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NBA PM: What Derrick Rose Should Have Said
Posted By Bill Ingram On May 16, 2013 @ 5:05 pm In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
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What Derrick Rose Should Have Said
It’s been a tough postseason for Chicago Bulls fans, and not just because their team was eliminated by the Miami HEAT last night. Sure, that’s frustrating enough, but the biggest issue for the Chicago faithful is that they never got to see the best version of their team take the court because All-Star point guard Derrick Rose apparently chose not to participate.
Rose, of course, missed most of the season with the ACL tear that took him out of the 2012 playoffs prematurely, but his return this season was essentially a foregone conclusion. It wasn’t a question of “if” Rose would return, but rather “when” he would, and that would almost certainly be before the playoffs. When he was cleared to return to the court in February, it launched a daily reality show unofficially entitled “Where Are You, Derrick Rose?” The show could be found anywhere and everywhere, from newspaper headlines to Twitter feeds and in rumor mills across the NBA. Everyone was either asking the question, claiming to have an answer or trying to come up with one.
That continued into the playoffs, and with each passing win the fever pitch of the question became even more shrill. The Bulls took out the Brooklyn Nets, which absolutely no one expected them to do, and fans were just positive it would inspire Rose to get out of the suit and back onto the court as the team prepared to do battle with their arch-rivals from Miami. When he didn’t show for Game 1, the reality network was just sure it meant he was a surefire bet for Game 2. When that didn’t happen, Rose’s brother stirred to pot by saying he believed Rose would return for Game 3. From there it just got sillier, as Rose continued to sit on the bench and talk to the media about how his return was “up in the air.”
The truth is that Rose’s return was never all that “up in the air.” According to a source close to the situation, Rose has long felt that he might need to take the entire season off to make sure he was completely healthy for next year. He didn’t want to suffer yet another long-term injury that would require more rehab and more games missed. Rose’s plan was to spend the entire season working his way back, then spend the offseason getting back into top shape and preparing to return to All-Star/MVP form for the 2013-14 season.
No one can blame Rose for that, either. His teammates certainly understood and his coaching staff never once put pressure on him to return. The Bulls simply held the line, fought for their lives, and never once looked down the bench to the guy in the suit who was as good as ever in practice, yet refused to take the court when it counted. Rose’s teammates, coaching staff and front office management all knew what was going on so why didn’t Rose just explain it to his fans?
The Bulls are hardly unaccustomed to a national spotlight, and their PR department has been through a few things over the years. It’s not like they don’t know how to handle situations like this. Additionally, Rose is represented by B.J. Armstrong, who lived through the Michael Jordan media frenzy. It seems like someone in Rose’s inner circle could have come up with a better plan than simply talking euphemistically about a return that seemed imminent, when it was, in fact, not.
Here’s what should have gone down.
The Bulls should have called a press conference for Rose, who would have been seated at a table with his brother, Armstrong, and whomever else he chose. Rose struggles with self-expression, but a simple, prepared statement would have sufficed. Something similar to what he said before Game 7 of the Bulls’ first round series against the Brooklyn Nets would have been fine:
“Whenever I come back, I know I’m going to be way, way better. Just having that time to relax and be patient and fully heal, that’s the big picture right now.”
He could have added something like:
“I don’t feel like I am best served by returning now and risking further injury. What’s best for me is to take this entire season off, including the playoffs, and be ready to play 82 games next season and help my team compete for a championship. I would like to express my appreciation to my fans and my teammates as I work through this difficult time.”
He wouldn’t have even needed to take questions. Make the statement, thank everyone for their patience and support, and walk out of the room.
End of story.
If Rose had done that, there would have been no daily reality show, no Twitter storms, no headlines begging to know where he was, no fans criticizing him for not playing. Everyone would have understood and accepted Rose’s decision. After all, he is one of the most beloved young players in the NBA today. Instead, it got ugly. It even got to the point where fans who love Rose and the Bulls began making jokes at his expense, questioning his heart, his will to win and his pride. All of this for one of the most determined winners in the entire world of professional sports.
There was no need for any of this. No need for false hopes, no need for the daily drama, and no need for the hurt feelings among Bulls fans who yearned to see their hero return and help his team beat the Miami HEAT. All that was needed was one press conference, one prepared statement, one clear understanding of Rose’s situation. You know, something like what Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said yesterday:
“If we were going to make a mistake, we wanted to make the mistake on the side of caution,” Thibodeau told ESPN Chicago. “We feel good about where he is. He has the whole summer to build more confidence and that’s the important thing. As we said when he first had the surgery, we weren’t going to rush him back, and we held to that. I think it was the smart decision.”
Of course, the Bulls were also hoping against hope that Rose would change his mind and play . . so much so that they had his uniform with them at all times just in case. Sadly, they never needed it.
