Derrick Rose and the Raging Bulls

I have never broken a bone. Well, once in the tip of my finger, but that was the type of minor break that you keep to yourself for fear of losing street cred. The most “hurt” I’ve ever played with was a migraine headache, at a practice, and there were only a few game days when I had to take a shot of Dayquil in the morning to get over a runny nose.

Given my personal play-through-pain basketball history, you can understand that I have the right amount of authority to tell Derrick Rose to get back on the court.

A torn ACL has a different weight in my life. I wake up, eat breakfast, walk out to the hallway and step in an elevator. The elevator takes me down to the first floor, I walk a block outside and hop on a bus. On some of the tough days, when the bus is crowded, I will have to stand for the entire 25-minute commute! Bus drops me off at work, I hop in an elevator, sit in an office chair until 5 p.m.

With a torn ACL, I would miss out on months of lunchtime hoops, but I’ve missed that before from an injury called laziness. Honestly, the hardest part of an ACL injury, in my life, would be figuring out the healthcare paperwork. Does the employer pay for this? Do I pay for this? Obama?

In three months, I am marrying a dancer. A torn ACL means a completely different thing in her world. A career-ending type of thing. The fear of such an injury keeps her away from skiing in the winter or any other potentially risky activity to her legs. In Ashley’s world, a torn ACL is not the adversity in the story that the hero will eventually overcome; it is the tragic ending. The laws of science are undefeated in the world of dance.

Then came Adrian Peterson. The man who somehow became even better the very next season after his ACL injury. The man who has given sports fans everywhere reason to believe their superstar can not only come back sooner, but come back stronger. The man who can be partially blamed for Derrick Rose’s slow descent in Chicago from savior to selfish superstar.

For Derrick Rose, this year has been a perfect storm of outside factors all ganging up on him, increasing the pressure to hurry up and help his team.

Partially Adrian Peterson, partially Iman Shumpert, partially the mystery guy in Germany who can turn back 10 years on any knee. Pair that with Derrick’s brother who has been vocal about the Bulls needing more parts for Rose, then those “not enough” parts getting banged up but still willing themselves past the Nets and somehow taking game one against the Heat.

Kirk Hinrich played 60 minutes on a calf that can now only support shoot arounds. Luol Deng has God knows what, with serious words like ‘spinal tap’ and ‘meningitis’ floating around. Joakim Noah apparently forced his plantar fasciitis out of his foot and Nate Robinson has offensive explosions in between vomiting on the bench and 250 pound men landing on his head.

Oh, and then you got that whole Michael Jordan legend in the background. I live in Chicago now. The man is treated as a god here. If you didn’t know better, you would think MJ’s epic flu game took place every single night.

In Chicago, Derrick Rose plays an interesting role for the fans. He is not so much the second coming of Michael, but the protector, the man who can stop LeBron James from collecting all those MVPs and NBA rings. Rose is not asked to be Michael, he is asked to keep LeBron from being Michael. All year long the belief here, rational or not, was that the Bulls could weather the regular season, get back a healthy Derrick Rose and then take down the Heat when it mattered most.

The question I am interested in is not whether or not Rose should play. This subject has been debated ad nauseam and at this point, I say just find the internet opinion that matches your own and roll with it. Personally, I think Rose should do a David Lee in Game Three. Go out for a minute or two, get the crowd fired up, prove that he will go to battle for his guys. In this series, every point matters and that potential 7-0 run of Rose hitting a shot, crowd going wild, Nate Robinson getting a steal-layup, then Marco Belinelli hitting a three, that could change a game. In a Bulls-Heat game, seven points is the equivalent of 30 in Warriors-Nuggets.

The question I am fascinated with is whether or not the Bulls, at full strength, could even beat the Heat in a seven game series. Not just this year, but any time in the next three. Short answer: Yes. Let me explain.

Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer

The Miami Heat’s glaring weakness is rebounding. They are most vulnerable to teams like the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers who have traditional big men that get on the glass. Noah and Boozer aren’t the same offensive threats as Randolph/Gasol or West/Hibbert, but from a rebounding perspective they absolutely devour Chris Bosh and any other Heat big.

