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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.

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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?

2-time All-Star Luol Deng signs 1-day contract to retire as a Bull

2-time All-Star Luol Deng signs 1-day contract to retire as a Bull

Luol Deng experienced plenty of highs and lows throughout his nine-plus seasons with the Bulls.

But his love for the organization that acquired him in a 2004 draft-day trade never wavered, even after it traded him to the Cavaliers in January 2014 in a move to exit the luxury tax.

That’s why Deng signed a ceremonial, one-day contract Thursday so that he could retire as a Bull.

“From the moment we made Luol Deng the seventh overall pick of the 2004 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls became a better team,” Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said. “Luol carried himself with first-class professionalism and leadership, helping lead his Bulls team to eight playoff appearances during his time in Chicago. We’ll always remember his All-Star career and the fierce competitiveness he brought to both ends of the floor every night.”

“We’re very fortunate and humbled that Luol has chosen to retire as a Chicago Bull,” Bulls COO Michael Reinsdorf said. “He was a role model on and off the court during his nine-plus years in Chicago, and he gave everything he had to help us win. I want to thank Luol for not only what he accomplished on the court for the team, but also for the leadership he demonstrated through his philanthropic efforts.”

Deng, a two-time All-Star, is all over the franchise leaderboard. He’s tied for fourth by playing in parts of 10 seasons with the Bulls. He’s sixth in games played, fifth in minutes, fourth in points, fifth in field goals, ninth in rebounds, fifth in steals, seventh in 3-pointers and eighth in free throws.

But Deng’s impact with the Bulls moved past numbers. When he arrived with Ben Gordon, one season after the Bulls drafted Kirk Hinrich, Deng helped pull the Bulls from their post-dynasty funk and transform them into a perennial playoff team. He chose to play through a torn wrist ligament so that he could represent his adopted homeland of Great Britain at the 2014 Summer Olympics.

He became a two-time All-Star as Tom Thibodeau’s indispensable, two-way forward, consistently ranking near the top of the NBA in minutes played. And his community service through his Luol Deng Foundation featured Chicago and global reach.

The day after the trade to the Cavaliers, Deng talked to this author at length while standing inside the Cavaliers practice facility.

"I had an opportunity to play for a great organization. I've been very lucky to play 10 years for the only team that I ever knew as a kid," Deng said that January 2014 day. "I only knew Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the Bulls when I was 7 years old and in Egypt. For me to be the fourth-leading scorer on that team, did I ever think a refugee kid in Egypt would even play for the Bulls? There's a lot of amazing things that have happened."

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Kris Dunn takes team-first approach to reserve role behind Tomas Satoransky

Kris Dunn takes team-first approach to reserve role behind Tomas Satoransky

Not even a reserve role can shake Kris Dunn’s resolve.

Continuing his completely different tone from the end of last season in his comments to reporters, Dunn took the news that he’ll back up Tomas Satoransky in stride Thursday in advance of the Bulls’ final preseason game versus the Hawks.

“Just being positive, cheering guys on. Just bringing my energy. I’m an energetic guy. That’s just my personality. I just bring it to the gym and allow that good energy to resonate on the floor and to the other guys,” Dunn said at the Advocate Center. “You need (depth) in the league. There are going to be games where the starters come out flat and the second unit is going to have to pick it up and allow them to come back in and finish the game. Just having depth is a good thing because injuries occur. You need backups you can trust.”

At the tail end of last season, as Dunn got publicly challenged by executive vice president John Paxson and phased out of the Bulls’ core in the team’s public comments, the guard acted sullen at times. But he reported to voluntary September workouts with a renewed energy and mental approach after a self-proclaimed offseason of reflection.

“I just appreciate Coach (Jim Boylen) talking to me and being straightforward and being truthful to me,” Dunn said. “I’m going to do my job and do what’s best for the team.”

Dunn started two of the first four preaseason games but largely played with reserves. Does he feel he got a fair shot at keeping his starting job?

“I’m not really going to speak on that. I feel I’m in a great spot. I love what the coaching staff is doing with me and the team. We have a great group of guys,” Dunn said. “We’re going to play hard every game and hopefully make that playoff push.”

And Dunn, who recorded six steals last Friday in Indiana, believes he still has an important role.

“My greatest strength right now is defense. I know that. My teammates know that. It’s no surprise to the team,” he said. “I bring it each day.”

Boylen is appreciative of Dunn’s attitude.

“Before I could even get out the words, ‘Kris, I’m going to bring you off the bench to start the season,’ he had already said, ‘Coach, I’m going to do whatever you need me to do and I’m ready for what you want me to do.’ Before I could even get it out. It was a two-minute conversation,” Boylen said. “I’ve always said he has great heart for the team. He has always been very coachable. He accepts criticism. He owns his mistakes. His response is all about the team and what we’re trying to build. It’s role definition and it’s role acceptance. His role acceptance is off the charts.”

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