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Rose's potential: Best point guard, Chicago product?

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Rose's potential: Best point guard, Chicago product?

During Derrick Rose's press conference Tuesday to announce his five-year, 94-million contract, the reigning league MVP was asked whether one of his goals was to become the best point guard in NBA history. Predictably, he deferred.

"I try not to think about that, being the best point guard. There's so many other great point guards that have played the game. Just mentioning me in the category, I think, at the end of my career, that would be something that would be great to me," the superstar answered. "I always want people to think Derrick Rose -- when they think about me -- I want them to think of a winner. That's it. Someone that went out every single night, played crazy, played well. Someone that was just a plain winner, did anything to win a game and that's what I want people to remember me for."

Since Rose is too humble to truly delve into the possibility, let's do it for him. It's only his fourth season, extremely early in what should be a long career, and he's still just scratching the surface of his potential, as hard as that may be to fathom. But it's a legitimate question, especially given his resume thus far -- two-time high school state champion, NCAA finalist in his lone college season, No. 1 overall draft pick, Rookie of the Year, two All-Star Game appearances in three seasons (including one as a starter) and of course, being named the youngest MVP in the history of the league -- and his determination to continually improve.

Magic Johnson is generally regarded as the best point guard of all-time, but he almost deserves an asterisk because a 6-foot-9 point guard was something unfair, seemingly out of a basketball geek's movie fantasy and something we haven't seen before or since. If some traditionally-thinking coach decided to stick Magic in the post as a youngster and he reluctantly embraced the role for the rest of his career, it's tough to say that the Hall of Famer wouldn't have still gone on to stardom as a revolutionary power forward-small forward hybrid (at the time) or at least been a solid pro.

When it comes to normal-sized point guards, however (yes, that excludes Oscar Robertson), most observers of hoops have the following players on their list: Isiah Thomas and John Stockton, and to a lesser extent, Tiny Archibald and Bob Cousy. Cousy was obviously a pioneer, but so few people can actually recall seeing him play live that it's hard to compare him to the others. Archibald, the only player to lead the league in scoring and assists in the same season, was definitely a great player, but he was considered more of a solo artist, who only found team success when he was an aging veteran and on a balanced Celtics team that didn't require him to be a virtuoso.

Stockton, the all-time NBA assists leader, is a tougher call. Overshadowed as an individual talent by longtime teammate Karl Malone -- arguing which player benefited more from the others' presence is like the chicken-and-egg theory -- the former Jazz great never won a title and wasn't a gaudy scorer, but when it comes to pass-first point guards, he's without peer.

But as much as basketball purists crave pass-first point guards, true superstars in this game are capable of dominating the game themselves, without having to rely on their teammates capitalizing on their passing, no matter how pinpoint. Thomas, a Chicago native, best exemplified a floor general who blended unselfishness and takeover ability, as evidenced by his many legendary performances en route to two NBA championships in one of the league's most competitive eras.

Perhaps his post-playing career has obscured some recollections of his greatness, but Thomas was a first-magnitude star with the credentials to back it up. That's why it speaks volumes when former Bulls guard Randy Brown says Rose has a chance to be the best point guard ever.

"With Derrick, he does because he amazes me with the stuff he does. It goes back to last season, back in December. We were having a conversation and he asked, 'Can he be MVP?' out of a regular conversation, and he does it. He said he wanted to be a three-point shooter and he did it. Isiah -- outstanding -- I grew up watching him as a kid and loving him, but Derrick is in a stage of his life where he could be the best point guard to come out of Chicago," Brown, who now works in the Bulls front office, told CSNChicago.com. "You know what? Clearly Rose has a chance to be the best point guard ever. I'm with him every day, so I know it's kind of biased. He's in a Bulls uniform., but really what the kid does, I think he has to be mentioned one day as the best point guard to play the game."

