SAN ANTONIO--I never thought an inactive player sitting on the bench during a game would be big news, but as Derrick Rose himself admitted during casual conversation with a handful of Chicago reporters in the locker room after Sunday's Bulls loss in Indiana, everything he does these days causes a stir.
Nothing, whether positive or negative, should be gleaned from his appearance, while wearing a suit, as far as his ongoing recovery--though his competitive juices were clearly flowing throughout the contest, I'd chalk it up to wanting to be front and center for a rivalry game with the Pacers more than anything else--but that it certainly didn't do anything to quell rampant speculation about his eventual return.
Two things remain true: Derrick wants to play even more than fans want to see him back on the floor, and he won't rush the process.
However, as time is ticking until the end of the regular season next month, it's likely that if he doesn't play by or shortly after the team's upcoming three-game road trip to California, the odds of seeing him in an NBA game this season dwindle to somewhere between slim and none.
Either way, the show must go on and the weary, injury-plagued Bulls will continue to jockey for playoff positioning, with or without their superstar.
For those conspiracy theorists who subscribe to the notion that Derrick not playing thus far is some well-orchestrated plot and his teammates have a defeatist attitude because of his absence, hey, at least they both his return and the recently-announced October preseason game in Rio to look forward to.
On to the mailbag:
Why do the Bulls seem to struggle getting Carlos Boozer going in the post?
Scott, how quickly we forget Carlos' tremendous play back in January. Actually, it's refreshing to have someone not outright criticize him. While he certainly hasn't been as consistently dominant as he was right after the calendar year changed, partially due to that hamstring injury messing up his rhythm, I'd attribute some of Carlos' decreased numbers to teams adjusting to him being more of a focal point in the Bulls' offense, which has led to Jo's recent scoring uptick. Also, with Kirk in and out of the lineup, when Nate runs the point he's more of a shoot-first point guard, so sometimes Carlos gets lost in the shuffle early in games and never gets in the flow of things. But as evidenced by him and Jo both going for 20-plus scoring nights in the Brooklyn win, when he gets touches, he can be very productive.
What exactly is it that Kirk Hinrich does that makes the Bulls look so much smoother/better on offense?
Chris, Kirk just has a great understanding of how to get everybody on the court involved, organize sets and as Thibs often says, shot distribution. He's not the same scoring threat that he was earlier in his career, but he's also willing to sacrifice his own offense to ensure that his teammates are happy. When he does have his outside shot going, he makes the Bulls that much more dangerous, but his ability to spot mismatches and find the hot hand are even more important. In the beginning of the season, I think many people, including myself, fell victim to evaluating how he played by judging his scoring, but as time has gone on, even when he doesn't have big assist numbers, a greater appreciation for his talent as a floor general has developed.
With March upon us, who's your pick right now to win the NCAA National Championship?
Jerry, I'm going to go with a homer pick (no, not my Temple Owls, although I do think my alma mater will make the tournament): Georgetown. The Hoyas aren't the most exciting team to watch, but they have a smothering defense, an efficient and balanced (if methodical) offense, one of the nation's best players in Otto Porter Jr. and are probably the hottest team in the country right now. Porter has shown the ability to rise to the occasion, has been the catalyst of the team's current 11-game winning streak--no small feat in the rugged Big East--and looks like a 10-year NBA starter, but he's far from a one-man gang. I just think Georgetown will be a tough out for any opponent due to their unique style of play. As for my unbiased picks, I also think Miami, Michigan, Florida, Kansas, Louisville and even recent Cinderellas like Butler and VCU are teams to watch out for.
Lou Admunson seems to play his best in a fast-paced offense. What do you see his role being in Chicago?
Ronnie, I don't think that Lou was brought aboard to be a big factor on offense, but before jumping the gun, it should be understood that even with a short-handed team, Thibs is usually hesitant to throw in a midseason acquisition into the lineup this deep into the season. Lou's a veteran, but Thibs has to be confident about his understanding of the Bulls' system before giving him any meaningful minutes. That said, if he was to get some playing time, I envision his role being similar to what it's been throughout his NBA career: an undersized garbage man on the interior who helps the Bulls with his energy, toughness and rebounding, but not someone who gets a lot of plays called for him.
