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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With 2021 NBA Free Agency looming, Bulls fired Jim Boylen in the nick of time

With 2021 NBA Free Agency looming, Bulls fired Jim Boylen in the nick of time

In retrospect, we should have all seen it coming. On the final day of the NBA regular season, Arturas Karnisovas fired Bulls head coach Jim Boylen, ending a nearly two-year tenure that saw the team play to a 39-84 record.

“I thought the timing was right right now, going into the lottery and the draft process. It’s an official offseason for us. So we thought it was good timing,” Karnisovas said in a conference call Friday.

The seeding phase of the league’s restart ending Friday and the draft lottery six days ahead does provide a nice bit of symmetry. But was Aug. 14 too long to wait? Karnisovas officially accepted his position as executive vice president of basketball operations on April 13. He brought in new front office hires in Marc Eversley, J.J. Polk and Pat Connelly in early May. Yet Boylen’s tenure dragged into the dog days of summer.

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Why? Karnisovas addressed that on said conference call.

“I took my time for a reason. It was a process to make that decision. Over the last few months, since I was hired in April, I had no timeline,” he said. “This was the right time to make this change.”

“Since it was a very unique situation to be hired in April, we took our time. The restrictions were lifted a little bit more. Interaction was involved.”

That answer echoes Karnisovas’ reputation as a thoughtful and deliberate decision-maker. He’s also said in the past that, in his eyes, forming personal relationships is requisite to holding employees accountable — player or coach. Some will appreciate that approach applied in this context, especially given that he’s inheriting a franchise that has twice in the past has parted ways with coaches on Christmas Eve. Some may not.

But bottom line: The end result is the one the Bulls badly needed to reach, and just in the nick of time.

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The cruciality of moving on from Boylen now is multi-layered. For one, there appears to be burbling optimism that the eight teams excluded from the NBA’s Disney World restart will find a way to resume basketball activities in some capacity soon. It may not be in a second bubble, but even organized OTAs with group activities would be a step up for a Bulls team that has been constrained to voluntary individual workouts with stringent protocols thus far. 

“The players now can work out individually in our practice facility, and our gym is pretty,” Karnisovas said on the call. “So while we’re waiting, if we can get any additional support from the league — again, overall the league regrets that we couldn’t get anything done until now. But I’m hopeful to get something soon.”

Starting the search “immediately” (in Karnisovas’ words) could have a new coach in the Advocate Center doors for all or some of those activities, should they come to fruition. Even if it doesn’t, the Bulls still have plenty of runway before the start of the 2020-21 campaign, which has yet to be finalized.

And in a big picture sense, getting fresh blood in the building has the potential to further a much-needed shift in the Bulls’ league wide perception that was catalyzed by its front office facelift months ago. 

Because this decision makes the organizational message clear: No half-measures. With a new executive vice president of basketball operations and general manager, burgeoning player development personnel, and soon a new coach — particularly, one that will replace a coach that lost games at a historic clip and often prompted questions about his player relationships — there are no caveats required to call this a new era of Bulls basketball; an era in which player development appears to be king, and mediocrity isn’t tolerated.

“The signal is that we’re changing things. It signals that we’re looking forward to what comes next,” Karnisovas said. “We just felt this program needed a change and needed a change now. And I can’t wait to find the next coach for this group.”

The looming free agency period of 2021 makes sending that signal now all the more important. Of course, firing Boylen doesn’t guarantee the Bulls Anthony Davis or Giannis Antetokounmpo. It might not even get them a meeting. 

For the time being, the Bulls are pretty much locked in place from a roster standpoint. Otto Porter Jr. opting in to his $28.5 million player option — which still qualifies as a near-certainty — and the cap hits the team’s first- and second-round draft choices will eventually invoke will cinch the Bulls in as an over-the-cap club for the 2020-21 season. 

So, the ship likely isn’t getting entirely righted overnight. Whatever your opinion of Boylen, some share of the blame for a 22-win season falls on the roster, as well. However talented you deem the Bulls’ core pieces, new leadership won’t vault them straight to title contention. 

But they don’t necessarily need to, at least not next season. The foundation has to start somewhere, and that summer of 2021 is where things get interesting. To steal a chart from myself, here’s what the Bulls books roughly look heading into that summer, as matters stand right now (via Spotrac): 

  2020-21 2021-22 2022-23 2023-24
Total Cap Allocations $106,027,707 $65,249,867 $9,344,636 $0
Signed Players 13 8 2 0

A possible Lauri Markkanen’s extension is pending, but partial guarantees on the third years of Tomas Satoransky and Thad Young’s contracts, as well as a team option on the third year of Ryan Arcidiacono’s, provides flexibility. Bottom line: They’ll be in a position to make major changes, possibly a splash — assuming the salary cap holds in the vicinity of its current $109.1 million status.

Which makes it all the more imperative that the 2020-21 season not play out as 2019-20 did. The Bulls are an attractive coaching job for the same reasons they were an attractive front office gig — young talent on the roster (albeit largely unproven), own all their own draft capital, cap space coming, big market, rabid fanbase — but to leverage all of that into being a desirable player destination, the soggy hunk of clay that is this rebuild needs to take shape. 

To follow in the footsteps of recent successful rebuilds — think Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers; big-market teams that parlayed modica of promising talent into scrappy overperformance on the court, and, in turn, big moves on the trade and free agent markets — the Bulls need to transform themselves into a team on the rise. 

That doesn’t have to mean a top-four seed or a first-round playoff victory from the jump. But it starts with maximizing the pieces on the team now and improving next season, so that, in the age or perpetual player movement, when opportunity comes knocking, they’ll be prepared to seize it. It’s evident by the results that Boylen wasn’t the person to foster such progression.

A coach with a specialization in player development and relationships — which Karnisvoas said will be a focal point in the search — will be a foundational step. What the changes necessary will look like specifically may have to wait until Karnisovas and Co. have a precise candidate in their sights. Fortunately, there’s just about nowhere to go but up.

For now, it’s at least refreshing to know the Bulls are on the right track.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Jim Boylen is out as Bulls head coach

Bulls Talk Podcast: Jim Boylen is out as Bulls head coach

Once the regular season ended, the official start of the offseason began and the Bulls' first move was to let Jim Boylen go. In an emergency edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, host Jason Goff is joined by Bulls insider K.C. Johnson and Bulls beat writer Rob Schaefer as they discuss the decision.

(1:30) - What led Arturas Karnisovas to the decision to let go, Jim Boylen

(6:00) - Arturas Karnisovas on having full power to make decisions

(16:30) - Potential candidates to replace Jim Boylen

(25:20) - How can a coach get the best out of the current Bulls roster

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast

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