Jimmy Butler Solution for Luol Deng

Salary cap wise, it will be hard to keep Luol Deng past next season. In 2014-15, the Bulls will have Derrick Rose ($18.8), Carlos Boozer ($16.8), Joakim Noah ($13.1) and Taj Gibson ($8) all on the books. That’s $56.7 million, add Deng and that’s probably $70 million. For five guys. A team needs 12 and the Bulls have not been big luxury tax spenders. There’s a reason Omer Asik got away.

Pre-Jimmy Butler’s development into a legitimate starter, the only options to keep Deng would have been take the luxury tax hit or amnesty Boozer to make room. Neither plan helps their chances against Miami. The new, emerging Butler gives the Bulls a young replacement and a much cheaper alternative if worst comes to worst and Deng leaves for a team that can offer him more money.

Keep them both, and you can have Butler on Wade, Deng on LeBron, Hinrich coming in for backup minutes either guarding Wade or guarding Chalmers. You need 96 combined minutes from your shooting guard and small forward. Butler, Deng and Hinrich are all 40 minute a game type of players.

Coach Thibs

Toughness. Defense. Instills the belief in his players that they always have enough to win. What ultimately gives the Bulls a chance against the Heat is their ability to ugly up the game. Keep the score low. Any coach who can win game one, on the road, without his franchise point guard, starting shooting guard and starting small forward, against a Miami Heat team that was on a historic tear through the league, put that coach on the sideline and your team will always be prepared for battle.

Dwyane Wade’s Age

Dwyane Wade quietly turns 32 next season. Gradually, the “Big Three” will turn into the “Massive One and his still-better-than-Cleveland-days supporting cast.” Maybe that’s the greatness of LeBron; he makes Wade and Bosh look like role players rather than NBA All-Stars. Keep an eye on Wade’s stat line against the Bulls for the next three seasons. At 34, I think he will struggle to average 16 ppg against the combination of Bulls guards. Of course this means he will probably go off for 30 in Game 2.

Is Derrick Rose the Right Missing Piece?

I watched Nate Robinson’s Game 1 performance then tuned into Stephon Curry afterwards and realized, that’s the style of point guard that can hurt Miami. You need to have a guy who has no fear launching from deep and can beat the defender with their quickness. A Russell Westbrook/Derrick Rose, muscle his way to the basket point guard is not the right solution.

Oddly enough, the problem with Rose against Miami is that he plays like a mini-LeBron. Power dribble, power dribble, barrels into the lane and gets to the rim. This is what makes Rose such a dangerous player, but also a danger to his own body. Against Miami, it’s not the right strategy. There is no room in the paint for that type of 1 on 5 offense.

When Rose drives in against Miami, he quickly runs out of space and can either a) try to muscle past, hoping for a foul or b) have the “oh crap” moment, get caught in the air, look to make a pass behind him, which LeBron or Wade quickly sniffs out and turns the other way for a dunk.

With Nate Robinson, his panic button is the floater. This at least gives Noah and Boozer a chance to grab an offensive rebound. As crazy and out of control as he gets, the ball is always going forward. The teammates are also ready for a pass because who knows, it could come at any point. With Rose, the other guys tended to stand and watch, let Derrick carry the offensive load.

The belief that Derrick Rose is the instant solution to push the Bulls past the Heat is misguided. Here are all the things that need to happen for the Bulls to win a series against the Heat, if the two teams were to match up at full health:

1. Dwyane Wade, either by age or matchups, becomes a 15-16 ppg player not 22-25 ppg

2. Derrick Rose adjusts his game, becomes more facilitating, better outside shot

3. Jimmy Butler has to stay at the Jimmy Butler of the last three games level

4. Same with Joakim Noah

5. Mike Miler, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, or Ray Allen can only have one shoot-the-lights out game

6. LeBron James can’t become Game 6 and Game 7 of 2012 vs. Boston Celtics LeBron James

Pretty easy list, right? My point is, even if Derrick Rose does come back in this series, the Chicago Bulls have to play their A+ game every night and hope Miami has four B-/C+ games to push six games let alone seven or the unthinkable upset.

One game at a time. Don’t get too high or low on either the Bulls or the Heat. There is a whole lot of basketball left to be played.

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