Will a Rose bloom in this Bulls Garden?


Nov 4

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

The Bulls had a special assembly Tuesday morning in Orlando before leaving for Cleveland and Wednesday’s game with Ben Wallace’s Cavaliers. OK, LeBron James is playing, too.

It sounded like it might be the basketball version of those elementary school mornings when some old guy comes in and the teachers are so proud and nervous and you were thinking when was it going to be time for gym.

The old guy this time was football guy Lou Holtz, who lives in Orlando and is old friends with Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. This had been long planned as Del Negro says he plans to have motivational type speakers greet the players on a regular basis, though it seems he’ll stop short of using any of Phil Jackson’s mystics and shaman.

"With a young team like we have it’s good to get other people who’ve had success and are respected to give a message to guys and maybe one guy will take something away from what coach Holtz said today, and that’s good," said Del Negro.

Del Negro said Holtz’s message was "about teamwork and having passion and setting goals for yourself. Never giving up and supporting teammates, core values, understanding it’s not about me, it’s about the team. It’s a great message for everyone," said Del Negro.

Maintaining and building trust in the group and your peers, playing a role and accepting it, teamwork. It’s pretty standard stuff in the sports and corporate business world and motivational tour. And though the session was long planned, it was particularly appropriate after Monday’s 96-93 loss to the Orlando Magic and something of the elephant in the room that is difficult to directly address with this Bulls team.

It’s clear that the team is placing it’s hopes in the hands of the baby point guard, rookie Derrick Rose. It’s also pretty clear he is growing into the most talented member of the team. It’s clear Del Negro is trying to fashion an offense that best suits Rose’s talents, keeping the floor spread for penetration, trying to score primarily in transition with a basic offense.

Nothing wrong with that, really.

You want to build around your best talent.

But it’s only human nature to look around when a new, young guy comes into the office and gets all the attention, and you’ve been in the playoffs, second round, made big shots, get paid big money, been decorated with league awards and have been talked about as an All-Star as well.

This is not a Bulls team of bad guys. It’s not a team of guys who say much of anything, really. Rose is a nice, quiet, polite young man who seems well liked by teammates. Still, it’s only natural to wonder about deferring.

It’s not always easy to do even if it is the right thing, a thing of trust, really, as Lou Holtz innocently reminded everyone Monday morning.

I wondered about all that watching Ben Gordon take off for that ill-fated drive with 22.8 seconds left Monday night trailing 94-92. It was just one play in a game of many turns and changes, comebacks and collapses, stumbles and spectacular moments.

Though that Gordon moment was perhaps most instructive and telling: Call time out and set something up? Which likely would be for Rose, who had just scored coming out of a timeout with 54.9 seconds left to bring the Bulls within 93-90.

It’s under 24 seconds in the game trailing by two. Pull the ball out, which would likely mean Rose making a play, though my guess is Rose gets it to Gordon because Rose would rather pass and run a team than score. His scoring this season has been much more necessity than design. Plus, you figure with him with the ball he’ll draw a double team.

Or go. Gordon went and tried a two, which could have tied the game. Hold the ball and shoot a three to try to steal the game and not give them time?

"There’s all different ways to do it," said Del Negro, who said on second, or third, or fourth thought he would have done "exactly what we did. There was a stoppage of play with the refs getting together. It gave me extra time to talk to the team. We ran a play similar to what we just ran. I wanted to save my last 20 and we ended up (needing it) to set up a play to get the rebound off the free throw. Ben can make shots. Those are shots he makes. The execution and spacing were not great."

I have no idea what Gordon was thinking, and have no overt indication anyone is jealous or resentful of Rose. The truth is once the team is in harmony, the players all should benefit from having Rose around because he can settle down a team despite his youth and get players easier shots. In hitting a trio of threes Monday, Andres Nocioni seemed to understand well spacing with Rose and I’ve seen Kirk Hinrich talking to Rose about situations. Rose appears respectful around the players, not pushing himself on anyone or being loud. He does the rookie chores of bringing donuts and carrying luggage with no other rookie. And much more agreeably than Joakim Noah took to the tradition in last season’s muddled mess. But it’s a system clearly being adapted for Rose, which is fine by me and you’d hope fine with everyone else.

Meanwhile, as for not great, that has been Luol Deng, who after 21 points on eight of 13 shooting is six for 31 in the last three games and averaging 6.7 points the last three games after one point on zero for eight shooting against Orlando.

"It’s frustrating," Deng agreed Tuesday after a long practice in Orlando. "In our offense, there’s no place to cut and I haven’t been on the post. Those are my two things. The mid range (shot) is there, but it’s not so open. Guys are staying home."

Deng’s game clearly has suffered the most in the emphasis to develop a game around Rose’s talents. Del Negro said he doesn’t like postup play, which Deng and Drew Gooden have sought out but been put off by Del Negro for now. Though Del Negro did say after practice Tuesday it is a priority to get Deng more involved in the offense and he’ll consider some postup situations and ways to get Deng more immediate involvement in the offense.

"We’ll get there as we put more things in," said Del Negro. "We don’t have great length up top and a great post game. How are you going to score without keeping the floor open and playing fast and trying to get things in transition? (But the) post up slows us down a lot. I don’t think it’s a strength of ours now. I like to get up and down more than we are now and take advantage of mismatches when they are there."

Deng is good in transition, but without the postups he’d like to pursue though he hasn’t done that much in previous seasons or half court curl game he plays to get to the middle under the free throw line, Deng is left to square up defenders on the wing and try to beat them, which is not his strength as he’s not a great athletic player. Whereas Andres Nocioni seems to have a good sense of the way Rose plays and is adept at finding spots to go to where he can shoot from long distance. But where do you play him?

As for the three-guard sets and playing a Phoenix Suns version of Vinny ball, Del Negro doesn’t seem particularly interested. He says the team needs to concentrate more on defense, anyway.

While Rose leads the team in minutes played and shot attempts. Sometimes you wish with this group of mostly quiet Bulls players that someone would say something, throw open the situation everyone will have to face, that this new kid on the block will be the hub. Clear the air, speak the unspoken, and get on with it as a team. Trust, believe and accept roles.

It’s not an easy formula to figure out and not an easy human equation to compute. Though it appears it could be a going on for quite some time.

In other stuff, Del Negro said Michael Ruffin did some running after being out with an ankle injury and Larry Hughes did some shooting. "It was good to see those guys out there," said Del Negro.

It’s another one of those trade reunion games again with Ben Wallace seeing the Bulls and Drew Gooden and Hughes back with their old Cavs friends. The Cavs still rely more on defense and are holding opponents to 88.5 points and 41 percent shooting this season.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors.

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