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How Can Derrick Rose Help the Chicago Bulls Topple LeBron James?
The hunt for a second superstar is ongoing but until the Chicago Bulls find that opportunity the responsibility of winning games and pursuing a championship rests on Derrick Rose. As he returns from injury and works his way back to MVP form what can the star point guard do to help his resilient team finally topple LeBron James and the Miami Heat?
Use Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer
For all the amazing things Rose can do as an offensive weapon for the Bulls, people tend to forget that he is a point guard. By the nature of their position point guards are the floor generals. They don't just offer their offensive ability in shooting the ball, they also are normally expected to facilitate for teammates. Rose was starting to become especially good at that last season, averaging 7.9 assists per game. It is that ability that had fans thinking big in 2012 before he got hurt, since it was absent the first time Chicago played Miami two years ago. He averaged 6.6 assists for the series but noticeably failed to properly utilize center Joakim Noah and forward Carlos Boozer. Those two give the Bulls one of their few advantages over the weaker Heat front court. That means when Rose is drawing double teams or the full attention of James then one of them will have good position for an open shot. The quicker Derrick learns to take advantage of that the more dangerous the Bulls become.
Don't be afraid of Tom Thibodeau
One of the bigger complaints about Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau is his perceived mismanagement of minutes for his players. He tends to lean heavily on certain starters for very long stretches to the point where they don't have the energy late in games or late in a series. A good example is his use of second-year man Jimmy Butler in the Heat series. With Luol Deng out and the roster decimated by injuries, Thibodeau didn't let Butler off the floor. Out of 240 possible minutes, Butler was on the floor for 221 of them. This same willingness to keep a starter on the floor happened with Rose too.
In the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago Derrick played over 40 minutes a game. At the time it wasn't viewed as a huge deal since James was doing the same. However, Thibodeau failed to take note of one of the key aspects of Rose's game that made such a strategy a mistake. He is an absolute killer in the clutch.
Ever since his time in high school Rose has developed a knack for buzzer beating shots to either win games or force overtime. A big reason he wasn't that same player against the Heat is because Miami loved to switch James, a top-ranked defender who is five inches taller onto Rose. This forced Derrick to work harder to score points and by design took advantage of Thibodeau's extended minutes. By the end of those games Rose was struggling to elevate on his shots and even had trouble getting enough push on his free throw attempts. It's hard to accept that a couple minutes rest on the bench could've changed that.
One of the things Miami does so well is keep a game close for three quarters and then try to put it away with a late run in the 4th. It was the blueprint for how they beat the Bulls in 2011 and this year too. The only way to stop runs like that is having the ability to score baskets late. No amount of defense in the world can stop or has stopped those runs. A big reason why the Dallas Mavericks beat Miami two years ago was because Dirk Nowitzki kept making baskets (and free throws) late in games to stave off runs by the Heat. Derrick should not be afraid to tell Thibodeau that if he wants to get past James then it is important to have the willingness to let him sit for brief spells to stay fresh late.
Become a recruiter in NBA free agency
One minor failure that nobody really talks about because of how much success the Bulls have had since then is how Rose did not fulfill one responsibility superstar players take for granted. With a chance to pair with James, or Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh in 2011 Rose spurned the thought of needing the help of anyone else. He believed he was good enough to become MVP and could carry Chicago by himself. The reason nobody called him out about that is because he backed up his talk, becoming the youngest player ever to win the MVP award. However, the older and more experienced Wade understood that value of having a second (and third) superstar flanking him. After all, his only other championship had come alongside Shaq and Alonzo Mourning.
So while Derrick was preparing his acceptance speech, the Big Three formed in South Beach and have become a source of great heartache for Bulls fans. Whether the supporters like it or not, a lot blame for that rests on Rose. His refusal to show any degree of interest in bringing in somebody else was a big factor in why none of the biggest names came to Chicago and as a result forced the front office to overpay for Boozer. One mistake placed on top of another mistake.
The good news is in that time Rose seems to have learned his lesson. Among his few contributions to the 2012-2013 season was making a conscious effort to help the team bring in free agent Kirk Hinrich from Atlanta. He understood that having the veteran guard would give the Bulls a chance to compete this season but also could prove beneficial for when he eventually returned. That speaks to a growth in leadership and seeing the big picture. If the trend holds true then Rose should continue to make similar pitches in the seasons to come when the fishes Chicago intends to reel in get considerably larger.
Take a pay cut
This is obviously the least likely scenario since the contract is already signed but it is still worth putting out there. The Bulls have a lot of issues with the salary cap this coming season what with he, Deng, Boozer and Noah eating up most of it with their large deals. Nobody in the front office will complain about that yet it has created problems in terms of keeping an effective bench together. In 2013 GM Gar Forman built his reserves almost exclusively with players on one-year deals. Unless some cap space frees up soon he will have to do the same thing again.
This is a real shame too because Chicago would dearly love to keep players like Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli who became key contributors to the playoff push. Both of them want to stay but they can't ignore the better deals they're sure to get by leaving in free agency. One way that could help the Bulls hang on to them is having one of their stars take a cut in pay. The one that makes the most sense is Rose. Given how much money he figures to make in endorsements alone when he returns the thought of also making over $17 million next season and a million more every season after that is tough to understand.
A good example is Michael Jordan. He routinely accepted lesser contracts than he was worth in the '80s and '90s because he understood the extra money would keep guys like Scottie Pippen on the roster as well as open the door to better free agent signings. Rose's contract with Adidas alone could land him $200 million. Doesn't that make earning, say, $12 million a year versus $17 million more acceptable? That extra money could then go towards keeping guys like Robinson and Belinelli and make the Bulls that much more dangerous when they reach the playoffs.
No matter what happens, the fact that Rose simply returns after a year off will bring a huge boost to the Bulls championship hopes. Still, if they wish to conquer James, the Heat and whatever Western Conference foe they would see in the Finals then it is up to Derrick to utilize every possible advantage he can find.