January 16, 2019

It wasn’t supposed to end this way for Derrick Rose.

The surprising deal Wednesday sending Rose to New York for Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant, and Jose Calderon signaled the end to the Chicago tenure of a hometown kid once thought to be the next great player for the Bulls franchise. In the end, he may simply go down as the most polarizing.

The Bulls lucked into the first selection in the 2008 draft following a disappointing season in which they were picked as one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference. The fortuitous bounce of the ping pong balls, coupled with the decision to stay away from Kansas State forward Michael Beasley, fortified a young core led my Luol Deng and Joakim Noah for an eventual climb back up the Eastern Conference standings.

A stellar 2008-2009 Rookie of the Year season was just the beginning of a meteoric rise for Rose. The next year, he was the first Bulls All-Star selection in 12 seasons. The year after, he was the youngest MVP in NBA history. In his fourth season, Rose fought through nagging injuries to help the Bulls stampede to the top seed in the Eastern Conference and a potential rematch with the rival Miami Heat in the playoffs. By the age of 23, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, Rose had aligned himself next to LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, and Dwight Howard as one of the brightest stars in the NBA universe.

But as quickly as he rose, his descent was even more rapid.

I was in the crowd the day he went down. Aligned in the club level of the United Center, perpendicular to the baseline where Rose collapsed, I had a clear view of the whole incident. I remember throwing my head into my hands as my thoughts were swallowed up by the silence of a place that went from frenzied to hushed in one plant of the leg. To say I haven’t been in a sporting venue as quiet as the United Center that day would be an understatement. I’ve been to funerals with more chatter. Rose’s presence on the floor in a game that had already been decided was no longer of consequence. It was the future of the organization that held in the balance.

And here we are today. A torn ACL, almost two missed seasons, numerous rehab attempts and a subpar season later. Four unforgettable seasons followed by four seasons that we would like to soon forget.  

Rehashing Rose’s struggles since 2012 in painstaking detail isn’t worth the time and effort because the debate about whether or not he will become his former self on the court has raged on for that same time frame. Despite his best efforts, Rose has yet to regain the ability and athleticism that set him apart from others. In a league dominated by transcendent talent at the point guard position, Rose is nothing more than middle of the pack at this juncture. But as there are fans and at least one team that still hold out hope Rose will return to MVP form, the Bulls no longer had the time and energy to continue the wait.  

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If you’re a Rose fan, it’s hard to fairly contextualize the good return received by the Bulls. In a market where there were presumably no other serious takers, GM Gar Forman obtained three players who all have an opportunity to be on the Bulls rotation next season. Robin Lopez is a solid starting NBA center with a good contract in an era where others at the position are about to be handed A level contracts for C level production. Their center position is shored up at a reasonable rate for three more years, likely signaling the end of both Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol’s stints in Chicago. Jerian Grant was reportedly the Bulls target in last year’s draft before being snatched up by the Knicks three selections prior and helps fill a need for athletic, perimeter players. And say what you will about Jose Calderon, who has been the wandering minstrel of the NBA playing for five teams in the last four years, he’s a serviceable floor general who can hit an open shot, something Rose struggled at.

Despite comments to the contrary, Rose and the organization were going to move on after next season. Rose hinted last training camp that he was interested in hitting free agency and getting a chunk of the money that is being thrown around. For as absent-minded as some believe the Bulls front office is, they weren’t going to double down and hand Rose big money again. All they needed was a taker and a halfway decent return.

Barring an unforeseen blockbuster trade that expedites a total rebuild in Chicago, the Bulls are now Jimmy Butler’s team. Whether young players like Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott, Bobby Portis and Grant can team with Butler to lead the team back to prominence is unknown. What is clear is that the tumult surrounding the team last season, more specifically with Rose and Butler, was too much to sustain any further. To move forward, the Bulls needed to move on from Rose. Independent of the return, this was deal about bringing the attention back to the court more than anything else.

On the other hand, the Knicks are taking, at the very least, a one year gamble that Rose will continue to inch closer to the player he once was. Given what they’re giving up for him, I would be surprised if Rose’s stay is limited to one season. Surrounded by Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, Rose will be able to facilitate and play off of two players whose skills jive better than Jimmy Butler’s did with his. The acquisition of a veteran center to replace Lopez probably will follow soon and it wouldn’t be a surprise for Gasol or Noah to simply tag-along with Rose to New York. If they can find other solid contributors in the free agent market, a core of Rose, Anthony, Porzingis and Gasol/Noah is probably good enough for a playoff spot in the East.

There are certainly warts on the Rose era in Chicago whether it be his current legal problems, the odd timing of public comments regarding his contract and his future plans, or the trouble behind the scenes with his meddling brother Reggie and agent BJ Armstrong. But those are small potatoes when you take into account how Rose captivated an entire city on a nightly basis with his ability to knife through defenses in even the smallest crack, or his superhero like leaping that propelled him almost completely over defenders on his way to the rim. No one will ever be able to take away his virtuoso first four seasons. And certainly no one will ever be able to understand the hard work and heartache he had to endure just to get to the point he is at now. For all the frustration felt by fans with the “will he or won’t he play” question that seemed to arise each game, there needs to be appropriate appreciation and admiration for what he did give.

It’s time for both Rose and the Bulls to begin anew. For now, Rose will remain a tragic figure in the history of the NBA, and more specifically, in the annals of Chicago sports.  But in time, when Rose’s career is over, the memories of what could have been will fade away and the magic he brought to his hometown during his short reign at the top following an unexpected arrival will be what resonates in the minds of fans.  

His time in Chicago may not have ended the way it was supposed to, but that’s not what matters. What matters is that it happened at all.

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Jeff Feyerer

Jeff is a former basketball coach, sports marketing professional and writer, currently working as school financial administrator in Chicago. In addition to work for BBALLBREAKDOWN, he writes for Nylon Calculus, plays with spreadsheets, tries to defend college basketball and looks forward to the Fred Hoiberg era. Follow his musings on Twitter at @jfey5.

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