As the Bulls look back on what was, by all counts, a surprisingly successful 2012-13 season, the one blot will be the inexcusably poor way in which Derrick Rose’s status was handled. Unfortunately, that will be the thing NBA fans remember about the Bulls’ postseason run, when what they should remember is the incredible way an injury-riddled and bedraggled team eliminated one of the year’s most-hyped teams in the first round and then gave the defending champs a couple of black eyes even as Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich looked on in street clothes.
That should have been the story of the Bulls this season, and it would have been if someone had helped Rose handle his situation a little bit better.
Second-Guessing Sam Presti?
As the Oklahoma City Thunder sit down this summer and look back at what might have been, two things will immediately come to mind. First, if All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook hadn’t gotten injured against the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, they would very likely be looking forward to another appearance in the Western Conference Finals. Second, if they hadn’t traded away sixth-man James Harden to those same Rockets, they might also be headed back to the NBA Finals with strong championship hopes.
Of course, Westbrook did get injured and Harden was traded to Houston, so speculating about what might have been can only cause frustration. The Thunder ran up against a tough opponent in the second round and couldn’t find a way to achieve their ultimate goal of winning a title.
“Memphis is a really, really good team, and they made it tough on us every one of these games,” Thunder star Kevin Durant said after last night’s game. “I gave it all I had for my team. I left it all out there on the floor. I missed 16 shots, but I kept fighting and I kept being aggressive. That’s all I can ask for.”
What was painfully obvious to Thunder fans following Westbrook’s injury was that as good as Durant is, he’s not good enough to carry the team without Westbrook by his side. Reggie Jackson played well, Serge Ibaka stepped up his scoring a bit, but the Thunder simply didn’t get enough from the rest of the team to compensate for the loss of Westbrook.
So now the second-guessing will kick into high gear, especially the second-guessing about the Harden trade. It’s very likely, you see, that if Harden were still in Thunder blue he would have given the team the extra punch they needed to win without their floor leader. Not only is Harden a decent passer who can pile up assists, he’s a force to be reckoned with when he decides to score the ball. Clearly the Thunder made a huge mistake by trading him away.
Of course, this is all viewed through the particularly clear lens of hindsight. It’s also important to keep the context of the Harden trade in mind.
Harden was set to play the final year of his contract in OKC, and his agent was seeking a max contract in order for him to stay put. The Thunder knew they couldn’t afford a third max player, and had already identified their first two in Durant and Westbrook. When it became clear that Harden’s camp wasn’t going to accept the best offer OKC could afford to put on the table, a $52 million extension, GM Sam Presti got on the phone with Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey and began discussing the framework of a deal that Morey had been seeking for months.
There were two issues at play for Presti, with the first being that he knew he couldn’t afford to either pay Harden what his agent was asking or to let him walk away for nothing at the end of the season. Second, he knew that if Harden’s situation was left open-ended to start the season it would become the predominant story about his team night in and night out. He had seen how Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard and their respective teams had been treated during the final years of their contracts and he was not going to allow that kind of distraction to overwhelm his team. Ultimately, he decided the best thing for his team to was trade Harden and get back to focusing on basketball.
At first, people weren’t quite sure what to make of the deal. It was clearly good for the Rockets, who made the playoffs behind the strong play of Harden, but then again, the Thunder still wound up with the best record in the Western Conference even without Harden. Criticize the trade all you like, but if Westbrook hadn’t gotten injured and OKC had advanced to the Finals, it would be pretty hard to argue that Presti has royally screwed up.
Truthfully, the only thing Presti might have overlooked is just how precarious success can be. Most teams have to deal with a significant injury en route to a championship, and the teams that successfully overcome that kind of obstacle do so on the strength of their depth. Trading away Harden left the Thunder very little margin for error, as demonstrated by their inability to score consistently once Westbrook went down. There was a chance that Kevin Martin, who came over in the trade with Houston, might have replaced Harden’s offensive production, but it was only a chance. By the trade deadline it was already pretty clear that Martin was not up for the challenge, and an additional scoring threat was needed. Presti ultimately opted to stand pat, and that decision, far more than the Harden trade decision, turned out to be the reason for OKC’s premature demise.
It will no doubt be hard for Thunder fans to look on the bright side right away, but there is still a very bright side to be seen in OKC. Westbrook will be healthy for training camp and the the team’s dynamic duo will be in place for years to come. The Thunder are going to be a force in the West for the foreseeable future, they just need to add what every contending team has: a sixth-man of the year candidate who takes some of the load off of Westbrook and Durant, and who can also step in if an injury happens and prevent that injury from derailing the entire season for the team.
Rest assured, Sam Presti will make just such a move.
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