Chicago Bulls: Outlining a Backup Plan If Derrick Rose Can't Remain a Superstar
Halloween is coming, and this could well be a question that springs from a horror movie:
What if Derrick Rose comes back and is merely a “good” player?
The whole of Chicago will wail. Chances are, David Stern and the NBA will be plenty upset. And the tenuous balance of power will swing even farther away from the Chicago Bulls. Far enough, in fact, to kiss any hopes of an NBA title goodbye.
Everything we know about Rose says he's ahead of his rehab schedule and is due to make an impact on the Bulls later this season. Hall-of-Famer and Bulls legend Scottie Pippen himself insists that Rose will come back to the team better than before. (h/t ESPN)
So the chances that Rose won't be as good as ever are remote. The chances the Bulls would ever feel compelled to do something about an "average" Rose are microscopic.
Still, it's not a given that Rose will be able to lift back off into superstardom. And if that doesn't happen, the Bulls could be sentenced to extended mediocrity.
But if John Paxson and Gar Forman aren’t at least mulling over the possibility that despite their highest hopes, Rose will return to the floor a mere mortal, they’re not doing their due diligence as caretakers of the team.
Begin the slideshow at your own risk, Bulls fans. And remember, there are more tricks than treats to come.
Deal with It
When the Bulls drafted Rose, there was no guarantee he was going to be a superstar, much less an MVP. After all, there are more No. 1 picks who fall short of either category than who follow through on such promise.
There's nothing that says right now he'll be any less a player post-ACL than pre-.
But what if he does come back and finds the rest of the pack has caught up with him a bit? Bittersweet as it is to have a busted ACL tug on Superman’s cape enough to render him mortal, so what?
Rose as a “good” player means he is plenty capable of contributing to a winning team. He’ll still be a leader and likely captain of the Bulls for years.
Say Rose’s range limits his explosiveness to the rim. Okay, he loses that tool from his box and sharpens his outside shooting, or focuses more on double-figure assists. Perhaps strength never fully comes back to that knee and Rose can’t shoulder a heavy-minutes load. Well, hello, super-sub.
Now, $16 million-plus per season for another five seasons of a merely “good” player would hamstring the Bulls, no matter what trades may be executed to accommodate such a salary.
But keeping Rose on wouldn’t kill the Bulls, it would merely challenge Paxson/Forman to spend and draft smarter. With a margin of error already razor-thin in the NBA, smart future-talent acquisition could prove a bigger challenge than anything Rose might be doing right now to rehab his way back into the league.
In the decades since the Bulls drafted an injured Scott May over Robert Parish, who scout Jerry Krause was insistent about, knee injuries are no longer terminal developments in a player's career.
Rose is young and strong, determined to make it back to the Bulls better than his MVP self.
But there's a chance that something as simple as sheer bad luck could find Rose re-injured or simply lacking some of his unique explosiveness. Another injury, or simply the sheer on two games, off one pattern that Rose suffered in 2011-12, before his season-ending blowout in the playoffs, could start him on the slippery slope toward Penny Hardawayism, or Grant Hillery.
Combine any prolonged struggle with injury for Rose and his team, unable to turn the corner and make the NBA Finals, and now you've got a dilemma that only a trade can solve.
The Bulls would be able to command a king’s ransom for Rose, the youngest MVP in NBA history, even if he is suspected of injury reducing him to being a "good" player. Handfuls of teams would be falling over themselves to find the missing links in Rose’s failed rehab (Shaquille O’Neal and the Phoenix Suns, revisited) and willing to burn a spicy combination of young prospects and future picks to do so.
Yeah, you’re right, that wasn’t much of a haul. Paxson/Forman had better rake in much more than that, or the door will hit them on the hiney on their way out of town.
Blow Up the Team
In 1997, the Florida Marlins won the World Series in their fifth year of existence. Immediately afterward, owner Wayne Huizenga destroyed the team in one of the ugliest fire sales in sports history, dealing Moisés Alou and Kevin Brown in the offseason and shipping out Bobby Bonilla, Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile by the 1998 All-Star break.
Six years later, the Marlins won another World Series title.
The Bulls haven’t even been to the Finals in 14 years, but the comparison still holds: Tearing down the team and profiting from the prospects/picks can rebuild a title contender.
Joakim Noah for a lottery pick, minimum.
Luol Deng for a lottery pick and place-marker starter.
Taj Gibson for a mid-first.
If there’s anything “good” about a fire sale, it’s that Chicago would be ascending toward a title without the Big Three in Miami squarely in its way.
Oh, and Blow It Up Quickly
Time is of the essence with delightful, franchise-shifting players about to be made available by the basketful.
The 2014 draft will boast a ridiculous young crop of talent, possibly including Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Gordon, along with another half-dozen blue-chip international prospects.
The 2014 free agent class includes a number of pipe dreams, including Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki, as well as more reasonable targets such as Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Danny Granger, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Andrew Bogut. Presuming he’s already been dealt, Deng would be eligible to return to the Bulls as well.
The Bulls are smacked right up against the salary cap for 2012-13, so the notion that on the turn of a dime, salary and roster space can be zeroed out is a stretch. But as a multi-phase plan that begins with some hard decisions this season and carries them over into 2013-14, it's plausible.
Do Free Agency Right This Time
Back in 2000, the Bulls were supposed to quickly win another NBA title quickly after a horrific, 13-37 blip post-Michael Jordan.
GM Jerry Krause was confident that free agents would flock to the Berto Center door, begging to don the red-and-black and put another banner in the rafters. Money was no object, as the Bulls had room to ink two top-tier free agents.
But Tim Duncan demurred. Grant Hill backed out of Chicago and headed instead to Orlando, as a bit of a concession to Mrs. Grant Hill. Eddie Jones felt the home fires burning and opted for the Miami Heat.
Even Tracy McGrady, at the time somewhat of a stretch as a “max” player and considered a fall-back option for Krause, eschewed the bells, whistles and marching bands the Bulls had waiting for him at the airport and opted to join Hill in Orlando.
That robust free agent class ended up netting the Bulls Ron Mercer and Brad Miller. Yikes.
In 2010, the Bulls courted all three of the superstars who would end up forming the Big Three in Miami—James, Wade, and Bosh. All three would reject the Bulls, although it is believed that the decision hinged on Wade, who came very close to choosing the Bulls.
If the Bulls are forced into another clearing of the deck, aggravated by Rose being unable to attain his former heights—it’s imperative that the team seal the deal on somebody, anybody, to build around.