The anecdote Brown -- who, like Thomas, hails from the city's West Side -- retold rings a bell for this writer because I remember having a similar conversation with Rose last season. It was before the Bulls played the Cavaliers in a half-empty Cleveland arena (due to a massive snowstorm), on the sideline as he waited to warm up. The best part of this job are the casual, off-the-record conversations with players -- ranging from basketball discussions to current events, pop culture and life in general--but now that Rose's (first?) MVP is safe, I don't feel any sense of betrayal in disclosing it.

We were talking about how realistic it would be for him to win the award and how historically, few players had gone from not even being a candidate the previous season to winning it the next; Steve Nash was the notable exception we cited. Fast forward a couple months and the next thing you know, there's Rose giving an emotional speech after taking home MVP honors.

But back to his all-time best point guard potential. Something Brown and I talked about is that with Chicago's lineage at the position--in addition to Thomas, there's Tim Hardaway, for starters -- Rose simply surpassing Thomas as the best player to come from Chicago would be a major achievement. At the end of his career, despite Rose's ever-growing popularity and being a nightly fixture on highlight reels, he'll ultimately be measured by titles, the thing he cares about the most. But assuming he can win at least one (and not at the end of his playing days, just chasing a ring), when you factor in unparalleled athleticism he has for the position, he has a chance to stand alone as both the best point guard ever and the best player to come from Chicago.

Obviously it helps that he plays for the Bulls, a storied franchise in a major market, as well as his hometown. But Brown, another hometown product, says it's not always easy to play in your own backyard.

"It is difficult, playing at home because of the distractions. A lot of family, a lot of friends, people pulling at you all the time and coming from the neighborhood you came from. I grew up on the West Side of Chicago and playing on the West Side, it was tough. It definitely humbles you. I had a great supporting cast, just like Derrick does, with a lot of brothers and sisters, and my parents," said Brown, who played alongside the greatest player in franchise history, Michael Jordan, one player Rose will have a hard time passing in stature. "The most important thing is -- Derrick says it all -- he has a good foundation with his family and he stays humble. It was tough at first, as you can see, but it also was a privilege to wear a Bulls uniform because I dreamed about it and I'm pretty sure he did, too. So, it was an honor."

Rose himself talked about being from Chicago -- specifically, the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side -- but regarded it as a less of a burden than a source of pride.

"Coming from where I'm coming from, I can't explain it. I really can't explain it. I never would have thought in a million years that I'd be signing a contract like this, especially coming from the area where I'm coming from. No one from Englewood, period, has ever been in my position and sometimes it makes you think, 'Why me?,' and for me to be 23 years old, I know that I'm truly blessed, I don't take anything for granted and I appreciate everyone around me, all my fans and my family," he said. "I'm pretty quiet, so I watch everything, watch everybody and just try to learn from everyone's mistakes from the past that really got people in trouble. I'm blessed to have my friends around me that I have around me. We've been knowing each other -- some of us, the people I hang with; it's like eight of us -- been knowing them since I was in third grade, sixth grade. Played together in grammar school, high school. It's a small circle of us. It's just loyalty and trust with us, and like I said, I don't take any of them for granted, and I hope our relationship and friendship just builds on from now on."

"For me, it's kind of weird, where I hate attention, but being the player that I want to be, it comes with the territory, so I've just got to live it up. I'm always blessed to be in the position that I'm in and I just try to stay positive," he continued. "I'm just going to continue being the way that I am."

Doing just that could leave him in some rare company as a player. He's already there as a person.

Jabari Parker channels his inner Uncle Drew: This game is about getting buckets

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USA TODAY

Jabari Parker channels his inner Uncle Drew: This game is about getting buckets

The Bulls gave Jabari Parker a two-year, $40 million deal for good reason.

One, the Bulls had the salary cap space to get the deal done and had just about filled out their roster. The money wasn't going to be used elsewhere. Also, the second year of the deal is a team option which gives the Bulls some security should Parker not be able to stay healthy or play up to the standards such a salary commands.

Parker was given that money for multiple reasons. One of those reasons was not for his defense.

