Bulls

Bulls: Rose celebrates 27th birthday with questions, at a crossroads

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Bulls: Rose celebrates 27th birthday with questions, at a crossroads

Derrick Rose is celebrating his 27th birthday Sunday, in a different place than he was two years before that, or two years before that.

Where he’ll be two years from now will largely depend on how he plays in the next two seasons when he’s available—if he’s available. At 25, Rose was gearing up for his return after missing the entire 2012-13 season with an ACL tear, with many in the NBA world holding the belief a Rose-led Bulls team could challenge the Miami Heat for supremacy.

As he blew out the candles on that day, one wonders his level of confidence in coming back from that first injury and if he had fears, it didn’t take long before they came true, tearing his meniscus in Portland 10 games into that season.

At his 23rd birthday, the NBA was in a lockout, nearly two months away from a solution that would put the lights back on in arenas but Rose’s internal lights were at optimal efficiency, likely gnawing at the bit to get back on the floor for an encore to his 2010-11 MVP showing.

One can imagine the lack of doubt he had on that day, relative to his confidence.

[MORE: Derrick Rose advised to stay away from team while eye heals]

Today, his confidence and doubt can likely be somewhere square in the middle of those two points, as he recovers from an unfortunate facial injury he suffered on the first day of training camp that required surgery.

The harmless naivete that comes with being a 23-year old with the world at your feet, illustrated by fearless drives to the basket while looking guys a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier square in the face has perhaps been diminished a bit.

It appears he’s been hardened, not by the treacherous streets of Englewood, but by the frailty of “unconditional” praise and more tangibly, the fragility of a body that seemed impervious to serious injury.

He’s learned—or is learning—that universal love is conditional, even in the hometown he’s never left, save for a collegiate season at Memphis.

Last season and the subsequent spring showed him an intersection between the doubt and validation toward to the success he once attained from what felt like many moons ago. Playoff game winners against the likes of LeBron James, sterling moments where it appeared he could get to wherever he wanted to on the floor made him feel invincible, or at least very close to the heights he once attained, gave him and everyone else reason to believe better days aren’t far behind.

But the injury he suffered in late February combined with the way the playoffs ended—being bottled up by the likes of the marginal Matthew Dellavedova amid rumors of discord with his talented teammate, Jimmy Butler, put enough doubt in the minds of many who wanted to believe only injury could slow him down.

[RELATED: Bulls will experiment with lineups in preseason; Gasol, Mirotic keys]

And then came media day, with the ensuing drama that came along subsequently.

It places him in a precarious position, one that challenges the phrase “benefit of the doubt” in more ways than one as he enters yet another career intersection, another career crossroads.

Rose has become less introspective and more outward, at least in spurts. While some have viewed his statements about free agency two years from now as a negative, it speaks to uncertainty more than arrogance or even abject greed.

He spent this summer training with Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, who seems obsessed with availability to the point that it’s tacitly used to discredit whatever ailment Rose may be enduring at the moment, and the two likely saw the money being handed out by teams as the influx of salary cap cash from the new national TV deals.

Westbrook will hit free agency the same summer as Rose, and there’s no doubt he’ll receive a max contract. Teams will be lining up to pitch to him.

Rose’s future isn’t so certain, and his highly-criticized statement revealed some rare vulnerability as opposed to bravado. If he regains some level of NBA prominence by his play, becoming the feared player on the scouting reports as opposed to the one who fans fear will never earn true praise again, he’ll receive that maximum contract without much consternation.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the 2015-16 season, Bulls fans!]

If his availability comes into question, so will his contractual status.

Hence, view this statement through the lens of someone who doubts whether he can reclaim a certain preeminence in the league. 

“I know I’m great,” Rose said. “There’s a lot of people that don’t know I’m great, that’s the thing. But it’s cool. I know I can hoop.

“You can put me anywhere and I know how to play the game of basketball. I can’t get mad at people for how they criticize my game and the way that I play, or the way that I used to play. I know I’m great, and that’s it.’’

So when Rose blows out the candles two years from now, will he view 27 as the starting point or better days long gone?

Kendall Gill named to Illini Athletics Hall of Fame

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NBC SPORTS

Kendall Gill named to Illini Athletics Hall of Fame

Kendall Gill can add another bullet point to his resume.

NBC Sports Chicago's Bulls analyst was announced as a member of the University of Illinois' Athletics Hall of Fame for the Class of 2018. Gill enters in the same class as his coach at Illinois, Lou Henson, and former Bulls broadcaster Johnny "Red" Kerr.

Gill was a part of Illinois' 1989 Final Four team and earned consensus Second-Team All-America honors the following year as a senior when he led the Big Ten in scoring (20 points per game). He is third in program history in steals with 218.

He went on to have a 15-year NBA career, which included a stint with the Bulls.

Last year was the inaugural class for Illinois' hall of fame.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

The Bulls square off against the Sixers tonight on NBC Sports Chicago, with coverage beginning at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live. Here are three things to watch as the Bulls begin the stretch run of their regular season.

1. The new rotation: Most of the Bulls’ rotation looks the same, but the addition of David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne will have a different feel. The Bulls clearly want to get a look at these guys before the end of the regular season, meaning they’re not just going to get sporadic minutes. They’ll have to play through their mistakes, play out-matched at times and be put in uncomfortable situations. But the Bulls need to see what they have, especially in Payne, who has missed the entire season to this point with a broken foot.

2. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons: They’re quite the 1-2 punch and have the Sixers looking at their first playoff appearance since Derrick Rose hadn’t yet torn an ACL. Yeah, that’s a long time. Embiid just finished his first All-Star appearance (starting in his second year) and Simmons is the front runner for Rookie of the Year. The Bulls will have their hands full with these two. Luckily…

3. Kris Dunn is back: The Bulls wanted to get Dunn some run before heading to All-Star Weekend to play in the Rising Stars Challenge, and he looked healthy in that thumping against the Raptors last week. The good news is John Paxson says Dunn won’t be on a minutes limit, which means he’s healthy. That, of course, is more important than how he’s playing. It’ll be fun to see him, LaVine and Markkanen play together down the stretch. Their numbers together aren’t great, but the Bulls are 2-2 with all three in the lineup, and tanking or not…it’s more fun to watch when those three are rolling.