If Derrick doesn't come back, is it safe to assume he had a setback in his rehabilitation?
Smith, if Derrick never plays basketball again, then yes, I think it's safe to assume that he's had some type of setback during his rehab. I'm joking, but as far as this season, if he doesn't play, I don't think we should jump to any conclusions. In my opinion, it just means that he wants to play when he truly believes that he's at least a semblance of his old self and can make a similar impact on the team as he has in the past. We know he has high standards for himself, so as much as everybody wants to see him play, we have to respect his judgement. It's not as cut-and-dry as just being physically able to contribute after a serious injury like the one he suffered.
It caught my eye that Belinelli was running the offense with Teague on the floor, is this common? Why?
@kevinmcguirejr, Thibs has gone to Marco as a primary ball handler more often these days, with either Nate or Marquis alongside him. He likes the way Marco operates in pick-and-roll scenarios, but in Nate's case, it frees him up to be an off-the-ball scorer, which plays to his strengths. And with Marquis, I think it's more of a case of not fully trusting the rookie with the ball in his hands all the time. Either way, I like the look, as it gives the Bulls another dimension and shows an aspect of Marco's game that I don't think many people were aware if coming into the season.
Ever seen anything quite like it [Joakim's recent triple-double]?
@McKnight670, never, at least not in person, Connor. The only phenomenon that I've seen come close to it are the way female fans mob you at live-broadcast appearances for The Score. Seriously though, usually when players are capable of getting double-digit blocks in a game, they're defensive specialists and if they're even able to put up big-time rebounding numbers like that, they probably don't have much offensive ability. The fact that Jo had a big scoring game and was so dominant defensively, as well as having one of his signature monster rebounding performances was a night for the ages and I was glad to be there to witness it. Making it more impressive was how humble he was afterwards, even being reluctant and uncomfortable talking about himself, especially when you consider his outgoing personality, which shows what a team-first player he is.
Do you think if the Bulls kept LaMarcus Aldridge he would be a 1A guy?
@jermaine611, that's a question I've heard several times recently and while I do believe Aldridge would have been a nice complement to Derrick, as well as Jo on the interior, if the Bulls had kept him, there's a possibility that Derrick wouldn't even be here. I know Aldridge didn't light the NBA on fire as a rookie, but he went to a team with an established go-to player in Zach Randolph, who played his same position, and Portland's other rookie that season, Brandon Roy, was seen as the future of the franchise. That said, maybe he would have gotten more of an opportunity to show what he could do right out of the gates in Chicago, but assuming he had a successful rookie year and the Bulls were a better team, maybe even the minuscule chance they had to get Derrick in the lottery would have been nonexistent. You can't rewrite history and while it's easy to see how good Aldridge is now and lament not having him, I think things have worked out for the best for everybody involved. Plus, you never know, maybe when Aldridge eventually hits free agency, the Bulls will have another shot at getting him, especially considering that he's represented by the same agency as Derrick.
Do you think the bulls will ever see Mirotic play for them?
I do think Nikola Mirotic will eventually cross the waters and suit up for Chicago, but it will take time, due to his buyout situation. There is a precedent to Spanish players electing to stay in their native country, which has what's regarded as the second-best league in the world, the ACB, after the NBA: Fran Vazquez, Orlando's former first-round pick, who never played for the Magic. However, from everything I hear, Mirotic does want to play in the NBA and is excited about teaming up with Derrick one day.
What place will the bulls be in the Eastern Conference come playoff time?
@BlaineRench, the way the East standings are so bunched up after first-place Miami, it's hard to say. New York and Indiana look like they should battle for the second and third playoff seeds, but if either of them have an extended slide, that could change. Bringing up the rear are Boston and Milwaukee, but if those teams get on a hot streak, they could sneak into the middle of the pack. The Bulls are currently in fourth, but they have an identical record to Brooklyn--they own the tiebreaker with a better head-to-head record, with the season-series finale in April--and Atlanta is only a half-game back. I'd like to say that if the Bulls don't endure another tough stretch like they did in February, they can hold on to that spot and host a first-round playoff series, but I can't predict the future. The media is just as curious as you, since we'd like to know whether we'll be able to wear short-sleeve shirts on our off days in the postseason.