It does appear the Bulls need Derrick Rose


Jan 1

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It was coming to the end of the long road trip in late November. The Bulls were the team to beat in Michael Jordan’s first full season after his 1993 retirement.

The Bulls had opened the trip with an overtime win in Dallas, and then they took care of the Spurs, a 62-win team that season working on 59 wins. Then it was a win against the Malone/Stockton Jazz before a loss to the Nuggets, who were on the way to the league’s best record with 64 wins. Then it was a win over a good Portland team. It was about 10 days into the long trip, already with a pair of back to backs and playing the three teams that would have the best records in the Western Conference that season. And now it was on to Canada to play a Vancouver team working on 12 consecutive losses.

Everyone among the Bulls had pretty much had it by now, and a Grizzlies team that would be the worst in the league that season with 15 wins was leading in the fourth quarter and about to deliver the five-time champions a brutal loss.

Derrick RoseCuonzo Martin, the Purdue player who now coaches the University of Tennessee, made a shot to give Vancouver the lead heading into the fourth and urging the crowd on. Martin also was telling Jordan this was not a night for his team, which we know by now was not a great idea.

So Michael Jordan said he’d seen enough.

Jumper over Byron Scott. Another in the face of Greg Anthony and then a lob slam dunk from Scottie Pippen over Anthony. Putting Bryant Reeves in a poster and then Anthony Avent. Yes, you can see why they lost 67 games. One after another, jumper, fade, dunk, fast break, beating a triple team at the basket. And then it was over, Bulls by six as they went off on a 13-game win streak.

Which is also why the Bulls lost to the woeful Charlotte Bobcats Monday.

The worth of a great player isn’t that he makes game winning shots, though it helps. Greatness is often defined in sports as being consistent, knowing you can count on a player for substantial scoring or rebounding or playmaking every game no matter the circumstances.

That’s the greatness of players like Derrick Rose.

You don’t need a winning shot if you can create some distance between you and your opponent earlier in the game. With Kirk Hinrich out and Joakim Noah suffering from flu, the Bulls Monday were missing two essential parts, especially Noah the way his hustle seems to motivate the other players.

Still, the Bulls had tied the game after three quarters, putting themselves in position to escape with a win.

But the Bulls as presently comprised don’t have that guy like the Bulls once did to allow everyone else to have a bad day.

And that Bulls team had Scottie Pippen, a Hall of Famer, and Toni Kukoc, who eventually could be enshrined considering his international play.

But none of them could get much going while Jordan was having a quiet game. So Michael understood it had to be him. He finished with 29 points, 19 of them scored in the last six minutes.

So Jordan just took over, basically every scoring opportunity going to him as each of the Bulls players on the floor for that game searched Jordan out at every opportunity. They understood they’d had their chance and let it get away.

This Bulls team has had some tough losses, like New Orleans, Milwaukee, the Pacers and Celtics at home, all close games. Those are the kinds of game in which a star makes a difference. Rose wouldn’t have made any difference in the two losses to the Clippers, who both times overwhelmed the Bulls.

But for four or five minutes, players like Jordan and Rose—and LeBron and Kobe and Durant—can take the pressure off everyone else and provide a team with enough room and time for the other guys to contribute what they can. It’s often not enough to win, but enough to close once you have that cushion.

Sure, injuries are part of the game. But not injuries to MVP’s. Those injuries you cannot recover from. Sure, other teams have important players out, like the Pacers with Danny Granger, the 76ers with Andrew Bynum, the Knicks with Amar’e Stoudemire and the Celtics with Avery Bradley But none come close to the impact on their team Rose has with the Bulls.

It’s to the credit of Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau that he says the team always has enough, which is the appropriate message to the players not to give in. And this Bulls team rarely does. With rare exceptions they compete with everything they have. But the talent isn’t there to be elite without Rose.

With Hinrich out Monday, it was obvious that Marquis Teague isn’t quite ready to run a team and Nate Robinson is best as an energy scorer off the bench in limited minutes as Charlotte’s small guards gave the Bulls major problems that Rose could have remedied, obviously with offense, but defending their quickness as well.

Robinson, by the way, will be around for this season as the Bulls Tuesday guaranteed Robinson’s contract for the season. Though Robinson is hardly your ideal point guard, he delivers something the Bulls basically lack, the kind of scorer who can get his own shot off the dribble and get streaky hot. It was difficult to see whom the Bulls could add who would have given them more. So keeping him made sense.

Rose is traveling with the Bulls to Orlando and Miami this week, demonstrating he’s still a smart guy. He certainly is not close to playing, and it’s not like he doesn’t see the team enough as he works out at the Berto Center. But it’s a nice break for a few days to be in Miami and know not everyone has to live inside.

The Bulls hope to get Hinrich back in Orlando as well as Noah’s energy as the Bulls also are in Miami Friday.

The Magic played the Bulls tough in a November 6 loss in Chicago. And their center, Nikola Vucevic, is coming off a massive 29 rebounds in an overtime loss to the Heat, who are next to last in the league in rebounding, only ahead of Boston. So the Heat isn’t quite dominant yet. But the Bulls uncharacteristically under Thibodeau have been outrebounded seven of the last nine games.

So nothing is going to come easy for the Bulls until they see Rose again for more than a nice lunch by the pool.

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