But, according to Parker, no one gets paid for their defense.

Speaking on 670 The Score on Wednesday, Parker was asked about whether he felt he had the ability and effort to defend in the NBA, something he hasn't done particularly well in four seasons.

"I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense," Parker said. "There’s only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.

"If you know the game, you also know that everyone’s a pro, right? And you know that certain guys have an average. No matter what you do, they still get that average. They pay people to score the ball, and I would hope that somebody scores the ball on me if they pay them that much. So, I’m not saying that to cop out or nothing. It’s the NBA. We’re professionals. Everybody scores. It’s just about limiting them as much as you can, trying to contain them."

Parker's right in one sense, that players are usually paid for their offensive output. There are also more tangible, easily read statistics on the offensive end than there are defensively. Heck, the Bulls gave $80 million to Zach LaVine and he was the team's worst defender last season.

But then again, defense matters. A whole lot, especially at a time when offenses are better than ever (thus making defenders more valuable). The final four teams in last year's playoffs were ranked 1st, 6th, 9th and LeBron James (29th) in defensive efficiency.

A day after Parker's comments the Celtics gave Marcus Smart a four-year, $52 million contract. He's a career 37 percent shooter and has made 29 percenet of his 3-pointers in four seasons.

So while Parker, a below-average defender, might not be entirely accurate, at least he's owning who he is. And if he scores like he did in Year 3, averaging 20 points before re-tearing his ACL, no one will care how he defends.

Kawhi Leonard joins Raptors in the East; it could be good news for the Bulls

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USA TODAY

Kawhi Leonard joins Raptors in the East; it could be good news for the Bulls

The best player in basketball left the Eastern Conference two weeks ago when LeBron James signed with the Lakers. Now another top-10 player in the league is on the move, as the Spurs dealt All-Pro Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors in exchange for DeMar DeRozan.

The Raptors, in essence, are going for it. General manager Masai Ujiri made a calculated decision that his current core - or more accurately, his top combination of Kyle Lowry and DeRozan - couldn't get over the hump. They've bowed out to LeBron James and the Cavs each of the last three years (including two sweeps) and, despite James moving to the West, now face legitimate tests in Boston and Philadelphia.

That's why Ujiri was willing to move DeRozan, the face of the franchise who had been with the team since he was drafted there in 2009, for a shot to get over the hump in the East. As talented as the four-time All-Star DeRozan is, he can't match what Leonard brings to the table on both sides of the ball. They also added wing Danny Green in the trade, making them a better team in the short-term.

That's where the Bulls come in.

Both Leonard and Green have one year remaining on their contracts. It's been well-documented that Leonard wants to play in his hometown of Los Angeles, meaning there's a better-than-not chance he plays just one season with the Raptors. Of course we saw what happened with Paul George and the Thunder, so never say never. It just appears likely at this point. Also, Green was more a function of making the dollars and cents work out in the deal; the 31-year-old probably isn't part of Toronto's long-term plans.

In other words, this could be Toronto's last shot. DeRozan had three years left on his contract, and Jakob Poeltl (also part of the deal) is entering the third year of his rookie contract. If the Raptors don't win in 2018 and Leonard bolts for the Lakers or Clippers, Toronto is looking at tearing it all down and entering, more or less, a rebuild phase. Both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka will be on the final years of their contracts, and the team might be willing to build around young role players in Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Delon Wright and Norman Powell.

That's certainly a team the Bulls could move past in the following two seasons. With a young core that includes Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Kris Dunn and Jabari Parker - plus next year's first-round pick - the Bulls will be trending upward as the Raptors attempt to pick up the pieces on a potentially failed dice roll on Leonard. Had the Raptors run it back with DeRozan they'd at least have their core in tact through 2020 (and DeRozan has a player option for 2021).

So while the Raptors were going to be ahead of the Bulls in the standings regardless this year, their window to compete in the long-term closed by swapping DeRozan for Leonard. That's good news for the Bulls in the coming years.