Bulls

At peace on and off the court, Derrick Rose is thriving with Pistons

At peace on and off the court, Derrick Rose is thriving with Pistons

Derrick Rose is 2-0 as a visitor at the United Center, so forgive him if he still feels comfortable in the arena he called home for eight years.

Rose certainly looked and sounded that way Thursday, smiling as he got jumpers up after Pistons practice at the UC. Afterwards, he spoke eloquently about the peace he has found in his life and game, and even joked about the gigantic new scoreboard he stood under as he spoke.

“We never had this Jumbotron. We never had those effects up there,” Rose said. “It’s great to see they’re adapting to the new age. Of course, that’s [Bulls chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf] for you.”

Yes, Rose is in a good place, on and off the court.

On it, he’s averaging 20.4 points in 25 minutes per game on 55.3 percent shooting in his first season with the Pistons, who signed him to a two-year, $15 million deal in free agency. Off it, his family has grown to three children, and he's enjoying living in suburban Detroit.

“When you hear things from afar you don’t know what to expect. But everything has been on the up-and-up,” Rose said. “Living there has been great. The organization has been great. The staff has been great. I’ve been in awe just being in these surroundings.”

The trials and tribulations Rose has endured — some of them self-inflicted — to arrive here are well documented: The knee injuries, the surgeries, the rehabs. A civil rape trial in which he was found not liable on all counts. Going AWOL from both the Knicks and Cavaliers to clear his head. Getting traded by the Cavaliers, and waived by the Jazz, before then-Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau, his former ally in Chicago, threw him a lifeline.

“Man, I’m just happy to be here,” Rose said. “The spot I was in mentally a couple years ago, I’m just happy I weaved through it, got through it somehow and some way with my family and friends that were around me. I’m just grateful. And like Isiah (Thomas) said, I’m just trying to cherish these moments.”

Rose has spent time with Thomas, a Pistons Hall of Famer and fellow Chicago native, since signing with the team and spoke of him almost reverentially, quickly noting Thomas was the only player to beat Michael Jordan in his prime.

“And it was a point guard,” Rose said. “Being in that spot, understanding the spot he was in, the load he took on every night, I think being here I appreciate him even more. Even having conversations with him and understanding who he is as a person and as a player and the principles that he stood on. I realize it and understand it’s just Chicago. You know what I mean? The way that he was brought up, his mentality, just everything. It just glows off his aura. He’s a winner. And after talking to him, I see why.”

Winning is what still drives Rose. He has accomplished plenty individually, including his Rookie of the Year and MVP seasons with the Bulls. But he's no longer in that dominant lead role. He can still score, obviously, but he’s had to adjust as the injuries mounted and his career progressed.

“It takes maturity. It takes a lot of learning from my past. And learning that some of the situations that I was put in in the past, I put on myself,” Rose said. “I had to grow up and understand what I was doing. It became clear that I was going to have another opportunity. And I said if I had ever had another opportunity like I had in New York that I would grab it.

“Me grabbing it is being vocal with the team, expressing how I feel and understanding that it’s not about me. I still have a lot left in the tank. I still want to win a championship. There’s no reason why we should be doing this if we’re not trying to win the championship. Just trying to change the culture here because it’s a rich culture.”

There aren’t many players in NBA history who have reached the heights Rose did and then experienced such lows. Asked how he can handle moving from a MVP to reserve level, Rose turned serious.

“I don’t have, like, a pompous attitude. I come in and listen, for one thing. I understand where I’m at, the circumstances I have in front of me,” Rose said. “I feel like I could be put in any situation with any group or any team and I’ll find my way in. My talent trumps everything.”

Indeed. Rose spoke Thursday on the one-year anniversary of dropping 50 points for the Timberwolves in a home victory over the Jazz. That performance drew “MVP!” chants similar to those he heard from the United Center crowd on Dec, 26, 2018 when he posted 24 points and eight assists in the Timberwolves’ blowout victory over the Bulls.

Rose’s 50-point game last season drew almost universal love and praise from around the league. Teammates and ex-teammates cheer for Rose because of all he has endured. Pistons coach Dwane Casey said he has seen this first-hand already, even as he tries to balance not overusing Rose.

