It was supposed to be better than this.
Derrick Rose left his hometown of Chicago after following up his MVP season with a few injury-plagued ones in a row. After several seasons spent pushing hard against eventual title winners in the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat, but never quite making it to the finish line, Rose, along with Joakim Noah, went to the New York Knicks. There, along with Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and another former Bulls great, team president Phil Jackson, the Knicks were going to become relevant again.
Rose’s old team had somewhat similar plans. They replaced Rose with another hometown guy in future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade. Wade, who’s in his mid-30s and obviously not the same player he once was, wasn’t meant to be the guy who got the Chicago Bulls back to the glory days of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, but along with budding superstar Jimmy Butler, and the addition of Rajon Rondo the lineup, the Bulls were looking for ways to be competitive, but also entice other great players to come on over to the Windy City.
These two teams, who spent the 1990s locked in a battle for supremacy for the Eastern Conference (a battle Chicago almost always won thanks in large part to a certain number 23), had a plan, and they were going to get back to the top.
And then the season actually started, and, like Mick Jagger sings, “All the dreams we held so close seemed to all go up in smoke.”
There’s been chaos in New York City, with Rose sometimes showing up giving us flashes of the player he once was, while other times he literally didn’t show up at all. While rumors swirl that Anthony might be on his way out, either to the Cavs, Clippers or nowhere else. Nowhere being staying put on the Knicks in this case.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, Rondo has been his old self, getting suspended for a game for “conduct detrimental to the team,” then spending enough time on the team’s bench that he actually didn’t get to play for his own bobblehead doll night. Butler is supposedly on the trading block and Wade is now saying that if the team’s young star goes, he isn’t sure what the future would hold for him if Butler ends up changing uniforms, telling ESPN yesterday, “One of the main reasons I’m here is Jimmy. He’s the one who called me and got me to come here.” Playing on a team filled with a bunch of 21-year-olds doesn’t seem that appealing to a superstar who was dominating the league alongside LeBron James in Miami just a few seasons ago.
Fair. Very fair.
Now here we are slowly moving towards the All-Star break with all this chaos and trade talk swirling about. Just over 40 games into the season, halfway through, and both of these once-great teams interesting experiments seem to have not panned out. The Bulls are trying to hold onto the eight spot in the East, but have to try and fend off an advancing Milwaukee Bucks team led by the Greek Freak. New York, meanwhile, sit just a few spots back from a playoff spot, and could make it if they can tighten things up, but it honestly doesn’t look that great.
So what, then, do these two franchises do? Try and work things out with the guys they’ve got or cut their losses and try a different path? A tough call. The Bulls, led by Rose, looked to be poised for greatness just shy of a decade ago, and then the injuries started to happen. They tried to invest in the future, the way you see a team like the Philadelphia 76ers or Milwaukee Bucks doing now, but it just didn’t work out. The Knicks, meanwhile, keep hearing Phil Jackson (who has had his own share of controversies this season) talk about how the team just needs to put its faith in the triangle offense and everything will be fine. Long gone are the days of the “Zen Master” who could whisper soothing things into the ear of Air Jordan, not even one of the greatest coaches in the history of the league can figure this out from his office as the team president.
It is, as Ned Flanders would say, a dilly of a pickle for both teams. Do they stay or do they go? Try and work things out, trade away your guys for what will probably amount to a lot of promises that whatever you get in the deal will pay off in a couple of years or do go another route and just wipe the slate clean? Rebuilding doesn’t always mean simply getting rid of players. The Knicks front office woes have been documented over the years, and while Jackson’s greatness as a coach can’t be disputed, it looks like he doesn’t exactly know what’s best for the team from his luxury box. Chicago, meanwhile, has had Gar Forman at the GM position and John Paxson running the show for a few years now to less than spectacular results. Maybe there’s some deep sense of attachment to Paxson, a former guard for the team who hit one of the most famous shots in team history, but as a front office guy it’s been difficult to justify some of his decisions.
Whatever happens, as of this moment, it looks like two of the NBA’s big franchises, one who lorded over the league less than twenty years ago, and another who hasn’t won a title since the Seventies, both have a lot of rebuilding on top of this rebuilding to do if they want to compete.