Sports are where hometown heroes go to be executed by their own neighbors, and Derrick Rose has next. Born and raised in the Englewood region of Chicago's south side, Rose fell into the Bulls' lap after mathematical probability ignored the team's 1.7 percent chance of winning 2008's NBA draft lottery. As if it was written, the prodigal son -- native to a neighborhood where 44.2 percent of homes fall below the poverty line and the violent crime rate is fourth-highest in the city -- overcomes his own probabilities, makes good, becomes the franchise player of his childhood team and near-singlehandedly ends a decade-long post-Jordan hangover. It was all too perfect.
Ever since Rose bummed out the universe via his ACL implosion in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, the facile narrative's perfection has shown its flaws. It was, of course, assumed that Rose would return to lead the Bulls in the next year's playoffs -- mostly because that's what the hometown fans wanted. However, Rose soon learned that whatever sympathies exist for a hometown hero are set aside the second you stop doing what the hometown wants. A messy, multi-pronged PR proxy war broke out between the Bulls, flacks, local fans and media when Rose decided to delay his return until the next season. It all boiled down to the Bulls' medical staff clearing him to play even as Rose made clear that he was in fact not ready to play. The hometown did not want to hear any of that.
After all, athletes serving our interests over their own and functioning as easy parallels for whatever we see fit is common to sports fandom. The hometown hero, an emblem of the city they represent, is especially beholden to this societal mental illness. We're officially in the late stages with Rose.
Gone for yet another season due to his existentially string-cheese knees, Rose, 25, is now fair-game for huckster columnists looking to play the Black Guy Is Not Humble game. Beyond an imagined humility deficiency, Bernstein's burning strawman fallacy takes cheap hits on Rose's intelligence, diction, maturity and greed. We've heard this bit from white columnists criticizing black athletes more times than anyone could ever count. The impetus for this rhetorical bounty came about due to rumors that Rose is concerned about the team's direction, which explains why Bernstein's critiques focus on perception rather than fact. Here's the uncomfortable truth: Rose should want out of Chicago.
The Bulls' notoriously incompetent medical staff is reason enough -- it may be the worst medical staff in all of sports, and its recent history makes for a strong case. Earlier this month veteran guard Mike James was cleared to play with a sprained MCL. In 2011, since-departed center Omer Asik was cleared to play with a fractured fibula. Center Joakim Noah's recurring plantar fasciitis hasn't kept him off the court long enough for it to heal. Forward Luol Deng has been allowed to play through a fractured thumb, torn wrist ligaments and a misdiagnosed leg fracture. Worst of all for Deng was his meningitis scare in the 2013 playoffs, which led to a botched spinal tap procedure that the Bulls' dismissed as "flu-like symptoms." This collection of obscene medical negligence somehow netted head trainer Fred Tedeschi the 2012-13 NBA Athletic Trainer of the Year Award. Suddenly, Rose's decision to ignore the staff's medical advice after his ACL tear makes sense.
Then there's head coach Tom Thibodeau. While his defensive system has the Bulls in the top five of both points allowed and defensive field-goal percentage, this covers up his borderline sadistic player management policies. Deng, for example, is averaging 38.4 minutes per game, third most in the NBA, despite his injury history. Last season, Noah averaged nearly 40 minutes per game for three months and finished the season averaging more than 36 per game, all while playing injured. Even Rose, the team's centerpiece, averaged more than 36.6 minutes per game through his first four seasons.
Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook, an undersized, slashing point guard like Rose, has averaged just 34.2 minutes per game through six seasons. Those minutes add up, especially for an above-the-rim backcourt player. Thibodeau, it seems, could not care less about managing minutes, especially if it comes at the possible expense of a few regular-season wins. It's then no shock that Rose, Deng and Noah, the team's most overused players, have all suffered injuries in the playoffs. Given that Rose will be coming back from near-consecutive major knee injuries, playing for a coach who treats players like unbreakable basketball automatons is not a good fit for him.
Playing for a team owned by Jerry Reinsdorf isn't helping any. Last season, the Bulls paid the luxury tax for the first time in franchise history and only did so because Rose's torn ACL made signing Kirk Hinrich a necessity. This despite the team recently posting a five-year average annual profit of $55 million that makes them by far the league's most profitable franchise.
While Reinsdorf has repeatedly said that he would be willing to pay the luxury tax for a "winner," this is in direct contradiction to the fact that the team's marquee free-agent signing in the Rose era was Carlos Boozer's five-year, $80 million albatross of a contract. That deal that has served mostly to hamper Taj Gibson's development. Gibson is posting better per-36 numbers than Boozer this season and is far better suited to the Bulls' style of play. More importantly, the Bulls were gifted a franchise player in Rose and have failed to acquire or develop a secondary scorer capable of complementing him. Reinsdorf demanding a "winner" as a condition to paying the luxury tax is simply a convenient PR device meant to distract from the fact that paying the luxury tax is now all but a precondition to winning a title. It's Reinsdorf's money to spend as he sees fit, but his choices have consequences. For example, a presumptive franchise player being leery about a bargain-basement rebuilding project.
So, Rose is stuck with a miserly owner, a tactically short-sighted coach, a shockingly negligent medical staff and, bonus, a hometown media and fan base that is creepingly dispassionate about his plight. This is not the formula for a situation that will get better. If anything, the crumbling hometown hero narrative will only further mutate into the sort of nonsense already being written about Rose.
That's the thing about a hometown hero, the title comes with an implicit expectation. Being packaged as the human distillation of a city's sporting soul means you're now that city's sporting savior. Even if Rose comes back better than ever, he can't and won't fix the Chicago Bulls' myriad problems -- no one person can. The Bulls, after all, never even deserved Derrick Rose in the first place.