In a nod to all he has endured, Rose is on an unofficial minutes limit to keep his body fresh.

“It’s very difficult. You want him out there more than his minute allotment allows. He’s such a dynamic player. He brings so much to the table,” Casey said. “Our team changes when he’s on the floor. We get faster. We’re tougher. We’re more physical. But there’s only a limited amount of time he can be out there. We have to be disciplined.

“In shorter minutes, he’s still the same, explosive player. Maybe not as quick as he was a kid or as he was in his MVP year. But he’s savvy enough. He’s tough enough.”

Casey then offered the example of Rose missing layups on three drives late in the Pistons’ home victory Monday over the Pacers and still owning the mental toughness to convert the game-winning drive in the waning seconds.

“He’s gutsy. He’s confident,” Casey said. “I root for him. He’s a man’s man. He holds himself accountable. Knowing what he’s been through with his life and career, you want him to be successful.”

Rose is back to being that, even after his widely criticized decision to sit out the entire 2012-13 season following his first knee surgery to repair his torn left ACL. Load management and making sure players’ bodies aren’t overtaxed is all the rage now. The Nets’ Kevin Durant and Warriors’ Klay Thompson are both expected to miss the entire season following torn Achilles and ACL injuries, respectively.

Does Rose believe this new emphasis vindicates his decision?

“I mean, it’s not for me to say that. It’s funny though. At the time, I knew what was right for my body,” he said. “My body is different than any other player in the league. And I feel like I needed a year. Even though I was on the court, warming up before games, this and that, and people saw me, I felt like I wasn’t ready at the time.

“Now that it’s called load management, it’s just funny how things change. It’s probably only a few people that would recognize that. I always say, when a young kid or student of the game stumbles on my story 20 or 30 years from now, they’ll see the nuances within my story and understand I was a stand-up individual.”

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Steve Kerr stays positive, keeps perspective with new Warriors' challenge

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USA TODAY

Steve Kerr stays positive, keeps perspective with new Warriors' challenge

Kevin Durant chose to leave for the Nets in free agency. Klay Thompson faced rehabilitation after tearing his left ACL during Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

Yes, Steve Kerr knew this Warriors season would be different.

But nobody knew that Steph Curry would break his left hand and be sidelined until likely after the All-Star break at the earliest. Nobody knew D’Angelo Russell, the Warriors’ prized offseason acquisition, would miss nine games with a sprained right thumb.

But just as he kept perspective and an even keel throughout the Warriors’ dynasty, which produced three championships and five straight trips to the NBA Finals, the ever-grounded Kerr is doing the same with a team that lugs a league-worst 4-19 mark into Friday’s meeting with the Bulls.

“I’m enjoying coaching the young guys and going through the details of what they need to learn and helping them develop,” Kerr said in an interview following Thursday’s practice at University of Illinois Chicago. “I basically survived my whole career. I was never really in a position where I felt like, ‘OK, I’ve made it.’ From year to year, it was just survival. So I can relate to a lot of these young guys and I can relate a lot of experiences to them. That’s a satisfying process when you see them do well.”

That said, Kerr is a competitor. There’s a broken clipboard and some bloody towels from last Wednesday’s home victory over the Bulls to prove it.

So the teaching element may be rewarding. The losing?

“It sucks. It sucks,” Kerr said, repeating himself for emphasis. “We’re 1-8 in close games. That’s part of having a young team, learning how to close games. That part of it is a struggle.

“You want your players to feel rewarded when they play well. We had a stretch of two weeks where we played well every night and we had one win to show for it. And that was Chicago. It’s frustrating to walk in the locker room and see guys with their heads down because you know how hard they’re working and how much they want it.”

Kerr experienced a dynasty as a player with the Bulls and as a coach with the Warriors. Invariably throughout last season, he’d remind anyone willing to listen to savor how special those times are.

Does he think people listened?

“No,” he said, laughing. “It’s human nature to think we’re going to win it again and we’re going to keep going forever. Life changes quickly.

“I talked not only to the media and our fans but to our team. Last year there were several times when I said, ‘This is going to be our best chance to win a championship.’ We’ve got an incredible opportunity that may never come up again. That’s something that’s important for everybody to realize---fans, management, players. It is lightning in a bottle. You can do everything perfectly and you still may not get to where you think you might be.”

