"The loss of Paul George and withdrawal of Kevin Durant potentially changes the dynamic of the team with a greater responsibility now falling on Derrick Rose," writes Smith.
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Rose, USA Basketball come to Chicago

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 By Sam Smith | 08.13.2014 | 9:05 a.m. CT | asksam@bulls.com | @SamSmithHoops

The USA Basketball fast break to Spain -- and hopefully a gold medal in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup -- pulls up its dribble in Chicago starting Thursday for two days of training at Quest Multisport and then an exhibition game 8 p.m. Saturday in the United Center against the Brazilian national team.

The game is an important test of sorts for the USA National team given the defections of most of its veteran big men, including Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge. Which followed LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh deciding not to play in the 2014 tournament, which also is a qualifier for the 2016 Olympics.

Thus suddenly, USA Basketball is looking at perhaps adding someone like DeMarcus Cousins, Kenneth Faried, Andre Drummond and/or Mason Plumlee, players who a year ago didn’t get much respect. As Rodney Dangerfield would have said: They asked about ice skating with the USA team and were told to wait until it was warmer. Now they’re hot and in demand.

In Saturday’s game, they’ll see a big Brazil team with Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao. The game should give USA Basketball a vision of its needs going forward as the tournament favorite playing at home appears to be Spain with Pau and Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.

Perhaps more significantly, this will be the team’s first action since the 2014-15 season ending broken leg injury to Indiana’s Paul George in the abridged intrasquad scrimmage that closed the week of training in Las Vegas.

That led to questions about whether teams might urge their players to drop out or that players would withdraw as Durant would, though most accepted Durant’s explanation that it was more the onset of a previous season of fatigue. The players generally pledged a desire to continue with the USA Basketball program.

But in addition to the previous defections of big men, the loss of George and withdrawal of Durant also potentially changes the dynamic of the team with a greater responsibility now falling on Derrick Rose.

The Bulls star guard was the story of the opening of Las Vegas camp given his injuries that have kept him sidelined most of the last two seasons. But NBA and Bulls fans were relieved to see Rose playing at a high level. USA coaches and players were effusive in praising Rose’s game. Rose then made several highlight plays in the scrimmage before it was ended in the fourth quarter following George’s injury.

Rose, who started on the 2010 gold medal winning then World Championship team, is the only USA player left from that team. The current roster is comprised almost entirely of young players and first time USA players. It was first assumed Rose could play a supporting role for the team with the likes of at least Durant and George. Now Rose is a senior USA team member along with the late addition of Rudy Gay, just joining the team this week. The roster is now at 16 with a final roster of 12 required before the start of the tournament Aug. 30.

So Rose will be essential for this USA Basketball team, which tends to contradict the curious, if not universal, response to Rose among some in the Chicago area. It’s as if Rose is the star who just isn’t good enough.

Without being apologetic, Chicago doesn’t have the most successful professional sports history. The Cubs, unfortunately, too often get held up as the poster kids for that nationally. So it is difficult to determine why given Rose’s excellence -- yes, he has been hurt and missed most of the last two seasons, which some perhaps hold against him -- there’s such ambivalence toward him.

It’s not like Chicago has a history of the greatest players in the game.

Of course, there was Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest ever, which makes being a Bulls star difficult. It’s why, some believe, many free agents have spurned the Bulls so as not to ultimately fail to live up to even Jordan’s shadow.

But there has been only one other Bulls league MVP in NBA history. It’s Rose.

Consider the league MVPs who have played for Chicago teams:

NBA: Jordan and Rose.

NFL: Walter Payton.

NHL: Max Bentley, Al Rollins, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.

MLB: Gabby Hartnett, Phil Cavaretta, Hank Sauer, Ernie Banks, Nellie Fox, Richie Allen, Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Frank Thomas and Sammy Sosa.

Admittedly, not all have been universally embraced. Rollins won the hockey version of the MVP even as the Blackhawks finished last as Dawson did with the ’87 Cubs. It reminds me of the famous Ralph Kiner story with Branch Rickey. Kiner had just won his seventh consecutive home run title for the last place Pittsburgh Pirates and asked general manager Rickey for a raise. Rickey responded they could finish last without him as well and traded Kiner to the Cubs, where he finished next to last ahead of only Pittsburgh. How do you win an MVP with a last place team? Ah, but I digress once again.

Allen, Thomas and Sosa later in his Cubs career stand out as those not always warmly welcomed, though Allen and Thomas had prickly personalities when they played for the White Sox.

The only one among all those league bests to be from Chicago was Cavaretta, a Chicago native who attended Lane Tech High School.

But no one has the story Rose does of rising from the poverty and violence of the Englewood area on the South Side to become one of the most popular and successful players in the game. Rose has been an exemplary citizen and representative of the NBA and the Bulls, an inspirational model of how hard work and commitment can lead to success no matter the circumstances. And Rose has embraced his home town like few have in being involved in community projects and constantly declaring local allegiance.

Yet, since Rose’s injuries -- as if he willed them somehow -- there’s been a heightened sense of scrutiny aimed at Rose, a sort of demanding skepticism that holds him at an exceedingly high level of accountability.

Not perfect? Let’s get someone else. Though, to be fair, such scrutiny is a standard often applied to the top players in all sports.

But I get a reasonable amount of mail like this one I received regarding Rose after that truncated scrimmage in Las Vegas. How dare he not be better! I’ll leave out the name of the writer as there were several similar:

“I can't say I was as enthralled as everyone else with Rose's performance.  Yes, he looks healthy as I knew he would, and definitely explosive. But I didn't see any of the smarter, more patient, more versatile, defensively improved player we've heard so much about.  Sure, he beat everybody to the hoop a couple of times and had a monster dunk. But he also had 4 TO's to only one assist. And 4 shots to only one assist as well.  His one J was forced, rushed, ugly.  He did not look like the MVP, nor the true point guard he tried to be as a rookie.  He looked like Rose, circa November 2013, speeding to the hoop with tunnel-vision... I'm counting on Coach K and Thibs to get him back into the team concept and out of Steve Francis mode.”

I accept the sport of debate in sports. It’s a big part of why I’m able to exist. Sports is different from business. It’s an entertainment business with critics and criticism an ongoing part of the narrative. We’d like everyone to bat 1.000 or complete every pass or score a goal at least once an hour.

If it doesn’t happen it’s worth discussing since we’ve seen it happen. So why can’t it happen more often?

Like with that great drive on the golf course. If you can do it once...

So there’s nothing wrong with scrutinizing Rose’s game and Rose’s play. He’s hardly perfect or suggests he can be. And don’t we hear just about every player in every interview all season long just talking about getting better?

So everyone is certainly entitled to the standard they view players, including Rose.

Perhaps it’s part of the price of being so good so young, that you have delivered so much that people demand more.

Averaged 25? Why not 30?

Yeah, but John Stockton would have made that pass. And Magic would have seen that cutter. And Ray Allen wouldn’t have missed that shot.

The great ones have few issues with the scrutiny and Rose is no different. They enjoy challenges and the motivation to improve.

USA Basketball will be relying on Rose to help lead its 2014 team. They have an overriding level of appreciation for what he has done and who he has been for USA Basketball. Sometimes you wonder about that same level of support in his own community. No one expects or receives universal acclaim. No one is automatically deserving. Rose will not be the perfect player. He’ll retain many flaws. He’s just about as good in his respective game as the city has these days. You wonder sometimes why it’s not close to being enough.

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