So, What Now? Thoughts on Derrick Rose’s Setback And The Bulls’ Future

Derrick Rose on crutches after injuring the meniscus in his left knee - 11/23/13 - Bulls vs. Trailblazers
(Photo Credit: Reuters)

(Originally published in 2013)

This definitely isn’t what I wanted to be thinking about in regards to Chicago Bulls basketball this morning. I was hoping to write about how good Derrick looked in helping Chicago end Portland’s winning streak – and he did look good, but they lost – or how he dominated Chris Paul on Sunday afternoon.  Unfortunately, as you all know, there was a setback.  A torn meniscus in his right knee that will require surgery today.  Everything I’ve read from WebMD to KC Johnson to Kelly Scaletta says it’s not a simple choice of reattach or shave, it’s what they see when they get in there.  That will determine how long Derrick Rose is out.   Unfortunately, there are two questions of the day after a 39 point beatdown from the Clippers: 1) When will we see Derrick Rose again and 2) So, what now?

The questions are literally connected.  If it’s a minor surgery and Rose is back in 2-6 weeks (a possibility), then maybe little should be done.  If Derrick is done for the season?  That changes the conversation.  After thinking about it all weekend and debating back and forth with numerous Bulls fans on Twitter and Google+ amongst others, here’s what I think.

Before we get started, here’s a little disclaimer: Some dude came at me on Twitter questioning mine and Will Miller of The Bulls Zone’s loyalty to the Bulls as fans.  We were called “the worst fans there are” and said that we “didn’t even let Derrick Rose’s body get cold before we started burying him” and kept hashtagging Bulls to try and get recognition I guess.  Look, I’ve been a Bulls fan since 1993 when I saw John Paxson hit the game-winning three against Phoenix for the third title.  I fell in love with basketball that day. I suffered through this team and was a diehard when Jerry Krause was a moron and said, “Organizations win championships, not players” and traded Pippen, refused to resign Phil Jackson, and in turn, MJ walked. I stayed with this team and suffered through Kornel David, Rusty LaRue, drafting and starting Marcus Fizer, Elton Brand coming up short, Tyrus Thomas, the Baby Bulls, playing Tyson Chandler at small forward, believing Eddy Curry was a legitimate NBA player and trading Elton Brand for the rights to draft him/Tyson Chandler together, Flip Murray having a key role in this team, wasting two years of Derrick Rose’s career by hiring Vinny Del Negro, and a cheap owner who is nauseating by the thought of the luxury tax even though he’s one of the top 3 largest markets in the entire NBA.  Don’t come at me that I’m not a loyal fan and I’m the worst type of fan.  To think that the Bulls with or without Rose could win a title this year is foolish. Just Friday, I brought up how Joakim Noah doesn’t look good, how the Bulls don’t have adequate depth or bench scoring, and how their defense on the perimeter is weak.  These are realities.  Okay, I digress.  Here are my thoughts:

The Bulls still need bench scoring: Don’t come at me with, “When Jimmy’s back, Dunleavy will move to the bench and we’ll be fine.”  That’s not going to work.  A pattern I’ve noticed all season is the Bulls can’t go extended stretches with their bench, an irony with how good the Bench Mob used to be.  The Bulls need a guy similar to Jamal Crawford who can be the “go-to guy” off the bench and provide a spark.  That guy is not on this team.  In fact, the only guy I could think of that would be attainable would potentially be Ben Gordon, but at what price?  If that is not a possibility, then the Bulls could go with the overall team approach and get a decent scorer.  My suggestion on Twitter this weekend was Rip Hamilton. He was not worth $5 million per year, but no one’s beating down his door. If the Bulls signed him for the minimum, what’s the downside?  He adds depth when completely healthy and can still score in his sleep. He knows Thibs’ system. Why not?

If the Bulls decide to do something drastic, which I highly doubt, they could do something like this:

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I don’t have a great feel for the Bobcats team, but judging by some of the fans’ reactions on Twitter and stuff I’ve read about the organization, they’re a little down on MKG.  This Bobcats team has a legitimate shot at a playoff run, if that’s what they’re after.  Luol Deng is an All-Star caliber player.  Besides, they aren’t using Gordon and MKG is shaky.  If they can replace MKG with Deng (short-term) why not? The Bulls do this because Ben Gordon gives them a legitimate scorer, MKG is a project who can play right now and has a really shaky jumpshot.  The Bulls vastly improved Jimmy Butler’s shot. I wonder if they could improve MKG’s?  He’s also crazy athletic and a solid defender so far. John Calipari still sings his praises defensively here in Kentucky.

And here’s a little secret: Luol Deng is looking a little bit old this year.  Offensively, he’s getting his numbers, but he’s not shooting well. Defensively, he looks slow.  He’s also an expiring contract.  For the Bobcats, it’s ideal.  They get a legitimate player, who can defend the best wings in the league, a solid scorer, a veteran, and an expiring contract. They also get a project in Marquis Teague, who could probably flourish in a different system, but let’s face it: Thibs is going to ride him and his flaws are going to magnified.  He needs the anonymity of playing in Charlotte.  I’d do this trade if I was the Bulls or at least pitch to Charlotte.

