So I was having lunch at Vincenza's after Cavaliers practice Tuesday morning. It sounds fancier than it is, since a lot of people were eating standing up. You need go-to spots after years traveling, and mine are for pizza. Vincenza's is just behind the Cavs' arena, so there's been plenty of Bulls/Cavs to discuss over the years, LeBron vs Derrick and Jo, and who actually does vacation in Cleveland.
So when I ordered my slices Tuesday, there wasn't much debate on the relative competition.
"So you send us your washed up guys to help us win now?" he wondered.
Introducing your starting Cleveland Cavaliers backcourt—what was supposed to be the Bulls 2010 backcourt—Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade, supported by Kyle Korver, who by the way, was the fallback acquisition when the Bulls in the Great Free Agent Summer of 2010 came in second (again) in the competition to sign LeBron and Wade to play with Rose, Noah and Luol Deng.
Yes, LeBron and Wade won two titles; but, really, wouldn't that group with additions like Kurt Thomas and Brian Scalbrine (OK, maybe not Scalabrine) have won the next four? They don't much care at Vincenza's, and Chicago doesn't much want to talk about it.
It's just another of so many what ifs for the Cavs Big Three (and Isaiah Thomas eventually) who play together for the first time Tuesday hosting the Bulls.
"It really is a blessing," a buoyant Rose said Tuesday after Cavaliers' practice. "I'm really fortunate to be here. It's like a clean slate. I'm going to take advantage of this. For sure, it will make the game easy, but I really don't know. This is probably the best team I've played on so probably when I play more games I'll be able to give you more details. I'm the new guy coming in. They're older, they've won a championship, so I'm learning on an everyday basis.
"My three-ball is looking nice, man, I'm just telling you," Rose added with a smile. "So whatever the game tells me to do that's what I'm going to do. If they want me to sit in the corner, sit somewhere and just shoot, that's I'm going to do. If they want me to attack and penetrate like I normally do, that's fine. I'm just trying to make the game not only easy for myself, but easy for the team."
It's why the Cavs are considered as dominant in the Eastern Conference as the Golden State Warriors are in the West, if not as young and sprightly.
They would have been in 2010 if they had, as the Bulls really did believe, all gotten together in Chicago. Though Rose wanted to clear up what he felt was one misconception about that time.
"They were going to make their own decisions," Rose said. "They had families at the time and they had to do what was most comfortable for not only them but for their families. So I wasn't mad at them or holding any grudges against them. They made the right decisions and won two championships. People always said I didn't recruit. I tried to recruit. I put out a video for him [Wade], Chris Bosh and LeBron. They sent it. I don't know if they really actually looked at it or played the video, but I made a video. At the time it wasn't for me to say that."
It's been an issue discussed in Chicago, sort of like the debate about which relief pitcher. What if Rose had reached out more forcefully? Actually, the Bulls provided James with a professionally made, all-encompassing video of Chicago and the team and the prospects.
Wade last season was asked about the scenario, and he insisted he, James and Bosh just wanted to play together and nothing was going to change that.
"We knew (Rose) wanted us to come in," Wade said after the morning Cavs session Tuesday. "He didn't have to be on our line all the time. We knew that. We just made a decision that was better for us.
"I thought there was two times I might play with D-Rose," Wade added. "I thought the Miami Heat was getting the first pick in 2008 (when Miami had the league's worst record). Didn't get that one. Then in 2010 came an opportunity and that didn't happen. And then the time when you least expect it, it happens. That's the league we play in. I just love getting to know him, love how he looks, how comfortable he looks here, the way he's playing right now. We're thankful to have him, especially with (Thomas) being out, to have a guy like D-Rose to step in and be the starting point guard; how many teams have that luxury?"
Similarly, Wade said in taking the recent buyout from the Bulls, which is believed to be the most money a player surrendered on an NBA contract in league history, he merely was making the best decision for himself. No bitter feelings.
