Bulls

Derrick Rose’s past looms over Zach LaVine’s return

Derrick Rose’s past looms over Zach LaVine’s return

The final piece, the biggest piece of the Jimmy Butler trade will finally take the floor Saturday night against the Pistons and be washed with cheers from a crowd anxious to see if Zach LaVine can re-capture his old glory.

But even though LaVine was traded for Butler, the ghost in the room is Derrick Rose.

It’s always about Derrick Rose and hopefully for the Bulls, the lessons learned from the mistakes made with Rose several years ago.

LaVine’s ACL injury last February, while not as publicly jarring as Rose’s ACL injury in the 2012 playoffs, has allowed the Bulls to hit the reset button on an era that began to disintegrate the moment Rose’s knee unexpectedly gave out.

As fitting as it is for LaVine to make his debut against the team he injured himself against, it’s even more so fitting and perhaps even a test for the Bulls franchise to show it’s grown from that 2012-13 season—when many around the NBA and media felt the Bulls were tacitly pushing Rose to get back on the floor for a playoff run when Rose was clearly not ready physically or mentally to jump right into high-stakes playoff basketball.

LaVine’s 344-day layoff, from the outside looking in, has been far different than Rose’s absence. Think of how many times the Bulls pushed back against LaVine returning. Initially, many around the team said Christmas, and even LaVine thought he’d be back on Dec. 15th.

He didn’t have a setback or anything, but with the Bulls winning more than expected after a disastrous start, the team seemed doubly cautious with LaVine—even as LaVine pressed to get back on the floor.

They’ve been as transparent with LaVine’s process as they’ve been about any subject in years, knowing the gravity of the situation and even if they will never admit it publicly, perhaps the responsibility they’ve had in matters from the past.

“At first it was out of my mind because I never really thought of myself as being, like, injured,” LaVine said. “It’s really weird. It’s just different situation. I’m a different person Everybody handles things differently but you can understand the err on the side of caution for them because what they invested.”

“I appreciate them for taking that in consideration because if they wanted, just go out there and throw me out there. It shows them waiting and making sure everything is OK.”

Rehab is often a lonely place, filled with ups and downs on the emotional rollercoaster, where perspective is the patient’s best friend.

“Not that ‘I won't get back to this point’ but ‘damn this sucks’,” LaVine said. “You get to a point, it's 11 months. You have doubts and little things like, ‘will I be able to do this again’ or ‘I won't be the same’. Then the next day you're better at it, or better at something else. I try to stay even keel and steady through the process.”

From the moment Rose went down, people have to ask themselves if he was afforded the humanity of going through his process without the constant questions about “when”, the way LaVine has been.

LaVine knows what he represents, not just from an athletic standpoint but a symbolic one, as the new unblemished hope the front office and fan base can believe in.

The same fan base that cheered loudly for the league’s youngest MVP in 2011 was the same base that cheered in encouragement a year later when Rose limped to deliver the game ball to the referees before Game 2 of the Bulls’ series against the Philadelphia 76ers—days after Rose’s career took a turn he hasn’t recovered from.

The same fan base was splintered a year later when reports of Rose’s readiness to play came into question—when someone from the inside wanted the public to know Rose was practicing and appeared ready to join the fray. The phrase “cleared by team doctors” took on new meaning, depending on who read the words, depending on whose perspective one leaned toward.

Everything became ambiguous, and Rose’s words splintered the fan base even more, despite his intentions of wanting to return to MVP form was just as much a desire of his own as it was Chicago’s.

By the end of the saga, everybody had a side and for most, there was little gray: Either you were a Rose sympathizer for what his body and mind were going through or you sat on the side of the team.

Either you understood the sentiment of not wanting to throw Rose back to the floor to play for a coach in Tom Thibodeau who grinded players until they had nothing left to give, or you sided with the thought that playing for a coach like Thibodeau was best, pushing players to overachieve and that the best way to rehab is to push through the thresholds, breaking through to realize there’s no real fear on the other side.

The media played its part, and Rose certainly did, too. Everybody’s hands had dirt on them; It was just a matter of who you thought bathed in the mud for their own benefit.

With LaVine, though, it represents a new start. He tore his ACL two months before his 22nd birthday, but unlike Rose, had never been asked to carry a franchise or the basketball hopes of a city on his shoulders.

But he wants it, and with a quiet smile and assured demeanor, welcomes the pressure that comes with playing in Michael Jordan’s city, in Derrick Rose’s city.

LaVine wasn’t even a full-time starter during his one season at UCLA, and had to bide time as a third option next to Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota.

Along with Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, the Bulls have the pieces to return to a level of relevance sooner rather than later. And if LaVine is the healthy star he’s projected to be, the rebuild will shoot up like a rocket and there’s few places better for LaVine than the Chicago market.

