Bulls

Bulls will depend on leaders to help youngsters get acclimated to playoffs

Bulls will depend on leaders to help youngsters get acclimated to playoffs

The parquet floor of the Boston Garden can be alluring to observers but unsettling to visitors as the youth of the Bulls will get thrown into the playoff water on the deep end without a life raft this weekend.

The team that the Bulls brass often touts as having so many players with three years of NBA experience or fewer, it’ll surely come into play in the first two games as the Bulls will try to steal a game in the Garden.

For that to happen, they’ll need to lean on the experience of the veterans who won’t be awed or overwhelmed by the atmosphere. Bulls guard Rajon Rondo spit out the clichéd line about the series not starting until a road team wins a game, but for these Bulls it holds as much truth as it does for most, as they’ll need some serious positive reinforcement.

The last time they walked into Boston on March 12, they were sent home smarting after a 20-point whipping during the period when the Bulls were trotting out 12 men in an attempt to “evaluate” players as opposed to trying to win.

Whether that game sticks out in their minds is anyone’s guess and despite some of the puzzling losses they’ve suffered since, they haven’t had their doors blown off since they started to find themselves shortly thereafter.

First-timers Jerian Grant, Paul Zipser and Bobby Portis look to be in line for serious reserve minutes, along with Nikola Mirotic going through the postseason for the second time and Cris Felicio getting back into the rotation recently after a lower back injury.

Denzel Valentine has been out of the rotation recently but as a 3-point threat he could be called upon at some point.

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The Bulls and Celtics tied the season series with two wins apiece, each winning on the other’s floor. The season opener was dramatic as Dwyane Wade punctuated his debut with a step-back 3-pointer that finished off a 105-99 win, as he scored 22.

“We weren’t the only team in the NBA to have a challenging season,” Dwyane Wade said. “This is what happens when you play in a challenging league. I’m proud of these young guys who have the opportunity to play in the playoffs.”

Wade has certainly had his share of battles with the Celtics over the years, both as a favorite and an underdog as a member of the Miami Heat. Rondo, of course, is a big part of recent Celtics lore, the point man for the 2008 title team and the others that were a conference fixture from that point on until the team was broken up after the 2012-13 season.

“I like this group, we have good, experienced guys,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Obviously with Wade and Rondo with their championship experience and Jimmy has played in some huge games.”

Hoiberg walking into the playoffs as a novice probably isn’t understated, either, but he knows enough to know the Celtics are not a club to be trifled with—as Isaiah Thomas is one of the best scoring guards in the league and the Celtics have plenty of wings to throw at Wade and Jimmy Butler in Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart.

“It’s obviously a very talented team, a very versatile team,” Hoiberg said. “They have skilled guys at all five positions on the floor, basically at all times. They have guys who can shoot it, make plays, put it on the floor.”

The Celtics are the No. 1 seed in the East, but certainly not the most feared—as long as LeBron James has working limbs, every conversation starts with him. But the Celtics have arrived as a threat a bit ahead of schedule at the top of the conference, almost trying to wait and season their young pieces while the James flame doesn’t burns slowly instead of being the towering inferno it’s been for the decade.

Come Sunday, the Bulls will find out if the Celtics are a bit premature with their arrival and if their young players are still in the incubator.

Could star-crossed Derrick Rose be ready to call it quits?

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AP

Could star-crossed Derrick Rose be ready to call it quits?

I'll never forget watching the reaction of Derrick Rose after he found out his hometown Bulls had won the rights to draft first overall in the 2008 lottery. Rose was smiling from ear to ear as he imagined the possibilities of leading the team he rooted for growing up back to greatness. And, the fact the Bulls faced such long odds to win the top pick made the news even sweeter for the soft-spoken teenager from Simeon high school.

Rose took the NBA by storm, turning in the kind of highlight reel plays Bulls fans hadn't seen since the Jordan era. He was named Rookie of the Year and matched a record set by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by scoring 36 points in his very first playoff game against the Celtics. The future couldn't look brighter for Chicago's hometown hero.

Rose really took off in his first season playing for Tom Thibodeau, averaging 25 points a game while leading the Bulls to a league-best 62-20 record, in the process becoming the youngest MVP in NBA history. The Bulls lost to Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals, but it appeared only a matter of time before Rose brought NBA championship to the city of Chicago.