"All the young guys there I played with and had their (cell) numbers, I sent them a message (when I left) to tell them, some individually, about being their teammate, about getting to know them and just thanking them," said Wade. "From the GM, to the president, everyone, the coaches, I sent a message to everyone and just told them, 'Thank you and I appreciate it, everything that was done with me, for me, last year.' It doesn't always have to be negative when something happens. I didn't come to Chicago on a negative note. I came there excited to be there and they were excited to have me and I wanted to leave the same way.
"Those young guys understand the Chicago Bulls are in a rebuild mode and they want to build around the youth they have there and you want to give them an opportunity to go out there and play on the court, make their mistakes, learn the game, get success, etc. I didn't want to be in their path or in their way," said Wade. "For me I'm 35 years old and I didn't want to be part of a rebuilding if I could help it. As you (media) guys see, I gave up a lot of money because it wasn't necessarily about that, just about being happy and I wanted to be a part of the environment I'm in here. I'm happy, I think they're happy and that's the perfect story when both sides can go their separate ways and both sides be happy. They chose a path."
And so everyone moves on.
For the Bulls, it's a fresh start; for LeBron and Wade, it's a sentimental reunion that promises to be one of the highlights of the NBA season. ESPN is here to televise the game. The big time broadcasters weren't at Bulls practice.
The Bulls looked like the team of the future even without LeBron in 2012, coming off their second straight season leading the NBA in wins, Rose the league's youngest MVP ever, deep depth, as it were. Then came the excruciating knee injury, the fits and starts of a return and finally the 2016 trade of Rose to the New York Knicks that effectively began the rebuilding. Wade and Rajon Rondo were just a temporary bridge to the Bulls future.
Rose spent a season with a broken Knicks team, endured another surgery, albeit minor, and said he's as secure and satisfied as he's been in years, ready to complement James and Wade and get back to winning.
"There's no bad blood with Chicago at all," said Rose, who spent much of the summer working out in the Advocate Center at the invitation of the Bulls. "I understand the business side. The year that I had in New York it was a helluva experience. I really played on a bad team. I really had to be professional about it, learn how to block everything out, and just focus on my game and grow from it. So everything happened for a reason. That's the way I took it.
"I get a chance to reintroduce myself back to the league. I get to bet on myself," said Rose, who is playing for a veteran's minimum of $2.1 million after finishing his $95 million extension in 2011 from the Bulls. "That was one of the reasons why I came here. I'm from Chicago. I got that hustling side. It's in me.
"Next time you pay me, you gotta pay me double," Rose said with a laugh. "So it's fine with me."
It obviously isn't about the money for Rose. It's the competition, especially the chances for success, which he admits he took for granted after high school, college and the initial arc of triumph with the Bulls. Rose had never known anything but success from high school titles, to the NCAA finals, to USA Basketball gold medals, to 62 wins with the Bulls. Then came the relentless rehabilitations and community ambivalence.
But Rose also understands feelings. Support and belief sometimes are like wins and losses; serendipity can transcend reason.
"When I go back to Chicago, it's nothing but love," Rose said. "Like I said, no hard feelings. I'm not bitter about anything. I'm just happy that I'm still hooping and healthy. I'm from Chicago. I understand the grit and grind Chicagoans have to go through every day. I tried to show that every time I touched the floor: I'm from (Chicago). This is what the city made.
"Even though this is my 10th year, I'm still learning the game and little things I didn't know or tweaking things to make the game easier," Rose said. "It's fun. I'm happy playing ball again. It's exciting to be on this team. When I step on the court, all the articles and all that, I'm past that. That's one of the reasons I grew my hair (long with a beard). It's about being free. It's about not caring. I don't care about my image. When you see me hoop, you're going to know that I can hoop. And you're going to know I'm a good person.
"I'm showing my teeth a lot," Rose smiled. "I'm not frowning all the time or acting mad. I'm blessed to be here. I'm taking all this in and taking advantage of this opportunity. I'm a big believer everything happens for a reason. Me coming here and playing on this great team, it shows me that whoever made the decisions, I'm in the right place."
Because, also, they've got some pretty darned good pizza.