It has been 18 months since Derrick Rose last played in a meaningful game. If you’re a Chicago Bulls fan, it must seem like 18 years.
Rose says he’s ready to take the court when the Bulls open the season. That’s all good for team morale, but the bigger question is which Derrick Rose are we going to see when he takes the court? Rose was suppose to be ready by the 2013 playoffs but for whatever reason he bailed out on the idea and decided to shut it down for a season.
That caused many to wonder if Rose will ever get over the mental hurdle of his devastating knee injury that has consumed him and the organization for two years.
“I should be able to play in the first game of the season,” Rose said during a promotional tour. “I know I’m anxious right now to play. My health is everything right now. It’s 100 percent.”
Rose’s teammates, as well as head coach Tom Thibodeau, is behind him 100 percent. They believe in his talent and trust his judgment. If he felt he wasn’t ready five months ago, then the Bulls will roll with that. Thibodeau wants (and needs) a healthy Derrick Rose for an entire season because anything less won’t cut it in a top-heavy Eastern Conference.
OneManFastBreak.net examines the teams in the Central Division and where they’ll finish:
Thibodeau is glad to have Rose back for two reasons: 1) he gains a superstar who can create offense for the team and himself, and 2) he doesn’t have to answer questions from the media on when his superstar will be back. The Bulls competed hard against the Heat in the 2013 conference semifinals, as Thibodeau squeezed every once of energy out of his undermanned squad. But in the end injuries and Miami’s sheer talent was too much to overcome. If there was a silver lining in the series it was the emergence of guard/forward Jimmy Butler. The third-year man out of Marquette went head-to-head with LeBron James and didn’t blink. Thibs has penciled in Butler as the starting shooting guard when training camp opened. “He’s an excellent athlete, very explosive, very quick to the ball. That tells you how he sees the game. His reaction to the ball is special. He’s very quick, strong, can think ahead, very strong,” Thibs told Comcast Sports. Not bringing back super sub Nate Robinson was a bit of a surprise, but Thibs still has Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson to bring energy and experience off the bench. Luol Deng enters the final year of his contract and will be playing for a long-term, lucrative extension. Deng is only 28 and an important cog in Thibs’ system, so re-signing him should be a top priority.
Frank Vogel has built a monster ballclub in basketball-crazy Indiana. The Pacers are big, young, athletic, and nasty. If you watched last season’s conference finals you saw how the Pacers posed a difficult matchup for the Heat. The biggest matchup nightmare is 7-2, 280-pound center Roy Hibbert. The former Georgetown Hoya was a beast in the paint during the Pacers’ seven-game war with the Heat, and he was the main reason why Miami signed 7-footer Greg Oden, despite all his health issues, in the offeason. Hibbert worked out with Tim Duncan during the offseason and claims he’s in the best shape of his career. Scary thought considering he played at an All-Star level during the playoffs. But Hibbert is just one half of Indiana’s studly 1-2 punch. What really excites Pacers fans is the growth of swingman Paul George. George made the All-Star game for the first time, and he should be a fixture there for years to come. Indiana’s top brass recently went all in on the 6-8 forward, signing him to a max contract worth around $90 million for five years.
Fiery owner Dan Gilbert admitted he made a mistake firing head coach Mike Brown three years ago. Gilbert corrected his mistake by bringing back Brown to lead a young but talented bunch led by budding superstar Kyrie Irving. The No. 1 pick of the 2011 draft and 2012 Rookie of the Year is slowly helping Cavs fans get over the LeBron breakup, and with good reason. Irving showed flashes of greatness in his second year, averaging 22 points and leading the league in fourth-quarter scoring. Injuries have been the only drawback for an otherwise dynamite first two seasons for the former Duke Blue Devil. Irving is already considered one of the top best point guards in the Association, and his needle is still pointing up. Speaking of injuries, the Cavs rolled the dice in the offeason with the signing of often-injured center Andrew Bynum. If Bynum plays, the Cavs get dominant big man with a championship pedigree. Rookie forward Anthony Bennett, the 2013 top overall selection out of UNLV, still has a ways to go before he gets in basketball shape, but the Cavs are really excited about his potential. Bennett has drawn comparisons to another former UNLV star, Larry Johnson.
The Bad Boys are back! Well, sort of. General Manager Joe Dumars had a very busy offseason, ditching Jose Calderon, Brandon Knight, and Jason Maxiell and bringing in Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, and fan favorite Chauncey Billups. Dumars also picked up some talent in the draft, selecting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tony Mitchell, and Peyton Siva. There are so many new parts in Detroit the state’s auto industry could receive a big boost. Dumars coveted Smith to pair up with his young big men in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. But that would mean Smith would need to play small forward, and that eliminates his advantages against slower power forwards. It will be interesting to see how new head coach Maurice Cheeks utilizes his bigs because all three have limitations offensively. Smith and Monroe are not good enough shooters to space the floor, and Drummond is a true low-post player who won’t drift to the perimeter unlike most centers today. Jennings is a huge upgrade over Knight. When he’s shooting well, Jennings can play against anyone in the league. But when’s off, he can shoot you out of a game. Billups, 37, returns to the Motor City but he’ll be more of mentor to Jennings.
To say that the Bucks are in a transition year is a huge understatement. General manager John Hammond cleaned house, removing the entire coaching staff and gutting out the roster. Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders, and John Henson are the only holdovers from the 2012-13 squad. To fill in the blanks, Hammond picked up O.J. Mayo, Zaza Pachulia, and Gary Neal, and brought back Carlos Delfino and Luke Ridnour. Brandon Jennings was shipped to Detroit in exchange for Brandon Knight. There are so many retreads in Milwaukee you’d think the city is selling stock for Goodwill. And the Bucks are likely not done tweaking the roster. Sanders and Henson are essentially the same player. They’re ultrathin forwards with limited offensive skills but tremendous shot-blockers. Hammond should be able to work out a deal for one (or both) in exchange for more offense, which the Bucks badly need.
Joel Huerto is editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.