But then came that fateful Saturday afternoon in April of 2012 when Rose ruptured his left ACL playing the meaningless final minutes of the Bulls' playoff opening win over Philadelphia. The Bulls would go on to lose that series while Rose headed off to a long and frightening rehab. The wunderkind suddenly robbed of his amazing gifts with one fateful misstep.

Rose sat out the entire 2012-13 season, drawing criticism from many fans and some media members who expected Rose to return after the mid-season All-Star break. Eleven games into the 2013-14 season, Rose was hurt again, this time with a season-ending right meniscus tear. Forget the flashy Adidas marketing campaign about Rose coming back better than ever, we would never see the explosive league MVP again.

Only Rose, his family and his trusted friends know the extent of the frustration that Derrick went through as he tried to prove to all the doubters he could still be one of the league's best players. Rose grew more combative with the media when questioned about trying to reshape his game given the new physical limitations. He would have one more knee surgery while a member of the Bulls, missing about six weeks in the 2014-15 season following another right meniscus tear.

Rose had one more heroic moment in a Bulls' uniform, banking in a three-point heave to give the Bulls a 2-1 series lead over LeBron James and the Cavs in the 2015 playoffs, but Cleveland would go on to sweep the next three games of the series, ending Rose's last chance to lead his hometown team to a championship.

Rose was traded to the Knicks in June of 2016 after the Bulls failed to make the playoffs, but after having a productive 2016-17 campaign in New York, Rose would suffer yet another knee injury, leading to another summer of rehab and doubt.

After talking openly with reporters about getting a shot at signing another max contract in September of 2015, two years before he would hit free agency, Rose could only land a veteran's minimum deal to hop on board with LeBron and the Cavs this season. He played fairly well in seven games, averaging 14.3 points on 47 percent shooting from the field, but then an injury sidelined him again, this time an ankle sprain.

Which brings us to Friday's bombshell that Rose was leaving the team to "re-evaluate his future in the NBA." Would the self-described "hooper" actually pull the plug on his NBA career at the age of 29? It seems like all the years of injuries, rehab and reduced effectiveness have taken a substantial physical and emotional toll.

In Rose's mind, he's still one of the league's elite players and should be held in the same regard as LeBron, KD, Steph, Russ and James Harden. Problem is, his body has already betrayed him, and the stat sheets that continually show more turnovers than assists are becoming too difficult to ignore.

Maybe some time away from the daily grind will convince Derrick he still loves the game and wants to get back with the Cavs to play whatever role is needed for a team with an excellent chance to get back to the Finals next June. Or maybe being with his son and family members during the holiday season will convince him that the cycle of injury and rehab is something he just doesn't want to endure anymore, even at the price of giving up the $80 million remaining on his shoe contract with Adidas.

Cavs coach Ty Lue says he's confident Rose will return to the team after some time away, and LeBron has been vocal in his support of Rose trying to re-establish his identity with a championship contender. My best guess is Rose will play again for the Cavs this season, but whether he wants to continue down the road of many injured stars, moving from city to city on minimum contracts, just might not be worth it anymore.

Another wild twist in the Derrick Rose saga

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USA TODAY

Another wild twist in the Derrick Rose saga

We may have seen the last of Derrick Rose on a basketball court. 

According to ESPN's Dave McMenamin and Adrian Wojnarowski, the point guard, who's currently recovering from ankle injury, is away from the Cavaliers organization and contemplating his future in basketball: 

The news may come as a shock considering Rose is still only 29 years old, but the Chicago native has experienced triumphant highs and depressing lows like few others in league history. Undoubtedly, that's taken a toll. 

From youngest MVP in league history to injury-prone backup, the former No. 1 pick of the Bulls has seen it all in his nine-year career. And just last season in New York, his passion for the game was called into question after missing a game without informing coaches, players or staff to attend to a family issue. 

He decided to team up with LeBron James in Cleveland last offseason -- a move that nobody could have predicted five years ago -- on a veteran's minimum contract, and averaged 14.3 points before, you guessed it, being forced to sit with injury. 

Fred Hoiberg, who coached Rose for one season in Chicago, weighed in before Friday's Bulls-Warriors game: 

If Rose ultimately decides to step away for good, eerie parallels can be drawn to Doug Collins' NBA stint. Collins didn't have quite the upside Rose had, but he was a three-time All-Star before foot and knee injuries cut his career short at, yes, also 29. 

It's another sad twist in the Derrick Rose Story. He may be the greatest 'What if' in NBA history.