Incredibly, with free agent Carmelo Anthony visiting the Chicago Bulls on July 1, everyone wasn’t talking about whether Anthony would sign with the Bulls. The conversation got hijacked by debates over how much Derrick Rose would be, was or should have been involved in the recruiting process.
I won’t get into the semantics of that argument, because the discussion itself is flawed. I’ll just point you to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, who does an excellent job of sorting out what really happened.
The controversy is silly and sadly ironic. Much of the same fanbase criticizing Rose spent the last four years ostracizing LeBron James for “taking the easy way out” and joining the Miami Heat.
Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert famously described James' decision as a “cowardly act of betrayal.” The same critics will tell you that if James now leaves Miami for greener pastures, it would forever tarnish his legacy.
If James’ act of leaving was truly one of betrayal, wouldn’t Rose recruiting Anthony also be one? Aren’t being recruited and doing the recruiting inextricably linked? How can one be condemned and the other condoned?
Another counter-example came back in 2007. Kobe Bryant demanded that the Lakers either get him help or trade him. Many took that as a swipe at the teammates he had around him. And it’s fair to say that the roster was lagging behind. But Bryant took criticism for what his position was then and still does to this day.
With both James in Cleveland and Bryant in Los Angeles, they had less help than Rose presently has in Chicago. In fact, the situation with the Bulls is the polar opposite of Bryant’s Lakers or James’ Cavaliers.
Bryant had Lamar Odom in his prime, and he was a solid teammate. He had a developing Andrew Bynum. But other than that, he had players like Smush Parker, Luke Walton and Ronny Turiaf. When Bryant said, “Get me help,” he really did need it.
In his last year in Cleveland, James had Mo Williams, who made the All-Star Game by default. He had Shaquille O’Neal, who at 37 was near the end of his career and well past his prime. James carried that team as far as he could, but he really didn’t have any help, either.
Both men were justified in believing that they didn’t have enough to win and responded in different ways. Yet, both men were publicly berated by the press for what they did.
Enter Derrick Rose, who has played just 49 games in the last three seasons. And, while he’s been sitting, his teammates have been winning.
In 2012-13 he watched his team win 45 games and churn their way through a gutsy first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets. Last season, he saw his team plummet to nearly the bottom of the conference standings before steeling their resolve and finishing with the East’s best record after Jan. 1.
He watched Joakim Noah blossom into the Defensive Player of the Year and post historic numbers. He witnessed Taj Gibson become the second-best sixth man in the NBA. He saw Jimmy Butler turn into a second-team NBA All-Defensive wing.
But that’s all he was able to do: watch. He didn’t participate for most of it.
That’s far more “help” than Bryant or James had in their darkest years.
The juxtaposition of Bryant’s and James’ situations next to Rose’s intensifies the contrast. They were playing and winning without help from their teams. Rose’s team was playing and winning without his help. If the other two were called out for disloyalty, how much more would that apply to Rose?
When it was even hinted at, the outrage was there.
Derrick’s brother, Reggie, making it clear he was speaking on his own behalf, suggested in February of 2012 that the Bulls needed to make a move to help his brother, telling Scott Powers of ESPN Chicago the following:
What have you pieced together? Have you made any moves? Have you made any trades to get better? You know all roads to the championship lead through Miami. What pieces have you put together for the physical playoffs?
Joakim Noah is a great player. Luol Deng is a great player. But you need more than that. You have to put together pieces to your main piece. The players can only do so much. It's up to the organization to make them better.
Derrick neither said it nor agreed with what was said, but the backlash was still severe. For the first time, he started receiving criticism from local fans. And that was just midway through the first season Rose missed.
Now he’s missed almost all of two seasons. Not that he’s done anything wrong—getting injured is not a moral failing. But if Rose were to come out now and say, “I’m healthy, get me some help!” it would be correctly viewed as the most narcissistic, diva move of all time.
And how much difference is there between doing that and recruiting?
Recruiting a max player, by necessity, requires displacement of teammates. Who should Rose be chasing out of town? Even Carlos Boozer has done more for the Bulls than Rose has over the last two seasons. Should Gibson be traded for Rose’s pursuit of a ring? How about Butler?
Which of his teammates should he feel hasn’t earned the right to wear the same uniform he does?
This is not me taking a shot at Rose. In fact, if you were to ask him if it were true, he would agree. After all, when he was carrying the team—before he was ever injured—he was asked about recruiting to improve over his current substandard shooting guard, Keith Bogans. He famously replied, “Keith's my guy. I'm rolling with Keith.”
Was nearly three years of not playing supposed to reverse this view on recruiting?
Rose is loyal. That’s why he hasn’t called out his teammates in the past when it would have been acceptable. That’s why he didn’t fire his brother when he said something stupid. He still keeps friends from elementary school around him. It’s just part of his fundamental makeup.
And whether you agree that it’s an act of betrayal to go out and recruit, Rose has made it pretty clear that he feels it is. He’s reiterated this several times. The one exception to the rule was Kirk Hinrich, his first mentor in the NBA. Why that one exception? Because it was still an act of loyalty.
His reasoning had nothing to do with the sort of disingenuous rant that Dan Bernstein of CBS Chicago offered last December. Spinning off a dubious report from Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News which said “confidants” of Rose indicated that he was concerned about going through a rebuilding process, Bernstein penned a specious and vitriolic tirade:
What does he think they have, and where does he think it’s going? Most importantly, what does he not understand about the primary reason for the Bulls’ current plight? It takes some nerve to call out his employers after they have paid him 30% of their salary cap to miss consecutive seasons.
This is typical behavior from a player who has always done only what is in his personal best interest, everybody else be damned. He’ll take every last dollar, and enjoy all the team-supplied resources for medical consultations, surgeries, rehabilitation programs and various therapists, only to ignore their professional opinions just because he feels like it. And don’t bother asking him for even token assistance in welcoming potential free agents either, because he doesn’t want to.
It takes some nerve to post a rant like that without confirming if the source is true. It also takes some nerve to characterize it as Rose “getting paid to miss consecutive seasons.”
But this is the kind unknowingly oxymoronic position that the critics are putting themselves in. Bernstein is trying to portray Rose’s loyalty as betrayal.
Bernstein would have you believe that Rose is at fault for not demanding his teammates be moved.
In an age when we’re bemoaning the teaming up of superstars and sick of diva players wailing, “trade me or get me help,” shouldn’t we appreciate a player who doesn’t fancy himself the general manager? (Incidentally, Rose has participated in recruiting to the degree that front office has asked him to.)
Rose’s “failure” to recruit is not a failing in his character. Rather, it points to the strength in it.
Everyone, even Bernstein, is entitled to his opinion about whether players should recruit. However Rose alone is authorized to determine why he doesn’t, just as any man is uniquely able to ascertain what his own motives are.
Rose has made it clear that his are born from faithfulness to his teammates. What’s wrong with that?
If we’re going to castigate players for treachery in this dark age of betrayal, shouldn’t we appreciate it when there is an occasional beacon of loyalty? Even if you don’t agree with what Rose is doing, we should all appreciate why he’s doing it.