The Warriors’ dynasty may be over. But with Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green still under contract, an attractive young piece in Russell and a huge trade exception from the Andre Iguodala deal, the Warriors are solidly positioned for the future.

And if this season produces a lottery pick, well, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Until then, Kerr keeps coaching and teaching. Thursday’s film session and practice stretched to the 2 1/2-hour mark.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys. Draymond has been fantastic, basically helping coach the team and talking guys through different situations. They’ve been thrown in the fire every day. It’s not easy. But they’re doing a good job,” Kerr said. “We have to figure it out as a staff: How much do you throw at them? Too much information sometimes can be a bad thing. And so we have to find the balance. We also can’t not give them the information that they need. It’s just maybe doing it sequentially and maybe finding the right order and plugging holes as you go.

“The NBA game is so different. These days, players come in at such a young age. There’s just an awful lot of fundamental stuff you have to break down on a daily basis as a young team. That’s the biggest difference for us as a staff between having a young team and having vets. It’s a different daily routine for sure.”

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With attendance waning, Bulls focused on 'making their own energy'

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USA TODAY

With attendance waning, Bulls focused on 'making their own energy'

Last night, the Bulls announced 15,017 fans in attendance for the team's 106-99 victory over the Grizzlies. That figure is more than 4,000 people below their season-average of — after last night — 19,099 fans per contest.

That scarcity was eminent and didn't go unnoticed, especially by players on the court.

"I was telling us in pregame, we're gonna have to bring our own energy today," Zach LaVine said after Thursday afternoon practice. "We got out on that 10-0 run, I was really excited about that, but it was uh, it was a scarce crowd, it was a little quiet in there. But we made our own energy but sometimes that's just what you have to do."

After 11 home games, the Bulls are fourth in the NBA in total attendance (210,090) and sixth in average attendance — both fine marks by the standards of most, but underwhelming for a major-market franchise with their illustrious history. The real kicker: The team is tied for 22nd in the league in percent capacity (91.3) with the Indiana Pacers. Just ahead of that No. 22 slot are the 5-17 Atlanta Hawks, just behind the Phoenix Suns.

Per ESPN's NBA Attendance Report, the Bulls have not finished a regular season outside the top three in total attendance or average attendance since the 2002-03 season. Before last year, they ranked first in both nine seasons in a row. They were also top two in percent capacity for eight straight years before finishing 17th last season. As mentioned, their ranking in that category has dipped even further this year. 

The 2019-20 Bulls currently own a 4-7 home record. Last night was only the Bulls' tenth home victory of the Jim Boylen era, which spans back to Dec. 3, 2018. No one is naiive to the impact those types of results can have. 

"We haven't been a winning basketball team the last couple years, so you know, it makes sense," LaVine said. "Once you start winning that the crowd gets back into it and gets more lively. I understand that, I understand professional sports. So we don't take it personally."

From shootaround to gametime in advance of the Grizzlies game, Boylen stressed the importance of the Bulls getting on a roll on their home floor. According to Boylen, momentum in that respect has to come by way of fast starts, and that came to fruition last night. The Bulls jumped out to a 13-2 lead early in the game and led by as many as 22 in the first half, holding the Grizzlies to 0-for-15 3-point shooting while hitting 8-for-18, themselves. Those numbers stabilizied as the game wore on, but in the locker room afterwards, LaVine was adamant that the team's energy wasn't the issue.

In fact, Boylen and his players seem to have taken ownership of sparking themselves. 

"I want our guys to play hard and compete, and we have to bring our own energy, and we have to play with physicality and effort and all those types of things," Boylen said. He added: "We have the best fans in the league."

They'll have another chance to begin re-establishing a homecourt advantage Friday night agaisnt the lowly Warriors. For the time being, the team's focus is on controlling the things they can control: Results. The rest will come later.

"Obviously you wanna win. We're not going out there to win for, you know, to get more attention, we're going out to win to try to make the playoffs," LaVine said. "So, you know, I think the crowd will come, and they'll get behind you."

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