April 26, 2011: Derrick Rose contemplates in Chicago. The 22-year-old became the second MVP in the history of the Bulls.
Come along with me for a ride on the river of my reflections about the surprising situation to some—and the expected scenario to others. Yes, some Atlanta natives believe in the Hawks.
With the quickness and soaring ability of a red hawk, Rose, 22, turns 23-years-old in October. In being named the 2010-11 NBA MVP on Tuesday, he became the youngest player ever to win it.
When he won both the NBA Rookie of the Year Award and the MVP, Wes Unseld was 23-years-old and with the Baltimore Bullets in the 1968-9 season. Seasoned veteran LeBron James won the last two NBA MVPs. When he won his second, James was 25-years-old.
Rose’s honor comes with a bittersweet feeling. Of course, Bulls fans are ecstatic for Rose, but they have to wonder if he is going to be all right. After seeing him limp off the court in the fading seconds of game one, a collective rush of air went out of the United Center.
After seeing the performance of the team during the loss, fans have to be raising the question of whether or not the Bulls are mature enough to win it all this year. Known as the Baby Bulls for the last two 41-win campaigns, they’re supposedly grown now.
The addition of Carlos Boozer, 29, gives them a seasoned veteran. The rest of the squad is still very tender-aged. Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah are 25-years-old, and Luol Deng is barely 26. Kyle Korver and Keith Bogans are 30.
The Bulls do have veteran Kurt Thomas, 38, but he’s never won an NBA championship. Some could argue age isn’t important, but I beg to differ.
Jordan had to suffer through three consecutive losses to the Detroit Pistons in the playoffs. He was 28-years-old before he finally won a title. Rose has suffered through two consecutive losses to the Boston Celtics in the playoffs.
The similarities are striking, except Jordan was six years older than Rose is now—in winning an NBA championship for the first time. When your team leader—and your best player—is only 22-years-old in the NBA—it makes for nail-biting time for fans, coaches and family.
Las Vegas is probably wary of the baby Bulls. I am, too. I thought they’d grown up, but their lackluster performance in the first quarter raised a red flag for me.
I would be remiss without mentioning the leadership Rose showed in pointing out his team needed to play with more of an edge. He flagged their foul effort and also shrugged off concerns about his ankle. The injury looked apparently much worse on television.
The Bulls’ players may be young, but their coach Tom Thibodeau, 53, is a seasoned rookie deserving of his NBA Coach of the Year honor this season. He’s won a championship with the Boston Celtics as one of Doc Rivers’ assistants.
The leader of the team off the court, Thibodeau is in his first as head coach the Bulls. He signed a three year deal worth $10 million last summer—becoming the 18th coach in their franchise’s history.
He’s been an assistant coach under Jeff Van Gundy in New York and Houston and is known as a defensive guru in the NBA. The Celtics won him a ring and their 17th NBA championship with him specializing in coaching defense.
By reason of me asking whether or not the Bulls are too young, Chicago fans shouldn’t get defensive with me. The NBA Finals—getting to them usually takes a process of paying dues and ascending to a championship.
Most teams and players have endured a longer process than the third year guard, Rose. Jordan won his first title in his sixth season in the NBA, and he is king of a lot of accolades.
The accolades are piling up for Rose. He was named the Rookie of the Year in 2009 and an All-Star in 2010—not to mention the 2010-11 NBA MVP.
The learning curve for him, though, is still evident. He and the Bulls have to learn how to play as the favorite. They’re not the underdogs any longer, and Chicago has a bulls eye on them from the rest of the league.
Every team wants to knock off the No. 1 seed, and Atlanta is no exception. If the Bulls want to advance, then they’d better grow up and get it in. They have to play with an edge, and Atlanta clearly played with more focus and intensity to start the first quarter in the first game.
Growing pains with Atlanta appear to be over, and they’re primed to upset the Bulls. After the lackadaisical effort in the playoffs last year, the Hawks are to be commended for beating the team that embarrassed them—the Orlando Magic.
As the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference in 2009, the Bulls pushed the Celtics and their current coach—who was an assistant with Boston—in the first round of the playoffs. The Celtics were the defending champions, but they lost to Orlando.
Rose was a rookie during the 2008-9 season. So the Bulls aren’t too young—age-wise—to win the NBA Finals. They just have to bring their A-games against Atlanta and from here on out.
Whether or not they can do it will be more of a function of their will and experience than their youth. Succumbing to the pressure in the playoffs, however, is more likely to happen to a younger player than it is to a seasoned veteran.
I’m a veteran of writing about the playoffs, but my ink has run its course for this column. Catch me next time to see if I was correct about the Bulls.