Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bill Russell. Michael Jordan. Wilt Chamberlain.
Each of these four players has a case for the title of "Greatest Basketball Player of All Time." Abdul-Jabbar dominated for years and still holds the record for most career points.
Russell is a winner in every sense of the word, racking up 11 NBA Championships.
Jordan's will to win can never be matched, nor can his accomplishments at shooting guard.
Chamberlain set arguably the most difficult record to break in professional basketball: 100 points in a game.
These four standouts also have 20 NBA MVP trophies among them.
Though stars often say it is more about the team championships than the MVP accolades, the winning seems to stem from individual excellence to an extent.
For the 2010-2011 season, names like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard headline the list for candidates.
I propose another: Derrick Rose.
Rose is quickly becoming one of the top point guards in the game, and now he's the well-defined leader of a team that made major strides through free agency in the offseason.
Just as MVPs win championships, championships foster MVPs.
Put simply, the better the Chicago Bulls do this season, the better Rose's chances of earning the highest individual honor of them all.
Will he win NBA MVP in just his third season in the Association? Probably not.
But if these five things go his way, he will be getting more than a few looks when it comes time to vote for the Most Valuable Player in the NBA.
Rose needs to demonstrate this year that he's the centerpiece the Bulls should build around after failing to net James, Wade or Chris Bosh.
In an interview following LeBron's decision and the formation of the Miami Thrice, Rose made it sound like he did not particularly want James in Chicago, mostly because he wanted to be the star of the team.
If that's his mindset, great. But I want to see proof in his leadership on and off the court.
Joakim Noah should be one of the voices of this young Bulls squad, but he shouldn't be the voice. Rose needs to speak more openly and confidently to the media to earn the respect of journalists, his teammates and the entire NBA.
So far, it looks like his experience overseas with Team USA will help in that regard. He also starred in a promotional video for NBA 2K11 in which he came out of his shell a bit.
Beyond stepping up as the leader of the Bulls, his statistics have to show he is "The Man" as well.
Rose's 2009-2010 stats: 20.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 6.0 apg, 0.7 spg, .489 field goal percentage, .267 three-point percentage.
Those are solid, All-Star level numbers. But far from MVP-worthy.
If all goes well for Rose and the Bulls, he should see a healthy boost in just about every category thanks to Chicago's added offensive and defensive weapons. He has also noticeably improved his long-range shot and his defense has gotten better under the guidance of the Team USA staff.
These are the 2010-2011 stats that would likely propel Rose into MVP consideration: 24.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 7.5 apg, 1.3 spg, .490 field goal percentage, .333 three-point percentage.
The points and rebounds are not as important as assists and steals, though Rose should lead the Bulls in scoring. Since Rose mans the point, demonstrating the ability to make the players around him better will be essential to wooing the voters.
Additionally, a boost in steals shows a greater defensive presence. Considering his freakish athleticism, he should be a solid defender by his third year in the NBA. Now that Tom Thibodeau is his coach, there's a good chance he will improve his defense by leaps and bounds.
This requirement may seem very specific, and it is. That's because if any young star is going to win the NBA MVP award this season, it's most likely going to be Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant.
Therefore, Rose needs to show in the Bulls' and Thunder's first game that he (not Durant) is the rising talent who will lead his team to a championship.
It's no coincidence that the NBA opted to pit these two squads against each other to start the season. Both have high expectations after the organizations built around two of the most promising superstars in the NBA today.
"Defeating" Durant basically means that the Bulls win the game. However, to some extent Rose must dictate that outcome. He does not necessarily have to outperform Durant statistically, but if the postgame discussion revolves around what Rose did not do, that's going to be a problem.
Voters remember little things like that when it comes time to voting, even if the game was early in the season. If it comes down to Durant and Rose in a voter's mind, the tie will most likely be broken by the head-to-head matchup, just as it is under most playoff systems.
Durant and Rose are both in the same position when talking about the MVP race. Each player is on a team looking to move from the playoff bubble to a title contender.
Championships aren't won or lost in October, but in this case, the MVP race might be.
Piggybacking off the previous points with regard to Durant, in year three Rose needs to firmly establish himself as a household name and as a player to be reckoned with for years to come.