If Rose is out the entire season, what then? The phrase “blow it up” gets pitched around like it’s nothing.  I still say the Bulls would have to “blow it up.” What’s that mean exactly? I think you start exploring trades for Carlos Boozer.  Maybe even call Boston and offer him up for Kris Humphries.  It’s widely believed that the Bulls will amnesty Boozer next year anyways.  Why not try and trade him for an expiring contract with “Dealin'” Danny Ainge? (Makes him sound like a cheesy 80s WWF wrestler) Or maybe you call Milwaukee after December 15th and suggest Boozer for Ilyasova, Ekpe Udoh, and Gary Neal and maybe throw in Teague with Boozer.  The Bucks are in “make playoffs” mode and always will be with Senator Herb Kohl being old and owning this franchise.  Boozer is a good player.  The contract isn’t great, but it expires next year anyways.  The Lakers are still delusional, but I think they notice Pau Gasol looking washed up.  Maybe they accept a Boozer/Teague for Gasol’s expiring trade now.  It’s not like he’s a D’Antoni favorite.  Boozer was a borderline All-Star last year and has started off extremely well this year.  He’s got value.  If Rose is out the rest of the year, explore it.

(Note: This trades are not connected, so I’m using Udoh in both scenarios)

Another fake trade I’d explore is with the Bucks. Could you pry OJ Mayo away from them with an offer of Deng/Taj Gibson for OJ Mayo, Ekpe Udoh’s expiring, and Luke Ridnour’s expiring?  I’m not sure.   Or my personal favorite that got blasted relentlessly on Twitter:

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I’m still dumbfounded that no one liked this trade.  Here’s what you get if you’re Dallas: You get a legitimate All-Star to pair with Dirk Nowitizki.  The Mavs are in “win-now” mode.  They lose nothing in getting Deng, but he’s a bit younger and more offensively polished than Marion is.  They lose Vince, who’s been fantastic for them, and they gain a prospect in Teague, which they don’t really need, but could move him for a draft pick potentially.  You could also really entice the Mavericks after December 15th by offering Taj Gibson with this and giving them a defensive presence, but they’d have to surrender Brandan Wright and Wayne Ellington.  It’s a potential.

Why do you do this if you’re Chicago?  You replace Luol Deng with two expiring contracts to match his expiring, you get the same kind of player that he is with Shawn Marion, and you add bench scoring/legitimate three-point threat, Vince Carter, to the mix.  Everyone on Twitter that had concerns fussed that they were old. Yes, but they’re expiring and still producing.  Marion’s PER is nearly identical to Deng’s.  Deng is like six years younger than Marion!  The guy can still produce. Then, you’d be adding Vince’s shooting.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Bulls can’t shoot. Just saying….

What do these moves do for Chicago?  Aren’t they moving laterally?   Yes, kind of.  What they do is they either A) Move salary for expiring deals  B) Bring back adequate talent on reasonable salaries for more flexibility later or C) Bring back players that aren’t going to make you elite or even middle of the pack.  Look, if Rose isn’t playing, this team is not winning a title.  What makes more sense:  Fighting to get to the playoffs or even a 4 or 5 side to get eliminated in Round 2 at best or missing the playoffs, dumping salary, opening up flexibility for a potentially lucrative free agency class, and falling into the lottery of the best draft in decades?  I want to win a title and make the playoffs as much as anyone, but could you imagine if the Bulls had a legitimate shot at a top 5 pick in this year’s draft?   Holy cow.  Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, hopefully Mirotic (who is KILLING this season)….and Jabari Parker/Wiggins/Marcus Smart/Julius Randle? Take your pick.  It’s also a realistic possibility that we could get Charlotte’s pick this year if it falls outside of the top 10.  Two lottery picks in this year’s loaded draft?  And cap space?  This isn’t something the Bulls should explore?  This is also why I’d make the Deng/Teague for MKG/Gordon trade: You’re making Charlotte a little better to nudge them near playoff contention, so even if they miss it, you get their pick (probably).  And you’re getting a blue-chipper and $13 million in expiring salary.

Stand Pat: The last option the Bulls have is to stand pat and keep fighting.  This is the most likely scenario of all of them.  For all of the reasons stated in the paragraph above, this would be a disaster.  Bill Simmons has talked about this numerous times, but it’s so damaging to be stuck in that 4-8 seed playoff range.  You’re not good enough to win a championship, but you’re not bad enough to get to the lottery. You’re just right in the middle.  Since this was probably the last year of this core anyways, why not be proactive?  Why just sit on your hands, GarPax?

Obviously, all of this hinges on what is said about Derrick Rose’s surgery and his timetable for recovery.  If it’s a month or even two?  I say hold out and see what happens.  If it’s much worse?  I think it’s time to start exploring.  As much as I love the players on this team – and I love Deng, Noah, Boozer, Hinrich, Butler – you have to look at the future and do what’s best for the franchise.  The hardest part as Bulls fans is sitting back and waiting.  Unfortunately, it’s an all too familiar mindset for us.  Let’s just hope it’s the last time we have to use the phrase “The Return.”

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