In Derrick Rose the Chicago Bulls have lost their best player. But perhaps just as significant as what Rose brings to the court—points for himself and others with his speed’s misdirection of defenses, namely—is the psychological edge Rose gives his team.
The Bulls have lost their swagger.
Suddenly, Chicagoans are becoming nostalgic for Nate Robinson, who’s now flashing his league-topping irrational confidence with the Denver Nuggets. Robinson is no replacement for Rose, but his hot streaks and nearly insane belief in himself were indispensable to one of the most fun seasons in recent Bulls memory.
The Bulls roster, as constituted, lacks anything like a gun-toting confidence man. As the front office and coach Tom Thibodeau converge onto a similar page in terms of personnel decisions, many wonder whether their preference for steely, militant types is always in the franchise’s best interest.
This year’s most significant roster pickup was Mike Dunleavy, who signed for $6.5 million over two seasons. For that figure, the Bulls could have re-signed Robinson, who’s on a slightly smaller contract in Denver.
Dunleavy boasts a superior shooting percentage and is certainly a bigger body and more level head than Robinson, but when has he ever taken over a game?
The team’s decision to bring in Dunleavy instead of retaining Robinson speaks volumes about their overall philosophy: Thibodeau is seeking players more malleable than fiery—to a fault.
With Rose out, the team is without any player (however efficient, docile and well-meaning they may or may not be, generally) who’s capable of a scoring streak to strike fear into the opposition.
This highlights a problem that still loomed large when Rose was in action: the team is simply too dependent upon its superstar. When he fell, the hole he left was cripplingly large.
Personality matters to teams, and the Bulls are right to mostly form a squad around Rose that shares his humble leanings. But in order to find that extra boost they’re missing, they might need to invite some more mercury into the fray.
This starts with Thibodeau easing his hands off the wheel a bit, becoming more open to players whose capacity to score in bunches comes with the caveat of their less-than-severe adherence to his script.
Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley are both paying dividends for their teams, who were wise to trust in the strength of their culture, their ability to maximize the talents of players the rest of the league deemed dubious, whatever their natural gifts.
The Bulls need to make similar investments in order to take the next step. The prominence of the gunner, the chucker, the irrational confidence man has waned considerably across the NBA.
But make no mistake—such shooters still hold important real estate in the league.
They make up the dynamite wild card factor that simply can’t be accounted for, that makes teams less chartable and defendable. The Bulls could stand to trade some of their wealth of glue men and hustle horses for more of such a dynamic.
Especially now with Derrick Rose out again.
Even if Derrick Rose returns for a Bulls playoff run, it’s unlikely his rust will wear off enough to give Miami or Indiana a serious challenge in a seven game series.
The suggestion that the team needs to acquire more irrational fervor is less a practical, short-term one—although Jamal Crawford does look awfully appealing—than it is an interrogation of the team’s ideology.
Their value system requires some tweaking, some more open arms to chaos, if they’re to become serious about raising their squad to championship heights.