“That whole [Team USA] experience, it went well for me. I think I became a better leader for my team, just learning the basics of becoming a leader, becoming more vocal, making sure I stand on people and hold everybody accountable,” reflects Rose, who had to be shooed away from working out at the Berto Center by his agent and ex-Bull BJ Armstrong immediately upon returning from Turkey. “It’s coming along good [now], where I’m talking…just knowing that if I’m going hard, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be going hard.”
Despite the Bulls attempted wooing of alpha dogs LeBron James and Chicago product Dwyane Wade during free agency-not to mention now-quelled (thanks to center Joakim Noah’s recent contract extension) trade speculation for Carmelo Anthony—it’s not as if the Bulls needed another superstar. The organization was just doing its due diligence, hoping to seize on the opportunity provided to them by virtue of cap space. And while landing Carlos Boozer and others might seem to some like a consolation prize, the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future was wearing a Chicago uniform all along.
“With this team, I think we’re good. I don’t think we need any more pieces with the team we have right now. We’ve got good guys that are dedicated to this game, that came from winning organizations and winning programs and they’re just all about basketball,” observed Rose—who added, “I don’t think it’s going to be fear,” when queried about how the Bulls would react to the Heat-on media day. “They don’t care about their stats or anything, they just want to win games. I think that’s going to boost us up.”
“I’m still young, so right now I’m still learning…You know me, I don’t have a problem sharing with anybody, especially [leadership],” he acknowledges. “If they’re talking good knowledge or preaching good stuff, there isn’t any point for me to go against them or be mad…if anything, I know they can help me as a player.”
Scuttlebutt has it that Rose didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet for Bron. Well, to paraphrase Sir Charles, he’d rather beat them than join them. Rose wants the ball in his hands for all the crucial possessions, and whether or not the naturally-unselfish playmaker takes every big shot down the stretch-if you don’t know about his ever-burgeoning takeover mentality as a closer or his knack for coming up huge in high-pressure situations (check his Playoff numbers), then you haven’t been paying attention-he wants to make those decisions himself, not just be an active spectator.
At the same time, Rose understands he still has a lot to learn and is more than willing to take advice from vets, as well as play for highly organized new Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau-like Rose, a plainspoken gym rat who opens up once drawn into X-and-O convos. Rose knows Thibodeau can help complete his all-around game by unleashing the defensive potential that lies in his quick feet and powerful frame.
“I’m just trying to pressure the ball. That’s my biggest thing, just pressure the ball. Making sure the point guard isn’t really comfortable running the offense, and make him create and make shots instead of running the team,” he says. “I’ve been hearing [I could be a better defender] my whole life. Coaches have been telling me I’m so athletic and so quick, I should be a problem on the defensive end, but I never took it into consideration. There’s only certain moments when I really key in and D up, but I know with this coach, Tom, he’s going to get it out of me.
“He’s a good coach. If anything, people question his offensive thoughts or ability or his ideas to create offense, but championships are won off defense.”
For his part, the first-year coach says, “Well, I think the challenge for Derrick right now is to make that next step of being a complete player. I think everything that he’s done on offense, he’s just as capable of playing great defense all the time.
“He’s also done a great job with leadership,” Thibs continues. “He’s great in practice. I think he’s gotten more confident, he’s more vocal, he’s done a good job of leading the team.”
With Rose sold on Thibodeau’s defensive scheme and real basketball structure around him for the first time in his career, and with the addition of Boozer (once he’s healthy) to complement the energetic Noah inside and a cast of solid role players, hopes are high in the ‘Go—and with those increased expectations come more demands on the team’s shy star.
“Of course you want [to fade into the background], but if you want to be the best or if you’re a top player or whatever, they’re going to demand you go places, no matter what it is, especially in this market—the Chicago market—where the Bulls are a franchise a lot of people love,” Rose acknowledges. “I’m just doing it to put the Bulls out there and hold us up because I think that in a couple of years—no, next year-this season, I mean, we have a good shot to at least make a run to play for the Championship.
“It kind of hurt when we were losing, when I was in high school and stuff, seeing other teams in the NBA winning championships and we weren’t even near them…We couldn’t brag about it any more, but now it makes me work hard, just thinking about trying to get back to those days, when the city was in a frenzy about the team,” he continues. “It’s putting chills on my body right now, dog, just thinking about it. I would probably pass out if we ever won a championship in Chicago—just black out, man. I think the city needs it, man. We’ve been waiting for a long time. I know that we’re going to get there one day, but only God knows…I think I’m ready for it, I think the team is ready for it, I think the organization is ready for it, and I think Chicago needs it.”
While Rose eagerly anticipates the Bulls returning to the status they enjoyed in his childhood, he understands that he has some growing to do if he intends to carry the team back into the spotlight for reasons other than scuffles between the front office and coaching staff. “I know if I keep working out, I can’t get worse, so that’s a good thing. I’m just going to try to push myself and see how good I can be,” says Rose. “I’m not there yet. I’m not there yet, until I can be number one. I don’t want to be mentioned as two or three until I get number one. There’s no point to playing the game if you’re not going to be the best or try to be the best.
“Who remembers number two or three? You want to be number one. To make it simple: be the best player in the NBA. “I guess people don’t believe it yet, but they’ll see.”
Aggrey Sam covers the Chicago Bulls for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.