Derrick Rose’s knee injury, LeBron James standing in way of Bulls’ title dreams
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org June 23, 2012 6:32PM
Bulls fans can’t rightfully expect point guard Derrick Rose, who recently had knee surgery, to be back at full strength at any time next season. | AP
Updated: July 25, 2012 6:33AM
Really, could it get any worse for the Bulls?
Funny I should ask. Yes, it could.
But before I paint it black, let’s start with some Rumsfeldian ‘‘known knowns.’’ First, Derrick Rose blows out his knee in the playoffs, ensuring he’ll miss a significant part of next season. Then, LeBron James and the Miami Heat win the NBA title. But for the purposes of the standard LeBron-hating Bulls fan, the only thing that matters is that LeBron wins the NBA title, which feels like a screwdriver to the eye.
Bad enough, right?
Now the Bulls face the prospect of a run of championships by James, which carries with it the prospect of a whole toolbox of screwdrivers.
I don’t have many soothing words for you today. It’s unrealistic, if not dangerous, to think that Rose is going to round into form quickly after returning from surgery to repair a torn knee ligament. He probably will come back after the New Year and work his way slowly and safely in the direction of what he used to be.
And it’s unrealistic, if not naïve, to think James, with his first taste of meat, will revert back to being the soft, cartoonish herbivore his critics painted him as being.
The upset right now would be if James doesn’t win multiple championships — perhaps not the seven he so brashly predicted after making ‘‘The Decision,’’ but at least two more in the next several years.
Think about what the Heat did. They won an Eastern Conference semifinal against the Indiana Pacers mostly without Chris Bosh, who had an abdominal injury. He missed the first four games of the conference finals against the Boston Celtics, too.
It has taken the Heat this long to figure out how to play together. Even part of the way through these playoffs, you couldn’t help but shake your head at how discombobulated the Heat sometimes looked. But what we saw from James against the Oklahoma City Thunder was scary good. He drove his team to a title the way You Know Who used to for the Bulls. Once turned on, that’s not going away.
How do the Bulls answer this? Not with the roster as composed now. Understand this is a very good Bulls team, with a superstar point guard (when he’s healthy) in Rose, a hard-working, two-way player in Luol Deng and a high-energy rebounder and defender in Joakim Noah.
But they’re not going to win with an overpriced power forward who can’t get his shot inside and who doesn’t play defense. That would be Carlos Boozer. If there’s anything the Heat-Thunder series brought fuller into focus, it’s that a Bulls team with Boozer can’t play under the basket with the Heat. If you have a salary-cap solution for Boozer, please let John Paxson know.
The Bulls never did come up with another scoring threat to complement Rose this season. You can chalk that up to injuries to Rip Hamilton or to time catching up with Hamilton. Whatever the case, even with a whole Rose and the same roster, they’re basically where they were at the end of the 2010-11 season. Loosely translated: not good enough.
The Bulls’ next best chance likely will come in the 2013-14 season — if they get roster help.
For much of Chicago, the long delay isn’t the worst part of it. The worst part is James, whom many here consider to be evil incarnate, a carpetbagging opportunist and All That Is Wrong With Sports. He staged a prime-time TV show to announce his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami. Lots of people hated the in-your-face self-centeredness of it — and rightly so. But if LeBron had said, ‘‘I’m taking my talents to Oak Street Beach,’’ something tells me Chicago would have forgiven him his narcissism.
There seems to be more grudging acceptance that James is among the best players to have picked up a basketball, probably among the top five and perhaps in the same stratosphere as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant in terms of sheer talent. Different kinds of players, of course, but above everyone else in terms of ability.
Not a lot of acceptance, but more of it.
It has been a long, rutted road for a guy who dug many of his own potholes.
‘‘I had to deal with it, and I had to learn through it,’’ James said. ‘‘No one had gone through that journey, and I had to learn on my own. I can finally say that I’m a champion.’’
It won’t be the last time he says that.