Here, he’ll be celebrated, championed and adored—similar in a way that Butler was, held up as an Anti-Rose figure. Unlike with Butler and Rose before him, perhaps some patience will be in order.

Mistakes can’t be undone and likely won’t be admitted to but future casualties can be avoided.

Because Tommy Edwards won’t be saying “From Chicago!” but the proverbial ghost of Derrick Rose hasn’t left the building—not just yet.

Does Rodney Hood make sense for the Bulls?

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USA TODAY

Does Rodney Hood make sense for the Bulls?

New York Times veteran NBA writer Marc Stein tweeted late Friday that multiple teams were interested in fourth-year swingman Rodney Hood.

We know that the Jazz are one of the rumored teams interested in embattled forward Niko Mirotic and while it wouldn’t seem to make sense on the surface, Rodney Hood could be a good fit for the Bulls.

Hood will be a restricted free agent this summer and the Bulls would retain the rights to match any offer if they felt like the former Duke Blue Devil was the right piece to join the new core of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Kris Dunn.

There is one complication in a potential Mirotic for Hood deal; the salaries don’t quite match. Utah would need to send another player like Alec Burks to Chicago in the deal. The Bulls would have to be OK taking on Burks’ $11.5 million salary for the 2018-19 season and his cap hit in free agency. Good news though, the free agent class this summer is very thin at small forward, the main position the Bulls have a need for.

Another road block, the Bulls are set to max out LaVine this July, and they may be wary on tying up a good part of their cap space for the next four years on two players.

Acquiring Hood hurts the ‘tank’ but you’d have a three-month audition of a 25-year old shooter that on paper would seem to work with the current rotation. If the Bulls felt like Hood wasn’t a good fit, let him walk in free agency. They would then keep their cap space intact for the 2019 super free agent class.

Bulls thankful Kris Dunn's injury wasn't worse; Zach LaVine cleared for extended minutes

Bulls thankful Kris Dunn's injury wasn't worse; Zach LaVine cleared for extended minutes

The fall was nasty and the concussion was substantial for Kris Dunn. But at second blush the Bulls are thankful it wasn’t worse.

Given the way his body jerked after Dunn released himself from the rim, the Bulls are glad he didn’t suffer a neck injury in addition to the concussion and dislocated front teeth.

“It could have been a major, major injury,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Obviously, it is a significant one with the concussion. You can't take these things lightly, but with the way that he fell and hit head first, we're really thankful that he'll be back hopefully before too long. But obviously we'll take things very cautiously, a cautious approach with this because of how significant concussions are. But hopefully we'll get him back soon.”

Dunn has braces on the front teeth to stabilize them, and Hoiberg said he’ll see the doctor every day over the next several days, per the league's concussion protocol. There’s a chance Dunn could join the Bulls on the three-game road trip, but he’ll miss at least Saturday’s game in Atlanta. The Bulls travel to New Orleans on Monday and Philadelphia on Wednesday.

It’s the second freak injury Dunn has suffered this season, in addition to dislocating his finger in the preseason. He struggled with it initially upon returning but recently had shown no signs of issues with it.

Dealing with a concussion and also a mouth injury makes things more complicated as far as his playing style. He plays aggressive and fast, bordering on recklessness occasionally.

Hoiberg doesn’t believe that will change when Dunn returns.

“I don't think it's going to change the way Kris plays,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously it was very unfortunate in the timing because he had a couple of really good plays there to get things really turned in our favor and get the momentum going down the stretch and they get a called timeout and get a layup out of it right away. Then we still had our chances late in that game. Kris was responsible as anybody for getting that game to striking distance. Unfortunately, we just couldn't make the plays we needed to to get the win.”

The more conservative style of Jerian Grant will take over in Dunn’s absence. Grant has been steady as a backup, averaging 7.6 points and 4.6 assists. Unlike Dunn, though, Grant hasn’t had issues with turnovers, at a four-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio this year.

Teams will dare Grant to beat them from the outside, as he’s missed 15 of his 16 3-point attempts this month.

“I've been here before, so I'm prepared. I've started a lot of games so far in my career, so I'm ready for it,” Grant said. “The last time I started, we got a win. I did what I had to do so I'm prepared to do whatever we need to do to get a win.”

Where Grant will receive relief is from Zach LaVine getting clearance for more minutes, as he’ll play in the fourth quarters and will have his minute-restriction increased to 24 minutes.

LaVine will likely play some point guard during stretches, and is shooting 38.5 percent from 3-point range in the small sample size of three games and 19.7 minutes.

“We're not going to overextend him right now because he's still obviously very early in the process as far as getting back on the floor and getting in game shape,” Hoiberg said. “We don't want to get him fatigued out there so we'll keep his rotation stretches short. But wee will hopefully have him available some in the fourth quarter to give us what Kris does down the stretch, who's been as good as anybody on our team as far as helping out close games.”