The Chicago Bulls have an unquestioned superstar in Derrick Rose. But in an era where NBA stars are ganging up for shots at championships, can Rose bring another ring to Chicago without a fellow star to help?
History doesn't support a "yes" answer, but there are a few signs for optimism.
First off, it’s rare in the NBA for a superstar to win without a fellow All-Star, or at least an exceptionally talented second option. Bill Russell had John Havlicek. Larry Bird had Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. Kareem Adul-Jabbar had Oscar Robertson and then Magic Johnson. Even the great Michael Jordan needed Scottie Pippen.
Even worse news for Rose’s championship hopes is the star studded teams being assembled around him. The Miami Heat possess a big three of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. The Oklahoma City Thunder have Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. The Los Angeles Lakers may be one of the oldest teams in the league, but they’re contenders with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
With the current NBA landscape, it doesn’t look good for contenders in the “one superstar” model, and that includes Rose and the Bulls. Looking at the past 20 champions (viewable here thanks to nba.com), the only winners who didn’t have two or more surefire “star” level players were the Dallas Mavericks (2010-11) and the Detroit Pistons (2003-04).
Chicago has built a very solid team that, if healthy, could go deep into the playoffs. As they are, without giving Rose a consistent second option, they cannot be considered favorites.
Carlos Boozer has disappointed since he signed his lavish contract three summers ago. Luol Deng may be a star defensively, but he isn’t the scorer Chicago needs and is coming off his worst scoring season since his rookie year. Unless one of the two shines this season without Rose in the lineup (he is expected back in March, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune) they could both see themselves shipped out of town in an effort to snag a second option next offseason.
If the Bulls clear both off the books (using the amnesty clause on Boozer and trading Deng), they’d be players in the 2013 free-agency class.
If Rose doesn’t get that second star, is it possible that the hometown hero could leave Chicago? Former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy made his opinions clear while talking with AM-740's "The Game" in Orlando. "I think the interesting one coming up in the future is going to be Derrick Rose," Van Gundy said. "…he's got good players around him, very good players around him, but if (the Bulls) can't get another star there for him is he eventually going to look around and say, 'Hey, I've got to work this out on my own and I've got to find somehow to get somewhere else so that I will have a chance to play with another star.' The league has changed."
Of course, it’s easy to pass Van Gundy’s words as bitter since he was let go by the Magic this summer in an effort to appease star center Dwight Howard. Even so, it’s hard to ignore the logic. Any team with one superstar likely dreads the potential of losing that player because they can’t get him another big name to play with. It happened in Cleveland with LeBron, it happened in Toronto with Chris Bosh, it happened in Orlando with Howard… but could it happen with Chicago with Rose?
While it’s hard to be anywhere near concrete with these kinds of things, Rose himself should give the Bulls fans optimism. Rose is a quiet superstar, a force of nature who thrives on the court and is mostly silent off of it.
In a league with showmen like LeBron and Howard, Rose’s silent determination is almost refreshing. Everything about Rose’s career so far speaks of utter loyalty to the city and the team (when he is introduced in games, he is “from Chicago” rather than from his former college of Memphis) and nothing he has said should cause any concern.
Another big reason for optimism is the presence of Tom Thibodeau, who has emerged as one of the top coaches in the NBA. While he cannot spin straw into gold, he gets the best of out his players and has developed Chicago into the top defensive squad in the NBA. As long as he is their coach, the Bulls will be a top team, and Rose will have more reason to stay.
If Rose returns completely healthy, Chicago will resume its spot amongst the NBA elite. They may not be contenders on level with Oklahoma City, Miami or the Los Angeles Lakers, but they’re up there. But can Rose win a championship in Chicago without another superstar? History says no, but that doesn’t mean Bulls fans should dread his departure.