MVP Derrick Rose has become folklore around Chicago. Injury after injury has reduced his status from next big thing down to what could have been among critics, fans and front office personnel. Yet, somehow, his Bulls’ teammates still stand in his shadow. Joakim Noah most boldly has defended his point guard time and again proclaiming Rose the lead dog despite his extensive absences from the court. Even with veterans like Pau Gasol, Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson, Noah himself and breakout sensation Jimmy Butler on the 2014-15 roster, Rose led the Bulls’ stampede.
Derrick Rose set the pace on the court while averaging the most field goal attempts and highest usage percentage per game1 on the team. Those stats alone tell you who Rose sees as the number one Bull. His former head coach Tom Thibodeau–a next man up kind of guy if there ever was one–admitted Derrick’s absence was much of why the team failed to win it all2: “When you lose a guy like a Derrick Rose and maybe you trade someone, and now all of a sudden you have to ask yourself, ‘How are we going to win with this group?’ Maybe that alters things,”. Rose’s injuries along with some irksome comments and aloofness around teammates have altered things, to say the least.
Enter Jimmy Butler. The fifth year wingman signed a five-year max contract this past July after a breakout year–first-time All-Star, Most Improved Player award, second team All-Defense, sixth in Offensive Win Shares3. He earned that $95 million dollar deal with a combination of hard work, athletic talent and a willingness to lead. Unlike the rest of Derrick Rose’s teammates, Jimmy Butler feels no need to play the deferential second fiddle. He’ll step to the front of the lay up line even though it means shaking up the heard’s status quo. That’s refreshing to see in a team that has to dethrone LeBron’s Cavaliers to reach basketball’s promised land.
Derrick Rose has star skills. His athleticism, quickness, strength and feel for the game make him rare NBA talent. But let’s face the truth. He’s not Michael Jordan. He’s not Kobe Bryant. He’s not LeBron James. When it’s all said and done he may not even be Kyrie Irving. That’s hard to admit but it’s the only reality of a player that is consistent only in his ability to miss games–an orbital fracture, seriously? It’s not all his fault. Heck, it might not be his fault at all. But fault or not, Rose should no longer be the unquestioned Bulls’ leader; Butler tends to agree.
The Chicago Bulls are desperate for an on-court boss that can help sell the message new head coach Fred Hoiberg is preaching. Jimmy Butler will be the first to proclaim he’s that voice4. “I have to do it. I think Derrick is the quiet one. Jo is the emotional one. Someone has to be that guy to be calm and lead while still producing at both ends… somebody has to do it… you need a guy who’s going hard every night and is going to back up what he’s talking about. And I definitely think it’s going to be me.” Over the past year Butler has vocalized what all of his teammates are thinking. Emotional leaders like Noah are nice but, when on-court production wanes, their hurrah speeches sound muffled. And quiet, lead-by-example guys like Rose are effective but they can’t forcefully make teammates toe the line of disciple and effort. In Butler the Bulls have their in-your-face bulldog on the court and in the locker room. He knows it. His coaches expect it. And, most importantly, his teammates and adversaries respect it.
Don’t misunderstand the premise–it’s not Jimmy Butler versus Derrick Rose. While the backcourt duo are not the best of friends, the Shaq-and-Kobe hatred simply isn’t there yet. Alpha males wearing the same colors are going to butt heads. Butler accepts that while embracing what most top athletes know–competition will bring the best out in both he and Rose5.
Yes please. Let them be fierce, (expletive) competitors. Let Derrick Rose accept his new role as co-star with an emphasis on the “co” coupled with a somewhat muted “star”. And let Jimmy Butler be the Bull that outwardly demands in his teammates what he already expects of himself.
Niral Patel ~ SecCitySportsReport@gmail.com ~ @SecCitySports