless drives to the rim were gone.
Minus the 10 or so games Rose played last year, it’s really been over 2 years since Rose was able to play meaningful basketball and get into the grind of an NBA season. You can say he’s fragile, or you can say he’s unlucky, but either way it hasn’t worked out the way people thought his career would after that MVP season.
There’s always reason for hope though.
The eternal optimist in me sees a healthy Derrick Rose coming into this season.
I see the explosion and swagger he used to play with when I watched him against Washington in limited minutes tonight.
I see the deep, assembled roster around Rose designed to cater to his talents and supplement his game. Like I said, the best cast he’s ever had around him.
But can it last? Can he last consistently?
I don’t know if Derrick Rose will ever return to that pre injury form, but if the Bulls are to be true challengers to the Cavs, they have to do it now, before Cleveland grows up (literally). If they are to finally break through and win a title, Derrick Rose must stay healthy and he must play well. The time is now. He carries the team. He literally is the franchise. (That fact has never changed, I mean, he is still the only one who can handle the ball reliably).
And don’t be mistaken. If Rose and Chicago manage to stay healthy, they will eclipse Cleveland in regular season wins. More chemistry. More experience. More Thibs. But it’s about the playoffs. It always has been. Derrick Rose needs to be some kind of good version of Derrick Rose all the way through May if they are to beat the Cavs when it matters. Color me a skeptic, but I’ll have to wait to see it. (Pleasantly shock me Derrick!)
What was once a young roster of assembled stars and role players for the Bulls, now is a group of grizzled experienced vets. That championship window the Bulls once had wide open is now closing. The only person who can keep it creaked open is Derrick Rose.
The Bulls better hope he’s up to the task.
Photo Credit: (USA Today Sports Images)
Robert Zeglinski is an aspiring sportswriter who absolutely loves all the nitty gritty that comes with pro sports. He is currently attending Aurora University in Illinois. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigZags82 or reach him through email (email@example.com) for questions or feedback.