As great as Rose has been in his first two seasons (Rookie of the Year, All-Star appearance, Skills Challenge winner, starter for Team USA), he still remains a relative unknown who has the dreaded "potential" label.
Durant is beyond potential. According to just about everyone around the NBA, Durant has arrived.
This is the year Rose should do the same, and with a far superior supporting cast than in previous years, the path is all set. Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver will take a lot of pressure off Rose.
For NBA fans who followed Team USA's gold-medal run in Turkey this summer, Rose clearly has established himself as the best point guard on the so-called "B-Team."
If Deron Williams or Chris Paul had opted to play, would Rose have still gotten the starting nod? Absolutely not.
Rose still has a ways to go in that department. If Rose won the MVP award, in theory that would make him the best point guard in the game. In practice, however, that is not the case. Should Paul fail to make the playoffs and Williams lead the Jazz to a worse record this year, there's no way they will remotely contend for MVP.
How would one measure whether Rose is one of the new faces of the NBA? Easy: All-Star voting. Since the fans decide who starts the game, it will be telling to see just how many votes Rose gets to start. If the fans usher him in, it shows he has arrived. If not, it means he's still just respected by the coaches and players in the league.
Though really the only opinion that matters for the MVP is sportswriters and broadcasters, their opinions can easily be swayed by their readers and viewers.
With LeBron bailing on the Cleveland Cavaliers, the NBA's Central Division is ripe for the taking. And though the Bucks are a darkhorse candidate, the Bulls are the major favorite to walk away with the division crown.
Unfortunately, James did not leave the conference. So all indications are that the Heat will easily earn the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference come playoff time.
Then there's the other scary team in Florida, the Orlando Magic. Boasting arguably the deepest team in the division, conference and league, the Magic also have a tremendous threat down low in Howard. He causes matchup problems for every team.
Boston is still Boston. Atlanta is still Atlanta.
So, where do the Bulls fit into the grand Eastern Conference scheme?
Well, if Rose wants a shot at the MVP award, their place better be first or second overall in the East.
No one would fault Rose if he carried the Bulls to a second-place finish behind a Heat squad that ran over its opponents. Sometimes when a team is so overpowered, voters tend to favor the player who had a tougher time getting his team to the top.
However, losing out in seeding to the Magic raises questions about just how valuable Rose is. Should the Bulls place behind the Celtics, you can forget about Rose nabbing the MVP. He can't even lead the new-look Bulls to a better record than a Celtics team that looks like an NBA nursing home for former stars?
It all goes back to the team-individual give-and-take when it comes to awards and championships. The higher the Bulls finish in the Eastern Conference pecking order, the better chance he has of snatching the MVP award out of nowhere.
If Rose could have one aspect of Jordan's game, I would hope it would be his insatiable desire to win and be the best player in the game. That mentality fueled everything that followed: the rings, the MVPs, the Finals MVPs, the scoring titles and the All-NBA selections.
So far in his young career, Rose has shown a refreshing dedication to the game of basketball. He has demonstrated his willingness to learn and do whatever it takes to get better. He has proven his unselfishness and focus on the team over the individual.
That's the mindset all great players have, even if they win individual accolades in the process. The second that the team takes a backseat to statistics is when all hope is lost for that player to ever achieve what he wants to.
Rose is on the right track Now it becomes a question of if he can hop on the fast track. The very best players get noticed and recognized early in their careers and maintain that status for the majority of their years in the league. For example, Durant will make the All-Star Game with ease next year, and will almost certainly do the same for the decade to come.
Rose? He's not even a lock to make the All-Star Game this season. Obviously that would instantly ruin any chance at MVP contention.
If all goes well though, Rose will make the All-Star Team and possibly start. The Bulls will get off to a hot start against the Thunder and never look back en route to a top-two finish in the brutal Eastern Conference. All the while, Rose will continue to hone his game and work on his weaknesses to become the best player he can be.
If all that comes together during the 2010-2011 season, don't be surprised when it is Rose—not Durant, Bryant, James or Wade—hoisting the NBA MVP trophy at season's end.