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.

Jimmy Butler may have gotten uninvited to the Wade's BBQ again


Jimmy Butler may have gotten uninvited to the Wade's BBQ again

Jimmy Butler is in hot water with the Wades ... again.

Maybe not really, but the two former Bulls teammates exchanged pleasantries on Instagram after Butler commented on a photo Dwyane Wade's wife Gabrielle Union posted poolside, saying: "WELL DAMN!!"

Wade, a three-time all-defensive second team, came to his wife's defense when Butler posted a video the next day with the caption: "The good, the bad, and the ugly...", prompting Wade to respond: "Put well damn in caps on my wife photo again and you're gonna see what the good, the bad and the ugly is like."

*Mic drop*

It appears this won't affect Butler getting an invite to the next get together. Or so he hopes...

"Well that escalated quickly," Butler responded to Wade. "Point noted.. I'm still coming to the bbq tho 😂😂😂"

SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

Lauri Markkanen has been making headlines this offseason, mostly for bulking up considerably, and making appearances around Chicago at Nike camps and Jabari Parker’s camp, but as the season nears, his on-the-court exploits are starting to come up as well. On Thursday, Sports Illustrated put Lauri Markkanen on their list of five breakout candidates for the 2018-19 season

SI writer Michael Shapiro had this to say about Markkanen:

Markkanen has all the tools to be a future All-Star, and it looks as though he has the mindset, too. He seemed to take his matchup with Porzingis personally in early January, demanding the ball down the stretch en route to a career-high 33 points in a road victory. The Bulls enter 2018-19 on the outside of the East playoff picture, but Chicago is now home to the NBA’s newest unicorn.

High praise indeed for Markkanen, and well-deserved praise considering that he finished with a usage rate lower with the Bulls than his college stint at Arizona, yet still was able to have an impact on the Bulls. Shapiro mentioned Markkanen’s burgeoning off-the-dribble game as the skill that most stood out, and speaks to the Finnish big man’s All-Star potential. 

While the 21-year-old’s threes lived up to the hype, it was his prowess of the bounce that made the biggest impression. Markkanen showed a deft handle and array of canny fakes in the post, adding a mean streak to boot. The Finnisher lived up to his nickname, unafraid of contact and eager to fight for position in the post. The stereotype of the soft European big man doesn’t apply here.

The numbers back this up. 

Among the Bulls top 10 players in drives per game last season, Markkanen finished second in field percentage (on drives) at 46.1 percent. If that numbers rises, or more likely, Markkanen drives to the basket more, his scoring total will increase. And when it came to finishing around the paint in general, he shot  67.6 percent on shots from zero-to-three feet, making him the third best in that range out of the Bulls top nine rotation players last season. Yet among the same group of players, Markkanen ranked sixth in shot attempts from zero-to-three feet. With the presence of Wendell Carter Jr., and another year of internal growth from Bobby Portis- bigs that can stretch the floor -Markkanen should be the recipient of more plays putting him in a position to score around the basket.

On a roster that will surely give big minutes to Parker, Kris Dunn, Carter, Chandler Hutchison and a working-his-way-back to form Zach LaVine, Markkanen may be surest 3-point shooter on the floor. This means defenses will key in on his outside shot. If players are routinely closing out hard on Markkanen- as they should -this will open up more driving opportunities for the nimble seven-footer. 

The third or fourth season is usually when young players take the leap from good to great, but Markkanen will be playing with the most talented group of teammates he has ever been surrounded with. How he handles playing with this group will go a long way towards establishing what kind of player he will be in the future, specifically if he is an All-Star caliber talent. On the 2018-19 Bulls, someone will have to hover around a 20 percent usage rate, making them a clear third-option, whoever that player is, his last name should not be Markkanen.