[Ed. Note: This is the fourth in a series of stories that I found intriguing in 2008. This series will cover a storyline from the year that was from the perspective of the Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks and SIU football and men's basketball. This post takes a look at the Bulls since drafting Derrick Rose.]
If the Chicago Bulls made news between Jan. 1 and June 1, it was probably pushed off the back page of sports and somewhere between the transactions page and hunting, fishing and outdoor games.
When the hope for a better day in Bulls basketball seemed bleak, a lucky bounce of a ping pong ball sent the once proud hoops hotbed back into the national spotlight. With a 1.7 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, Chicago defied its odds and bested the Miami Heat for the top spot.
And instead of addressing what still stands as the team's biggest need, a low-post scorer, the Bulls selected point guard Derrick Rose out of Memphis. Chicago's hope settled on the shoulders of one of the city's very own.
From 1991-1998, the Bulls owned the sports pages in the winter months through the early part of the summer as Michael Jordan and his gang of misfits brought 6(!) NBA championships to the West Side of Chicago. Since Jordan's departure, the Bulls have lacked a go-to presence.
Fans battled through the days of Ron Mercer and Eddie Robinson getting max contracts while Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill shunned Chicago. They battled through Tim Floyd coached ballclubs featuring Jerry Krause's failed draft picks. They endured the flop that was Tyson Chandler (before Chris Paul turned him into a star) and the fat of Eddie Curry (before he ate himself to the end of the New York Knicks bench).
And when a slow start to the 2007 season came after two playoff appearances, only a player of Rose's magnitude could save the team. And so far he has.
The star rookie is doing everything in his power to lead the Bulls (14-17) back to respectability while at the same time prove critics like myself (who wanted Michael Beasley) wrong. Rose is averaging 17.5 points and 6.1 assists per game and is one of the early favorites to earn The Association's Rookie of the Year award.
Don't be surprised if Jerry Reinsdorf's team of marketing geniuses find a way to get D-Rose into the All-Star game. Heck, if they can turn A.J. Pierzynski and Scott Podsednik into All-Stars, it would only be a matter of time before D-Rose is starting aside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard on the Eastern Conference squad.
2009 Outlook: This might be the year Chicago makes a return to the playoffs, but the team will only go as far as Rose carries it. First-year head coach Vinny Del Negro's system has come with mixed reviews as it shown moments of brilliance as he has brought a Phoenix Suns type offense to the Windy City, but Mike D'Antoni's style of defense has not come full circle quite yet.
Maybe it's why the Bulls should have hired D'Antoni in the first place. Or Doug Collins. Or Avery Johnson. Just saying.
Ben Gordon fits the system well, but might be used as trade bait as his contract expires at the end of the season. Luol Deng, who looked like a budding star three years ago, has faded only months after signing an extension that made him very rich for a very long time. Tyrus Thomas looks as if he is starting to get it, giving Bulls fans (and front office members alike) hope that he can be Tyson Chandler to Rose's Chris Paul. Joakim Noah is a joke and I wish the Bulls could find value in him and ship him in exchange for a Michael Jordan No. 45 jeresey.
While the regular season is the most important thing as of now, the Bulls' offseason will be much more important to the future of the franchise. Will they try to clear some cap room for 2010? Will they try to surround Rose with an outside shooting specialist and a low-post scoring option. How will Del Negro (and Rose for that matter) hold up over an 82-game schedule.
Only time will tell.