With the Chicago Bulls dropping another game on Monday to the Miami Heat, bringing their second-round playoff series to a 3-1 deficit, Bulls guard Derrick Rose is quickly moving from Chicago hero to Chicago villain. And he’s doing it without even playing.
As you have probably heard by now, Rose, who was crowned the 2011 NBA Most Valuable Player, has not played at all this season thanks to an ACL tear that required surgery a year ago. His recovery was expected at the time to take eight to 12 months.
Fast forward 12 months, and here are the Bulls fighting tooth and nail to stay alive in a second round series against the NBA defending champion Heat. Following a surprising Game 1 win in Miami, the Bulls have lost three straight, and were more than likely eliminated from the playoffs on Wednesday. (I am taking a wild guess at that, as I write this on Tuesday before deadline.)
With Luol Deng playing but still banged up, center Joakim Noah banged up and Kirk Hinrich out with a calf injury, the Bulls are in need of a hero. And ever since Rose was medically cleared to play in March, Rose was supposed to be that hero, to save the Bulls from losing to the Heat. The only problem is Rose isn’t ready to play.
So each and every playoff game that Bulls have been in so far, fans have had to stare at Rose sitting in a tailored suit at the end of the Bulls bench, questioning why he’s not in the game giving his team and his city his all. It has been a full year since his surgery, after all.
Despite participating in practice and pregame shoot-arounds, Rose continues to sit on the bench and in doing so, he’s quickly becoming the main target of blame for the probability that the Bulls aren’t going to go to the third round of the playoffs.
Now I’m not really a Bulls fan, watching and invested in this rough-and-tough series against the Heat, so I don’t fully empathize with the plight of the Bulls faithful. But as I see it, I wouldn’t want Rose to play in this series at all. Keep him on the bench, I say, even if he’s begging to be put in – which he is not.
These games have been full of ejections, technical fouls, late elbows and a lot of pushing and shoving. The Bulls and the Heat are playing one of the most physical, smash-mouth basketball that we’ve seen in a long time. The rough style was a game plan that worked for the Bulls in their Game 1 win. Unfortunately for them, the Heat quickly figured out that they could match the Bulls’ physicality and took the series over with three straight wins.
My point here is that this is no series to be forcing your future superstar back into if he is not ready. It wouldn’t take much to re-injure a knee or just get busted up. Rose signed a five-year, $94.8 million contact back in 2011. At the time, his contract made up approximately 30 percent of the Bulls’ entire salary cap. At that price, you’d better be damn sure he’s ready to dive into the playoff atmosphere. It makes business sense to keep him out until next year.
It also just makes sense to keep a player on the bench who hasn’t seen a lick of time on the court all season. Yes, the Bulls need some fresh legs if they are going to have a fraction of a chance. What they don’t need is a pair of rusty legs on the court. Is Derrick Rose going to be rusty and not quite up to playoff speed when he enters a game? Throw aside for a moment the question of whether or not he is healthy, and try to judge whether or not he will be a liability on the court.
After a season of rehabbing, I just don’t see him coming in and being the star. It takes a while to get warmed up and in top playing form. He could go out there and be the worst player on the bench. Who knows?
Or he could go onto the court and be that great $94.8 million player that everyone wants him to be. I doubt it, but I guess it’s a possibility. And it’s that possibility, no matter how small of a possibility, that fans want to see on the court. That possibility of the unlikely happening is why we all watch sports in the first place. We want to see the impossible happen. We want to see Derrick Rose take the court and school LeBron James and Co. because it’s highly unlikely and it would make a storybook ending. We like to see a guy fight through an injury for the good of his team. We want to see the guy with the broken arm fight through just one more play. I don’t blame Bulls fans for hoping for some sort of storybook ending with Rose playing the lead. They want a hero to take charge of this team.
But sometimes, you have to know when to throw in the towel. And, smartly, Derrick Rose has thrown in the towel on this season of play. The Bulls made it this far without him and if they somehow win on Wednesday and continue on in the playoffs, they can continue on without him as well.
It’s unfortunate Rose continues to sit on the bench alongside his teammates. It’s a gigantic tease for Bulls fans. It gives them hope that at some point he’s going to tear away that suit and jog onto the court for a game winner. He should be up in an owner’s box, away from the bench. It would save him and the organization a lot of grief from the fans.
Rose may be the wimpy villain right now. Next year, though, I believe he’ll become Chicago’s hero once again. Chicago fans will forget all about this hobbled playoff run.