The Blackhawks and Bulls are roommates: they play in the same space, wear the same colors, and share many of the same fans. And until about two weeks ago, both were living the good life.
The Blackhawks, of course, are undefeated in regulation. Theirs is the biggest story in Chicago and possibly in all of sports. The Bulls, meanwhile, prior to Feb. 12, were 30-21 and one of the league’s most dramatic narratives. Derrick Rose looked close to returning and the Bulls were doing astonishingly well without him. Joakim Noah and Luol Deng were All-Stars, and Carlos Boozer was playing like one. Tom Thibodeau had taken a bunch of spare parts and made them look legit. There was reason to think, when Rose returned, that their season might be a special one, too.
Then Derrick spoke to the USA Today:
“I don’t have a set date,” he told Jeff Zillgitt on Feb. 12. “I’m not coming back until I’m 110 percent. Who knows when that can be? It can be within a couple of weeks. It could be next year. It could be any day. It could be any time. It’s just that I’m not coming back until I’m ready.”
The Bulls’ unstated goal was to stay in contention until their meal ticket came back. Now that their meal ticket’s return wasn’t assured, what was the point of the season? Even with a healthy Rose, this team wasn’t assured of beating the Miami Heat. I mean, have you seen LeBron recently?
Then, on Feb. 21, Derrick’s brother Reggie Rose talked to ESPN Chicago:
“What have you pieced together? Have you made any moves? Have you made any trades to get better? You know all roads to the championship lead through Miami,” Derrick Rose’s brother told ESPN. “What pieces have you put together for the physical playoffs? Joakim Noah is a great player. Luol Deng is a great player. But you need more than that. You have to put together pieces to your main piece. The players can only do so much. It’s up to the organization to make them better.”
Since Derrick’s comments to USA Today, the Bulls are 4-5. Sure, the schedule’s included games against Miami, Boston, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, but those losses had a different feel, one of hopelessness. And lets not forget that they lost to a Cleveland team without Kyrie Irving or Anderson Varejao, and needed 21 rebounds from Noah to beat a sinking Philadelphia team.
Only now are they starting to recover. On Saturday, they beat Brooklyn before taking a tough Pacers team to the final buzzer Sunday, despite playing without Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson, and Richard Hamilton.
The Roses’ comments and the team’s play since those comments raise all kinds of questions:
— Is Derrick hurt worse than he’s letting on?
— Who’s really in charge of his comeback?
— What does he really think of his teammates?
— Is Reggie speaking for his brother or himself?
— What’s the point of the comeback?
— Can anything be expected of him?
— Can anything be expected of this team sans Rose?
— And have all these expressed doubts undone the team’s confidence?
Without Derrick, Thibodeau had done something close to miracle work keeping this bunch atop its division. But when Derrick told the world he might not come back this year and Reggie pointed out that the team…um, you know…wasn’t really that good, it seemed as if the Bulls were suddenly dropped back to earth.
It’s human nature. The future, which once looked so bright, is now uncertain, to put it mildly. Noah and Deng are playing long minutes, which can’t be good for their careers in the long run. We’re now celebrating close losses to good teams, as wins. Will Rose ever be the player he used to be? Can anyone really make a sound argument that there remains a shot at a championship this season? Is it possible that the championship window is going to close and remain closed?
Words have power. They can inspire hope or destroy it.
Look at the Blackhawks. Last year there was conflict over whether Corey Crawford or Ray Emery should be in the goal and if Joel Quenneville was a good enough coach to lead the team to another Stanley Cup. This year, the biggest controversies going are whether Brandon Saad or Dan Carcillo should play on the first line, and if Crawford and Emery should share time in the playoffs.
The Hawks don’t have to win every game to keep this city and its fans enthralled. All they need to do is keep playing well and feeling good.
So if Reggie Rose is reading this, do us a favor: Keep your mouth shut.